Thursday, September 6, 2018

Make America Great...for Everyone

Is America great? Has it always been great? Or did it fall out of greatness awaiting President Trump to put it right again? To answer without resorting to knee-jerk patriotism (yes, always has been and always will be great!) or knee-jerk criticism (no, cue list of every sin our government has ever committed), we have to look back at our history to honor our achievements and acknowledge our mistakes. We also have to acknowledge that greatness is not perfection, and that perfection can be strived for, but will never be achieved.

America’s Founding Fathers (sexist?) built a new system of government through a process of debate and compromise and eventual consensus, which was great. The first government, ruled by the Articles of Confederation wasn’t great, though. The federal government could not raise money through taxes and depended on voluntary contributions from the states. There was no executive or judicial branch. So the Constitution was written and ratified 12 years later. And within a couple of years the Bill of Rights, ten amendments protecting individual liberties, was passed. Great then? Yes and no. Certainly for property owning white men, early America was pretty great. In most cases, they were the only ones allowed to vote, go to college, own property. Universal suffrage was not one of the rights included in the Bill of Rights. And then there’s the little matter of slavery and the three-fifths rule, which counted enslaved people differently than others in creating Congressional districts. So, it’s a little hard to promote America’s greatness while slavery existed. Oh, and our treatment of Native Americans. When other countries treat groups like we treated Native Americans, we call it ethnic cleansing or genocide. We excuse ourselves by saying it was a different time and that slavery and colonialism were widely practiced in the world. 

Historians emphasize wars. Our Civil War showed an inability to solve our “original sin” of slavery peacefully, is surely not a measure of our greatness, and our various wars of expansion in the 1800’s aren’t either, though there may still be some who subscribe to the “manifest destiny” theory that God granted America to white Europeans from “sea to shining sea.” Our interventions in WWI and WWII demonstrated a great ability to mobilize massive armies and coordinate with our allies to defeat enemies around the world. By the end of WWII, with much of the world a smoking ruin, our soil and industries virtually untouched, and the only country with “The Bomb,” we looked and felt like a great power. This is the America Donald Trump, the son of a successful real estate developer, was born into and remembers as great. 

But inner city and rural poverty, discrimination and racial segregation meant that it was not great for everyone, even for many returning soldiers. Many women, having kept our factories humming while men went off to war, lost their jobs and were told to go back to housekeeping and raising babies. And the Cold War, when we fought to prop up corrupt governments in Vietnam and elsewhere against the expansion of Soviet and Chinese Communism, ultimately showed the limits of the American military. Not so great.

It’s hard to make the case that America was great for most African Americans, for Native Americans, for many women, and even for many poor people in America for most of its history. And yet, America, as a country, has done great things during the last two hundred plus years. Our inventiveness, hard work, and productivity have produced the most thriving economy in history, creating a robust middle class. We’ve made great strides in education, technology, medicine, science, energy, and yes, eventually we keep making improvements in the areas of civil rights and equality for all. And that is pretty great. And our Democracy, with all its flaws, has gradually become more inclusive, our society less racist, our laws more just. 

Most Americans, even, I think, many Trump supporters, realize that President Trump is not great for America. While they may believe that he has their economic interests at heart, they realize that his attacks on anyone who is critical of him are demeaning the office of the presidency. Few Americans are so racist that they support his tirades against Muslims and Mexicans or think that there is equivalency between people marching with Tiki torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us” and those who protest against those ideas. At its greatest, America has shown the world it can unite people to solve problems for its citizens, and yes, absorb immigrants and celebrate their transition into Americans. 

Our court system and the many advocacy organizations that have brought suits in the last two years have shown American greatness by stopping or slowing many of President Trump’s worst executive actions: the Muslim ban, his effort to repeal DACA, the separation of families. However, Republican politicians find themselves in a terrible quandary. So far, very few have shown the courage to stand up to his bullying nature as he hijacked their party through his false promises, propaganda networks, and loyal followers. Some are resigning to avoid having to further compromise their principles, but too many now seem to be bending the limits of our Democracy to protect him: attacking our justice system, threatening the special counsel, seeking to hurriedly install a Supreme Court justice without releasing his full body of work, one who may supply a crucial vote in support of Trump’s executive powers. If they will not rise to the greatness this moment demands, then we Americans must rise up, peacefully, and vote them out, replacing them with a Congress that will hold Trump accountable and investigate his wrongdoings.

Hopefully, this period in the history of our great country will be seen as only a brief detour from the steady progress we have made to make America great…for everyone. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Who Deserves to be called an Animal?

Can we agree on something? It is not good to dehumanize groups of people, and calling people “animals” is the definition of dehumanizing. While going right to the Holocaust is always discouraged, in order to avoid the past, we must learn the lessons of the past, and dehumanization is certainly one. Hitler and the Nazis were fond of calling the Jews animals and used the language and methods of pest exterminators (is it going beyond animals to call people insects or cockroaches?) for their “final solution.” Native Americans and Black Americans were considered animals (or even property, a step below an animal) by many of the whites who massacred and enslaved them, and Hitler is known to have admired the way the United States solved problems with Native Americans through massacres, stealing their lands, forced marches in which many died, and incarcerating them on “reservations” where many starved (how different is this from ghettos and concentration camps?). He also admired the Jim Crow laws that kept African Americans segregated and powerless.

In Trump’s rambling way of speaking, he recently spoke of people being deported as "animals." His supporters claim he was only referring to MS-13 gang members. But even in the most generous reading of his remarks, he is attributing to anyone even suspected of being associated with the gang as an animal. It is more likely that he was painting illegal immigrants as if they were largely hordes of criminal gang members invading our southern border when he said, “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.”

It’s not so different than what he said when he announced his candidacy by saying, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re…. bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

It’s worth noting that illegal immigrants caught having committed a violent crime in our country  are prosecuted and serve time in our prisons. They are not immediately deported to attempt to return to commit more crimes, so presumably the “animals” Trump is referring to either didn’t commit violent crimes here or weren’t caught committing them.

Today I read a column by conservative columnist Marc Thiessen (Democrats’ Dishonesty…6/1 in WAPO, 6/4 in Gazette-Mail) defending Trump’s remarks and criticizing Pelosi for objecting to calling people animals by saying “We’re all God’s children.” He argues, among other things, that if you extend that humanity to members of MS-13, you must also extend it to Hitler and other murdering dictators. I’m not Christian, so correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that exactly what Jesus wanted?

At the risk of offending animals (after all, they generally don’t kill except for food or in self-defense), let’s stipulate that some people do deserve to be called animals for their inhumane behavior.

So we can agree that various murderers, dictators, and terrorists act like animals (we might even extend this to some toddlers we know), but what group of people deserves to be called animals by the President of the United States? This is the same man who didn’t want to lump all the “alt-right” marchers at Charlottesville together and criticize them, saying, “…not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me….You also had some very fine people on both sides.”

When Trump is finally off the American political stage (may it be soon, please!) and the damage he has done to our country and the world is fully understood, I wonder how Trump’s many defenders will explain the self-imposed blindness that leads them to, among many other things, fail to criticize a racist who sees so much of humanity as less than human while criticizing a woman who asks them to remember that everyone is a “child of God.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Mueller's Obstruction Gambit

The saga continues, but moves inexorably closer to resolution, at least in the case of obstruction of justice. The Washington Post is reporting that Mueller needs only one thing to complete a report, presumably to present to Congress so they can consider impeachment, "about the president’s actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice." Mueller needs to interview the president. Which is what the president's attorney quit over--Trump's desire to answer questions.

The report and/or indictments on "collusion" (more formally, conspiracy to violate election laws) with the Russians in the election will wait for another day. My interpretation is that Mueller has a strong case for obstruction and the president will either acknowledge it under oath in the belief that as president he is immune and that Republicans will not impeach him for it, or he will lie, which in itself is impeachable...or both, admit it and lie about several things in the process.

He has actually admitted obstruction before--when interviewed by Lester Holt and saying he had Russia in mind when he fired Comey and when he told the Russian Ambassador in the Oval Office that firing Comey had "relieved great pressure because of Russia."

In January of this year, he answered a reporter's question about obstruction by saying that what he would say in an interview with the Special Counsel was that he fought back, and they're calling that obstruction. Apparently, he believes his own spin, that since the whole Russia thing is fake news, he was entitled to try to stop the investigation. Somehow I don't think the law agrees with him. And Mueller and his team are lawyers that his fixers can't fix and his attack dog lawyers can't intimidate and force to settle.

My hope is that this national nightmare is over soon. Trump might agree to talk to Mueller at any time, and they might be able to release their report quickly. Mueller, in my most optimistic moments, is a superhero who is quietly building an airtight and damning case that Congress will not be able to ignore, and that will be a "slam dunk" for impeachment.

However, in my realistic moments I realize that Republicans, even if faced with a slam dunk, will delay, at least until after the elections, afraid that if they impeach or even talk about impeaching before the election, they lose the Trump supporters, which is 80% of Republicans, and the blue wave will become the extinction of the Republican Party. After the election, when the Democrats presumably have a majority in the House, Republicans can safely play the opposition role and defend him, losing only the moral high ground which they haven't had since they started carrying his water.

The actual Impeachment process can then be over within a few months, and, if at least 1/3 of the Republicans in the Senate have any moral standards and patriotism left at all and vote to convict Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors, distasteful as it will be, we might see President Pence sworn in before spring, 2019.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The End of Rational Discussion?

It's getting increasingly difficult to have anything resembling a rational discussion with people I disagree with in the era of "fake news". The problem of fake news (which at first referred only to stories that were basically completely fabricated, but now is applied to anything people don't think is fully true), is that there is no longer ANY agreement of a neutral arbiter of fact. It used to be that except for outliers in the far right and far left of intellectual discourse, there were certain media outlets that were accepted as Truth Seeking outlets that used a set of Journalistic Practices including trying hard to maintain objectivity and stick to facts, only using the opinions of others in stories and attributing, researching "both or all sides of a story" and to the extent they disagree, offer explanations to attempt to explain why they differ, and seeking corroboration for statements/facts from people with no known ties with the source. 

Media outlets like the NY Times, Washington Post, NPR/PBS, and Network News (ABC, CBS, NBC) were widely considered "mainstream media." When they got something wrong, they tended to all get it wrong together--like the lead up to the Iraq War, in which the false or skewed information being fed to them by the Bush White House was carefully crafted to mislead them, and the number of stories that supported the Bush narrative got better and wider coverage, while stories questioning the intelligence became backpage stories. 

The fact that the mainstream media occasionally makes mistakes does not make them fake news. It's similar to the scientific method, in which accepted science is not called FACT, it is called the PREVAILING THEORY, and other scientists are encouraged to challenge it and if they are able to prove any of it untrue through experimentation that can be replicated, then the theory is revised. In other words Journalism, like Science, seeks Truth, but understands that what is seen as FACT today, may change as new information comes to light.

But there have always been publications and media outlets and governments that instead of using the process of Journalism, use the tactics of PROPAGANDA to push a point of view and/or sell more advertising by getting more readers/viewers. National Enquirer, Fox News, and to some extent other cable news outlets, like MSNBC and even network news, now use many techniques like splashy, misleading headlines, opinion in the guise of news, or blatantly covering only one point of view. 

Because of that, many people who spend time following the right wing outlets like Fox News, Breitbart, and radio opinionators Rush LImbaugh, etc. have been convinced that they can't trust any other media outlets but theirs (and that's the way they see those of us who basically trust mainstream media to fact check and follow journalistic practice). In response to this, many organizations, media based, non-profit org based, and university based, have started fact checking services: PolitiFact, Fact, Snopes, etc. This was supposed to be that final arbiter and they scrupulously cite their sources and explain all sides of stories. Unfortunately, since they often find the right wing bubble media stories to be false, none of their followers will accept them as neutral arbiters. Hence, I've found it's largely a waste of time to argue with people with points of view that depend on the right wing propaganda machine for information.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Defend the Constitution Against Enemies, Foreign and Domestic!

The central thesis of the Nunes memo is that there are people at the top of the FBI and Justice Department who were politically motivated to prevent Trump from becoming president. Nunes claims they started the investigation of the Trump campaign by concealing information about the political motives of the people who provided some of the information for a warrant to start spying on Carter Page, a foreign policy advisor who had ties to Russia. 

The memo claims (Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee who has seen the underlying documents disputes it) that the FISA warrant application relies heavily, if not completely, on information provided by Christopher Steele, the retired British MI6 agent who collected information on Trump’s Russian connections for Fusion GPS. The dossier claims that Trump was compromised by Russian Intelligence and might be being blackmailed. Fusion, who hired Steele, was paid by the Clinton campaign to do opposition research. The memo mentions that Steele, in sharing the information he had collected said he was passionate about not wanting Trump to become President. Similar sentiments were expressed in text messages between one of the top FBI investigators in the matter and his girlfriend who also worked for the FBI.  

According to the memo, this also taints the top leaders of the Justice Department and FBI at the time who signed off on the FISA application including Rod Rosenstein, Sally Yates, James Comey, and Andrew McCabe (all but Rosenstein have now been fired or forced out). Many people speculate that Trump wants to use this memo’s claims as an excuse to fire Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation, in order to install someone who will either fire Mueller or reign in the investigation and suppress damaging lines of inquiry.

Others have gone into detail to dispute the claims in the memo, and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, has written a rebuttal based on the underlying documents that will hopefully be released to the public soon, but I would just like to ask one general question.

Why should anyone be surprised that Steele, a former intelligence agent for America’s closest ally, Great Britain, would not want to see Trump become president? He had investigate and found credible information that Trump, his campaign manager, foreign policy advisors, and possibly family members were approached by and possibly compromised by the Russians and that Russia had a clear desire to help Trump and harm Clinton.  The people at Fusion GPS on receiving the dossier felt obligated to share it with the FBI. They authorized Steele to talk to the FBI to warn them. And why wouldn’t an FBI investigator who starts looking into and finding corroborating evidence for many of the claims in the Steele dossier, text his girlfriend who is also an FBI agent, to say that he hoped Trump, who was publicly saying all kinds of nice things about Putin, wouldn’t become president. These are the actions of patriots and allies who want to protect America. The question about that period should be why didn't anyone in the Trump campaign tell the FBI they were approached by Russians offering help?

And now the question that we should all be asking is why are Republicans including Speaker Ryan (he says he’s just allowing the memo’s release in the interest of transparency), accusing the Justice Department and the FBI of wrongdoing, when the wrongdoing boils down to trying to investigate a foreign power interfering with our electoral process on behalf of a campaign that is responding to their offers of help?

The conclusion we are getting closer to coming to is that in trying to shield Trump from the Mueller investigation more and more Republicans are crossing the line of upholding their oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. They seem to be enabling Trump in trying to obstruct justice, if not committing it themselves. And we, the American people, have to decide what we are going to do if we conclude that our President and his supporters in Congress fit the definition of domestic enemies.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Israel and Palestine: It's Complicated

It was about an hour bus ride from Jerusalem to Hebron

Seriously, it is complicated, and I know if I try to explain it, some people will want to tell me how wrong I am or ill informed or biased, and they’ll probably be right. My reasons for writing about it are as much to explore my understandings and what I’ve learned over the last week, or more specifically during a “joint narrative” tour in the city of Hebron in the West Bank, a part of, depending on your point of view, the “occupied territories” or “liberated Judea” or simply Palestine, all terms used by people during our tour. 

The full day tour was arranged by Abraham Tours, which runs hostels in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Nazareth, and arranges tours in Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. “Our unique Hebron Dual Narrative Tour is renowned for exploring both perspectives and narratives of the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in one of the most volatile and divided cities in the Middle East.” Hebron, a city of historical significance to Jews 2nd only to Jerusalem according to our Jewish tour guide, was the first area in the West Bank to be targeted by settlers after the 6 Day War, and has been a flash point ever since.

The overall tour was led by an Orthodox Jewish American-Israeli from “the free state of Berkeley, CA” as he liked to say, who is now an Israeli citizen with an Israeli wife and three children. He lives in Israel an hour or so from Jerusalem. My brother and sister-in-law, both Israeli citizens who know of him, described him as left wing, by which I think they mean he opposes the settler movement and believes in “land for peace” and the possibility of a two state solution. But I got the impression during the tour that he was “settler friendly.” It may be because he was tasked with presenting the settlers’ viewpoint that he put aside his own viewpoint during his part of the tour. A Muslim Palestinian woman named Lena presented the viewpoint of the Arab population.

But perhaps I’ve already left some of you behind, so a brief explanation of what I think I know about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I welcome you to search and read on your own to gain a deeper understanding, and caution you that as I say above, I’m no expert. 

The Nation of Israel was established in 1949 after a UN partition plan was rejected by Arab Palestinians and the Arab countries. A Zionist movement, that is an effort to encourage Jews to immigrate and settle, had been going on since the early 1900’s, and increased with a wave of refugees after WWII. The Jews declared an Independent state of Israel, the Arabs declared war, and the new nation managed to fight the surrounding countries of  Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq (and contingents from other Arab nations) to a standstill. The UN helped broker a cease fire. Temporary borders were established through the middle of Jerusalem. Jordan annexed the West Bank of the Jordan river, and Egypt claimed Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula. The Arabs who lived in or fled to those areas during the conflict were considered refugees and not offered citizenship in the other Arab nations. They or their offspring remain in that stateless status today. The Arabs who remained in Israel became citizens of Israel.

Before it was Israel, the British controlled the area, and before them, the Ottomans, and before them, other Muslim groups interrupted by a century or two of Crusader control. Before that the Romans, and before them the Jews, and before them, the Canaanites, and other groups mentioned in the Bible including the Philistines, from which the name Palestine was derived (according to our Israeli guide) and used at times by the Romans, the Ottomans and later the British. 

In 1967, during the “6 Day War” Israel gained territory in Gaza and the Sinai on their border with Egypt, the West Bank on the border with Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Egypt later negotiated peace and Israel returned their territory in Sinai, though Gaza remains an area of Palestinian control and Jordan gave up their claim to the West Bank, which is now governed by the Palestinian Authority, though Israel maintains a military presence and controls the borders. 

I find that I can’t adequately summarize the history of the conflict—suffice to say that there has always been violence: attacks, repression, counterattacks, and in addition to the armed conflicts that have broken out between Arab nations that have not recognized Israel and remain in an official state of war, there has been terrorism around the world and in Israel by Palestinians frustrated by the power imbalance and the loss of land they consider rightfully theirs. The Israeli army is tasked with maintaining control in the West Bank and armies aren’t good at being police. During uprisings referred to as “Intifadas,” young Palestinians attacked soldiers and civilians with stones, molotov cocktails, knives, and even suicide bombs on a regular basis, and soldiers responded with beatings, rubber bullets, and live fire at times. People on both sides died, more Palestinians than Israelis.

Many Israelis view the West Bank as an area that should be part of Israel proper because it is part of the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria that Jews once controlled. Hebron is believed to contain the burial plots of the patriarchs of Judaism; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their wives (except Rachel, thought to be buried in Bethlehem), and in fact part of our tour was of the mosque/synagogue (called Ibrahim Mosque by Muslims and Cave of the Patriarchs by Jews) now partitioned and guarded by Israeli soldiers after it was a scene of mass shooting by a radical Jew, Baruch Goldstein, in 1994, which killed 29 Muslim worshippers and wounded well over 100.

To our Palestinian guide, Lena, this murderous rampage and its aftermath, which was followed by months of martial law and the eventual partition of the historic mosque/synagogue and the city itself, is a grievous example of Israel’s disrespect and dictatorial treatment of Palestinians.
Between 1929 and the 1967 6 Day War, Jews had been banned from entering the building. The historic building, sacred to both Muslims and Jews, was initially built by the Jewish King Herod, and served over the centuries as synagogue, church, and mosque. In a Solomonesque arrangement agreed to in negotiations at Wye River (an agreement never fully implemented) Palestinians now have access to 80% of the building for a Mosque and Jews 20% for a synagogue on all except 24 days of the year during 12 of which Jews can use the whole building for their High Holidays and Muslims are excluded, while during the other 12 only Muslims have access, during Ramadan. 

Lena pointed out cameras that monitor activity inside the mosque and complained that one can’t pray as one wishes while being watched. 

Mosque of Ibrihim or Cave of the Patriarchs
On the other hand, Eliahu, our Israeli guide, told us about a massacre that occurred in 1929, when members of the Arab community in Hebron killed almost 70 Jewish residents and destroyed homes and synagogues during the British Mandate, after which the British removed all the Jews of Hebron to Jerusalem. There have also been several attacks on Jews in and around the Mosque since they gained access in 1967.

sometimes soldiers checked ID's,
but some checkpoints were unmanned
and "one way."
This was either the tomb of Isaac or Jacob
Here’s how Wikipedia describes the situation now: “Hebron has a Palestinian majority, consisting of an estimated 208,750 citizens (2015)[1] and a small Jewish minority, variously numbered between 500 and 800.[2] The H1 sector of Hebron, home to around 170,000 Palestinians, is governed by the Palestinian Authority.[3] H2, which was inhabited by around 30,000 Palestinians is under Israeli military control with an entire brigade in place to protect some 800 Jewish residents living in the old Jewish quarter.[4][5] As of 2015, Israel has declared that special areas of Hebron's old Quarter constitute a closed military zone. Palestinians shops have been forced to close; despite protests Palestinian women are reportedly frisked by men, and residents, who are subjected every day to repeated body searches, must register to obtain special permits to navigate through the 18 military checkpoints Israel has set up in the city center.”

Our tour was in the H2 section only—including through several Palestinian shops that remain open in an ancient market area. After guiding us through the mosque and viewing the tombs of Abraham and Sarah (the women had to don a light blue hooded cloak that reminded us of the cloaks in A Handmaid’s Tale), Lena took us to see a maker of a traditional flat bread, a cheese maker, to a soup kitchen that serves hundreds and sometimes thousands of meals each day. We saw an ancient tahini mill consisting of two wagon wheel size rocks that used to be turned by hitching a camel to the one on top and having it walk in circles in the cavelike room. We were exhorted by a man who serves on a citizen council to post our pictures to Facebook and tell the world about the indignities that Palestinians face when they have to pass through checkpoints. We also saw a demonstration of creating sand art in bottles with different colors of sand and visited a shop selling crafts made by the “Women of Hebron,” an organization dedicated to improving the status of women there. And we were served a delicious lunch by a Palestinian woman and her children in their modest home. 

Eliahu kept up a constant monologue of historical timelines colored by his sympathies for the Jewish love of their historic homeland, the archaeological record of the area and reference to the Biblical passages they proved, the record of Jewish populations who had resided in Hebron over the centuries and their impact, all peppered with anecdotes of knife attacks on soldiers or innocent Jews that occurred where we were standing at the moment or in a house we were passing. We visited a synagogue rebuilt in the same place an ancient one stood using the same plans as the one destroyed in the 1929 massacre and restored with two hundred year old Torah’s that had been saved by a 12 year old boy and kept safe in Jerusalem until returned a few years ago to the ark.
Historic Torahs in the ark of a rebuilt synagogue
He told us the story as we gathered around that ark and added that a man in his 80’s identified himself as that boy when the synagogue was being opened for the first time. He also brought in the former spokesperson for the Hebron settlers, David Wilder, to give his viewpoint. He dismissed any talk of peace as a fantasy. He seemed to be saying the settlers basically hope Israel will annex the West Bank, and when asked if he thought the Arabs living in Hebron should have a vote in Israeli elections in that event, he sidestepped the issue. 

The H2 area was quiet with few cars and soldiers stationed not only at checkpoints, but on top of walls, behind bullet proof glass patrol stations, or lounging next to armored vehicles. Behind walls topped with razor wire was what appeared to be a fairly thriving city—the Muslim dominated Palestinian city of Hebron from which a cacophony of Muslim prayers broadcast from many Mosques and echoed through the valley and across the hills a few times during the day. I went in thinking I had a basic understanding of the settler issue and what was needed for peace—security guarantees on both sides, land swaps, those kinds of things. But seeing it up close showed me that I don’t really know much and that it’s complicated. Very complicated. 
the historic marketplace
The Friendship Garden was a lovely green space built by the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee. On their website, they say HRC was established "to preserve Hebron’s cultural heritage and save the Old City from the greed of Jewish settlers."

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Longest War

The Liar in Chief addressed the nation on Monday night to talk about his new strategy in Afghanistan, which is the same as the old strategy, but with fewer details. Here are a couple of the things he said that I felt I had to respond to:

“When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry and no tolerance for hate.”

No, Mr. President, that is not true. Too many people who call themselves patriots are prejudiced, bigoted, and hateful. You, sir, are one of the greatest examples of this. When you said that Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists, when you encouraged people not to trust their Muslim neighbors, when you call women fat or ugly, and call residents of our great American cities thugs and drug addicts, when you say that a war hero who endured torture on behalf of our nation is not heroic because he was captured, you show quite clearly that patriotism is not a cure for prejudice, bigotry, and hate. 

“Let us make a simple promise to the men and women we ask to fight in our name, that when they return home from battle, they will find a country that has renewed the sacred bonds of love and loyalty that unite us together as one.”

These words sounds so lofty and uplifting, Mr. President, but coming out of your mouth they smell like dog droppings and reveal you as a hypocrite. Sir, you make the promise first. You promise that you will be loyal to the American people above your loyalty to your business interests around the world, to your family who may have broken laws in order get help from the Russians to get you elected, and to your friends and supporters who may have done the same. We know from former FBI Director James Comey that when you use the word loyalty, you mean a willingness to overlook morality and ethics in order pay fealty to you, we know from your use of the word loyalty in referring to some of the people who helped you get elected who you later fired and called losers that loyalty only extends in one direction as far as you are concerned—towards you. As to love? We see no evidence that you understand the word. Here are some things you profess to love: war, Wikileaks, fighting banks (which I suppose means welshing on your debts, not making sure banks are regulated to protect us), women (ummm…Access Hollywood?), the old days, buying a building, Mexico (yes, really, you said that), China (yep, that too). 

“When I became president, I was given a bad and very complex hand. But I fully knew what I was getting into, big and intricate problems. But one way or another, these problems will be solved. I’m a problem solver. And in the end, we will win.”

We know you too well by now to swallow your lies and excuses or to believe your promises. When you ran for president you never tired of blaming everyone else for the problems that the U.S. faces around the world, but you continually told us that solving them would be easy. You claimed to have secret plans to destroy ISIS “very quickly, very fast.” Earlier in this same speech, you admit that your instinct was to pull out of Afghanistan, but you studied it, you said, “in great detail and from every conceivable angle.” And now you’ve decided, as you apparently did in relation to ISIS as well, to basically follow the same plan Obama and his generals laid out for you. Except you think being secretive about how many troops you might send and for how long you might keep them there is going to make a tremendous difference. Oh, yes, and you’re making another promise you can’t keep, that in the end “we will win.” You’d be better off, sir, to acknowledge what most world leaders understand: no one wins in war, and it’s likely to be very tough and in the end, there are no guarantee things will get better for the Afghan people no matter how much time and money we spend fighting there.

“We will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”

I have a question. If we don’t care how other countries govern, why don’t we just leave Afghanistan and let the chips fall where they may? Why should we care who governs if we don’t care how? If the Taliban take over and decide to make women cover themselves from head to toe and chop heads off anyone who complains, so what? Why did you threaten Venezuela recently? Who cares if Maduro starves his people? Or the Cubans for that matter? Why do you care if they throw dissidents in jail? You don’t seem to care that Duterte is murdering his people in the Philippines. You praise him for solving the drug problem by shooting drug dealers without a trial. Oh, and Putin, Russia. What exactly are the criteria for being a friend of the United States of Trump? Is it merely promising not to directly attack our “homeland?” Or does it have something to do with whether we’re allowed to sell things in your country? Or perhaps whether or not you’re willing to open a Trump hotel or golf course? And what does this mean that you also said on Monday night: “As the prime minister of Afghanistan has promised, we are going to participate in economic development to help defray the cost of this war to us.” Seriously, what does that mean? Is that like, we’re going to go into one of the poorest countries in the world and try to make money off them to pay us back for helping them? Is that money going to the U.S. government or to your cronies? I’ve got an idea, how about heroin? Let’s help them grow poppies, make heroin, and then sell it back to them! Ever heard of the Opium Wars? No, I’m not talking about gang fights in Chinatown.

“And we must achieve an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the enormous price that so many have paid.”

I’ve heard these words before from a man who was President when I was just turning draft age in 1969. “Peace with honor,” Nixon said. Then he proceeded to bomb the bejeezus out of North Vietnam in addition to Laos and Cambodia because they were offering safe harbor to the rebel fighters. In the end, some five years later, with tens of thousands more Americans dead or maimed and who knows how many southeast Asians, we left with our tails between our legs and Nixon resigned. Let’s get to the resignation part sooner this time.