Friday, December 7, 2018

Bush 41 No Saint

This last week there has been deserved praise for a President who exemplified what it means to be presidential. He even made sure that the least presidential President in recent history, or perhaps all our history, had to sit in the front row and draw the inevitable conclusion that no one would be saying those words at his funeral.

But now that he's in the ground, I want to remind those who may have forgotten or never have known that he was not such a great man in the eyes of many for good reasons. I'm of the opinion that no President escapes the office with clean hands (I don't know, maybe Carter? I imagine we'll soon have to confront his legacy). Many lefties criticize Obama for his drone program that resulted in civilian deaths and think he was much too soft on Wall Street execs during the Great Recession. I won't get into what the conservatives will say about him! But Bush 41 was no saint. The test of a president, I think, is not how polite they are or how much they love their families, you expect anyone who is elected President to clear that bar (and Trump trips on it....), it's how they impact the lives of Americans and people around the world.

Bush became President with dog whistles he used to appeal to the same racist underbelly of America that Trump speaks to with a bullhorn and his Twitter feed. The "Willie Horton" ad showing a threatening image of a black man was not just an ad accusing Dukakis (outsider? funny name? maybe not a true American?) of being weak on crime because as governor he oversaw a common prison furlough program that failed to prevent a rape and murder, he railed about it at every campaign stop, making  "Willie Horton (into) Dukakis's running mate," as his campaign manager, Lee Atwater boasted.

People with AIDS and their loved ones got no help from '41. He told them they ought to change their "lifestyle." He brutally pursued the war on drugs that Reagan had begun, putting nothing into helping addicts, doubling spending on "more prisons, more jails, more courts, more prosecutors,"  He vetoed civil rights legislation. He encouraged Iraqi Shiites to rebel, and failed to come to their aid when Sadaam Hussein butchered them. He pardoned his Secretary of Defense on the eve of a trial that might have implicated him in criminal acts as Vice President. But he passed the Americans with Disability Act and navigated the end of the Cold War skillfully, which could have ended in hot wars. He deserves his ranking somewhere in the middle of best to worst Presidents of the U.S.

You can't blame the father on the sins of the son, but does anyone think G.W. Bush would have ever been elected if he hadn't been H.W.'s son? Their legacies are inexorably tied together. 41 brags that he left 43 alone to make his own decisions. I think all of us probably agree that we wish he'd been more forceful in warning him off his invasion of Iraq. Perhaps W would have listened to the father he now claims to have had such respect for if he had forthrightly confronted him with what everyone knows were his unspoken beliefs in the foolhardiness of that adventure that has shaped the Middle East in ways W's little brain could not imagine.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

When Republican Lies Win, Freedom Loses

I wrote this in response to a Star Parker column that appeared in my local newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail on November 29. We have an editorial page that has liberal views on the left side and conservative on the right. Here's a link to Parker's article: When Democrats Win, Freedom Loses

Star Parker is a rarity, an African American conservative Republican. As such, she is a valued commentator for them on issues of diversity. Unlike Trump, she doesn’t simply tell whoppers to keep her followers from the truth, she uses “spin” to deftly paint orange and suggest it’s green. In a column titled “National Democrats a Threat to Freedom,” she demonstrates her skill.

 She describes the diversity of the Democratic Party’s choices in the recent election including 105 women, 55 blacks (the Republicans elected no black candidates to Congress) and 14 Asians. She then makes the outrageous claim that because they are Democrats, they all think alike and are therefore not diverse. As if all the white male Republicans who were elected think in diverse ways? Sorry, Star, diversity of skin color, ancestry, gender identification, and socioeconomic status, means that the Democrats coming to Congress represent millions of people who live a different experience of America every day than the wealthy white Republicans whose interests you serve.

After redefining diversity, she redefines freedom as freedom from help from the federal government. If you’re getting help from the federal government to pay for your health care, that’s losing freedom. Or college grants, loans—giving control of your life to the government. No, we need to starve social programs that help people with health care, education, poverty and hunger. We will help them “by believing in them, by granting them freedom to take responsibility for their own life (sic).” Republicans grandly grant you the freedom to remain poor, to have to struggle even harder for the education to lift yourself from poverty. You deserve  freedom to choose between needed medication and feeding your children!

Finally, she picks up her Photoshop brush to paint all Democrats as anti-religious, secular humanist socialists. This is more of a Donald Trump style lie. I don’t know the religious affiliations of all the Democrats elected in the recent elections, but I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that the great majority, like the majority of all Americans, are Christians. I would also bet that they all believe in upholding the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion for all and a separation of church and state. Star Parker is absolutely right about one thing, however: Democrats are laying the groundwork to replace Trump with their nominee in 2020 if he hasn’t resigned or been impeached before then.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Who is Responsible for American Carnage?

My brother and his family, four children and two grandchildren, live in Israel. Sometimes people ask me if I worry about their safety because of the possibility of terrorism or a missile sent from Gaza or one of the surrounding Arab nations. No, I really don’t. Not because it’s not a possibility, but because the odds are less any of them will be killed or injured that way than that they or I or any of us in the United States will be injured or killed in a car accident…or here, in a deadly shooting. 

This week’s deadly mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh hits home for me in several ways. Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill community is an area I have visited several times over the years when my band visited the area to play for dances. I’ve walked the two block long business district of small shops and eaten in its restaurants. I’ve spent the night in homes in the area. And I know there are people among my circle of friends there who attend the Tree of Life Synagogue. I am seeing their posts on Facebook telling friends and family they are safe or noting the loss of someone they knew. 

Churches, synagogues, mosques, any place of worship are supposed to places of safety, of spirituality, of peace. Attacks on them, on the people who attend them, must require an extra measure of hate if such a thing is possible. Your “average” mass murderer has become enraged with people at his workplace or in the country in general when their sad, lonely, depressed and angry emotional lives cause them to lash out at their imagined enemies.

Then they procure or gather their arsenal for attack. And here’s where the difference between gun laws in Israel and the United States make Israeli’s so much safer. If you live or travel in Israel, you will see guns, even semi-automatic weapons, everywhere. Soldiers and police on or off duty carry them. Israel might as well have our 2nd Amendment citing the necessity for a well regulated militia as a justification for citizens to bear arms. Nearly every citizen in Israel, male and female, is required to serve in the military after they graduate high school, and many continue their service in the reserve, sometimes keeping service weapons in their homes. Yet Israel has strict gun control laws and a firearm homicide rate 1/4 of that in the U.S. “Israelis must meet a detailed list of criteria to be allowed to own a firearm. They must ask the state for a license, are permitted only one gun at a time, and must even ask for permission to sell their gun. And the Firearms Licensing Department is no rubber stamp: Roughly 40 percent of requests are rejected” ( 

We’ve experienced two attempts at mass murder as we approach the 2018 midterm elections, elections many view as “the most important in our lifetimes,” a description usually reserved for presidential elections. One, thankfully, has been unsuccessful—the attempts at pipe bomb assassinations mailed to critics of the president by a man whose love of Trump is apparently only exceeded by his hatred of the targets of Trump’s verbal attacks. The other it appears, involves a man with a hatred for Jews who believed his murderous attack would prevent Latin American immigrants in a caravan approaching the United States seeking asylum from “invading” the United States and killing Americans. His animus was directed at a Jewish aid organization that is focused on providing services to refugees. 

It would be easy to say that this is just a crazy idea concocted by a deranged mind if we didn’t have a president, backed up by a right wing media machine, who calls the stream of refugees an “invasion” that contains terrorists from the Middle East and he must send the army to deal with them.

Trump has said the absolute minimum of the required words about these crimes and called for unity, and in his next breaths has continued his attacks on his critics in the media and across the spectrum of political ideas. He has correctly called anti-Semitism a scourge, while not reducing his anti-immigrant rhetoric. Trump may not be legally responsible for these criminal acts, but he is guilty of inspiring them.

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.