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. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Better Day Will Come

Every so often I get inspired to write a song (there were a few years in my life when I wrote dozens, but in recent years, one or two or year is all that come). But I was in a music rich environment--the Appalachian String Band Music Festival, better known as Clifftop, among old-time musicians last week. It's an amazing experience at Camp Washington Carver in the hills of Fayette County, WV where every year thousands of musicians who play fiddles, banjos, guitars, and assorted other string and non-string instruments gather for 10 days of camping, jamming, dancing, and competing in individual and band contests. My brain was full of music, and I wrote four new melodies. One of them was especially beautiful, not just in my opinion, but in the opinion of several who heard and played it. I was asked what the title was, and answered, I don't know, but it feels hopeful. When I play it, I keep thinking that it's saying a better day will come. "That's your title," he replied.

The morning I was packing to leave, words to it started coming to mind, and as I drove, I sang into my i-Phone. In the next couple weeks I plan to record a simple version of it, but I hope I can convince other musicians to record it as well. I could imagine it being orchestrated or being played by a rock band, a string band, or an acapella choir. Here are the lyrics:

A Better Day Will Come
by Paul Epstein ©2017
We are frightened. He is ignorant and rude.
They are threatening our whole way of life. 
We’re resisting. We are marching in the streets.
We are ready for a long and brutal fight.

Take my hand. Give your heart.
We don’t know where this will end, but we must start.
For the good of all, we’ll find a way.
We must believe that there will come a better day.

We are angry. We want justice for all.
We should make the wealthy pay their share.
There’s corruption going right to the top.
We will fight for our rights and what is fair

Decent jobs, living wage,
We need health care for all without delay.
Get out the vote, make calls, or pray
We must believe that there will come a better day

Take my hand. Give your heart.
We don’t know where this will end, but we must start.
For the good of all, we’ll find a way.
We must believe that there will come a better day.



Friday, June 16, 2017

Out, Out Damn Trump!

Here we are, five months into a presidency that may last another 3.5 years or longer. Any hope we had that Mr. Trump would actually lead the country responsibly are gone, and many around the world wonder what kind of place the U.S. and the world will be after his term. I think we must consider impeachment. It could result from any number of “high crimes and misdemeanors” Trump may have committed, including but not limited to collusion with a foreign government to sway our election, accepting money or favors from foreign governments or businesses and possibly granting return favors, obstruction of justice, abuse of power, or something we can’t even imagine at this point. 

In the recent Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with Jeff Sessions, Republican Senator Tom Cotton asked him if he liked spy novels and then expressed skepticism about the lines of questioning by Democrats, asking, ”Have you ever…heard of a plot line so ridiculous that a sitting United States senator and an ambassador of a foreign government colluded in an open setting with hundreds of other people…?”

They had a good laugh. But I didn’t. I have frequently said and heard scholars of U.S. history say recently, “you can’t make this stuff up,” or “this is the stuff of spy novels,” or “anyone who wrote a novel in which a preposterous character like Donald Trump gets elected president couldn’t find a publisher.” Unprecedented has probably become the most used word in media these days.

I would like to engage in my own penchant for writing fiction and send a message from an imaginary centrist Trump supporter who has decided he or she made a mistake.

“I believed him when he promised he would make America great again. I believed him when he said he would put Democrats and Republicans in a room and make them solve problems, I believed he would repeal and replace Obamacare with something better that would cost less, bring back all kinds of great jobs, rebuild our infrastructure. I believed we would have such an economic boom that he could cut taxes and still have money for tax cuts and infrastructure projects without raising the debt. I believed him when he said he would protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. 

“But now I’m beginning to understand that his exaggerations and boasting are something more than campaign strategy. I don’t see how he could claim that the House health care bill, which the CBO said would cause 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance could be the “great plan” he said it was. Now he calls it “mean.” So I wonder what the Senate will come up with and how much less “mean” that will be. Does that mean it will only kick half as many off their insurance? Will we really be covered for pre-existing conditions? And during the campaign he railed against Wall Street and said he would go after hedge fund managers and make them pay their fair share. But I haven’t heard anything about that since, and now there’s a bill to roll back the protections they passed after the financial crisis of 2008. 

“I know in his first couple weeks he made a big deal about calling some CEO’s and talking about keeping jobs in the U.S., and maybe he helped save a few jobs, and the economy seems to be humming along, but it doesn’t seem much different than it was in the last few years. We’ll see. But when you combine all that with some of the crazy tweets and the way he just goes after everybody, including Comey, who, you know is a pretty straight shooter, and now supposedly Mueller, the former FBI director who is investigating him, well, it just seems like he must be hiding something to be so afraid of just letting them do their jobs.”

Yeah, I know, it’s fiction. Trump supporters for the most part are die hards wearing blinders and reading, listening to, and watching the media that reinforces their belief in Trump. But actually only about 38% percent of voters view him favorably (according to FiveThirtyEight.com), down from a high of 48% after the election. So, perhaps, before the 2018 mid-terms, Republicans in Congress will decide he’s more of a liability than an asset and start impeachment proceedings. If not, the other 50-60% of us better get to the polls and elect a Congress that will.