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 Check.org, 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.