The Great War

Today is Armistice Day — what we in the United States now call Veteran’s Day.  This is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the war to end all wars.  Hostilities ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

In some ways this is the “forgotten” war as it set the conditions for, and was eclipsed by, World War II.  As such, it is fitting that nearly 100 countries, including roughly 60 heads of state, gathered in France to pay their respects to those that fought in the Great War.  Ceremonies throughout the weekend honored those that participated, and in particular those that paid the ultimate sacrifice.

The exact number of killed and wounded is unknown, but it is estimated that there were 37 million military and civilian casualties during the four years of conflict with about 10 million military men and women and 7 million civilians killed.  The United States joined the war late, in 1917, and lost about 116,000 military personnel from all causes during the war.  Altogether a generation of young men were lost to Europe and the Allies.  In the first day of one battle — the Battle of the Somme — the British lost an estimated 25,000 soldiers.  In the Meuse-Argonne Forest in 1918 an estimated 26,000 Americans lost their lives during the six-week offensive, the most of any battle in American history.

Ironically the U.S. Civil War is often considered the first “modern” war due to the use of trains for transportation, industrialization and organization.  The Civil War was studied closely by most major armies of the world, but by the time World War I came around, those lessons were lost or forgotten.  Thus, with the advent of mechanized combat using machine guns, tanks, aircraft, poison gas, and other implements of modern war, combat was even more destructive as tactics, operations and strategies were mired in the 19th century.  The result was a tremendous waste of life.

I always wondered how I would do when receiving the order to go “over the top” — out of the semi-safe trenches and into no-man’s-land — advancing in a line into the face of relentless machine gun and artillery fire.  It was a meat grinder in the most awful sense of the phrase.  Unbelievably, commanders on the front continued sending their men over the top on the morning of the Armistice resulting in needless deaths.  Reports indicate that 2700 men died on the Western Front on the last morning of the war.  According to the Washington Post via a 1919 report in the Baltimore Sun, the last American killed in the war was Henry N. Gunther from Baltimore.  He reportedly died at 10:59 from German machine gun fire.  The Germans yelled at him and tried to wave him back from their lines.  He continued to charge and to fire on their position and they felt they had no choice but to shoot him to save themselves.  According to the report, shortly after 11:00 the German soldiers emerged from their position, put Henry Gunther’s remains on a stretcher, and returned him to the American lines.

Many of those killed were never recovered.  To honor their memory, countries erected monuments to those unknowns.  In Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated on 11 November 1921 to honor those nameless Americans that were lost forever.  In 1958 unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean War were also interred beside their World War I comrade and the monument became the Tomb of the Unknowns.  Since 1937 the tomb is guarded by soldiers from the Army and since 1948 the guards come from the famous Army Third Infantry Regiment, known as the “Old Guard.”

Please take a moment on this Veteran’s Day to remember the real reason that we honor this day.

Advertisements

The Good News and The Bad News

It has been a busy week.  First the good news.

For the third time I was an Election Judge (poll worker, but sworn in as a judge in this state because of the decision-making that may be needed).  Once again it was a very long day with no respite, but worth it.  At our location, everyone, Republican, Democrat or Unaffiliated, was uniformly cheerful, friendly, and appreciative of their role to play in our democracy.  It was refreshing in the current era to see the best parts of our republic.

In my state, Maryland, one of the “bluest” in the country, we re-elected a Republican Governor for the first time in decades.  At the same time, the Democrat controlled state legislature gained more seats for the Democrats and voters re-elected our Democrat Senator and Representatives.  I consider that a positive sign as well.  In the first year of the Governor’s term, he tried to push legislation through that did not have the support of the representatives.  At the same time, some of the legislation the Democrats wanted was turned back by the Governor.  The same old story?  In this case, no.  Both the Governor and the legislative leaders realized that nothing would be accomplished if they didn’t — wait for it — compromise on the issues.  That does not mean it was all unicorns and rainbows, there were some knock down, drag out battles over certain issues.  On the whole, however, both parties recognized that compromise was necessary in order to accomplish meaningful results.  Consequently, most of those involved, including an unheard of for this state second term for a Republican Governor, returned to office.  (To put it in perspective, he is only the second Republican Governor in Maryland since Spiro Agnew — Richard Nixon’s first Vice president.  The last two term Republican Governor was Theodore McKeldin first elected in 1951.)

I was looking forward to writing an entirely positive piece in this space and was feeling better about the state of affairs in our country after the election.  After all, the House would now have oversight over the excesses of the Executive Branch for the first time in two years.

It lasted less than twenty-four hours.  Then came the bad news.  In duplicate.

Wednesday night another mass shooting of innocent victims occurred.  This time in Thousand Oaks California, considered the third most safe city in the country, according to FBI statistics.  Mostly students out for a break in the routine and a little dancing were gunned down.  Another needless tragedy that is becoming increasingly too common.  According to the Gun Violence Archive, this was the 307th mass shooting in the U.S. in 2018.  (They define a mass shooting as four or more people shot in one incident — not necessarily all deaths.)  Another in a long line of sad days for too many families and for all of us as citizens.  Perhaps the new Congress will finally address common sense gun laws that are supported by a majority in the country across all party lines.

Earlier that day the president gave what can only be described as a bizarre press conference that was either an attempt at showing that he would not change his habits and methods despite a significant defeat at the polls or a deliberate attempt to be bizarre in an effort to change the news cycle away from the success the Democrats had at the polls.

More significantly, he fired (yes, fired, when the president asks for a resignation it is not a voluntary action to resign) Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday afternoon.  It was not so surprising that he did so, as he had been saying he would for well over a year, but it was unsettling that he did so less than twenty-four hours after the polls closed.  To some extent, it is what it is.  I was no fan of Mr. Sessions, but I did respect that he stood up to the president over the ongoing Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by the president.  Mr. Sessions did the right thing to recuse himself in accordance with the ethics of the situation and the rules of the Department of Justice (DOJ).  Mr. Trump never got over the fact that someone in his administration did the right thing.  He constantly asked where was “his Roy Cohn” — an Attorney General that should defend him personally and shield him from investigations, rather than work for the American people in upholding the principles of the Constitution.  (You may remember that Roy Cohn was Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and mentor.  Mr. Cohn started his public career as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Chief Counsel during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954.  Mr. Cohn is  the person responsible for teaching Mr. Trump to always “hit back twice as hard” against any accusations and “deny, deny, deny” — never apologize or admit to a mistake.)

The real bad news was not necessarily in the departure of Mr. Sessions.  The shocker was the person Mr. Trump named as his successor.  Mr. Trump’s intent to stop the Mueller investigation is reflected in his choice.

In a move that many Republican and Democrat Constitutional scholars consider against the law, Mr. Trump got his Roy Cohn by appointing Matthew Whitaker as the Acting Attorney General.  Mr. Whitaker is not a Senate confirmed official, which is the basis for many scholars and experts to consider his appointment to be illegal.  The normal sequence of events would be for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to become the Acting Attorney General.  Conceivably, Mr. Trump could have appointed another Senate confirmed official as the Acting AG but he did not do that.  Why, you ask?  I do not know what goes on in Mr. Trump’s mind, but I can guess.

This is a bit down in the weeds, which I think Mr. Trump believes most people don’t care about, but this turn of events is serious and with long-lasting impact.  I will attempt to explain why, as succinctly as possible.

Mr. Rosenstein has been the supervisory official for the Mueller investigation.  Mr. Trump has been at odds with him for nearly two years about that investigation.  He wants to put someone into the DOJ as Acting AG in order to have someone in place to over rule Mr. Rosenstein and to inhibit, if not derail or eliminate, the Mueller probe before it indicts one of his family (the odds are high that Mr. Donald Trump Jr. is in Mr. Mueller’s sights) or comes back with a report saying that the Trump Campaign did conspire with the Russians to influence the election and then Mr. Trump obstructed justice in an attempt to cover it up and/or protect his family and business interests.

Legal scholars not only think Mr. Whitaker is an invalid appointee, but they also mostly agree that should he stay in the position, he must recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation because of his extensive public remarks stating that he does not believe anything happened between the Trump Campaign and the Russians.  Oh, and that there was not obstruction of justice. Unfortunately, before being briefed on the investigation or before talking to the ethics attorneys in the DOJ, Mr. Whitaker has expressed that he will not recuse himself.  Of course not. Mr. Trump would not have appointed him if he did.  Preposterously, today Mr. Trump claimed to reporters that he did not know Mr. Whitaker, even though Mr. Whitaker often accompanied or replaced Mr. Sessions in many meetings with the president.  Reportedly, since the president did not like Mr. Sessions, Mr. Whitaker often spoke to the president in his stead.  My view is that some kind of quid pro quo was reached between Mr. Trump and Mr. Whitaker.  The former would appoint him Acting AG with some kind of follow on appointment in the future and the latter would make sure Mr. Mueller and his investigation was severely inhibited or ended.  Such an arrangement of course would be illegal and further the case for obstruction of justice.

They are birds of a feather, however.  Mr. Trump is well-known for his scams, such as Trump University that took in millions of our fellow Americans money based on promises never delivered.  It was forced to close down and Mr. Trump paid a hefty fine.  Mr. Whitaker was on the Board of Directors of a firm that the Federal Trade Commission labeled a “scam,” shut down and fined millions of dollars.  Additionally Mr. Whitaker sent threatening emails to some who complained that they were scammed.  So, they have that in common.

Mr. Whitaker has been especially clear in his remarks regarding the Mueller investigation and the circumstances surrounding the president.  He is right in line with the president that there is nothing there and that it is politically motivated.  In fact, he has opined that the “real” investigation should be of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  Here is what will happen, in my view.

  • Mr. Whitaker will severely limit funding for the Mueller investigation which will curtail further work without having to actually dismiss him and effectively end the investigation.
  • Mr. Whitaker further will limit Mr. Mueller’s work by prohibiting a subpoena of the president to force him to answer questions and will limit any other new avenues of investigation.  (The Acting AG overseeing the investigation must approve all significant elements of the Mueller probe.)
  • Mr. Whitaker will appoint a new Special Counsel to investigate Mrs. Clinton and the DNC in an effort to distract from the Mueller investigation and to give the president a new “caravan” to attack in an effort to distract the American public.

All of this will happen quickly, so that the new Democrat majority in the House has no chance to stop it before taking over in January 2019.  Mr. Trump must be feeling trapped between the rock (Mr. Mueller) and a hard place (the incoming Democrats in the House).  He will act out in any way possible to protect himself, his family and his business interests.  He probably feels that with Mr. Whitaker as the Acting AG, he can dictate which actions the DOJ should take and how Mr. Whitaker can act to protect him.  This is dangerous new territory for our country.  Firing Mr. Mueller directly will cause a political firestorm that may backfire on Mr. Trump.  Instead there will be delays, obfuscation and a slow strangling of the Mueller probe.  The real question is how senior officials in the DOJ, starting with Mr. Rosenstein will react to this affront to our Constitution.  Do they resign in mass?  Do they soldier on doing the best that they can under stifling circumstances?

What about the Republicans in the Senate?  Will they find a spine and stand up to the president at last? Are there any Republicans left in the Senate or have they all become Trumpists?  I see little hope as Senators such as Lindsay Graham (Trumpist — SC) have gone from saying that firing Mr. Sessions would not be tolerated to supporting Mr. Trump’s action to remove him.

“If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay.  Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong.”  — Lindsay Graham in July 2017

“What I’ve been saying for months is every president deserves an attorney general they have confidence in and they can work with.” — Lindsay Graham in November 2018

I am not picking on Senator Graham as his remarks reflect the change in almost every Republican in Washington today.  They changed from executing their oversight role to a becoming a rubber stamp of all things Trumpian, even as it defies what they say they’ve stood for their entire lives.

So for a few hours Tuesday night, I felt good about the future of our country.  I still feel good about it in the long run.  A few short hours later I realized that in the short run, we have a crazy ride ahead of us that will threaten the very fiber of our country.  I think we will survive based on the goodwill I experienced Tuesday, but it is not going to be easy or pretty.

Hang on for a crazy trip over the next two years.  It’s gonna be wild, baby!

 

 


Is There No Shame?

As we head into the final days before Election Day, and in the wake of two domestic terrorist attacks including the tragic loss of eleven lives at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the ridiculous claims, lies, fear mongering and fomenting of hate by the President of the United States of America continues unabated.  He has no shame.  When repeatedly asked about his vile tactics he offers some version of “it works — we won.”  Maybe he won, but the “we” — the citizens of this great country — are losing.  The president may feel no shame, but I do.  I am ashamed that this is the face of the United States that the world sees.

As I have written before, the president uses words that have distinct connotations for people who consider themselves white supremacists, anti-Semites, and others.  “Nationalist,” “globalist,” “international bankers,” and other similar words have distinct anti-Jewish meanings to those filled with hate.  It stokes the fires raging inside of the haters.  Here is one thing to understand.  These people don’t just hate Jews as a religion, they see a vast international conspiracy where “Jews” rule the world.  Literally.  The haters see a hidden web of conspiracies and connections throughout the world that the rest of us know nothing about.  They believe that the Jewish conspiracy controls everything that happens politically and especially economically.  All the suffering by those that are not part of the cabal can lay their problems at the feet of those that “belong.”  The nationalists unfounded hate may take the form of religious intolerance, but it is important to understand that in their minds it goes way, way, deeper.  It is a world-wide conspiracy and everything is controlled by “the Jews.”

Thus the murderer that attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue (Etz haChayim in Hebrew in the Book of Genesis) reportedly picked this particular house of worship because of their well-known involvement with the Jewish charity known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) whose motto is “Welcome the stranger.  Protect the refugee.”  Founded in 1881,  HIAS sought to help Jewish refugees coming to the U.S.  In 1975 it expanded its scope to help Vietnamese refugees coming to the U.S. following the fall of South Vietnam to the communists.  It works world-wide to help the poor and misplaced and refugees of all religions, nationalities and ethnicities.  Currently they are helping the refugees coming from Central America.

Enter the “caravan.”  Enter the George Soros (an internationally known Jewish billionaire) funded caravan.  To the haters, it is all connected.

The synagogue murderer was incensed that the congregants were helping these poor migrants.  He is said to have posted on social media that these impoverished people were “invaders” that were brought here “to kill our people.”  He went on to post that “I can’t just sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.”

Hmmm.  Where did I hear that before?  Oh, right.  From the President of the United States of America.

Among other lies he tells at his campaign rallies, he claims that most of the refugees are members of “MS-13” and “Middle Easterners” coming here to spread illegal drugs, murder people, spread disease, and take away jobs.  As he said earlier this week, “We’re being invaded.  When you look at that, thousands of people — when you looked at that bridge loaded up with thousands of people, that’s called an invasion of our country.”

Reality check.  There are currently less than three thousand people, many women and children, and they are approximately 900 miles away on foot walking across Mexico.  This is one of many such “caravans” that have formed in recent years.  Mostly the migrants travel together for safety from criminals and others willing to exploit them.  The last one to arrive at the U.S. border was last April and resulted in the arrest of 14 people.  Under U.S. and international law we have an obligation to at least listen to and decide on the merits whether these individuals and families, who turn themselves in at the border and ask for asylum, in accordance with the lawshould in fact be given asylum.

They are not law breakers and they are not illegal aliens.  Nearly all of them, turn themselves in. For the April caravan the president sent approximately 2100 National Guard troops to beef up the border.  I am no math major, but that amounts to roughly 150 soldiers for every person arrested from the caravan.  Now the president has issued an order for about 5200 active duty soldiers to move to the border this week.  A few fun facts about that.  This will be the greatest number of troops on the Mexican border in over a century.  We will have about the same number of soldiers on the border with Mexico as we have now in Iraq and Syria combined fighting ISIS.  He promises at his campaign rallies that he will send 15,000 soldiers to the border “soon.”  (It is unclear whether this number includes the 5200 already ordered there.)  That number is nearly equivalent to the total number we have fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Which is the greater threat?  Impoverished families from Central America or the Taliban?  ISIS?

Here is a couple of things to consider.  He is sending active duty troops because the National Guard now there are under the control of the state governors that supplied them.  Not the president.  He wants troops he can control.  There is a law known as the  Posse Comitatus Act signed by President Hayes in 1878 that has come to be interpreted as prohibiting U.S. federal troops from enforcing domestic law. In other words, they have no arrest powers.  (Of the military services, only the U.S. Coast Guard has arrest authority.  There are some exceptions for the other services under the Insurrection Act and in other specified situations.)

In other words, our active duty forces that are involved in two active wars and numerous other missions around the world, will be sent to the border to satisfy the campaign rhetoric of the president.  He has politicized the military and is using it as a personal tool for campaigning.  As it is, they can only be used in a support role (non-law enforcement tasks) but so far have been under orders from the Secretary of Defense to have no interaction with the refugees beyond medical or legal aid.  To further demonstrate the waste of taxpayer money, the caravan is not expected to arrive at the border for about two more months.  That amounts to 15,000 troops sitting on their collective back sides for two months — which may include Thanksgiving and Christmas — rather than being home with their families between combat deployments or training for their next deployment.  It impairs readiness.

This is not a matter of enforcing immigration laws.  All main stream politicians and candidates, from any party, supports enforcing our laws and protecting the borders.  This is not what the president’s rhetoric is about.  It is all to stir up fear and anger among people who must be pretty unhappy about their lives.

But it gets better yet.

The President of the United States of America apparently thinks that he can change the Constitution of the United States through an Executive Order.  Wow.  My prediction is that his plan to do so disappears after the election — most things he promises go out with a whimper — but what if he actually believes it?  Here is what he said earlier this week.

“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t.  You can definitely do it with an Act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”

So everyone has had it wrong for over two hundred years.  I wonder who the “they” are that just discovered that all it takes is an Executive Order.

Specifically he wants to change the “policy” (yes — he actually said that) written in the 14th Amendment.  There are five sections to the amendment, but it is the first section that he wants to change.  That portion of the 14th Amendment reads:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This is the so called “birthright” amendment and the source of so much hate and misinformation about “anchor babies.”  The president claims that:

“We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits.  It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”

Facts take a beating under this president.  There are over 30 countries that have the same birthright privilege of citizenship including Canada and Mexico.  The baby is not “essentially” a citizen, they are a citizen.  “All those benefits” which he claims amount to “billions and billions of dollars” do not take into account that the vast majority of those babies grow up to be productive citizens of the United States that work and pay taxes and contribute to the improvement of our country.

But there is something more sinister about attacking the 14th Amendment.  Not only does it continue to vilify those seeking a better life, the 14th Amendment is an anathema to those same self-styled “nationalists” that I have written about before.  The 14th Amendment is there to incorporate into law and the Constitution that former slaves and their descendants are full citizens.  The amendment overturns counting slaves (and presumably without this change, freed slaves) as three-fifths of a person encapsulated in Article One, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution.  So picking the 14th Amendment for an Executive Order does two things.  It supports the views of white supremacists and further encourages them by, in the view of many African-Americans, going after one of the most historically important amendments in their lives.  It also sends a signal to many African-Americans that they are part of the “other.”

Perhaps he would like to also sign an Executive Order doing away with freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights as well.  The president, like Joseph Stalin considers the press an “enemy of the people.”  Come to think of it, why stop there?  Just overturn any other silly amendments that get in the way.

I see a pattern developing.  These are not isolated incidents.  All are common to a thread of creating the “other” to hate, fear and vilify.  A page from the demagogue text-book.  Note that the president is not campaigning on his accomplishments.  Pay attention to his rants at his rallies and you will not hear him say anything that might not have already been said during his 2016 campaign. He is trying to convince people that without him and his supporters in Congress, the apocalypse will be upon us.

The stakes are high.  The soul of our country is under attack.  I find it shameful and it is too high of a price to pay for “winning.”


Domestic Terrorism

This week at least fourteen Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs — the designation used by FBI Director Wray and the same designation given to those used by our enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere) were sent to prominent Democrats, their supporters and to critics of Mr. Trump.  This was an act of domestic terrorism.  Unfortunately, it also exposed the unbelievable lengths that some pundits and politicians will go to “win.”

Our country is in trouble when we cannot agree that the actions of this nut case (I refuse to use his name as these perpetrators should not be given the attention they all so obviously seek) and self-identified Trump supporter are abhorrent and should be roundly condemned by all Americans.  It didn’t happen.

Prominent Conservative mainstream media personalities continued to tout the mass assassination attempt as a “hoax” or “false flag” operation put together by Democrats (say what??!!) in order to turn the mid-term election away from Republicans.  Despicable.  You can look it up.  Ann Coulter, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh and others with a national platform are promoting this theory, even after the arrest of the bomber.

Make no mistake about it.  FBI Director Wray was very clear in yesterday’s Department of Justice news conference announcing the arrest of the bomber. He emphasized that the mailed bombs “were not hoax devices” and were made of “energetic material that could be explosive.”  As to whether it was a left-wing false flag operation Attorney General Sessions stated that the bomber was a registered Republican and a “partisan.”

Actually it should make little difference what ethnicity, religion, or political party can be attributed to the bomber.  No difference.  He is a terrorist.  Period.

As a country we were incredibly lucky that no one was injured or killed.  Think how we would be reeling today if even half of those bombs had worked as intended.  If the bombs got to their intended targets the assassination of past presidents, a vice president, a secretary of state, employees of a prominent news organization, and other current and former U.S. government officials would be dead.  A national tragedy.  Fortunately, the law enforcement officials and postal workers tasked with preventing such a scenario did their jobs and did them well.  They should be congratulated and celebrated.  A totally different scenario could have unfolded if those bombs had gone off in postal facilities, mail rooms or while being removed by explosive disposal units or in transit in the mail.  There could have been many innocent people killed or wounded.  Thankfully that did not happen, but in no way should it lessen our horror that this event reflects the use of fear and anger to promote political agendas.

The bomber is solely responsible for his actions.  While he may be an unstable individual, he chose to make and mail the explosives.  It is his actions that need to be analyzed and condemned.  Unfortunately, my view is that the President of the United States helped to create the conditions that caused this individual to decide to act.  Mr. Trump is famous for his rallies where he bullies and belittles his opponents, calls the press the “enemy of the people,” pushes his supporters to chant “lock her up” in reference to former Secretary Clinton (I point out that it has been six years since she was in government — give it a rest), “CNN sucks”, and recently called a Congressman convicted of assault after body slamming a reporter “my type of guy.”  This after his campaign rallies where he actively incited his followers to beat up, “punch in the face,” “have him carried out on a stretcher” and other vile statements directed at opponents.  His attitude has not changed.  He has no understanding of the impact the words of the president may have on those in our country and around the world (hello Mohammed bin Salman) who act on his alleged “jokes.”

Mr. Trump dutifully read his “presidential statement” from the teleprompter about “unity” and condemning violence.  He then went out to one of his rallies and mocked that his advisers want him to “be nice” and went back to his play list of greatest hits through bullying and belittling.

And then it got worse, in my view.

Friday morning at 3:14 AM — while the bomber was still at large — he tweeted:

“Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, “it’s just not Presidential!”

— Donald J. Trump on Twitter 26 October 2018

This after CNN was the recipient of two of the bomb packages.

And it got worse still.

Before the bomber was apprehended, the President of the United States sent out this tweet:

“Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this “Bomb” stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows – news not talking politics. Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!”

— Donald J. Trump on Twitter 26 October 2018

Just when I think our political and social discourse cannot get any lower, I learn that it can.  Let’s dissect this statement.  As prominent Americans were threatened, and first responders and others were working to keep Americans safe by putting their lives on the line, the president is bemoaning the fact that he is not the center of attention and that the news media should be focused on his “politics” and how great he is doing.  In so doing, he clearly does not grasp the intensity and severity of the moment.  It appears that he thinks it “very unfortunate” that no one is talking about how great the Republicans are doing politically.  Not that the bombings are unfortunate, rather that he isn’t getting the attention.  Simultaneously he seems to be adding credence to the “hoax” conspiracy theories by lessening the importance of the incidents and by putting “bomb” (“stuff”??) in quotation marks as if they are not real bombs.  He went further last night to say that the media was “using” the bombs to “very unfairly” criticize him.  When asked by reporters whether he had contacted any of the intended bomb recipients he said, “They wanted me to. But I’ll pass.”  So presidential.  A real leader.  The bombings were all about him and not those put in harm’s way.

Mr. Trump is only focused on “winning” the mid-terms and will use any means possible to do so.  Note that he has stopped touting anything positive that his administration may have accomplished and instead is totally focused on raising apocalyptic scenarios by calling peaceful demonstrators expressing their First Amendment rights “angry mobs” and creating a “national emergency” over a group of a few thousand people, mostly impoverished women and children, that are over a thousand miles away from our border, and other utterly false or misleading statements that are meant to raise fear and anger.

It worked for an unstable individual that took matters into his own hands.

And please, don’t give me any “what aboutisms.”  The president’s words carry special meaning — or at least they should until they are cheapened by demagoguery.  Mr. Trump is the first president in my life time that makes no, zero, nada, zilch, nunca, attempts to unify the country, even in times of national crisis.  He can mechanically read the words his staff writes for him, but when on his own his true thoughts come out.

Whether after the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville (“there are good people on both sides”), or the belittling of Dr. Ford following the Justice Kavanaugh hearings (“It doesn’t matter.  We won.”), or the murder of Jamal Khashoggi (“the worst cover-up ever”) or the attempted mass assassination of his political opponents (“the media has been really unfair to me”) or countless others, Mr. Trump has no idea what it means to be the president of the entire United States and has no clue of how to lead.

Thank goodness our law enforcement agencies and our intelligence agencies and other dedicated civil servants continue to do their jobs despite constant criticism and belittlement.  They are the ones truly keeping us safe from terrorists, foreign and domestic.


Where Are The Patriots?

“You know, they have a word.  It sort of became old-fashioned.  It’s called a nationalist.  And I say, ‘Really, we’re not supposed to use that word?’  You know what I am?  I’m a nationalist, okay?  I’m a nationalist.  Nationalist!  Use that word.  Use that word!”

—  Donald J. Trump at a political rally in Houston, 22 October 2018

And there we have it.

The President of the United States is proudly using a word that is full of historic negative connotations.  Mr. Trump stated yesterday in response to a reporter’s question that he didn’t know why people were upset with his use of the word and implied that it meant the same as “patriotism.”  It is not the same, and anyone with any sense of history knows that.  While the president is famously ill-informed, and proud of it, I have no doubt he knew exactly what he was saying.  His own words tell us that: “we’re not supposed to use that word.”

Nationalism:  Loyalty and devotion to a nation.  Especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or groups.

— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Patriotism: Love for or devotion to one’s country.

— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Note the difference, and it’s a big one.  One espouses devotion to a nation, one to a country.  While we say that we “are one nation under God” we are really a country, not a nation in the sense that it is used in these definitions.  In this sense a nation is a group of people with a common language, ethnicity, and an outlook that manifests in a common culture.  In other words, it is exclusive of those that do not share the same traits.

Nationalism is a relatively recent development in history, coming into wide-spread usage starting in the 1800s and resulting in the founding of nation-states in place of empires or kingdoms that had dominated previously.  The idea came of age in the 20th century and was one of the key causes leading to World War I and World War II.  In truth, nationalism can be a positive force, such as in the end of colonialism and the emergence of many new countries from nations across Africa, Latin America and Asia, or it can be a negative force such as the rallying cry of fascist dictators and others.  Vladimir Putin is using Russian nationalism to consolidate his power and as an excuse for the annexation of Crimea and for threats against the Baltic States, especially Estonia which has a high percentage of ethnic Russians in its population.

E Pluribus Unum.  “Out of many, one.”  Our country’s motto reflects the fact that our country is made of people from around the world, from many nations, that have come together to form a “more perfect union.”  We put aside our devotion to the nation of origin and pledge our allegiance to a new country.  This is what made, and keeps, America great and is significantly different from what it means to be French, or Spanish, or Chinese.

The history of nationalism in this country is sordid.  Historically it means a belief in a country dominated by white Christian males and is most closely associated with white nationalism.  The march in Charlottesville Virginia last year was a white nationalist rally which included overt neo-Nazi groups.  Mr. Trump opined that there were “good people on both sides” thus validating the cause of those groups, at least in their eyes.  Nationalism means that one promotes one’s own culture and values ahead of those of others.  Nationalists do so not just because they believe in them but because they believe that their culture and values are inherently better than those of any other one’s or any other nation’s culture and values.  Thus, it means that in the context of the Charlottesville rally, for example, that white interests should supersede those of any other group in the U.S.

In the 1930’s the Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party used nationalism to legally rise to power in a republican Germany.  The rallying cry was that German culture and ethnicity was superior to any other nation’s and therefore Germans should dominate the world.

In the U.S., mainstream politicians and citizens celebrate our diversity.  We have a history of people of different ethnic groups, nationalities, religions, cultures and customs coming together in a common cause.  It is what makes for American Exceptionalism which is, well, exceptional because we are one of the few, if not the only, country in the world that not only believes in our diversity, but celebrates it.

Mr. Trump claimed yesterday in response to a question about white nationalism during a press availability in the Oval Office, as to whether he intended his remarks to encourage white nationalists. He responded incredulously to the question and said “no, I’ve never heard that theory about being a nationalist.”

Really?

Where are the patriots?  Who is standing up and saying, “no, Mr. President, we are not nationalists, we are patriots.”  We do not celebrate the demonization of other ethnic groups or nationalities. Patriots celebrate our country and are proud of the fact that from our various backgrounds we come together in common purposes.  We are a beacon to the world.  Extinguishing that beacon through a misguided belief that we are somehow being “screwed” by “others” will not improve the life of any American.  Should we follow the path that Mr. Trump espouses we lose the essence of what has served us so well for so long.  Anger and fear are the basic ingredients of a “nationalist” ideology.  We are better than that.

 

 


A License To Kill

As the evidence of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s (MBS) involvement in the murder of Washington Post journalist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi continues to grow, the President of the United States and the U.S. Secretary of State expand their dissembling and cover up on behalf of the leadership of Saudi Arabia.

It is embarrassing in one sense and appalling in every way.

Whether or not Prince Mohammad thought that he would be able to murder someone on foreign soil with impunity and without consequence or not, with the complicity and direct efforts of the President of the United States he will get away with it.  The president trotted out his tag line that worked so well in the nomination and confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh by accusing the press and world leaders elsewhere of jumping to conclusions.  Or as he said in an interview with the Associated Press,  “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that.  We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh.  And he was innocent all the way.”

The preponderance of evidence, including from Turkey our NATO ally, indicates that the Saudis certainly did murder Mr. Khashoggi and given the way the Saudis govern, it is preposterous to stipulate that Saudi hit men that are known to work directly for the Crown Prince would have gone “rogue” and killed him without the Prince’s knowledge.

One element that indicates the president is involved in a cover up is the fact that the U.S. intelligence agencies were directed not to follow through with scheduled briefings for the Senate Intelligence Committee concerning events surrounding the murder.  As Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn), the Chairman of the committee told reporters yesterday, the administration has “clamped down” on providing information to the committee and cancelled a scheduled briefing on Tuesday.  Senator Corker went on to say that before his committee’s oversight of the Executive Branch was blocked, that the intelligence he had seen indicates that Mr. Khashoggi was murdered by the Saudis.  He added, “everything points to MBS.  This could not have happened without his approval.”

Once again, this administration is driven by money and money alone.  Apparently they are not knowledgeable enough or competent enough to figure out how to condemn the actions resulting in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi without breaking off relations with Saudi Arabia, an important, if unreliable, friend in the Middle East.  The Saudis (and their money) are important players in the region and can be a counter to Iran.  Diplomacy and foreign relations require skill and knowledge of the trade craft involved in the push and pull of world events.  Evidently this administration cannot pull it off.

For example, back in the day I spent a lot of time in the Middle East and in dealing with regional issues, including in Saudi Arabia.  The Bedouin tradition is one of extreme hospitality, based on their origins as nomads in the desert where survival might depend on help from others.  This ingrained hospitality has carried over to modern Saudi Arabia.  Part of that tradition is to never say “no.”  They don’t.  But it doesn’t take long to figure out that not saying “no” doesn’t mean “yes.”  An apocryphal but not too unrealistic negotiation would go something like this:  “Will you commit to buying $110 billion in U.S. arms?”  “It would be a great honor.” “So that means you will?”  “Inshallah!”  (God willing!)  And so it goes.  One walks away thinking that there was a deal until it comes time to put ink to paper.

The president is being hoodwinked if he thinks that the value of the Saudis to U.S. security interests is so immense that it outweighs human rights, and thus he needs to cover up the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.  They need us more than we need them.  Some examples. The U.S. is now a net exporter of oil, thanks to the expansion of the commercial viability of shale oil.  We do import oil, but our biggest supplier is Canada.  Oil is a fungible commodity, the Saudis need to sell their oil as their economy is nearly entirely dependent on it.  They aren’t going to stop.  The arms sales the president is so afraid of losing constitute a small percentage of the U.S. defense industry.  More to the current point, most of the Saudi’s military equipment is U.S., especially their aircraft and the munitions they carry.  They will need U.S. spare parts and maintenance contracts for years to come.  They will not cut those off as it would be against their own best interests especially as they continue to interfere in the war in Yemen.  Should war break out between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Saudis are toast without us.  And so on.  One gets the idea.  The Saudis need us economically and militarily more than we need them. We hold most of the cards and a skillful administration would know how to parlay them into the Saudi’s taking accountability for a crime against humanity. Diplomatically and through intelligence sharing they can provide the U.S. some real value.  However, the president argues in terms of the bottom line — money — and not in terms of their other value added.

Apparently, human rights has no place in U.S. foreign policy, a break in our traditions since World War II.  That is not to say that the U.S. hasn’t looked the other way in the past in order to attain our national interests.  We have, in some truly shameful circumstances.  Rarely, if ever, however, has the president actively worked in favor of a foreign power to cover up a heinous crime.

Perhaps there are other motivations such as personal financial gain for the president and his family?

Over the last 18 months the U.S. has given the dictators of the world a license to kill.  In addition to the unfolding events in Saudi Arabia, the president has shrugged over Russian president Vladimir Putin ordering a poison attack on British soil, congratulated Philippine president Duterte’s hit squads killing thousands of people on the streets in his war on drugs, congratulated China’s president Xi on changing the succession of government to become President for Life, as he did with Turkey’s president Erdogan who undermined democracy in his own country and installed himself as a de facto autocrat, and of course expressed his admiration for the world’s current most ruthless dictator North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.  As the President of the United States said about the Great Leader, “We went back and forth, then we fell in love. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they are great letters. We fell in love.”

How nice.

Meanwhile he trashes our allies in the U.K,, Germany, Japan, Canada and the entirety of NATO, to name a few of the nations we actually depend upon .

Let’s look from the outside in.  Were I sitting in North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia or a host of other nations led by autocrats and dictators, I would conclude that all one needs to do to silence and paralyze the United States is to impress the president on how wonderful he is and to put some money on the line.  After that, anything goes. “And when you’re a star they let you do it.  You can do anything.”  Maybe those despots just “gotta use some Tic Tacs” to get what they want.

Of course poor people in Africa or Latin America are a direct threat to the survival of the United States.  I guess that’s why today the president threatened to put the military on our border with Mexico to stop the “invasion” coming from Central America.

Something is upside down in our country.

 


How Much Is A Life Worth?

Roughly two weeks ago Jamal Khashoggi disappeared while visiting the Saudi Arabia Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.  Mr. Khashoggi, born and raised in Saudi Arabia, was a frequent critic of the Saudi regime who was living in exile as a permanent green card holder in the United States and was a Washington Post journalist.  Mr. Khashoggi entered the consulate, as seen on security cameras outside the building, but was never observed coming out and has not been heard from since.  The Saudis claim that he left the Consulate in fine condition but can provide no proof and cannot say where he may be.  The Turkish government states that it has hard evidence — reportedly audio and possibly video recordings — that Mr. Khashoggi was interrogated, tortured, murdered and dismembered inside the Consulate.  The Turks report that a fifteen man “hit squad” flew in and out of Turkey from Saudi Arabia on two private aircraft before and after the alleged murder.

This incident is getting the full attention of both political parties in the United States Senate as well as freedom loving nations around the world.  Demands for answers from the Saudis and a full investigation into the disappearance of a respected journalist are growing.  For those nations that care about human rights, this is an egregious and blatant act of state sponsored terrorism against an innocent civilian conducted on the foreign soil of a NATO ally.  It cannot be tolerated.

While acknowledging that a state ordered murder of Mr. Khashoggi  (“if it’s true”) would be a problem (“We don’t like it. We don’t like it even a bit.”),  the President of the United States has been clear over the last several days that restricting arms sales to Saudi Arabia should not be on the table.  Or as he said on Thursday, ” I would not be in favor of stopping a country from spending $110 billion — which is an all time record — and letting Russia have that money and letting China have that money.” (Mr. Trump keeps touting the $110 billion arms deal, but analysts say that the Saudis have only committed to about $10 billion and it is debatable that the Saudis will ever buy the full $110 billion as their military cannot assimilate all of those weapons.)  So we know that Mr. Khashoggi’s life is not worth $110 billion or even $10 billion.  What is it worth?

This murderous development significantly impacts U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.  The Trump Administration, through the president’s son-in-law Mr. Jared Kushner, has put all of their Middle East policy eggs in the Saudi basket.  The reasons are many, varied and complicated, but if you can’t tell the players without a score card, a quick summary follows.

The modern state of Saudi Arabia was created in 1930 under King Abdul-Aziz bin Saud.  The relationship with the United States began following the discovery of oil in the kingdom in 1938 and dates to a meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdul-Aziz aboard the USS Quincy while anchored in the Suez Canal.  A hand shake between the two took on the force of a treaty.  The kingdom would supply oil to the U.S. in exchange for security and protection guarantees from the U.S.  That same basic agreement is still in force today, but with greater complications.

The kingdom was ruled for most of its existence by one of the sons of King Abdul-Aziz.  As one half-brother died, another would succeed him as king.  For all of this time, the main focus of Saudi policy was, and is, the preservation of the rule of the royal family (which now numbers in the thousands with uncles, cousins, second cousins, etc. that can trace lineage back to King Abdul Aziz) and their wealth.  As the brothers died off, there was a power struggle within the family as to how succession would be passed down for the future.  Currently, the winner of that struggle is Mohammad bin Salman, at 33 the current Crown Prince, heir apparent and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia as his father, King Salman, the nominal ruler of the kingdom is reported to be in poor health.

Crown Prince Mohammad, commonly referred to as MBS, is also good friends with Mr. Kushner.  Both are young and apparently bonded in the days following the election in 2016.  Many thought originally  that Prince Mohammad would be a reformer within the kingdom and bring it into the 21st century through economic and social reform.  Recently, analysis of his efforts indicates that he is a good public relations man in pushing the appearance of reform, but in fact his efforts are focused on establishing himself as the autocratic head of state and in consolidating power for himself, regardless of who gets hurt in the process.  For example in 2017 he had over 40 members of  the royal family and senior government officials arrested and imprisoned along with roughly 200 other businessmen, bankers, broadcasters and others.  Ostensibly this was to rid the government of corruption but it is widely viewed as a test of his power and an attempt to eliminate any competition for his leadership.  Most were eventually released after paying “fines” (read bribes) to the Crown Prince worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  It is widely believed that Mr. Kushner may have shared highly classified intelligence with the Prince prior to the purge naming those in the country that opposed his taking the reins .

Mr. Kushner sees MBS as the key to countering Iran in the region and as the key to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The prince positioned himself to be a “player” but so far the Saudis have not delivered on their promises (as anyone knowing how things work in that area would know) even as the U.S. has delivered on their end, most controversially by supporting the Saudis with arms and intelligence during their ongoing military involvement in Yemen.

Additionally, and not surprisingly, both the Trump and Kushner family business organizations have long-standing and wide-spread business involvement in Saudi Arabia.  When Mr. Trump was in serious financial trouble in the 1990s, for example, he sold condos, a hotel, parts of his business and his yacht to Saudis to raise money.  It is rumored that the Saudis saved the Kushner family business by taking on the loan for a prominent New York land mark.  There are other business connections that have been detailed in many venues, but without the release of a certain president’s tax returns and other normally provided financial information, the true extent of the deals cannot be determined.  Oh by the way, the biggest spender at the Trump Hotel in Washington DC since the election is the Saudi government.

Mr. Khashoggi wrote often and furiously about the corruption in the Saudi royal family, their business ties and the efforts by Prince Mohammad to take control of the country.  Or as he said last year to The New Yorker, “It’s an interesting form of dictatorship that is being created in Saudi Arabia.  MBS is now becoming the supreme leader.”

Mr. Khashoggi would never have been murdered without the knowledge of Prince Mohammad.

And all of this is the tip of the iceberg.  Our relationship is a complicated one, on all levels.  There are advantages and disadvantages to working with the Saudis.  The alleged murder of Mr. Khashoggi puts a lot of the national and personal goals of this administration in peril should the president choose to act on punishing the Saudis.  The Senate is invoking the Global Magnitsky Act based on a December 2016 law that invokes sanctions against anyone or any government implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world.  The president is resisting.  (Ironically the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Mr. Trump, Jr. and the Russians concerned the Magnitsky Act which at the time involved sanctions against Russians committing human rights abuses. In December of that year it expanded to a global scale.)

Mr. Trump knows he must act tough, but my bet is that he hopes that it all blows over.  Today he reportedly spoke to King Salman, the titular head of Saudi Arabia, who assured him that the Saudis had nothing to do with Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.  He flatly denied it.  Or as Mr. Trump told reporters today, “It wasn’t like there was a question in his mind.  The denial was very strong.”  (As one recalls, anyone or any government that strongly denies a murder by chemical attack — hello Russia — or preying on young girls — hello Roy Moore — or anything else is believed by Mr. Trump because they are “very strong” in their denials.)

To add injury to insult, Mr. Trump added to his statement by saying that “It sounded to me like it could have been rogue killers.  Who knows?”  Indeed.  Can you say “cover up”?

I can see it developing already.  No official U.S. government action will ensue as Mr. Trump says we can’t be sure who did it.  The Saudis deny it.  Very strongly.  It could have been rogue killers.  We cannot give up billions in arms sales.  Too bad.  I feel bad for his family.  Hey, look over there!

And we move on.

There was a time when the U.S. cared about and set an example for human rights, freedom of the press and other values we held dearly as a nation.  Now, not so much.  Apparently all of our relations are now transactional and only get fully considered based on the financial bottom line.  It only matters how much money is involved, not what is right.

Apparently a human life isn’t worth anything to the United States anymore.