Why I am a “bleeding-heart liberal”

To be “liberal” is to be “open to new ideas” and “favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms.”

Given the above definition, can a true liberal be a promoter or defender of that most ancient flaw of humanity–war? Is such a thing as a “liberal hawk” logical or possible?

One of the oldest ideas in all of human civilization is the idea of war (and all kinds of violent oppression) as a way of resolving conflicts, during which, practically speaking, there is no way to be respectful of human rights and freedoms. History proves that “war crimes” and the killing of innocent people are inevitable in any war. Though war is often justified in terms of protecting “freedom” and human rights– “humanitarian intervention” is the euphemism– the means of war are inherently inhumane and stand opposed to many kinds of religious values, including the Christian call to “love one’s neighbor” and, harder, “love your enemies.” Nor is war democratic, even in defense of democracy. To kill people indiscriminately (like dropping bombs or invading cities) to “save lives” and defend rights is moral hypocrisy in which the ends are said to justify the means.  Given the ancient, old-fashioned failure of war, and given war’s inherent violation of human rights, how can any “liberal” be anything but an anti-war activist?

It is now fashionable to make distinctions between liberal and progressive; a progressive is a more liberal liberal, or a left-liberal, or a populist liberal, etc. Then there is the “democratic socialist”–more liberal, or radical, I guess, than a progressive. But concerning foreign policy, almost the entire “left” side of the political spectrum are apologists for war, as long as war is not used too often or allowed to last too long in any one location.

There are, of course, various anti-war organizations that spring out of liberal or liberally religious sympathies: Code Pink, Peace Action, War Resister’s League, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, World Beyond War, Religious Society of Friends, Pax Christi, Jewish Voice for Peace, etc. But these are liberal fringe groups without much, if any, influence on the Democratic Party or most “liberal” members of Congress at present.

If the term “liberal” is no longer liberal enough to signify an anti-war perspective, I prefer to adopt the old term, once used pejoratively, of “bleeding-heart liberal.” This relates directly to the sense of compassion and Christ-like renunciation of violent means which can resurrect liberal as the all-encompassing intellectual and emotional word for truly humane and democratic civilization.


It’s no crime for ICC to investigate U.S. war crimes

Back in November of 2016, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, founded in 2002, stated that she had reason to believe that American soldiers were guilty of war crimes, including torture, in Afghanistan. The ICC statement said there was “a reasonable basis to believe” that

“members of United States of America (US) armed forces and members of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period.”

The ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in 2016 that a full investigation into U.S. war crimes in the long-running war was likely.

President Trump was elected in November 2016 and made clear he was a supporter of torture and no fan of international governing organizations like the U.N. and ICC. So it was no surprise when, two years later, the Trump administration sent new national security adviser John Bolton out to a podium to threaten the ICC with fighting words:

“The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court . . . ”

Unjust. Illegitimate.– Proof? No.

Such means, according to Bolton, include economic sanctions and criminal prosecution in U.S. courts of ICC members should the ICC decide to conduct an official, full investigation into U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan or Israeli war crimes in Gaza. And just to be really mean and petty, Bolton also announced that the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, D.C. would be closed because the PLO had requested that the ICC investigate, God forbid, Israel.

Bolton said that the ICC was conducting an “utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation” and the Trump administration would just let the ICC die. Not that the U.S. had ever really supported it in the first place, having decided not to ratify the treaty under President Clinton (who signed it) and to refuse outright in 2002 when George W. Bush occupied the White House. The Obama administration didn’t sign on officially either, but did support and cooperate with the mission of the ICC as an observer.

Then came the belligerent Trump and Bolton, for whom the ICC is an obstruction in the march of “America First.” America, as we all know, can, like Trump, do no wrong, though Afghan human rights groups are not thrilled with the U.S. decision to threaten the ICC. For if the world’s largest democracy will not support an independent, international investigation into possible atrocities committed in the war in Afghanistan, why should any other nation submit to human rights laws and attempts at achieving justice for the wronged?

Until war itself is outlawed as a violation of humane democracy and human rights, the ability to prosecute war crimes, no matter which nation is involved, must be upheld by all democracies, and the ICC is the best institution we have for that purpose.

It’s time for a new national and international slogan: “Liberty and Justice for All.” It is no crime to seek the truth.

Anonymous NY Times Op-Ed Not Very Enlightening (BTW, is Mattis the writer?)

Today the NY Times has taken the extraordinary step of publishing an unsigned, anonymous opinion piece that is another appalling, damning inside-the-White House report on the unfitness of our president by “a senior official in the Trump administration.” Everyone wants to know: who wrote it? But is it the stroke of truth we need to begin to untangle the deceptive web of an unfit president?

The NY Times op-ed links to another Times’ article about the revelations of Bob Woodward’s soon-to-be-released book, and the headline is focused on Secretary of Defense General James Mattis. Perhaps the link has nothing to do with the unnamed author, though why link to that particular article in this particular op-ed? The op-ed against Trump is also focused on foreign policy, particularly regarding Russia, mentions approvingly “a more robust military” and ends with more kind words for the recently deceased Sen. John McCain, a military man who had the courage to unanonymously criticize President Trump. There have also been reports that Trump is thinking of replacing Mattis, so what does he have to lose.

But, on the other hand, Mattis just released a statement regarding quotes attributed to him in Bob Woodward’s book: “While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature, and his anonymous sources do not lend credibility.” So why would Mattis lie to discredit Woodward’s book and then submit an anonymous op-ed to the NY Times which essentially corroborates it? Maybe to keep his cover and place in the “resistance.” Maybe because he felt guilty for lying and for his role in the Trump White House and wants to justify himself.

All this, of course, is speculation. The list of possible scribes is long.

And just whom the author is does not matter much. (As soon as the NY Times leaks the name to the NY Times, we’ll know whom the author is.) What matters most is what the ramifications of the op-ed are. Had the author not hidden his or her name, the statement of a senior official  close to Trump would have had much greater impact. As it is, Trump can claim more of the same “fake news” and a media out to get him. If we don’t start seeing a bolder, more courageous resistance from Republicans in the White House and Congress, we can’t count on them to come to the aid of their country. We will have to rely on Democrats and/or indictments

The writer of the op-ed is clearly a conventional conservative– applauding tax cuts, gutting of regulations, and outrageous military spending that a Republican Congress majority has managed, with Trump, to put together and states that we should be grateful because “there are adults in the room” with erratic, reckless Trump. But this conservative maturity does not extend to taking the necessary constitutional means to really fix the problem:

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.

Nice of them to spare us all a crisis, but how do we know that they are steering well enough to make sure the ship of state has not sunk by the time “it’s over”?  We may end up with a constitutional crisis, but right now the nation has a crisis of leadership–Congressional Republicans have abandoned all responsibility for serving truth and justice.

I believe the NY Times was right to publish the anonymous op-ed, for it does, at least, bolster the case of reports of Bob Woodward’s book, and other book and media reports, whatever it may do to exacerbate the fecklessness and paranoia of Trump. When the writer is revealed, it may be a name without much star power, and thus a disappointment. But at some point someone in a position of authority will make a courageous stand, and that will be the beginning of a return to honoring truth and justice in broad daylight.



Three Poems of Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Here are three poems by a neglected (some would say deservedly so) Wisconsin born and raised American poet– Ella Wheeler Wilcox, whose late 19th and early 20th Century verse is full of rhyme and meter and “sentimental” Victorian optimism, the very thing the Modernists rebelled against. And yet many of her poems have a witty, whimsical forthrightness about them. Even the strident activism of her feminist and pacifist poems is not without a musical moral force that is bracing when compared to, say, Whitman’s paternal, prosy patriotism and Dickinson’s slanted inner obsessions. Let’s not disparage and discard what is best in Victorian verse.


By Ella Wheeler Wilcox (text), photographer unknown, 1896, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A short autobiography of Wheeler Wilcox can be found here, courtesy of the Ella Wheeler Wilcox Society. And though the NY Times has recently been trying to make amends for failing to publish obituaries of many prominent women, here is the NY Times’s obituary for the “prolific versifier” dated Oct. 31, 1919.


How Like the Sea by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

How like the sea, the myriad-minded sea,
Is this large love of ours: so vast, so deep,
So full of myseries! it, too, can keep
Its secrets, like the ocean; and is free,
Free, as the boundless main. Now it may be
Calm like the brow of some sweet child asleep;
Again its seething billows surge and leap
And break in fulness of their ecstasy.

Each wave so like the wave which came before,
Yet never two the same! Imperative
And then persuasive as the cooing dove,
Encroaching ever on the yielding shore—
Ready to take; yet readier still to give—
How like the myriad-minded sea, is love.


Camouflage by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Camouflage is all the rage.
Ladies in their fight with age–
Soldiers in their fight with foes–
Demagogues who mask and pose
In the guise of statesmen–girls
Black of eyes with golden curls–
Politicians, votes in mind,
Smiling, affable and kind,
All use camouflage to-day.
As you go upon your way,
Walk with caution, move with care;
Camouflage is everywhere!


Disarmament by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

We have outgrown the helmet and cuirass,
The spear, the arrow, and the javelin.
These crude inventions of a cruder age,
When men killed men to show their love of God,
And he who slaughtered most was greatest king.
We have outgrown the need of war! Should men
Unite in this one thought, all war would end.
Disarm the world; and let all Nations meet
Like Men, not monsters, when disputes arise.
When crossed opinions tangle into snarls,
Let Courts untie them, and not armies cut.
When State discussions breed dissentions, let
Union and Arbitration supersede
The hell-created implements of War.
Disarm the world! and bid destructive thought
Slip like a serpent from the mortal mind
Down through the marshes of oblivion and soon
A race of gods shall rise!. Disarm! Disarm!


[poems obtained from poets.org and the Ella Wheeler Wilcox Society]

President Trump cancels diplomatic trip to North Korea, blaming everyone else

Blaming North Korea and China rather than his premature announcement in June that “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” President Trump tweeted today that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would not visit North Korea as planned because of insufficient North Korean progress toward denuclearization. But Trump apparently did not want North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to take the snub too personally, for the president also tweeted “warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim.” Which seems to me to take diplomatic niceties a bit too far while turning away from the more difficult work of face-to-face negotiations.

Trump also said that he himself may visit his good friend Kim in the future, once China kowtows to the U.S. demands on trade and obeys Trump by putting more pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program. Trump may be waiting awhile.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is not waiting for Trump to make peace or launch a war. He has proposed new economic and diplomatic measures with North Korea and has called for officially ending the Korean War, which North Korea wants but the U.S. still refuses to do, even though there has been no actual “war” between North and South Korea for decades.

A meeting of the three nations, possibly including China, too, to officially end the “armistice” with a peace treaty may do much to coax North Korea to make more serious movement toward dismantling its nuclear arsenal; a peace treaty between the South and North would merely acknowledge what already exists, please both nations and cost the U.S. nothing. Of course, as always, reducing our own nuclear capability would also help ease tensions with both North Korea and Russia; for that we all will keep waiting.

Ocean Plastic Pollution: Trump administration has its head stuck in a (plastic) bottle

You may have missed the news (as I did) that back in June, when the G-7 group of nations met in Canada, the United States, led by the Trump administration, opted not to sign a joint declaration to address the critical problem of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

Known as the “Ocean Plastics Charter”, it was signed at the G-7 summit by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. Japan also did not sign on. While the U.S. is not among the world’s worst plastic polluters–we are ranked 20th–, we are in close proximity to vast floating islands of plastic in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. And, of course, being a large nation, we generate a lot of plastic. As Philip Bump of the Washington Post reported back in June:

In other words, the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean — which is a problem, including because of the negative health effects on sea life — is more a function of the United States than any of the other member nations of the G-7. That, too, is a function of scale, but it doesn’t really matter. Like climate change, the United States contributes more than other major developed economies.

And yet, despite our obvious role in the production of plastic pollution and our large coasts and marine life and fisheries that suffer from it, the Trump administration was not interested in agreeing to a basic statement of plastic pollution reduction. Here is part of the charter’s language:

We resolve to take a lifecycle approach to plastics stewardship on land and at sea, which aims to avoid unnecessary use of plastics and prevent waste, and to ensure that plastics are designed for recovery, reuse, recycling and end-of-life management to prevent waste through various policy measures.

Seems a pretty rational, gradual approach to the problem. So what was the issue for the U.S. and Japan?

Trump and Co., in the end, left the summit in a huff and didn’t agree, at least by signature, with anything the G-7 group had discussed. Reducing plastic pollution in the oceans will not be addressed at the federal level for awhile, it seems, but the rest of us can begin to pull ourselves and the oceans out of our plastic civilization by using less and recycling more plastic.


Pacific Environment