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The Magistrate

The Magistrate's Journal
The Magistrate's Journal
October 30, 2014

You Will Seldom See Me Cite A WWII Japanese General As An Illustrator Of Wisdom, Ma'am

But I have long found this story instructive. At a strategy discussion in the early days of victory, when fresh invasions were being contemplated, the man ( I have long forgotten his name ) stood and said 'The tea in this cup represents our strength.' Then he dashed it out on the wooden floor. 'You see it only goes so far.'

Fights must be chosen, and choice should be guided by both what is at stake and whether success can be achieved. This is necessary, because there is a limit to strength, to energy.

The matter of Ukraine is not a fight worth making, certainly not if cast as a fight against imperialism and aggression, and definitely not if these are taken to be attributes only of the West, of U.S. and E.U. policy. The flash-point of hostilities there is that Russia refuses to leave go of a former colony, which it wishes to hold in dependent status, in part in hopes it can be recaptured into satellite orbit. It would better suit financial powers in the West, possibly, to incorporate Ukraine into the E.U. sphere, perhaps as a labor pool, including skilled labor at lower wages. Viewed on the largest scale, it is a fight between two imperialisms over who will get the benefit of exploiting the place and its people. It is by no means a fight between a demon and an angel. The conduct of Russia, which has been to invade Ukraine, first in the Crimea, and then to create an armed secessionist movement based on Russian special forces operatives, and to back these by further invasion, cannot be taken lightly. I am utterly unmoved by bleats of 'CIA coup' and 'Nazis in Kiev', not because I think the U.S. has never arranged coups nor because I think Kiev's armed forces do not include a number of people I would consider best euthanized as a public health measure. I am utterly unmoved by them because they are quite beside the point. The thing of greatest importance here is the use of military force in Europe by one sovereign state to seize territory from another sovereign state. This is a matter of serious importance; it is deeply destabilizing and threatens the peaceful order that has held more or less in Europe since the final spasms of WWII. Russia is, in fact, acting exactly as the fascist powers did in the thirties, and from a similar calculation: Russian leadership is certain the West will not oppose them with military force, and that the only check on what they can do is their own ambition and appetite, because they are virile and strong and the West is decadent and weak. The idea that 'NATO threatens Russia', or even that 'the U.S. wants war with Russia', though staples of Russian propaganda, and bread and butter for a certain strain of leftists, does not connect to the reality of the situation at any point.

For people on the left to take events in Ukraine today as a place to pitch a fight, and a place to pitch a fight against the U.S. and E.U. and NATO, ranged alongside Russia in struggle, is foolish to the point of insanity. The idea that Russia today is morally superior to the United States, that it is a leading light for progress and ought to be heeded as a guide, is quite simply bizarre. To believe that supporting fascist Russia in its imperialist venture in Ukraine is opposing imperialism and fascism and protecting peace and order in the world is positively delusional.

October 19, 2014

Probably The Chief Difference Is This, Ma'am

People executed in Saudi Arabia are executed for specific acts they have been convicted in court of doing. The act may not be one we consider a crime, such as sorcery or adultery, but nonetheless it is a specific thing the person is convicted of doing. The act may be one, such as drug smuggling or robbery, which even supporters here of capital punishment might not consider warrant death, but again, it is a specific crime, and the person executed has been convicted of it. Most beheadings are for murder. Personally, I do not consider Saudi police methods or court procedures particularly reliable, and expect there are erroneous convictions. But still, people are convicted of a specific crime, a particular act, and most likely actually did what they are convicted of.

A very large proportion of people killed by I.S.I.L. are killed for things someone else did, or for being something rather than doing something. The handful of Westerners killed were not killed for anything they personally did, but as vengeance for acts of Western governments. A large proportion of battlefield prisoners the I.S.I.L. kills are killed because other soldiers or militia have killed Sunnis, or even because I.S.I.L. fighters have been killed nearby in battle. People in areas I.S.I.L. controls are often killed simply for being of the wrong religion, with no attempt, even, made to dummy up a charge of espionage or sabotage.

That people are killed in an antique manner, and often in a very botched effort requiring much sawing and haggling, rather than by a clean sword cut delivered by a practiced professional, is simply a garnish piled atop a profound wrong and injustice. It becomes a ready focus for outrage, but the real outrage is not the how, but the why. The people I.S.I.L. kills are not by any stretch criminal, in most instances; in some instances they are genuine humanitarians, in others simply unfortunates caught on the wrong side of an armed line. This most people will regard as an outrage. The people Saudi Arabia executes are in most instances actual criminals, and these executions rouse little outrage. Outrage at Saudi executions is confined for most to specific instances where it is felt the person was not guilty of the crime, or is being executed for something that elsewhere is not regarded as a crime at all.

October 14, 2014

It Will Do To Be Going On, Comrade

Past a point, further adjectives just get in the way of accuracy.

Save for Czechoslovakia, I cannot think of a single east European nationalist movement in the inter-war period which was not also fascist and anti-semitic.

In the Ukraine, things took on a particular virulence.

In the late Czarist period, anti-semitism had been deliberately fomented by the secret police as a measure against leftist radicalism, and as the Jews of Russia were concentrated in Ukraine, it struck particularly deep there. A great many people were thoroughly convinced Jew and Bolshevik were synonymous terms, and had learned it young from their elders. A brief period of independence after the Great War was quashed with extraordinary violence a great many Ukrainians regarded as conquest by Russian Bolsheviks. Not long after this came the extraordinary starvation of several millions of Ukrainians, mostly rural people, as a deliberate policy of the Communist government in Moscow. Things like this leave scars, and upset and unbalance minds. Hate of Russia and of Communism, for a good many people there, was just another way to say hate for Jews, and the prospect of fighting Russia and Communism with any success was only opened by the growing power of Hitler in Germany.

People caught in the middle of a fight between Hitler and Stalin cannot honestly be said to have any clean choices for action; there, to oppose one monster is necessarily to align with another. There is certainly good reason for Nazism to have become our culture's symbol of absolute evil, but part of that identity owes to the fact that we in the West aligned with Stalin against Hitler ourselves, and so for all the power of Anti-Communism here, have still to justify that alignment, and can only do it by blinking a little at just how bad Stalin was. He killed far more people than Hitler, and did so just as torturously and cruelly; granted, he had more time and a larger pool of people available for most of it. But it would be quite easy to make a case for Stalin being 'worse' than Hitler, by both objective and emotional measures. Many people, in that place and in those days, made horrible, even evil choices, that they ought not to have made, but people ought not to be put in a position where just about every choice they can possibly make is foul and likely evil, and people's minds ought not to be systematically debauched with hate inculcated for political advantage, either.

Bandera, and his supporters, sold themselves to a devil, and did evil. I hold no brief for them, and what the Soviets did to them does not bother me. But it remains true that they sold themselves to a devil to fight a devil, and that both the devils involved plumbed the deepest pits of mass cruelty. No one is clean in this, and brandishing it from either side, as if the current events are a replay of the Civil War, or the Great Patriotic War, is profoundly wrong and deeply dishonest.

October 3, 2014

You Can Say Whatever You Want, Sir

Unfortunately, you do not seem to be able to support what you say.

First, it would be nice to have some support for the assertion you are basing your engagement on, namely this parenthetical &quot nobody speaks on that issue more powerfully, by the way, than former Vt. Governor and fervent States Rights proponent Howard Dean)." This is simply an assertion by a person whose credibility and judgement are open to serious question. I cannot recall anyone else characterizing Gov. Dean as 'a fervent State's Rights proponent', nor can I recall any ringing denunciations from him on the reach of the Commerce Clause. It is true enough that he ran afoul of it a time or two while governor, with a law to restrict dissemination of 'harmful material' to minors that could have affected residents of other states than Vermont, and if recollection serves in some of the manouvering around the health care system he established in Vermont. I know he has taken positions opposing any great restriction of the Commerce Clause in debates with free-marketeer types. Standard boiler-plate about 'states being free to implement their own solutions' on various questions ranging from health insurance to legalization of marijuana, is far short of what is needed to carry the point that he is 'a fervent State's Rights proponent'. The man has been in the public eye for many years, and what comes first to mind when his name is mentioned is not state's rights.

Second, your over-facile 'isn't anti-war under the wrong president' is nonsense based on a mis-reading ( were I to be in a kind mood ) or a deliberate distortion ( were I to be in my more usual mood ) of the comment you are replying to with it. This is what I wrote: "I have noticed he ( Gov. Dean ) spends very little time denouncing President Obama as a war-monger and fabricator of enemies...." It is quite possible to oppose military engagement in Iraq and Syria without claiming President Obama is a war-monger who is telling lies about the situation to have an excuse to go to war. It would be possible for even Mr. Greenwald to do this, were he a person of different character and temper. But he seems to have an inability to express or hold any view without descending to vitriol and hyperbole, and in short order coming to treat his exaggerations for effect as statements of fact. I did not bother to comment much on his rantings when Bush was in office, but I considered him an embarrassment, and someone who was of no help at all in any project to move the mood of the public in regard to the policies in Iraq. To say he preached to the choir only would be to greatly over-state the reach of his comments, and I suspect that, among people who did not already agree with his views who were exposed to his fulminations, a good many more were moved to contempt for him and his views than were moved to agreement and support.

Mr. Greenwald's main problem is that he is against whoever is wielding government power at the moment. It is like the teenager who, asked what he is rebelling against, answers 'What have you got?' People who have any interest in seeing anything achieved, in terms of law and policy, make a great mistake if they conceive of people like Mr. Greenwald as allies because, at some moment when persons who oppose the laws and policies they desire are in office, they share for a time a target. Mr. Greenwald's target is government, though he veils this somewhat in the posture that he is attacking only corrupt and corrupting people in government. Since in his eyes virtually everyone who actually wields any power in government is corrupt or corrupting, lawless, a liar, a tyrant, in embryo if not yet in full flower, the effect is the same. The result is to inculcate a feeling in people that nothing can be done through government, which, protestations and hopes to the contrary, is to say in fact that nothing really can be done. Government is the only tool available by which people have any chance to rein in private power and achieve any degree of balance or redress in economic life. That government at present is far too much under control of private wealth and most responsive to the interests of private wealth does not change this.

What Mr. Greenwald does is act as a sort of 'left auxiliary' to the right wing in this country. He works to discredit government among the young on the left, to convince them government, the people who hold office in government, are unworthy, and so cannot be used as a tool for anything that might benefit people. Without a feeling that government is there to be used, the commitment of the young to fairness, to social justice and economic equity, will be as seed fallen on rocky ground. Private economic power, the engine of inequality and iniquity, which ensures life is not and will not be fair, is the only beneficiary. I am willing to do the man the courtesy of considering him intelligent enough, and possessed of sufficient self-awareness and understanding of the world around him, to be aware of this.

October 2, 2014

I Know, Sir

I have an open mind on these reports. I cannot say who killed these people, nor in what circumstances they were killed.

But it is certainly true that the Russians have a record of blaming their atrocities on others, with the massacre at Katyn being a prime example, and one the Western Allies went along with in public, even though they knew perfectly well the Soviets had done the killing, not the Nazis. It would hardly be unthinkable an attempt would be made to 'launder' killings done by the secessionists in this manner. It is known for certain there were both killings and 'disappearings' carried out by the secessionists as they established and held their control of these areas. It is worth bearing in mind among the possibilities, until a genuine investigation into the matter is made.

I think a fair portion of the fighters on both sides would probably best be euthanized as a public health measure, but I have seen nothing to indicate the balance swings decisively one way or the other. Not, by the way, that that ought to make much difference in anyone's view of the events in Ukraine in their totality. It is quite possible that the side in the right may be upheld in part by people who are bad indeed; the good cause a bad man fights in does not sanctify him, any more than the presence of a bad man on the line in a good cause puts it in the wrong. Competing claims of atrocity, even when accurate ( and in many cases they are not ), are a poor method of deciding what outcome is best in a conflict. What is wrong in the present situation in the Ukraine is that one country claims to control by right the political and economic life of another, and even a right to seize a portion of its territory, and has used military force to press that claim, first by use of covert operatives and supply of arms and then by use of regular troops in some strength. Russia has no right to dominance in Ukraine, and its insistence at gun-point that it does endangers the settled peace of Europe. That settled peace is something people have come to regard as normal, even natural, but that is far from the case....

September 6, 2014

The CPUSA Paper, Ma'am

Official organ. It was quite entertaining, if one had a grim sense of humor.

One of the difficulties of being on the left in the Cold War period was maintaining some distance from being effectively in support of Soviet, and later of Maoist, Communism. A great deal of damage was done to the left, world-wide and in the United States, by the capture of much left language, and the appropriation and betrayal of many left ideals, by totalitarians in Soviet Russia and Red China. They had supporters here on the left, both genuine adherents and people who were taken in by the manichean world-view they presented. Much of what is said here today in defense of Russia and Putin in Ukraine could be taken nearly word for word from tracts written then against NATO and arming Germany, against the maintenance of U.S. bases abroad, and particularly on the origins of the Cold War itself, which in such circles was presented as a necessary response by the Soviet Union to U.S. and English provocations and aggressions. After all, the Soviet Union loved peace, and harbored no aggressive intentions towards anyone, and it was the genuine will of the people in Poland and Hungary and Romania and Czechoslovakia and the rest to form Communist governments and ally with the Soviet Union against NATO aggression. It was tiresome and destructive then, and it has not improved with age. It is a good portion of the reasons 'why we can't have nice things' like a national health program and strong unions and a more equitable and less violent society, because people who followed that line made it possible for right reactionaries to plausibly present the left as an anti-patriot and subversive element in our society and politics.

September 5, 2014

When You Are 'Agin Everything', Ma'am, Some People Will Always Find You Right, Some Of the Time

His commentary against Bush was as clownish and hyperbolic as his commentaries today. A number of creatures of this type, like Alex Jones and Lyndon LaRouche, switched without missing a beat from vociferous criticism of Bush and Co. to vociferous criticism of President Obama and his administration and its policies. They were no more 'right' then than they are 'right' now. When one begins with faulty premises, builds on false to fact statements, and joins them with fallacious logic, it is not possible for the edifice so constructed to be correct, even if one manages somehow to end up saying something that could be considered more or less true.

August 30, 2014

Aeroplane In A Bottle: From This One, I Will Be Getting Some Cash....

This was my entry in a small modeling contest. It took the first prize, which just arrived today --- a very large scale kit, one which I would never build myself, but that I can probably sell off for something around a hundred fifty dollars. Might work out to a dollar an hour on the assembly....

It is built from scratch, in 1/72 scale ( six feet to the inch ), and the wingspan is a bit under nine inches.

It is a Short Admiralty Type 827, one of three which were sent out to Zanzibar in the late spring of 1915, and then were sent up to Basra, and employed by the Royal Naval Air Service in support of Gen. Townsend's drive on Baghdad, operating around Kut-al-Amara when it was taken in September, and subsequently. The 827 was designed as a floatplane, but at least two of those in Iraq, one of which was No. 822, had their floats replaced with wheels, as operating from the surface of the Tigris River presented many difficulties.
August 29, 2014

The 'Volunteer' Wheeze Is Very Old, Sir

Russia sent four squadrons of fighters, two of bombers, and a tank regiment plus infantry for local security, to China in the late thirties to fight Japanese; all personnel were officially described as volunteers, in no way formed units of the Russian armed forces, and there was a money out one pocket to another bit of book-keeping to pretend the Chinese purchased the equipment, and claims that anyway, the aircrew were there only to train Chinese. Japan not wanting war with Russia much more than Russia did with Japan, did not treat this as grounds for more than strenuous protest, even though the Russian units were quite effective, and some of their personnel captured. No one was fooled, everyone involved, and all informed un-lookers, understood Russia had sent a sizeable ready-made air force to assist China, and did so because it wanted Japan kept busy away from Siberia and the Maritime Provinces.

It is simply a fact that Russia is now sending formed units of Russian soldiery, with their equipment, into Ukraine. You are free to whinge that this is not 'an invasion' because Russia could surely move several divisions under air cover into Ukraine, rather than something which seems in total about the equivalent of a brigade at present. But that does not mean it is not an act of the Russian government, not a deployment of Russian soldiers and equipment under Russian orders into combat with Ukraine's armed forces. The paper-work does not impress me, and it does not alter the essence of the matter. Russia is waging a war against Ukraine, a low intensity war, but a war all the same, and its purpose in waging this is the seizure of territory from a neighboring state --- in short, an act of imperialist aggression. It is intended to pay, with full control of oil and gas in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov which otherwise would benefit Ukraine, and it is viewed as the first essential step to reconstituting the old Russian land empire, or at least as much of this as can practicably be snarfled up in the present day.

Russia has as much right to try this as anyone else has to employ violence for their own aggrandizement, certainly. The problem I have, and a number of other people have as well, is with people who pretend that Russia is not engaged in imperialist aggression, who couch defense of Russia's aggression in Ukraine in terms of resistance to aggression against Russia, and who give every evidence of believing the shabbiest and most threadbare of lies Russia tells about its actions and purposes, all the while insisting everyone who disagrees is duped by propaganda. I could have some respect for someone who made a case on straight realpolitik grounds, and stated straight out their preferred outcome was that Russia achieve its goals, take as much of Ukraine as it thought best for its interests, and reconstituted its old empire. I could respect someone who viewed the thing as a clash between two imperialisms over who would have the sole exploitation of Ukraine, and preferred it to be Russia who became sole exploiter of Ukraine. But I cannot have the slightest respect for the sort of cant which makes up the overwhelming bulk of the commentary made in support of Russian imperialism here.

August 8, 2014

I Support The Actions Described By President Obama Tonight, Ladies And Gentlemen

I think they are right and proper.


( edited to add, with thanks, a link to Ms. Cha's post below with link to video of our President's speech, and transcript of his remarks )

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