Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Trump's Attempt to Whitewash History

President Trump outlined the themes of his election campaign in what amounted to two publicly funded campaign rallies over the 4th of July weekend at Mt. Rushmore and the White House lawn with fireworks over the National Mall in Washington D.C. “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children….This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution…our children are taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but they were villains,” were some of the claims he made.

Like so much of what the president claims, his words are designed to turn Americans against each other. To turn white against black and brown, to turn right against left, to turn everyone against public schools and teachers. 

At my high school graduation in 1969 in Bethlehem, PA, I had the opportunity to speak to the graduating class about my views on our education, not because I had high grades, but because the school, in the spirit of change that was in the air, allowed a speaker to be elected in addition to the traditional Valedictorian. I spoke about some of the ways I felt our education had let us down. I felt our history classes had mythologized our founders and leaders, glossed over difficult issues like the causes of the Civil War and the Vietnam War which was raging at the time, and taught us that there was always a right and wrong answer that could be answered in a multiple choice question. I talked about the fact that black people were angry about the lack of equal opportunities they faced in the areas of jobs and education and that we weren’t being prepared for the fast changing future we would face.

I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time to name what that education lacked. But in the course of my working life, including a twenty-five year career as a West Virginia public school teacher, I identified it as the importance and the difficulty of teaching critical thinking. 

President Trump does not want Americans to think critically. He wants them to see the world in simplistic terms of good or evil, right or wrong, blindly patriotic or anti-American. He wants to whitewash history and paint over the flaws of our founders and past leaders, ignoring the parts of our history we know do not live up to our ideals: the enslavement of millions of African Americans for two hundred years followed by a hundred fifty years of continued discrimination; the near extermination of Native Americans, the confiscation of their lands, their internment on reservations; some of the wars that we fought in order to either add to our territory or to ensure American control over other parts of the world for political or economic reasons.

Teaching children and young adults to understand both the good and the bad is important. You can celebrate our amazing scientific achievements while also noting when science was misused, the innovations in business and industry while also pointing out the environmental costs, the revolutionary ideas in self-government that the American experiment embodied to empower it’s white male citizens while at the same time denying equal opportunity to women and African Americans for centuries.  Children, all citizens in fact, need the important skill of critical thinking: the ability to weigh facts and evidence, to see the world in its whole spectrum of color instead of only black or white.

I exhort all West Virginians to be willing to do the hard work of putting aside their emotional response to those who, like Donald Trump, call on them to love their country “right or wrong,” and instead love what’s right about our country and recognize what is wrong and do their best to fix it. And that includes voting for change in November.

Paul Epstein is a retired public school teacher and musician living in Charleston, WV

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Impeachment Report: Key Findings of Fact

As a public service, here is a 1000 word excerpt from the 300+ page report containing the findings in a nutshell. To read the full report: click here

Key Findings of Fact 
(excerpt of the Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee)

Based on witness testimony and evidence collected during the impeachment inquiry, the Intelligence Committee has found that:

I.     Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States—acting personally and through his agents within and outside of the U.S. government—solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.  The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and to influence our nation’s upcoming presidential election to his advantage.  In so doing, the President placed his personal political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security.

II.     In furtherance of this scheme, President Trump—directly and acting through his agents within and outside the U.S. government—sought to pressure and induce Ukraine’s newly-elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to publicly announce unfounded investigations that would benefit President Trump’s personal political interests and reelection effort.  To advance his personal political objectives, President Trump encouraged the President of Ukraine to work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

III.     As part of this scheme, President Trump, acting in his official capacity and using his position of public trust, personally and directly requested from the President of Ukraine that the government of Ukraine publicly announce investigations into (1) the President’s political opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and his son, Hunter Biden, and (2) a baseless theory promoted by Russia alleging that Ukraine—rather than Russia—interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.  These investigations were intended to harm a potential political opponent of President Trump and benefit the President’s domestic political standing. 

IV.     President Trump ordered the suspension of $391 million in vital military assistance urgently needed by Ukraine, a strategic partner, to resist Russian aggression.  Because the aid was appropriated by Congress, on a bipartisan basis, and signed into law by the President, its expenditure was required by law.  Acting directly and through his subordinates within the U.S. government, the President withheld from Ukraine this military assistance without any legitimate foreign policy, national security, or anti-corruption justification.  The President did so despite the longstanding bipartisan support of Congress, uniform support across federal departments and agencies for the provision to Ukraine of the military assistance, and his obligations under the Impoundment Control Act.

V.     President Trump used the power of the Office of the President and exercised his authority over the Executive Branch, including his control of the instruments of the federal government, to apply increasing pressure on the President of Ukraine and the Ukrainian government to announce the politically-motivated investigations desired by President Trump.  Specifically, to advance and promote his scheme, the President withheld official acts of value to Ukraine and conditioned their fulfillment on actions by Ukraine that would benefit his personal political interests: 

A. President Trump—acting through agents within and outside the U.S. government—conditioned a head of state meeting at the White House, which the President of Ukraine desperately sought to demonstrate continued United States support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, on Ukraine publicly announcing the investigations that President Trump believed would aid his reelection campaign.

B. To increase leverage over the President of Ukraine, President Trump, acting through his agents and subordinates, conditioned release of the vital military assistance he had suspended to Ukraine on the President of Ukraine’s public announcement of the investigations that President Trump sought.

C. President Trump’s closest subordinates and advisors within the Executive Branch, including Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Energy J. Richard Perry, and other senior White House and Executive Branch officials had knowledge of, in some cases facilitated and furthered the President’s scheme, and withheld information about the scheme from the Congress and the American public. 

VI.     In directing and orchestrating this scheme to advance his personal political interests, President Trump did not implement, promote, or advance U.S. anti-corruption policies.  In fact, the President sought to pressure and induce the government of Ukraine to announce politically-motivated investigations lacking legitimate predication that the U.S. government otherwise discourages and opposes as a matter of policy in that country and around the world.  In so doing, the President undermined U.S. policy supporting anti-corruption reform and the rule of law in Ukraine, and undermined U.S. national security.

VII.     By withholding vital military assistance and diplomatic support from a strategic foreign partner government engaged in an ongoing military conflict illegally instigated by Russia, President Trump compromised national security to advance his personal political interests.

VIII.     Faced with the revelation of his actions, President Trump publicly and repeatedly persisted in urging foreign governments, including Ukraine and China, to investigate his political opponent.  This continued solicitation of foreign interference in a U.S. election presents a clear and present danger that the President will continue to use the power of his office for his personal political gain.

IX.     Using the power of the Office of the President, and exercising his authority over the Executive Branch, President Trump ordered and implemented a campaign to conceal his conduct from the public and frustrate and obstruct the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry by:

A. refusing to produce to the impeachment inquiry’s investigating Committees information and records in the possession of the White House, in defiance of a lawful subpoena;
B. directing Executive Branch agencies to defy lawful subpoenas and withhold the production of all documents and records from the investigating Committees;
C. directing current and former Executive Branch officials not to cooperate with the Committees, including in defiance of lawful subpoenas for testimony; and
D. intimidating, threatening, and tampering with prospective and actual witnesses in the impeachment inquiry in an effort to prevent, delay, or influence the testimony of those witnesses.

In so doing, and despite the fact that the Constitution vests in the House of Representatives the “sole Power of Impeachment,” the President sought to arrogate to himself the right to determine the propriety, scope, and nature of an impeachment inquiry into his own misconduct, and the right to deny any and all information to the Congress in the conduct of its constitutional responsibilities.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

What If We Believed Him?

The phone call that pushed a CIA employee to blow the whistle on President Trump’s illegal effort to withhold money for Ukraine’s military until their president agreed to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, was “perfect” according to Trump.

The Washington Post has now counted over 13,000 false or misleading claims by the president in his 1000 days as president, but for just a moment, let’s suspend our disbelief and imagine that he believes he is telling the truth and truly believes his phone call with the President of Ukraine was perfect.

Let’s imagine that he’s telling the truth as he sees it when he says that he didn’t green light Turkey to invade Syria when he pulled our troops back. We should believe that he had no idea President Erdogan would send tanks and troops and vicious militias pouring over the border to slaughter the Kurdish fighters who had until then been our front line in the fight against ISIS. Let’s imagine Trump truly believes the Kurds are “happy” about watching their fellow soldiers and their wives, mothers, and children die and lose their homes as they run for their lives.

Let’s look back over the past three years and see if we can muster belief in Trump’s proclamations that we no longer need to be concerned about North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons and continued program of missile development because Kim Jong-un has written him beautiful letters and Trump has fallen in love with him.

And the beautiful tariffs that Trump has levied on friends and foes alike. Let’s accept that he truly believes that it is they who are paying them, not us, the people of the United States and the companies who import those goods. Yes, let’s pretend it’s China paying those taxes before we buy them….at a higher price than before.

We must accept Trump’s assessment that the farmers are totally okay with losing billions in sales of crops that China is no longer buying in order to retaliate against the tariffs because the Trump administration is giving them welfare payments to partially make up for it. Of course many of them will lose their farms in the meantime, but their sacrifice is for the good of the country in our President’s views, so we should believe that.

And all the criminals and rapists he has assured us are pouring over our southern border — they look like women and children desperate to escape gang violence and poverty to us, but perhaps we need special glasses or something so we can see them as he does.

Not to mention the good people on both sides in Charlottesville. Those young men carrying tiki torches chanting “Jews Will Not Replace Us” may be good to their families and probably even the people they go to church with if they attend. We should believe that Trump is able to look beyond their hatred of everyone who isn’t white or Christian and see the good in them.

Yes, perhaps we should follow Trump’s call to end this divisive period in our history. We can learn to follow our Dear Leader and think Right Thoughts, see his Stable Genius and benefit from his Great and Unmatched Wisdom….or not.

We could recognize the truth—that he’s a liar and a criminal and deserves to be impeached. And if his lackeys in the Republican Party can’t muster the courage to do that, we can vote them and him out by the biggest margin in history next November. Now that would be perfect.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Trump's Racist Tweets: Are his Defenders Racists or Cowards?

Trump’s Tweets from Sunday, July 14
“So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly....and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how…it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

Republicans (all but 4 of 197) voted to defend the President's racist tweets and words directed at 4 Congresswomen of color (all US citizens). He said basically they should "go back" to where they come from (3 were born here, but have at least one parent born in another country). 

Most Republicans have tied themselves into pretzels in defense of the President. Some of their weak or fact deficient arguments are listed below and disputed in italics.

He might not have been talking about those 4 Congresswomen, since he didn’t name them in the tweet. “In those tweets, I see nothing that references anybody’s race — not a thing — I don’t see anyone’s name being referenced in the tweets, but the president’s referring to people, congresswomen, who are anti-American,” Patrick Duffy (R-WI)
The President himself clarified that in a tweet Tuesday night: “So great to see how unified the Republican Party was on today’s vote concerning statements I made about four Democrat Congresswomen.”

The President is not a racist,” Mitch McConnell said. “I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” the President said.

The Resolution does not say the President is a racist, it says he used racist words to talk about members of Congress. Behavioral psychologists have revealed that most all of us have implicit racial biases, which means we must each be vigilant to recognize and resist that in our speech and thoughts. Obviously, the President does not make that effort and frequently makes statements that many people view as racist such as referring to African countries as s*ithole countries, Mexican immigrants as rapists, etc. 

But he just said they should go back and fix those countries, then they could come back here and show  us how it’s done. He wasn’t saying that they should leave permanently. Representative Harris (R-MD) went so far as to say, "He could have meant go back to the district they came from--to the neighborhood they came from,"

Three of the four Congresswomen were born in the U.S., so is Trump saying that the country they came from, the U.S., that he presides over, is a complete and total catastrophe, the most corrupt and inept in the world (he has actually said similar words about the U.S. in the past)? Of course that doesn’t make sense—presumably he meant the countries their families came from before they came to the U.S. (for Occasio-Cortez, that is still the U.S.—her mother was born in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, and anyone born there is a U.S. citizen). 

When did “Love it or leave it” become racist? “I say it all the time,” said the President.

It becomes racist when out of all the people in the United States (all of whom are descended from people of other countries except Native Americans), out of all the people in the United States Congress (some of whom were born in other countries or are 2nd generation citizens) who are critical of the President or his policies, you direct those words only at people of color. 

But some of them said awful things about the President and used profane language, we should be passing a resolution condemning their words. And some of them have said they were Socialist. And some have said things about Israel that are anti-Semitic and we didn’t pass a resolution condemning them. They even accused the Speaker of racism for calling them out. Maybe we should condemn her. (This summarizes the argument of many Republicans on the House floor)

This Resolution concerns the President’s words used against members of the House of Representatives. The President’s words matter more than those of a freshman Congresswoman because he speaks for the whole nation, he is supposed to speak for all of us and the rest of the world is listening. By not signing onto this resolution, Republicans in Congress have indicated to all the black and brown people of this nation, to all the Muslims, or really any citizen, that if they criticize the President or the policies he supports, they are not welcome here and should leave. His words in the tweet and at other times have told the world that not only does the U.S. not want to accept travelers from Muslim nations, does not want immigrants from Hispanic or Muslim or majority Black countries, but that we would like to send people descended from people of those nations back. The underlying message is a full endorsement of White Supremacy.

Now, I’m going to mount a defense of the President. He was just kidding. Seriously, he sees himself as a stand up comic, a performer, an entertainer. The whole rant of three tweets that he probably composed in bed on Sunday morning ends with a punchline: “you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

Yes, hardly a belly laugh, but I didn’t say he was funny, just that he thinks he is. Because he thought it would be funny to suggest that Pelosi would love it if these four women who have been grabbing so much attention and creating headlines about a rift among Democrats would go far away. 

Of course, if he had come out later that day and said, “Yes, I see how people might take this as racist and I apologize. I was just trying to make a joke,” the outrage might have died down without a resolution condemning his “racist tweets.” But we all know by now that’s not he operates, so he doubled and tripled down, threatening Republicans who didn’t defend him and calling the “squad” anti-American and women who hate “our country.” 

My defense is really no defense. What I’m saying is that Trump is a racist who often makes racist jokes. And thank goodness, today in America, a lot of people are willing to call him out for that. Those who haven’t should get some sensitivity training. Voters should send them that message by sending them back--to their neighborhoods--in 2020.

ps--I created a petition on Change.org to support the House resolution condemning Trump's racist tweets. I encourage you to read the text of the resolution I copy/pasted there and sign on...and share with friends. We should all "sign on" to the resolution. Click here to view/sign

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Just the Facts

Smart Republicans are ignoring, Trump is likely incapable of understanding (and if he was capable, he would deny it and lie about it), and even some responsible journalists and media personalities are finding it difficult to understand or articulate exactly what was Robert Mueller's justification for not "coming to a conclusion" on obstruction.

A careful reading of the report (which I admit I have not yet completed, but am depending on Rachel Maddow and others at MSNBC to pick out the critical passages), describe the Mueller team's approach as an almost scientifically objective one, "...we determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes."

Why? Mueller cites in detail relevant Justice Department rules from the manual about not being allowed to indict a sitting president, and given that the unfairness of even suggesting a criminality when there was no courtroom or process for mounting a defense (apparently the bully pulpit and the court of public opinion were not considered adequately objective).
So does that mean he left it to Barr and Rosenstein? That would make no sense. They are limited by the same rules Mueller is. Their decision to absolve the president of obstruction charges, even if based on a disagreement with Mueller's justification for not coming to a conclusion, is revealed as political by the way that Barr made the announcement weeks before releasing the report and prefacing it's release with a press conference with an audience of one who wanted him publically to say "no collusion."

Someday, Rosenstein may ask the American people for a mea culpa and talk about how conflicted he felt as he stood behind Barr as he lied about the report, stoically looking straight ahead and keeping his face in a tight mask. Though he is a hero for protecting the Mueller investigation, he has also shown himself to be a company man and a coward twice--once when he did not speak publicly about Trump's lie pinning the firing on his memo, and again when he allowed Barr to persuade him to stand behind his decision to absolve Trump of obstruction.

But back to my original thought--it is very hard for anyone to understand the degree of objectivity and restraint Mueller and his team used in avoiding even seeming to pass judgement. It is a type of thinking they share with scientists--the ability to withhold judgement and simply reveal the facts. I guess in a way, it's like the legendary Dragnet character, Sgt. Friday, who used to say something like, "Just the facts, ma'am. All we want are the facts. All we know are the facts."

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Only Road to Greatness (no, not Trump's)

Two articles on the same day in a recent Charleston Gazette-Mail highlight the damage being done to America’s self-image in the era of Donald Trump. One was about a woman who accused a man of Egyptian origin of attempting to abduct her daughter from the Huntington Mall. She later admitted she “overreacted,” and that he had merely smiled and patted her daughter’s head. The other was about a viral video that falsely claimed Syrian refugees were being given housing and money to create a “Sharia Zone” in Charleston where non-Muslims would be banned.

This hate and fear of immigrants is contrary to Ronald Reagan’s vision of America as “A Shining City on a Hill,” and described as “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

That is not Trump’s vision of greatness. But what is it that makes America great? Most of us automatically respond with some combination of freedom, independence, ingenuity, hard work, and democracy. America was the first democracy in the modern world, the first to replace monarchs of the Western world with a system of electing a president whose powers are balanced by a legislative body and courts.

Another word central to America’s ideal that has caused much turmoil, is equality. “All men are created equal” appears in our Declaration of Independence, yet slavery (and its justification, white supremacy), Jim Crow laws, and unequal voting rights for people of color and women delayed that equality until….well, many would argue we’re not quite there yet.

Another concept that makes us exceptional among nations is our diversity of ethnic and racial identities. While those who wrote the Constitution were white men of English origin, the inhabitants of the new country included Native Americans and people from all over Europe and Africa. Long standing hostilities between people of different countries and ethnicities, while not absent in America, tend to diminish and disappear as generations pass and young people raised here begin to think of themselves as Americans first, and then as Italian or Chinese or Nigerian.

Alongside race and national origin as identities comes religion. America has been, and still is overwhelmingly Christian (74%; 2% Jewish; 1% Muslim; 2.5% other; 18% none). When the founding fathers wrote freedom of religion into the Constitution, they were thinking about keeping different groups of Christians from discriminating against each other and passing laws enforcing their religious morality. But even then there were Jews and Muslims living here who enjoyed more freedom than in most other countries. The church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious meeting place, are places that try to maintain cultural identity, preserving traditions often brought from other countries. Many of us have been welcomed to a Greek feast at the local Orthodox church, an Indian repast, or a Jewish Passover dinner, or enjoyed the great variety of ethnic food offered at restaurants and appreciated the diversity our country offers.

America’s remarkable ability to integrate people from all over the world, from every country, religion, race, and ethnicity is arguably the single most important factor in American greatness. When America fails in meeting its vision of equality of opportunity is when we fail to be great. We have failed many times—in our treatment of Native Americans, African Americans, the Japanese during WWII, and to some extent, Muslims since 9/11. Today we have a president who demonizes immigrants from Muslim, non-white and Latin American countries. And yet he claims to want to make America great…again.

His road is not a road back to an imagined American greatness. The only road to greatness is the road we have traveled since our founding—the road to more equality, to more freedom for all Americans; the road that is open to welcoming people of diverse origins to make their home here and participate in the American dream.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Barr's "Summary" is Spin

When the Barr letter to Congress with its summary of the Mueller Report’s main conclusion was released on Sunday, March 24, I took early media reports on it at face value and said it's time to pivot from "need to impeach" to "need to defeat." I still think that's probably going to be the end result, but I view the Barr memo as a propaganda victory, not the end of the line on the crimes this president and his campaign may have committed in getting help from Russia and trying to cover it up/obstruct justice. The Barr summary is a lawyerly piece of writing that must be viewed as a partisan document and an attempt to spin the Mueller report as an exoneration, when it clearly is not. 

Because of the way the Barr summary is written--carefully and lawyerly--the media (including some NPR news people this morning) has been largely snookered into saying things like, "there's no evidence of collusion," and "Trump did not obstruct justice." Even Barr's summary does not say that. 

Barr quotes Mueller to say they did not "establish" that anyone in the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with “the Russian government in its election interference activities." What does the word "establish" mean in this context? It means there is evidence, but not enough evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. 

And why not? Mueller does not rule out obstruction of justice, though Barr tries to, by "noting" that without an "underlying crime" it is hard to establish "corrupt intent." But what if some of the evidence of obstruction is dangling a pardon to keep Manafort and others quiet? Manafort offered to cooperate with Mueller and then told lies. Why? Loyalty. Because he expects a pardon? Someday, maybe the whole truth will come out--but we deserve whatever truth is in the full Mueller report, and we should be wary of Barr's summary which is in no way the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.