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Down in good ole Alabamy, they want to eliminate the wall between church and state



Here’s an idea: a religion forms its own police force. Not just a private security force, mind you, like, say, the Episcopal church down the street from me, but an official police force, with the powers to detain, arrest and use lethal force. Good idea or bad? Most Americans would probably say, bad. Very bad. After all, this isn’t Iran, where there is no line between the official state religion and formal law enforcement. We started America, in part, to get away from that kind of theocratic nonsense.

With that in mind, consider the Briarwood Presbyterian Church, in Birmingham, Alabama. “Briarwood Presbyterian Church Wants Its Own Police Force To Patrol Campuses,” the Huffington Post, in Canada, headlined yesterday.

The Alabama State Senate already has approved a bill authorizing the church to create a police department with “all of the powers of law enforcement officers in this state.” The author of the bill is a parishioner in the church, A. Eric Johnston; the Wall Street Journal identifies him as the author of a 2014 ballot initiative, which passed overwhelmingly, that prohibits foreign laws being used in Alabama courts. You know what “foreign laws” Johnston had in mind, don’t you? Right. That’s why the initiative is known as the “anti-Shariah amendment.”

I’ve said it before, anybody who’s worried about Shariah law in the United States is completely insane, and needs psychological help. Bulletin: Muslims are not taking over America!

If Alabama passes this stupid proposal—the new Republican governor (who, let us remember, just stepped in when the old Republican governor had to resign after a sex scandal) hasn’t yet indicated if she’ll sign it or not—Alabama will be the first state to have allowed a church to have its own legal police department. Not just in Alabama—in America.

This is certainly one of the troubling signs of our times: a country in which a Donald J. Trump, who probably is agnostic if not atheist (having never in his 70 years given the slightest sign of being religious) made phony appeals to evangelicals, and even once claimed that the bible is his favorite book after The Art of the Deal. Empowered by this friendly nudging, Christians are now feeling their oats. Why can’t they depend on the local police the way everybody else does? What if gay people in Oakland wanted their own police force? Can you imagine the howls from Christians, especially evangelicals? They’d be screaming bloody murder about the gay gestapo forcing the gay agenda down their throats. Yes, that’s exactly what they would say. But now, the shoe’s on the other foot: it’s the Christians who want that unlimited power, the power of policing.

You know, some right wing Christians are always sticking their camel’s nose under the tent of society, trying to increase their authority. They don’t seem to understand or respect the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers were very explicit over the fact that they wanted a complete, utter separation of church and state; the fact that the Establishment Clause is the very first amendment they passed testifies to the alarm they sought to raise about religion trying to seize the levers of power in America, at the federal, state and local levels.

One would hope the new Republican governor, whose name is Kay Ivey, will not sign this dreadful piece of legislation when it reaches her desk. However, Ivey is another literal-interpretationist Christian who does not believe in evolution; when she was State Treasurer, she told a group of school children, according to a mom whose son was there, “If you are one of those people who believes we evolved out of a pile of goo, that you have no purpose in life…then you should just crawl back to the pile of goo you came from.” This is not a good sign. The least we can expect from our political leaders is a certain base intelligence. The new Republican governor apparently does not possess the intelligence to understand science, even in its most basic form; after all, you don’t need a pH.D to understand that evolution is real. Will Gov. Ivey have the intelligence, not to mention respect for the Constitution, to reject an appallingly stupid bill? We’ll see.

Trump’s flip-flops, and that big Berkeley protest



The Trump narrative of the last half-week (discounting the ridiculous warmongering that was clearly designed to shift attention away from RussiaGate) has been his flip-flopping on almost every issue he campaigned on. It makes one wonder how his fans are feeling about him now, since he’s been disappointing them in every way (except for Gorsuch), but his ardent devotees, who let’s face it are not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, don’t seem to care.

Flip-flopping among politicians is a way of life, indeed almost a religion. They all do it, Democrats as well as Republicans. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both famously changed their positions on gay rights. Hillary shifted on TPP. But no politician, much less president, in my long memory has ever abandoned previous positions with the frequency and élan of Donald J. Trump. His latest pronunciamento, that NATO is no longer “obsolete” as he had earlier insisted it was, actually elicited a rare joke from Sean Spicer, who quipped that, rather than Trump changing his position on the Treaty, “It’s…NATO…evolving towards the President’s position.”

Hitler also changed positions with alacrity. His first big shift was in the early 1930s, when he renounced armed revolution in favor of gaining power through the ballot box, which earned him the sobriquet “Adolf Legalité.” Many people have compared Trump to Hitler—and there are definite similarities, especially of personality type—but a better comparison is with Benito Mussolini. The Italian fascist changed positions like Cher changing costumes. Listen to this, from the 1983 book, “Mussolini: A Biography”:

“[Mussolini’s] frequent changes of opinion do not necessarily mean that he was an intellectual light-weight, but rather that he placed little value on ideas. He appeared to adopt opinions merely because they fitted some new attitude or would help his career. He sometimes seemed to change his whole philosophical outlook overnight and would justify the fact as an example of an inner intuition…his particular skill was to pick up ideas almost at random if they coincided with some prejudice or tactical need; and he would renounce them as easily once they ceased to serve his turn.”

This pragmatic political approach is known as realpolitik. It is usually found among rightwing politicians. Henry Kissinger was the most famous, or infamous, practitioner of realpolitik in modern times until the advent of Trump; so it is not surprising that Kissinger, in near-senile dotage, “sidled up to Trump” in the days following the election, hoping, perhaps, for a juicy power-job in the new administration. That didn’t happen. What did happen in the case of Mussolini is that the dictator ended up hanging from a lamppost, upside down, when his own people turned on him.


Now, on to last Saturday’s Berkeley violent protests, in which about a thousand pro- and anti-Trump forces battled in the streets of Berkeley.

No one has been more harshly critical than I of the “black bloc,” the masked thugs who have infiltrated peaceful protests in Oakland and Berkeley since 2011. Under cover of night, they smash, loot, pillage and burn our downtowns. I’ve called them assholes, cowards and worse—and gotten into feuds with them online, in places like NextDoor and Twitter.

But in the case of the lefties who did battle with the Trump clique, I support them. There’s a big difference between the two cases: in the former the black bloc accomplished nothing politically; all they did was perform anarchistic acts of vandalism, act out their own stupid Rambo fantasies, and hurt their own people. But on Saturday, the lefties were defending their town, their values and—let’s not forget—themselves. The pro-Trump people, most of whom were not local but were members of white nationalist and neo-nazi groups, came heavily armed to Berkeley for one reason and one reason only: to provoke. As Mark Cuban tweeted, it was “an organized alt.-right white terrorist attack.”

The Trumpists were quite candid about this. They wore Storm Trooper-type costumes, admitted in interviews to being fascists and white supremacists, and told Trump-style lies about free speech. But there is a concept in the law called “fighting words,” which means that people are entitled to defend themselves when provocateurs come in to rile things up. Free speech only goes so far. “Breaches of the peace” (the Supreme Court’s phrase) are indefensible, and fall outside the protection of law.

Look, Bay Area lefties don’t go to Idaho or the Central Valley demonstrating against Trump and looking for trouble. So why do the Trumpists feel they can come to Berkeley, give the whole town the middle finger, and then expect to be left alone? They incited the violence and deserved every broken nose and bloodied face they got. The young freedom-loving anti-fascists who resisted them are to be applauded.

The Syrian gassing: No evidence Trump’s allegations are true



Let’s assume that sarin really was used in Khan Shaykhun (Idlib Province) on April 8. America’s government says so; the U.K.’s government says so; Turkey says so; even Russia holds that something involving “chemical weapons” occurred.

The question is, Who was responsible? President Donald J. Trump, offering no evidence, insists it was the Syrian government, with the probable foreknowledge of Russia. However, the Russian Defense Ministry has a different explanation. The Syrian air force delivered an airstrike on several militant facilities in the Idlib Governorate, where munitions filled with poisonous substances were being made.”                                                              

The BBC reported more fully on this: “The Syrian air force…struck Khan Sheikhoun between 11:30am and 12:30pm local time”… and the target was “a large terrorist ammunition depotthere were workshops which produced chemical warfare munitions…terrorists had been transporting chemical munitions from this largest arsenal to the territory of Iraq.”

According to this view, the chemicals were owned by militant forces—not the Syrian government. A powerful air strike by Syrian government forces would thus have dispersed the chemicals into the air; it would then drift down and kill people. (Some scientists point out that some of the gas would have been destroyed in such an attack, but there’s no proof that all of it would).

You’d never know from the U.S. media that there are serious challenges to Trump’s “Assad did it” claim, which they’ve swallowed whole hog. Nor would you be likely to know that Russia is insisting on an independent investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an independent body which is the world’s leading NGO on chemical warfare; the U.S., which is a member, has just in essence opposed this. Yesterday, Russia submitted its formal proposal to OPCW, calling for “a fair investigation into this incident.” According to Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, he proposed this to American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during their meeting in Moscow, “but he [Tillerson] was not ready for this.”

Why not? Why would Trump’s Secretary of state object to a formal investigation by a respected international body? Even Bashir Assad “supports the idea of [an] impartial investigation” into the attack. (It’s worth noting that, the last time this happened, in 2016, “the OPCW corroborate[d] the Syrian government’s assertions that the faction responsible for the chemical attack, as well as 11 other instances of chemical weapons use, was the Syrian opposition.”)

Some analysts have concluded that it would have been insane for Assad to use sarin on his people, for two reasons: The country no longer possesses such weapons (both Russia and Assad insist they’re long gone), and “the Syrian government is winning the war and has no possible motive for giving the ‘international community’ an excuse to come to the aid of the ‘rebels.’”

Assad is reported to believe that “the US has taken advantage of this incident” for its own purposes. “[America] fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack.” Even some people in this country—Ron Paul, for example—have said there’s “zero chance” Assad was responsible for the attack.

Clearly, any reasonable person must conclude there’s enough ambiguity surrounding the incident to make a rush to judgment inadvisable.

President Obama was faced with a similar problem back in 2013, when the Syrian town of Ghouta was hit by a sarin-like agent. At that time, Obama refused to retaliate against Assad, warning against “the perils of intervention.” Obama’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, a Republican, wondered, “Shouldn’t we finish up the two wars we [already] have [Afghanistan and Iraq] before we look for another?”

This was the same time Trump famously advised Obama to “stay the hell out of Syria.”

Well, that was then; this is now. In 2013 Trump was thinking about running for President. Today, he is the President, and he’s in a world of trouble, with RussiaGate looming and the public’s confidence in him eroding. Now, he has resorted to the oldest trick in the book: war. It rallies the public into patriotic furor, sends the media off on fruitless side tracks, and silences his critics. But with this President’s track record for lies, why should anyone believe him now? He lies about everything, big and small. He may well be lying now, to save his skin. Look, I know I’ve quoted Russian and Syrian sources in this reporting, and most of us are prone to believe that anything they say is a lie. But ask yourself, in your heart of hearts: Do you believe everything Trump says just because he says it?

Trump is getting a taste for this sort of violent intervention. Yesterday’s massive bombing in Afghanistan suggests as much; so does the “armada” he sent to North Korea. This is exactly the sort of thing Democrats warned about prior to the election: Give this guy unlimited power, including the nuclear codes, and he could easily go insane.

Have a nice weekend.

Assad, Sarin Gas, Putin and Trump: A Conspiracy Theory



How are we to interpret recent events in Syria? The official White House version is simple:

  1. President Donald Trump used to be opposed to American intervention in that civil war.
  2. But then Bashir Assad dropped sarin gas bombs on his own people.
  3. And the President was so upset by the images of dead and suffering little children that he changed his mind; hence the missiles.

In order to process this version of the story we need to be very clear whom we are dealing with: namely, Donald J. Trump, whose relationship to “truth” is shaky. I don’t think even his biggest supporters would challenge the assertion that Trump has repeatedly stated untruths over the years—untruths calculated to help him and hurt his enemies. The best his surrogates can do is grin and say, “Well, that’s Trump—but you have to focus on what he does, not what he says.”

I would argue that so vast has been Trump’s trove of untruths—more commonly called “lies”—that we really need to back up and question each of the three assertions of the White House version. I accept (a), that Trump long was opposed to intervention in Syria, or, frankly, anywhere else: isolationism was part of his “America First” shtick. But when we get to (b) and (c), the official Trump version suffers from serious deficiencies.

Part (b) assumes several so-far unproven assertions. First, that sarin gas was dropped. Have we seen any evidence of this? It’s been widely reported, but we don’t know for sure, and won’t know, until a reputable outside agency (probably the U.N.) establishes the facts. Even if it turns out that sarin was used, how do we know it was Assad who ordered it? He says he didn’t. Putin says he didn’t. Granted, there’s not much reason to believe anything Assad or Putin says, but there’s also not much reason to believe anything Trump says. So we really need an objective investigation.

Why would Putin call for a U.N. investigation into the incident, if in fact his ally, Assad, dropped the bombs, purportedly with Putin’s approval (at least, that’s what the White House asserts)? What would this incident have gained for Assad? What would it have gained for Putin? For Assad, if he really did drop the sarin, it was incredibly stupid. Militarily, it achieved nothing, and further taints his international reputation, and could lead to an indictment for war crimes before an International Court of Justice. For Putin, this also tarnishes his reputation, since Russia was supposed to be a guarantor of the no-chemicals policy in Syria. So it doesn’t make any sense for either of them—Assad or Putin—to have done something so self-damaging.

Or does it? Remember this is all occurring against the backdrop of something even bigger: RussiaGate. Everything goes back to the central questions: What was Trump’s relationship (financial, political, personal) to Putin and other high Russian officials? What were the relationships of Trump’s friends and business associates? Did Trump or his friends know of, or collude with, the successful Russian attempt to undermine our election? So serious are the implications for Trump that we have to at least accept the possibility that he will do anything in his power—and he’s now the most powerful person in the world–to keep the combined Congressional and FBI investigations from bearing fruit.

This is why “wag the dog” theories have proliferated this week, including from me. Now ask yourself—in the light of all this—if the following is at least a possibility. Trump needs to change the subject, and fast, away from RussiaGate and some of the other embarrassing incidents that have caused his poll numbers to plummet to record lows. His main thing is to distance himself from Putin and Russia—to show Americans that all his bromance with Putin was just silly talk, and we shouldn’t worry about it. Trump has to have some sort of contact with Putin (I would assume that the President of the United States and the President of Russia can talk on a secure hotline anytime they want.) Trump tells Putin he’s in a bind: Trump’s ties with Russia are being revealed, and are likely to turn into a major crisis for him and his regime, as well as for the Russians. So both Trump and Putin need something, anything, to deflect attention away from the probes, and swing public opinion around. Putin has an idea: Let’s invent something to disagree about. What if some sarin can be arranged to be dropped on a Syrian village? Trump is intrigued; his always scheming mind immediately sees the possibilities. He can kill two or three birds with one stone: change the subject. Be seen as a compassionate man, the enforcer of world peace. And be seen as no friend of Putin (as Eric Trump so clumsily reminded us the other day.)

Trump can even, if he wants to, use this “pivot” as an excuse to dump his more radical advisors—paging Steve Bannon–who are no longer of use to him, and seem to be in increasing disfavor, even among Republicans.

But how does this help Putin? It doesn’t, not in the short run. It hurts him. Both he and Trump are going to have to pretend to have broken their bromance; both of are going to have to ratchet up the rhetoric on each other, back to Cold War levels, at least for a while. But in the long run, this helps Putin, because it prevents the Trump-Russia ties from being exposed, and helps keep Trump, who may well be a Russian plant, in power. We have to assume, of course, that those Trump-Russia ties are so deep, so ugly, so devastating, that keeping them from the light of day is uppermost in both leaders’ minds. But that assumption is easy to make: Why else would Trump refuse to release his taxes? Why else would he be fighting so fiercely to keep the investigations from proceeding?

And Assad? Poor Bashir. Putin has left him twisting, twisting slowly in the wind. He’s getting worldwide condemnation for something he may not even have done. But these people—Assad, Putin, Trump—are grownups, used to playing the game. Putin tells his ally, Assad, “Bashir, you have to take one for the team. I need for you to do this.” Bashir: “But Vladimir, you’re asking me to take the blame for something really bad.” Putin: “True. But I’ll have your back. This will all blow over—and eventually, when it does, I’ll still be here, and so will Trump. And we will not forget you.”

Bashir: “So be it.”

Trump: “So be it.”

Putin: “So be it.”

It sounds like a movie, this little conspiracy theory of mine. Only it’s not Hollywood; it’s real life. And in his legerdemain of trying to convince us he’s really not a friend of Russia, Trump might just make a misstep that gets us into war.

Letter from a Pennsylvania prison



April 11, 2024

I set these words down in my own hand from my prison cell here at the Federal Penitentiary in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, where I have been incarcerated for the last three years. My quarters are spartan, but not unpleasant: I live alone in this 8’ x 10’ room, which contains a bunk bed, a T.V., a small shelf for my books, a writing table, a little refrigerator and, of course, a toilet.

My days pass well enough. Boredom is the chief enemy, but between the reading and yard exercising (three times a week), and watching T.V., I get by. They don’t let us see any news channels, so I’ve been watching a lot of the shopping channels, which at least are live, and star real people.

Let me explain why I’m here. I was sentenced to thirty years on March 27, 2021, for violating the Behavior Against Government (BAG) Act, which was passed by Congress two years before my arrest, only to be held up for Constitutional review until the Supreme Court declared it legal. The vote on that was 6-3; Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, with a concurrence by Associate Justice Ted Cruz, who had been nominated by President Trump only three months before and confirmed by the Senate, after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.

The BAG Act decrees that any behavior found objectionable to the United States government, its officers and/or appointees, is punishable by up to forty years in prison. The Justice Department is the sole determinant of what constitutes “objectionable” behavior. In my case, I was charged with “disseminating false, and/or insulting, and/or malicious information concerning the President of the United States.” How did I do this? Through my blog, of course, Under the old laws, nothing I wrote could possibly have been interpreted as illegal; I took great care to stay on the right side of the law. But with the passage of the BAG Act, the government moved the goalposts, so that a statement (such as “Trump is a sexual predator”) which until then might have been harsh, but not libelous, now is considered a “threat to the stability of the nation.” So here I am.

And here I’m likely to remain. Now that the Congress has repealed the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which held the President to two terms of office, there’s no doubt that President Trump will be re-elected this November–especially since the Democratic Party has all but been obliterated. A majority of national Democratic Party leaders—Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Jerry Brown, Robert Reich, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren—also have been arrested for violating the BAG Act; in fact, Sanders’ cell is right down the row from me, and on occasion I see Biden in the courtyard. The poor guy has aged a lot. But who hasn’t?

I had no trial. The men who arrested me (and since they never identified themselves, I have no idea what agency they were from) explained that jury trials are too expensive and a waste of time when national security is at stake. They did show me some paperwork: a formal document of some kind, outlining the charges against me. It was signed by Jared Kushner—not personally, of course, but with a facsimile of his signature. I barely had time to see his title before one of the men grabbed it away: it said “Chief of Internal Security” or something like that.

Since we can’t watch the news or see newspapers or have access to the Internet, I’m not very conversant with world affairs anymore. But there is a grapevine of sorts here in Allenwood; inmates hear things and gossip about them. From the grapevine I learn that opposition to the Trump regime in America has been all but obliterated. His picture adorns every courtroom, military post and schoolroom in the country; his face is on the twenty-dollar bill; and the Pledge of Allegiance, which is mandatory at all public events, has new phrasing: following “…and to the Republic for which it stands” is “and the President of our great country, Donald J. Trump…”.

I hear, also, that many of America’s traditional allies have broken with us: France, Germany, England (the U.K. split up in 2020), Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan. Trump did manage to get his Wall built along the U.S.-Mexico border (which cost us $50 billion; Mexico ended up not paying for it), and we are now building a similar wall along the Canadian border, after the “Dixon Notch Massacre,” in which a few dozen locals supposedly were beheaded by Islamic terrorists who had illegally crossed the border from Quebec. A friend of mine, a fellow inmate, told me that this “massacre” was announced to the public by Kellyanne Conway, the Secretary of Propaganda and Enlightenment. She provided no evidence, and when MSNBC aired a documentary alleging that the whole thing was made up, the Trump administration—using another new law, the Enabling Act Against Media Lies and Fake News—shut it down and imprisoned many of its reporters. In fact, Rachel Maddow supposedly is here in Allenwood, too, in the women’s division.

I have, as you might imagine, plenty of time to think. At first, I was filled with rage and resentment at my arrest. But time has begun to blur the edges of my anger. A lot of others were arrested, so I’m good company; besides, one can’t take these things personally. And, by all accounts, America now is more tranquil than it was just a few years ago. The partisanship that marked government is over. Of course, having but one political party nowadays (thanks to the Republican Party Empowerment Act, passed just last month) helps. And, with Jared clearly being groomed for the succession, our future looks to be in good hands; at least, he’s not a wacko evangelical! So I spend my days and nights watching Home Shopping Network and smiling. Perhaps you will soon join me!

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