John Samuel Tieman: A Few Brief Words

Slowly the nation awakens to a problem with homicidally racist cops. Apparently it has to come to this.

Vox Populi

To My Friends In The N. R. A.
And Folks Reading This Essay In Starbucks

As I write, there’s more news about the shooting in Dallas. Which blends into the news of the shooting in Orlando. Which blurs into the news of the shooting from – where? The shooting at that church? The shooting at the mall?

There is a tragic sameness to it all. There’s a mass shooting. Then there’s outrage. Folks call for gun control. The N. R. A. blocks all consideration of all measures. Congress gives in, as do state and local politicians. Then there’s a mass shooting …

Can this cycle end? The simple answer is, “Yes.”

The National Rifle Association is by no means a monolith. It does give significant donations to key legislators. But the real political genius of the N. R. A. lies in its strategy, a strategy both simple and effective. Intransigence…

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The UK’s Chilcot Inquiry: Illegal War, No Accountability

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Only July 6 2016, the UK government is due to release its long-awaited Chilcot Inquiry, a seven-year investigation into the British government’s decision to, along with the US, invade Iraq. In July of 2009, the British government’s Labor Party was suffering a steep decline in popularity, primarily due to then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s 2003 decision to join the US in invading Iraq.  Among other motivations, launching the inquiry, managed by Sir John Chilcot, was an effort to shore up that slide in the party’s popularity. The report was to take only a year, but apparently it has been difficult for the UK government to come to terms with its disastrous involvement. Numerous British authors have attacked Mr. Blair, and by extension, the American government for failing to understand the risks of toppling Saddam Hussein, namely a bloody revolution, massive loss of life, regional upheaval, and as the British journalist Peter Oborne argues it in his new book, Not the Chilcot Report, the creation of ISIS.

So what will the Chilcot Inquiry finally have to say? An inquiry with any integrity will invariably be damning.  The American obsession to invade Iraq materialized well before 9-11.  The Project for a New American Century (PNAC), an influential and fanatically conservative American think tank, was already sending letters to President Clinton in 1998 demanding the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime by force, and suggesting that a military invasion of Iraq could only be justified if the US suffered a major attack “similar to Pearl Harbor”.  PNAC’s publicly stated view of the world was one dominated by American military supremacy, where the US would maintain a “benevolent global hegemony.” I’m guessing that PNAC didn’t request opinions from the rest of the world.

Two years after PNAC sent those memos, Bill Clinton was gone, and members of PNAC and signatories to those letters now occupied the White House and its administration.  PNAC members included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Elliot Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Richard Perl, John Bolton, William Kristol, James Woolsey, Jeb Bush, and Richard Armitage, and amazingly, America’s “second Pearl Harbor”, 9/11, materialized shortly after they came to power.

A trove of documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act and available at George Washington University’s National Security Archives reveal that President Bush began making plans to invade Iraq from day one of his administration, well before 9/11. The 9/11 attack offered a very convenient pretext, and may help to explain why, before the attack, the Bush Administration ignored intelligence reports in Presidential Daily Briefings that an attack of great magnitude, using airplanes against buildings, was in the works.

After 9/11, the Bush administration claimed repeatedly that al Qaeda had been directed and supported by Saddam Hussein, that Hussein had developed a stockpile of WMDs including chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and that a nuclear attack on New York City was near certain if the US didn’t invade. However the only such “weapons” found after the invasion were the few remnants of a dismantled program from the late 1980s that Iraq developed to launch chemical weapons attacks on Iranian troops.  Those weapons included mustard gas and sarin, and were the result of a program the Reagan Administration knowingly enabled when they agreed to allow the American sale of various strains of anthrax, and chemical-weapons precursors from Dow Chemical, to Saddam Hussein.

After 9/11, the Bush Administration created a mountain of lies and exaggerations to inflame American outrage and justify the invasion, perhaps the most absurd being the story of a fleet of mobile bio-weapons labs.  In January of 2003, Colin Powell stood before the U.N. Security Council and told a convincing lie, that “‘Iraq has at least seven mobile factories for the production of biological agents – equipment mounted on trucks and rails to evade discovery.” This famously absurd claim came from “Curveball”, an Iraqi defector who ultimately confessed that he lied to German intelligence and later the US about mobile bio-weapons labs. The Germans had already determined that Curveball was only a taxi driver and his stories were empty fabrications, and they shared this knowledge with the CIA well before Powell’s speech to the U.N. But the Bush Administration repeated Curveball’s lies to the UN, because of course, it suited their agenda.

In January of 2015 the CIA declassified and released the very same report that the Bush Administration claimed justified the invasion of Iraq. With this report, the administration repeatedly claimed with certainty that Iraq was actively pursuing nuclear weapons, concealing a vast chemical and biological weapons arsenal, and posed an immediate and grave threat to US national security. However the CIA’s report says nothing of the kind. It is full of qualifiers and uncertainties, and directly states that Iraq had no active nuclear weapons program. According to an assessment of the CIA report by the government-funded RAND Corporation, the Bush Administration grossly exaggerated and contradicted the very CIA document they said justified the invasion.  The bottom line is that the Bush Administration lied pervasively.

The result of course, was the perfect storm of fanaticism, arrogance, and the world’s most powerful military.  As predicted by many experts, the invasion sparked a bloody civil war and created devastating regional upheaval. ISIS is a direct result.  The total cost in terms of human agony, lives lost, and treasure wasted seems almost unbounded, and goes on to this day.

Tragically for the United Kingdom, then Prime Minister Tony Blair was Bush’s obedient lap dog, repeating every lie to the British public that the Bush administration told to America. America’s common allies, France, Italy, and Germany, refused to repeat the lies, but George Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and Tony Blair pulled one off the biggest con jobs the world has ever witnessed, deceiving hundreds of millions.  So what will be the outcome of the seven-year Chilcot Inquiry?  Probably nothing.  Given the mountain of evidence, it is simply not credible that Bush and Blair were victims of circumstances, misguided imbeciles who somehow misunderstood the facts and launched an accidental invasion.  In terms of accountability, President Obama chose to do absolutely nothing about Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq and its consequences, about the lies the Bush Administration told America and the world, or about the Bush administration’s illegal rendition and torture program.  And in all likelihood, the British government will do exactly the same.  What is likely to be an exhaustive and damning report will result in nothing.  But thanks to the Bush Administration and Tony Blair, this disaster will continue to play out for many years to come.

Republicans, Embrace your Inner Child

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Yes, Republicans, embrace your Inner Child: Donald.  Mr. Trump speaks your inner truth, however Hitleresque and vile it sounds. Speaker of the House Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus and many other Republicans are in near-panic over who their cuckoo’s nest base has crowned as the Republican nominee, but not because they disagree with Trump’s hatred of immigrants, women, African Americans, Latinos, Muslims the gay community, etc., etc.  No, Trump’s attitudes perfectly reflect the decades of tireless Republican sabotaging of Democratic efforts to enable the poor, students, women, minorities and the great middleclass to advance themselves and keep from falling ever farther behind. Trump’s values mirror the Republican Party’s obsession of spoon-feeding the rich with more tax breaks, loopholes, pervasive deregulation, weakened labor laws, etc., etc. However, the problem Republicans are having with Trump is that he spews these “values” way too loudly.  He draws too much attention to the hate in their hate machine. Every Republican politician knows they’re supposed to bloviate about patriotism and the Bible, so called “clean coal”, the great climate conspiracy, the magic of trickle-down economics, and the righteousness of endless war. As much as possible for a band of rich and entitled white bigots, all that revulsion for people not like them is supposed to be kept on the down low, visible only in legislation that Americans never read and those lobbyist-drafted riders snuck into bills at 1:00 am.

Trump is like the child in Sunday church who happily shouts the same profanity his parents used the night before, and then shrieks in joy at the response.  It’s not fair to blame the child, he doesn’t know what he’s saying, but Trump certainly does.  Trump and his political success to date is a creation of the Republican Party. That party, with its propaganda network of Fox News, iHeart Radio, et al, has embraced every hate group, white supremacists, gun fanatics, misogynists, the militia movement, separatists, etc., and this collection of haters is their base, with Trump as their king.  Thankfully, they don’t represent the majority of thinking Americans, not by a long shot.

Trump reveals to the world what the Republican political machine is truly all about.  Against Ryan’s repeated pleas, he has opened the party’s kimono wide and the nation and America’s closest allies are suffering profound revulsion. Republican politicians long ago abandoned the majority of Americans in favor of national and international corporations and the wealthiest 1%, but to stay in power, they happily allied themselves with extremists who blindly vote against their own interests because they cannot resist the hatred the party spews.  To those moderate Independents and Republicans who are finally discovering the truth, we on the left welcome you.  Come to the light.

To Ryan, McConnell, Priebus, and other Republican leaders, you have a serious quandary on your hands, don’t you?  Do you embrace and support your child, Trump, perhaps the most unqualified and malevolent candidate in history, all in an effort to defeat Hillary?  You probably won’t succeed, and in doing so, you also risk losing both the House and the Senate.  Or do you turn your back on Trump and infuriate your precious “base”, the very people who nominated him?  You made this bed, and you surely deserve to sleep in it.  Meanwhile, your child, Trump, will keep being Trump.

 

Another American Slaughter and this Complicit Republican Congress

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Sig Sauer MCX

Omar Mateen, an American citizen, used a Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic assault weapon to murder and maim more than 100 people in the Orlando massacre. The automatic version of this weapon, known by many in the military as “the Black Mamba”, was originally developed at the request of the US Army for use by U.S. Special Operations Forces. After winning that contract, Sig Sauer then promptly being selling this highly lethal semi-automatic weapon to the general public, and what makes it so much more dangerous than even an AR-15 is that the MCX has less recoil, is much lighter, and can fire rounds more rapidly, even in semiautomatic mode. But what truly makes this weapon so lethal in a civilian environment, is that the MCX has a folding stock.  Why is this so important?

Assault weapons like the AR-15 are big guns, long rifles, that are very difficult to conceal. If you see someone carrying with an AR-15, you know it. Such a person approaching a public building is far less likely to get undetected access, because the threat will be visible to parents, teachers, the police, the general public, and that advance knowledge can give at least a few possible victims, precious seconds to flee or call for help.  However a man with a Sig Sauer MCX can fold its stock, reducing its length by a third, and then easily conceal this lightweight weapon behind his coat. A killer can pull this gun out, open the stock and begin firing in two seconds. Mateen fired 24 rounds (bullets) in 9 seconds, nearly three per second.

Mateen could have walked into a hospital, a school or a shopping mall and roamed around, with the public unaware of his intentions until he pulled out the gun, opened the stock and began firing, three rounds per second.

There is absolutely no justification for a civilian to be able to purchase an assault weapon, and most certainly not a weapon equipped with a folding or telescoping stock, the only purpose of which is too allow the gun’s concealment. Unrestricted access to shotguns with sawed-off barrels have been banned nationwide for this very reason since the 1930s.  Only a terrorist desires to conceal his weapon.

This Republican Congress and the NRA are guilty of craven disregard for the lives of innocent civilians and civil order. Terrorists, madmen, are guilty of their crimes, but this Republican congress and the NRA are truly, fully complicit in those crimes because they directly enable the killers.  Makers of these types of guns are making products with one purpose: to murder en masse.  Over and over again, Americans have demanded that their government act to protect them by passing uniform background checks, by not allowing those on the Terrorist Watch List to be prohibited from buying guns, and by banning assault weapons. And over and over again, Republican leaders in congress have ignored those pleas. Per capita, the US has nearly three times as many guns and over three times as many homicides as any other developed nation. Enough is enough. This Republican congress is enabling mayhem.  This Republican congress is enabling terrorism.  Leaders of this Republican Party should be impeached, prosecuted for repeatedly, willfully, and wantonly failing in their solemn duties to protect the domestic peace and tranquility of American society.   We must bring this ongoing slaughter to an end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ACLU: Ending Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons in America

Knowledge is power. Thanks for this essay.

Vox Populi

From the American Civil Liberties Union:

Nearly two centuries ago, the United States formally abolished the incarceration of people who failed to pay off debts. Yet, recent years have witnessed the rise of modern-day debtors’ prisons—the arrest and jailing of poor people for failure to pay legal debts they can never hope to afford, through criminal justice procedures that violate their most basic rights.

State and local courts have increasingly attempted to supplement their funding by charging fees to people convicted of crimes, including fees for public defenders, prosecutors, court administration, jail operation, and probation supervision. And in the face of mounting budget deficits at the state and local level, courts across the country have used aggressive tactics to collect these unpaid fines and fees, including for traffic offenses and other low-level offenses. These courts have ordered the arrest and jailing of people who fall behind on their payments, without…

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America Looks in the Mirror and Sees Donald Trump

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No doubt about it, Donald Trump represents a tragedy and a real threat to the American political system. But in spite of the GOP’s feigned reaction of horror to Donald, he is entirely their creation, and based on his wildly successful campaign to date, he accurately reflects the acute bigotry, hatred, and narcissism that the GOP has been spoon-feeding its base for decades. The GOP has long been America’s loudest propaganda blow horn, extolling thinly disguised classism, bigotry, narcissism, cruelty, hatred, war, and ignorance-as-a-badge, for well over half a century.

Trump is the manifest fruition of the teachings of the Republican Party. He truly is their end game, and even though the GOP will never admit it, the religion of fascism and hatred that Trump preaches is exactly what the GOP’s benefactors and propagandists, namely the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, et al, have been funding and building via billions in propaganda and paid-for legislation, for decades.  As just one example, the Koch brothers themselves and through their organizations, plan to spend nearly a billion dollars manipulating the 2016 election season alone. The Kochs are businessmen, and this unprecedented sum of money represents a calculated investment for them ̶  and a full-on assault on our “representative” government.

Sadly, the GOP religion of hatred, white supremacy, and fascism, is an easily-tapped vein in the American psyche.  Barack Obama was twice elected to the presidency and most of us rejoiced and felt that the nation had finally turned a corner.  Not so fast.  Hatred for Obama by the right runs deep.  The messages of raging contempt that pour from the Republican Party, Fox News, Limbaugh and others against Obama, minorities, and liberals in general, legitimize and inflame the hatred that many in the Republican base feel.  The recent vitriolic rise of the extreme right in the GOP began with the election of our first black president.  Anymore, this is not about objective disagreements over policies or priorities, about education or the size of the military. This election cycle, the entire Republican primary has been largely void of facts and full of hysterical fiction. No, this is hatred. This is classism and racism. And this is a long-term, orchestrated effort by those with billions to spend, to enshrine those perverted values, and through Citizens United, a right-wing SCOTUS, ALEC, and other avenues, to bring fascism to the US.  And they are winning.  Depending ultimately on Democratic turnout, Trump may or may not be elected.  But the age-old currents of tribalism, racism, and hatred still run strong in the US of A.  Sadly, a look in the mirror at American society today, 150 years after we “freed the slaves” is still quite an ugly and violent image.  How tragic for the “United States of America”. Regardless of who wins the Democratic ticket, we all must remember to vote in November. We must.

 

 

Reaping what we sow in the Middle East

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The claim to be a civilized society, the claim to be rational, advanced, even superior, is utterly bankrupt of any truth if, at those very moments when civility and rationality are needed most, we choose instead to behave like barbarians.

Over many millennia, tribes and nations have devoted themselves to crushing the enemy without mercy, always indifferent to the fact that inhumanity sows the seeds of more war, the lust for more revenge. Injustice breeds injustice.  In spite what we like to tell ourselves, modern warfare is not “surgical”, war is never benevolent, and “collateral damage” is still the death of innocents.

The barbarism of ISIS must be stopped, but the US has filled for itself a large cup of contempt in the Arab world. We have intervened over and over again, mostly out of greed for precious oil.  We Americans suffer astounding degrees of arrogance and indifference in believing that our repeated interference in the region will not be remembered.

We have an affliction in our minds that we are somehow the gods of other nations, that we can and should execute “regime change”. In 1953 the US and Britain executed a coup in Iran that overthrew its first democratically elected leader and retained the monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, simply because we Americans wanted to keep control over Iran’s oil reserves.  The Shah was the maniacal ruler of a brutal police state for 60 years, a dictator we supported and protected until his popular overthrow in 1979. In the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration helped Saddam Hussein acquire chemical weapons that Iraq then used to kill tens of thousands of Iranians during the brutal Iraq-Iran war. And at the same time, Reagan illegally sold American Hawk surface-to-air missiles and TOW anti-tank missiles to Iranians. We played Iran and Iraq against each other, all for our own agenda.  I find this despicable.

The Republicans believed that in Iraq we could demolish a nation’s infrastructure and civil order, its army, its police, and render absolute upheaval, and that somehow, as Cheney predicted, we would be greeted by all as liberators. The entire war would be over in 60 days. Liberals warned that this was absurdly naïve and illegal, and they were right.  We installed a leader who rejected any notions of power-sharing and plurality, and who set the stage for civil war and regional upheaval.  Again, we did this for oil.

We defend Israel unconditionally, yet have no influence over their behavior toward Palestinians or their endless confiscation of the only territories that could ever be the basis for a Palestinian state, and peace between them.

Our ignorance and indifference to the consequences of invading Iraq spawned ISIS, but the history of America’s interference in the Middle East is much longer than this. And we wonder why we are hated. Our friends in Europe must look now at that lunacy of American policy in the region, especially the Bush invasion of Iraq, with revulsion.   Except for Britain, none of our western European allies joined us in invading Iraq, but they are now paying a dear price for the upheaval we created.  I offer my sincere apologies to the people of Paris. It is difficult to follow the plight of the refugees fleeing ISIS and as an American, not feel a sense of responsibility.  We caused this.  More precisely, the Bush Administration caused this.

ISIS is now a curse on the Western World and even on Muslim nations. In answer to ISIS, the leading Republican candidates stand before the cameras, beat their chests like tribal upstarts smeared in war paint, and declare the ever-more barbaric acts they will order if elected, some of which would be war crimes. Frenzied mobs cheer them on and physically attack anyone brave enough to challenge their ignorance.

Trump claims that he will ban all Muslims from entering the US. Reality check: There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and many are executives, teachers, scientists, doctors, and students who travel regularly to the US from all parts of the globe. Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson stated, “What good does it do to have a good nuclear triad if you’re afraid to use it?”  Carson, the pediatric brain surgeon, claims he would be uniquely qualified to kill innocent Arab civilians, including children, as commander-in-chief.  And Cruz, a self-proclaimed devout Christian, declares that he will kill thousands of innocents by “carpet bombing” and will permanently poison the region by making the “sand glow” – a clear reference to nuclear weapons.

These obscene proclamations by leading Republican presidential candidates are the best recruiting tools ISIS can get. I stare at the television, just a little distraught. The professed ability to commit mass killings, to commit war crimes, is apparently now a job requirement for Republican candidates.  And yet we wonder, how can ISIS recruit so many fighters when the West is so very civilized?  It may be unlikely that one of these fools will be elected, but the world witnesses this frenzy of American insanity and must wonder if we are the barbarians, driven by lust for revenge.  And so it goes.

Just before Christmas I sat on a bench in a crowded mall, next to a man who was reading a book. He was older and slightly frail, with gray hair. The writing was Arabic and I interrupted him to ask what he was reading. With difficult English and a thick accent, he replied, “Koran”.   He handed it to me. I carefully thumbed through the pages and noticed the elegant grace of the script, and was disappointed that I could read none of it.  We struggled with conversation, both wanting to connect. We were waiting for our wives. He and his family had recently emigrated from Iran.  I’ve never been to Iran, but I had spent years in the region serving on the Navy’s 6th fleet flag ship and have many good, fond memories of the various nations and cultures.  He talked of how democracy had been stolen from his Iran more than once, by the Americans (a detail he carefully avoided mentioning) and later by Iran’s religious theocracy. He talked about the profound agony of the failed Arab Spring in Iran, which he witnessed, his hopes for a decent life here for his family, and his fears of American politicians, especially Donald Trump. Then his phone rang, his wife.  We stood and shook hands. I told him I was sure he would always be welcome in the US.  His eyes glistened just a bit, and then he hugged me, smiled, and with his thick accent, said, “Merry Christmas.”