IRAN: REALITY VS. IMAGINERY

January 27, 2021

It’s important to distinguish what is actually happening in Iran from the nonsense fed us by America’s Iran bashers lest we find ourselves in a repeat of the war in Iraq – seeking imaginary weapons of mass destruction.

“Iran is trying to reduce its weapons-usable stockpile,” according to one of our country’s nuclear experts. If true, that’s very important to understand.

That conclusion came from Robert Kelley who spent over 35 years working in the US Department of Energy nuclear weapons complex, including Los Alamos. He worked in research, engineering and information analysis, managed the centrifuge and plutonium metallurgy programs at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and was Director of the Department of Energy Remote Sensing Laboratory, responsible for US emergency nuclear response. Sent by USDOE to the IAEA, he twice served as a Director of the nuclear inspections in Iraq.

Here is Kelley’s analysis:

20% enriched UF6 is in a form suitable for further enrichment to weapons levels.

Once it is converted into uranium metal it is no longer suitable for enrichment

The metal is to be converted to a uranium compound that is even less suitable for enrichment for weapons.

This is legitimate research reactor fuel.

So Iran is voluntarily removing low enriched uranium from the stockpile that could be converted to weapons.

They are moving away from weapons!

They are doing exactly the right thing for nonproliferation, removing potential weapons material from the inventory.

They need support and congratulations.  They must be truly baffled to see that the Americans don’t get it that they are doing the right thing!!!

Don’t let self-proclaimed experts fabricate “facts” to lead us into another war.


Signs Trump is planning to a Middle-Eastern war before leaving office

December 31, 2020

Iran attack may be next in Trump’s farewell bag of tricks” by Trita Parsi in ResponsibleStatecraft.org, is a well documented report of Trump’s preparations for war in the waning days of his time in the White House. The author, Trita Parsi, grew up in Sweden and began his career as a Swedish diplomat, before settling in the U.S. and becoming an expert on Iranian-American relations. I should add that I’ve met Parsi, read his books and have a great deal of respect for him. Sadly, Trump has been one of those would-be dictators who would gladly sacrifice people’s lives for his own political career. I’d take Parsi’s comments quite seriously.


The Assassination of Iran’s Nuclear Scientist

November 29, 2020

Barbara Slavin wrote an excellent piece in the New York Times on “Why Was Iran’s Top Nuclear Scientist Killed?” She understands the Middle East well and her assessment of the consequences of the assassination are chilling.


My feelings about this election

October 26, 2020

It’s hard to describe my feelings. The great founding documents of our country seemed like they’d always be with us. When we participated in the Civil Rights Movement we thought were working for a better America. We never believed it could all disappear. We were brought up reciting the Gettysburg Address. We knew parts of the Declaration of Independence by heart. Some of us knew deals with the devil of slavery underlay the creation of the Constitution but also knew it had given us a platform to make a better world for everyone. We took it all for granted. Until the White House tenant threatened to take it all away.

I was born in New York City. Before I was four years old I knew this country was fighting with everything at its disposal to defeat Hitler and his Nazi butchers, who were exterminating Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gays, Poles, Slavic peoples, political opponents, people with disabilities and those Hitler called “useless eatersin concentration camps. I felt safe in Brooklyn, and proud. I remember telling myself I lived in the greatest city in the greatest country in the world. How great is that. Kids are naïve but I believed in and loved this country. I thought I knew what it stood for and what it stood for was great, admirable, and indeed the world admired us for it.

Our country’s Founders understood that people in a democratic republic must learn to share and care about each other. John Dickinson signed our Constitution, paid a fine to free slaves and wrote, “By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!” In 1782, Congress approved our national motto, e pluribus unum, out of many one, for the Great Seal of the United States.

This country opened its arms to Christians, Jews and Muslims. Universities, founded on sectarian lines, gradually widened their welcome. The Founders repeatedly described the need for immigration. The public school movement intentionally brought rich and poor together. The 19th century Army, recruited on ethnic and linguistic lines, needed an integrated fighting force. Teddy Roosevelt told us that “the military tent, where all sleep side-by-side, will rank next to the public school among the great agents of democratization.” By the end of the 2nd World War the Army played a large part in breaking down ethnic and religious barriers among us. Soldiers formed friendships with men all over the country, introduced each other to their families, often to future brides.

Corporations broke down barriers among employees so they could work together. Integration preceded Brown by centuries – race was just the latest barrier to break down. It was breaking down before World War II, when African-American stars like Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson were wildly popular with national audiences on stage, screen, radio and opera. The world was changing before Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field. National polls revealed that the public supported Brown. Martin Luther King would say, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

It’s pretty personal for me. I married a North Carolina girl, whose ancestry traces to the British isles, and always felt welcomed by her family.

So when Trump encourages people who celebrate Hitler and display their guns to scare and intimidate public officials, suggests they use their Second Amendment rights to lock up candidates, that there are good people among those who spawn hate crimes, and threatens not to accept the election results, he cuts the very guts out of the country I love. I don’t know how to express how sad, depressed and anxious I feel. Alan Paton wrote a book about South Africa he called Cry the Beloved Country. I stop myself from crying while there is still a chance to save it.

We all need to vote.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on October 27, 2020.


Trump’s Scorn for America and Americans

August 17, 2020

I argued on this station that Trump should have been impeached for disloyalty. The American people understand disloyalty. They didn’t understand the significance of the articles of impeachment.

The House impeached him for trying to get a foreign government’s help for his campaign and for defying House subpoenas. The people agreed that Trump did what he was charged with, but apparently thought those actions were trivial.

Democrats didn’t bear down on the bigger issue – Trump’s disloyalty. Not only did he take money and assistance from foreign countries, itself unconstitutional, he strengthened their positions and weakened our own. He undermined institutions that kept Russia in check; isolated America from its real friends; and deluded his followers about an international pandemic. No president should be allowed to sell the welfare of this country to foreigners or rich friends. That’s disloyal.

Trump’s disloyalty goes way beyond the payoffs he accepted. Trump despises America and Americans unless they are very very rich.

  • He despises American workers, providing lavish tax breaks that help his rich supporters pay peanuts to their workers, outsource and off-shore their jobs.
  • He despises the American people, authorizing his rich friends to poison our air, water and climate so his rich friends can make a little more money and give him some too.
  • I should add his despicable attitude toward women.
  • And so great is his compassion for the American people that he’s been trying to deprive us of our health care in the middle of a health crisis.
  • So great is his compassion for older Americans, for our parents and grandparents, that despite Americans’ support for Social Security, he’s trying to eliminate it with an Executive Order to defund and bankrupt it so he can say there’s no money left. His order is unconstitutional and may be overturned, but it’s disloyal to the people of America.
  • He grandstands about policies that are supposed to help workers and farmers, but disrupts their lives instead.
  • Trump told us he wanted to defund the Post Office to prevent us from mailing in absentee ballots, but when it became clear that the American people didn’t want their Post Offices defunded, he blamed it on Democrats. His war on the Post Office is not only a war on absentee ballots, it’s a war on the Christmas cards we send every December; it’s a war on our mail carriers, whom many of us know and like; it’s a war on voting safely without crowds that spread the virus; and it’s a war to force us to pay private carriers much more money than what we pay the Post Office to carry our mail, medicines, and bring us our Social Security checks. In other words, it’s another attempt to rip us off.
  • And to cap it off, he hates our democratic system, threatening to stay on in spite of the election, so he can be dictator, and the rest of us merely subjects.

In other words, everything for Trump and nothing for America. That’s the real issue. We know he’s a fraud, claiming fake news so often it’s an obvious effort to avoid defending his behavior.

Trump is running a Ponzi scheme, trying to cover his debts and increase his own wealth by bilking the rest of us. His misbehavior is criminal. But don’t lock him up. It would be better to string him up, or at least deport him and take his passport away. Let him shine Putin’s shoes in the Kremlin.

— An edited version of this commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on August 18, 2020.

 


Jefferson on Trump

July 20, 2020

I was weeding some of my papers last Saturday and found a copy of a letter sent by Thomas Jefferson from Paris, where he was representing this country, on December 20, 1787, to James Madison here in America. As a slave-holder, Jefferson committed grievous wrongs, but Thomas Jefferson wasn’t stupid and what he wrote struck me because he was precisely describing what we most fear today. Jefferson’s letter was about the Constitution. He played no part in writing it, stationed in Paris as he was. But having gotten a look, he wrote his friend about what he did and didn’t like.

He wrote Madison “I like much the general idea of framing a government which should go on of itself peaceably.” He also wrote:

The second feature I dislike, and greatly dislike, is the abandonment in every instance of the necessity of rotation in office, and most particularly in the case of the President.

That has now been limited to two terms by an amendment, but listen to Jefferson’s reasoning. The president [quote]:

becomes of so much consequence to certain nations to have a friend or a foe at the head of our affairs that they will interfere with money and with arms. A Galloman [Frenchman] or an Angloman [Englishman] will be supported by the nation he befriends. If once elected, and at a second or third election outvoted by one or two votes, he will pretend false votes, foul play, hold possession of the reins of government, be supported by the states voting for him, especially if they are the central ones lying in a compact body themselves and separating their opponents: and they will be aided by one nation of Europe, while the majority are aided by another. The election of  President of America some years hence will be much more interesting to certain nations of Europe, than ever the election of a King of Poland was. Reflect on all the instances in history, antient and modern, of elective monarchies, and say if they do not give foundation for my fears, the Roman emporers, the popes … [from their alliances], the German emporers til they became hereditary in practice, the Kings of Poland, the Deys of the Ottoman dependencies.

The timeliness of Jefferson’s fears stunned me.

Many Americans tend to be romantic about our presidents – if they like one thing about a president they think they’re all good. A star on a popular TV show must know how to govern America, protect it from disease, and foreign powers, and raise the people’s income and welfare by bellowing about whom they hate. Please forgive my sarcasm.

The same afternoon, my wife tuned into a town meeting run by the National Peace Corps Association, with the current head of the Peace Corps among the speakers. My mind drifted back. John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps. Many people liked him because he was young, vigorous and handsome. But the gifts most valued by the people where we served were John F. Kennedy half dollars. They valued Kennedy because he showed respect for people all over the globe – not necessarily the leaders of their countries, but always the people. It was a nonpartisan tradition, followed by presidents of both parties ‘til it was up-ended by a man who thought all a president has to do is talk tough and tell people who’s fired.

But he has no right to fire voters. In the same letter, Jefferson remarked that it is crucial to protect

the fundamental principle that the people are not to be taxed [and I would add or otherwise governed] but by representatives chosen immediately by themselves.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast  on WAMC Northeast Report, on July 21, 2020.


Our Human Constitution

July 13, 2020

Recently I spoke with a class of high school girls. They asked me to talk about the Constitution and we agreed I’d talk about how we interpret it. I wasn’t advocating any particular method. In fact, I referred to the late Justice John Paul Stevens, adopting an observation by the then sitting president of the Israeli Supreme Court, that a judge does best who “’seek[s] guidance from every reliable source.’”[1]

While talking with the girls, I finally realized how to encapsulate what I wanted to say: The Constitution is a human document, written by human beings for use by human beings. It is not self-executing. There’s nothing automatic about checks and balances. They work when people believe in and use them. They don’t work when people in power care only about favoring themselves and their friends.

That’s not a flaw in the document. There are flaws in the document. It still bears the marks of slavery  ̶  numerous clauses were designed to protect slave-owners even though the word slave does not appear. And it was written by men for men in 1787. But the men who wrote the Constitution referred to its prohibitions as “parchment barriers.” Parchment was an older form of fine paper, often used for formal documents. The Founders clearly understood that the document they wrote and ratified would prove as good as the people running it.

I didn’t draw conclusions for the girls, but I want to spell out some implications for you:

  • When the president thinks he is an elected king and should control all the levers of government without being questioned or restrained and when a majority of Senators believe they should protect him, they’re simply making the Constitution irrelevant. The Constitution doesn’t protect the president or the senators; they do it for themselves.
  • When the president is more intent on encouraging us to fight among ourselves over the color of our states and our skins than to work together for the good of the country, the Constitution hasn’t failed us. We’ve failed it.
  • When the president turns us from leader of the free world to its laughing stock, the Constitution hasn’t failed us. He has.
  • When the president encourages the most selfish among us to sacrifice the air, land, water and climate that sustain us, the Constitution hasn’t failed us. He has.
  • When the president dithers for months after being warned of a coming health catastrophe, the Constitution hasn’t failed us. He has.
  • In the days before we had antibiotics and other drugs, quarantines were the principle way that our governments tried to protect us from infectious diseases. When people carry weapons into the state Capital and threaten state governors over quarantines,[2] the Constitution hasn’t failed us. They have.

The Constitution is a parchment barrier. We have to do more than protect the document. We have to use it wisely.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on July 14, 2020.

[1] Judicial Discretion 62 (Y. Kaufmann transl. 1989).@ BedRoc Ltd., LLC v. United States, 541 U.S. 176, 192 (2004) (Stevens, J., dissenting).

[2] See https://www.businessinsider.com/michigan-open-carry-laws-legal-protesters-guns-at-state-capitol-2020-5 and https://www.newsweek.com/michigan-closes-down-capitol-face-death-threats-armed-protesters-against-gov-whitmer-1504241.


Is there a Future for Democracy in America?

February 4, 2020

I’ve been writing about gerrymandering and election law since I was in law school, long enough to feel very discouraged. When Anthony Kennedy didn’t take advantage of his last crack at gerrymandering while still on the U.S. Supreme Court, after having teased us for years about his willingness to deal with it, I was sad to the core of my being. Ezra Klein’s “Polarization and the Parties” which came out a week ago in the Sunday Times galvanized my thinking, if not my hopes.

Klein made it clear that the combination of gerrymandering, the allocation of Senate seats and the electoral college would soon leave 70% of America represented by 30% of senators and vice versa, and the electoral college will continue to “elect” presidents who have lost the popular vote. With the Supreme Court continuing to be shaped by those disproportionate advantages in the Senate and the executive, Republicans will continue to be able to stave off a more equitable representation in the House of Representatives. In other words, democracy will be a memory replaced by institutionalized minority rule.

Can we do anything about it? Klein points out that with their power resting firmly on these legal impediments, the Republicans will continue to fight fiercely against anything resembling democracy. Flipping control of the White House and Congress would certainly make a difference but would not change the electoral college, the Senate’s skew toward the least populous states or its grip on Supreme Court appointments.

There’s much talk about amending the Constitution, but that requires three-fourths of the states with the same unrepresentative dynamics to approve. So fat chance fixing the Constitution, whether by amendment or a convention as spelled out in Article V of the Constitution.

Then what? Our Constitution was adopted “illegally” by the terms of the Articles of Confederation. Could we do the same, create a new Constitution and specify, as the Founders did, how it should be ratified. That’s been tried on the state level but met an unreceptive Supreme Court. Could we expect better from this Court? And who’d count the votes? The existing and affected states or some nonpartisan entity? By what method or machine?  And who’d pay? Perhaps we should hire five thirty-eight.com to gather private polls. But we’d be mired in questions of polling methods and ethics.

Maybe we should have let the Confederacy go? Chucking Texas alone would make a big difference – although Texas is changing. Or maybe the coasts should secede. Those alternatives would leave us a smaller, weaker, country, subject to alliances with foreign powers against each other – the biggest fear and reason for action of the people who wrote and ratified our Constitution. Would such a split be like the former Czechoslovakia or the former Yugoslavia, which is to say a peaceful split or a bloodbath? Trump’s “base,” by the way, has been arming itself for that bloodbath for years.

Or maybe some of the 70% of us need to resettle with the 30% and change the country from the bottom up. But on that too, as we’d have said in Brooklyn, fat chance. I think that means that the more we care about the results, the more radical our views, the more we have to roll up our sleeves and work together that much harder on the elections, no matter which candidate becomes our standard bearer.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, February 4, 2020.


What are Americans that God is mindful of us?

January 14, 2020

Lots of people believe their countries are best. We do too. Caring for one’s country is good. Economic objections to admitting refugees don’t justify brutality. Strategic disagreements about Iran’s objectives don’t require going to war. But demonizing people changes the stakes. Treating them as nothing but vandals and killers, unworthy of concern, drives the ugliest parts of both the refugee and Iran crises, and threatens everyone in a chorus of hate.

Trump’s African-American predecessor created a path to peace in the Middle East. Obama was hardly the first African-American with diplomatic skills. Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche negotiated the 1949 Armistice Agreements. Powell and Rice are more recent. But Trump can’t recognize Obama’s achievements. So he shredded the path to peace, revived animosities that made it useless for the US to stay in Iraq, and demonized Iranians and Mexicans, while too many of his supporters murder those they demonize.

Insistence that other peoples are unworthy of concern is like throwing a hand grenade at our common Biblical, Judeo-Christian and Muslim heritage, for the Bible, and the Abrahamic tradition it embodies, is the common heritage to which so many of us in America cling.

The Bible asks in the Book of Psalms: “What is man that Thou art mindful of him?”

Must we, too, be mindful of others?

Or do we think that we’re only a little lower than the angels, entitled to rule over God’s other peoples, to disparage, demean and vilify refugees and entire countries?

America’s strength comes from protecting human rights and supporting international law. We, not just a statue in New York harbor, have been a torch of freedom throughout the world.

Our Declaration of Independence became a landmark in the development of universal human rights by showing “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” and proclaiming that all of us “are created equal … endowed by … [our] Creator with … unalienable Rights … [to] Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Our Constitution guarantees rights to all. The Bill of Rights speaks to “the people,” every “person,” and any “accused.”

The 14th Amendment defined citizenship so that it could not be denied to African-Americans or any other race – red, brown, yellow, whatever. These are among the commitments in that torch of freedom.

When we refuse visas or reentry to refugees, returning citizens, residents or visitors simply because of ancestry or faith, we not only violate the Constitution, we dim and tarnish our torch.

For centuries, we’ve been devoted to a world of rules and mutual obligations as the best path to peace. America wrote the rules of international order after World War II for a grateful world. No one forced NATO, the UN, regional and world financial organizations on us. When this country dishonors our obligations, to Iran, to NATO, the EU, or to refugees, who’ll trust us? If we’ve become a rogue state, whose interests align with ours?

God rescued the ancient Israelites from Egypt. But the Lord reminded them, in Amos 9-7, that God also rescued other very different peoples. If God pays attention to America, it’s not so we can celebrate or claim to be #1, the best or most powerful. It is because we have a job to do for all humankind.


Trump’s wrong approach to Iran

January 7, 2020

What’s wrong with Trump’s approach to Iran? Let me count the ways.

First, Trump’s claims about stopping Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s plans make little sense. What had been planned can take place with or without him. Iranian strikes are more, not less, likely now.  This is too similar to the prelude to the war in Iraq except that Trump isn’t taking the time to try to convince anyone. We just have unsubstantiable and probably false claims as a basis for very costly decisions.

Second, the timing is suspicious. War threats blew impeachment out of the news. In other words, everything is PR.

Third, Trump’s stated policy is tit for tat. But where does it end? If we need to have the last strike, why don’t they? Most important he has crushed any diplomatic path to peace as a way out.

Fourth, this was totally unnecessary. President Obama created a path to peace in the Middle East. Only Trump thought the Iranians weren’t obeying the nuclear agreement – those who actually went and looked agreed the deal was working.  But Trump shredded the existing path to peace, revived animosities that made it useless to stay in Iraq, provoked Iran by increasing sanctions after destroying the legal basis for sanctions and is now delivering the Middle East to other foreign powers like Russia and China. Iran has been measured and restrained by comparison.

Fifth, the military is not united on this. Trump has found people in the military who will work with him while other high-ranking and responsible brass react that his missions are not properly vetted and do more harm than good. Disagreement is fine but the possibility that Trump is reshaping the Army so that it can’t threaten a Trump takeover scares me most. Then we are all in the sewers, concentration camps or gas chambers. If you think that’s not possible, that’s exactly what does make it possible. We have to stop him, not ignore him.

Sixth, it is now much more likely that we are headed for war. Trump has managed to move the Iranian people from blaming their own government for their troubles to blaming the U.S. So the political pressures in Iran are now all on the side of action again the U.S.

Seventh, Iran does have the capability to react. They are well-organized for asymmetrical or unconventional warfare. American power is based on throw weight and mass destruction; Iranian power is based on secrecy and guerilla tactics. Military conflict with Iran will be very costly, a view strongly held within the military. Taking them on militarily makes little sense when there are better ways of managing conflict.

The real problem is to find someone who behaves like an adult in the White House. That makes the impeachment process more urgent and important. And by the way, the Constitution demands a trial. Trials in America are based on testimony under oath. Trial without witnesses is an oxymoron, another way Senate leaders insist on ignoring the Constitution – because they know testimony would be very damning to Trump.

For those interested, here is a link to expert commentators and the views of the organization of former Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Iran.


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