January 8th, 2015

Recent Thoughts: On Cuba

On Cuba: It’s long past time that we normalized relations with Cuba. For decades, we have been punishing Cuba for frightening us by harboring Soviet missiles in the 1960’s, and for trying to export Communist revolution to Angola in the 1970’s. Cuba policy has been crafted to satisfy the South Florida voting block of Cuban emigres who justifiably hate the Castros like poison, but it’s never been sensible to let such a small tail wag the big dog of US foreign policy.

Ironically, we forgave the Soviet Union for the missile crisis by accepting “Glasnost” in the 1980’s, which helped speed up the crumbling of that entity. Meanwhile, we have made trading partners, if not exactly comfortable neighbors, out of China and Vietnam. I believe that if we had extended Glasnost to Cuba at the same time we did to the Soviet Union, relations with Cuba would be at least as good as with Vietnam, and probably much better.

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Recent Thoughts: On Sexual Assault in Colleges and in the Military

On sexual assault in colleges: The fact that colleges tend to have their own security forces is a holdover from early days when universities were nominally church-run enclaves where every student was considered to be in holy orders and therefore subject only to the jurisdiction of the church, as locally exercised by the school. This tradition continued into relatively modern times, when universities were preserves for the sons of the wealthy and privileged, and expected to be protected by the alma mater. This has got to change.

By and large, campus security and faculty committees are neither competent nor capable of dealing with the issues of sexual violence. (The University of Wisconsin, which has an actual sworn police force with arrest powers, may be an exception.) This tradition needs to go by the board, and all crime on campus should be reported to and investigated by real police, and referred to the District Attorney for prosecution. This then, relieves the college authorities of troublesome decision making. If the alleged perpetrator is a student and is charged, he or she can be suspended based on that finding of probable cause. If found guilty, expulsion is automatic. If the accused is acquitted, then they may return to school.

On sexual assault in the military: Likewise, the handling of sexual assault, indeed all crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, needs to be taken out of the hands of commanding officers and handled by the professional military police and trained prosecutors of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. This way, charging and prosecution can be based on law and evidence, and not solely on whether or not the accused is a decorated veteran, or the best machine-gunner in the unit. Commanders’ input should certainly be weighed in the balance for what it is worth, but more likely at disposition than at charging.

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Recent Thoughts: On Police Killings

On police killings: I would like to see a paradigm shift in police training: Emphasis on de-escalation, and tactics such as weapon retention, martial arts such as judo instead of Krav Maga or whatever they teach police these days, and more use of less-lethal weapons such as the PR-24 baton. Fire discipline also needs to be taught. Who’s telling these officers it’s correct to empty your magazine at an unarmed man? I understand that the idea is to knock the suspect down, and people hopped up on drugs or rage or mental illness can sometimes absorb a staggering amount of damage before falling over, but you’d think you could take half a second to see whether the first two shots had effect before pulling the trigger a dozen more times.

On the other hand, I wish that more mothers and fathers, teachers and preachers, would counsel that, no matter how shameful and humiliating it may be to truckle to a police officer, the odds that you will still be alive to complain about it afterwards are far greater than otherwise. As the Bible says, turn the other cheek. “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”

For one thing, you have to realize that the cop is as wary of you as you are of him, if not more so. He doesn’t know whether or not you are armed, drunk, on drugs, or off your meds, and has to assume the worst for the safety of himself, his fellow officers, and citizens in the area until assured otherwise.

People don’t accept that, once engaged, it’s rare that an officer can back down. He’s not just one man, he’s THE Man, the Force, the Law. If he backs down, all that is seen to back down. At best, he will be subject to criticism from his colleagues. At worst, he may be disciplined. If you are calm and compliant, there’s a possibility you may be let go. Get up in his face about the perceived injustice, and, guess what? If you resist apprehension, that officer has hundreds of fellows and heavy weaponry to back him up. It’s a battle you can’t possibly win, yet people try it every day with frequent harm to both sides.

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Recent Thoughts: On "Enhanced Interrogation"

On “Enhanced Interrogation”—i.e., torture:

I have previously said, here and elsewhere, that we did not need “black hole” prisons, “extraordinary renditions”, military tribunals, and torture, all of which are inherently harmful and abhorrent to true freedom, in order to protect our freedom. The recent report pretty much bears out my contention that civil courts and constitutionally sound procedures for questioning, investigation, and detention produce just as good results if not better than these “black” operations.

In some ways, even worse than the mere fact of torture* being used at all is the brutal stupidity of it. We are told that some subjects were waterboarded in excess of one hundred times. For what? Does anyone seriously think that they are going to gain any more productive results the 100th time, as opposed to the 50th or the 10th? And what about the agents who had to perform and observe these grotesqueries? They can’t ALL have been psychopathic thugs. Some of them have to have been profoundly damaged by these experiences.

And on a less serious, but aesthetic, side, I’m appalled by the lack of imagination of it all. Waterboarding, ‘stress positions’, lack of sleep—crude, crude. I take it that a qualification to be an actual secret agent must be to never have read spy novels. With essential carte blanche to mistreat, what, no LSD, sensory deprivation, hypnotic lighting or subliminal whispers in the cells at night? The highly paid psychological consultants couldn’t come up with their equivalent of “Room 101”? I realize we are getting into Dr. Mengle’s area of practice here, but, if you are determined to do revolting things and justifying it by your love of country, shouldn’t you at least seek to be effective—or creative?**

*Yes, Mr. Cheney, waterboarding IS torture. If Japanese P.O.W. camp guards were war criminals for performing water tortures on Allied personnel, why shouldn’t you and your henchmen be also?

**Yes, I know I have an evil mind. Fortunately for all of us, I also have principles about employing it.

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