On the Mueller testimony

News organizations widely reported that the Mueller testimony failed to capture much of the country. As to why, exactly, I think it is more complex than some may think. Beyond claims of apathy, cynicism, or Mueller’s failure to “perform” as some would have liked, there is the rather important consideration that many of us have to work and experience varying degrees of economic anxiety and other day-to-day pressures that make wrapping our minds around the upsetting drama in Washington something much easier said than done. While I was able to listen on my drive to the tutoring center, I did still have to “work” on things beyond the production of Public Comment, and when I didn’t, I still had my own marketing, branding, and aesthetic contemplations to improve Public Comment in mind. So, while I am concerned that too many people are apathetic, to be fair, I don’t know how much has more to do with juggling life than general apathy. As for the main stream media, I was saddened by those who placed so much emphasis on Mueller seeming not “as sharp” as he used to be as I wondered if in so doing they may have overlooked a number of other possible, contextual factors, such as possible anxiety over the high stakes of his testimony, and/or what he knows, but can’t tell us, but perhaps wishes he could tell us? Whatever you make of Mueller’s testimony, I hope enough Americans come to care so that as a nation we can get our act together and start taking care of our troubled government. 

***PUBLIC COMMENT is a podcast presented in the form of extemporaneous personal essays about a political and philosophical millennial as he tries to wrap his mind around the complexities of the human experience.****

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On ethics and political activism (part 2)

How can we even begin to think about ethics and political activism until we think about the complexities behind it all, starting with whether or not there is such a thing as ethics to begin with. Even if one reaches the conclusion that it is in fact important in life to be politically aware/informed, how does one go about that in an effective way when faced with so many day to day challenges? In my opinion, one thing that helps is thinking in terms of prioritizing at which point it seems to me, the twin issues facing us today, in America, are bringing president Trump to justice (and removing him from office) and finding a way to make quality healthcare available to all. 

***Produced by: Ashley O’Connor and Montaniz Stills!

Thank you again for visiting the Public Comment, a multimedia website that embraces social democracy and a holistic pragmatic clarification of concepts and seeks to promote a universal dialogue about politics and philosophy among intellectuals, politicos, artists, and humanists– the critical, creative, and introspective thinkers;  a dialogue I hope you’ll join in the comments below.

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-we2n5-b748ea

On Ethics and Political Activism (Part 1)

Politics is on my mind at an ever more intense level these last few days but so are the ethical reasonings behind my desire to be constructive in my efforts as a political activist. For example: how can we expect our society to be rich in its ethical thinking (and thus in its political thinking) when we don’t even require basic philosophy and ethics to be taught in our high schools?  

***Produced by: Ashley O’Connor and Montaniz Stills!

Thank you again for visiting the Public Comment, a multimedia website that embraces social democracy and a holistic pragmatic clarification of concepts and seeks to promote a universal dialogue about politics and philosophy among intellectuals, politicos, artists, and humanists– the critical, creative, and introspective thinkers;  a dialogue I hope you’ll join in the comments below.

On Globalism & a Cosmopolitan, Secular, One State Solution for Israel & Palestine (Sean O’Connor’s Public Comment video diary vlog– episode #15)

TRANSCRIPT:

So, yesterday the New York Times reported that the Trump administration announced they’re going to hold an “economic workshop” in Bahrain hoping that their contribution to an improved Palestinian economy will lead to a friendlier approach to Israel. Meanwhile, the Trump administration appears to lean towards a pro-Israel one-state solution, as President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is on record saying “let’s just not say” ‘two states’ (God forbid– and no pun intended)

This unreasonableness here, and the bias is blatant.  Not that I’m in love with a so called “two state solution.” I have many reservations about this. But my opposition to a “two state solution” is of the unconventional sort.

I do understand a case for cynicism that Israel and the Palestinians could ever live in a secular and cosmopolitan democracy. The recent violence in Gaza– the worst breakout of violence in 5 years, as has been widely reported– is ample proof that both sides of this conflict are deep in the thickness of zealous, indignant nationalism.

But that is the root of the problem– nationalism! Thus, a two state solution is at best a temporary band aid– a cheap one, ready to fall off the first time you wash your hands at that–  since it does not address this notion that the Israelis and Palestinians simply can’t co-exist as people beyond ethnicity, beyond “nation,” beyond race, and beyond religion, in a spirit of tolerance and real representative democracy.

Still, that being said, if there is to be a “Jewish” Israeli state, I think it would only be fair that there be a Palestinian state. But I must reiterate, logically, this is not a good long term plan!

And frankly, this whole “nationalism” thing is becoming a real serious global problem which the Trump administration is only adding to. I believe we need to start re-examining a cosmopolitan and globalist philosophy.

Just like states in a union can be “laboratories for democracy” as the expression goes– why can’t countries be seen as such ultimately? We’re all humans and our anxieties over resources will only get more complicated.

And what does that look like?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the media industry, and even education and academia, and what the internet means for it in the longer term as things have been evolving over the last decade or so. For example, what does it mean now that podcasts and smaller internet media organizations, whether through social media or cheap apps are emerging? With the means for them to develop getting cheaper and their willingness to produce without making much money persisting, more and more people are gaining access to information for free.

There are a lot of benefits to this—more people are self actualizing, expressing themselves, developing the sophistication of their productivity, but media and academia as we know it are also, it seems, hemorrhaging.

No, I’m not worried about Amazon, Jeff Bezos, Comcast, NBC, or Netflix overall. But there is a massive economic shakeup going on. And it’s not just the way information and technology are shaking up academia and the media.

And how does China’s Huawei innovation of a 5G network play into this? Frankly, considering how we know they don’t believe in free speech, and imprison millions of Uighurs in the North Western Province of China— Xinjiang for being Muslims … as they buy more cellphone parts from US companies — could they manage to shake up so called American values in such a way that those benefiting from Chinese subsidized technology ultimately choose to preserve their way of life — I mean their money and business regardless of  any bad intentions China might have with the use of its marvelous technology? Don’t doubt it…we’ve seen how money and power corrupted a nationalistic Trump coalition GOP.

What’s my point? Wouldn’t Chinese influence over a nationalistic U.S. agenda lead to more globalism? Would it? Or could it lead to complex cyber conflicts playing on our economic anxieties, and vulnerabilities exacerbated by competing nationalistic drives?  

It’s one thing to talk about nationalism versus globalism in the abstract. That will only get us so far. We need to be more assertive and start talking about anti-nationalistic policies, like calling for more aggressive cooperation between the Palestinians and the Israelis with the end game ultimately being a secular, cosmopolitan one state solution.

On marketing (part 1: anxiety), free thought (part 2), and free trade

Listen to the podcast

or watch the video

My incompetence thus far in self marketing, the development of my understanding in the value of free thought, and a look at the debate over free trade and protectionism in the realm of trade policy.

IN THIS EPISODE:

When it comes to self marketing (as opposed to political marketing, or marketing for an employer), anxiety and a complicated array of thoughts, at times, stifle me.

I have a fear of annoying people with my requests for their time, feedback, money and/or endorsement, most of all because I understand many of us are quite busy and bombarded with other people asking for our time, feedback, money and endorsements.

Also, I often think of how money can corrupt.

Money doesn’t talk, it swears

obscenity, who really cares?

Propaganda, all is phony…

-Bob Dylan

I wonder: am I corrupted, in my self-marketing by an unreasonable desire for money, attention, praise, undeserved self advancement, narcissism, et cetera? (I certainly believe in my early twenties I suffered from slight narcissistic tendencies, though as a defense mechanism since I suffered from severe anxiety, depression, and self esteem challenges. That is to say, I desired undeserved praise, attention, and introspected just for the sake of gaining awareness of my own thoughts as existing things, not for the sake of understanding and vetting them!).

I also think of other examples where money seems to blatantly corrupt individuals, companies, corporations, politicians, et cetera—(Weapon producers/dealers, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, oil/energy companies).

Those insecurities aside, obviously we need resources to live and also it is reasonable to stand up for the products/services we believe in, whether we are advocate consumers, or involved in the product(s)/service(s) ourselves. After all, why should something one offers, when it is of value, linger in vain?

That, I believe, would be unethical.

So I tie my sense of self marketing to the moral convictions motivating those aspects of myself I “market.”

So what do I say then, is the moral marketability of my shared “free thoughts?”

Frankly, I question how much genuinely “free” thought is truly “out there” when you consider not just profit concerns/ popularity concerns and how that could inject bias into shared thoughts but also how people (I have done it myself. Example: when I was obsessed with Ayn Rand) can slip into dogmas. Even postmodernism can become a dogmatic blinder, as opposed to mere healthy skepticism and independence.

On a separate note, I want to initiate a conversation about trade policy.

There are two articles I recommend. One by the Economist and one by Foreign Policy. The latter addresses the politics versus the economics of free trade, as well as policy options with respect to how we might want to deal with the inevitable harm to certain job holders that free trade results in: Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) which serves like compensation specifically for those adversely affected.

Tell me what you think. Email me at sean.publiccomment@gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter at
https://twitter.com/sopubliccomment

Public Comment is a video diary styled vlog and personal journal podcast where I share my free thoughts on politics, culture, and self.

“A Dull Aching Pain”- Impeaching Trump; Bernie or Biden for President? (THE FIRST PILOT)

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

OR WATCH THE VIDEO

…Trump’s threat to congressional oversight, the difference between a Democratic Socialist and a Social Democrat, and biases in the Democratic primary election….

I was feeling exceptionally depressed, still processing my failure to obtain a paid teaching assistantship and paid tuition from a Creative Writing MFA program, unable to find a job in the various job listings I was sorting through, troubled by the political state of things, tangled in my thoughts on aesthetics, neglecting a variety of other personal, philosophical, and practical thoughts, and like an inevitable mansoon I just had to talk…just had to get a few things “off my chest” as some might like to put it.

I was thinking of Howard Stern and my envy for how he was able to just talk straight about whatever was on his mind. I felt a similar envy towards Michel de Montaigne who wrote the most beautifully free flowing essays I ever read, with a fascinating integration of autobiography, scholarly contemplation, and philosophy. Then there was the love I felt for the pundits on MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, who work with such dedication to analyze what’s going on in the news.

I wished I could somehow be like some combination of these wonderful, inspirational people.

I was also feeling a little mad to learn that people on Twitch get paid to play video games in front of a webcam. I thought, there’s got to be something I can do in front of a webcam that is constructive too.

The PUBLIC COMMENT began here with a tremendous deal of uncertainty. Just a little under two years earlier, when I began writing my column for the College VOICE my adviser– Holly Katherine Johnson– asked if I had any ideas for a name, and “Public Comment” came to mind. I thought of it because I could never get out of my mind the intensity of my experiences during the so-called “Public Comment” periods of the East Windsor Town Council Meetings, where I really discovered, for the first time, the full significance of one’s freedom of speech, and just how much those who feel threatened by free speech desire to find ways to curtail it. For example, it was often the case that Mayor Janice Mironov of East Windsor would interrupt me and tell me things like “wrap it up,” or when I asked a question, or asked how she thought I was contradicting myself, she would just say things to the tune of “are you finished Mr. O’Connor? You’re five minutes are almost up.”

Just about a year after I began my column, I experimented with the idea of a vlog series called Public Comment via live-streaming on Facebook to voice my political concerns but I was also preoccupied with completing my BA at William Paterson University and offering my best as a columnist, plus I was trying to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do with myself occupationally after I graduated. So I quickly abandoned the Public Comment idea.

Though compelled to “just talk” I was quite uncertain of what I was going to do with this extemporaneous, sort of “stream of consciousness” style talking. The only radio experience I’d had consisted of a few episodes at the student station at Mercer County Community College back in 2014, which I gave up on quite quickly.

I had no “team” to help me research, figure out how to integrate media mediums into a palatable program, or to suggest how I might want to experiment by ways of style and approaches.

I had just my mind, my voice, my ideas, my experiences, my laptop and its webcam.

Then a friend and co-worker suggested I make a podcast so I began experimenting with a combination of articles, vlogs, and podcasts to see what would stick, or what method of employing all three would stick.

Exclusive Interview: Activist Philipos Melaku-Bello Sits In Front of the White House In His Wheelchair Every Day to Protest. He’s Been Doing It Since 1981.

Activist Philipos Melaku-Bello, who says he is “past my mid 50’s,” sits on his wheelchair in front of the White House every day, sometimes for as long as 16 hours, according to an ABC report.  The Daily Mail reports that Melaku-Bello has been doing this since 1981. Melaku-Bello’s protest is part of the William Thomas Memorial Anti-Nuclear Peace Vigil.

As DC Media Group explains:

On June 3, 1981, [Activist] William Thomas began a nuclear weapons protest outside the White House when vehicle traffic still passed by the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. For years the Department of Interior wouldn’t issue him a permit to stay there. His plan was to stay on the sidewalk, no matter what, just outside the White House by its iron fence. As the vigil continued he was repeatedly arrested for camping but challenged the Park Service in the courts over its attempts to remove him.

The outcome of many court cases was that the vigil was grandfathered into a permitted round the clock occupation. All other protests at Lafayette Park were limited to a 10:00 pm deadline. The Peace Vigil was later moved across the street and remained on the red bricked sidewalk, facing the North Portico of the White House. It may continue as long as it is staffed and no activist sleeps on watch.

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President Trump should “absolutely” be impeached, Melaku-Bello tells me. Sunday, August 26, 2018. 

Mr. Melaku-Bello told me he is a resident of Washington DC, that he studied Political Science at UCLA, and that he once worked with a former King of Ethiopia. More specifically, according to the Daily Nation, Melaku-Bello claims to have “work[ed] for Amha Selassie, the exiled son of late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.

“In the course of that work, which involved preparing human rights reports, Melaku-Bello recounts being wounded by a landmine blast in Ramallah in 1987, leaving him in a wheelchair,” the Daily Nation added.

He was generous enough to grant me an interview.

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Tourists gaze at the White House with cameras, as Melaku-Bello gazes at it with protest signs. Sunday, August 26, 2018

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Cutting the Military Industrial Complex Budget is Melaku-Bello’s top priority, he told me. Sunday, August 26, 2018.

When asked if he could change one thing, Melaku-Bello told me it would be the Military Industrial Complex budget, which he says has “misplaced $7 trillion” and contributes to our astronomical federal debt. Does Melaku-Bello think President Trump should be impeached? “Absolutely,” he told me.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT IS UNDER ATTACK; AN ATTEMPT TO STIFLE FREE SPEECH

Yesterday twelve former senior intelligence officials issued a joint statement saying that President Trump’s removal of former Director of the CIA John Brennan’s security clearances has “everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

The officials added, “We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case.” They described the president’s actions as “inappropriate and deeply regrettable.”

What did the President say in his defense? 

In a statement released last Wednesday President Trump justified his actions by saying

any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior [which] has tested and far exceeded the limits of any professional courtesy that may have been due to him.

The president added that “Mr. Brennan has a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility.” (Coming from a president who, according to the Washington Post, “has made 3,001 false or misleading claims” as of last May, it is quite ironic that he should question any one else’s “objectivity and credibility.”)

One example the president gives of Brennan’s questionable actions is the occasion when Brennan

denied to congress that CIA officials under his supervision had improperly accessed the computer files of congressional staffers [when in fact] The CIA’s Inspector General [IG], however, contradicted Mr. Brennan directly, concluding unequivocally that agency officials had indeed improperly accessed staffer’s files.

Trump’s claim however is misleading. A subsequent report by a CIA Accountability Review Board concluded that the CIA actions were not illegal and did not breech any agreement made between the Senate and the CIA. Is President Trump familiar with that report? Or is he true to form and simply lying?

[Read the Huffington Post analysis of the report]

It is also worth noting that Brennan apologized for his contribution to adding confusion over the matter. As McClatchy reported: “[Senator] Feinstein called Brennan’s apology and his decision to submit [to the IG] findings to the accountability board “positive first steps.”

In any event, if President Trump thought Brennan’s supposed shortcomings with respect to the C.I.A.’s access of Senate computer files merited removing Brennan’s security clearance one has to wonder why it is only in the midst of recent criticism from Brennan that Trump has suddenly expressed this judgement.

President Trump also said in his statement statement

Mr. Brennan told congress that the intelligence community did not make use of the so-called Steele Dossier in an assessment regarding the 2016 election, an assertion contradicted by at least two other senior officials in the intelligence community and all of the facts.

This is misleading at best. As the New York Times has said

The New York Times has reported — and Republicans who hold the majority vote on the House Intelligence Committee have concluded — that the [Russia] investigation began in July 2016 and was prompted by the actions of George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.

Mr. Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat in May 2016 that Russia had political ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate. Australian officials then alerted their American counterparts of the conversation with Mr. Papadopoulos.

The information provided by Mr. Steele did not reach F.B.I. officials who were investigating Mr. Trump’s campaign until mid-September of 2016, The Times reported in May. 

Next, President Trump claims:

Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations- wild outburst on the internet and television- about this Administration.

He has made no reference to which “highly sensitive information” Mr. Brennan revealed to the public.

President Trump’s statement furthermore describes Brennan’s public statements as  “increasingly frenzied commentary,” attacking Brennan’s state of mind.

What does appear indeed frenzied is the approach president Trump has taken to remove Brennan’s security clearance.

As the New York Times reported:

The standard revocation process includes memos that outline why a clearance is being withdrawn, and would allow the former official to offer a defense or a rebuttal. In Mr. Brennan’s case, the C.I.A. did no such review of his behavior or comments.

Not only is the president contradicting security clearance removal precedent, but he made it even more emphatic in a Wall Street Journal interview that he was essentially punishing Brennan for his involvement in the Russia investigation, implying that anyone having anything to do with the investigation could theoretically be victim of Trump’s vindictive actions. 

President Trump reflected on Brennan and the Russia investigation, saying to the Wall Street Journal, “I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham. And these people led it! So I think it’s something that had to be done.”

According to the President then, because he thinks the Russia investigation is a “rigged witch hunt” and “a sham” that Brennan participated in, Brennan should have his security clearances removed. 

Considering only Brennan’s loss of security clearance, this might seem only to be an obstruction of justice and an abuse of power, but in light of there events of this week, it is clear that this is a piece of a broader attack on the first amendment- freedom of speech and of the press, specifically.

Recall the fact that Trump described Brennan’s public statements as “increasingly frenzied commentary”- referring most likely to Brennan’s claim that Trump’s deference to autocratic Russian President Vladimir Putin, and refusal to acknowledge the unanimous findings of the U.S. intelligence community, is treasonous.

Trump cited this as part of his rationale for stripping Brennan of his security clearance but Brennan is permitted by the First Amendment to say whatever he wants about the president (so long as he does not reveal confidential information).

The Chicago Tribune reported today that former Trump aid Omarosa Manigault Newman is being attacked for her criticism of the President. Omarosa has released tapes embarassing to the president, such as a conversation between Omarosa and Lara Trump where Trump tries to silence Omarosa with hush money upon being fired by President Trump’s chief of Staff, John Kelley. She’s also written a tell-all book “Unhinged” making claims that there is a tape of the President saying the N word, among other claims.

It has also just been reported by the Associated Press that

Omarosa Manigault Newman has a stash of video, emails, text messages and other documentation supporting the claims in her tell-all book about her time in the Trump White House, a person with direct knowledge of the records told The Associated Press Friday.

President Trump this week embarrassed himself and incited tremendous outcry when earlier this week he referred to Omarosa as a “dog,” giving the public one more example of how Trump deals not in reason or evidence based criticism of his own critics, but rather, resorts to dehumanizing insults.

The Chicago Tribune adds:

Trump campaign litigation counsel Charles Harder…sent a letter to Simon & Schuster executives threatening that the book’s publication would subject the company to liability for ‘substantial monetary damages and punitive damages.’

In the letter, according to the Chicago Tribune:

Harder said that excerpts of the book ‘contain confidential information and disparaging statements’ and that the Trump campaign’s potential claims against the publisher include tortious interference and inducement of Manigault Newman to breach her NDA [Nondisclosure agreement] with the campaign.

‘Now that you are aware of these contractual provisions, and Ms. Manigault-Newman’s breaches thereof, the Company will have claims against you, and all persons working in concert with you, should you proceed with publishing and selling the Book,’ Harder said, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The [Washington] Post.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Simon & Schuster outside counsel Elizabeth McNamara said Harder [the Trump campaign lawyer]

did not identify any particular excerpts as false, and the Trump campaign ‘does not have a viable legal claim merely because unspecified truthful statements in the Book may embarrass the President or his associates.’

In other words, Omarosa is being harassed- in fact, Trump reportedly wants Omarosa arrested – and he is attempting to prevent her from speaking, because her book makes the President look bad to the public.

While Simon & Schuster has said it will not stop publishing the book, the fact is the President of the United States swears an oath to uphold the constitution and by attempting to prevent Omarosa for exercising her first amendment right he is in direct violation of the constitution. He is not doing what he has sworn to do.

Washington Post Columnist Jennifer Rubin explains what she thinks ought to happen:

In a perfect world with lawmakers on both sides committed to upholding the Constitution, there would be bipartisan agreement on the need to begin impeachment hearings. there are more than enough grounds to commence hearings based on what we know to date and on Trump’s public conduct, including abuse of his authority over security clearances, his other assaults on the First Amendment, his blatant attempts to interfere with the Russia investigation….his drafting of a phony cover story for the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, his false public denial about payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels, etc.

It need not be “a perfect world” however, for Congress to do what it ought to do. It just needs to be a slightly more honest world- a world with a touch more integrity.

Further, perhaps if enough Americans make it blatantly clear to congress that they will not win re-election if they fail to impeach, congress will act. Trump’s base may be hard to crack but it’s not invincible and not immune to a tripping point that sways supporters from his hypnotic grasp.

People are speaking out in increasing numbers.

These recent first amendment attacks are happening the same week that hundreds of newspaper editorial boards condemn the president’s constant attack on the press,- calling the press “the enemy of the people” for example- after the Boston Globe suggested they all do so.

Showing how visceral the President’s attacks on the press are,  Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell reminds us:

When unhappy with Post coverage in particular, Trump has threatened government action against Amazon in an apparent attempt to financially punish its chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, who independently owns the paper.

Rampell adds:

Journalists and media owners are hardly the only ones whose job or financial security Trump has targeted from his bully pulpit. He called for the firing of National Football League players who kneel in protests during the national anthem. NFL owners, in a secretly recorded meeting in October, expressed concern about the president’s impact on their bottom line.

The president has been so reckless in his attacks that his removal of Brennan’s security clearances has awakened the anger of a retired Navy Admiral who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden,  William H. McRaven. McRaven wrote: I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearances as well, so I can add my name to the men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.”

McRaven says of Trump: “Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”

It is interesting that McRaven notes Trump’s “McCarthy-era tactics” because when McCarthy enraged people in the military during his “witch hunt” for attacking the first amendment it ended his political career and was met with a historical response. McCarthy was told: 

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

When will congress tell Trump “You have done enough” and impeach him? Or, are there too many among us willing to sacrifice our First Amendment rights? 

Why I Am a Democrat: Response to a Critic Who Calls My Views “Very Unrefined” (a manifesto of sorts)

[My response, my story, my fundamental principles, for the record, part 1 of 2]

[My response, my story, my fundamental principles, for the record, part 2 of 2]

I pay attention to my critics because I value transparency, accountability, and intellectual discussion about challenging issues, especially in the realm of politics because policies directly affect us.

Policies affect whether we are at war or at peace. Policies impact matters of poverty and wealth. Policies determine whether or not our civil rights are protected. They influence the harmony or discord in a diverse, cosmopolitan, pluralistic, democratic society. They can cause great anxiety or great relief. If we are going to talk about policies we should do so with great care.

When one of my critics- Duke Manning, a student of philosophy at Temple University, who is also a bassist- wrote a six paragraph complaint describing his belief that I do not discuss politics with great care, tremendous thought, and synthesis and logical analysis of research, I took issue to it because it could not be further from the truth. You might even note the irony that I spent over three hours articulating my refutation to his comparatively short Facebook comment.

Here is his critique:

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While Mr. Manning’s critique is inaccurate I must thank him for one thing because it is fair to say that if I am going to advocate staunchly for a set of policies it would be beneficial to all who consider my commentaries on the matter if I were to take extra efforts to clarify with greater intensity, why I think what I think.

With respect to my thinking, Manning suggested to me that I “seem to jump in head first with a thought [I] have without really doing enough research and considering how certain” I am. He adds that I “tend to be the kind of person who gets an idea and runs with it without really investigating it deeply or without considering that you are wrong.”

He cites the fact that in 2013, when I was a member of the Libertarian Party (which I am no longer. Now I am a registered Democrat) and running for the New Jersey Assembly, I advocated establishing a voting poll tax.

He notes that he insisted to me that it was a bad idea and that I disagreed with him. (I didn’t disagree for long however. Within months I came to realize the utter absurdity and injustice of such a policy.) This to him, proves that my “views are very unrefined”  and causes him to “worry that [I] will eventually promote an idea that might harm [my] appearance.”

While it is true that Manning’s description of my intellectual shortcomings in 2013 are accurate, he fails to account for the fact that over the last half of a decade I have first of all disavowed a plethora of false assumptions I used to hold.

Secondly he fails to note that my commentaries are in fact heavily sourced and cite experts with a diversity of perspectives. In fact, in his assault on my intellectual integrity he does not cite a single published commentary of mine.

Instead he relies on statements I made half a decade ago which I in fact disavowed within months of having made those statements as proof of my intellectual laziness and “very unrefined views” today. 

I want to provide you with my refutation of Manning’s characterization and while doing so explain to you in the form of an extemporaneous statement, the story of political evolution, and the fundamental concepts that underline my social democratic political philosophy.

It is my hope that first of all, this will serve as proof that I value and contemplate feedback even when it is negative, even when it is wrong. Secondly, I hope that you will find me transparent- that it does not seem as if my point of view came to me hastily out of some vacuum. Finally, I hope that by having done this you have gotten to know me better.

As always, let me know what you think.

Impeach Trump For Treason: Here’s Why

“We have a cancer within-close to the presidency, that’s growing. It’s growing daily. It’s compounding. It grows geometrically now, because it compounds itself.”

-John Dean, on tape discussing Watergate with President Nixon

 

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily…”

-Donald Trump, speaking at a press conference the day Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller III alleges, in an indictment, that Russian election related hacking began

 

“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening”

            –Donald Trump speaking at a rally

 

Please, let’s at least pause and reflect because something is wrong

 

It upsets me, and it nauseates me as real has come to seem surreal when reflecting on the current political conditions in America, yet alas, I must join with my fellow patriots in calling out our President, Donald Trump, for actively committing treason (not to mention a list of other crimes, such as obstruction of justice, and violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, and its first and 14th amendments). I must also join in the patriotic and just choir of lament over Congress’s refusal to protect America from the president’s attack on our national security operations (including the solidarity of our alliances), our democratic process, trust in the operation of our government as a whole, trust in the free press, and his attack on objective reality more fundamentally. To protect us from the President’s utter treason- his mysteriously dogmatic policy of doing the bidding of Russian President Vladimir Putin- congress should remove President Trump from office immediately. As of the moment I put these words on the record unfortunately Congress is yet to act as they ought to. In the meantime then, we, the people, will have to be the ones to act, and do so by inundating congress with demands to remove the president from office immediately.

I concede that my rhetoric could arguably be interpreted as perhaps unacceptably over-dramatic however I hope you might at least grant me this:  when president Trump verbally attacks our closest allies in the European Union, calling them “a foe,” and yet lavishes Russian president Vladimir Putin with praise, calling his denials of interference in our 2016 presidential election “strong and powerful”- much more so, apparently, in his estimation, than the unanimous findings of the U.S. intelligence community- such an attitude does appear quite upside down and contrary to what most of the world expected from a United States president (note that even a barrage of Fox News commentators expressed disgust with President Trump over this matter); this certainly at least merits pause and reflection.

I understand that some critics, of course, disagree with this perspective. Maybe you are one of those critics who remains passionately loyal to Trump but I hope at least you are willing entertain the Devil’s advocate nonetheless, if only to double check your convictions. Other critics reading this may share my basic concerns yet find my overall interpretation of recent events as presumptuous, since, for example, Robert Mueller III’s investigation into Trump’s possible ties with Russian interference in our 2016 elections has not yet concluded. In other words, we do not yet know all the facts. That is true but we do have some facts, and moreover we have enough direct evidence, including the President’s own behavior and words on live television to prove that his behavior and catastrophically poor judgement are not befitting of a president. Indeed, some of Trump’s actions are blatantly illegal. Take his violation of the emoluments clause for example, which he is currently being sued for in a civil case. Evidence of President Trump’s impeachable offenses exist in troves. Indeed, the case against him is so complex and multifaceted that History Professor Allan J. Lichtman wrote an entire book – The Case For Impeachment- outlining and explaining the case as he sees it.

In light of the immense complexity surrounding President Trump’s disturbing behavior and the special investigation into it- specifically his ties to the Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, but also his blatant obstruction of justice, his attacks on the first amendment, his cruel treatment of children at U.S.-Mexican border (he has torn babies from their parents who were merely seeking asylum), questions about campaign finance laws, violations of the emoluments clause and other financial activities- I want to hone in specifically on president Trump’s treasonous behavior throughout what NBC News anchor Katy Tur calls the president’s “worst week ever,” explain why it is indeed “treason,” why it is dangerous, and why therefore, congress must impeach President Trump and remove him from office immediately. Every U.S. citizen should be pressuring congress to do so. Even more specifically, I will focus on the frightening implications of Trump “publicly sid[ing[ with Russia over his own intelligence community” -to borrow a phrase from Katy Tur- thereby humiliating them in front of the world and of the fact that he publically considered handing over U.S. citizens to Russian President Vladimir Putin for interrogations.

 

I shall begin with a few of the week’s most tumultuous events and historically charged comments as I believe it will set the stage, so to speak.

 

Trump believes Putin, not the entire U.S. intelligence community

 

On Monday, July 16, 2018, there was a U.S.-Russia Summit and then a Press Conference in Helsinki, Finland. “We carefully analyzed the current status, the present and the future of the Russia-United States relationship — key issues of the global agenda,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin, describing the nature of the summit. President Trump offers a similar characterization, saying he and Putin discussed “a wide range of critical issues for both of our countries. We had direct, open, deeply productive dialogue.”

At the press conference following the secret conversation between Trump and Putin, Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire said to President Trump:

“Just now President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every US intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did.

“My first question for you, sir, is who do you believe? My second question is would you now with the whole world watching tell President Putin — would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?”

President Trump said in response: “My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others and said they think it’s Russia.

“I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

President Trump did not at all “denounce what happened in 2016” and he did not “warn [Putin] to never do it again,” – to never interfere in our elections again (Neufeld). Trump openly and with the whole world watching, espoused his belief in Putin over the entire United States intelligence community (including the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who Trump himself appointed), saying: “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that president Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” (Neufeld; emphasis mine). Trump did not say that our intelligence community has “strong and powerful” evidence explicitly articulated in Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller III’s indictment of 12 Russians accused of  participating in the meddling of the 2016 election- evidence which clearly Mueller, his staff, and a grand jury all found compelling and convincing enough to proclaim the conduct of those 12 Russians so suspicious that they should face a court of law (although we can be confident that Putin will not extradite them). Trump literally and quite uncritically (so sadly true to his form) deferred to the unsubstantiated claims of a Russian dictator whose nefarious anti-American activities include ordering “Russia’s military intelligence agency [to] infiltrate[] the control rooms of power plants across the United States [which] could enable it to take control of parts of the grid by remote control.”  (What happens to sick hospital patients dependent on power to sustain their lives if Russia shuts down the wrong power plants? That would be one concern among many. Concerns President Trump clearly does not share with rational Americans.)

 

Outrage & Orwellian Smoke and Mirrors!

 

Americans responded in outrage over this open display of pure treason.  That day, former Central Intelligence Agency Director, John O. Brennan tweeted: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treason. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???” Conservative columnist for the Washington Post, George Will, wrote in his July 17 article that “collusion with Russia is hiding in plain sight” and called President Trump a “sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.” One of Trump’s most ardent supporters, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich tweeted: “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected – immediately.”

Even those highest up in Trump’s chain of command found the situation to be something they needed to inject themselves into. NBC reported that: “Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had a private conversation with Trump to urge him to make clarifications on his comments from the news conference in Helsinki.” And so, he did, one might argue, attempt to make clarifications, though really what he did was play word games and treat we, the American people, as if we are incapable of seeing through his smoke and mirrors. President Trump said:

I thought that I made myself very clear by having just reviewed the transcript [of the Helsinki Press Conference]. Now, I have to say, I came back, and I said, “What is going on? What’s the big deal?” So I got a transcript. I reviewed it. I actually went out and reviewed a clip of an answer that I gave, and I realized that there is need for some clarification.

It should have been obvious — I thought it would be obvious — but I would like to clarify, just in case it wasn’t. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t.” The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it wouldn’t be Russia. So just to repeat it, I said the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t.” And the sentence should have been — and I thought it would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video — the sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia. Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.

People are not convinced by Trump’s claim that he meant “wouldn’t” and not “would.” As NBC reported: “Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. accused Trump of trying to ‘squirm away’ from his comments in Helsinki. ‘President Trump tried to squirm away from what he said yesterday. It’s 24 hours too late and in the wrong place,’ Schumer said” (Clark). NBC further reports, “Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he wasn’t buying it. ‘I don’t accept the president’s comments today,’ Warner said. “If he wanted to make those comments, he should have had the strength to make them in front of Vladimir Putin” (Clark).

Trump supporters like Newt Gingrich however thought Trump fixed the problem. He tweeted:

President Trump did right thing today in clarifying his comments in helsinki-reiterating his respect for and support of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the intelligence community. President responded quickly and clearly once he realized he had used wrong language.

Although Trump sort of changed a few of his Russia talking points, he injects a totally unsubstantiated, modifying contradiction which amounts to nothing more than an obfuscation which on the surface could only appease those who think America’s official languages should be Orwellian FoxNewsspeak, BreitbartNewspeak, and Doublethink. Trump said: “I accept our American intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place, could be other people also”  (emphasis mine). Since the American intelligence community’s conclusion is not that interference in our 2016 election “could be other people also” it is blatantly obvious that Trump in fact is merely adding to the list of 3,000 plus “false or misleading claims” he has already told to the American people. Beyond the fact that he contradicts himself he also provides no source or rationale as to how he knows or even why he suspects it “could be other people also.” He is merely trying to confuse vulnerable minds and convince them to submit dogmatically to his invented, fake reality. “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” Trump tells the American people, implying that only what he says is happening is indeed happening. (That is why all news media content that contradicts his claims are deemed “fake news,” and why reporters who ask questions about the president [questions which his Press Secretary Sara Huckabee Sanders deems “inappropriate”  are banned from the White House, and why Trump threatened to strip security clearances former intelligence officers who criticize him in ways which Press Secretary Sanders calls “inappropriate.”  Attacks on the first amendment, abuse of power, and desperate attempts at mind control- that is “what’s happening.”)

That’s how Senator Jeff Flake (AZ-R) perceives it also, saying we witnessed “an Orwellian moment” and that President Trump is “wag[ing] war on objective reality.” Senator Flake did not hold back and stop there. He clearly established an implied grounds for Trump’s impeachment when he spoke on the Senate floor three days later. Flake said: “An American president was invited by a reporter to denounce Russian attacks on our elections and in doing so defend the country he was elected to lead.” Flake addressed “the findings of our intelligence community regarding the Russian aggression” which Trump rejects and said “To reject these findings and to reject the excruciating specific indictment against…Russian operatives in defense to the world of a K.G.B. Apparatchik is an act of will on the part of the president.”   He characterized Trump’s behavior as “giving aid and comfort to an enemy of democracy,” citing the exact constitutional definition of treason, which can be found in Section 3. Clause 1 which says in full:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open court.

It does need to be noted that unfortunately not every Republican shares Senator Flake’s perspective. The view which contrasts Senator Flake’s most strikingly is that of Senator Rand Paul. Senator Paul alleges that “Trump Derangement Syndrome has finally come to the Senate” and he condemns what he perceives to be a widespread “hatred for the president” and says it is “so intense that partisans would rather risk war than give diplomacy a chance.”  Paul seems to confuse issues by equating widespread outrage over Trump’s refusal to acknowledge U.S. intelligence conclusions of Russian meddling (and instead take Putin’s word for it that they didn’t do it) and his refusal to strongly condemn them for it with openness to talk. One might speculate that Senator Paul either isn’t thinking clearly or is himself a “partisan” who would rather defend the president’s behavior than acknowledge the troubling contradictions that tarnish Trump’s credibility on this matter.

Sen. Paul was especially infuriated over allegations that Trump is a treasonist. “For goodness sakes, we have the former head of the CIA John Brennan gallivanting across TV now being paid for his ‘opinion,’ to call the president treasonous. This has got to stop. This is crazy hatred of the president. This is crazy partisanship that is driving this,” Senator Paul said (Senate Session). (That Rand Paul of all people, once known widely for his libertarianism and his constitutionalism suddenly seems to have a problem with Brennan’s exercise of his first amendment rights is baffling and I cannot help but find it strangely suspicious. Something seems to have deeply corrupted Senator Paul but that is another conversation for another time.)

 

“This seems not treated with the urgency required.

“The entire country should be aware of this. If Putin can single out @mcfaul, he can single out anyone.”

As if President Trump’s “submissive and deferential” attitude and actions towards Putin (to cite Senator Bob Corker’s [R-Tenn.] characterization at the beginning of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee [which he chairs] hearing on the U.S. summits with North Korea and Russia)  weren’t a great enough shock to the nation, President Trump sent Americans into even more alarm during yet another disaster of a press conference. It was the Wednesday following the Monday Helsinki incident. As the Washington Post reports:

“Russian authorities yesterday named several Americans who they want to question, who they claim were involved in Bill Browder’s quote-unquote ‘crimes’ in their terms [Browder is accused of committing crimes in Russia but they are widely disputed], including former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul,” the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman said. “Does President Trump support that idea? Is he open to having U.S. officials questioned by Russia?”

“The president’s going to meet with his team and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that,” Sanders replied.

Putin wanted the U.S. government to allow his government to interrogate Browder and other U.S. citizens including former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and this infuriated most vocal Americans. Washington Post journalist Samantha Schmidt writes:

“The willingness of the White House to contemplate handing over a former U.S. ambassador for interrogation by the Kremlin drew ire and astonishment from current and former U.S. officials. Such a proposition is unheard of. So is the notion that the president may think he has the legal authority to turn anyone over to a foreign power on his own.”

Among the most prominent of voices opposing this terrifying notion was acting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “That’s not going to happen. The administration is not going to send, force Americans to travel to Russia to be interrogated by Vladimir Putin and his team,” Pomepo told the Christian Broadcasting Network. Although Pompeo thankfully says it’s “not going to happen,” where’s his moral compass and characterization; where is his pronouncement of the bigger meaning of the fact that President Trump actually considered the idea that certain Americans should have to be forced to answer questions asked by a dictator who rigs elections, annexes sovereign territory, and has his critics imprisoned or murdered? The former Secretary of State John Kerry, who served under President Obama was able to offer more clarity: he characterized the notion as “dangerous.” Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Calif) tweeted this: “Take this to the bank, @realDonaldTrump: you turn over former U.S. Ambassador @McFaul to Putin, you can count on me and millions others to swiftly make you an ex-president.”

One of the most sobering and crucial reactions for Americans to heed (if not the most) is seen in a Twitter exchange between a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and the Harvard Extension School- Tom Nichols- and attorney Ben Campo. The exchange is as follows:

                      Ben Campo: Am I overreacting when I think that the mere consideration

of this request by the White House is an abdication of their duties and a

very dangerous precedent by the administration? This seems not

                        treated with the urgency required. [emphasis mine]

 

Tim Nichols: No. You are not overreacting. The entire country

                       should be aware of this. If Putin can single out @mcfaul, he

                       can single out anyone. The president’s job is to protect us, not to

even * consider * handing any of us over to an enemy government.

 

 

Open Treason

 

There is currently, among us Americans, a debate as to whether Trump’s actions- undermining our intelligence community and considering subjecting American citizens to the harassment of Vladimir Putin- indeed qualify as “treason.” To begin with, what is the definition of treason? Here it should be noted that there is the rhetorical or general definition of treason (not applicable to the law, but used in informal conversation) and then there is the legal definition. It should also be noted that in response to Trump’s behavior and comments at the Helsinki press conference, “treason” was the top searched word on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website, as the site tweeted. This suggests it is possible that a massive plethora of Americans thought they may have witnessed treason committed before there very eyes and sought check whether they might be right. The second, third, and fourth most searched words were: “abase, traitor, collusion” demonstrating further evidence that at the very least, a compelling number of Americans found Trump’s behavior suspicious and concerning.

According to the Oxford Dictionary “treason” is defined as “The crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government” or “The action of betraying someone or something.”  But let us consult more than one dictionary as more than one perspective should always be considered. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary “treason” is defined as:

1 : the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign’s family

2 : the betrayal of a trust : treachery

As for the legal definition? Article III Section 3 says:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted (emphasis mine).

 

“Russia and the United States are on the opposite sides of various armed confrontations in Syria”

 

Politifact, widely known for scrutinizing controversial claims, sides with a number of legal experts that it cites, claiming in an article that “Trump’s actions have not met the strict constitutional definition” of treason. The popular rationale which Politifact’s experts adhere to is the interpretation that treason requires that the U.S. be in an official state of war, which the experts say we are not. (It should be noted that Politifact did not oppose the notion that Trump is a “traitor.” Politifact is arguing based on legal semantics) The author of the Politfact article cites legal historian at Fordham Law School, Jed Shugerman, who says: “We are not at war with Russia under any fair understanding of the word.” Jacobson then paraphrases: “Shugerman added that even a notion like ‘cyberwar’ with Russia is a metaphor for war rather than an actual deadly conflict-unless that cyberwar were to escalate to, say, hacking into nuclear power plants with the intent of exploding them.” (Here it should be noted that Russia has and is hacking into our power plants.)

University of California-Davis law professor Carlton Larson is also cited in the Politifact article and says “Even if one thought the Russian hacking amounted to an act of war, the U.S. has not treated that hacking as an act of war. So until an actual state of war erupts between the United States and Russia, Russia can’t formally be an enemy for purposes of treason law.”

Conservative commentator Kevin D. Williamson, in article for The Weekly Standard doesn’t even bother to confer with constitutional or dictionary definitions of “treason” and instead cites the concept as it was treated by ancient Romans. Williamson writes:

the law of the Roman republic defined treason in military terms: perduellio consisted of making war on the Roman republic, assisting those making war on the Roman republic, or handing over a Roman citizen to an enemy at war. During the republican period, charges of treason were levied almost exclusively at Romans in military service for actions taken in a military context.

Williamson should refer back Robert Mueller III’s July 13 indictment of 12 Russians interfering in our election and note that Mueller ties election interference to “a military intelligence agency called the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (“GRU”) (United States of America V. Viktor Borisovich Netyksho et al.; emphasis mine) This is clearly and explicitly a military context.

Still, clearly it is a reasonable trend among legal and intellectual minds contemplating Trump’s actions, to conclude Trump is not guilty of constitutional treason on the grounds that the U.S. and Russia are not at war in any traditional sense of the term. But I contend that the nature of warfare and aggression between nations have evolved, as I believe, is made clear by the fact that according to Mueller, Russia’s attack on our elections was a military operation. Russia is engaged in new forms of aggression which include, not just attempting to subvert our democracy in general, including our intelligence community, and our sovereignty especially as it concerns our foreign policy,  and not just waging a misinformation campaign by inundating media with propaganda as part of that subversion, but also attempts to control our power grids which poses a severe threat.  As the New York Times reports:

the Department of Homeland Security reported that over the last year, Russia’s military intelligence agency had infiltrated the control rooms of power plants across the United States. In theory, that could enable it to take control of parts of the grid by remote control (emphasis mine)

If Russia’s cyber attacks should not be called acts of war, how exactly do we categorize Russia’s aggression? Let us briefly delve deeper into legal understandings of war for further clarity. According to 18 U.S. Code S 2331- Definitions (4) (a, b, & c):

(4) the term “act of war” means any act occurring in the course of—

(A) declared war;

(B) armed conflict, whether or not war has been declared, between two or more nations; or

(C) armed conflict between military forces of any origin; (Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute; emphasis mine)

 

The question ultimately comes down to the phrase “armed conflict.” The 2015 Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) Deskbook [“a collection of teaching outlines, collected, bound, and distributed as a matter of instructional convenience, intended only to introduce students to the law and point them to primary sources of that law”] says “it is a well-settled proposition in international law that the LOAC applies to all spheres of conflict, to include land, sea, air, space, and also cyberspace” (see page 8, footnote 3; emphasis mine). That being said, there exists a point of view that there is no definitive, explicit, legal definition for an official cyber attack, or state of war fought exclusively in cyberspace.  As Federal News Radio reported in an article by Scott Maucione last April:

Since cyber became a major domain, what exactly constitutes an attack on the nation and its people remains debatable.

Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) wants to change that. Last week he went before the House Armed Services Committee to request a provision be added to the 2019 defense authorization bill that provides a legal definition of cyber warfare.

“Cyber war does not fit within the traditional confines of how we conceive warfare. While we have a cyber command that is tasked with protecting U.S. cyberspace, we do not have a legal definition detailing under what circumstances a cyber attack is considered an act of war. That is why I am requesting an amendment that will require the Pentagon to form a working group to propose a legal definition, report back to Congress and make the findings known to the public,” Donovan said during the April 11 hearing (Lawmakers still looking).

On the other hand , Business Insider cites Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean and professor of law at Cornell Law School, who told reporter Grace Panetta:

even without a formal declaration, there is a case to be made that Russia and the US are indeed at war.

“One argument would be that Russia has engaged in a covert cyber intervention against US interests, including election meddling, that rises to the level of hostilities… However “an even better argument would be that Russia and the United States are on the opposite sides of various armed confrontations in Syria”

… referring to Russia’s backing of the Syrian government while the US backs rebel groups there.”

It is certainly true in that sense that an “armed conflict” exists between our two nations. Let us also consider that Russia has used actual force (hacking and stealing private information and using it for nefarious purposes, even accessing our energy grids, compelling the president [for reasons yet to discovered] to interrupt the coordination and functioning our government by striving to delegitimize and stifle the effectiveness our democratic process, our intelligence community, even our alliances, and to crush dissent in the media by striving to delegitimize all voices in the media critical of Trump and his relationship with Putin ) and that this force has damaged our government as an institution, and threatened our national security.

 

“Half (49%) of Americans agree with former intelligence officials’ assessments that President Trump acted ‘treasonous’ during the Helsinki summit”

 

Trump’s open, public and dogmatic deference to Putin (again, with whom we are in armed conflict, and cyber warfare) and not the findings, and credibility of U.S. institutions is by all means treason: a pronouncement that many Americans persist in making.

 

Recall again, the tweet from former Central Intelligence Agency Director, John O. Brennan: “nothing short of treason.” Recall again, as well, Senator Jeff Flake who described Trump’s behavior as “giving aid and comfort to an enemy of democracy,” again, citing the exact constitutional definition of treason. In a Seattle Times article University of Washington Law Professor Hugh Spitzer writes:

Could Trump’s actions provide a legal basis for impeachment under Article II, Section 4, of the Constitution, which provides for removing the president and other officials “on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”?

The answer is “yes.”  Spitzer says the answer is yes because in his interpretation of events, Trump is “adhering to the enemy, and giving them aid and comfort” (“’Aid and Comfort…’”).

New York Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman  writes:

There is overwhelming evidence that our president, for the first time in our history, is deliberately or through gross negligence or because of his own twisted personality engaged in treasonous behavior — behavior that violates his oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Friedman’s rationale? Trump “threw his entire intelligence establishment under a bus,” and blamed the United States in part for our poor relationship with Russia (forget the audacity for a second, he does not even bother to suggest why he thinks this, other than to say that the U.S. and Russia “should have had this dialogue a long time ago” which they did if he will remember that both President Bush and Obama have engaged in dialogues with Putin.

Friedman’s colleague at the New York Times, Charles M. Blow says :

“Trump should be directing all resources at his disposal to punish Russia for the attacks and prevent future ones. But he is not…America is under attack and its president absolutely refuses to defend it. Simply put, Trump is a traitor and may well be treasonous”

The front page of the New York Daily News for Tuesday, July 2017 reads: “OPEN TREASON; *Trump Backs Enemy Putin over US intel….”

An astonishing trend is blatantly apparent: A number of law professors, lawmakers, and pundits in the media allege that Trump committed treason. And by no means whatsoever, do they reflect some “fringe” group (such as the Green Party or the Libertarian Party), nor do they reflect mere Democratic partisan anger at Trump. According to an Ipsos poll conducted after the Helsinki incident, “Half (49%) of Americans agree with former intelligence officials’ assessments that President Trump acted ‘treasonous’ during the Helsinki summit.”

 

 President Trump must be impeached

 

Condemnation however is not enough. The president must be impeached, and treason is an impeachable offence. After impeachment, the Senate must vote to remove Trump from office. He should then be indicted and tried in a court of law. Since lengthy commentaries such as this one can sometimes muddle the bottom line, let us be clear exactly what Trump should be impeached for (at least with respect to his ongoing treason):

 

  • Publically proclaiming the illegitimacy of U.S. intelligence (which unanimously agrees Putin coordinated an attack on our elections) and instead deferring to the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose unsubstantiated denial in interfering with our elections, Trump calls “strong and powerful,” thereby conspiring with Putin in a misinformation campaign and a campaign to literally destabilize the functioning of our government, and slow down the efficacy of our national security apparatus and coordination.

 

  • Willingness to even consider handing over U.S. citizens to Putin (who has a global reputation for having his critics murdered both in Russia and abroad) whereby they would be subjected to harassment, at the very least, and either end up in prison for phony financial crimes or murdered at worst, proving that the president not only has failed in his ability to defend Americans from Russian aggression, but has also demonstrated a disinterest.

 

  • Points 1 and 2 clearly prove that Trump is giving “aid and comfort to an enemy” (an enemy we are armed conflict with), and that enemy is Russia.

 

 

And let it also be clear that just as perceptions of Trump’s actions are not merely defined as treasonous by radical fringe groups, the same is true of calls for his impeachment. A CNN/SSRS poll found that even prior the Helsinki Crisis “42% of Americans say President Donald Trump should be impeached and removed from office.” While no polls have been released since the event, given the fact that perception of Trump has sunk to lower estimations post Helsinki, it is not at all unreasonable to speculate that public support for impeachment will grow. Most certainly, as I have outlined, by conferring in this commentary, with legal experts, lawmakers, pundits in the media, and the view of nearly half the American population, public support for Trump’s impeachment and removal must grow, or else Putin will have succeeded in indeed hijacking the U.S. presidency and controlling key elements of its foreign policy; he will have succeeded in subverting U.S. sovereignty, which we must never allow, as this nation was founded on the principle that no dictator may take our sovereignty from us.

 

References

“Americans Interrogated by Russians? ‘Not Going to Happen’ Says Pompeo in CBN News EXCLUSIVE,” Christian Broadcasting Network. 1:13-1:19 http://www1.cbn.com/content/americans-interrogated-russians-not-going-happen-says-pompeo-cbn-news-exclusive Accessed 30 July 2018.

 

Atkinson, Claire. “’Disgusting’and ‘Surreal’: Fox voices offer sharp criticism  of Trump in Helsinki. NBC News. 16 July 2018. https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/disgusting-surreal-fox-voices-offer-sharp-criticism-trump-helsinki-n891841

 

Blow, Charles, M. “Trump, Treasonous Traitor,” New York Times, 15 July 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/15/opinion/trump-russia-investigation-putin.html

 

 

Bump, Philip.“Putin’s push to interrogate U.S. officials Russia accuses of crimes, explained,” Washington Post, 18 July 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/07/18/putins-modest-proposal-on-interrogating-u-s-officials-explained/?utm_term=.a317e8bb632e

 

Chalfant, Morgan. “Trump mulls move against intel critics.” The Hill. 23 July 2018.

http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/398478-trump-mulls-move-against-intel-critics

 

Corker, Bob (Senator), “Senator Corker Expresses Concerns About President’s Conduct of Foreign Policy,” 25 July 2018, 1:58-2:01  https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4742121/senator-corker-expresses-concerns-presidents-conduct-foreign-policy

 

Dartunorro, Clark.  “24 hours later, Trump claims he misspoke in Helsinki, meant to say Russia did have reason to meddle in election” NBC News. 18 July 2018, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/24-hours-later-trump-claims-he-misspoke-helsinki-meant-say-n892166

 

Dean, John & Nixon, Richard. “Cancer on the Presidency.” Miller Center.  https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/educational-resources/cancer-on-the-presidency (accessed 1 August 2018).

 

Dowdy, Ryan et al. “Law of Armed Conflict Deskbook,” INTERNATIONAL AND OPERATIONAL LAW DEPARTMENT, The United States Army Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School Charlottesville, VA, 2015,  http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/LOAC-Deskbook-2015.pdf

 

Farhi, Paul & Sonmez, Felicia. “CNN reporter barred from White House event, drawing protests from journalists.” The Washington Post. 25 July 2018.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/cnn-reporter-barred-from-white-house-event-drawing-journalists-protests/2018/07/25/81dd6b5e-9057-11e8-bcd5-9d911c784c38_story.html?utm_term=.be9aba3e2ab1    

 

Flake, Jeff. Paul, Rand. Senate Session. CSPAN.  19 July 2018, 1:377:18- 1:39:47 1:52:35-1:59:40, https://www.c-span.org/video/?448415-1/us-senate-approves-resolution-opposing-russian-questioning-us-officials

 

Friedman, Thomas L. “Trump and Putin vs. America,” New York Times, 16 July 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/16/opinion/trump-and-putin-vs-america.html

 

Front Page, New York Daily News, 17 July 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/new-york-daily-news-scorches-treason-trump-with-brutal-new-cover_us_5b4d3bb0e4b0de86f485c6fd 

“Half of Americans agree that Trump acted “treasonous” during the Helsinki summit,” Ipsos, 19 July 2018, https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/news-polls/Half-of-Americans-agree-Trump-acted-treasonous-at-Helsinki-Summit

 

Hohmann, James. “The Daily 202: Trump creates an alternative reality, and he wants you to join him there.” The Washington Post. 25 July 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2018/07/25/daily-202-trump-creates-an-alternative-reality-and-he-wants-you-to-join-him-there/5b57c83e1b326b1e64695515/?utm_term=.6f1db5b94341

 

Jacobson, Louis. “A closer look at claims of treason after Trump’s meeting with Russian President Putin.”Politifact,23 July 2018, https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2018/jul/23/treason-trumps-actions-russian-putin-meeting/

 

@JohnBrennan. “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???” Twitter, 16 Jul 2018, 8:52 a.m.,

https://twitter.com/johnbrennan/status/1018885971104985093

 

Kessler, Glenn, et al. “President Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims so far.” The Washington Post. 1 May 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/05/01/president-trump-has-made-3001-false-or-misleading-claims-so-far/?utm_term=.e866e1bb4f9a

 

Levy, Clifford, J. “An Investment Gets Trapped in Kremlin’s Vise,” New York Times, 24 July 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/24/world/europe/24kremlin.html?hp=&pagewanted=all

 

Lichtman, Allan J. The Case For Impeachment. Harper Collins e-Books, 2017.

 

@MarriamWebster. “Top searches, in order: treason, abase, traitor, collusion, presser,” Twitter, 16 July 2018, 2:39 p.m., https://twitter.com/MerriamWebster/status/1018973357604265986\

 

Maucione, Scott. “Lawmakers still looking for definitive answer on what constitutes cyber war,” Federal News Radio, 16 April 2018,

 

Mueller indictment, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/new-york-daily-news-scorches-treason-trump-with-brutal-new-cover_us_5b4d3bb0e4b0de86f485c6fd

Neufeld, Jennie, Putin, Vladimir, Trump, Donald. “Read the full transcript of the Helsinki press conference.” Vox. 17 July 2018. https://www.vox.com/2018/7/16/17576956/transcript-putin-trump-russia-helsinki-press-conference

 

@newtgingrich. “President Trump did right thing today in clarifying his comments in helsinki-reiterating his respect for and support of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the intelligence community. President responded quickly and clearly once he realized he had used wrong language.” Twitter. 17 July 2018. 2:31 p.m.https://twitter.com/newtgingrich/status/1019333770946621440?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1019333770946621440&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nbcnews.com%2Fpolitics%2Fpolitics-news%2F24-hours-later-trump-claims-he-misspoke-helsinki-meant-say-n892166

 

@newtgingrich. “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately. Twitter, 16 July 2018. https://twitter.com/newtgingrich/status/1018967261418344450

 

Panetta, Grace. “Former CIA Director John Brennan said Trump’s press conference with Putin was ‘treasonous’ — here’s what legal experts say,” Business Insider, 16 July 2018 https://www.businessinsider.com/did-trump-committ-treason-russia-summit-2018-7

 

@RadioFreeTom. “No. You are not overreacting. The entire country should be aware of this. If Putin can single out @mcfaul, he can single out anyone. The President’s job is to protect us, not to even *consider* handing any of us over to an enemy government.” Twitter, 18 July 2018, 12:32 p.m., https://twitter.com/RadioFreeTom/status/1019666361621143553

 

 

Restuccia, Andrew and Nelson, Louis. “Trump’s Putin fire rages on,” Politico, 19 July 2018,

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/19/michael-mcfaul-trump-russia-question-732356

 

Sanger, David E. “Russian Hackers Appear to Shift Focus to U.S. Power Grid,” New York Times, 27 July 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/27/us/politics/russian-hackers-electric-grid-elections-.html

 

 Schmidt, Samantha. “Outrage erupts over Trump-Putin ‘conversation’ about letting Russia interrogate ex-U.S. diplomat Michael McFaul.” Washington Post, 19 July 2018.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/07/19/trump-putin-conversation-about-russian-interrogation-of-u-s-diplomat-prompts-outrage-astonishment/?utm_term=.399aa39213e6

 

 

Spitzer, Hugh. “‘Aid and comfort’ to enemies: Trump, Russia and treason,” Seattle Times, 18 July 2018, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/aid-and-comfort-to-enemies-trump-russia-and-treason/

 

Stempel, Jonathan. “Emoluments case alleging Trump violated Constitution can proceed: U.S. judge.” Reuters. 25 July 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-emoluments/emoluments-case-alleging-trump-violated-constitution-can-proceed-us-judge-idUSKBN1KF2GZ

 

“Treason,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/treason, accessed 30 July 2018

 

“Treason,” Oxford Dictionary, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/treason, accessed  30 July 2018

 

Tur, Katy. “Trump’s Worst Week Yet?” MSNBC. 20 July 2018,0:00-0:07, https://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word/watch/trump-s-worst-week-yet-1282333251677

 

“Treason,” Oxford Dictionary, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/treason, accessed  30 July 2018

 

“Treason,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/treason, accessed 30 July 2018

 

Trump, Donald. “Donald Trump Asks Russia to Find Hillary Clinton’s Emails.” C-SPAN. 17 July 2016. https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4615538/donald-trump-asks-russia-find-hillary-clintons-emails&start=775

 

U.S. Constitution, Article III,  and Amendment I, 21 June, 1788, (Cornell Law School Legal Institute)  https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articleiii; https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment

 

Will, George. “This sad embarrassing wreck of a man,” Washington Post, 17 July 2018,

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/this-sad-embarrassing-wreck-of-a-man/2018/07/17/d06de8ea-89e8-11e8-a345-a1bf7847b375_story.html?utm_term=.555ca8105920

 

Williamson, Kevin D. “Stop Calling It ‘Treason,’” The Weekly Standard, 17 July 2018, https://www.weeklystandard.com/kevin-d-williamson/donald-trumps-meeting-with-vladimir-putin-wasnt-treason

 

Wolf, Z. Byron. “There’s nearly a Nixon ’74 level of public support for impeaching Trump,” CNN, 22 June 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/22/politics/impeach-trump-nixon-support-bill-clinton-poll/index.html

JACKSON: PROPERTY RIGHTS FOR SOME, THEFT & DEATH FOR OTHERS

-A Critical Examination of President Andrew Jackson’s Economic Policies-

jackson-2
photo via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:78yo_Andrew_Jackson.jpg

PART 1- INTRODUCTION: IMPORTANT, FUNDAMENTAL, ABSTRACT QUESTIONS ABOUT ECONOMIC RIGHTS

*PROPERTY RIGHTS*

What entitles a person or a country to land? What entitles a state, county, or town to land?

It is an extremely important question because land is a resource and a resource is valuable and thus is worth money, and moreover, land and money are both properties- things people can possess. This only leads to further questions.

Should a person be allowed to claim and keep his or her own property?

If not, why?

If so, under what conditions, and why?

The degree to which a person cannot claim and/or keep his or her own property is the degree to which either rampant slavery, theft or government regulation defines a region’s official or unofficial economic policies, and there are various factors which determine these policies.

Are we talking about a region that does not acknowledge property rights, doesn’t enforce property rights, or doesn’t fairly recognize and enforce property rights?

In the case of the United States, from a historical perspective, we must start with the fact that Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (1776)

Further, in the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, it is stated that its purpose was to “secure the Blessings of Liberty.”(1787) (Tragically though, we must add that this most sacred right of “Liberty” (so sacred a right that our founders capitalized the “L” in the word) was not fairly secured even slightly until the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteen Amendments (the prohibition of slavery, the guarantee of equal protection under the law, and equal guarantee ((but only among men)) to vote) were passed.

It took until the 20th century for women to have the right to vote, and until the 21st century for homosexuals to have the right to marry. To this very day, the clash of Native American culture and Capitalist American culture remain an issue. It is one of the more tragic truths of the human condition that moral enlightenment of a society is an evolutionary process, no matter how self evident it may be to some, and no matter how self evident some may say it is while not practicing what they preach.

But this is really only half of the complexity of economic policy.

There is the morality of property rights, and then there is the politics of it.

After all, a government cannot operate if it cannot tax the citizens. Sometimes the government is short of money and needs to borrow. Moreover, the government has to decide whether or not there should be a federally mandated universal form or currency of money and whether or not the government should have any hand in the circulation of any given currencies, which means, should it have a central bank, or should banking be an entirely free enterprise?

Money is not just currency exchanged or deposited in a bank. Money is, or buys, resources.

One of the greatest resources on Earth is land.

When European Colonists came to America they faced a tremendous land conflict because there were already Native American Tribes living on the land.

And on the one hand, the Native Americans claimed the land first.

On the other hand, Colonists were introducing, albeit in a very sloppy, totally inconsistent way, an official and capitalistic idea of land ownership, whereby a person purchases land that may be his or her own to do whatever he or she wants with it.

Many Native American tribes did not share that view of handling land.

When two cultures have such fundamentally different different views of land ownership, what is to be done?

These are just some of the economic policy questions that early American politicians faced. But that’s only the more intellectual-philosophical part of it.

*POLITICS

What about the politicking part of it?

That is to say, what about that part where, in an American context, politicians have to:

1) please enough of their constituents to get and remain elected, which is a horrendous task if that constituency base is bigoted, biased, or generally ignorant, which means that in the realm of campaigning the politician’s rhetoric may resort to entirely betraying his or her real conscience just to get perhaps, a chance to suddenly flipflop and use the power of his or her vote/authority in the legislature or within his or her office to promote a policy he or she truly believes in (I am not necessary saying I condone this so much as I am saying it is a clear reality much of the time)

2) get a majority of fellow politicians with a wide range of different perspectives and different constituencies to agree on rules that everyone in country must follow. This means, I am willing to assert, that just as the moral enlightenment and education of a country is an evolutionary process, the politicking of a country is a messy and fundamentally imperfect, contradictory process.

Tying all of this back to economic policy, I’ve offered the above context, not in defense of American history’s immorality and totally unacceptable politicking and policy, but rather, as a framework from which we can at least objectively evaluate economic political reform from the perspective of the political and cultural and economic climate  that politicians have had to work within so that at least we might gain something legitimate to appreciate.

So far as reforming economic policies go, I can think of no other politician who addressed them so comprehensively than former United States President Andrew Jackson.

It may be true that Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson may have given us some basic principles of economic philosophy, and it may be true that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson may have uplifted the poor with the “New Deal” and The “Great Society” policies but each of these men I have mentioned tended to have particular focuses. In contrast, so far as economic policies in the United States goes, President Andrew Jackson took on virtually every aspect of it.

Andrew Jackson’s comprehensive economic policies, in each case, surely addressed the issue of property rights, but with the exception of paying back the federal debt and lowering tariffs, it was not the property rights for all that he concerned himself with; as his mandated increase in the supply of land was at the expense of Native American rights and tragically their lives; his increase in the circulation of gold meant a loss of purchasing power for those who owned mostly silver; and finally, his decentralization of the banks in the name of taking on the monopoly on the money supply only empowered and enriched those heading his so called “pet banks”, leaving many to fall prey to loosely regulated state chartered banks or free banks; each case being a matter of either upholding or violating property rights.

By looking back and critically examining each of these treatments of property rights, it is my hope that at the very least, it will be perfectly clear that Andrew Jackson was no hero for “the people”- that instead he was a hypocritical, extremely dangerous megalomaniac who used the seductive pretense of protecting property rights to simply bask in his own power, act vindictively towards others, impoverish some, authorize murders, and enrich his friends in his pet banks.

PART 2: ANDEW JACKSON’S FISCAL POLICIES

*PAYING BACK THE DEBT

Some historians, at least those participating in the publication of Robert Divine’s America: Past and Present, Volume 1 either are generally uneducated historians (very doubtful considering the depth of its scholarship in many aspects of its chapters on United States History) or are ones so entirely and terribly biased that they want to completely evade the monumentally historic fact that in 1835 President Andrew Jackson paid back all of the United States’ federal debt, which was, according to John Steele Gordon, “about $58 million.” (2011, 3) Gordon also notes that no president ever had paid back the debt before, and never has since. One might think that in Devine’s textbook, somewhere in the index, under “D” and “debt” one would find, among the following:

Debt: for American Revolution, 142; attempts to reduce England’s, 109–113; growth in colonial period, 89; Hamilton’s solution for national, 161–162; Jefferson’s policy on paying national, 184 (Divine 2012, I-3)

…some mention of ‘Jackson’s complete repayment of.’  Alas, it is not there. But the event did occur and as I stated, it was quite momentous but not only because Jackson was the only president in our history to do it.

Governmental debt is, in almost every situation, an unjust taxation on future taxpayers without even a democratic say in having it bestowed upon them. Moreover, it is quite literally a liability. It was debt which destroyed the Ottoman Empire. It was debt which so weakened the United Kingdom that it sought to usurp money from the American colonists. In the words of President Jackson, in his first inaugural address, debt is “incompatible with real independence.”  (1829) He is quite right about this if one will think about it literally. When a country needs money from or owes money to another country, it is to that degree, dependent on it. When a country owes no money, it is literally independent, and the amount of its surplus represents the degree of its economic strength.

Unfortunately, governmental debt alone is not the sole cause in a country’s thriving, mediocre, or failing economy and thus while Jackson may be exceptional for extinguishing it temporarily, it did not make him a savior of the United States economy. Noteworthy as it certainly was, in the context of improving the U.S. economy, ultimately it was simply a single achievement, buried under an list of failed, immoral economic policies.

LOWERING DUTIES AND TAXES

When Andrew Jackson entered the Presidency the United States was suffering from “tariffs [that were] at their highest level in American history.” (Whaples 2014,11) In 1832 Jackson approved a reduction in tariffs. (Divine, 10) A year later Jackson lowered tariffs even more. (Ibid) Tariffs went down from “an average of more than 50 percent to less than 20 percent—a rate that was well below the nineteenth-century norm.” (Whaples, 11)

It should be duly noted that historians appear to agree generally and implicitly at the time, tariffs were the main form of taxation in the United States, however it should be likewise noted that historians tend to be ambiguous about the exact particularities of early tax policies. According to Policy Almanac “in the late 1790’s, the Federal Government imposed the first direct taxes on the owners of houses, land, slaves, and estates [but then w]hen Thomas Jefferson was elected President in 1802, direct taxes were abolished and for the next 10 years there were no internal revenue taxes other than excises [until] the War of 1812, [when] Congress imposed additional excise taxes, raised certain customs duties, and raised money by issuing Treasury notes [which i]n 1817 Congress repealed …and for the next 44 years the Federal Government collected no internal revenue [i]nstead…receiv[ing] most of its revenue from high customs duties [i.e., tariffs] and through the sale of public land. (History of the US Tax System; The Post Revolutionary Era)

This is more or less corroborated by Charles Adams who tells us that the earliest federal taxation policies were 1) a tax on whiskey (which was ultimately repealed by Jefferson); 2) tariffs, 3) a “direct tax” (which is left undefined, but also referred to as “Hamilton’s taxes” which were ultimately repealed) (Adams, 2006)

Syracuse University Historian Andrew Wender Cohen also confirms that taxation in the nineteenth century “meant tariffs…” (When Americans Loved Taxes, 2015) The significance of emphasizing the notion of tariffs as the main prey of taxation is that when we think of how property taxes, and income taxes affect us, this is how people would have viewed the tariff rates, which, by the late 1820’s and early 1830’s were viewed as so intolerable that Vice President John C. Calhoun and the South Carolina declared them unconstitutional and nullified! (Divine, 235)

To realize then that Jackson cut the tariffs, i.e., the tax rate, by about 30 percent, is to further realize that he gave the American people a lot of their money back!    Just as paying back the federal debt was no small gift for the United States, neither was this massive tax cut! Say what one will about taxes and the need for various government programs, there is a point when taxation turns from a necessary revenue for financing the government, to a point of abuse and theft.

When folks are taxed up to fifty percent, in other words, half the value of their product or service, or income, or property, that is utter abuse as it is depriving a person of half their assets. But even if one wishes to criticize Jackson for giving the people more of their money back, one cannot deny that his tariff reductions, just like his debt elimination, were acts of protecting private property rights.

Unfortunately Jackson’s two major fiscal policy achievements, which more or less served the American population universally, are more or less undermined in the broader scope of things as his monetary policies proved to bring tragedy to Native Americans, deprive owners of silver their due purchasing power, and demonstrate that at his core, however much he wanted to give Americans some of their money back, he was ultimately a megalomaniac, which his banking policy proves.

PART 3: JACKSON’S MONETARY POLICIES

jacksonpic1
Image Via Boston Public Library- https://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/19475865226

INCREASING LAND OWNERSHIP AT THE EXPENSE OF NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS AND LIVES

If history is to have any meaning whatsoever then its most horrific episodes must to some degree haunt us; we must feel so angry with those who committed the gravest of evils in the name of our country, that as part of our tradition we condemn them passionately, we teach every generation about the evils perpetrated, and although we cannot change the past we can at least know it and out of contriteness and self esteem constantly improve ourselves morally, and politically. True, it is ultimately insufficient but in a universe where humanity can’t be omniscient and perfect, settling for improving upon our consciences and making something out of it is better than not. I say this because one of America’s ugliest and bloodiest money grabs occurred at the expense of the Native Americans, and although Andrew Jackson was not the only American President or politician or official or person to partake in it, (in fact some of the state legislatures were arguably crueler) he nonetheless led a fair share of it.

It would be inaccurate, incomplete, immoral, unjust, ugly, useless and I think even crazy to discuss Jackson’s monetary policies without discussing the Indian Removal Act. Land is an extremely valuable thing and bloodbaths over it have plagued humanity from its earliest days even up to the present. One need only to look at the crisis in Ukraine which is really a dispute between the American-Western European Alliance and Russia, or to look at the dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

As is stated in Divine’s textbook, in 1830 Jackson “called for the speedy and thorough removal of all eastern Indians to designated areas beyond the Mississippi.” (2013, 234) After the Indian Removal Act was passed he “us[ed] the threat of unilateral state action to bludgeon the tribes” as means of coercing the Native Americans to leave their homes and migrate West. Divine adds: “[b]y 1833, all the southeastern tribes except the Cherokee had agreed to evacuate their ancestral homes.” In response, the military “forced them to march to Oklahoma.” (Ibid.) The event has been termed the Trail of tears because a quarter of the Cherokees who marched died.

The Seminole Tribe was also reluctant to be coerced by Jackson and his accomplices. This resulted in what historians call The Second Seminole War (1834-1841) which Divine tells us lasted seven years and was America’s “most expensive Indian war” in its history. (Ibid.)

hunting_indians_in_florida
Image via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hunting_Indians_in_Florida.jpg

With Native Americans now forcibly removed from their land the government had vacant land to sell, which means the government now had 1) a massive-although immorally, unjustly obtained- source of revenue and 2) a massive amount of property to give, mostly to white males. Such an explosion in newly own land was an explosion of new capital, that is to say, an explosion in newly valuable and/or exchangeable, sellable property. Speaking strictly in terms of money supply and material wealth America was greatly enriched.

I grant that a complexity in the matter was the fact that not all Native American tribes were capitalistic and speaking economically, for perfectly valuable, money-making land to have its economic potential frozen when there were people willing and able to make the most of it economically, it amounted to a legitimate political conflict. To say that some kind of deal should and could have been struck where Native Americans could keep the land they inhabited while American capitalists could have found a way to profit is obviously easier to state, than to show how it could have been done. But in hindsight that is what should have been striven for. Instead, the Jackson administration committed massive theft and genocide against the Native Americans and cashed out tremendously. This demonstrates how wickedly racist and hypocritical Jackson and his accomplices were.

On the one hand, Jackson was supposedly about property rights. He lowered the tariffs and reduced the debt. He enacted policies that let people keep more of their money; and not only let them keep more money- he even increased the supply of money they could gain and not with fiat money but with actual assets: land. But what about the property rights of the Native Americans? What about their money supply? 

Suddenly one has to grow suspicious of just how pious Jackson was about property rights and economic prosperity. Clearly this principle did not apply to Native Americans and American history is forever damned by Jackson’s evil, racist exception. But was racism the only stain in Jackson’s supposed protection of property rights?

INCREASING THE CIRCULATION AND VALUE OF GOLD AS AN ATTACK ON THE NATIONAL BANK

While Jackson was increasing the money supply by stealing land from the Native Americans he was also stealing purchasing power from owners of silver in favor of owners of gold. To be contextually fair though, there was more to this political move than Jackson merely having an extreme bias in favor of owners of gold over owners of silver. The Founding Fathers of the country had unfortunately and inadvertently set the stage when they passed the Coinage Act of 1792.

The Coinage Act of 1792’s currency policy and the rationale behind it and relevant history are all a bit complex, mainly because prior to the act there were several competing currencies in America.

As the very famous economist, professor, and contributing force behind the establishment of the modern Federal Reserve, Laurence J. Laughlin, writes in his classic book The History of Bimetallism in the United States: “[i]n the time before the adoption of the Constitution the circulating medium of the colonies was made up virtually of foreign coins.” (I.II.1, 1885)

Among them, he tells us, was the English guinea, the French guinea, the Johannes, the Half Johannes, the Spanish pistole, the French Pistole, the Moidore, the English Crown, the French Crown, and the English Shilling. (Ibid.) Laughlin adds that: “[f]rom 1782 to 1786 the colonies began seriously to consider the difficulties arising from the variety of different coins in circulation, and their deleterious effects on business and methods of accounts.”  (I.II.2) This, he tells is, is what propelled American leaders to seriously contemplate the establishment of some kind of official currency policy. (Ibid.)

And so the issue was debated among Robert Morris, the Super Intendant of Finance, and Jefferson, and Hamilton. (I.II.2-8) Although it was ultimately determined, based on Hamilton’s advice, that the United States Dollar would be backed by both silver and gold- a policy called bimetallism, Laughlin tells us, Hamilton did have a bias towards gold. (Ibid) To enforce this policy would of course require determining how much gold is worth how much silver.

To determine the how much gold was worth how much silver our Founding Fathers researched gold and silver values across the world, with a keen eye on Spain.

“[Hamilton] announced that the later issues of dollars from the Spanish mint had contained 374 grains of fine silver, and the latest issues only 368 grains, which implied a current market ratio in the United States (if these dollars exchanged for 24¾ grains of fine gold) of from 1:15.11 to 1:14.87, or a mean ratio of about 1:15. Of this ratio Hamilton says it is ‘somewhat more than the actual or market proportion, which is not quite 1:15.’ But, throughout his inquiry, no one can doubt but that he was honestly seeking for a ratio as near as possible to that existing in the markets of the United States. He certainly can not be charged with an intention of underrating gold.” (I.II.16)

In other words, it was Hamilton’s point of view that fifteen ounces of silver should be worth one ounce in gold. This in fact was the standard determined by the Coinage Act of 1792. Unfortunately it led to unintended consequences: a devaluation of gold by the mint and an overvaluation of silver. This was so problematic that, in the words of Laughlin, “gold coins were seldom seen during the largest part of this period from 1792 to 1834. Even when bank-paper was used, the reserves of the banks were generally in silver, not in gold. Whatever the cause of the change in the relative values, certain it is that gold disappeared, and that the United States had but a single silver currency as early as 1817, and probably earlier.” (I.II.31)

President Andrew Jackson and his allies understood that this was a consequence of a bimetallist monetary policy and reasoned that if silver could overtake gold, as it did, under such a policy, then by changing the ratios, gold could overtake silver. Writes Laughlin: “the majority [of those debating a change in monetary policy] were evidently aiming at a single gold standard, through the disguise of a ratio which overvalued gold in the legal proportions. In the market an ounce of gold bought 15.7 ounces of silver bullion; when coined at the Mint it exchanged for sixteen ounces of silver coin. Silver, therefore, could not long stay in circulation.” (I.IV.17) Indeed the Coinage Act of 1834 was passed and the new standard increased to 16 ounces of silver for one ounce of gold. Was this change in a policy merely an appeal to owners of gold who had been essentially ripped off for decades, or was there yet more to it?

Economist Paul M. O’Leary writes: “[t]he real forces back of the ultimately successful effort to establish a coinage ratio of 16:1 were immediately political; what looks like a friendship toward gold was really more a case of animosity toward the Bank of the United States with its circulation of bank notes.” (1937, 84)

An expression of this animosity was published in The Washington Globe, as cited by O’Leary, stating that pro-silver members of congress, and the the bank favored silver because “the United States bank can then get nearly all the domestic and foreign gold, to sell to Europe and the West Indies for a premium.”(89)

Jackson most certainly agreed with

this perspective, saying in his Eighth Annual Address to Congress that “[a] value was soon attached to the gold coins which made their exportation to foreign countries as a mercantile commodity more profitable than their retention and use at home as money.” (1836) ( In other words, a bimetallic policy that favored silver, according also to the Washing Globe, O’Leary tells us, empowered the Bank, being a super rich entity compared to average Americans, would have the upper hand in gold purchases, and not for the purpose of circulating it within the American economy, but rather, for the purpose of enriching itself by selling to foreign interests.

Andrew Jackson did not stop after the Coinage Act of 1834. He also instructed the Secretary of the Treasury-Roger B. Taney- to stop depositing federal money into the national bank and to in fact withdraw federal money that was presently deposited in the bank. Then the newly withdrawn money was to be deposited into preferred state banks that were referred to by anti-Jacksonians as “pet banks.” (Divine, 238-239)

Further, in 1836 he passed an executive action named “The Specie Circular” which required that all purchases of public land be made in gold or silver. (Divine, 240) In defense of this policy, Jackson stated:

“By preventing the extension of the credit system it measurably cut off the means of speculation and retarded its progress in monopolizing the most valuable of the public lands. It has tended to save the new States from a nonresident proprietorship, one of the greatest obstacles to the advancement of a new country and the prosperity of an old one. It has tended to keep open the public lands for entry by emigrants at Government prices instead of their being compelled to purchase of speculators at double or triple prices. And it is conveying into the interior large sums in silver and gold, there to enter permanently into the currency of the country and place it on a firmer foundation. It is confidently believed that the country will find in the motives which induced that order and the happy consequences which will have ensued much to commend and nothing to condemn.” (Jackson’s Eighth Annual Address to Congress, 1836)

While it may appear that Jackson was heroic by taking gold away from the national bank’s self enrichment, devaluing its silver thus in the process, making gold more valuable than silver so that the people, and Jackson’s pet banks may enjoy gold’s newly increased purchasing power, and while it may appear that Jackson took on the evil of fiat money, logical analysis will show, I contend, that it was not quite what it seemed to be.

It is true that central banking is always a suspicious activity.

After all, left unchecked, it has the power to devalue the national currency by putting more money into circulation, backed either by something fundamentally less valuable than another commodity (as in the case of silver coins as opposed to gold ones) or fiat money, while still having the advantage of being the institution in charge of the money supply, and thus being the institution with the most money which could be used to manipulate policies domestic and foreign- everything from handpicking politicians to cashing out on instigating wars by lending money to arm two opposing parties. That being acknowledged, it would be foolish to assume that private, or free banks would not necessarily climb to the same position of corrupting power.

The only difference is, at least in theory, that a central bank can actually be held more accountable, whereas a series of free/private banks, by virtue of being totally free, or separate from the government, again at least in theory, could be subject to less scrutiny since they would be free, and separate from the government.

It should be noted emphatically here then that the current central/national bank of America- The Federal Reserve- is NOT an example of what a good central bank should and could be as is evidenced by the fact that it has not been audited in decades and is shrouded in secrecy and is significantly independent of the government, functioning almost like a federally sanctioned private bank that can do virtually whatever it wants. (One could I think argue that it is a regulated central bank in name, but a free and independent one in practice which is further arguably how it gets away with its evil and exuberant inflation)

By taking on the national bank, Jackson did not really do anything to reform actual banking so much as he took power away from particular bankers, suggesting that his famous war against the central bank was more like an act of personal vindictiveness than any kind of political heroism.

As for increasing the value of gold and decreasing the value of silver, ultimately it ripped off and served as an act of theft towards anyone in possession of silver or seeking possession of silver as it was unnaturally devalued. Now, if Jackson had the wisdom to do away with the bimetallic standard and instead establish an official monometallic gold standard, nobody would have lost out. But that he did not do.

Even Jackson’s “Specie Circular” is not really impressive since the country was under a bimetallic standard, not a fiat money standard.

In other words, paper that could be redeemed for gold or silver wasn’t fundamentally a bad thing. It was not of less value and so it really was totally unfair for Jackson to grant land purchasing rights exclusively to those in immediate possession of the gold or silver.

Granted one could argue to a holder of paper money at the time ‘just go to the bank and get your gold or silver’ but what is the point of possessing money, paper or metallic, if it cannot buy?

It might be one thing if paper money could not at all be redeemed for silver or gold but such a policy should either be universal or not at all. It is obvious by the exclusiveness of the policy (it only pertained to purchases of public land) that Jackson was seeking to grant the government’s new pet bankers with gold and silver- especially gold. After all, we must consider the fact that it was they- Jackson’s pet banks- who were now receiving deposits of money from the U.S. Treasury-in other words, money (gold and silver) that went from the hands of purchasers of public land to the U.S. Treasury then to Jackson’s pet banks.

To clarify it even more so: it was the undoing of one system of crony-capitalism which had been orchestrated by the former national bank, and the creation of a new system of crony-capitalism, which had been orchestrated by Jackson and his pet banks. The bottom line: Jackson was a hypocrite and megalomanic. His monetary policies were not about ‘the people’, they were about manipulating the people, appeasing cronies, and getting to be the man in charge.

PART 4- THE CONCLUSION: A THOUGHT FOR HISTORY TEACHERS

A portrait of Jackson’s economic policies is a highly complex one. It is also highly controversial. Within it are actions so controversial even to historians today that those with biases that federal debt is good will not even mention in their history books that Jackson paid back all of the federal debt and was the only one to do so. Some other historians with a more libertarian or nationalist leaning bias might portray Jackson as a man who took on on the evils of the institution of the central bank. James Perloff writes in his book Shadows of Power, for example: “the Bank of The United States (1816-1836), an early attempt to saddle the nation with a privately controlled central bank, was abolished by President Andrew Jackson…American heeded Jackson’s warning for a remainder of the century.” (1988, 20-21) What Perloff does not mention is that, first of all, if any credit is to be granted to anyone in curbing crony capitalism it was actually President Martin Van Buren who fought for an Independent Treasury so that government money wasn’t benefiting certain peoples’s banks. Secondly Perloff fails to mention that the country was subject to the instability of fairly unregulated banks.

Larry J. Sechrest reports in his book on free banking that nearly fifty percent of free banks (of which there was about 709. 678 of which had sufficient records for historians and economists to evaluate) failed! ( 97-98) And among the ones that didn’t fail immediately, on average, they failed to remain in business for even a decade. One could debate the significance of those statistics for a long time thus I shall not pursuit it longer.

The point is that this is just how complex Jacksonian economics was: it is a topic worth the examination of countless books, but still a bottom line about the essence of it can be succinctly stated: Jackson’s economics amounted to property rights for some, but theft and death for others.

Yes, he paid back the debt (a wonderful thing!) and yes he lowered tariffs (in other words, taxes- another wonderful thing) but it really wasn’t all that meaningful in the grand scheme of things since he stole land from the Native Americans, many of whom were murdered and died as a result, which he then sold to people only with gold- which had been newly granted a higher value- and silver-which there was less of and which had less value, amounting to theft committed against owners of silver- all of which ultimately enriched Jackson’s pet banks since federal money received for purchase of land (again, stolen by native Americans) in the form of gold (again, at the expense of silver owners).

Ultimately, the notion of protecting property rights seems more like a means to an end for President Jackson; it seems, in conclusion, to have served as nothing more than an attractive political principle that he used to appeal to and seduce the people as to remain powerful in a newly and highly democratic culture. It would have been different if Jackson had refused to force the Native Americans from their land, if he had passed an official monometallic gold standard instead of a bimetallic standard that favored owners of gold and Jackson’s pet bankers. It would have been different if instead of moving power from one banking system to his preferred bankers, he had just reformed the National Bank and sought to forbid it from conducting self enriching activities that were not fair to the American people. But he did not do those things so as lovely as his debt elimination and tariff reductions might be, they were not done in the context of integrity.

Humanity is not perfect and politics is extraordinarily messy but John Adams did not need to fit in with his peers by owning slaves. Lincoln may have tarnished his name by being a racist but he still fought for the end of slavery- and won! Jackson does not have, as an excuse, that people just tended to dislike Native Americans.

And while, again, politics is no doubt messy, if messy politics can at least lead to good policy- to justice!- at least then, we the people could feel somewhat less cynical about it all.

But Jackson did not bring more justice to America. In fact, his presidency brought to America more injustice, and not solely “more”, but great injustice, using the beauty of the protection of property rights as mere bait so that he could commit his atrocities.

Let us note that President Elect Donald Trump appears to have learned from Jackson, not about how Jackson’s actions were evil though, but rather, how Jackson used the promise of justice to enjoy his own power at the expense of his fellow Americans.

One need only consider Trump’s recent attack on the First Amendment, when he suggested that those who burn the American flag should go to jail or lose their citizenship, to know this much. (Nelson, 2016)

With that in mind I must close by stating emphatically and very seriously, that a critical examination of Jackson’s economic policies tied to a critical examination of current US politics, makes it very obvious that history teachers need to do a much better job teaching their students about the real nature of the evils of Andrew Jackson.

Bibliography:

Adams, Charles. “A Brief Tax History of America.” lewrockwell.com. October 7, 2006. Accessed December 3, 2016. ((https://www.lewrockwell.com/2006/10/charles-adams/a-brief-tax-history-of-america/))

Cohen, Wender Andrew. “When Americans Loved Taxes.” Politico. 2015. Accessed December 3, 2016. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/09/when-americans-loved-taxes-smuggling-213126)

Divine, Robert A.; Breen, T. H.; Williams, R. Hal; Gross, Ariela J.; Brands, H. W.. America: Past and Present, Volume 1 Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

Gordon, John Steele. “A Short History of Debt.” American History. Volume 46. Issue 4. pp. 58-63. Accessed December 3, 2016. <a href=”https://ezproxy.wpunj.edu/login?url=http:// search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fth&AN=64393590″>A Short History of DEBT.</a>

Jackson, Andrew. First Inaugural Address. (1829) Accessed December 3, 2016 http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/jackson1.asp_

Jackson, Andrew. Eighth Annual Message to Congress. December 5, 1836. Accessed December 3, 2016. http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.wpunj.edu/eds/detail/detail? sid=1beeb4ce-6c63-430b- af28-7b83d64b714e@sessionmgr4006&vid=4&hid=4210&bdata=#AN=21212761&db=fth

Jefferson, Thomas. 1776. Declaration Of Independence.

Laughlin, J. Laurence. The History of Bimetallism in the United States. D. Appleton and Co. 1885 (First Publication.) 1898 (4th Edition) New York. Accessed December 3, 2016. http://www.econlib.org/library/YPDBooks/Laughlin/lghHBM4.html#I.IV Change of the Legal Ratio by the Act of 1834

n.a. n.d. “History of the US Tax System” Policy Almanac. Accessed December 3, 2016. http://www.policyalmanac.org/economic/archive/tax_history.shtml)

Nelson, Louis. “Trump calls for jailing, revoking citizenship of flag-burners” Politico. November 29, 2016. Accessed December 3, 2016. http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/trump-flag-burning-231920

O’Leary M. Paul. “The Coinage Legislation of 1834.” Journal of Political Economy. Volume 45, No. 1. February, 1937. The University of Chicago Press. Accessed on December 3, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1824056

Perloff, James. Shadows of Power. John Birch Society through Western Islands. Appleton, Wisconsin. 1988.

Sechrest, J. Larry. Free Banking. Quorum Books. Westport, Connecticut. 1993. Accessed December 3, 2016.(https://mises.org/system/tdf/Free%20Banking%20Theory%2C%20History%2C%20and%20a%20Laissez-Faire%20Model_2.pdf?file=1&type=document)

Whaples, Robert. “Were Andrew Jackson’s Policies ‘Good for the Economy’? Independent Review. Spring 2014. Volume 18. Issue 4. p545-558. Accessed December 3, 2016. <a href=”https://ezproxy.wpunj.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=94846602″>Were Andrew Jackson’s Policies “Good for the Economy”?</a>

IDEAS THAT KILLED MILLIONS OF PEOPLE

  • HOW THE PHILOSOPHY OF ROMANTICISM CAUSED THE RISE OF HITLER, THE NAZIS, WORLD WAR 2 AND THE HOLOCAUST

How does one lost and lonely, unsuccessful artist named Adolf Hitler become responsible for the sadistic torture and murder of nearly 11 million other human beings? (Schwartz, n.d.) Moreover, how does the population of a country with a rich intellectual, individualistic culture where major industrialization, liberalism and democracy (even inclusive to women at a time when women’s suffrage was a new thing yet to sweep the world) have taken effect, freely and voluntarily give dictatorial powers to a man who openly spewed racist anti semitic comments such as “it was the Aryan alone who founded a superior type of humanity,”(Hitler, Mein Kampf) and “[the Jew] is and remains a parasite…the effect produced by his presence is also like that of the vampire” (Ibid.) and threatened violence on his fellow Germans, saying in a court hearing that “I may assure you that if the Nazi movement’s struggle is successful…there’ll be some heads chopped off…[and] we will fight…with all the means at our disposal, even with those which are illegal from the world’s point of view”(Sax, 1992); how does a country of seemingly intelligent people surrender itself to the psychotic fury and totalitarianism of an openly racist and violent man?

To provide a comprehensive answer to these questions is an extremely complex undertaking, thus many books on the subject have been written. There are many angles and contexts one can investigate to gain hindsight into how Germany was hijacked by Hitler and his Nazis- there are economic factors (Germany suffered hyperinflation and a depression), and political factors (Germany had been defeated in World War One, and so its economy and military were downsized as a result, and Germany was just beginning as a democracy and it was an extremely divided democracy at that) and there are also crucial philosophical factors.

As Dr. Leonard Peikoff wrote in his article “Nazi Politics”: “[Hitler and n]azism triumphed because Germany was ideologically ripe [italics are Peikoff’s throughout], because the intellectual groundwork had been prepared, because the country’s [fundamental- philosophical] ideas- were ready.”

Dr. Peikoff goes on to explain that ideas spread across individual cultures and that the dominant, trending ideas essentially determine the philosophy of most of the people in the country and the basic philosophy of the country, and its government. Throughout The Objectivist Peikoff writes a series of articles on this topic defining and explaining the body of philosophical ideas that primed Germany for Hitler’s Nazi takeover. Of the various philosophical ideas that Dr. Peikoff discusses (pragmatism, dogmatism, collectivism, subjectivism, romanticism et cetera) the one that stands out to me as the most consequential, and responsible for Hitler’s tragic rise is “romanticism”.

In this article I will argue  that the spread of the philosophy of romanticism in Germany from the late 1700’s to the early 1900’s is largely to blame for not only creating the monster that was Hitler and the Nazi movement, but that it was also responsible for creating within a significant portion of the population, a vulnerability and even an openness by default, to Hitler and Nazism.

To Support my argument, I am going to analyze what I believe to be the three elements of romanticism most relevant to Hitler’s rise: the romantic aesthetics, romantic epistemology and education, and romantic ethics, each, not merely as intellectual ideas, but ideas in relation to their manifestations in the history preceding Hitler’s rise.

Before I elaborate on exactly what romanticism is, and discuss its aesthetic, epistemological-educational, and ethical ideas and their impact, I think it must be noted that my assertion that romanticism is to blame for Hitler’s rise is a controversial one.

First of all, among philosophers and historians who do concede that romanticism played a part in the rise of Hitler and Nazism, they disagree on the degree in general, and in relation to other philosophical ideas (also in varying degrees) they also think are to blame.

As I mentioned about Dr. Peikoff, he emphasizes a range of ideas. In fact, more so than any specific idea, Peikoff seems to think the influence of philosopher Immanual Kant  and the idea of collectivism were more to blame than romanticism (which is not fundamentally Kantanian).

In his own words, “It is Kant who made possible the sudden mushrooming of the Platonic collectivism  and statism in the modern world, and especially in Germany,” (Peikoff, Nazi Politics II) even though Peikoff admits that Kant was not actually a statist.

In contrast, Lawrence Birken, argues, quite to the contrary that it was not romanticism that is to blame, but actually what romanticism was an opposition to. He writes that the philosophical problem “was actually a further development of the Enlightenment, a revolutionary Enlightenment which used fanaticism to destroy an older but weakened fanaticism, terror to destroy an older but milder  ‘terror’”. (Birken, 1999)

So then, what, in the most general sense, is this ‘philosophy of romanticism’ that philosophers, historians and commentators are debating about? There is not a consensus here.

Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert contends that there are types of romanticism, and that the romanticism of Germany is a specific “German Romanticism” and that even that can be divided into phases. (2004) For example, she focuses on what she terms “Early German Romanticism” which she defines as a philosophy that opposes the notion that a philosophy can have a basic, primary, fundamental principle, and one that posits that “an introduction to philosophy can only be a critique of earlier philosophy.” (Ibid.)

Dr. Leonard Peikoff agrees that there is a specific “German romanticism” but does not provide terms for different stages of “German Romanticism”. (Nazism Versus Reason) He defines “German romanticism” as “the open revolt against reason and the Enlightenment” that had its “greatest influence- in Germany…and that man’s true source of knowledge….is: feeling- or passion, or intuition, or instinct, or faith, or the subconscious.” (Ibid.)

I believe that Dr. Peikoff’s definition is accurate for as I analyze the romantic aesthetics, epistemology-education and  ethics, the most central theme throughout will be the primacy of “feeling”, especially the feelings of “passion” and “intuition.”

Indeed, I contend that a significant number of the German population, as a result of the spreading romantic philosophy, were quite literally lost in a plague of unchecked passion, and were so enthralled by Hitler’s extreme, out of the ordinary passion, that many had an intuitive feeling that his incredible passion could save them, and so they submitted themselves to him.

ROMANTIC AESTHETICS

I think it is a very important point that, to a considerable degree, romanticism was first developed by philosophers who were contemplating art and poetry in the 1790’s  and, in fact, throughout the so called romantic movement in Germany and even at the onset of the birthing political Nazi movement, the political activism was led by very artistically minded men.  (As many know, Hitler himself was a failed artist).

I say this is important to note because one may not typically think of something as esoteric as art and aesthetics as a catapult for political movements. 

In any event, of romanticism’s origin, Millan-Zaibert tells us that in the 1790’s, “[in the very early stages of [the romantic] movement [the term romantic was used in Friedrich Schlegel’s] literary criticism to denote…subjective [poetry as opposed to] classical poetry [which] was objective…”and then later, in reference to “an appreciation for the subjective elements in art [more broadly], [and] a developing interest in viewing and understanding art in terms of its history.” (2004)  

This romantic aesthetic spread, developed and endured for over a century, and in fact, remained very key to romanticism as such, as well as the beginnings of the Nazi movement.

One very influential German thinker, for example, who wrote the bestselling Rembrandt als Erzieher in 1890 (Author Fritz Stern tell us “in the first two years the book went through thirty-nine editions”) said of art that it was “the highest good, the true source of knowledge and virtue.” (Stern, 1961) However, he added that “great art could spring only from the volk(The Aryan Germanic people as a unified community and state) and that from such art knowledge could be intuitively gained. (Ibid.)

The popularity of this book, according to Stern, which I am willing to grant, indicates that a significant number of Germans either agreed with him or were open to or interested in those key ideas.

The meaning to gain here from this romantic aesthetic is that it made reason an unpopular thing in Germany, and intuition the popular replacement, but also we see an aesthetic idea that embraces racism- most notably a view of Germanic/ Aryan supremacy and the idea that good art is dependent on adhering to that racist tenant. Moreover, art, and this view of art in particular, is posited as a something like a religion- but on what grounds? This leads us to romantic epistemology.

ROMANTIC EPISTEMOLOGY AND EDUCATION 

As romanticism developed and spread as an aesthetic philosophy, so to did the importance of subjectivity- the notion that knowledge (to whatever degree a subjectivist even believes in knowledge) is to be gained by feeling, and especially intuition and not by reason.

One necessary consequence of any given epistemological foundation is going to be the education that the youth of a culture receives. If parents, teachers, and professors agree that knowledge is to be gained one way or another by feeling, then curricula and pedagogy would of course follow suit and indeed it did. As we have seen from the romantic aesthetics, an emphasis was placed on the idea that good art can only come from communion with the volk. This general obsession with the Volk in aesthetics, and in other aspects of philosophy, was called Volkish thought and was a huge element of German education in the 1800’s.

Writes George L. Mosse: “Schools were founded according to Volkish blueprints and principles. In the state schools the ideology infiltrated into the minds of the students through books, curricula and teachers. [And then the teachers and students]…spread the ideas they had picked up.” (1964)

Mosse adds that Volkish ideology in the schools was the rule, not the exception.  (Ibid.) Also, as a result of Volkish ideology in schools, antisemitism began to spread; it was believed that “[Jews] could not be expected to have sufficiently deep or sacred feelings about [the Volk, and the Volk landscapes, the Volk History] to appreciate the message.” (Ibid.) Further, it was believed and propagated that the Jews were too intellectual for German Volkish schools.

Through these romantic Volkish schools, as is evidenced by a new racism, it can further be seen how a romantic ethics can be established and taught.

ROMANTIC ETHICS

Just like romantic aesthetics, and romantic epistemology centered on “feeling”, so too did romantic ethics.

In fact, it is the romantic ethics that are the most dangerous, because it is one’s code of ethics that mandate what essentially one is going to do with one’s life, and how one will treat one’s self and others.

By saying the romantic ethics are most dangerous I mean that perhaps through a subjective epistemology at least a universal compassion is a possible direction, or even, one could intuitively feel that at least sometimes there is a time and place for reason. (For example, it could be argued that American culture of today is pragmatic-existential and allows for degrees of subjectivity, but still concedes a value in science ((which absolutely depends on reason and empiricism)) and maybe even sometimes a degree of rational consideration with respect to treatment of others. Existentialists are by nature supposed to allow tolerance towards others as it posits that everybody can define their own meaning and values.)

Unfortunately, the romantic ethics essentially dictates a worship of feeling- especially of intuition and passion. I alluded to this earlier when I mentioned that art, and romantic aesthetics was viewed somewhat religiously and as superior to science.

Bertrand Russell writes that romantics had a “proneness to emotion…the emotion of sympathy…[which was] direct and violent and quite uniformed by thought.” (1945)  (I contend that this sounds quite a bit like Adolf Hitler. No, I do not mean to say that Hitler was actually sympathetic, but I would argue that he thought he was sympathetic to the cause of the aryan race and providing them living space and making them strong and that that which he believed to by his sympathy was arguably a major motivating factor.)

It is not just an obsession with emotion, and sympathy or perceived sympathy. It is an obsession with passion. Russell adds:

“It is not the psychology of the romantics that is at fault: it is their standard of values. They admire strong passions, of no matter what kind, and whatever may be their social consequences…..most of the strongest passions are destructive- hate and resettlement and jealousy, remorse and despair, outraged pride and the fury of the unjustly oppressed, martial ardor and contempt for slaves and cowards. Hence the type of man encouraged by romanticism…is violent and anti-social, an anarchic rebel or a conquering tyrant.” [Emphasis mine] (Ibid)

Upon reading that assessment of the romanticist’s obsession with passion, I contend that a person with a basic understanding of Hitler cannot help but think of him again, as Hitler was violent, anti-social, and a tyrant.

But were the German people in general violent, anti-social tyrants? Some clearly were because they voted for the Nazis and became Nazis and participated in mass genocide. Other Germans leaned towards the other kind of passion obsessed type that Russell mentioned- the anarchic rebel.

I say that because Germany, when it was the Weimar Republic became a near de-facto anarchy, which Benjamin Sax and Dieter Kuntz describe as a “severe crisis over the distribution of power…which destroyed the parliamentary system in 1930.” (1992)

Another property of the romantic ethics was the idea that one should cultivate a strong personality. As Mosse tells us about romantic-volkish education: “The strong personality was important for the school, not the strongest intelligence.” (1964)

 Robert W. Lougee calls this a “romantic individualism” which “ stressed the uniqueness of individuals, a uniqueness which placed them beyond conformity to any general law or principle” and “Man became a law and measure unto himself” and further yet, “developing one’s own individual nature is a primary objective.”(1959) 

I would make the argument, that here too, we see the manifestation of Hitler, who was obsessed with his personality- so obsessed that he had to be the captivating, charismatic center of attention and of control and his fellow Germans were to idolize him, and never question him. Also, I believe it is true that one could see that in a culture where passion, and a strong personality, and intuition are like moral imperatives, how would one not be vulnerable to Hitler?

After all, Hitler had a strong personality, and he was extremely passionate. For a person who views such concepts as moral imperatives, and sees a man so methodically and extremely practicing them, what vision other than Hitler’s would be able to compete for their- it hurts me to say- love and worship?   

Romanticism is an extremely complex, systemic philosophy. As a philosophy that was perhaps first developed with art in mind, i.e., in the philosophical branch of aesthetics, I believe, it should make one pause for a moment, for how often does one think of theories of art as potential precursors to something like the Holocaust?

In contrast, traditionally, perhaps, at least in western, or American culture, we think of art as the realm of a safe, free self expression, or maybe we think about Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa.  But isn’t even that possibility quite telling of art and art theory- that is- that it has, at least, a kind of political implication.

If a certain kind of art and/or a certain kind of aesthetic becomes popular, perhaps we ought to question what the implications might be. But a subjectivist aesthetic alone, although I think it is at best a bad habit, does not have to mean a subjectivist epistemology- that is to say, perhaps one might think that in the realm of art, one should be subjective, but in matters regarding “what is knowledge?” and “how do I gain knowledge” one could still be an objectivist, or at least partly. The romantic epistemology however, does away with this possibility.

In truth, the romantic epistemology is actually extremely complex if fully examined, as it not only upholds ideas such as ‘knowledge comes from intuition, not reason”, but it further holds complex ideas as to how ones ‘intuition’ can be informed.

In fact, it is so complex that I do not believe it could be fully explained in this specific discussion, however, I would emphasize, as I mentioned earlier, that the romantic epistemology holds that intuitive knowledge comes from a religiosity towards art, and, at least according to the German romanticism, from oneness with the Volk, which thus breeds racism and did breed especially, anti-semitism, and a general culture of basic irrationality, and the German romantic volkish schools truly indoctrinated these bizarre ideas and taught what would become a truly deadly, destructive system of ethics that worshipped extreme emotion, irrational passion, and “strong personality” above intelligence and intellect.

As I have said, it is no wonder, not only that an Adolf Hitler entered the German scene, but moreover, it is also no wonder that enough German people were duped by him and democratically elected him thus enabling him to do away with the democracy he used to gain power and impose his evil tyranny. 

This is important to keep in mind because Manfred Frank claims in his book The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism that the historical connection made between romanticism and Hitler’s Nazi Germany is an “invented” one and a “cliche”, because the Nazis “hated the protagonists of early German Romanticism.” (2004)

 That some Nazis may have hated philosophers who contributed to romanticism for any reason, or that they may have rejected some aspects of various versions of or takes on romanticism is to totally miss the point: that romanticism created, within German culture, enough people with the mentality-  the obsession with irrational art, the obsession with intuition, passion, racism, irrational, whimsical as opposed to intellectual and healthy cultivation of personality (or cultivation of personality for its own sake, as opposed to truly knowing one’s self and cultivating a good self)- that could be easily become or be swayed by Hitler and the Nazis and for any one who discusses this romanticism-nazism relationship and overlooks that and/or tells others to overlook it as “cliche” and “invented” is to literally ignore facts- which is exactly what the romantic epistemology called for, thus, such a person has fallen prey to it.

REFERENCES

1 Terese Pencak Schwartz, “The Holocaust: Non-Jewish Victims” in the Jewish Virtual Library (n.d) http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/NonJewishVictims.html  (accessed July 1st, 2016)

2 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf  (London, New York, Melbourne: 1939), Kindle edition, chap 11 (Kindle Location 4548)

3 Hitler, Mein Kampf. (Kindle Location 4806-4808)

4 Benjamin Sax, Dieter Kuntz, “The Triumph of National Socialism, 1929-1933” in Inside Hitler’s Germany (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992) , 108-109

5 Leonard Peikoff, “Nazi Politics” in The Objectivist original ed Ayn Rand (Irvine, Ca, Second Renaissance Inc., 1990) 599

6 Peikoff, “Nazi Politics”, 560

Peikoff, “Nazi Politics II” in The Objectivist, 625

Lawrence Birken, “Prussianism, Nazism and Romanticism in the Thought of Victor Klemperer.” The German Quarterly, Vol. 72 , No. 1 (Winter 1999)  33-43,  http://www.jstor.org/stable/407902 accessed July 2, 2016

9 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction: What is Early German Romanticism” in The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004) Adobe Digital Editions, 1

10 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction” , 11

11 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction”, 10

12 Peikoff, “Nazism Versus Reason” in The Objectivist, 724-725

13 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction”, 12

 14 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” in The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study In the Rise of The Germanic Ideology (Berkley, Los Angeles and London: 1961, 1974, 1989) 109

15 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” 98

16 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” 138

17 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” 119

18 George Mosse,  “Education Comes to the Aid.” In The Crisis of German Ideology,

(New York, NY: First Howard Fertig, Inc. 1964, 1998) 152      

19 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” 154

20 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” 155

21 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” 166

22 Bertrand Russell, “The Romantic Movement.”  In The History of Western Philosophy. (New York, NY: A Touchstone Book- Registered Trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1945, 1972.) 675

23 Bertrand Russell, “The Romantic Movement” 681

24 Benjamin Sax, Dieter Kuntz, Inside Hitler’s Germany 13

25 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” , 161

26 Robert W. Lougee “German Romanticism and Political Thought.” The Review of Politics 21, no. 4 (1959):  http://www.jstor.org/stable/1405644. 638-639

27 Manfred Frank, “On Early German Romanticism as an Essentially Skeptical Movement: The Reinhold- Fitche Connection” in The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004) Adobe Digital Editions, 25

CBS’ SCOTT PELLEY: “I TRULY, DEEPLY, DO NOT CARE”; “MAYBE IT’S A GENTIC DEFECT”

I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the College Media Association (CMA) Spring National College Media Convention in Times Square, where I got to ask CBS’s Scott Pelley a few questions about freedom and bias.

The CMA describes itself on its website (http://www.collegemedia.org/site/about.html) as “the preeminent source for education and support for professionals and students engaged in creating all forms of student produced media on college and university campuses.”

Also according to the website, it was founded in 1954 and has more than 900 members.

The CMA published a program for the convention and inside that program it says they hold two annual conventions. Every Spring they hold a convention in New York City, and every fall the convention “convenes at varying sites across the country.”

One of the convention’s keynote speakers was CBS’ Evening New’s managing editor, Mr. Scott Pelley.

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Photo by Sean O’Connor 

When I got to question Mr. Pelley I mentioned some specific things that I found to be troubling that prompted me to ask my question: things such as the Washington Post article about former CBS employee Sharyl Attkisson, who resigned due to the network’s alleged liberal bias, and their alleged refusal to air certain stories on the Benghazi scandal (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2014/03/10/sharyl-attkisson-leaves-cbs-news/) , and a commentary in the USA TODAY that day on America’s drastic loss of freedom of the press. (Preserve Freedom Of The Press; Jonathan Turley; 3/13/14).

(It is worth noting that I was later told by an advisor at the convention who once interviewed President Barack Obama, that one should never ask someone in a political position to “comment” on something, because it only gives them the opportunity to dance around the issue. A point well made.)

While Mr. Pelley responded by saying “I will put The CBS Evening News- of which I am managing editor- up against any news organization, broadcast or print, when it comes to coverage of Benghazi”, and that he has been accused of having both a liberal and conservative bias, which in his opinion means he has “nailed” his interviews, he said nothing about whether or not he believed we are losing the freedom of the press.

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Photo by Sean O’Connor 

For Mr. Pelley to fail to point out that the U.S. Justice Department seized phone records of reporters and editors of the Associated Press,and seized records of Fox News phone lines, and that the FCC had planned to monitor news rooms, and grill journalists on how their organizations select news stories, and that these events are problematic, is, on his part, most discouraging, especially because he is a veteran journalist, and was in a room full of people who will become future members of the media industry.

It was also rather inconsistent with the message he began his speech with, as he spoke of how without a free press there is no democracy.

He identified the lack of free press in Syria but failed to mention a single attack on free press here in America. Considering how important the issue theoretically is to him, he should have at least raised questions: Should the government monitor news organizations?

If it does, what is the difference between news that is officially run by the state, and news which is unofficially run by the state?

Why do we call the unofficial state ownership of the press “free press”?

There is something else Mr. Pelley said, in response to another person’s question. Mr. Pelley was asked if he worries about being a tool of the government. He said he did not worry about that and then added “I don’t care whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House. I don’t care which party is in the leadership, on either side of the house or senate. Maybe it’s a genetic defect that I have of some kind, but I truly, deeply, do not care. My job is to report on what those people do or say and illustrate the contrast between what they do and say.” He said he is neither a conservative or a liberal, and that he just tries to “inflict as much pain on both of them” as he “possibly can, because…that’s what journalists do.”

It is one thing for a reporter to be unbiased in his official report, and another thing for him to have an opinion. Having an opinion does not make a reporter’s report inherently biased. Injecting an opinion into a report and refusing to tell all sides of the story is biased and is essentially what we would refer to as propaganda. I wonder what Mr. Pelley would say in response that.

I also wonder: was Mr. Pelley being honest?

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Photo by Sean O’Connor

Does he just tell us what he thinks we want to hear so we’ll like him and trust him, or does he mean it when he says he “truly, deeply [does] not care” whether America is led by Republicans or Democrats?

While I wish I could speculate that by not caring, he means that he believes both the Republicans and Democrats are corrupt and he himself is an independent, unfortunately his comment that “maybe it is a genetic defect” suggests that he doesn’t think that deeply about it, and instead, considers his apparent political apathy to be just some bizarre and very paradoxical aspect of his personality.

When he said that his job is to “report what those people do and say and illustrate the difference” and that “we [at the CBS Evening News] just try to inflict as much pain on both of them as we possibly can” it comes across as impersonal, detached, and somewhat nihilistic.

What does he mean when he says he tries to “inflict pain”?

Even supposing he is speaking figuratively, it still comes across as arbitrary since he “truly, deeply [does] not care” about who is leading America, causing his projected ideal image of a journalist to look, not like a person with a moral consciousness, but rather a sadomasochist who views an interview as a means of “inflicting pain” on people merely because it is his job to do so.

A journalist should care about the state of the universe. All people should care about everything that is produced, from ideas to food.

As for journalists in particular, it should be their rational consciences that prompt them to ask the questions they ask and report events honestly. No, not all journalists have to broadcast or publish commentaries.

Perhaps some would rather let reporters report, and commentators publish and broadcast their opinions. That is fine. But all people- no matter what job they work- should most certainly analyze the news and have opinions and share them if asked and act on those opinions.

I would have loved to ask Mr. Pelley if he even votes, and why or why not, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough time for me to ask a follow up question.

As I mentioned earlier, the CMA describes itself as “the preeminent source for education and support for professionals and students engaged in creating all forms of student produced media on college and university campuses”. If the association is what it claims to be, then it should be clear to students, that above all things, they should never be politically apathetic like Mr. Pelley, because in doing so, further attempts by the U.S. government to manipulate the media would grow more and more successful, would trickle down to the college media, and reach a point where American media begins to resemble the Syrian media that Mr. Pelley rightfully condemned.