From The Editor
Bill Girdner
Story Date:   
Eternal Struggle

     A few weeks ago, I said in this space that despite the enormous difference in time and region, our war in the Middle East is starting to feel like the war in Vietnam.
     On the Courthouse News web page last week there was a question and answer piece with a Middle East policy expert who put some meat on that thin bone of thought.
     In the shouts and posturing and farce of political debate on the Middle East, it was and remains nearly impossible to get a sense of where we are headed in the region, other than bombing. We bomb, the factions fight.
     But a rough line of direction was set out by Phyllis Bennis, a Middle East analyst with the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, in an interview with CNS reporter Britain Eakin.
     At the outset, Bennis pointed to a fact that has generally escaped attention — not sure why — which is that Hillary Clinton has received more money from arms manufacturers than any other candidate.
     On the one hand, you might say, well, of course, she has been in a position of power in the U.S. government for an awfully long time and that is how power works in America. On the other hand, you might say, she was in charge of diplomacy as Secretary of State so why would arms makers give a diplomat tons of money?
     Warning against the "military-industrial complex" has been passé in our political discourse for decades, never so clearly and forcefully conveyed as it was by the general who led us to victory in World War II and later became president, Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address to the nation in 1961.
     "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex," said the general. "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
     As did Eisenhower, Bennis rejects the notion that military force has no place in international affairs.
     "I'm not a pacifist," she said. "But I think what the U.S. has done -- making this into a U.S. war -- has uniformly made things worse than better across the world."
     Just as we here in the United States gobble up surveys of American opinion, so we might note that a survey of Iraqis in the city of Mosul found that 76 percent feared the sectarian troops of the Iraqi government more than the occupying forces of the Islamic State, she observed.
     At the same time, Bennis added, our long-term ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, is not only our largest arms customer, it is also the largest redistributor of arms to the factions it supports as proxies in the spider's web of conflict that covers much of the region.
     It appears that we have set up a system for eternal struggle.
     So unlike the political candidates who embrace force and little else, Bennis offered a specific set of proposals to extricate ourselves from the quagmire: halt the killing of innocents; get troops and special forces out of there; stop flooding the region with arms; and use the money we are spending towards diplomacy.
     "Get the boots off the ground. Get the sneakers off the ground, the special forces and the CIA," Bennis said. "Clearly they're not doing any good. Get them out. They're inciting. They're making things worse. You're building up hopes for some few, and outrage from the vast majority of others who you're inspiring to more terror. Just get them out."
     But no candidate has the courage or the leeway to take that path.
     I often ask one of our directors for her opinion on political issues because she has such a good gut call on business matters and is a quick read on how issues play to the average American.
     She despises Trump. "He is a loud mouth."
     But she despises Clinton even more.
     She thought the question and answer piece with Bennis was important to read. She was surprised to hear that Clinton was the predominant recipient of contributions from arms manufacturers, and wondered why it is not more widely known.
     And she agreed with the analyst's conclusion that current policy in the Middle East will continue the killing of innocents.
     But who can change our path.
     Our director was at first so discouraged by her choice that she considered staying home come November. But she also believes it is her duty as an American to vote.
     "I have no choice," she said. She is voting for Trump.
     For her part, Bennis has little hope that the darkness in U.S. policy will be lifted any time soon.
     "It looks very bad," she said. "At the moment there's no viable candidate who has any idea of changing the trajectory of U.S policy towards these wars. There are tactical differences -- more drones and more CIA and less troops on the ground. That's tinkering around the edges. No one is acknowledging that the military is at the centerpiece of it.
     "I'm afraid the election is going to bring more of the same," she concluded. "It's very scary."

Coyote Speaks
Robert Kahn
Story Date:   
Strangled in the Bath

     The two political parties that own our country are strange things that should be stripped of their dishonest legal protections: particularly, exemption from taxes and antitrust laws.
     The Democratic and Republican parties are not institutions in the public interest. They are not nonprofits. They are profit-seeking institutions, against the public interest.
     Contributions to them should be taxed — against the parties — to recoup a few pennies from the billions of dollars they've given their campaign contributors.
     Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa called Mexico's PRI "the perfect dictatorship," because its stranglehold on Mexico allowed it to create bogus organizations that pretend to protest the PRI, though they are owned by, and were created by, the PRI.
     The only difference between Mexico's system and ours is that we pretend to have two political parties. And that they are not murdering political opponents in the streets. Yet.
     We leave that to the police.
     Aside from that, our political system and Mexico's are pretty much the same.
     That's one reason why this year's presidential campaigns have been so weird.
     Because The People — poor shlubs that both parties have led around for a century — know this now, because of the Republican and Democratic parties' negligent inattention to detail — their failure to actually represent the people they claim to be representing.
     Political parties can fulfill their function only in a functioning state. If the state ceases to function, all that's left is the party. That's called fascism.
     Words that once had meaning — liberal, conservative, fascist, truth — are tossed around like darts today, with no consideration for the words actually mean — so long as the words can hurt someone.
     The political party is a modern invention. The parties of 5th century B.C. Athens, and 1st century B.C. Rome were not political parties as we know them. They were people who supported one group of extended families against another.
     OK, so I guess ours are not that different.
     The political party as we know it — the putative representative of a social class — began in England, as our own revolution was brewing.
     A lot of Englishmen back then were on our side. So when we won our revolution, did we defeat England? Or just one of its parties?
     When Fascism won its first electoral victory with Mussolini in 1922, his party ate the state.
     Think about that.
     Most Americans today believe, incorrectly, that our two-party system is "enshrined" in our Constitution.
     That's nonsense. What the parties have done is to squeeze everyone else out of the political process, unless they have millions of dollars, and hand it over.
     Our phony, constricted two-party system presupposes, illegitimately, that we all must choose allegiance to one of two parties, whose representatives will fight for our interests.
     Need I say: Oh, please. That's an institutional lie as blatant as the institutional lie of my own trade, U.S. journalism, which pretends that there are two sides — and only two — to any question.
     For 36 years, since the election of Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party has fought, in the word of its leading light Grover Norquist, to reduce the federal government to such incompetence that Republicans can "drown it in a bathtub."
     Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been doing that all year, by refusing to allow a hearing on President Obama's nomination of a justice to the Supreme Court.
     What if seven of the remaining Supreme Court justices were to die tomorrow of food poisoning, and the only one left was John Roberts? Would McConnell let Roberts dictate the law in the United States?
     What if the only justice who survived the Attack of the Tuna Salad were Justice Sonia Sotomayor?
     You can bet that McConnell would call for hearings pretty damn quick.
     Why, I bet that McConnell would say we had to hold those hearings, to prevent Justice Sotomayor from strangling our freedom in a bathtub.

From The Courts
Milt Policzer
Story Date:   
Goodness Doesn't Help

     Here's a scary thought for those of you with insufficient anxiety: Secrets about you may be revealed even if you don't have secrets.
     How is this possible?
     It's yet another delightful aspect of the internet, of course.
     The following paragraph can be found near the end of a press release issued last week by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada about an investigation of the Ashley Madison fool-around website data breach that it conducted along with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
     "The investigation also found the company failed to adequately ensure the accuracy of customer email addresses it held — an issue that resulted in the email addresses of people who had never actually signed up for Ashley Madison being included in the databases published online following the breach."
     Yup. You could be totally faithful and still be outed as an adulterer.
     This is great news for cheaters who can say they have no idea how their names got into that database.
     It's not so great news for non-cheaters who can say the same thing but won't be believed.
     I had a few other questions after reading about this investigation.
     You probably wondered the same thing I did when I first saw this: What the heck are Canada and Australia doing together?
     Is there some sort of relationship here?
     Could those two have met on Ashley Madison?
     I can't decide if I'm disgusted or impressed.
     Then there's this: "Investigators found that at the time of the breach, the home page of the Ashley Madison website included various trustmarks suggesting a high level of security, including a medal icon labeled 'trusted security award.' ALM officials later admitted the trustmark was their own fabrication and removed it."
     It looked like this:

     Clearly proof of security and discretion.
     If you can't trust an adulterers' website, who can you trust?
     Since we're dealing with the topic of interesting and perhaps unexpected relationships, you may want to check out a ruling last week from a California Court of Appeal called Phillips v. Campbell, in which the court said a trier of fact can decide whether parties had a dating relationship even if neither of them thought so.
     Really. It says that in the very first paragraph.
     You could be in a relationship and you don't know it.
     Love is weird — and it gets weirder. This appears later in the ruling:
     "Although there is no evidence that the parties had sexual relations, appellant admitted that in December 2012 he had sent nude photographs of himself to respondent. ... Appellant, however, stated to the court that '[t]here was nothing inappropriate about' the photographs, which had been taken when he 'was nude modeling.'"
     If you've got a modeling gig, it's understandable that you'd want to share.
     Headshaker of the Week: See Duffie v. City of Lincoln, from the Eighth Circuit, which describes a "high-risk traffic stop" in which police pulled guns, hid behind their car doors, and ordered a driver to exit his vehicle.
     Key passage: "The officers knew that Duffie did not match the description of the young man at the convenience store. Duffie was not a young man in a tank top with braids; at the time, he was a bald, 58-year-old double-amputee."
     At least they got the guy's gender right.
     And he didn't get away.