Cultural Mythology, Jurisprudence, and Terrorism

American children are taught about the Magna Carta Liberatum (“the Great Charter of the Liberties”) and how this document was a fore bearer that brought into existence our current – “most perfect” – system of legal justice. It’s likely they are taught that the Magna Carta granted civil liberties, like habeaus corpus, and that it holds the governing to account on the same laws as the governed. It’s probable that the story is taught as if autocracy voluntarily relieved itself of power and enshrined, under the charter, an equality-based classless system of free society.

Probably, since it isn’t Federally mandated reading material, it isn’t taught that those civil liberties have nothing to do with the Magna Carta, were never even in the document, the few rights written into it were not for common people and that the document was repealed before even a year had passed – and that it was filed back into law only after it was stripped of the few rights it ever held. A writ to sue for involuntary detainment first arrived, in a very limited form, in the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 more than 450 years later.

The Magna Carta dealt primarily with how and at what amounts barons rented land from the land-owning royal crown and what the rates and processes there were for taking loans from bankers under royal protection – it did not give any rights or even mention rights of the working serfs. Disagreements over these banking terms ultimately led to what’s called the First Baron’s War, of which there were several as the name implies, and had local lords rebel against the crown.

Americans are taught incorrectly that the Magna Carta established rights such as habeus corpus and sovereign legal accountability. This misunderstanding may have come from a particular judge in Medieval Britain who used the Magna Carta as a political tool. In 1627 Cook supported arguments that involuntary detention in the case of unpaid rent to the crown was not explicitly authorized by the Magna Carta and therefore not legal. The court system disagreed, as the Magna Carta was never intended to enumerate in full the rights of the state.

As a historical equivalent to modern polemicists who politicize The Constitution and claim its Articles say far more than they do, Cook’s arguments were not only lost in the British court system – he was eventually arrested for treason and the book he had published on his interpretation of the Magna Carta were removed from circulation. Today, Sir Edward Cook is criticized by modern historians for ‘”misconstruing” the original charter “anachronistically and uncritically”, and taking a “very selective” approach to his analysis.’

This of course was inevitably magnified by a Henry Care who, functioning as a payed propagandist, deliberately spread misinformation about the Magna Carta and its presumed continuity of law in Britian and her new American colony in an anti-Catholic political revolution. Eventually convicted, and his pamphlets censored by the British crown, Care’s work did inspire American Whig revolutionaries such as William Penn, who took to reprinting the Magna Carta and circulating it through the 13 Colonies.

Similar to the Magna Carta, American cultural impression of their law also gives it independent claims to lineage from mythological versions of the Code of Hammurabi, the Roman 12 Tables, Hellenic Democracy, the laws of both the Left and Right from Post-Revolutionary France,  and “Enlightenment Thinkers” – each of which are told in the same story format of autocracy voluntarily relieving itself of power to giving way to equality-based, classless society.

It has remained a part of United States cultural narrative not entirely on accident. Tracing continuity of rule – be it through blue blood, legal inheritance, divine right, or doctrinal privilege – is a mainstay of Western, and possibly much of Eastern, culture. Just as Germany had in the 1940’s attempted to establish a line of legitimate rule back to both the Aramaic and Indo-European people and a relationship to the Holy Roman Empire – and just as any political revolution in America would necessarily argue its close relationship to The Constitution – drawing fictitious connections between American law to ancient laws helps establish what seems to be just rule in a line of continuous, legitimate, succession.

While the historical accuracy of these cultural myths is easy to factually disprove, a more interesting challenge presents itself. The principles of ‘just’ power, although only presumed through folklore to have come from ancient rule in a traceable form to our current government, are themselves enumerable and are in some real measures manifest in society. While the stories of origin may be fabricated, to what degree does the ‘social contract’ imagined by those stories, in which civil liberties are first principles, exist in a real form today?

Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act

This bill amends the federal judicial code to narrow the scope of foreign sovereign immunity by authorizing U.S. courts to hear cases involving claims against a foreign state for injuries, death, or damages that occur inside the United States as a result of a tort, including an act of terrorism, committed anywhere by a foreign state or official.

It amends the federal criminal code to permit civil claims against a foreign state or official for injuries, death, or damages from an act of international terrorism. Additionally, the bill authorizes federal courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over and impose liability on a person who commits, or aids, abets, or conspires to commit, an act of international terrorism against a U.S. national.

S.2040 – Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act – The Senate

S.2040 – or JASTA “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” by name, just passed the United States Senate and will make its way first through the 114th Congress and then be signed into law by the current seated president Barack Obama – unless it is vetoed, which the White House has promised to do unless Congress weakens the language of the bill.

The Obama administration has been particularly careful about using its veto power, only choosing to do so when it is considered a very high priority for the administration. As such, Mr. President Obama has only cast 9 vetos during his entire stay at the top of the Executive Branch. As such, the veto promise underscores the importance to our Executive Branch that JASTA not be made law.

Covered in the domestic media as “Senate passes bill allowing 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia“, the actual stipulations of the law do not mention Saudi Arabia and are on the whole very narrow. It forces the US Justice Department to hear trials against foreign government officials on charges that the support, arming, funding or training of terrorists has caused damages – mortal or monetary – against US persons and property specifically inside of the country’s physical boundaries.

The surprising thing for many people in America is that this isn’t already possible. They had thought not only that justice against sponsors of terrorism was something the US Justice system was able and willing to take on – they thought it had actually been done: mass domestic propaganda campaigns convinced the public of the righteousness of the Bush Administration’s version of ‘justice for sponsors of terrorism’, which involved invading a country not in any way connected to the September 11 attacks.

Furthermore in the War on Iraq the United States followed an operating manual called the Wolfowitz Doctrine (online copy), whose recommendations included destroying Iraq completely, so as to strike fear in in the minds of countries around the world. Americans don’t remember that the carnage was so bad, and so one sided, that the full force of the international community called for the Americans to remove themselves from Iraq.

Compare the legality of lawsuits over terrorism when the charges are against Iran. In 2012 the Justice Department upheld its choice to pursue economic reimbursement for American losses to Iranian proxy forces.

Whereas minor financial compensation seems a small price to pay for “the day that changed the world,” it would by normal measures be criminal since the funds from any successful suit are virtually guaranteed to come from Saudi civilians’ taxes and national budgets rather than the officials themselves. This is only if you’re first willing to agree that financial compensation – rather than a prison sentence – should be the punishment for funders and provocateurs behind heinous actions like the 9/11 terror attacks. For the royal family in Saudi Arabia and their enormous wealth, it would seem to suggest that they can afford to sponsor a great deal more terrorism – provided they budget in the legal expenses necessary to cover any following lawsuits.

Compare the “justice” in Iraq to the reaction of the United States government to potential of lawsuits that could reach the actual support networks of the attacks. Not only is financial litigation so controversial for the Executive Branch that they’ve promised to veto it – but the kind of physical retaliation knowingly visited on the wrong suspect (Iraq) isn’t even on the table for discussion for the real purpetrator (Saudi Arabia).

This leads us to ask: why is this such an important priority for the Obama Administration? Josh Earnest, Secretary for the Press out of the White House, explained the official position after the Senate passed the bill:

“I know that the advocates of this legislation have suggested that they have taken into account our concerns by more narrowly tailoring the legislation.  But, unfortunately, their efforts were not sufficient to prevent the longer-term, unintended consequences that we are concerned about. This legislation would change longstanding international law regarding sovereign immunity.  And the President of the United States continues to harbor serious concerns that this legislation would make the United States vulnerable in other court systems around the world.

There’s also a concern that hasn’t gotten as much attention about the potential vulnerability that is created for some of our allies and partners in U.S. courts.  And the concern is related to the fact that sovereign immunity is a principle that is critical to our national security.  The United States is more engaged in activities in other countries than any other country in the world.  Typically, those are actually activities that other countries benefit from significantly.  These are peacekeeping activities, or humanitarian relief activities, or other activities in which the United States is supporting the national security activities of other countries, and the national security of other countries is enhanced by the involvement of the United States.

But out involvement in those activities is made more complicated by the chance that the principle of sovereign immunity could be eroded.  So the administration strongly continues to oppose this legislation.   And we’re obviously going to begin conversations with the House about it.”

Josh Earnest, 5/17/2016 White House Press Briefing

By the official account, the White House is concerned about the legislation for several reasons. First, the United States government holds sovereign immunity as a principle of law, and considers it critical to National Security. The United States, as per its own law, is immune from legal repercussions unless it specifically consents to be accountable, as it has done (for example) for very narrow cases in the Tucker Act.

The White House Spokesperson continues to explain that the United States is engaged in “activities” around the world for which a weakened international standards concerning sovereign immunity would cause problems for the United States. He helpfully volunteers “peacebuilding” and “relief” activities before listing “National Security activities” and supporting the National Security activities of other countries – which active listeners understand to mean activities intended to incite civil wars, topple governments, change regimes, incite public discord, or isolate governments by supporting regional terrorist forces.

Second, Josh Earnest explains that the United States is worried about what the law would entail for the security of many of its important allies, Saudi Arabia remaining unnamed, as the law could similarly problematize their ability to sponsor terrorism.

Let’s put aside this episode of America internally debating between its branches of government how to craft legislation that balances appearing tough on support networks of terrorists and reluctance to pursue justice for fear of reprisal for its own international activities.

Here we have our government quite clearly expressing their support for the principle of sovereign immunity – the principle that governments, officials and royal family should be above the law, held to lower standards than that of citizens around the world. This principle, so enshrined, the spokesperson for the White House says from the platform, is considered critical to National Security.

While journalists and pundits haven’t batted an eye at these remarks and while the media surges with the reports about Saudi dialogue with the US over the bill – citizens who had once thought that habeus corpus, sovereign accountability and jurisprudence existed as principles over National Security and State Power may take a sharp breath and bother to do their homework.


This blog article on the white underclass is the kind of thing I wish I could write. I’m not exactly in the demographic the writer discusses. I’m college educated. I don’t drink or take drugs. I live in New Jersey, not the rural Midwest. But I closely identify with the idea that the American ruling class thinks of many of us as an “unnecessariat,” people they wish would simply go away. At protests in solidarity with the Second Intifada, I used to see people wearing shirts that said “we’re all Palestinians.” I think that’s probably truer than most of us think. The Israelis don’t want the Palestinians as a cheap labor force. They just want them to go away. The American ruling class no longer needs large parts of the American working class. So they’ve created the conditions where many people will simply kill themselves through drugs and alcohol. Many of the casualties of this new class war are women. I used to think women were more flexible and stronger than men, that they were better at establishing networks of support and less likely to fall into depression and homelessness. But that doesn’t seem to be the case any more. The Washington Post article the blogger links about the death by alcoholism of a 54-year-old woman in Oklahoma almost conjures up an American version of Sátántangó, the great Hungarian film about a community fallen into utter despair, a despair that makes them vulnerable to being manipulated by demagogues like Donald Trump.

More Crows than Eagles

I remember AIDS. I’m older than you probably think I am, and I remember what AIDS in America meant in the eighties, when William F. Buckley suggested all “carriers” be tattooed, and the Wizard of Id got in trouble in Canada (fr) for a joke in which Robbing Hood’s “Merry Men” were rounded up into quarantine camps. Mostly what I remember is the darkness- the world seemed apocalyptic. Everyone, at least in the gay men’s community, seemed to be sick, or dying, or taking care of someone else who was sick or dying, or else hurling themselves headlong into increasingly desperate and dramatic activism the like of which has hardly been seen since. I was actually watching the MacNeil/Lehrer news hour when ACT-UP broke in and nearly handcuffed Robert MacNeil to his desk. The tenor is just unreproducible; you get a taste of it in some of Sarah Schulman’s…

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Did the CIA Use Gloria Steinem to Subvert the Feminist Movement?

I’ve always known that Gloria Steinem had been involved with the National Student Association, a CIA front group, as an undergraduate. But I never quite realized just how important her connection to the CIA had been to her career. I suppose her recent insinuation that younger female supporters of Bernie Sanders have become socialists just to meet guys — as if that’s a problem for women who aren’t socialists — demonstrates she’s still an establishment shill posing as a radical.

The Most Revolutionary Act

Co-opting Radical Feminism for Corporate Interests

While preeminent American feminist Gloria Steinem’s CIA background receives wide attention on the Internet, it’s a totally taboo topic in either the corporate or the so-called “alternative” media. Steinem’s work for the CIA front group Independent Research Service first entered the public domain  in 1967 when Ramparts magazine exposed both the Independent Research Service and the National Student Association as CIA front organizations.

Fearing unflattering publicity, Steinem gave interviews to both the New York Times and the Washington Post defending her CIA work (see video below). In both articles, she claims to have taken the initiative in contacting Cord Meyers, who headed the CIA’s International Organization Division and their top secret Operation Mockingbird.* Her goal, allegedly, was to seek CIA financing to encourage American participation in the seventh postwar (Soviet-sponsored) World Youth Festival in Vienna in 1959.

The article quotes her: “Far from being…

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Barack Obama at Rutgers University

While I normally make a point of missing speeches by President Obama — I find him patronizing and superficial — I forced myself to sit through his commencement address at the 250th anniversary of Rutgers University. I not only graduated from Rutgers twenty-eight years ago, I thought that maybe Obama, like John F. Kennedy at American University, would use the opportunity to deliver a thoughtful critique of the military industrial complex. Would you be surprised if I told you he didn’t? It’s not that his speech at High Point Solutions Stadium was without its merits. President Obama did his homework. He made enough references to the local student culture at Rutgers — he even mentioned the “grease trucks” on College Avenue — to make it obvious that he had at least read the talking points the University Public Relations Department had given him. He attacked Donald Trump’s racism and Islamophobia. He mocked global warming deniers.

Alas, however, Barack Obama is no John F. Kennedy.

It would have been entirely fitting for Obama, the first African American President of the United States, to mention Paul Robeson, the third African American graduate of Rutgers, and by far the greatest football player in the university’s history. Robeson, a member of the Communist Party and a victim of the McCarthyite witch hunts in the 1950s, has already gotten an apology of sorts from Rutgers. They named a student center after him. He deserves an apology from the United States government. He didn’t get one from President Obama. At American University, Kennedy praised the heroism of the Soviet Army soldiers who defeated Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. At Rutgers, Obama did just the opposite. Two years ago, when Rutgers President Barchi — a client of New Jersey’s loathsome Governor Chris Christie — invited Condoleezza Rice to give the 2014 commencement address, a courageous group of students and faculty occupied Old Queens, the central administration building, until the invitation was rescinded. Instead of congratulating the protesters for risking their careers and reputation to shut down a lying, blood-drenched war criminal, Obama attacked them as an example of the fragile and politically correct culture of the current generation of American undergraduates, whitewashing the invasion of Iraq and the Bush Administration in the process.


Obama also pandered to the university’s pretensions of being a “Public Ivy,” correctly pointing out that Rutgers, which was founded in 1766, is older than the United States, but missing the forest through the trees. Rutgers University, which would be much more appropriately named The University of New Jersey, is no Ivy. It’s a serious university with a diverse student body, an extensive curriculum, several Nobel Prize winners, and an elite faculty, but it competes with SUNY, Penn State and the University of Maryland, not Harvard and Yale. If Rutgers played the first college football game back in 1869 against Princeton, there’s also a reason it never made it into the Ivy League. Until Rutgers became the land-grant college of New Jersey in 1864 under the Morrill Act of 1862, it was a failure as an institution of high learning, constantly broke, and constantly in danger of shutting down. It only became the official State University of New Jersey in 1956, ten years after a massive influx of new students, largely veterans of the Second World War, who funded their college education though the GI Bill. Rutgers is a public university, built on public land, that survived only because of taxpayer money. It has a very different mission from its neighbor Princeton. Where Princeton is an elite university designed to train future bankers, corporate lawyers, and war criminals, Rutgers is a democratic university designed to serve the people of New Jersey.

The current cost of tuition at Rutgers is $14,131 dollars a year for in -state students and $29,521 dollars a year for out of state students. Total cost of attendance is $31,286 dollars a year for in-state students and $46,676 dollars a year for out of state students. Compared to many American colleges and universities, this is a bargain. It’s also too much for the typical 18-year-old. President Bernie Sanders would make public universities like Rutgers free. Since New Jersey is a small, compact, state and since Rutgers has satellite campuses in Newark and Camden, the vast majority of public high school graduates could live at home and commute. Free tuition would open Rutgers up to an even more diverse body of students than the one Obama praised at Highpoint Solutions Stadium. You could be unemployed and flat broke, and still get a university education. Free tuition, not spending millions of dollars on Big Ten Football, or trying to brand itself as a “Public Ivy,” would move Rutgers to the next level as an institution of higher learning. This Sunday, on its 250th anniversary, President Obama had the opportunity to use Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, as a great stage to endorse a visionary plan to make higher education more available to working-class Americans, and to free the next generation from the massive student debt burdening the Millennials. He missed it.

Reading the Landscape: 21




Riding home in the evening, I park my bike alongside the Caldwell Parsonage in Union, New Jersey. James Caldwell was a Presbyterian minister and prominent local supporter of the American Revolution. On June 7, 1780, six thousand British and Hessian troops tried to march 20 miles from New York City to destroy the Continental Army’s camp in Morristown. They were stopped by the New Jersey militia at the Battle of Connecticut Farms in Union. As far as the American Revolution goes, it involved a large number of armed men, several times the number of troops at the much more famous Battle of Trenton. The Americans were also militia, not professional soldiers. When you here a member of the NRA going on about Americans with guns”defending their freedom” against tyranny, this is the place he’s talking about. One women was killed at the Battle of Connecticut Farms, James Caldwell’s wife Hannah, who was murdered by British soldiers.

During the capture of Connecticut Farms, a stray bullet killed a civilian named Ball. In addition, Hannah Caldwell, wife of the Reverend James Caldwell, a chaplain in Washington’s army, was shot dead as she sat in her house with her children. Thomas Fleming recounts the Caldwells’ maid, Abigail Lennington, seeing a British light infantryman outside the window. Fleming describes what happened next: “Nervously expecting trouble, the light infantryman approached the window, his finger on the trigger, … Abigail Lennington shrank back, pulling the little boy with her. Probably the…soldier caught a glimpse of her as she moved away from the window. It was a bright, sunny day, and it seems doubtful that a man standing several feet away from the window could see very far into a room that had no windows in three walls. But a movement, any movement, was all this jittery man … needed to see”. He fired his double-loaded musket through the window and both bullets struck Mrs. Caldwell. Moments later, more British troops arrived, breaking down the door, looting the house and checking Mrs. Caldwell’s body for jewelry.

My bike in the photos above is parked roughly on the spot where Hannah Caldwell was murdered. Note that the present day Caldwell Parsonage, which dates from 1782, is not the original, which was destroyed by a “loyalist” mob during the battle. I’ve ridden my bike over most of the important Revolutionary War battle sites in New Jersey, Trenton, Princeton, Springfield, Monmouth. The course between New York, Union and Morristown taught me why George Washington built his camp at Morristown. The Watchung Mountains, which lie between Union and Morristown, aren’t very impressive as far as mountains go, but they are a steep incline of between 500 and 1000 feet. These days during a snowy Winter, they’re still hard work to plow, and tough to drive over. In 1780, marching six thousand men over those hills with a supply train would have been a brutal slog. Any large, well-organized body of men with guns would have made it almost impossible, as the New Jersey militia demonstrated twice, once at Connecticut Farms, the second time at the Battle of Springfield a few weeks later. Maybe if the British had bikes they would have won the war, and, gasp, we Americans would all be speaking English.



Reading the Landscape: 18



The local organic farm, a continuously operated, 112-year-old institution, a remnant of the agricultural past in the middle of suburbia, and a nearby house that was wrecked 4 years ago by Hurricane Sandy. I sometimes wonder whether or not it would be possible to transform some of the area’s abandoned houses, probably uninhabited since 2008, and stripped of most of their copper, into farming cooperatives like the one in King Vidor’s forgotten but great film Our Daily Bread. Any billionaires want to fund the project?