Bob Schwartz

Tag: Government

Rhetoric and reality: Ideal America has always depended on us

It may come as news to the less historically minded, but democracy, the kind we embrace in America, is a relatively new and novel way of government. We are still in the process of learning how it works, how it lives and how it dies.

Rhetoric has always been the way of government, long before modern democracy. Leaders say stuff, citizens repeat that stuff or say different stuff, citizens believe some stuff and don’t believe other stuff, and leaders respond to what citizens say and do.

In its relatively brief democratic life, America has typically embraced rhetoric. Much of it, in simplest terms, concerns just how exceptional and durable—eternal—American democracy really is.

As usual with compelling rhetoric in any sector—government, business, religion, whatever—rhetoric can make us lazy and careless. We come to believe that rhetoric is reality, almost a form of magical thinking. What we say and believe becomes the way things are.

And so, looking at just one aspect, Americans don’t vote in nearly great enough numbers, and those who do vote don’t always study and think hard about the issues and personalities, both of which are complicated. Things will just naturally be alright, we think, because this is a democracy and this is America. Both will last uninterruptedly forever.

But in reality, talk is not just cheap, it can be useless and tragic. All of this, all this glorious American democracy, has always and solely depended on us.

Advertisements

Nuns getting arrested at a U.S. Capitol protest gives us hope

In recent decades, clergy and related religious were literally at the front lines of the civil rights and Vietnam War movements, along with other movements promoting—demanding—social justice, morality and peace.

Seeing the protest pictured above and described below, it seems that the same faithful forces are standing up and speaking out in the face of the very high-level and public devolution of basic moral and ethical principles (such as truth telling and all the other commandments and recommended conduct).

Hope.

Religion News Service:

Capitol Police arrest dozens of Roman Catholic protestors at the U.S. Capitol on July 18, 2019.

Nuns, other Catholics arrested protesting treatment of immigrant children

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Police arrested dozens of protestors, including many Roman Catholic nuns, at a rally Thursday (July 18) opposing the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrant children along the Southern border, treatment that organizers of the demonstration said amounted to atrocities.

Officials with the advocacy groups Faith in Public Life and Faith in Action faithinaction.org   reported that 70 people were arrested after hundreds of demonstrators who had gathered on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol to sing hymns and wave signs with slogans such as “Everyone is sacred” and “Honor the Children: End child detention” crossed the street to enter the Russell Senate Office Building’s rotunda.

Some of the demonstrators stopped to lie down on the rotunda floor in the shape of a cross. They chanted the Hail Mary prayer several times while holding images of what organizers said were immigrant children who have died in U.S. custody.

Capitol police eventually began arresting demonstrators, among them Jesuit brothers and nuns from orders such as the Sisters of Mercy. The group recited the Lord’s Prayer as members were led away to buses waiting outside, leaving images of children scattered across the rotunda floor.

As officers escorted the handcuffed demonstrators into the buses, observers on the sidewalk burst into applause.

About Faith in Public Life:

Faith in Public Life is a national network of nearly 50,000 clergy and faith leaders united in the prophetic pursuit of justice and the common good. Faith in Public Life has played an important role in changing the narrative about the role of faith in politics, winning major progressive policy victories, and empowering new religious leaders to fight for social justice and the common good. Our media expertise, rapid-response capabilities and strategic campaign development have made us respected commentators in the media and valued partners with a range of religious groups working for economic and social justice.

About Faith in Action:

The struggle over the direction of the country is not just about economics or politics. It is a spiritual struggle over who we are and how we are connected. Many people, especially younger people, have lost faith in institutions and have distanced themselves from traditional religious congregations. But people are still searching for spiritual connection and purpose. Through our organizing work, we believe individuals will be able to say “as a result of my participation in Faith in Action, my life is better and I see the world and myself differently.”

Hitler’s Lawyer

“Frank was a typical example of the Nazi intellectual gangster. He had joined the party in 1927, soon after his graduation from law school, and quickly made a reputation as the legal light of the movement. Nimble-minded, energetic, well-read not only in the law but in general literature, devoted to the arts and especially to music, he became a power in the legal profession after the Nazis assumed office, serving first as Bavarian Minister of Justice, then Reichsminister without Portfolio and president of the Academy of Law and of the German Bar Association. A dark, dapper, bouncy fellow, father of five children, his intelligence and cultivation partly offset his primitive fanaticism and up to this time made him one of the least repulsive of the men around Hitler. But behind the civilized veneer of the man lay the cold killer. The forty-two-volume journal he kept of his life and works, which showed up at Nuremberg, was one of the most terrifying documents to come out of the dark Nazi world, portraying the author as an icy, efficient, ruthless, bloodthirsty man. Apparently it omitted none of his barbaric utterances.”
William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Hitler, like all successful tyrants, subverted the legal system to his own ends. Part of this was finding lawyers willing to switch their allegiance from law and morality to Der Fuehrer. Some switched out of fear, but many switched because they agreed with Hitler’s ideology and were passionate enablers of his plans.

Hans Frank is often called Hitler’s Lawyer. That is precisely how he began his Nazi career, going on to roles as Commissioner of Justice and Reich Law Leader and as Governor General of Poland.

Hans Frank was tried and convicted of war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials. Before his execution, he claimed contrition. Along with other Nazi war criminals, he was executed.

Following are excerpts about Hans Frank from William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.


In the spring of 1930 three young lieutenants, Ludin, Scheringer and Wendt, of the garrison at Ulm were arrested for spreading Nazi doctrines in the Army and for trying to induce their fellow officers to agree that in the case of an armed Nazi revolt they would not fire on the rebels….A week after the Nazi successes in the September elections of 1930, the three subalterns were arraigned before the Supreme Court at Leipzig on charges of high treason. Among their defenders were two rising Nazi lawyers, Hans Frank and Dr. Carl Sack.

But it was neither the lawyers nor the accused who occupied the limelight at the trial, but Adolf Hitler. He was called by Frank as a witness. His appearance represented a calculated risk. It would be embarrassing to disown the three lieutenants, whose activities were proof of the growth of Nazi sentiment in the Army, which he did not want to discourage. It was embarrassing that Nazi efforts to subvert the Army had been uncovered. And it was not helpful to his present tactics that the prosecution had charged the Nazi Party with being a revolutionary organization intent on overthrowing the government by force. To deny that last charge, Hitler arranged with Frank to testify for the defense. But in reality the Fuehrer had a much more important objective. That was, as leader of a movement which had just scored a stunning popular triumph at the polls, to assure the Army and especially its leading officers that National Socialism, far from posing a threat to the Reichswehr, as the case of the Nazi subalterns implied, was really its salvation and the salvation of Germany….

The Civil Service law of April 7, 1933, was made applicable to all magistrates and quickly rid the judiciary not only of Jews but of those whose Nazism was deemed questionable, or, as the law stipulated, “who indicated that he was no longer prepared to intercede at all times for the National Socialist State.” To be sure, not many judges were eliminated by this law, but they were warned where their duty lay. Just to make sure that they understood, Dr. Hans Frank, Commissioner of Justice and Reich Law Leader, told the jurists in 1936, “The National Socialist ideology is the foundation of all basic laws, especially as explained in the party program and in the speeches of the Fuehrer.” Dr. Frank went on to explain what he meant:

There is no independence of law against National Socialism. Say to yourselves at every decision which you make: “How would the Fuehrer decide in my place?” In every decision ask yourselves: “Is this decision compatible with the National Socialist conscience of the German people?” Then you will have a firm iron foundation which, allied with the unity of the National Socialist People’s State and with your recognition of the eternal nature of the will of Adolf Hitler, will endow your own sphere of decision with the authority of the Third Reich, and this for all time.

That seemed plain enough, as did a new Civil Service law of the following year (January 26, 1937), which called for the dismissal of all officials, including judges, for “political unreliability.” Furthermore, all jurists were forced to join the League of National Socialist German Jurists, in which they were often lectured on the lines of Frank’s talk….

Such was the government of the Third Reich, administered from top to bottom on the so-called leadership principle by a vast and sprawling bureaucracy, having little of the efficiency usually credited to the Germans, poisoned by graft, beset by constant confusion and cutthroat rivalries augmented by the muddling interference of party potentates and often rendered impotent by the terror of the S.S.-Gestapo.

At the top of the swarming heap stood the onetime Austrian vagabond, now become, with the exception of Stalin, the most powerful dictator on earth. As Dr. Hans Frank reminded a convention of lawyers in the spring of 1936, “There is in Germany today only one authority, and that is the authority of the Fuehrer.”….

What was left of Poland after Russia seized her share in the east and Germany formally annexed her former provinces and some additional territory in the west was designated by a decree of the Fuehrer of October 12 as the General Government of Poland and Hans Frank appointed as its Governor General, with Seyss-Inquart, the Viennese quisling, as his deputy. Frank was a typical example of the Nazi intellectual gangster. He had joined the party in 1927, soon after his graduation from law school, and quickly made a reputation as the legal light of the movement. Nimble-minded, energetic, well-read not only in the law but in general literature, devoted to the arts and especially to music, he became a power in the legal profession after the Nazis assumed office, serving first as Bavarian Minister of Justice, then Reichsminister without Portfolio and president of the Academy of Law and of the German Bar Association. A dark, dapper, bouncy fellow, father of five children, his intelligence and cultivation partly offset his primitive fanaticism and up to this time made him one of the least repulsive of the men around Hitler. But behind the civilized veneer of the man lay the cold killer. The forty-two-volume journal he kept of his life and works, which showed up at Nuremberg,* was one of the most terrifying documents to come out of the dark Nazi world, portraying the author as an icy, efficient, ruthless, bloodthirsty man. Apparently it omitted none of his barbaric utterances.

“The Poles,” he declared the day after he took his new job, “shall be the slaves of the German Reich.” When once he heard that Neurath, the “Protector” of Bohemia, had put up posters announcing the execution of seven Czech university students, Frank exclaimed to a Nazi journalist, “If I wished to order that one should hang up posters about every seven Poles shot, there would not be enough forests in Poland with which to make the paper for these posters.”

Himmler and Heydrich were assigned by Hitler to liquidate the Jews. Frank’s job, besides squeezing food and supplies and forced labor out of Poland, was to liquidate the intelligentsia. The Nazis had a beautiful code name for this operation: “Extraordinary Pacification Action” (Ausserordentliche Befriedigungsaktion, or “AB Action,” as it came to be known). It took some time for Frank to get it going. It was not until the following late spring, when the big German offensive in the West took the attention of the world from Poland, that he began to achieve results. By May 30, as his own journal shows, he could boast in a pep talk to his police aides of good progress—the lives of “some thousands” of Polish intellectuals taken, or about to be taken.

“I pray you, gentlemen,” he asked, “to take the most rigorous measures possible to help us in this task.” Confidentially he added that these were “the Fuehrer’s orders.” Hitler, he said, had expressed it this way:

“The men capable of leadership in Poland must be liquidated. Those following them… must be eliminated in their turn. There is no need to burden the Reich with this… no need to send these elements to Reich concentration camps.”

They would be put out of the way, he said, right there in Poland.

At the meeting, as Frank noted in his journal, the chief of the Security Police gave a progress report. About two thousand men and several hundred women, he said, had been apprehended “at the beginning of the Extraordinary Pacification Action.” Most of them already had been “summarily sentenced”—a Nazi euphemism for liquidation. A second batch of intellectuals was now being rounded up “for summary sentence.” Altogether “about 3,500 persons,” the most dangerous of the Polish intelligentsia, would thus be taken care of.

Frank did not neglect the Jews, even if the Gestapo had filched the direct task of extermination away from him. His journal is full of his thoughts and accomplishments on the subject. On October 7, 1940, it records a speech he made that day to a Nazi assembly in Poland summing up his first year of effort.

My dear Comrades! …I could not eliminate all lice and Jews in only one year. [“Public amused,” he notes down at this point.] But in the course of time, and if you help me, this end will be attained.

A fortnight before Christmas of the following year, Frank closed a cabinet session at Cracow, his headquarters, by saying:

As far as the Jews are concerned, I want to tell you quite frankly that they must be done away with in one way or another… Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourself of all feeling of pity. We must annihilate the Jews.

It was difficult, he admitted, to “shoot or poison the three and a half million Jews in the General Government, but we shall be able to take measures which will lead, somehow, to their annihilation.” This was an accurate prediction….

Everything possible was squeezed out of Poland by the greedy Nazi conquerors. “I shall endeavor,” said Dr. Frank, the Governor General, “to squeeze out of this province everything that is still possible to squeeze out.” This was at the end of 1942, and in the three years since the occupation he had already squeezed out, as he continually boasted, a great deal, especially in foodstuffs for hungry Germans in the Reich. He warned, however, that “if the new food scheme is carried out in 1943 a half-million people in Warsaw and its suburbs alone will be deprived of food.”

The nature of the New Order in Poland had been laid down as soon as the country was conquered. On October 3, 1939, Frank informed the Army of Hitler’s orders.

“Poland can only be administered by utilizing the country through means of ruthless exploitation, deportation of all supplies, raw materials, machines, factory installations, etc., which are important for the German war economy, availability of all workers for work within Germany, reduction of the entire Polish economy to absolute minimum necessary for bare existence of the population, closing of all educational institutions, especially technical schools and colleges in order to prevent the growth of the new Polish intelligentsia. Poland shall be treated as a colony. The Poles shall be the slaves of the Greater German Reich.

 

Media Balance v. Truth: “A Balanced Treatment of an Unbalanced Phenomenon Distorts Reality”

You may have seen or heard about Samantha Bee’s Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on TBS. The first one of these two years ago was meant to point to Trump’s attempt to diminish journalism by not attending, as president’s have for decades. In years past, the WHCA Dinner became known as the Nerd Prom, combining a celebration of a free press, journalists, celebrities and sharp roasting—including roasting the president.

This year, thin-skinned Trump not only held his usual alternative rally at the exact same time, but somehow cowed the White House Correspondents’ Association into abandoning roasting, humor and celebrities entirely, in favor of earnest attention to journalism. Samantha Bee would have none of it, instead offering her own combination of humor, entertaining discussion, and celebrities.

The segment getting the most attention is probably her closing roast of Trump, which was no holds barred. But in the analysis category, no segment was better than the one on how media attempts to offer “balanced” coverage is useless when the matter covered doesn’t really have two civilized and defensible sides. The segment was grounded in this from an op-ed piece by Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann:

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views.

“Balanced” media coverage, not calling out demagoguery, venality and incompetence at an early stage, is part of how Trump managed to get elected, and how the current devolution of American democracy continues. For more than two centuries, a mostly two-party America could say that there were very fine people on both sides. But it is not only possible that that is not eternally true; we are living through the proof.

Sarah Sanders Knows God’s Will and Says God Wants Trump

Berry Chapel, Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, alma mater of Sarah Sanders

“I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president. And that’s why he’s there.”
Sarah Sanders, White House Press Secretary, interviewed by Christian Broadcasting Network

[long pause]

[another long pause]

Some people believe that that they know the will of God and that God intervenes in worldly affairs according to that will, in any and all matters. In this view, God exercises preference for particular outcomes—from presidential elections to football games to epidemic diseases. God wants Trump to be president. God wants the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl. God wants to punish homosexuals with AIDS. And so on.

Others believe in a non-interventionist God, who has set the scene, given humans a treasure of tools, and expects those humans to make or break whatever they will. Sometimes those humans use those tools for great good, sometimes they act the fools, and sometimes they are monstrously destructive. It’s up to them. It’s up to us.

If, like Sarah Sanders, you claim to know God’s will and know that he wants Trump, consider this. If you sum up all that Trump has done and said so far, in his life and his presidency, does God by his “choosing” Trump endorse all of that? That is, under the Sanders theology, if we know Trump, we know his benefactor God.

Leaving us with this disturbing question: Just what kind of God does Sanders believe in?

Democracy dies in darkness, as the Washington Post reminds us. It can also be mortally wounded by un-Americans like Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans

New York Times – September 17, 1933 – Reichstag Fire Trial

New York Times:

Wisconsin’s Scott Walker Signs Bills Stripping Powers From Incoming Governor

FOX CROSSING, Wis. — Scott Walker, the outgoing Republican governor of Wisconsin, on Friday signed into law measures that diminish the power of his Democratic successor and expand the authority of Republican lawmakers who teamed up with him over the last eight years to move the state firmly to the right.

Mr. Walker approved the measures over the vehement objections of the incoming governor and despite fierce protest in the State Capitol as Republican lawmakers rushed the bills through in a hastily-called session last week. Tony Evers, the Democrat who beat Mr. Walker in the November election, has suggested that he may file suit over the changes and said that Mr. Walker had chosen “to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin.”

Mr. Walker’s move will solidify some of the policies that made him a hero to many conservatives nationally and, for a brief time, a leading presidential candidate. But participating in what many Democrats consider a legally dubious power grab also cemented another widely held view: that Mr. Walker is a bruising partisan willing to break precedent and ignore protests for political gain.

If you don’t understand what is wrong with this and how wrong it is, go back to your basic lessons in the U.S. Constitution, American civics and American history. World history too. This is just the sort of tactic used by current dictators—Putin and Xi among them—and past dictators such as Hitler to gain or maintain power.

Power, which in America and every other actual, rather than nominal, democracy rests in the people. Yes, the people.

A 7-year-old girl dies in U.S. custody. The White House disclaims responsibility. The White House needs lessons in logic. And compassion.

When I was hungry you gave me to eat
When I was thirsty you gave me to drink
Whatever you do to the least, you do it to Me

Washington Post:

Trump administration not to blame for ‘tragic’ death of 7-year-old girl in Border Patrol custody, White House says

A White House spokesman on Friday called the death of a 7-year-old girl in Border Patrol custody a “tragic situation” but said the Trump administration is not to blame and called on Congress to “disincentivize” migrants from making long treks to the southern U.S. border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday that the girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert.

Asked by a reporter if the administration is “taking any responsibility for the girl’s death,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said: “Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No.”

According to CBP records, the girl and her father were detained about 10 p.m. Dec. 6 south of Lordsburg, N.M., as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in.

More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures, CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees. According to a statement from CBP, she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”

She died less than 24 hours after being transported by helicopter to a hospital in El Paso.

Here is the missing logic:

It is stipulated that the girl died in part from dehydration, also possibly from malnutrition.
It is stipulated by the U.S. CBP that she had not eaten or consumed water for several days.
The CPB had her in custody for eight hours before she showed symptoms.
During the eight hours she was in custody, she could have been given water and food, but apparently wasn’t.
Therefore, CPB could have done something to help prevent the death but didn’t, which indicates some responsibility.

As for the missing compassion, last night the White House held its grand Christmas Party. Maybe somehow, sometime, during the season, they will learn something. Miracles do happen.

Trump Predicts Revolt If He Is Removed. Are His Words Illegal?

King Louis XV: “Après nous, le deluge.”

Barely noted yesterday, or mostly ignored because we discount just about everything that Trump says, is this from his interview with Reuters, talking about the possibility of impeachment:

“I’m not concerned, no. I think that the people would revolt if that happened.”

A President of the United States just suggested—implicitly endorsed—the possibility of revolution in the event of his ouster. Had this happened at any other time in the past two centuries, bells would be going off as if the Republic was on fire.

In the first place, it is arguably illegal:

18 U.S. Code § 2385 – Advocating Overthrow of Government

Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government…

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.

Does his interview constitute advocating or advising the desirability of overthrowing government? As a matter of crime, it might be a stretch. As a matter of civic responsibility from America’s highest public office, it is farther over the line than almost anything else Trump has said—and that is saying something.

Second—and this is the real bell ringer—he is in some sense right. The form of revolt is uncertain, but it would likely be more than angry and vicious posts on social media. Even his vacating the office through resignation or by electoral defeat in 2020 might have a similar effect.

In America’s darkest historic hour before the Civil War, in an overheated political climate, some of the greatest statesmen in our history tried to keep the lid on a boiling pot. They failed.

We are nowhere near that. But among the roster of politicians, we don’t seem to have as many genuine statesmen as we had back then—or as we had just a few decades ago. And we’ve never had a president predicting—encouraging—revolt as the consequence of his absence.

Bob Woodward and Seth Meyers have criticized CNN for suing the White House over the pulling of Jim Acosta’s press credentials. With all due respect to Woodward, you’re wrong.

Noted legal scholar Seth Meyers

The White House pulled the press credentials of CNN journalist Jim Acosta because Trump doesn’t like his questions, his attitude or him. The First Amendment does not allow this. CNN has sued.

Bob Woodward, an extraordinary and legendary journalist who has made his indelible mark on American history, has criticized CNN for feeding Trump’s appetite for lawsuits. So has Seth Meyers, an amusing entertainer legendary for nothing.

Lawyers are not that special. But lawyers are a bit more sensitive than some others to how unopposed government assaults on constitutional rights tend to gather momentum, sliding down a slippery slope. Waiting only makes things worse.

So to Bob Woodward, who deserves infinite respect for all he has done and continues to do, in this case you are wrong. And to Seth Meyers, who is well rewarded for working within the protection of the First Amendment, please remember that the First Amendment needs protection too. It is the First Amendment that allows those who are funny and sometimes ill-informed to express themselves without government interference.

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Possibly the most famous and prophetic quote from the American Constitutional Convention is attributed to Benjamin Franklin. America was not just a new nation; it was a new kind of nation, so naturally people wondered just what kind of a nation it was to be:

As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention, on September 18, 1787, a certain Mrs. Powel shouted out to him: “Well, doctor, what have we got?,” and Franklin responded: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

America has voted, there will be a Democratic-led House, and it appears that the Republic, which has been under serious internal siege for the past two years, is a little closer to again being kept.

It is just one step toward having an effective check on a leader and a ruling party intent on subverting virtually all of the principles that Franklin and friends embodied in the new nation. But a step in the right direction it is.

Franklin and friends are cautiously relieved. They, more than any, know how hard this is. So they are smiling a little. And so are many Americans.