HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT

Ever since Al Gore sought out a new political stage and declared himself the champion of “global warming,” now more accurately defined as “climate change,” there has been an ongoing debate about setting national and international standards and goals for reducing emissions to alter the effects of changing weather, shrinking ice caps and unhealthy air.

In all this contentious war of words and data, there has been one outstanding party totally ignored—you and me, the individual.

Now we have a practical guide compiled (and excerpted) by N.Y. Times writer Livia Albeck-Ripka on how you individually can reduce your input to the global climate change problem.

Climate change can be an overwhelming challenge.  The science is complex and when it comes to measuring impacts, there are still a lot of unknowns.  While real solutions will require actions on a global scale, there are choices you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your personal contribution to the environment.

Let’s start with understanding our carbon footprint.

A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use and end of life of a product or service.  It includes carbon dioxide, the gas most commonly emitted by humans, as well as methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases which trap in the atmosphere causing global warming and climate change.  Usually the bulk of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from transportation, housing and food.

You can start the process by calculating your footprint by approximating:

  • How many miles you travel by car, bus, train and plane
  • The energy you use in your home
  • How much you spend shopping
  • The composition of your diet

No matter how you scored, this guide will provide some suggestions that will help you lessen your personal environmental impact.

On The Road and In The Sky

One of the most effective ways to begin thinking about how to reduce your carbon footprint is to reconsider how much and how often you travel.

Drive Less

In 2017, carbon dioxide emissions from transportation were more than emissions from electric generation even as generation has begun to shift away from the use of coal to more alternative sources and natural gas.

Going carless for a year could save about 2-1/2 tons of carbon dioxide according to a study by two universities—that’s a little more than a round trip transatlantic flight.  How can you stop using a car?  Try taking a train, a bus, walking or ride a bike.

To be realistic, you probably can’t give up your car completely.  So when you do, here are some tips to make your trips more climate-friendly:

  • Go easy on the gas and the brakes—driving efficiently can help reduce emissions. Drive like you have an egg under your foot, recommends the Oak Ridge National Laboratory which researches energy use.
  • Regularly service your car to keep it running more efficiently.
  • Check your tires, keeping tires pumped correctly can reduce emissions. Low tire pressure will hurt your fuel economy.
  • Air conditioning and intensive city driving can make emissions creep up. Cut down on these as often as possible.
  • Use cruise control on long drives—in most cases it will save gas.
  • Don’t weigh your car down with extra things to carry you don’t really need on your trip.
  • Carpool—anytime you can so that you’re splitting emissions among all the passengers in the car.

Buying a New Car

Shopping for a new car is a great opportunity to consider how you can reduce your carbon footprint.  When choosing between gasoline and electric, there are a number of factors to take into account, which will determine how “clean” your purchase is.  The following can help:

  • Weigh both production and use emissions.
  • Remember cars with lower emissions can often end up costing less to operate.

Fly Less

Taking one less long round-trip flight could shrink your personal carbon footprint significantly.

If you can’t avoid flying, one way of making up for emissions caused is to offset them by donating money to sustainable projects, such as supplying efficient stoves to rural homes, or projects which help farmers in India sell crop waste as a biomass.  You can check for suggestions from Atmosfair or Terrapair.

On Your Plate – Eat Less Meat

While food systems are complicated and research is still evolving on what the best environment diet is, experts agree that cutting down on meat—red meat in particular—is a better choice for the environment.  The production of red meat uses a lot of feed, water and land.  Cows also give off methane emissions, a harmful greenhouse gas.

Eating a vegan diet is likely to be best for the environment, according to experts.  A 2017 study told us red meat can have up to 100 times the environmental impact of plant-based food.  According to some estimates, beef gives off more than six pounds of carbon dioxide per serving.  The amount created per serving by rice, beans, carrots or potatoes is less than half a pound.

Which diet to follow depends on exactly what you are eating and how much of it.  If you replace the meat with dairy, for example, your emissions could rise again.  Deep-net fishing can emit as much as beef.  Further deductions in meat, fish and dairy (similar to a Mediterranean diet) is a good option, according to the University of Oxford.  These diets can also have health benefits.

Eating low down on the food chain means filling your plate with vegetables, fruits, grains and beans.  Swapping carbon intensive meats like beef and lamb with chicken can make a difference.  Better still, swap a few meats per week for vegan or vegetarian.

In Part II next week we’ll finish up on the eating part of your carbon footprint and explore the cost of waste, as well as the components in your home.

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ARE WE FOLLOWING THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE?

The similarities are amazing and somewhat frightening.  To explore this question further, we take a look at the history in an excerpted essay by Lawrence Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education.

“Both Rome and America were born in revolt against monarchy—Americans against the British and Romans against the Etruscans.  Wary of concentrated authority, both established republics with checks and balances, separation of powers and protection of certain rights for at least certain people.  Despite shortcomings, the establishment of the Roman Republic in the sixth century B.C. and the American Republic in the eighteenth century A.D. represented the greatest advances for individual liberty in the history of the world.

“The history of ancient Rome spans a thousand years—roughly 500 as a republic and 500 as an imperial autocracy, with the birth of Christ occurring during the transitional years in between.  The closest parallels between Roman and American civilizations are to be found in Rome’s first half-millennium as a republic.  We can derive the most instructive lessons and warnings from that period.  The tyranny of the empire came after the republic crumbled—the truly awful consequences of decay, which America can yet avoid.

“Roman society at the time of the Republic’s founding was basically agricultural, made up of small farmers and shepherds.  By the second century B.C., large-scale businesses made their appearance.  Italy became urbanized.  Immigration accelerated as people from many lands were attracted by the vibrant growth and opportunities the bustling Roman economy offered.  The growing prosperity was made possible by a general climate of free enterprise, limited government, and respect for private property.  Merchants and businessmen were admired and emulated.

“Rome’s remarkable achievements in sanitation, education, banking, architecture, and commerce are legendary.  The city even had a stock market.  With low taxes and tariffs, free trade and considerable private property, Rome became the center of the world’s wealth.  All this disappeared, however, by the fifth century A.D.; when the world was plunged into darkness and despair, slavery and poverty.

“Why did Rome decline and fall?  Rome collapsed because of a fundamental change in ideas on the part of the Roman people—ideas which relate primarily to personal responsibility and the source of personal income.  In the early days of greatness, each individual looked to himself—what he could acquire voluntarily in the marketplace—as the source of his livelihood.  Rome’s decline began when the people discovered another source of income:  the political process—the State.  In short, it was a character issue.

“When Romans abandoned self-reliance and began to vote themselves benefits, to use government to put their hands into other people’s pockets, to covet the productive and their wealth, they turned down a fateful, destructive path.

“The legalized plunder of the Roman welfare state was undoubtedly sanctioned by people who wishes to do good.  Someone coined the phrase, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’  Nothing but evil can come from a society bent upon coercion, the confiscation of property, and the degradation of the productive.

“In the waning years of the Roman republic, a rogue named Clodius ran for the office of the tribune.  He bribed the electorate with promises of free grain at taxpayer expense and won.  Thereafter, Romans in growing numbers embraced the notion that voting for a living could be more lucrative than working for one.

“Candidates for Roman office spent huge sums to win public favor, then plundered the population afterwards to make good on their promises to the rent-seekers who elected them.  As the republic gave way to dictatorship, a succession of emperors built their power on the huge handouts they controlled.  Nearly a third of the city of Rome itself received public relief payments by the time of the birth of Christ.

“It’s frightening to consider how easily a sturdy people, when they let their guard and character down, can be bought and paid for by the welfare state.  And once they sell themselves for that mess of pottage from politicians, it’s not easy to turn back.

“Emperor Augustus, who ruled from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D., tried to reduce the free wheat program by briefly introducing a means test.  He  was inclined to abolish forever the public distribution of grain the people had come to rely upon and had ceased to till the fields.  He had not proceeded further because he was sure that, from a desire to please the people, it would be revived at one time or another.’

“In response to a severe money and credit crisis in 33 A.D., the central government extended credit at zero interest on a massive scale.  Government spending in the wake of the crisis soared.

“In 91 A.D., the government became deeply involved in agriculture.  Emperor Domitian, to reduce the production and raise the price of wine, ordered the destruction of half the provincial vineyards.

“Following the lead of Rome, many cities within the empire spent themselves deeply into debt.  Early in the Second Century, municipalities in financial difficulty received aid from Rome and lost a substantial measure of their political independence in the bargain.

“The central government also assumed the responsibility of providing the people with entertainment.  Elaborate circuses and gladiator duels were staged to keep the people happy.  One modern historian estimates that Rome poured the equivalent of $100 million per year into the games.

“Late in the Third Century, Emperor Aurelian declared government relief payments to be a hereditary right.  He provided recipients government-baked bread (instead of giving them wheat to bake their own bread) and added free salt, pork, and olive oil.

“Rome suffered from the bane of all welfare states, inflation.  The massive demands on the government to spend and subsidize created pressures for the multiplication of money.  Roman coinage was debased by one emperor after another to pay for expensive programs.  Once almost pure silver, the denarius, by the year 300, was little more than a piece of junk containing less than five percent silver.

“Prices skyrocketed and savings vanished.  Businessmen were vilified even as government continued its spendthrift ways.  Price controls further ravaged a battered and shrinking private economy.   By 476 A.D., when barbarians wiped the empire from the map, Rome had committed moral and economic suicide.

“Romans first lost their character.  Then, as a consequence, they lost their liberties and ultimately their civilization.”

We can hope we have the moral courage and strength to recognize we’re on the same path as the Romans and take the difficult steps needed to avoid the same fate.

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15 GREAT MUSEUMS NOT TO BE MISSED

As you know, we’ve had the opportunity to do a fair amount of traveling in the last twenty some odd years.  In these wanderings, we’ve discovered a few gems in mostly small museums which offer an outstanding overview of some history and culture of a specific area.

I’d like to share a few of these gems that are not the first thought in these destinations.  Certainly the Metropolitan Museum of NYC, the Louvre in Paris, the Victoria & Albert in London or the Prada in Madrid are outstanding and well worth the time to visit.  They’re all great, but you’re in for some enjoyable surprises if you’re willing to go off the beaten path a bit.

We can start right here in So. California, where the L.A. County Museum is terrific, but don’t miss out on:  The Norton Simon Museum on the west end of Pasadena or the Huntington Gardens on the other end.

Then there’s the Bowers in Santa Ana and a real sleeper, the Frederick Weisman House in Beverly Hills.  Here, one of America’s landed gentry has accumulated a trove of art and furnishings to create a wonderful museum.  You need an advance reservation, so call (310) 277-5321.

In Century City there is a special museum called The Annenberg Space for Photography.  They change exhibits about every three months so you can keep going back.  Never been disappointed!

In Washington, D.C., all the buildings are a huge museum unto themselves.  The Library of Congress, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the White House, all of the Smithsonians are not to be missed.  Two special visits are the Portrait Gallery and the Spy Museum.

In NYC, the Art & Design Museum on Columbus Circle is special.  MOMA (the Museum Of Modern Art) is probably my all-time favorite.

London has a trove of historical sites and museums, but my favorites are the Wellington House on Hyde Park and the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square.

By the way, in back of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is the Royal Albert Hall.  If you get a chance to see a musical presentation there like the military guards or the philharmonic, don’t miss it.

The Wellington House is the former home of the Duke of Wellington, one of England’s more prominent military leaders.  The home features quite comfortable living quarters, specialized colorful dinnerwear and a robust armory.

The Wallace Collection is a rather large townhouse sumptuously filled with all the comforts of home for a family who lived at the turn of the century.

Paris, of course, has the Louvre, but a little out of the way is the Marmottan, another interestingly furnished home for the gentry.

The Weisman House in L.A., the Wellington and Wallace Collection in London, and the Marmottan in Paris are historic manor houses filled with a treasure trove of furnishings, artifacts and art from a past era.

The city of Victoria on Vancouver Island is a great place to visit by ferry or seaplane.  The Empress Hotel is a great museum but the star of this charming city is the State Museum of Victoria.

It’s well organized with creative displays and a truly delightful place to visit.  It’s within walking distance to the Empress Hotel, which is a glimpse of another era.

The Shanghai Museum fits into that same category.  There is a lot to see in the fabulous city, but the museum should definitely be on your list.

Yad Vashem in Israel is more than a museum.  It is the most dramatic, impactful memorial I have ever witnessed.  Located in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem tells the story of the holocaust better than anywhere else.

Certainly there are more gems you can discover in your own travels.

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FOUR APPROACHES TO STEMMING GUN VIOLENCE

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across the nation performed admirably on the “March For Our Lives” (MFOL) protests on March 24th.

Inspired by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, an outpouring of kids and adults transformed into a sea of people awash in homemade signs, blaring music and anti-gun chants.

The hue and cry and the shouting of the demonstrators were demanding something must be done.  It is important to remember, however, that what must be done represents a divided minority on exactly what it is they want done.

I am not sure there is much agreement or even meaningful discussion among the marchers and protestors about what is the ultimate goal and objective to curb the violence.

Chicago joined in the MFOL protests to highlight the national movement, as well as their own local problem.  In the last six plus years, nearly 20,000 have been shot in the windy city; 5,000 dead.  About twice as many Americans have been killed in Chicago in the last six years as died in 17 years of war in Afghanistan.

As a backdrop to a meaningful discussion of what must be done, let’s look at some basic facts, according to Gallop:

  • 55% say laws on gun sales should be more strict
  • A majority do not favor a ban on handguns
  • 43% of Americans have a gun in their house or on their property.

The NRA lobby, as effective as they have been, are not the only obstacle to effective gun control.  The demographics and opinions of so many gun owners here in this country are a big deterrent to achieving any curtailment of free choice in gun ownership.

It would appear there is not an overwhelming majority of Americans who favor much more to what I call the Tinkering Approach; raising age limits, increasing background checks or limiting sales to some extent, expanding gun laws in the somewhat naïve hope it will do anything meaningful to reduce what seems increasing violence.  Tinkering is worth doing, but we’ve been doing this for some time and I’m not at all sure it has or will do much significantly to curb the violence.

Most people believed there would be some serious gun reform after the 2012 Sandy Hook School incident in Norwalk, Connecticut.  There appeared to be major support, but nothing much happened.

A second approach would be to Amend/Repeal the entire Second Amendment, the so-called “Right to Bear Arms” article in the Constitution.  This is an approach recently proposed by retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens—a significant voice from a Republican appointed by President Gerald Ford.  Serving on the court, it should be noted, Stevens mostly voted with the liberal faction.

Based on the existing demographics, the approach would not appear possible; however, if some discussion on this action can be started and encouraged, over time it could have a chance to gain acceptance.

You could, obviously, not just throw the whole Second Amendment out.  That would leave a vacuum that would be hard to fill quickly.  You would need a waiting national law outlining what kind of guns could be available and supersede all state laws which would otherwise be a chaotic disaster.

For example, some form of law or change in the Second Amendment could limit the ownership to a rifle and/or a pistol that holds no more than five cartridges.

The penalties for violation would have to be very tough.

A third approach is to make all schools and public places safer, i.e. Safer Places approach.  More attention and more energy are needed in this area.

Yes, it costs money, but it can be effective at least as a short-term solution.  It will cut down on the effectiveness of the perpetrators.  It may not do much to solve the fundamental problem, but it will certainly discourage would-be assassins from their violent action.

The fourth approach is a Legal Challenge to the Second Amendment and the way it has been implemented over the years.  I’m surprised there has been no activity in this area to try and get the Supreme Court to interpret that amendment in modern times.

When the Constitution and the Second Amendment was drafted, the arms it offered citizens to bear were a single cartridge musket and a one-shot pistol.

Today, we’re awash in a plethora of mechanized guns with multiple cartridge capacity.  The framers of the Constitution could not have envisioned this development.

We have tried to offer four approaches to try to stem gun violence:

  • Tinkering
  • Amend/Repeal
  • Safer Places
  • Legal Challenge

Personally, I believe we have to take action on all four approaches.  The first and third approaches may have the best chances of short-term results, while the second and fourth offer better chances for long-term success.

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AVOIDING ANOTHER ROUND OF “TOO BIG TO FAIL”

Here is a thought-provoking commentary by Rodney Johnson, President of Dent Research, an investment advisory firm.  Here is Rodney’s story:

“It’s no secret I can’t stand banks, particularly Bank of America.  The institution is doing its best to get rid of any customer service that ever existed (fewer tellers, pushing clients to online services, etc.) while airing sappy ads about how much they care.  Care about what?  Their bonuses?  Certainly not their customers.

“But even with my long-standing grudge against B of A, I’m not joining the chorus calling for increased regulation or busting them up along with the other big banks.

“I’ve got a better idea.  Hold them responsible for their actions.

“In 2008 the financial world was in a tailspin.  JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo were desperate for capital as short-term lending dried up and the value of their assets fell.  The Fed and U.S. Treasury came to their rescue, providing much-needed loans and seemingly unlimited support.  The thinking at the time was that such banks were “too big to fail,” meaning that if they went under, they could damage the entire financial system.  They had to be saved.

“This happened right after all the lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over—and bailed out—by the U.S. government.

“Both are instances of privatized profits and socialized losses.  The years of gains earned by these banks and the mortgage companies were paid out in dividends to shareholders as well as salaries and bonuses to staff.  When everything went south, shareholders took a hit in their share price and some staff were fired or saw their bonuses cut, but the pain was short-lived.  Bank share prices rebounded some, and banks again paid seven figures to some of the same people who oversaw the crisis.

“Over at Fannie and Freddie, the story is a little different, and provides a cautionary tale.

“These companies were placed in conservatorship by the U.S. Treasury and given $187 billion in loans.  In return, the Treasury demanded certain payment terms, which it eventually scrapped and said simply, ‘Give us all your profits.’  Since the crisis, Fannie and Freddie have paid the U.S. (top line of page 2 got cut off) Treasury $240 billion.

“Not one percent of it reduced their $187 billion loan, which they still owe.  Under the current arrangement, Fannie and Freddie can NEVER repay their loans, because all net income must be paid to the U.S. Treasury for the price of bailing them out.

“There is no doubt that U.S. taxpayers were burned by allowing these companies to book private profits in the years before the crisis, and then required to bail them out with public funds in the time of need.

“But now we’re getting burned again because the government is using the profits from these companies as a slush fund to pay for ongoing operations, saving itself from the hard work of balancing the U.S. budget.  Now we have socialized losses and socialized profits.

“Anyone who thinks the government can efficiently run for-profit businesses without succumbing to political pressures, raise your hand—and check your sanity.

“A case in point, Fannie Mae recently unveiled a new initiative to promote lending, a 3% down payment loan.  That sounds suspiciously like some of the mortgage offerings that created the last crisis.  I’ve no doubt this will end badly.

“As for the big banks, all of our teeth-gnashing and Congressional hearings brought about precious little change.  These institutions controlled 44% of deposits in 2006, and now 51%.  They grew from $5.18 trillion in assets to $8.01 trillion.  How’s that for taming the Leviathan?

“The problem is that, because of their Systemically Important Financial Institute (SIFI) status, which is Congressional-speak for too-big-to-fail, everyone believes that when the next crisis hits, these banks will be supported by taxpayer funds.

“And it could get worse.  Instead of pushing the banks farther away, the government could pull them closer, where they end up in the weird world of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“A better solution for all of these companies would be to draw clear lines of responsibility, outlining what will happen when capital requirements aren’t met.  If more capital couldn’t be raised, junior bondholders would be wiped out, then senior bondholders.  After that, depositors would start taking haircuts.

“If these steps were illustrated, depositors would quickly realize that there isn’t much of a bondhold cushion between them and a haircut.

“And it’s not individual depositors that would be alarmed.  While some people do hold more than the insured maximum of $250,000 in their account, it’s mostly companies that have uninsured funds.

“Hopefully the real possibility of a deposit haircut would motivate these large bank clients to demand better risk management from bankers.  They might even take their businesses to smaller banks with less complicated balance sheets.

“Unfortunately, as long as there is a perceived safety net from public sources for the largest banks then the largest customers will use them, perpetuating the system, and putting our tax dollars at risk.”

On the other hand, Rodney, wouldn’t it be simpler and easier to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act.  Let me explain:

In 1933, in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash and during a nationwide commercial bank failure, as well as the Great Depression, Congress passed what is known today as the Glass-Steagall Act (GSA).  This act separated investment and commercial banking activities.  At the time, “Improper banking activity,” or what was considered overzealous commercial bank involvement in stock market investment, was deemed the main culprit of the financial crash.  According to that reasoning, commercial banks took on too much risk with depositors’ money.  Additional and sometimes non-related explanations for the Great Depression evolved over the years, and many questioned whether the GSA hindered the establishment of financial services firms that can equally compete against each other.

Reasons for the Act – Commercial Speculation

Commercial banks were accused of being too speculative in the pre-Depression era, not only because they were investing their assets but also because they were buying new issues for resale to the public.  Thus, banks became greedy, taking on huge risks in the hope of even bigger rewards.  Banking itself became sloppy and objectives became blurred.  Unsound loans were issued to companies in which the bank had invested, and clients were encouraged to invest in those stocks.

Sounds pretty much like what we saw in the 2008 financial debacle and what appears to be heading in the same direction today.

As a collective reaction to one of the worst financial crises at the time, the GSA set up a regulatory firewall between commercial and investment bank activities, both of which were curbed and controlled.  Banks were given a year to decide on whether they would specialize in commercial or in investment banking.  Only 10% of commercial banks total income could stem from securities; however, an exception allowed commercial banks to underwrite government-issued bonds.  Financial giants at the time such as JP Morgan, which were seen as part of the problem, were directly targeted and forced to cut their services and, hence, a main source of their income.  By creating this barrier, the GSA was aiming to prevent the banks’ use of deposits in the case of a failed underwriting.

Sounds like a good idea to me and a far better way to avoid the “too big to fail” problem!

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PERSONAL REPORT FROM GUANTANAMO

The following is an excerpted report from Elisa Alcabes (my niece), a lawyer with a big Wall Street firm, who, as part of her pro bono work, had the opportunity to visit and view some of the proceedings at Gitmo, the U.S. detention center on the island of Cuba.

“I am a new member of the Military Affairs & Justice Committee of COMAJ.  I jointed the committee because of my work with disabled veterans, who I have represented on a pro bono basis before the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.  I am currently engaged in reform litigation on behalf of the massive number of veterans waiting inordinate amounts of time for the VA to resolve their appeals of the denial of disability benefits.

“I did not expect to visit Guantanamo Bay.  It was never on my mind.  I was generally aware of the detention center, the horror stories, and the fact that some detainees were being tried, including those alleged to have planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks.  I attended my first COMAJ meeting in January 2018.  It was eye-opening.  They needed a volunteer to attend Gitmo in February.  My hand shot up.  This was an opportunity to witness history in a remote place that had been the subject of so much controversy that seemed compelling.

“I was going to be attending pre-trial proceedings in the Hadi case.  I knew nothing about Abd al Hadi or the military commissions.  I gave myself a crash course in both, using resources provided by the coordinator for the observer missions for COMAJ, news articles written by Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, who is a constant at GTMO, and the considerable amount of material available online about the proceedings and the detainees.  I deliberately steered clear of detailed commentary about the wisdom of holding the proceedings at Guantanamo and the issues involved.  I wanted to travel there with a clean slate, an open mind.

“First, my impressions and experiences:

“The island is beautiful—stunning really.  Rolling hills dip down to rocky, peaceful beaches.  There are few people around and vast expanses of empty space.  The sunsets are breathtaking, turning the sky a deep orange-pink-blue.  Windmill Beach is the largest of the beaches.  It’s a  rocky, gravelly beach that spreads out in a curve and is punctuated by small cliffs on either side.  On one of the cliffs sits a gate and gatehouse—apparently the entrance to the detention center.

“There were five NGO representatives on my trip, all deeply engaged in the process and eager to watch the Hadi hearings unfold.  Three representatives were law students—one held a PhD in political geography, another was a former U.S. Marine, and the third, a former physical therapy student seeking a joint business/law degree.  A fourth representative was a professor at the University of Southern California.  I was the NGO representative with litigation experience.

“Hadi is accused of serving as a high-level al-Qaeda commander who, among other things, allegedly led and executed lethal attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, funded suicide bombings, and ordered roadside bomb attacks.  One of his defenses is that he is not Hadi but, rather, someone named Nashwan al Tamir.  In other words, he is not who the government says he is.  The week I observed Hadi’s military commission proceeding, the key issue was a recorded deposition provided by Ahmed al Darbi, another detainee.  Darbi had reached a plea agreement with the government and was about to board a plane to travel back to Saudi Arabia to finish out his sentence.  During this deposition in August 2017, Darbi identified Hadi as a former al-Qaeda commander.  Darbi was now being treated as a cooperating witness.  He was due to take the stand in the Hadi case to be cross-examined by Hadi’s defense team.

“The Hadi case is not a death case, which makes it somewhat easier to proceed.  His defense team is comprised of military and civilian lawyers, highly skilled, experienced and effective advocates.

“On Day 1, we toured the courtroom facilities.  No proceedings were in session.  My first impression:  How can we—the United States of America—expect to portray ourselves as a country of laws when we have built this courtroom in a remote location off the mainland in the backyard of a detention center notorious for torturing terrorists?  I was willing to keep an open mind, though.  I had promised myself I would not judge right away.

“On Day 2, there was a Sunday session.  A witness took the stand.  He was a neurosurgeon.  They called him “Neuro 1” because he did not want to disclose his name.  The week before I arrived, Hadi’s defense team argued that Hadi was physically incapable of attending court—because he was suffering the after-effects of four recent back surgeries and may need further surgery.  The military judge—Marine Colonel Peter S. Rubin—refused to make a determination regarding Hadi’s ability to sit in court without first hearing a medical opinion.  Judge Rubin directed a doctor who recently treated Hadi to attend the hearing and provide testimony.  The doctor did not show up, essentially claiming that he was too busy with patients.  Reading between the lines, he had not treated Hadi for a sufficient amount of time to provide an opinion.

“Back to Neuro 1.  He was obviously reluctant to disclose his name because he was about to tell the court that Hadi was medically cleared to attend the hearings.  Yes, he might need surgery at some point in the future, but he has been improving since his last surgeries, and no further surgery was recommended at this time.  This is not what Hadi’s defense team wanted to hear.  After arguing that the anonymity of the witness made it impossible for the defense to evaluate his testimony, defense cross-examined Neuro 1.  The witness stood his ground, with nuanced testimony indicating that Hadi may be in pain and will find it difficult to sit for prolonged periods of time, but he is medically able to attend.  His presence in the courtroom, as opposed to sitting in his cell, would do nothing to exacerbate his back problem.  The judge took under advisement the defense’s motion to abate the hearings based on Hadi’s medical condition.

“After Neuro 1 left the stand, Hadi’s defense team argued two other motions.  The first was a motion to permit the defense to retain a consulting expert on enhanced interrogation techniques.  The defense argued that the expert was needed to help prepare Hadi’s team to cross-examine Darbi, who admittedly had been subjected to severe instances of torture.  The government countered that a consulting expert was unnecessary.  The defense had been in possession of the Darbi testimony for months and did not need expert help to undertake an effective cross-examination.  The defense also sought access to psychiatric records for Darbi, which were privileged.  The judge took these motions under advisement as well.

“Day 3, Monday morning.  The judge found Hadi was medically capable of attending court with accommodations.  Judge Rubin denied the defense motions to retain an expert and obtain Darbi’s psychiatric records.  Defense then argued a motion to continue the Darbi cross-examination until April.  This would post-date the scheduled departure of Darbi.

“Day 4, Tuesday.  The judge announced his rulings and the way forward on the Darbi cross-examination.  The hearing would be continued to Saturday, giving the defense three more days to prepare.  In addition, the schedule would entail two half-day sessions followed by a day off for Hadi to rest, then resume with two half-day sessions and a rest day until the cross-examination was complete.

“Our NGO group was deflated.  We had seen Darbi in court.  He sat in the back of the courtroom during the defense arguments seeking his psychiatric records.  We had heard so much argument on the Darbi deposition, we were eager to hear the Miami journalist’s cross-examination.  But we were scheduled to leave on Saturday morning, the day the cross would start.  We sought permission to stay until Sunday, but we were told this was not workable.

“We made the most of our next few days, scheduling meetings with Carol Rosenberg, the Miami journalist, a walking encyclopedia of all facts—past and present—pertaining to the military commissions proceedings, the detainees, the prosecution and defense teams, the detention center and all things GTMO.  We met with the defense team.  And finally, we met with Wendy Kelly, who oversees the operations of the military commissions.  During these meetings, I learned much about the military commissions in general and the challenges all the constituents faced.

“By the end of the week, my initial impression had changed significantly.  Did I get used to the island?  To some extent, living there for even a week enables you to see the base as more than its shadow.  It is a living, breathing town.  My closing observations:

  • The residents, whether living there full or part-time, act with dignity and self-respect.
  • The legal process is underway, but the pace is excruciatingly slow.
  • The prosecution, defense and military judges are doing everything they can to handle the proceedings with professionalism.
  • The military judge is highly-qualified, diligent and respectful of the parties. His task is a difficult one, though, as the military commissions process is virtually impossible to manage efficiently.

“In March 2016, a New York City bar association report appropriately and pointedly questioned the effectiveness of the military commissions as the forum in which to hold these proceedings, noting the vastly more efficient and open process that takes place in federal court.  I came away with similar questions.  The process is slow and takes place outside the public eye.  Without Carol Rosenberg’s astute journalism—at times minute-to-minute reports via Twitter—the American public would have little knowledge of what goes on at the military commissions.  Ideally, the cases pending in the military commissions would be moved into federal court on the mainland or at GTMO.  In light of significant resistance to bringing the trials back home, coupled with the current political climate, the question is how, if at all, this may be achieved.”

Wow!  What a great experience!  Thanks for sharing!

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THE IDES OF MARCH ARE UPON US

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day on the Roman calendar that became known as the “Ides of March.”  It marked the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar and the turning point in Roman history.  It was also a day for the common people to celebrate and feast in honor of the goddess of the year.

We don’t pay much attention to the death of Julius Caesar nowadays, but we mourn the death of civil debate in our national arena.  We have no feast to celebrate the popularity of any current political office holder, but only the bitter taste of discourse so harsh that we turn away in exasperation and disgust.

Donald Trump was duly elected under the existing electoral rules, yet the losing side of voters, politicians and media appear devoted not to accept the electoral outcome but to demean and find some way, anyway to dethrone him.

As a leader and healer, Trump is the elephant-ego who has a derogatory nickname for friend and foe alike.  He contradicts himself regularly and only seems coherent and mentally stable when reading from a teleprompter.

The Democrats, under the hysterical minority leadership of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, don’t bother with too many nicknames, or offer any alternative proposals, but declare every Republican achievement as a total disaster.

With little else to do, they lead the parade of fierce non-Trump voters and the media to trash his every move and desperately search for some way to unseat him.

With all this disharmony, all this name-calling and all this hostile discourse, since the election of Mr. Trump in November of 2016:

  • The economy has grown about 3.2%.
  • The 2017 tax plan appears to be generating positive results in raising wages and creating economic expansion.
  • The unemployment rate is at its lowest point in almost 20 years.
  • Our military has put ISIS on its last legs.
  • The stock market is up almost 25%.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor, black unemployment has fallen to 6.9%, the second lowest number since they’ve been keeping track.
  • The president has agreed to personally meet with Kim Jong Un, the first sitting president to meet with the North Korean leader.

Probably more accomplishments we’ve seen in one year than we’ve seen since Lyndon Johnson.  Not too bad for an unpopular president.

Now for some other things going on.

Anti-Semitism

According to the Anti-Defamation League, incidents of Anti-Semitism surged 57% in the U.S. last year.  This was the largest increase since the ADL started keeping track.

Study:  The U.S. Has the Worst Quality of Life

According to a new study by U.S. News and World Reports, California has the worst quality of life of all 50 states, while North Dakota has the best.  The news magazine looked at each state’s environment, the physical and mental health of its residents, its political activism and its fiscal stability to come to its determination.

The study found the states with the best quality of life are North Dakota, Minnesota , Wisconsin, New Hampshire and South Dakota.

The states with the worst quality of life are California, New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois and Texas.

Regardless of the study, I don’t think I’ll move to North Dakota.

Homeless in California

Governor Jerry Brown is entering his final year in public life riding high in opinion polls and generally praised by government officials.  But as the spotlight shifts to a new generation, there has been an increasing focus on the blight of poverty and homelessness under Mr. Brown’s watch—by his fellow Democrats.

Major Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles was the latest to weigh in, discussing what he said was the absence of state assistance in helping cities deal with the homeless.  Mr. Garcetti has come under fire for a major homelessness problem in Los Angeles, in a series of editorials in the Los Angeles Times.

“I love this governor—I think he’s done a tremendous job,” Mr. Garcetti said, “but in his last State of the State address, there wasn’t one mention of homelessness.  We need the state to step up.”

At a debate of Democratic candidates looking to succeed Mr. Brown as governor, Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor, spoke of California as a state plagued with high poverty, noting that this has happened as government has been controlled by Democrats.  “This happened on our watch.  We own this.”

One More Time

Mitt Romney is running to be a senator from Utah, which appears to be a platform to run against Trump in 2020.  If he campaigns against Trump like he did against Obama as a well-qualified business and government official who is reluctant to fight back against unfounded personal attacks, he will lose.

Romney will have to applaud the accomplishments of the Trump/Republican administration but say it was time to have a more consistent, less antagonistic and polarizing leader at the helm…and, above all else, he cannot let the personal attacks go by unanswered.

Trade War Coming

In his usual helter-skelter way, President Trump has threatened to impose a 25% tariff on imported steel and 10% on aluminum.  Trump thinks trade wars are easy to win.

The markets aren’t so sure.  Often these raises in tariffs don’t last too long, especially if there is retaliation.  Wars are not always predictable.

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