Monday, January 26, 2015

The Middle East, Felix Mendelssohn - Money, Free Speech, Corporations and People


                                             



Diplomacy in the Middle East
Is it with longing that the world looks back to the Ottoman Empire which, until the First World War, maintained a loose but relatively effective control over much of the tribal Middle East which up until then was without independent nation-states.  Their religiously-based Caliphate was benign and when rebellion raised its head, it was quickly put down.

Map of Middle East

It is an understatement to say that the nations which succeeded the Ottoman Empire are in disarray.  There is unbridled violence stemming from the historic schism between Sunni and Shiite believers in Islam, and even polarities within those branches.  Compounding this is the emergence of anti-Western, anti-Israel, violent extremism.  Right now, there are at least four “failed” nations in the Middle East, places which were far better under the heel of the Turkish Ottomans than as independent countries.  These are Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.  With a geographic stretch, one might include Libya and Somalia in this group.

How long nations such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf States remain viable is questionable. Turkey and Egypt present much more stability, but they are far from being democratic states, and without despotism, their long-term survival is uncertain.

Israel, child of the United Nations in 1947, and with a historic precedent for its existence, is strong proof that successful nationhood in the Middle East is possible.  The Israelis have made a prosperous, technologically advanced and self-sufficient nation out of worthless desert wasteland and should be an example to the rest of the Middle East, which spends too much of its energy trying to destroy Israel rather than trying to emulate it, which would solve most of their problems.

Attempting to deal with the Middle East means approaching problems which exist separately, and in combination with one another.  The old adage that the enemy of your enemy might be your ally pervades Middle Eastern politics.  If one were to make a list of all the players in the Middle East and note who the enemies of each were, you would see what makes diplomacy there so difficult.   

For example, everyone knows that the United States and the European nations are opposed to the jihadist Sunni anti-Western Islamic State.  But so is Shia Iran, particularly in Iraq where ISIS is attempting to seize the entire country and in Syria where the ISIS would love to overthrow Bashir al Assad. But hold on, the United States and the West would just as well like to see him go!  But Iran supports al Assad’s government.  It is inconceivable that we would ally ourselves with the Islamic State in opposing al Assad and Iran, but it is also inconceivable that we would ally ourselves with Iran in opposing the Islamic State so long as Iran is supporting Bashir and its Hezbollah proxies in Syria and Lebanon, not to speak of Tehran's support of Hamas in Gaza.

Image result for assad

Assad

The same kinds of scenarios can be drawn involving Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan, Yemen, the Al Qaeda group, the Palestinians, Libya, Somalia, Egypt and Turkey.  Diplomacy is tough stuff.  And war has been defined as what happens when diplomacy fails, and up to now, "failure" has been the default position in regard to diplomacy in the Middle East.
Jack Lippman

                                                  

Felix Mendelssohn's Venture into Klezmer

Mendelssohn

I recently had the pleasure of hearing the Budapest Festival Orchestra, one of the world’s finest musical groups, perform Felix Mendelssohn’s Overture and Incidental Music for Shakespeare’s play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  I believe that of the fifteen pieces of “incidental” music Mendelssohn had composed for the piece, only about eight or ten are usually performed, the most famous of which of course is the Wedding March.  Last week, the conductor, however, chose to include two of the rarely played pieces.  The inclusion of one was, at least to me, very significant.

Mendelssohn was Jewish.  In order to succeed in his chosen field in Nineteenth century Germany, however, he felt it necessary to convert to *Christianity.  (His very talented sister, Fannie, remained Jewish and never achieved the fame that Felix did.)  But apparently, a bit of his Jewish heritage remained and it appears in one of those rarely played pieces of incidental music.  It was intended as background, or introductory music, for the scene in the play where a ridiculous and nonsensical version of the classic love story of Pyramus and Thisbe is presented.  This piece of Mendelssohn’s music is in the style of Klezmer musicians playing a "frailach" (Jewish "happy" music) at a wedding, including a clarinet solo reminiscent of Artie Shaw. The Budapest’s conductor, Ivan Fischer, made sure that Mendelssohn’s Jewish roots were not ignored.

*(Mendelssohn’s  devotion to Christianity might be attested to by the fact that among his compositions is included the Christmas carol, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”)


JL

                                                      

An Issue for 2016
In all likelihood, whomever is elected President in 2016 will have the opportunity to appoint one or more Supreme Court Justices.  Several of those on the bench currently are aging.  If the Senate goes the same way as the Presidency in 2016, there will be less need for compromise in the choice of new Justices.  This very well be one of the most important outcomes of the 2016 elections, for which campaigning has already begun. 

The 2010 Citizens United decision, which extended the right of free speech to corporations, and earlier decisions which equated money with free speech, have had a tremendous effect on our election campaigns.  A recent Op-Ed article in the Palm Beach Post, reproduced below, discusses this extension of the right of free speech.  It will be interesting to see if any of the candidates for the Democratic nomination, if there are any other than Hillary Clinton, have this subject on their agenda.  I do not suspect that any Republicans will.
JL


Campaign finance ruling has lasting effect

Amanda Hollis-Brusky

   Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission turns 5 this month, but the damage from the U.S. Supreme Court’s revolutionary ruling on campaign finance is just beginning to be felt.    Scholars and pundits will undoubtedly mark the anniversary with commentary on such issues as the troubling rise of “super PACs” and the proliferation of undisclosed contributions known as “dark money.” The biggest long-term impact, however, is the powerful framing effect the decision has had on other areas of the law.

   With last year’s decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, the idea that “corporations are people” has spread from campaign finance law into the sphere of religious liberty. And there is no reason to believe it will stop there.

   In our legal system, the way an issue is first framed can have powerful and long-lasting consequences. Gordon Silverstein, assistant dean at Yale Law School, has described law as a game of Scrabble — the first tiles placed on the board limit the future moves of the other players. For example, in Buckley vs. Valeo (1976), the first campaign finance case of the modern era, the Supreme Court decided that “money is speech” rather than “money is property.”    Once campaign contributions were elevated to a form of political speech, election spending became increasingly difficult to regulate. Like a series of tiles on a Scrabble board, the precedent set by this one decision has determined what is politically possible and judicially permissible in the realm of campaign finance for almost 40 years.
http://carolinasistah.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/us-supreme-court.jpg
The Supreme Court:  Front (left to right): Justices Thomas, Scalia, Roberts (Chief Justice), 
Kennedy and Ginsberg.  Rear (left to right):  Justices Sotomayor, Breyer, Alito and Kagan.

   The way an issue is framed in one area of law also can wind up having dramatic effects in other areas. Savvy litigators frame their cases in the context of previous wins. In 2012, religious liberties advocates representing a for-profit corporation, Hobby Lobby, pointed to the Citizens United decision in making their case against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. If for-profit corporations could engage in political speech, why could they not also practice religion?

   The strategy proved to be a winning one. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals cited Citizens United 12 times in its Hobby Lobby decision, writing, “We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression.” The Supreme Court majority agreed and extended religious liberty protections to closely held for-profit corporations. The extension of the logic of Citizens United to Hobby Lobby was a seemingly small step. But as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in dissent in Hobby Lobby, warned, “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

   Minefield or not, the court didn’t venture into this place by accident. The Citizens United case came about through years of groundwork laid by conservative legal counterrevolutionaries connected through the Federalist Society — a network of 40,000 lawyers, judges and academics dedicated to reshaping the law to align with conservative and libertarian principles.
   So far, the most acute effects of the Citizens United decision have been on elections and campaigns over the last half-decade. Although these effects could be mitigated by statutes, a constitutional amendment or a future Supreme Court decision, the effect Citizens United has had on other areas of law could be longer-lasting and equally as troubling.

   Imagine the variety of ways for-profit corporations might use the “corporations are people” frame to reap additional protections and privileges under the law. Doesn’t antitrust regulation infringe on a corporate person’s freedom of association? Freedom of association is, after all, an essential part of free speech. And, as we have seen, if it can be linked to speech, the claim is at least in play on this Supreme Court’s Scrabble board.

   If past experience holds true, the logic behind the Citizens United decision will become increasingly accepted, authoritative and influential. As the late Justice Benjamin Cardozo said, “The power of precedent ... is the power of the beaten track.”

   If the Supreme Court continues to beat the Citizens United track, we can look forward to corporate “people” accruing more and more of the rights and privileges of “We the People.”



   (Amanda Hollis-Brusky, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., is the author of “Ideas With Consequences: The Federalist Society and the Conservative Counterrevolution” to be published this month. She wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.)


                                                            

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Jack Lippman 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Extra: Latest Charlie Hebdo Cover

Here is the latest Charlie Hebdo cover that has caused Muslims in many nations to riot, and has generally not been reproduced by most Western publications out of fear of reprisal.  It is clear that many Muslims are very thin-skinned about any portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed.  Their religion prohibits it, but the problem is that only a minority of the planet's inhabitants are Muslim. Muslims should avoid publications with such pictures in them, but they have no right to insist on the worldwide suspension of freedom of expression because of their beliefs. They are free to worship as they wish, but they cannot impose their beliefs, including the forbidding of the portrayal of their prophet, on the rest of the world.  Here's the cover:
JL



Translation:  All is pardoned

Martin Luther King's Birthday, Dealing With Jihad, Poor Mimi and Thoughts on 2016 Candidates

                                                           

Dealing with the Jihadists
Putting it succinctly, the angry, impoverished and often unemployed Muslims who attempt to join up with or emulate the aims of the  Islamic State (ISIS) or Al Qaeda are extremely vulnerable to two particular tenets of the Jihadists:  (1) violent retribution to those who insult their prophet, Muhammad, ignoring the fact that at least 75% of the world’s population do not accept him as such, and (2) anti-Semitism because of the presence of the State of Israel on territory which they believe belongs to Muslims. These are two specific issues which fuel their movement, within its broader anti-Western agenda.

Meeting this challenge requires making these people understand that the Western concept of free expression allows people to speak their minds and if they cannot accept this, they must return to an existence in the primitive nomadic tribe-inhabited world of their ancestors where such freedoms did not exist.  There is no room for that mindset in the West, and in countries in other regions which aspire to democracy.  And if they are comfortable with despots, so be it.

It also requires that they recognize that the State of Israel, which aside from its historic justification, has an irreversible legal basis established by the United Nations in 1947 and that the absence of an accompanying Palestinian state is entirely the fault of the Arab nations who refuse to acknowledge the permanent existence of Israel and who have attempted on numerous occasions to destroy it.

Be that as it may, solving these two problems may take decades, if not centuries.  How then, should the West immediately respond to the violence threatened and perpetrated by Jihadist groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda whose agendas includes establishing a world-wide Muslim Caliphate?

Because the United States and its Western allies are reluctant to put troops in any great number on the ground to destroy the Islamic State’s forces and the bases of Al Qaeda, the only immediate answer I see is the thorough and complete “carpet” bombing of all Islamic State installations in Iraq and Syria, as well as all known locations of bases and training grounds for Al Qaeda’s Jihadists throughout the Middle East and Africa.  We have the technology to locate all of the targets in these areas.  Such bombing would be on a scale even greater than that which destroyed the German city of Dresden during World War Two, and must continue over a period of years, not months, until its aims are accomplished.   After the rubble is cleared, in the absence of a political and economic structure, the United Nations should administer all of these areas until realistic borders can be established and a rational basis for the establishment of nations agreed upon.  


Rubble of Dresden after 1945 bombing

As a corollary to the bombing of the Jihadists, Western nations will have to review their relationships with the Arab nations which are our "friends" to some extent but also supporters of the Jihadists at the same time.  Qatar and Saudi Arabia come to mind as nations which cannot be fully trusted and must be taught a lesson, sooner or later.  Meanwhile, Egypt and Jordan, while far from democracy, can be useful allies in view of their unspoken but nonetheless existing acceptance of Israel.  Hopefully, Turkey will eventually be in that category, but right now it is not.

Bombing as described above would force the West to face the same problem the Israelis faced when they attempted to destroy Hamas’ rocket launching facilities in Gaza in 2014.  To do so necessitated bombing raids in which civilians, despite advance warnings to leave an area, would be killed.  Similar warnings preceded the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during World War Two.  Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, such warnings are usually unheeded.  This is a tough decision, but it should not stop the bombing.

It would be expected that the Muslim Jihadist movement would not sit idly while such bombing is carried out.  Terrorist attacks in the West will occur as retribution.  To deal with this, there would have to be a tightening of security in Europe and North America to the extent that the personal freedoms we now enjoy may have to be temporarily limited, as they were during World War Two, but that is not too great a price to pay to preserve Western civilization.  We see this already happening in Western Europe and the United States will not be far behind.

As a footnote to this, the West must reach some kind of rapproachment with Iran, a nation which is on our side in terms of opposition to both Al Qaeda and ISIS, but not on our side when it comes to replacing the present leader of Syria, Bashir al-Hassad, support of Hamas and Hezbollah, and its continued animosity toward the State of Israel.  The problems of the Middle cannot be solved without the involvement of Iran, and once that nation is firmly committed to peaceful nuclear development, real negotiations for permanent Middle East peace can begin, with Israel as an active participant.  But as I said in the fourth paragraph of this piece, this might take decades, if not centuries.
Jack Lippman
                                                     

Thoughts on Martin Luther King's Birthday
Some years ago, during the late 1940s and the terrible 1950s, there was a Congressional committee dedicated to rooting out subversives.  It was called the House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC for short.  Its existence marked some of the darkest days in American democracy.

But we have need for that committee again today, in the second decade of the 21st century, because there are a lot of “Un-American” activities going on today.  And on this holiday celebrating Martin Luther King, it might be useful to look at some of these activities.

But first, let’s look at the what I feel to be the core of American Democracy.  It appears in the Declaration of Independence  in the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  It appears in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address when the sixteenth President said that “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  
It  appears in Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech when he said that “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

Get the idea? All men are created equal. Many are quoting Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech today, but I am here including the full text of Lyndon Johnson’s “Voting Rights” speech, two years later, which makes some of the same points.  Of course, the Voting Rights Act was passed.  But I think that, on the day dedicated to Martin Luther King, Johnson’s speech must also be remembered.  Here it is:

 
(Delivered March 15, 1965, Washington, D.C.)
I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.

I urge every member of both parties—Americans of all religions and of all colors—from every section of this country—to join me in that cause.

At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.

There is no Negro problem. There is no southern problem. There is no northern problem. There is only an American problem.

And we are met here tonight as Americans—not as Democrats or Republicans—we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.

This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, north and south: "All men are created equal" — "Government by consent of the governed" — "Give me liberty or give me death."…

Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in man's possessions. It cannot be found in his power or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being….

Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.
Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes….

Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books—and I have helped to put three of them there—can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it.

In such a case our duty must be clear to all of us. The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution.
We must now act in obedience to that oath.

Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote….

To those who seek to avoid action by their National Government in their home communities—who want to and who seek to maintain purely local control over elections—the answer is simple. Open your polling places to all your people. Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin. Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land. There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of States rights or National rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.

I have not the slightest doubt what will be your answer….
But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.

Their cause must be our cause too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome….

This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all—all black and white, all North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies—poverty, ignorance, disease—they are our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too—poverty, disease, and ignorance—we shall overcome.


Well, President Johnson hit the nail on the head in the part of his speech directed to “those who seek to avoid action by their National Government in their home communities – who want to and who seek to maintain purely local control over elections.”  These people are still around, but nowadays they are playing games with early voting hours and the kind of ID required at the polls in order to make it more difficult for certain citizens to vote.  The voting fraud they claim justifies such measures is virtually non-existent.  Their actions are just an Un-American subterfuge to get around the words of the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the words of Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson, all quoted above.  Do we need a new House Un-American Affairs Committee to investigate these subversives?
JL

                                                       
                                                           

Opera News
We saw a wonderful performance of La Boheme at the Palm Beach Opera this weekend.  Of course, the final curtain descends as poor Mimi dies of consumption in her lover’s frigid Paris loft, without having received medical care.  Well, it’s 120 years later now, and it is reassuring to know that if the same thing happened today, Mimi and Rudolpho would be eligible for medical care under the French health insurance program, and if the opera took place in the United States, benefits under the Affordable Care Act would have prevented the tragedy … and Musetta would not have had to sell her earrings in an last-minute effort to get money to buy some medicine for poor Mimi. 
JL
                                                        

The 2016 Race
The race for the Republican nomination is now shaping up as a contest between those who will be able to raise sufficient funds to run ... and that limits the contestants to Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.  The others (Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, etc.) are to the right of these three and have no chance of raising the necessary money to run, but can influence their right wing advocates to support Romney, Bush or Christie ... rather than sit out the election.  So watch the rightward drift of these three over the next year and a half.  Immigration and taxation will be the major issues since none of them will be willing to get more specific on foreign policy, other than opposing Islalmic radicalism and supporting Israel.

The Democratic nomination is Hillary's for the taking, but in the event for some reason she does not want it, the Democrats will end up choosing between Elizabeth Warren and Vice-President Biden.  Neither would be able to defeat Romney or Bush but either would run a toss-up race against Christie.  But I remain convinced that Hillary will run, but it will be a revamped, centrist candidacy, supporting changes in the Affordable Health Act and stressing spending on environmental and infrastructure issues as ways of strengthening the economy.
JL
                                                  

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