Book Analysis: “The World Without Us”, by Alan Weisman, July 2007

•December 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Introduction:

 

I remember Paul Cibaric, my Advanced Placement European History teacher at Stevens Point Area Senior High School announcing on the first day of class: “The answer to every question in this course will be “Greed”.” This, I believe, epitomizes better than any other single anecdote the primary reason why I have always found the subject of Sociology so baffling and challenging to grasp. As far back as I can remember, I have always seen the world from what theoretical astrophysicist Doctor Neil Degrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History’s Rose Center for Earth and Space famously refers to as “the cosmic perspective”.

The known recorded history of human civilization dates back only a few millennia, but even the lifespan of a species as relatively new and young as our own can be measured on the scale of tens of thousands of years. And from this perspective, much is not most of what the social science of sociology studies, the majority of which is concerned very nearly to the exclusion of all else with the interrelationships and resulting sociocultural problems of the world as it is today, has the tendency to seem somewhat superficial to say the least. This can be attributed in no small part to the fact that much if not a majority of the science underpinning sociology is, consciously or not, social psychology: the study of not only how people interact with one another but each individual person’s conscious, subconscious and unconscious motivations for interacting with others in the way that they do. This is where the shallowness and superficiality inherent in the study of sociocultural interaction comes from, since as Cibaric said so many years ago, people’s motivations for behaving the way that they do can all to often be succinctly boiled down to one word: “Greed”, by far and away the pettiest of all human impulses.

 

Problem:

 

Much of the science of sociology, like all social sciences, because it studies human cultures and societies and the interactions between them, has the tendency to be restricted in its focus to the present. However, in the study of global phenomenon such as globalization, it is important to recognize the reality that civilization as we know it is a relatively recent development, and so it is only relatively recently that humanity has become a significant player, as it were, on the scale of global events. It is equally important to recognize, however, that beyond even that, humanity itself is newcomer to the world as well. From this wider perspective, it is most helpful to conceptualize humanity not as the dominant species on the planet, but merely as one generation in the much longer history of life on Earth. Like all such generations, humankind’s had a beginning and will have an ending. From this broader worldview, what is truly most important about a phenomenon such as globalization is not the sociocultural motivations underpinning interactions between cultures and civilizations, as sociology has the tendency to gravitate towards studying, but rather instead what those civilizations, including the modern one in the developed industrialized western first world, will leave behind when they, and on a broader scale humankind, inevitably disappears.

This is the theme of the 2007 book “The World Without Us” by University of Arizona Professor Alan Weisman and the History Channel documentary series “Life After People” based on Weisman’s book. It is notable that neither Weisman nor any of the History Channel documentaries in the series make any attempt at all whatsoever to explain any way that humans may disappear. As they explain, this is because how the human generation comes to an end is largely irrelevant. Even if mankind is exterminated by a thermonuclear war, for example, the world after humans will still be left with not only nuclear power plants but also undetonated atomic warheads. As Weisman discusses in Chapter 15, when their casings corrode, their plutonium will be released.

Nor will the motivations that humans had for building the structures that they did last beyond the demise of the human species. The earth after humans will not have international trade, for instance, but if, as the History Channel series posits, every person vanished tomorrow, the physical alteration of the Earth that is the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District would be left behind, and would last for millennia.

 

Summary:

In Chapter 2: “Unbuilding Our Home” and Chapter 3: “The City Without Us”, Weisman explains the effect of climate on all types of housing materials. He explains how nature breaks down the materials found in our homes: “In the day after humans disappear, nature takes over and immediately begins cleaning house—our houses, that is. Cleans them right off the face of the Earth.” [Weisman, Page 15] Things will crumble because of water: “Most of all, though, you are beset by what in other contexts is the veritable stuff of life: water. It always wants in. After we’re gone, nature’s revenge for our smug, mechanized superiority arrives waterborne.” [Weisman, Page 16]. Then animals will come in and start chewing and nesting, adding to the destruction. Weisman explains that people in advanced societies are not as motivated to keep their houses up as much as people did in Europe two hundred years ago, and predicts that nature through animals and weather will reduce our homes to rubble in fifty to a hundred years. [Weisman, Page 17]

Chapter Three uses Manhattan as an example. Before the land was settled, Manhattan was 27 square miles of porous swampland covered by pine and oak trees and meadow grasses. Whatever of the 47 inches of annual rainfall the living roots didn’t siphon would drain to lakes, marshes and the oceans via forty streams. [Weisman, Page 23] Central Park us to have hundreds of streams that ran through it. Weisman predicts that if New York were deserted for a hundred years, there would be a couple hundred streams running through the city. According to Weisman, because there is little soil to absorb the rainfall and vegetation to transpire it, if it rains hard, sewers clog with debris and the water, with buildings blocking the sun from evaporating it, will flow down to add to a rising underground river corroding the subway lines. [Weisman, Page 24] Eventually the subway lines will corrode and buckle and become a river. It is essential to constantly pump the thirteen million gallons of water daily uphill and to monitor manmade water management tools such as special dams that hold back the flow of water every time it rains. After they’re gone, the pumps would fail with no power, the water would crash through and destroy the support pillars, the subway tunnels will flood and cave in within 20 years. [Weisman, Page 26] As the oceans continue to warm and rise, at some point the water will not subside.

Season 2 Episode 5 of “Life After People”, entitled “Home Wrecked Home” deals with the destruction of suburban homes in Levittown in Hempstead, Long Island, New York and the San Remo, a 27-floor apartment building located at 145 Central Park West in Manhattan opened in 1930. The episode also deals with the fate of Cooperative City in Baychester, the Bronx in Northeastern New York city. According to the documentary, the Hutchinson River would reclaim the former marshland the Bronx and the City was built on within 100 years “after people”.

In Chapter 15: “Hot Legacy”, Weisman begins writing about Global warming. He then moves on to the subject of the world’s more than 450 thermonuclear power plants. If humankind was to depart, he writes, the plants would run on autopilot until the reactors overheat and after two weeks without us, all of the world’s nuclear reactors would explode. Weisman then explains the effects of a nuclear explosion, which would first cause a wave of radiation that would kill anything that was living within a certain radius. “Whatever the correct measure of human mortality may be, it applies to other life-forms as well and in a world without humans the plants and animals we leave behind will have to deal with many more Chernobyl’s.” Weisman writes. “Little is still known about the extent of genetic harm this disaster unleashed: genetically damaged mutants usually fall to predators before scientists can count them.” [Weisman, Page 217] In his interview with Scientific American, Weisman predicts that nuclear reactors could burn and melt down as soon as seven days after people as their water-cooling systems fail. The same is true of the basins of cooling water that serve as storage locations for spent fuel rods. When the water evaporates, the temperature in the basins rises.

Then the radiation would form into clouds that would travel around the globe. The radiation radii of the world’s more than 450 nuclear power plants, , such as the 30-kilometers around Chernobyl, cover such a large area of the world that the damage that this radiation would cause to the Earth’s ozone layer Weisman likens to that of chlorofluorocarbons such as Freon. The holes in the ozone layer created by these radiation clouds would expose whatever remained living on the surface of the planet to even more radiation, since the ozone lessens and even blocks exposure to cosmic rays.

In Season 2, Episode 2 of the history Channel series “Life After People”, without human intervention, spent nuclear fuel rods spontaneously burst into flame.

 

Intent

 

`           Weisman published an article in the Sunday February 6, 2005 issue of Discover Magazine entitled “Earth Without People”. In the article, Weisman speculated on what might happen to human civilization’s structures if the humans who built and maintain them vanished. In the article, as in Chapter 3 of “The World Without Us”, Weisman referred to “rising groundwater” as a “problem that already plagues New York”, writing that if New Yorkers disappeared “sewers would clog” and “natural watercourses would appear”. At the end of his Discover Magazine article, Weisman provides a timeline strikingly similar to that in the History Channel’s “Life After People”, in which he predicts that within twenty years after human vanished from New York “water-soaked steel columns supporting subway tunnels corrode and buckle” and that oaks would re-cover the land with a hundred years.[1] In researching the article, according to an interview published in the July 2007 Scientific American[2], Weisman discovered there was more material, enough for a whole book. So began what became Weisman’s work on his book “The World Without Us”, published in July 2007.

 

Reception

 

The two-hour pilot the History Channel series “Life After People” aired on Monday January 21, 2008 and had an audience of 5.4 million viewers, the most-watched program ever on the History Channel[3], which launched on January 1 1995.

Weisman’s book “The World Without Us” reached number one on the San Francisco Chronicle nonfiction bestsellers list on September 23, 2007[4], ranked number one on TIME Magazine’s top ten nonfiction books of 2007[5] and on the same list from Entertainment Weekly[6] and placed number one in the nonfiction category of Amazon’s Best Books of 2007 in Canada.[7] The book placed number four on the same list in the United States [8], peaked at number three on the Globe and Mail’s nonfiction bestseller list on August 11, 2007 on its way to ten weeks on the list. It was number six on the New York Times Best Seller list from August 12 through September 9, 2007 on its way to nine weeks in the top ten.

In an August 11, 2007 review for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Chauncey Mabe of South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel called Weisman’s book “one of the most satisfying environmental books of recent memory, one devoid of self-righteousness, alarmism or tiresome doom saying”, writing “Weisman’s book transcends gimmickry to attain a kind of brilliance”.[9] On July 23, 2007, Gay Kamiya of Salon called Weisman’s book “brilliantly creative” and “an audacious intellectual adventure”, writing that:

The World Without Us” taps into one of our deepest, if only furtively acknowledged, pleasures…It also appeals to out love of looking the cosmic rearview mirror: Like “A Christmas Carol” or “It’s a Wonderful Life”, it sucks us in with a vision of what is, what has been and what is yet to come…Just a few pages into it and I was as enchanted as I was by the imaginative books I loved as a boy…“The World Without Us” makes saving the world as intimate an act as helping a child.[10]

 

Time’s Lev Grossman called Weisman’s book “a mesmerizing and grandly entertaining meditation” writing “I don’t think I’ve read a better nonfiction book this year.” In the September 2, 2007 New York Times Book Review, Jennifer Schuessler calls Weisman’s book “a fascinating nonfiction eco-thriller”, writing that “Weisman’s gripping fantasy will make most readers hope that at least some of us can stick around long enough to see how it all turns out.”[11] At the same time “we are taught through the course of this book;” wrote Nicholas Lezard of The Guardian; “to feel good about the disappearance of humanity from the Earth”.[12] Anthony Doerr of the Boston Globe called the book “a beautiful and passionate Jeremiad against deforestation, climate change and pollution”, writing that “Weisman has an extraordinarily farsighted point of view, and he is actually at his best when exploring the past, tracing the world as it was.”[13] Jerry Adler of Newsweek wrote “journalist Alan Weisman has produced, if not a Bible, at least a Book of Revelation.”[14]His research is prodigious and impressive;” wrote Janet Maslin of the New York Times in an overall negative review; “So is his persistence.”[15]

 

Analysis and Discussion

 

Having taken courses in Anthropology and Archaeology, History; Philosophy, Political Science and Psychology; as well as Sociology, I can now confirm that what my high school AP European History stated was indeed true. Very nearly everything that humans have built since the beginning of the known recorded history of civilization has been motivated in one way or another by some form of greed.

This is what makes my study of Weisman’s book “The World Without Us” both fascinating and challenging. Like the History Channel series “Life After People”, which I also studied, Weisman makes no attempt at explaining the cause or reason for human disappearance from the surface of the planet Earth. As such, unlike much of sociocultural sociology, his book and the documentary series it inspired look less at Human greed in and of itself than at the monuments, both figurative and literal in nature, to our greed that we as a civilization have erected throughout the few millennia of our history.[16] This applies even to things that the majority of laypeople would never think of as being greed-driven, such as roads and writing.

As early as 8,000 BCE in Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, accounting was being done with clay tokens in the shapes of different good that were later wrapped up in clay balls. These clay balls were later marked with shapes representing those of the tokens inside, indicating the number of each token contained. By the late fourth millennium BCE, these token had been done away with all together in favor of only the drawn shapes and the clay was flattened into tablets. The shapes were imprinted into the clay with sharpened reeds, lending this writing system its name: “Cuneiform”, meaning “wedge-shaped”.[17]

In so many words: Capitalism invented writing. When people had more wealth than they could physically hold onto, they needed a way to keep track of how many of what things they had. So they invented writing for the purposes of trade…for the purposes of attaining ever more material wealth for themselves. So even writing, as an invention of western civilization, was a product of human greed.

As for roads, which according to both Weisman’s “The World Without Us” and the History Channel’s “Life After People” will be among humankind’s longest-lasting creations. The purpose of roads in trade is obvious, so the construction by different civilizations throughout the Old World of roads was conducive to the accumulation of both the wealth of society as a whole and that of the wealthiest members therein. In the case of the Ancient Roman Empire, the clichéd proverb that “All roads lead to Rome” was literally true in many cases due in no small part to the fact that many of the Empire’s famous roads were patronized either by the Emperor’s themselves or by the Empire’s aristocracy, because they understood that roads benefited not only the treasury of the empire as a whole but their own pocketbooks as well [albeit, more often than not, the two were one and the same].

 

Conclusion

 

Like Weisman, I possess what Tony Doerr from the Boston Globe called an “extraordinarily farsighted point of view” and what Degrasse-Tyson calls a “cosmic perspective.

The phenomenon of globalization can be succinctly summarized, in a word, as the erasure of the borders and boundaries between the countries of the world and their cultures. The sociological study of globalization has, however, continued to present a challenge for me, since from the dispassionate objective outsider’s perspective that Weisman and I take, the borders and boundaries being erased by the globalization process never existed in reality to begin with in the first place. Good social science, however, like all good science, strives to see all sides of a given phenomenon. Throughout my sociology courses, I have been requested, and expected, on numerous occasions to conceptualize and articulate the negative harms of globalization. Needless to say, it is difficult for me, as it would be for anyone, to come up with any way in which erasing imaginary borders and boundaries that never existed anywhere within the physical universe of perceptible reality outside of our own minds might potentially be a bad thing.

The process of globalization is, in a word, the process of humans around the globe becoming one species in one shared world. What makes imagining potential negative ramifications to this difficult is the fact that a single species on a single planet is what humans are and have always been.

I started off this project with the stated “Problem” of exploring and investigating how globalization has impacted the planet Earth, the problems that it has caused and the threat that it poses. The conclusion that I have come to, however, is very nearly the opposite: that, if indeed any solutions do exist to the problems our planet is experiencing and the threats that we face, then there can be little or no reasonable doubt that whatever solutions exist lie within globalization. The one commonality that all problems and threats facing our planet, from climate change to pollution to thermonuclear war, share amongst them, it is that if, when and where they happen, none of these are any great respecters of arbitrarily drawn imaginary national boundaries. If solutions to these problems and threats exist, therefore, they are not to be found at the state or national level. Both climate change and thermonuclear war pose a danger to the survival of the human species regardless of nationality, and are threats that can only and should only be addressed by the human species, not by nations. The damage we have done to the planet has not been the sole exclusive responsibility of any one nation, and the legacy that we leave behind won’t be either.

[1] Weisman, Alan. “Earth Without People”. Discover Magazine. Sunday February 6, 2005: http://discovermagazine.com/2005/feb/earth-without-people

[2] Weisman, Alan. “An Earth Without People”. Scientific American, Volume 297, Issue 1, July 2007, Pages 8-104: http://www.nature.com/scientificamerican/journal/v297/n1/pdf/scientificamerican0707-76.pdf

[3] Tucker, Neely. “Depopulation Boom”. Washington Post. Saturday March 8, 2008: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/07/AR2008030703256.html?hpid=artslot

[4]San Francisco Chronicle Best-Sellers”. San Francisco Chronicle. Friday September 21, 2007: http://www.sfgate.com/books/article/San-Francisco-Chronicle-Best-Sellers-2539363.php

[5] Grossman, Lev. “Top 10 Nonfiction Books”. TIME Magazine. Sunday December 9, 2007: http://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1686204_1686244_1691768,00.html

[6] Reese, Jennifer. “The Best Books of 2007”. Entertainment Weekly. December 20, 2007: http://www.ew.com/article/2007/12/20/best-books-2007

[7]Editor’s Picks: 2007’s Top 25 Nonfiction”. Amazon. December 20, 2007: https://www.amazon.ca/gp/feature.html?docId=1000175351

[8] Harrison, Kate. “UA Journalism Prof Collect Year-End Kudos For book: Alan Weisman’s “The World Without Us” Continues to Attract Attention from Readers and Critics Alike”. University of Arizona. December 14, 2007: https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/ua-journalism-prof-collecting-year-end-kudos-for-book

[9] Mabe, Chauncey. “Don’t Think About Us When We’re Gone”. Pittsburg Post-Gazette, August 11, 2007: http://www.post-gazette.com/book-reviews/2007/08/11/The-World-Without-Us-by-Alan-Weisman/stories/200708110131

[10] Kamiya, Gary. “What Would the Earth Look Like If Humans Suddenly Disappeared? An Audacious New Book Imagines a People-Free Planet and Restores Our Sense of Awe”. Salon. Monday July 23, 2007: http://www.salon.com/2007/07/23/weisman/

[11] Schuessler, Jennifer. “Starting Over”. New York Times. September 2, 2007: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/02/books/review/Schuessler-t.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

[12] Lezard, Nicholas. “Goodbye To All This”. The Guardian. Friday May 2, 2008: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/may/03/society1

[13] Doerr, Anthony. “Alarms, Ideas to Help Save a Damaged World”. Boston Globe. July 15, 2007: http://archive.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2007/07/15/alarms_ideas_to_help_save_a_damaged_world/

[14] Adler, Jerry. “After We Are Gone: If Humans Evacuated, the Earth Would Flourish”. Newsweek. July 23, 2007.

[15] Maslin, Janet. “A World Without Humans? It Falls Apart”. New York Times Sunday Book Review”. August 13, 2007: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/13/books/13masl.html?_r=2&ref=books&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

[16] For more information on this topic, see the 2001 book “Affluenza: The All-Consuming Academic” by Duke University Professor Thomas Naylor

[17] Heise, John. “Cuneiform Writing System”. Netherland Institute for Space Research. May 4, 1995: https://personal.sron.nl/~jheise/akkadian/cuneiform.html

Policy Memorandum: Constitutional Law

•December 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

To: The Office of President of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton,

The West Wing, The White House,

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, District of Columbia.

 

From: Ian K. Judge-Lord

Office of Legal Counsel, United States Department of Justice

11114 L Street Northwest, Washington D.C.

 

Memorandum

On the Constitutionality of

War Crimes

[In violation of Chapter VIII Article 50 Paragraph 4 of the Second Geneva Convention; Part VI Section I Article 129 Paragraph 4 of the Third Geneva Convention; and Part IV Section III Chapter I Article 75 and Part V Section II Article 85 of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions]

And

Torture

[In violation of Chapter I Article 3 Paragraph 1 Subparagraph 1, Article 12 and Article 51 of the Second Geneva Convention; Part I Article 3 Paragraph 1 Subparagraph 1, Part II Article 12 Paragraph 3 and Article 14 Paragraph 1, Part III Section I Article 17 Paragraph 4 and Section VI Chapter III Article 99 Paragraph 2 and Article 108 Paragraph 1 and Part VI Section I Article 130 of the Third Geneva Convention; and Protocol I Part IV Section III Chapter I Article 75 and Protocol II Part II Article 4 of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions]

 

Background:

In the Tuesday November 8, 2016 Presidential election, 45th President of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Republican Party candidate Donald Trump[1] by 2.8 million votes[2], 65.8 million votes to 63 million votes[3], or 48.2% to 46.2%.[4] However, had she lost the election, Trump would have become the next Commander in Chief of the United States Military Armed Forces. The purpose of this memorandum is to explore doubts as to the Constitutionality of the foreign policy proposals of the man who on November 8, 2016 came within a mere two percentage points of becoming the next Head of State of the sole economic and military superpower in the civilized developed industrialized Western first world.

As a Presidential candidate, first beginning in January 2011 and then officially announcing his campaign on June 16, 2015, Donald Trump and his campaign went to historically unprecedented lengths to be as vague and noncommittal on matters of policy as any candidate for elected office in the 220-year history of American Democracy. As a result, there existed very few policies on which it was possible to discern with any reasonable degree of certainty just what precisely it was that Trump planned to do. This memorandum focuses on the two precise proposals made by Trump during his 2016 Presidential campaign on the subject of what he planned to do if elected President when it came to the foreign and international military policy of the United States.

First and foremost, on the Fox News Channel show “Fox and Friends” on December 2, 2015, Trump put forth his doctrine for dealing with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or “I.S.I.S”, founded from Al-Qaeda in Iraq by Abu-Al Baghdadi in 2006. “I would hit them so hard like they’ve never been before.” Trump told Fox News Channel host Brian Kilmeade.[5]And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families.” “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.” Trump repeated to the shocked and silent “Fox and Friends” co-hosts Kilmeade and Stephen Doocy. “They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”[6]

Secondly, at the eighth 2016 Republican Primary Debate on February 6, 2016 at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire, Donald Trump enumerated how he would expand and build on the terrorism tactics of his Republican predecessor, 43rd President of the United States George Walker Bush. “I would bring back waterboarding.” Trump told debate moderators David Muir and Martha Raddatz of ABC News, describing the simulated drowning tactic former Vice President Richard Cheney euphemistically describes as “enhanced interrogation”, but which in Chapter VI of the Report of its 36th Session issued on May 19, 2006, the United Nations committee Against torture identified as constituting a form of “torture”, which it defined as “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment”.[7]I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Trump continued. The next day, in an interview on “This Week” on ABC News, Trump confirmed to host George Stephanopoulos that “I would absolutely authorize something beyond waterboarding.” “I’ll approve it immediately, but I’ll make it also much worse.” Trump told Republican State Representative Bill Herbkersman of South Carolina in Bluffton, South Carolina on February 17. “We should go much stronger than waterboarding.” Trump reiterated, concluding by telling Herbkersman “You know, half these guys say, “Torture doesn’t work”. Believe me, it works…and don’t tell me it doesn’t work. Torture works.”[8]

Previously, Trump had hedged his proverbial bets by telling a crowd in Columbus, Ohio on November 23, 2015 “Would I approve waterboarding? I would approve more than that. It works”. “And even if it doesn’t work;” Trump then added; “They deserve it anyway.”[9]

We should go for waterboarding;” Trump repeated in the elevenths 2016 Republican Primary Debate in Detroit, Michigan on March 3, 2016; “And we should go tougher than waterboarding.”[10] The closest thing to explaining what he meant by “worse than waterboarding” and “tougher than torture” that Trump would ever get was in an interview with NH1 New Hampshire News on June 30, 2016, when he told Political Director Paul Steinhauser “We’re going to have to do things that are unthinkable”. [11] Trump’s love for torture, and waterboarding in particular, is unmistakable, however, as when he said at a campaign rally in Saint Clairsville, Ohio on June 29, 2016 “I like waterboarding a lot. I don’t think it’s tough enough.”[12]

 

Origins of Constitutional Conflict

The day after the January 20, 2009 inauguration of his first term President Clinton’s predecessor, Barack Obama, signed Executive Order 13491: “Ensuring Lawful Interrogations”, saying that prisoners “Shall in all circumstances be treated humanely and shall not be subjected to violence to life and person [including murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture], nor to outrages upon personal dignity [including humiliating and degrading treatment].”[13] At the White House Press Conference marking his hundredth day in office as President on April 29, 2009, Obama explained, “I believe that waterboarding was torture and whatever rationales were used, it was a mistake.” Six years later, on April 13, 2015, Republican Congressman William Thornberry of Texas introduced into the United States House of Representatives a bill to turn President Obama’s Executive Order into law[14], House Resolution 1735: the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 [H.R. 1735: NDAA F.Y. 2016]. The bill passed the United States Senate on June 16, 2016[15] and passed the House of Representatives on November 5, 2015. President Obama signed the bill into law on November 25, 2015.

The wording of President Obama’s Executive Order closely mirrors that of Article 3 of the First, Second and Third Geneva Conventions as well as Part IV Section III Chapter I Article 75 and Part V Section II Article 85 of Protocol I and Part II Article 4 of Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions, all of which prohibit “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment”.[16]

Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the constitution of the United States of America enumerates the power of the President of the United States “to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur”. The Geneva Conventions were signed by 33rd President of the United States Harry Truman’s Ambassador to Switzerland John Vincent on August 12, 1949 and ratified by the United States Senate by a unanimous vote of 77-0 on July 6, 1955. 34th President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Ratification on July 14, 1955.

 

Constitutionality Question

Though the United States Supreme Court has explored the question of whether or not the President of the United States is empowered to unilaterally nullify a treaty in the case of Barry Goldwater v. James Carter on December 13, 1979, the court has yet to provide a ruling which answers the question, with the District of Columbian Circuit Court of Appeals writing on December November 30, 1979 that:

The Constitutional institution of advice and consent of the Senate, provided two-thirds of the senators concur, is a special and extraordinary condition of the exercise by the President of certain specified powers under Article II. It is not lightly to be extended in instances not set forth in the Constitution. Such an extension by implication is not proper unless that implication is unmistakably clear.”[17]

With the Supreme Court neglecting to produce a ruling that of the Appellate Court stands. However, that is by no means to say that the Supreme court as a whole refrained completely from handing down their opinion, with Supreme Court Associate Justice William Brennan writing, in his dissenting opinion that “Our cases firmly establish that the Constitution commits to the President alone the power to recognize and withdraw recognition from foreign regimes.”[18]

 

A “Crime Against Peace”

The Fourth Geneva Convention is subtitled “Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War” and defines civilians as individuals who “do not belong to the armed forces” and “take no part in the hostilities”.[19] This definition is mirrored in other regulations at the national level around the globe. The Russian Federation’s Regulations on the Application of International Humanitarian Law states that a “civilian is any person present in the area of combat operations, who is not a member of armed forces and refrains from any act of hostility”.[20] France’s Law of Armed Conflict defines civilians as “those persons who do not belong to the armed forces or who do not participate in hostilities”.[21] Israel’s Law of War Booklet defines a “civilian” as “any individual who is not a member of an organized army of a State, and who is not involved in hostilities.”[22] Canada’s Law of Armed Conflict Manual states, “A civilian is any person who is not a combatant.”[23] Australia’s Defense Force Manual defines a “civilian” as “any person not belonging to the armed forces”.[24] The United Kingdom Law of Armed Conflict Manual states “Civilians are persons who are not members of the armed forces.”[25] The Fourth Geneva Convention states that civilian must be “treated humanely at all times and protected against acts or threats of violence” and states that no civilian “may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”[26]

So not only would Trump’s proposed policy of “taking out the families” of the Islamic State be in violation of the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States of America is a signatory, but it is also illegal under very nearly each and every other legal regime in the civilized developed first western world. This, in turn, raises another international diplomatic hazard with the Republican’s foreign policy: namely, the alienation of America’s allies. In November 2011, a war crimes tribunal in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia found former 43rd Republican President of United States George W. Bush guilty[27] in absentia of “Crimes Against Peace”, which the 1950 Nuremburg Tribunal[28], submitted to the United Nations General Assembly[29], defined as “Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances”. The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission followed this up in May 2012 by convicting former President Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of the Department of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Attorney General of the Department of Justice Alberto Gonzales in absentia of “conspiracy to commit war crimes”.[30] [Former Assistant Secretary of State for Politico-Military Affairs and National Security Council National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism Richard Clarke later confirmed that former President Bush and Vice President Cheney were in fact guilty of war crimes.[31]] Malaysia became a signatory to the Geneva Conventions on August 24, 1962.

As has been shown, the American military’s treatment of noncombatant civilians under the foreign policy proposed by the Republican Nominee would violate the laws of nations from North America [Canada] to Western Europe [France, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the Russian Federation] to the Near East [Israel] to East Asia [Australia]. All of these nations are allies of the United States, but all of them are also signatories to the First Second, Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. Australia signed the Geneva Conventions on January 4, 1950 and ratified them on October 14, 1958. Canada and France, Israel, the Russian Federation and Great Britain, like the United States, were one of the original signatories on December 12, 1949. France ratified the Geneva Conventions on June 28, 1951, Israel on July 6, 1951, Russia on May 10, 1954, the United Kingdom on September 23, 1957 and Canada on May 15, 1965. All signatories to the Geneva Conventions are pledged to enforce all of the articles therein, in addition to whatever national laws each may have. If these nations, whose legal regimes on War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity so closely mirror that of the Geneva Conventions, were to ever choose to do what Malaysia did and convict the President of the United States [in absentia, necessarily] of violating not only international law but their own national laws as well, it would make it extraordinarily difficult if not effectively practically all but impossible for that President to full their sworn Constitutional duties and responsibilities as Head of State. Travel to countries wherein a President has been found guilty and convicted of war crimes under international law would risk arrest and detention if any warrants outstanding were to exist in those countries. Without being able to safely travel abroad and overseas, the conduction of diplomacy with said nations would be hampered or even become impossible. In the case of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the closest ally of the United States for centuries, all of American foreign policy would be affected and in the case of the Russian Federation, the largest and one of the most powerful nations on Earth, the very safety and security of the world could be placed in serious jeopardy by a breakdown in diplomatic relations.

Granted, the United Kingdom is unlikely to try a President of the United States for Crimes Against Humanity, as it was former Prime Minister of Great Britain Anthony Blair who was convicted of War Crimes alongside former President Bush by the Kuala Lumpur Tribunal in 2011.[32] Had President Clinton lost the November 8, 2016 Presidential election to Donald Trump, it would have also been improbable that the Russian Federation would have brought any charges against him[33], considering the considerable resources that Russian President Vladimir Putin is known to have dedicated toward defeating President Clinton[34] and placing Trump in the Oval Office.[35]

France, however, makes clear in no uncertain terms precisely how and why Trump’s proposed policy of “taking out families” would constitute a war crime. It’s Law of Armed Conflict Manual requires the armed forces “to distinguish between military objectives, which may be attacked and civilian objects and persons, which must not be made the subject of deliberate attack.”

The argument that was made by the Bush-Cheney regime, by Rumsfeld, among others, was that people who matched the demographic profile [gender, age, height, religion, geographic location, etc.] of armed combatants could be considered as such and were therefore subject to attack by American armed forces. Canada’s Law of Armed Conflict Manual, however, dispels with that fallacy by stating “The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.” Another argument for the deaths of civilians used by Rumsfeld and others during the Bush regime was what Vice President Cheney once famously referred to as the “One Percent Doctrine”: That is to say, if someone meets the demographic profile of a combatant and it is not known whether they are a combatant or not, if there exists even much as a 1/100 chance that they might turn out to be a combatant, their status as a combatant was to be taken as an absolute certainty.[36] Australia’s Law of Armed Conflict Manual tells us that the standard in international law is precisely the opposite: “In cases of doubt about civilian status, the benefit of the doubt is given to the person concerned.” The Russian Federation’s Regulations on the Application of International Humanitarian Law concurs: “In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered a civilian.”

Cheney, Rumsfeld and others used a similarly fallacious line of reasoning in their rationalization of “enhanced interrogation” such as waterboarding: that it could not be known whether someone was a combatant or not until after they had been interrogated.

 

Inhumane and “Unusual”

Even when not engaging in torture, however, the Bush-Cheney regime engaged in the practice of indefinite detention without charge, indictment, representation, trial or conviction, most notoriously at United States Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. People assumed by the Cheney-Rumsfeld regime to maybe perhaps be combatants were kept in Cuba, in part, because prisoners within the contiguous continental United States are entitled to the Rights enumerated in the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution to “equal protection under the law” [V], “a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury” to confront witnesses and to counsel [VI] and “trial by jury” [VII], and also, not coincidentally, that of the eight Amendment—against “cruel and unusual punishment”. In addition to the American citizen, Yaser Esam Hamdi, detained indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, the detainees also include nine citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, seven citizens of France and nine citizens of the Russian Federation.[37] Even failing the indefinite detention without charge or trial notwithstanding, the conditions under which detainees at Guantanamo Bay are known to be held are, by the legal regimes of most if not all of these nations, in violation of the requirement of the Fourth Geneva convention that those presumed to be noncombatant civilians until and unless proven otherwise be treated humanely at all times.

 

Conclusion

As the conviction of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld for Crimes Against Humanity at the Kuala Lumpur Tribunal demonstrates, nations such as Britain, Canada, France, Israel and Russia already have what many legal regimes, national and international, would regard as a case against any Presidential Administration that continues, as the previous two Democrat and Republican alike have, the offshore indefinite detention without charge or trial of citizens of America and its allies. If, however, Trump had defeated President Clinton in the election, as he came within a mere two percentage points of doing, and reversed President Obama’s Executive Order in order to institute his proposed policy of “tougher than torture” and “worse than waterboarding”, then violations of the laws of American allies would be the least of his Constitutional worries. If he were to further institute his proposed policy of “taking out the families” of the Islamic State, he would be in violation of the pledge that President Eisenhower took upon signing the ratification of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions to enforce all articles therein contained, and only a ruling on whether or not the President of the United States is or is not Constitutionally empowered to nullify [or “un-sign”] international treaties, which the United States Supreme Court has thus far neglected to provide, could save his foreign policy from a Kuala Lumpur-like conviction except on a much wider worldwide scale, resulting in either impeachment or else an Article II, Section II v. Article I Section VIII Constitutional crisis unlike any in the more than 220-year-long history of American Democracy.

This Memorandum is not intended and should not be interpreted as advocacy, but rather cautionary. Until and unless the United States Supreme Court issues a ruling on whether a President can nullify a treaty signed by a previous President, it must be presumed that the Articles of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions against inhumane torture and the targeted attacking of civilians are to serve as the binding manual, as it were, for the conduct of the military armed forces, as one of the original 1949 signatories, and in turn of their Commander in Chief.

 

This Memorandum is Classified Embargoed from Public Release and Publication by the Office of the Attorney general of the United States [Secretary of the United States Department of Justice] until at least no earlier than January 20, 2017

[1] Kentish, Ben. “Donald Trump Has Lost Popular Vote By Greater Margin Than Any US President”. The Independent. Tuesday December 13, 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-elections/donald-trump-lost-popular-vote-hillary-clinton-us-election-president-history-a7470116.html

[2] Kentish, Ben. “Hillary Clinton’s Lad Over Donald Trump in the Popular Vote Rises to 2.8 Million”. The Independent. December 15, 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-elections/hillary-clinton-popular-vote-lead-donald-trump-us-election-president-elect-millions-a7476926.html

[3] Subramanian, Courtney. “Clinton Has Won More Votes Than Any Other White US Presidential Candidate in History”. BBC News. December 12, 2016: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38254946

[4] Drum, Kevin. “Hillary Clinton’s Popular Vote Lead Is Now Up To 2 Percent”. Mother Jones Magazine. December 7, 2016: http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/12/hillary-clintons-popular-vote-lead-now-2

[5] Howard, Adam. “Trump on ISIS: “You Have to Take Out Their Families”. MSNBC. December 2, 2015: http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/trump-isis-you-have-take-out-their-families

[6] Lobianco, Tom. “Donald Trump on Terrorists: “Take Out Their Families”. CNN. December 3, 2015: http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/02/politics/donald-trump-terrorists-families/

[7]Report of the Committee Against Torture: Thirty-Sixth Session”. United Nations. May 19, 2006: http://repository.un.org/bitstream/handle/11176/165895/A_61_44-EN.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y

[8] Johnson, Jenna. “Donald Trump on Waterboarding: “Torture Works”. Washington Post. February 17, 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/02/17/donald-trump-on-waterboarding-torture-works/?utm_term=.12a7b7376684

[9] Jacobs, Ben. “Donald Trump on Waterboarding: “Even if it doesn’t work, they deserve it”. The Guardian. Monday November 23, 2015: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/24/donald-trump-on-waterboarding-even-if-it-doesnt-work-they-deserve-it

[10] Berenson, Tessa. “Donald Trump Defends Torture At Republican Debate”. TIME Magazine. March 3, 2016: http://time.com/4247397/donald-trump-waterboarding-torture/

[11] Visser, Nick. “Trump Amps Up His Call for Torture: “We’re Going to Have to Do Things That Are Unthinkable.” The Huffington Post. July 1, 2016: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-torture-waterboarding_us_5775d740e4b04164640f6597

[12]US. Election: “I Like Waterboarding A Lot”, Says Donald Trump”. BBC News. June 29, 2016: http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-36664752

[13] Holan, Angie. “Obama Signs Executive Order On Torture”. Tampa Bay Times. Tuesday January 27, 2009: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/obameter/promise/175/end-the-use-of-torture/

[14] Huetteman, Emmarie. “Senate Votes to Turn Presidential Ban on Torture Into Law”. The New York Times. June 16, 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/17/world/senate-votes-to-turn-presidential-ban-on-torture-into-law.html?_r=0

[15] Lewis, Paul. “Senate Passes Torture Ban Despite Republican Opposition”. The Guardian. Tuesday June 16, 2015: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/jun/16/senate-passes-torture-ban-republicans

[16]Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions”. International Committee of the Red Cross. May 2010: https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/icrc_002_0321.pdf

[17] Wright, et al. “Senator Barry Goldwater v. James Earl Carter, President of the United States”. United States District Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. December 13, 1979: https://law.resource.org/pub/us/case/reporter/F2/617/617.F2d.697.79-2246.html

[18] Scott, David. “Presidential Power to “Un-Sign” Treaties”. University of Chicago Law Review, Volume 69, Issue 3, June 1, 2002, Article 26, pages 1447-1477: http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5206&context=uclrev

[19]The Geneva Conventions and the Red Cross”. British Red Cross. August 13, 2010. Page 19: http://www.ppu.org.uk/learn/texts/doc_geneva_con.html

[20]Nastavlenie po mezhdunarodnomu gumanitarnomu pravu dlya Vooruzhennyh Sil Rossiiskoi Federatsii” [“Regulations on the Application of International Humanitarian Law by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”]. Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. August 8, 2001.

[21]Fiche De Synthese Sur Les Regles Applicables Dans Les Conflits Armes” [“Summary Sheet on the Rules Applicable in Armed Conflicts”.] Direction des Affaires Juridiques Sous-Direction Du Droit International Humanitaire Et Du Droit Europeen [Directorate of Legal Affairs Sub-Directorate of International Humanitarian Law and European Law]. January 4, 2000. Page 4.

[22]Conduct in the Battlefield in Accordance with the Law of War”. Israel Defense Forces. 1986. Chapter 1.

[23]The Law of Armed Conflict at the Operational and Tactical Levels” Office of the Judge Advocate General. August 13, 2001. Chapter 4, Section 6, Page 46: http://tamilnation.co/armed_conflict/canadian_manual.pdf

[24] Baker, J.S. “Law of Armed Conflict”. Australian Defense Force Publication, Operations Series, First Edition. August 1996. Chapter 9, Page 81: http://www.navedu.navy.mi.th/stg/databasestory/data/laukniyom/workjob/bigcountry-workjob/Australia/ADDP06.4LOAC.pdf

[25]The Joint Service Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict”. Ministry of Defense Joint Doctrine and Concepts Center. 2004. Chapter 5, Page 53: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/27874/JSP3832004Edition.pdf

[26]Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War”. August 12, 1949. Article 33, Page 18: https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/9861b8c2f0e83ed3c1256403003fb8c5/72728b6de56c7a68c12563cd0051bc40

[27] Falk, Richard. “Kuala Lumpur Tribunal: Bush and Blair Guilty: A War Crimes Tribunal in Malaysia Offers a Devastating Critique of International Criminal Law Institutions Today”. Al Jazeera. November 28, 2011: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/11/20111128105712109215.html

[28]Nuremberg Trial Proceedings, Volume 1: Charter of the International Military Tribunal”. Section II, Article 6: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/imtconst.asp

[29]Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nurnberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal”. Yearbook of the International Law Commission. Volume II, 1950. Principle VI, Page 2: http://legal.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/draft_articles/7_1_1950.pdf

[30] Ridley, Yvonne. “Bush Convicted of War Crimes In Absentia”. Foreign Policy Journal. May 12, 2012; Boyle, Francis. “Bush Administration Convicted of war Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity”. Center for Research on Globalization. May 30, 2013.

[31] Ashtari, Shadee. “Former Counterterrorism Czar Richard Clarke: Bush, Cheney Committed War Crimes”. The Huffington Post. May 29, 2014: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/29/richard-clarke-george-bush-war-crimes_n_5410619.html

[32] Ramakrishan, Mahi. “War Crimes Tribunal finds Bush and Blair Guilty”. Center for Research on globalization. November 24, 2011: http://www.globalresearch.ca/war-crimes-tribunal-finds-bush-and-blair-guilty/5478367

[33] Treisman, Daniel. “Putin: Trump’s Most Dangerous Best Friend”. CNN. Sunday December 11, 2016: http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/11/opinions/troubling-relationship-russia-america-treisman/index.html

[34] Chambers, Francesca and Spargo, Chris. “Putin Personally Ordered the Election Hack as Part of a Vendetta Against Hillary Clinton: Putin is Reported to Have Done This in Revenge Against Clinton for Publicly Questioning the Integrity of Russian Parliamentary elections Back in 2011”. Daily Mail. December 14, 2016; Tennent, James. “Former US Ambassabdor to Russia Says Putin Wanted “Revenge” on Clinton: McFaul Claims Putin Believes Clinton Interfered in a Russian Parliamentary Election in 2011”. International Business Times. December 12, 2016: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/former-us-ambassador-russia-says-putin-wanted-revenge-clinton-1595970

[35] Entonous, A. et al. “Secret CIA Assessment Says Russia Was Trying to Help Trump Win White House”. Washington Post. December 9, 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-orders-review-of-russian-hacking-during-presidential-campaign/2016/12/09/31d6b300-be2a-11e6-94ac-3d324840106c_story.html?utm_term=.9058fcfef1f1

[36]1% Doctrine Nation”. Akron Beacon Journal. December 16, 2014: http://www.ohio.com/blogs/mass-destruction/blog-of-mass-destruction-1.298992/1-doctrine-nation-1.550216

[37]The Guantanamo Docket”. The New York Times. December 5, 2016: http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo

“They’ll Drink The Sand”

•December 2, 2016 • Leave a Comment

As was once observed by the character of fictional Democratic President of the United States Josiah Bartlet in the Season 1 finale: “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s NBC drama “The West Wing”: “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

As the data studied earlier on in our Environmental Politics course showed, just because ordinary American citizens are not attending the local hearings on environmental issues called for by many of the environmental laws of the mid-to-late 20th century by no means implies that those hearings stand empty. Just as the old cliché says that nature abhors a vacuum, so too does politics and so the place of the public in such hearings is filled by lobbyists from special interest groups, many if not most of them corporate at least in funding if not outwardly. Nor does the lack of participation in such hearings by the public by any means preclude the environmental policies and regulations that the hearings are in regards to from being made. The only net result is that, as President Bartlet said, the decision ends up being made by the ones that actually bothered to show up.

From the moment that he or she takes office, a legislator, whether at either the state or the federal level of government, is very nearly always constantly looking toward reelection. This leads legislators to moderate their views and votes on issues and policies depending on the potential for either positive or negative political and electoral consequences of any given vote. Among the primary ways that legislators gauge the potential political benefit or risk of a position on a policy is by attempting to gauge or divine, to the best of their ability, the level of engagement on a particular issue on the part of their electorate constituency. If and when, as the data studied in our Environmental Politics course shows is the case on most environmental issues, the level of engagement by the pubic is negligible to nonexistent, legislators quite understandably feel liberated to take whatever position and cast whatever vote on said issue with little or no fear of electoral reprisal. Failing public participation, the next thing a legislator looks for when deciding what particular position to take and how to vote is what position they can perceive as being the most profitable to then in their future reelection efforts. Since when public participation is low, lobbyists from interests groups pour in to fill the void and especially given these often corporate groups’ all but unlimited monetary resources budgeted for the express purpose of just such lobbying, these special interest groups all to often are uniquely able to make a state or federal legislator’s determination as to the most profitable position to take and vote to cast a very easy one indeed.

Unfortunately, very rarely if ever are the interests of such for-profit corporate organizations lobbied for in these ostensibly local public hearings in any way, shape or form in line with those of the public. By neglecting, for whatever reason, be it ignorance or apathy or some combination thereof, to show up to the hearings provided for by the environmental legislation of the mid-twentieth century, therefor, the public, for all practical intents and purposes, effectively forfeits the final decision-making authority to the all-too-often foreign or at the very least non-local for-profit corporate organizations that can afford lobbyists to send to such meetings in the people’s stead. As President Bartlet said: “Decisions are made by those who show up”, and while the public might not have such a clear conceptualization of what it is that their interests might be on any given environmental issue, for-profit corporations and their special interest groups are under no such uncertainty.

As the character of Lewis Rothschild tells fictional President Andrew Shepherd in screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s film “The American President”:

The people want leadership, Mister President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. The people want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it that they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage and when they realize there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”

Unfortunately, the inverse is equally true. Legislators, whether at the state or the federal level are at least ostensibly supposed to take positions that reflect their best interests. However, in the absence of public participation expressing a clear preference, as a consequence of the constraints of electoral considerations, these politicians are all too often apt to turn their ear to listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. The proverb of the old Roman Republic preached that “Vox populi, vox Dei”: “The voice of the people is the voice of the Gods”. However, unfortunately, the reply of the fictional President Shepherd rings all too true:

Lewis, we have had Presidents who were beloved who could not find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.”

Unfortunately, the American public at large has yet to internalize the lesson that President Bartlet was trying to teach on “The West Wing”: “Decisions are made by those who show up.” Legislation is made, for all practical intents and purposes, by whomever’s voice is loudest in a legislator’s ear. Corporations, especially foreign ones, may not be able to vote for a politician when it comes time for reelection. But the dollars in their lobbying budgets, in the politician’s bank account, won’t hurt their reelection efforts either. Politicians are, above and beyond all else, pragmatists. Every once in a while they will come across a particular issue upon which they feel particularly strongly a certain way, such that how they are going to vote is a foregone conclusion which no amount of lobbying could ever possibly change. However, with those precious few and far between exceptions notwithstanding, politicians are apt to take the position on issues that they do not feel particularly strongly about one way or another of whichever side or whomever can benefit them in their future political electoral ambitions. And failing a clear expression of preference from their electorate constituents indicating the potential for electoral ramifications, few if any politicians will give much if any careful consideration to the source wherefrom the loudest voice in their ear originates. In the words of President Shepherd: “They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.

Decisions are indeed made by those who bother to show up and participation, therefore, is power.

Malthus Vs. Sanger

•December 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

In his 1798 book “Essay on the Principle of Population“,English scholar Thomas Malthus wrote that population growth generally expanded in  a period of resource abundance and was restricted by available resources, leading to check on population growth. He argued that intimes and in regions of plenty, a population could double in 25 years until the margin of abundance could not be sustained as the population grew and the size of the population relative to the primary resources caused distress:

The passion between the sexes has appeared in every age to be so nearly that same that it may always be considered, in algebraic language, as a given quantity. The great law of necessity which prevents population from increasing beyond the food which it can either produce or acquire, is a law so open to our view that we cannot for a moment doubt it…The savage would slumber forever under his tree unless he were roused from his torpor by the cravings of hunger or the pinching of cold and the exertions that he makes to avoid these evils, by procuring food and building himself a covering, are the exercises which form and keep in motion his faculties, which otherwise would sink into listless inactivity…If the subsistence for man that the Earth affords was to be increased every twenty-five years by a quantity equal to what the whole world at present produces, this would allow the power of production in the Earth to be absolutely unlimited and its ratio of increase much greater than we can conceive that any possible exertions of mankind could make it yet still the power of population being a power of a superior order, the increase of the human species can only be kept commensurate to the increase of the means of subsistence by the constant operation of the strong law of neccesity as a check upon the greater power…The supreme being has ordained that the Earth shall not produce food in great quantities until much preparatory labor an ingenuity had been exercised upon its surface…The power of population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active an able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fall in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence and plague advance in terrific array and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands…Yet in all societies, even those that are most vicious, the tendency to a virtuous attachment is so strong that there is a constant effort towards an increase of population. This constant effort as constantly tends to subject the lower classes of the society to distress and to prevent any great permanent amelioration of their condition.”

In 1921, eugenicist Margaret Sanger proposed a method of averting the Malthusian overpopulation tipping point: birth control. Sanger’s essay, entitled “No Healthy Race Without Birth Control” not only argued that birth control allowed women with multiple partners throughout their lifetime, who heretofore ran the risk of pregnancy each and every time they became physically intimate, to instead select the “best” man with whom they wished to have children, but also strongly implied that there were some women; primarily poor immigrants of dark-skinned races, whom birth control could be used to prevent from ever reproducing at all.

While popular with no less than Presidents of the United States such as Republican Theodore Roosevelt and titans of industry such as Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller and Henry Ford in the late 19th century and early 1900’s, the pseudoscience of Eugenics to which Sanger subscribed fell out of favor after it was adopted by a failed German art student by the name of Adolf Hitler in the 1930’s. As misguided as Sanger’s motivations for first advocating contraception might have been, however, the organization she founded, called “Planned Parenthood“, continues to offer a wide variety of women’s reproductive health care services to tens of millions of women nearly a century later, well into the second half of the second decade of the 21st century.

Sanger’s 1921 essay also pointed out that birth control prevented unmanageably large family sizes, permitting more attentive parenting for each child born. It is no coincidence that Singapore, the nation with the third lowest birth rate in the world as of 2014 and the world’s lowest fertility rate as of 2016 according to the Central intelligence Agency also has the world’s second-longest life expectancy and is ranked as the second healthiest nation on Earth by the London-based Legatum Institute on its 2016 Prosperity Index and is listed within the top ten best-educated. The Republic of South Korea, the country with the world’s second-lowest fertility rates according to the Population Reference Bureau as of 2016 and the fourth lowest birth rate also has the world’s third longest life expectancy and the world’s highest literacy rate. Japan, the nation with the world’s second-lowest birth rate according to the CIA as of 2014 has the world’s highest life expectancy and ranks as the world’s fourth healthiest nation according to Legatum as of their 2016 Prosperity Index:  http://www.prosperity.com/rankings

Nor is it a coincidence that the Republic of South Korea, the with the second lowest fertility rate and the fourth lowest birth rate, has the third longest life expectancy for women specifically and ranks third in the world in the average number of years of education females attain. Japan, with the second-lowest birth rate, has not only the longest life expectancy overall but also the longest life expectancy for women specifically and ranks sixth in years of education for women. Singapore, with the lowest fertility rate and third lowest birth rate, has the secnd-longest life expectancy for women.

The inverse is also true. Niger, the nation with the highest fertility rate and birth rate, also has the world’s lowest literacy rate and is ranked as the third worst-educated nation on Earth by Legatum. Chad, which Legatum ranks as both the least-educated and the least-healthy nation on Earth with the fourth lowest life expectancy and the ninth lowest literacy rate, also not coincidentally has the fourth highest fertility rate. Mali, Legatum’s fifth least-educated nation on Earth with the eighth lowest literacy rate, also has the third highest fertility rate and the second highest birth rate, correlating to the world’s seventh lowest life expectancy for women.

Conclusion: There exists a direct correlation between women’s use of birth control and contraception and not only the length of their lives and the amount of education they are able to attain, but indeed the overall education and health of the population of their entire nation. This makes a certain amount of sense, when considered, since the fewer children a woman has the more time she will have to pursue her education.

Providing birth control and contraception to nations such as Chad, Mali and Niger is not, therefore, an example of “Americanization”, or even “Westernization”. Access to birth control and contraception will not only allow women in this countries to live longer, but will improve the literacy and healthiness of entire nations.

Federalism v. Federal Government

•November 28, 2016 • Leave a Comment

From the earliest days of the United States as a nation, if there is one common theme that has permeated through each and every Supreme Court since the time of the First Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall, it has been the consistent centralization and consolidation of policymaking and regulatory power into a strong centralized national federal government. However, since the Supreme Court established its power of judicial review in its landmark ruling in the case of “Marbury v. Madison”, the Supreme Court has been severely limited in its ability to grant additional authority to the federal government by the fact that it has had to base each judicial decision in the Constitution of the United States. With the American colonies having just finished fighting a long and bloody Revolutionary War to free themselves from the tyrannical authoritarian dictatorship of King George III of England and the royal family of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the Constitution penned by James Madison [of “Marbury v. Madison”] severely limited the powers of the central national government. This, in turn, has hampered the Supreme Court’s efforts to empower the federal government, in particular the Congress, in the centuries since.

One classic example is the Court’s seemingly constant parsing and reinterpretation of one particular clause in Article I Section VIII of the Constitution: the Commerce Clause. From the strictly constructionist standpoint of conservative Supreme Court Justices such as the late Antonin Scalia, the clause means exactly what it says: Granting Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce [commerce “between the several states”]; nothing more, no less. However, dating back to First Chief Justice Marshall, the Supreme Court has consistently expanded the scope of Congressional commercial regulatory authority. In the case of “Gibbons v. Ogden”, the Court ruled that navigation, as part and parcel of commerce, fell under Congressional regulatory jurisdiction. In later landmark cases, the Court expanded Congress’s regulatory authority to include over anything done within a state that had an effect on Commerce across state lines. More often than not, this has been achieved by way of the final Clause of Article I Section VIII: The “Necessary and Proper” Clause.

However even though under these rulings Congress’s jurisdiction now extends well into the interior of states, Constitutional Clauses such as the Commerce Clause still to this day present severe, often crippling limitations on the power of regulators, especially at the federal level of government, to effectively monitor and regulate commercial and corporate business which effects environmental conditions. One of the most hampering Clauses, though, is not found in the Constitution itself at all, but in the Amendments thereto. The Tenth Amendment states that any authority not granted to the federal government by the Constitution is delegated to the states. The supreme Court has all too often found this Federalist principle of sovereign states rights to conflict with the implied powers derived from the “Necessary and Proper” Clause of Article I Section VIII, which grants Congress the power to make whatever laws it deems to be “Necessary and Proper” to fulfilling the aforementioned powers in the rest of the Clauses of the Section, such as the interstate Commerce clause. Even as early as the adoption of Madison’s Constitution in 1789, one of the first two political parties that had formed by the time of Madison’s election as the Fourth President of the United States in the early 19th Century were the Federalists, who believed that the states, as sovereign governments in and of themselves, should do their own governing.

In the modern era, these “states rights” advocates, though on the conservative right of the political ideological spectrum, self-style themselves as “Libertarians”, with their core principle being opposition to the practice of taxation in any and all of its forms. In the 21st Century, these anti-tax activists have modeled themselves after the American colonial revolutionaries who famously protested the tax by the British Empire on tea that Thomas Jefferson specifically cited in the Declaration of Independence as among impetuses for revolution by dumping shiploads of tea from the British Empire into the waters of Atlantic Ocean in the harbor of the Northeastern New England port city of Boston, Massachusetts; even going so far as to re-entitle themselves as the “Tea Party”, calling their form of protest against the government by staging raucous rallies in major cities, including and especially the nation’s capitol of Washington, as “Teabagging”.

Needless to say, since like every nation state since the beginning of the known recorded written history of civilization, revenue from taxation is what funds the government and its functions, such strident ideological opposition to the practice has additionally hampered the capability of the United States federal government to effectively enforce an execute the rules and regulations in any number of economic, political and social arenas: environmental regulation certainly not least of all.

Though they proclaim themselves to be anti-taxation libertarians as opposed to anti-government anarchists, the opposition of the Tea Party to at the very least the practice of governing if not the institution of government has been made repeatedly clear in no uncertain terms on several occasions: First when, on the night before the inauguration of Democratic 44th President of the United States Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, what would become the Tea Party Caucus in Congress met at the Capitol and pledged to obstruct anything and everything the incoming President-elect might ever try to do, eve if it were originally a policy proposal which they themselves had initially endorsed, sponsored or even proposed; and later and perhaps most famously when, after having campaign on a platform of their promise to do so in their successful takeover of the majority in the United States House of Representatives in the November 2010 Congressional Midterm elections, the Tea Party succeeded in 2013 in shutting down the United States federal government for the second time in as many decades. Combined, these resulted in the Congress controlled by the Tea Party being the least productive in American history. Needless to say, to say that such historically unprecedented intransigence and obstructionist gridlock has hampered federal regulatory authority and capacity, environmental regulation again certainly not least of all, would be an understatement of genuinely irreducible proportions.

Childish Things

•November 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Religions are, by their very nature, exclusive cliques. This is due to the defining quintessence of religious cults: the belief in the existence of absolute truth. Namely, theistic religions believe their holy books and sacred scriptures to be the absolute truth. In each religious cult believing their “absolute truth” to be the right one, they by default believe any and all other cults’ “absolute truths” to be wrong.

As Aaron Nelson of the University of Texas points out, since each one of the thousands of cults and denominations each believe themselves to be right and all others to be wrong, the only rational explanation is that they are all wrong, as they cannot all be right, since many if not most of their dogmatic doctrines are diametrically contradictory and mutually exclusive of one another:

If there really was one true god, it should be a singular composite of every religion’s gods, an uber-galactic super-genius, and the ultimate entity of the entire cosmos.  If a being of that magnitude ever wrote a book, then there would only be one such document; one book of God.  It would be dominant everywhere in the world with no predecessors or parallels or alternatives in any language, because mere human authors couldn’t possibly compete with it.  And you wouldn’t need faith to believe it, because it would be consistent with all evidence and demonstrably true, revealing profound morality and wisdom far beyond contemporary human capacity.  It would invariably inspire a unity of common belief for every reader.  If God wrote it, we could expect no less.  But what we see instead is the very opposite of that. Instead of only one religion leading to one ultimate truth, we have many different religions with no common origin, all constantly sharding into ever more deeply-divided denominations, seeking conflicting truths, and each somehow claiming divine guidance despite their ongoing divergence in every direction. The Jewish Torah, the Christian gospels, the Qur’an of Islam, the Kitab-i-Aqdas of Bahá’u’lláh, the Hindu Vedas, the Avestas of Zarathustra, the Adi-Granth of the Sikhs, the Mahabarata’s Bhagavad-Gita, the Book of Mormon, and the Urantia book are all declared to be the “absolute truth” and the “revealed word” of the “one true” god, and believers of each say the others are deceived.  The only logical probability is that they all are –at least to some degree…Perhaps that’s why there are so many different religions; because no man can know the true state of God.  There can only be one truth, and only one version of it.  But rather than coming together, as everyone’s search for the one truth should, religions continuously shard further and further apart into more divided factions with mutually-exclusive beliefs, -and there are as many wrong interpretations as there people claiming theirs as the “absolute truth”.”

Since religion, by definition, is founded upon exclusivity and the belief that you and you alone know the truth and that everyone else is wrong, religions are incapable uniting, or indeed of doing anything except dividing people, and so cannot help but to cause conflict.

And as Nelson points out, even if each and every religious denomination’s claim of theirs as being the “absolute truth” did not conflict with the identical claim made by members of every other religious denomination, the claims themselves would be dishonest on their face.

Truth” is more than just facts.  It implies something that is completely true, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  So every word of it better be accurate, or it isn’t truth at all; and depending on the topic, such a concept is likely beyond human comprehension anyway.  Truth may be pursued but never possessed.  That’s why we should trust those who seek the truth and doubt those who claim to have it.”

That the mutual exclusivity between these cults doesn’t and cannot result in “solidarity” would appear to be tautological; that is to say: true by definition.

This makes magnanimous movements such as Unitarian Universalism, altruistic as its idealism might be, at best quixotic.

As the guest speaker from the Unitarian Universalist church quite correctly pointed out, very nearly each and every single denomination of each and every single theistic religious cult is declining and shrinking exponentially in numbers in the information age of the 21st century. This may very well be an inevitable result of a world drawing itself closer together. Because while faith in books, doctrines, dogmas, gods, religions and sacred scriptures is subjective and so can by nature never create agreement among people, there do exist things that can and do. These are called “facts”.

Throughout the world, the countries that score the lowest on the list of the least-religious nations on Earth are almost always also those that score the highest on the list of the best-educated nations. The correlation, however, works the other way around. That is to say: The more you know, the less you believe. Beliefs can and do cause and create conflict. But if there is indeed one thing which has the very real potential to foster unity and solidarity, it is knowledge.

Education, therefore, can and should be utilized and wielded as an instrument for the purposes of globalization, whilst religion, any and all religious faith, can and should be fought against as the impediment and obstacle thereto that it is and has always been. The longer people cling to their subjective faiths, the more resistant they will be to a globalized world in which such imaginary delineations are rendered meaningless by the cumulative knowledge of the human species and the annual exponential multiplication thereof.

It has often been stated by comedians and scholars alike that religion originated as an instrument for the purposes of control of the many by the few, or of the strong by the weak, or vice versa. And given the exclusive nature of religious cults, the methodology behind this control should be obvious as the oldest in the proverbial book: Divide and conquer.

But as has also been stated, religion is, to paraphrase Albert Einstein, a relic remnant of humankind’s intellectual infancy. But if the education aspect of globalization that we have studied often since the first week of this course shows us nothing else, it is that humankind, like any infant, is growing up, and now is the time to, in the words of children’s author C.S. Lewis, “put away childish things”.

First things First

•November 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

As a Political Science Major, in my study of Constitutional Law, I have found that if there is one important principle for understanding American government, history, law and politics, it is that the Founders of the nation; the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; never did anything accidentally. There are no superfluous words in any of those documents. Every word means something, as does the order in which they are written. The principle is that the Founders always placed whatever they deemed to be most important first and foremost. The Colonies had just won a long and bloody Revolutionary War against the Monarchy of the British Empire, and so the Founders not only placed the representative branch of government, the legislative branch, in Article I of the Constitution, but went further even than that in placing the people’s house, the United States House of Representatives, in Article I Section II, before the less proportional representative body; the United States Senate, in Section III.

One need only grasp this one very simple principle in order to resoundingly refute any assertion ever made that the United States of America was founded on a “Judeo-Christian” code or system. This can be demonstrated as easily as turning to what is by far and away the most widely-recognizable code in any Abrahamic faith: The Ten Commandments. The First Commandment, found in the Old Testament of the Judeo-Christian Bible in chapter 20, verses 2-3 of the Book of Exodus and chapter 5 verses 6-7 of the Book of Deuteronomy, reads as follows:
“I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.”

Two chapters later, in chapter 22, verse 20 of the Book of Exodus, and again in chapters 13 and 17 of the Book of Deuteronomy, this same “Judeo-Christian code” upon which it is claimed America was founded provides the prescribed penalty for worshipping gods other than the Abrahamic Judeo-Christian god of the Bible: Death.

Now let us compare and contrast this with America’s own ten-part code: The Bill of Rights. As has been stated, the Founders, that authors of these documents, placed what they considered to of utmost importance in the forefront. So what is in the first clause of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights? What did the Founders consider more important than anything else to, in the words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence “effect their safety and happiness” and “provide new guards for their future security”?

Amendment I, Clause I of the Bill of Rights reads as follows:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

In the words of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in the February 10, 1947 case of “Arch R. Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing”:
“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance.”

https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/330/1

In the June 27, 1994 case of “Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Louis Grumet”,  Supreme Court Justice David Souter concurred that the “principle at the heart of the Establishment Clause” was “that government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.”

Both of these establish what Thomas Jefferson referred to in 1802 as “a wall of separation between Church and State”.

The Judeo-Christian code in the Bible not only mandates that people believe in and worship a god, but prescribes precisely which god they must believe in and worship, under pain of torture and death. The American code not only strictly forbids the mandating of religious belief or worship of any kind, but declares everyone “inalienably”  free to believe in and/or worship whatever and/or whomever they want, and guarantees them the right to do so free from fear of punishment or retribution of any form.

These two, the First Amendment and the First Commandment, are not merely divergent, but mutually exclusive and therefore incompatible with one another. So not only are those who claim that America was founded on the Judeo-Christian code wrong in every imaginable way, but indeed they could not possibly be any more wrong if they tried. Not only is America not founded on the Judeo Christian code, but indeed that code has no place in America.

 
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