RECTIUS VIVES

Exploring Jeff Jacoby’s Call For Arms In Syria

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2013 at 12:12 am

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It was in Shakepeare’s Henry IV where Lord Hotspur declared, “Now, for our consciences, the arms are fair,/ When the intent of bearing them is just.”

Such timeless words capture the question of today:  What is just for Syria?  Should America respect Syria’s national sovereignty or seek to intervene through the United Nations — or should it take unilateral action in the interest of human rights?  There are many arguments on every side, and surely they cannot all be addressed here.

One facet will be addressed however, as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby has written on this topic.  He has boldly asserted that America is the only nation capable of being the “World’s Policeman,” because America is in fact “the world’s best policeman.”  Casting those who may disagree into the Dark Ages, he invokes the restrained foreign policy views in the post-colonial world of President John Adams, who uttered that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

Today, things are different, he argues, lauding America as “the mightiest, wealthiest, and most influential nation on the face of the earth.”  Because of this stated fact, Jacoby proclaims that America has an inherent duty to police the entire world.  He recalls the rise of Nazi Germany, the defense of Kuwait during the Persian Golf Conflict in 1990, military assistance in Kosovo, and how America “faced down the Soviet Union.”

As we have seen before, he omits critical facts which would be characteristic of a balanced perspective.  Jacoby fails to mention Vietnam, Haiti, or Nicaragua as unsuccessful intervention efforts, nor does he note that America has already committed to arming rebel forces, as we did during the Cold War.

He dismisses the United Nations by casually stating that the UN, brainchild of President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, is pointless.  Jacoby notes that policing the world “is clearly something the United Nations cannot do” and refers to its “bloody trail of failure.”  What about the 2005 RAND Corporation report, which compared “nation-building” activities of the UN to those of the USA, and concluded that UN efforts actually had a higher frequency of long term success?

Jacoby’s most fatal mistake comes when he compares America to NYPD officers walking their beat to “suppress crime and reduce fear.”  He argues that America’s police role must be in the interest of “deterring aggression, maintaining the flow of commerce, and upholding human rights.”

What is so flawed here is a concept apparently far beyond Jacoby’s grasp: jurisdiction.  The NYPD has jurisdiction over New York City.  The NYPD cannot go into New Jersey to enforce New Jersey laws or even New York laws.  The NYPD cannot go into Connecticut to enforce laws, nor can the NYPD make arrests outside of New York City.  That would be beyond its jurisdiction and exceed the scope of its authority.

To enforce laws in other states and jurisdictions, the NYPD must partner with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.  To apprehend individuals wanted in other jurisdictions, there is an established process known as extradition.

Even though it is the largest police force in the United States, the NYPD cannot anoint itself to be “America’s Policeman.”  Other jurisdictions already have law enforcement apparati in place; surely they may not have as many human and technological resources as the NYPD, but that doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if it could even be said that New York City is the “mightiest, wealthiest, and most influential” city in America.

There’s something about the “rule of law” which means if you lack the authority to do something, then you can’t do it.  You can’t break the law to enforce the law; that is inherently antithetical and compromises the very principles which anyone — or any “policeman” — seeks to defend.

The same debate occurs today with the question of whether the NSA exceeded its surveillance authority: the defense is that it keeps us safe, but does the invasion of privacy in fact threaten us even more?  How can we, as a nation, defend the rule of law and then seek to act outside of it?

As one pair of Yale Law School professors recently pointed out, “In the absence of Security Council authorization, international law prohibits the use of military force to enforce international law.”

While others believe that United Nations chemical weapons inspectors should be permitted to complete their evaluation, Jeff Jacoby believes that America should break the law to enforce the law.  In another article entitled “Yesterday’s Atrocities Are Happening Again,” Jacoby compares North Korea, Egypt, and Syria to Nazi Germany.

Like a singing bard, he sadly laments: “The burning of houses of worship didn’t end with Kristallnacht, nor the gassing of civilians with Halabja, nor concentration-camp butchery with Dachau…”  While the events in Nazi Germany were one of the darkest moments in modern world history, Jacoby’s vigilant warning is that the world cannot stand idly by while injustice spreads.

Yet the method he asserts — for America to invade Syria, North Korea, and presumably, Egypt — is inherently wrong.  While Syria has not signed the UN Chemical Weapons Convention, Syria has signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which bans the use of chemical weapons.  Chemical weapons are the “red line” drawn by President Obama determining whether direct American involvement may be warranted.

The core issue is not whether chemical weapons were used — it is instead, “who used them?”  Was it the government of President Assad or was it rebels, as the Syrian government officially claims?  That comes down to a question of evidence, and that process is ongoing at this very moment, although it is admittedly “no slam dunk.”

Now there are fears that more chemical attacks are on the horizon, and time is of the essence.  Jeff Jacoby argues that a failure to act will lead to widespread conflict, while others believe that taking action may lead to a World War III.  To act, or not to act: that is the question.

While there can be no answer to that here, what should be clear is that America should not police the world any more than the NYPD should police Detroit, MI, Oakland, CA, St. Louis, MO, or any other jurisdiction with a high rate of crime which would benefit from such intervention.

Jacoby should understand this already, as it was he who recently criticized President Obama’s administration for “federal overreach” and abusing its authority on the domestic front.  Yet he aggressively pushes for apparent military intervention abroad in Syria, Egypt, and North Korea.

Instead of exceeding its military authority, America must work together with its political partners, under the rule of law.  We must lead by example.  If there is a legal justification for taking action in Syria or anywhere else, then it must be defensible.  To enforce the law, a police officer must have legal authority while also having legitimacy from the community.

Jeff Jacoby’s noteworthy pride in America is misplaced, because even being the “best policeman” still does not bestow an inherent power to police.

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Treating Amnesia in the William Bulger Era

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2013 at 6:53 pm

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The preceding post on this blog is entitled, “The Pursuit of Journalistic Truth and Justice.”  That pursuit is elusive at times, as Scot Lehigh’s article about William Bulger in the August 9, 2013 issue of The Boston Globe attests.  To illustrate, allow me to address its substance.

The article rejoices in how “Both Bulgers Can Soon Be Forgotten,” joining together the name of James Bulger, whose trial formally ended today with the jury’s guilty verdict on 31 of 32 counts, with that of his younger brother, William Bulger.

Lehigh proclaims that the end of the trial will “…help push the Bulger era further into Boston’s past.”

Yet, what is “the Bulger era”?  That question will be answered last.

First, let us address Lehigh’s assertions.  He blames Whitey Bulger for how he “managed to corrupt the FBI, turning the once-proud bureau into an enabler of his criminal reign.”  Yet during the series of congressional hearings by the House Committee on Government Reform, it was determined that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover himself was aware of impending murders and not only took no action, but also approved affirmative steps to ensure that the true murderer was protected while innocent men served decades in prison, some of whom died there.

Testimony from U.S. Representative John Tierney (D-MA) is excerpted below.

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In short, James Bulger did not “manage to corrupt the FBI.”

As Tierney noted in 2002, it was an endemic problem — all the way to the very top.  Is it possible that the FBI used James Bulger and, by its failure to prosecute or act far earlier, had a hand in enabling him?  If J. Edgar Hoover himself knew of impending murders and failed to act — and subsequently protected those responsible, and even allowed innocent men to serve time, how did Whitey Bulger manage that?

Lehigh is simply wrong.  He misinforms us all.  The FBI was proud once, before the public knew what really went on behind its closed doors.  Why else would more than one member of Congress seek to remove the name of J. Edgar Hoover from its headquarters?  How much of that pride was an illusion?  Even U.S. Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), to his credit, lamented how his perception of the FBI was forever shattered due to facts which emerged during the Committee’s work:

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Next, Lehigh calls William Bulger “dishonorable.”  This comes after the facts establish that members of Congress called J. Edgar Hoover dishonorable and call for the FBI headquarters to be scrubbed of his name.  Somehow Lehigh neglects to mention that.

Instead, he opines that William Bulger is dishonorable, because he told the truth to a grand jury and candidly stated in one random excerpt The Boston Globe chose to publish in December 2002, that “It’s my hope I’m never helpful to anyone against him.”   There was no context for when this was uttered, or what else William Bulger uttered during that testimony.

He also hoped “the worst of the charges would be proved groundless,” an unrealized hope as today’s jury verdict indicates.  Having a hope is not a statement of fact or even of intent; it is an emotion.  Imputing wrongdoing to a person’s feelings is a wrong unto itself.   Contrary to what The Globe assumed, that expression of hope was no refusal to cooperate.  Throughout life, a person hopes for many things, as much as the reality may be otherwise.

Importantly, omission is a common modus operandi of The Globe.  Beginning on page 222 of his memoir, While the Music Lasts: My Life in Politics, William Bulger describes one anecdote in which he sat for an in-person interview with none other than Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill from The Boston Globe‘s “Spotlight Report Team.”

Described in the first person, it was in the Fall of 1988 that William Bulger agreed to sit for an interview and respond to questions even though he was about to leave for vacation in Europe.  On that occasion, Bulger was also asked about the 75 State Street matter, which was investigated exhaustively by five levels of state and federal review.  Bulger also promised to provide follow-up information when he returned from vacation, and O’Neil promised not to print anything until continuing the interview upon Bulger’s return in twelve days.

Yet, it was a day or so later, while William Bulger was in Belgium, that Lehr and O’Neil authored a front page Globe report proclaiming, “Senate President William M. Bulger has benefited from a trust bankrolled with money that a Boston real estate magnate claims was extorted from him in 1985…”

In short, Lehr and O’Neil lied to Bulger and waited until they knew he would be out of the country to publish their report; are not lying and deceit dishonorable?

Lehigh lies to us, too.  Below is an affidavit submitted by HAROLD BROWN himself, expressly noting the “five levels of state and federal review” — investigations — and even his own statement sworn under penalty of perjury declaring once and for all (or so one would think) as follows: “The truth is simple: Mr. Bulger played no role in connection with my [75 State Street]  project.”  Instead of reading Scot Lehigh’s misinformation, go ahead and read the truth from Harold Brown himself:

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Whom do we believe?  Scot Lehigh invokes “the allegation that he and his law associate extorted $500,000 from developer Harold Brown during the mid-1980s…” but here, we have developer Harold Brown expressly stating that William Bulger was not involved at all.  Do we believe Lehigh reporting on Brown, or do we believe Brown?  That journalistic truth is self-evident.

In our pursuit, we have choices about which way to go.  Reader, I hope you tread where the light shines brightest; it may be hard to see, but it is there if you dare to open your eyes.

Lehigh further associates William Bulger with John Connolly, to whom he goes so far as to poetically refer as a “fawning acolyte.”  According to the dictionary, the primary definition of an “acolyte” is “one who assists a member of the clergy…”  So now John Connolly was William Bulger’s altar boy.  Without citing any source, Lehigh recounts an anecdote in which John Connolly purportedly advised William Bulger to cooperate with federal investigators and agree to be interviewed.  How is cooperating with an investigation somehow insidious or dishonorable?  How does that support Lehigh’s point?

Lehigh also mentions Jeremiah O’Sullivan’s role in “the second investigation” but fails to mention the third, fourth, or fifth investigation — or the sworn statement of Harold Brown himself.  If Lehigh really knew the facts, he would report that O’Sullivan participated in the “tertiary” investigative review.  We learn that directly from Harold Brown.

Finally, Lehigh notes how “It’s also long been whispered…” that the indictment and subsequent trial of Senate Majority Leader Joseph DiCarlo in 1977 paved the way for Bulger to become Senate President.  Of course, Kevin Harrington was still serving as Senate President at the time and he chose Bulger to be Majority Leader prior to his own resignation in 1978.

This investigation into construction contracts with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts actually prompted widespread ethics reform and led to the establishment of the first Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for any state in the United States, to oversee state business.  The Ward Commission was a big deal at the time and issued a substantial twelve volume report  by the end of 1980.

In his capacity as Senate President, William Bulger played a pivotal role in pushing this oversight reform bill through.  To suggest that Bulger somehow masterminded the indictment of DiCarlo is to similarly suggest that Gerald Ford was secretly responsible for the investigation of Spiro Agnew which led to his own selection as President Nixon’s Vice President.  To say that Ford had a hand in Agnew’s criminal indictment and that it “paved the way” for Ford to become President of the United States would surely draw curious glances from any rational person.  Yet this is exactly what Lehigh proffers here in regard to William Bulger.  Think about it.  Does it make sense, just because he says it does?

Wrongdoing is wrongdoing, no matter who commits it.  DiCarlo was indicted because there apparently was evidence of criminal culpability; why is that nefarious in any way?  This lopsided logic suggests that those “whispers” which Lehigh mentions are perhaps attributable to voices in his own head.  Hopefully this posting will offer some level of help to him in understanding the extreme depth of his deficiency.

Also mentioned by Lehigh is “the phone call” in January of 1995 by which “Whitey and William arranged for a secret telephone call at the home of one of William’s associates, where it would go undetected by investigators.”

William Bulger spoke to that during his 2003 testimony as well during questioning by U.S. Representative Marty Meehan (D-MA):

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Thus, the official record states that it was Kevin Weeks who arranged the call, without William Bulger having advance knowledge.  Given the central role which Kevin Weeks had in the Trial of Whitey Bulger, surely he could have spoken to that if asked; yet I am unaware of that question being raised by either the prosecution or Bulger’s defense attorneys.

William Bulger also explained the reason for his concern for his brother, drawing reference to his religious faith and “The Good Shepherd story” — that no one should be turned away; he also recalls “society’s right to protect itself and to impose severe penalties on anyone guilty of such deeds.”  Specifically, the story originates directly from John 10:11-12 in the New Testament in which Jesus Christ declares, “A thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest. I am the good shepherd, and the good shepherd gives up his life for his sheep.”

There is no reason to believe his statement was not true, given his Catholic upbringing.  Where is the dishonor there?  The larger context of William Bulger’s statement follows:

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Taking the facts into consideration, it is clear that what Lehigh presents as fact in support of his opinion, is, in fact, fiction.  He is wrong on Harold Brown, on the phone call, on the “once proud FBI,” and he is also wrong about “the Bulger era.”  James Bulger and William Bulger are two separate people.

Today’s jury verdict may speak to the legacy of James Bulger, but the era of William Bulger will not end.  Whether Scot Lehigh likes it or not — and true to the spirit of public service — the shadow of William Bulger is a part of the Boston landscape, from Hynes Convention Center and Symphony Hall, to the Public Gardens and Boston Common, to the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, to the JFK Library in his own South Boston district, the Boston Public Library, the preservation and restoration of Castle Island, to the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General.  That era extends to new generations of leaders through the William M. Bulger Presidential Scholarship and William M. Bulger Classics Award at the University of Massachusetts.  On the national level, there is also the William M. Bulger Award for Excellence in State Leadership from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Like the story of his own life, the William Bulger Era is more than a name, and his living vision for the City on a Hill and its good people proves how that era is not a name at all.

In the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill, a portrait hangs in the Senate Reception Room depicting a bust of President Abraham Lincoln looking over William Bulger’s shoulder.  It is altogether fitting and proper that he has the last word here:

“I am glad I made the late race. It gave me a hearing on the great and durable question of the age, which I could have had in no other way; and though I now sink out of view, and shall be forgotten, I believe I have made some marks which will tell for the cause of civil liberty long after I am gone.”  — Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Anson G. Henry, November 19, 1858

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The Pursuit of Journalistic Truth and Justice

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm

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As expressly stated in the “About” section, The Firmest Pillar Blog is dedicated to the principles of truth and justice.  These themes are then applied to current events.

One current event is the Trial of Whitey Bulger, which dominates the news on a nearly daily basis; very relevant is the tendency of media to associate James “Whitey” Bulger’s younger brother, William, with the criminal allegations for which he now stands trial.

Allow me make one thing clear: Those events, illustrated in large part by various news outlets, exemplify these themes of truth and justice.  Journalism is, by design, inherently about truth.  The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) notes clearly and unambiguously, “Journalism’s First Obligation is to the Truth.”

Furthermore, “Its First Loyalty is to Citizens.”  Also, “Its Essence is a Discipline of Verification,” “Its Practitioners Must Maintain an Independence from Those They Cover,” “It Must Serve as an Independent Monitor of Power,” “It  Must Provide a Forum for Public Criticism and Compromise,” “It Must Strive to Make the Significant Interesting and Relevant,” and “It Must Keep the News Comprehensive and Proportional.”  In theory these should form a solid foundation by which “Its Practitioners Must Be Allowed to Exercise Their Personal Conscience.”

These are noble and lofty principles which parallel the Code of Ethics promulgated by the Society of Professional Journalists.  Yet too often, I see skewed news coverage.  In a profession whose wellspring is truth, what does it mean when what is essentially a means to educate the populace does not comport with these principles?

Time and time again, news stories have played out and disseminate misinformation, or unverified information.  This is dangerous and wrong.  It is for this reason that the experience of William Bulger exemplifies this very theme, where assumptions have been made, where gossip becomes fact, and when repeated enough times, it becomes the reality which we do neither question nor notice; we simply live with it without thinking twice — and without seeing any need to think twice.

The views conveyed in this blog may at times be unorthodox; they may protest against the grain.  They may present a perspective which is so off the mainstream path that the Reader may even conclude this is a propaganda tool aimed to portray William Bulger and others in a positive light.  At all times, every effort is made to show the facts as they are and prompt the Reader to think deeply and to question that reality.  The news is forever filtered through its messenger; that is the nature of any secondary source, is it not?  Like it or not, it can only be seen through a veil.

Drawing from one early political theory text, it is in Plato’s Republic that Socrates depicts the beginning of enlightenment as “…human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads…”

Socrates next describes the path of progress: “At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him…”

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, concludes, “But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort…[T]his is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.”

This old idea equally applies today — the joy of reading the past is realizing that it’s not past at all.  In many ways, learning urges the questioning of convention.  It first requires that one must be open to it, to consider the matter at issue, to make conclusions, and then to “exercise personal conscience.”

That is what this blog strives to do.  There is no other agenda than to explore truth and justice; if any of the issues presented here contribute to contemporary dialogs, then I have done my part, however small; that is the only hope and the sole agenda.

While journalism “must serve as an independent monitor of power,” the field of journalism is itself a source of power.  Who monitors journalists?  With the First Amendment functioning often as both a shield and sword from interference, in the end the pen may very well be mightier than the sword.  It may also prove to be a potent tool in the pursuit of journalistic truth and justice — especially when wielded for good.

The Unusual Case of William M. Bulger abounds with voluminous material to illustrate situations where what is reported, simply does not reflect the actual facts.  Instead, false facts inherently adorn a false reality.  This is true even in instances when facts are readily and easily verifiable simply by consulting a primary source.

Going forward, there will be further discussions involving William Bulger, but there will be illustrations involving others as well. Every day, I come across articles which distort or misstate the facts.  Exploring these pieces is an apt direction to take.

To get closer to the light, one must open the window and pull away the shades, and that task is left for the Reader.  If you are reading this, surely there is some willingness to consider issues raised here and elsewhere.  That purview shall serve you well.

Finally, I must commend one British news outlet about which I posted previously.  After writing to The Independent, I have heard from its Deputy Editor regarding an article which is now corrected.  Many thanks to that publication for demonstrating a side of journalism which we do not often see.  Coupling the duty to report responsibly, it is also incumbent to take responsibility when due.

That message is below, in relevant part:

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Please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in responding to your email below.

You are absolutely correct of course that we made a mistake with our headline, which referred to William instead of James Bulger.  The sub-heading was correct and the body of the article made clear that the man on trial was James, rather than his brother – who also featured in the piece as you know.

I am sorry about this slip, which we have now corrected, and hope you might continue to read the Independent, in spite of having had cause to write to us on this occasion.

With best regards

Will Gore

Deputy Managing Editor

London Evening Standard, The Independent, i & Independent on Sunday

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