“Surge” Promotion: A Militarist Trope

Webster’s New Universal Abridged Dictionary defines “trope” as a heading of subject matter and as a derivation from the Greek as “turn” or “turning.” “Surge” acquired a special meaning when applied to an infusion of thousands of more U.S. troops into Iraq and was also used to describe President Obama’s action of sending some 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan. Much as when we thought that getting rid of poll taxes and literacy tests had removed the main barriers preventing adult U.S. citizens from voting, it was only to discover that deviously clever lawmakers and state governors — mostly Republicans — had a lot more voter suppression tricks up thie sleeves, now we find that many people believe that injecting many more troops unto a battlefield hastens the day when peace is declared. We Americans can’t seem to escape the bad actions of our past. This has been a roundabout way of explaining the title of this blog: : “surge” thinking makes us a more militarist society.

Most Americans have probably forgotten that the announced reason for the troop surge in Iraq was to achieve a number of political goals. There were 18 benchmarks established for the Iraqi government to meet. At the time I was keeping an almost daily logbook of significant happenings in the war in Iraq. About six months after the surge was completed, I assessed how many of the benchmarks had been reached or significant progress had been made. I found that a number of the benchmarks were meaningless, because they could not be measured or evident progress was part of the ebb and flow of battle. The two key benchmarks, however, were to achieve an equitable distribution of oil revenues and resolve the dispute over control of a large swath of territory between the central Iraqi government and the largely autonomous Kurdinh governing structure. I found no movement on these two key benchmarks.

The failure to achieve the two key benchmarks and to improve the political lot of the Sunni people are a source of conflict in today’s Iraq. In the recent Sunni uprising, in which roadways were blocked for a period of weeks and a number of Sunnis were killed by government security forces firing into crowds of protesters, Sunni demands indicated how little political progress had been made: 1) Ramadi tribal leaders want reform of Antiterrorism law and the Justice and Accountability law, which weeds out former members of the Baath Party; 2) a related complaint is that debaathification isn’t applied to Shiites, who were memebers of the Baath Party during the reign of Saddam Hussain; 3) oil revenues have not been equitably distributed; and 4) and Sunnis want to be able to take advantage of the constitutional provision which permits creation of a federal region where they win a majority vote on the issue.

The bottom line is that we should not allow misreadings of past actions lead us into costly misadventures in the present or future: for example, the surge of troops into Afghanistan, ordered by President Barack Obama, was made easier to accept by our mistaken notion that the troop surge in Iraq was a success.

IN THE NEWS: The recent remark by Justice Atonin Scalia that the Voting Rights Act is a case of “racial entitlement” indicates the extent to which our minds have been polluted by this sad excuse for a Supreme Court Justice.

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The U.S. Risks a New Cold War With Russia

The Russian specialist, Stephen Cohen, contends that the U.S. is risking a new Cold War with Russia. He also laments what he sees as “virtually unanimous bipartisan and media approval” of current U.S. policy regarding Russia. Cohen says, in a somewhat contradictory way, that newspaper editorials “range from endorsing the administration’s inherently Cold War line to complaining that it is too ‘soft’ on the Kremlin.” [1]

Stephen Cohen blames President Bill Clinton for initiating the three basic components of Washington’s policy toward Russia and he cites the Obama administration as echoing it and even strengthening the Clinton policy. The three basic compoonents are: 1) expanding NATO (now including missile defense installations) to Russia’s borders; 2) “selective cooperation,” by which Obama means concessions by Russia without any meaningful U.S. concessions; and 3) interference in the name of “democracy promotion” in Russia’s domestic politics.

The concern that Cohen raises that resonates the most with me is the expansion of NATO. The Soviet Union had a major fear of Western encirclement and that fear has been implanted in Russia. NATO was created to prevent an invasion of the European Western-allied nations. Once the Soviet Union collasped there was no need for NATO anymore. Thus, starting with the first President Bush and continuing with President Clinton, U.S. policy should have been the dismantlement of NATO. Much effort has been expended to find a mission for NATO, with mass duplicate spending, because the nations in NATO have their own defense establishments.

There is a subtext to this matter of NATO expansion: it is a boon to Western arms manufacturers, especially the United States, which is by far the world leader in the export of arms. The new entrants to NATO membership must conform their military arms to NATO specifications and this creates a another big market for the arms industry.

The installation of missile defense systems in countries bordering Russia is a provocation to Russia, as Rusia perceives them as representing an offensive threat to their national security. There is an Alice in Wonderland quality to the installation of the missiles, because why in the world would Iran, theoretically armed in the future with nuclear weapons, launch them toward Eastern Europe and/or Russia?

Two actions that President Barack Obama could have taken to help make him a tranformative president would have been to work toward the dismantlement of NATO and reverse President George W. Bush’s fanciful action of installing defensive missiles in Eastern European countries.

Footnotes

[1] Stephen F. Cohen, “Cold War Follies,” The Nation, January 21, 2013.

Americans Say Pheu to Pew Poll on Spending Cuts

A Pew Research Center poll published on February 21, 2013 shows that Americans oppose virtually all spending cuts. The poll asked if those polled would increase, remain the same or increase spending in a number of categories. I will show just the decrease spending percentages: 1) Aid to world’s needy – 48%; 2) State Department – 34%; 3) Unemployment aid – 32%; 4) Military Defense – 24%; 5) Aid to needy in U.S. – 24%; 6) Health care – 22%’ 7) Environmental protection – 22%; 8) Energy – 21%; 9) Scientific research – 20%; 10) Agriculture – 20%; 11) Anti-terrorism defenses – 19%; 12) Roads and infrastructure – 17%; 13) Medicare – 15%; 14) Combating crime – 14%; 15) Food and drug inspection – 14%; 16) Natural disaster relief – 12%; 17) Education – 10%; 18) Social Security – 10%; 19) Veterans’ benefits – 6%.

The only item a plurality of Americans support decreasing spending is aid to the world’s needy. Even in that case, the total respondents who believe that the aid budget should be increased or kept the same outnumber those who believe it should be reduced.

Republicans support increasing Social Security spending by a 35 to 17 percent margin and the similar margin on Medicare is 24 to 21 percent. 44 percent of Republicans want health care spending slashed, while 16 percent want it increased.

Although Americans agree with the theoretical idea of cutting the budget, targeting specific programs is usually political malfeasance.

A Hill (D.C.) newspaper poll that was published on the same day as the Pew poll, found that 49 percent support cutting military spending, while only 23 percent support cuts to Social Security and Medicare. By a margin of 58 percent to 28 percent, respondents said cutting the nation’s debt is more vital than keeping domestic and military programs at their current levels. 69 percent said they would oppose cuts to the social programs.

When I was in Rep. Henry Hyde’s (R-IL) district, he sent out a survey which was the most detailed on spending for specific governmental programs I’ve ever seen. The poll was structured on the same basis as the Pew poll. When Hyde sent out the rssults of the poll, he described them as proof that his constituents wanted spending cut and didn’t want any new taxes; however, when I made a detailed study of the results, I found that majorities wanted spending increases in 13 programs. Moreover, majorities wanted new taxes on businessmen’s lunches and on pollutors.

What the results above show is that Americans support spending cuts when questions are asked in a general way, or types of spending are compared to one another; however, when the poll is structured in an increase, keep the same or decrease spending mode, the results tend to be quite different. Americans don’t seem to have anywhere near the fervour for cutting governmental spending as the GOP, generally, claims they do.

Finally, polls of U.S. citizens on what to about decision-making should be seen as a very unreliable guide for lawmakers to follow, as mass confusion seems to be the prevailing condition of the U.S. public.

President Obama’s Ping-Ponging on Sequestration

President Barack Obama has become a big foe of the sequestration agreement between Republicans and Democrats some 18 months ago. Obama is warning of catastrophic cuts in spending that will cost many jobs, cut paychecks and endanger the public safety. This is a remarkable turn-about, because the White House is where the sequestration idea was hatched; although it is not entirely accurate to say “hatched,” because someone in the White House suggested resurrecting a process that was used in the mid-1980s to mandate spending reductions. But the origination point of the current sequestration fracas is not the crucial factor in Obama’s turn-about: about 15 months ago, Obama was an ardent supporter of sequestration.

In November 2011, President Obama said he was going to hold Republican lawmakers to all of the terms of the sequestration agreement and, in his “no doubt about it” voice, he vowed to veto any bill that emasculated sequestration. The first clear sign that Obama was souring on sequestration was when his newly confirmed defense secretary, Leon Panetta, told congressional committees that the military spending cuts in sequestration would make it very difficult for the Department of Defense to carry out its missions.

Panetta has become more alarmist about the impact of military spending cuts, as in his last appearance before a congressional committee, he said the proposed cut would be “disastrous.” A reduction of $600 billion over ten years is hardly “disastrous,” as the Pentagon alone is projected to spend just under $6.5 trillion, more than ten times more, over ten years.

Even the discretionary domestic spending cuts are not as draconian as President Obama is protraying them: when reporter Jonathan Karl asked Ray Lahood why it would not be possible to find an expected $1 billion in savings in his Department of Transportation budget of about $72 billion, Lahood’s only comeback was that since we are deep into FY 2013, spending priorities are set and it is difficult to change them.

Since President Obama is now proposing smaller spending cuts to get Congress and the nation trough a March 1 sequestration deadline, it should have been incumbent on him to have proposed a package of smaller spending cuts well before the onrushing deadline.

A Final Note: I am now reading a book entitled State vs. Defense by Stephen Glain (Crown Publishers, 2011). Glain points out that when prescient analysts were predicting the breakup of the Soviet Union years before it took place, they reasoned that the Soviet Union was devoting too much of its resources to a military buildup and to supporting an empire of nation states that were economic basket cases. The United States risks the same fate, due to its highly militarized society and the need to support an empire of overseas military bases. Glain makes the further point that the Department of Defense has far more influence over foreign policy than does the Department of State; furthermore, U.S. military overseas commanders serve as proconsuls, with vast decision-making powers.

Voting Rights Act Looms as Major New Voter Suppression Target

After the 2010 midterm elections, 19 states passed laws that put up barriers to voting, including new photo-ID and proof of citizenship requirements, and restrictions on early and absentee voting. Long lines, exacerbated by a law that reduced the number of days for early voting, discouraged about 50 thousand voters in central Florida from voting, most of them Democrats. [1] According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as many as five million votes might have been lost in the 2012 national election, which was, as it happens, almost exactly President Obama’s popular vote margin over Mitt Romney.

The major new target of those who want to suppress the vote for partisan political advantage is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 applies to most counties in nine Southern states and a handful of counties in the rest of the country, all of which have histories of discriminatory voting practices. [2] Judge David Tatel, of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, found that Section 5, far form being obsolete, continues to single out the jurisdictions in which discrimination is concentrated. As Jeffrey Toobin writes: “It (the Voting Rights Act) established a principle that voting district lines must be drawn so that African-American politicians have some chance of winning federal and state offices. But, in the South, in recent years, the Republican Party, which is dominant and, for the most part, white, has benefitted from concentrations of black voters in just a handful of districts.” [2]

A major unintended consequence of the Voting Rights Act is that it has been manipulated into reducing Democratic Party representation in Congress and state legislative bodies and governorships. Thus, even though Democratic cnadidates for the U.S. House garnered more than one million votes — maybe 1.4 million more — the Republican Party won 33 more House seats.

Footnotes

[1] Jeffrey Toobin, “Casting Votes,” The New Yorker, January 14, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

Anti-Choicers Shun Virtually All Activity Limitations

States are hacking away at abortion rights, passing 92 new restrictions in 2011 alone — nearly triple the number of any other year on record. [1] A staggering 87 percent of U.S. counties lack an abortion provider and several states have only a clinic or two, staffed by a doctor who flies in from another state. [2]

Fetal personhood and other extreme measures may have been rejected at the polls in Mississippi and North Dakota but voters in 26 states elected conservative legislators that seem to delight in drawing up devious ways to undermine women’s reproductive health. [3]

But the epitome of anti-choice overreach, ranking up there with Todd Akin’s contention that women have a mechanism that rejects unfriendly sperm and Indiana’s U.S. senatorial candidate Richard Murdoch’s belief that rape is part of God’s plan, is the bill introduced by New Mexico’s House Rep. Cathrynn Brown in the current legislative session. Brown’s bill, HB 206, charged a rape victim who ended her pregnancy, with a third-degree felony for “tampering with evidence.” Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or faciliating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, if a fetus is the result of criminal sexual penetration, with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.

Instead of rejecting the bill as the product of a diseased mind, HB206 was assigned to a committee for a hearing. Brown blamed the bill’s printer for emasculating her wording; however, she had ample opportunity to review the wording before introducing it on the floor. Bowing down to a nationwide uproar, Brown withdrew the bill as worded.

If enacted, Brown’s bill could have subjected anyone who encouraged a pregnant woman to have an abortion, or any medical personnel who assisted in, or performed an abortion, to a criminal indictment.

Footnotes

[1] “Roe at 40,” The Nation, January 21, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Prosecutors: The Nation’s Most Protected Criminal Class

In the 1990s, it had become clear that many of those on Death Row or serving life sentences for murder or other very serious crimes of violence had been wrongfully convicted. Northwestern University Law School hosted a symbosium attended by about a thousand people and to which over 30 of the 75 people freed from Death Row also were in attendance. The state of Illinois had gotten to the point where the number freed from Death Row matched the number executed over a comparable period. Swayed by the symbosium exposure of serious miscarriages of justice and widely publicized cases of railroaded Illinois Death Row inmates, Governor George Ryan declared a moritorium on capital punishment and emptied out the state’s Death Row cells.

As a result of the open acknowledgment that Illinois’s criminal justice was criminally broken, the Chicago Tribune did a series on wrongful convictions. The Tribune discovered that among the chief causes of wrongful convictions were eyewitness misidentifications, prison inmate “snitch” testimony, use of highly unreliable hair evidence, and false confessions fostered by aggressive and prolonged police interrogations. But the Tribune also found that a major cause of wrongful convictions was prosecutorial misconduct, which ranged all the way up to criminal in nature. Prosecutors were found to have withheld exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys, manufactured evidence, coached witnesses to give false testimony and engaged in other nefarious activities to secure convictions.

One thing the Tribune did not find was a single conviction of a prosecutor who railroaded a person to a cell on Death Row or to life in prison.

I will touch on two specific aspects of prosecutorial subversion of justice and an ongoing denial of defense attorney access to possible exculpatory evidence: 1) the Rolando Cruz case; 2) the Wilmington Ten; and 3) DNA identifications in CODIS.

I. The Rolando Cruz Case
Rolando Cruz was still a teenager when police received a tip that Cruz had been talking a lot about the abduction, rape and murder of nine-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in a Chicago, Illinos suburb. While Cruz was riding in a car with police detectives, he allegedly revealed a dream or “vision” he had, which described a few circumstances of the Nicarico case. Although there was no physical evidence nor eyewitness identifications that tied Cruz to the crime, he was convicted and the conviction overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court, because he had been tried in tandem with a codefendent, also convicted without a shred of physical evidence.

After Cruz was convicted a second time, his conviction was overturned a second time, due to the tenuous nature of the evidence against him and the entrance into the case of Brian Dugan. Dugan, in prison for the rape and murder of a young girl and a woman in her twenties, confessed to the abduction, rape and murder of Jeanine Nicarico. Dugan would undoubtedly have killed a second girl if she had not escaped from his car and successfully hid while Dugan was corralling the other of two girls he discovered riding bikes.

Brian Dugan was put in a state police car and told to direct the officers to the Nicarico residence, which he did unerringly. Dugan subsequently directed the state troopers to the forest preserve where the body had been found. Besides this damaging ability of Dugan to trace the crime route, two tollway workers had seen a car matching Dugan’s vehicle, right down to a missing hubcap, being driven in the vicinity where the body was found.

TYhe crowning evidence against Dugan should have been the results of DNA evidence which excluded Rolando Cruz and his codefendent in the first trial, but not Brian Dugan. What did the prosecutors do? They argued that Cruz and Dugan could have committed the crime together! An examination of Dugan’s diaries did not contain any mention of Rolando Cruz and interviews of all the people mentioned in the diaries failed to reveal any sighting of Cruz and Dugan together.

During Rolando Cruz’s third trial, the police official to whom the Cruz “vision” was related, gave a date for receipt of the report. When family members told the official that the family was in Florida at the time, he checked his records and found that he had used his credit card on that date. That was enough for the judge, who stopped the trial on the basis of insufficient evidence and Cruz’s long prison ordeal ended.

When the Chicago Tribune did a massive complilation of the Cruz trial records, the newspaper speculated that the Cruz “vision” may have been wrongfully attributed to him, because the son of the Nicarico housekeeper told police he had a vision of a body lying near a stream.

More than a decade after Roalnde Cruz became a free man, Brian Dugan was convicted of the murder of Jeanine Nicarico.

Seven prosecutors and/or police officials were indicted for their role in a tragic miscarriage of justice. All were acquitted and at least some of the members of the jury joined the victory celebration.

II. The Wilmington Ten
The conviction of the Wilmington Ten was overturned after three key witnesses admitted in 1977 that prosecutors had bribed them to give false testimony against the defendents. But it was the notes of prosecutor Jay Stroud, discovered by historian Tinothy Tyson in February 2012, that led to the long-overdue pardon. Next to the names of potential jurors, Stroud had scribbled phrases like “Probably KKK” and “sensible, Uncle Tom type.”

Governor Beverly Purdue said the evidence was proof that “these convictions were tainted by naked racism.” [1]

The pardon system itself shows a pattern of racial inequality, as a recent study by ProPublica found that with presidential pardons, white applicants were nearly four times more likely to receive one than people of color. [2]

III. Access to CODIS
Prosecutors in most states have exclusive access to CODIS, the national database of more than 11 million DNA samples. Attorneys digging deep to prove the innocence of a client have “found untested DNA that would exonerate the client. But when they returned to court to ask for the right to test the new evidence, they are told judges don’t have the power to re-test.” ]3]

“Governmental and judicial watchdog groups maintain that hundreds and maybe thousands of prisoners couuld substantiate their innocence if only they could tap the CODIS.” Groups like the Innocence Project estimate that in the last 15 years, some 300 prisoners have been given access to CODIS and have won their freedom. [4]

University of Virginia Law Professor Brandon Garrett puts the situation in a nutshell: “(Prosecutors) are attached to their convictions, and they don’t want their work called into question.”

Footnotes

[1] Christy Thompson, “Noted,” The Nation, January 28, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Diane Dimond, “DNA Database Limits Unfair,” The Albuquerque Journal, January 26, 2013.

[4] Ibid.