The Hypocrisy of neutrality

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This has been on my mind for a long time, and it is time that I say something.

For the last three years I have been extremely active in a coexistence program that brings Israeli teens (Jewish and Arab) to the U.S. for a two week intensive immersion in shared society, living together, working together, doing service projects, public speaking. I have found it to be a very valuable experience, for them and for those they interact with, and I think it is a key element to an eventual resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It isn’t the only part of the solution, it is one important part.

This year’s delegation has been in the U.S. (in Bloomington-Normal) the past ten days, and those who follow me on social media will notice that I have not made a single post about it. Why? Well, because I am no longer part of the local advisory board. Why would I leave the board of a group that I think is so important? Well, it wasn’t exactly by choice.

In January I learned that the parent organization had created a series of new rules, one of which was particularly unacceptable.  All local volunteers could neither speak, write, nor take any positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Complete neutrality was required. Hmmm… I understand that for an employee of the organization, it is important for there to be no pre-conceived biases, but for volunteers? This struck me as authoritarian and over-the-top. As most people who know me know, I do a lot of advocacy work on Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution. I am a vocal supporter of a two state solution — two states, two peoples, one peace. I do this through my work with Presbyterians for Middle East Peace. I have spent fifty days in Israel and Palestine meeting organizations and people, doing fact-finding, and studying the issues at play. I also do similar work promoting a two state solution with various Jewish Federations. At ISU, I advise Hillel, the Jewish Student Union, and have worked hard not just to better understand Jewish culture and religious beliefs, but have done my best to expose the students to the same work I do on two states for two peoples. And, I write on the topic – here in my personal blog, and in my occasional column in the Times of Israel, a Jerusalem-based online newspaper.

So when told I could either stop writing and speaking out on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or continuing to work in the co-existence project, my choice was simple. I am not going to remain silent,or neutral. I have many Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian friends. I advocate for ALL of them. Everything I write, even with criticizing the Boycott Divest Sanctions Movement, focuses on self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians. Everything I write is intended to promote that one goal: two states, two peoples, and one peace. The idea that volunteers need to be completely neutral on the peacemaking issues that so much time, energy, and talent is invested is nonsensical. While it makes sense that paid staff need to remain neutral and not speak out on issues, to impose that on volunteers — volunteers whose professional work is focused on justice and conflict resolution is incredibly short-sighted. There is a hypocrisy in thinking that one can advocate for peace while remaining completely neutral.  Yes, an organization can create whatever rules it wants. I accept that.  I can also decide how to focus my energies.

I am not going to suggest that I don’t have biases. If there is one thing you learn in studying narratives, it is that we all have our own narrative. So, yes, I work with Jewish organizations; yes, I write a column for an Israeli newspaper. And yes, I work to promote the two state solution while opposing efforts to delegitimize Israel. I am also a public intellectual. I do research on the shared society efforts and the efficacy of “co-existence” programs, while also engaging in public advocacy. Will some view me as being a “Zionist” or pro-Israel because of my work, and the time I have spent in Israel? Sure. I am Pro-Israel. I am also Pro-Palestine, and Pro-Peace.

It makes me sad that I can not interact with the current group, or be a part of the program anymore, but I remain committed to the participants and teachers I have worked with in the past three years. My friends in Haifa, Nazareth, Rama, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Eilat are why this work is so important. It is more important than any one program’s short-sighted policy edicts.

Listening to the narratives

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As those of you who follow me on Facebook might have been able to tell from my photo posts, the last week has been quite the adventure.  I was able to participate on an Academic Partner for Peace study trip to Israel, focused on conflict-resolution and peacemaking.  I traveled with a group of faculty from across the U.S. and Canada, joined by two close friends from the Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel Action Network.  I had joined in on a few days of a similar interfaith trip in 2016, so I knew what I was in for — a remarkable opportunity to hear multiple narratives, and meet a wide variety of people, and experience Israel and the Palestinian West Bank in ways that the vast majority of visitors never do.   

We heard from government officials from the Foreign Affairs ministry, we met with leftist Israeli NGOs, we spoke with Israeli-Arabs and traveled to the oldest Peace Center in Israel, to learn about efforts at bi-lingual education and building a shared society within Israeli schools.  We met with a Palestinian doctor in Ramallah, and head of a medical relief agency, who espoused the strongest viewpoint of Fatah — the Palestinian National Authority — and then  we met with a Palestinian business man building a multi-billion-dollar city in the desert, which is either SimCity Palestine or a real effort at a middle-class Palestinian existence.  We visited with Settlers and Palestinians in the Etzion bloc who were actually engaged in efforts at shared society.  We met faculty at Hebrew University in the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace.  We heard from Arab-Israeli political activists and from women who are “waging peace” because “the men aren’t doing to well of a job at it,” putting pressure on politicians, and learning how to effectively lobby .  We had a security briefing by a lieutenant colonel in the Israeli Defense Force about external threats, while on a mountain-top overlook in the Golan Heights, while looking into Syria and Lebanon, and heard gunfire in the distance.   We traveled to the immediate outskirts of the Gaza Strip, visiting a town (Sderot) that regularly is subject to rocket-attacks from Hamas.  We visited a Moshav  adjacent to Gaza (a kibbutz-like community) in which every building is a bunker.  We learned about the ways they try to live a normal life, while being in constant threat from rockets.  We met with a lawyer and activist who is trying to achieve equality for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, while overlooking the security barrier which literally divides part of East Jerusalem in two.  

What we did not do, was hear one voice, one narrative.  It was the complete opposite of many mainline protestant-organized trips.  We learned multiple narratives, we were forced to grapple with a wide variety of perspectives, and try to make sense of them, identifying the incongruity and dissonance that such an exploration can provide.  This was not my first trip, and not my first time hearing many of these narratives, but this week expanded my understanding, and provided new context.  It reinforced the need to listen to the narratives.

I can’t pick any one thing that was most compelling, as so many were, but I will forever remember how being in a space and learning about it is so dramatically different than hearing a talk in a hotel meeting space.  Standing on top of Mount Bental in the Golan Heights, standing a few hundred meters from the Gaza Strip, or learning about the geopolitics of Jerusalem, while over-looking the city, looking at French Hill (a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem – or should I say a settlement), two Palestinian neighborhoods, and then looking across to the largest Israeli settlement, Maale Adumin, splitting the West Bank, practically in half, and beyond it to the Dead Sea and the mountains of Jordan, all provided a visual element that dramatically enhanced the speaker’s message.  Throughout it all, I tried to listen for the unique narratives, and to find the similarities and differences. 

I could write about many experiences, and I will in the next several weeks do that as I go through my notes.  Today, I am enjoying the benefits of being 100 yards from the Mediterranean sea, taking two days of rest and relaxation, before returning to Jerusalem for more meetings and explorations.    The beach awaits.

The Failure of Trumpcare, or how the Republicans ate their own

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So, after seven years, and with 60 or so prior votes to repeal or alter Obamacare, when it really matters, Trump and Ryan come up short, and are forced to pull the bill seeking passage of the American Health Care Act (which would replace Obamacare).  It is important to realize that this legislative failure does not represent a change of heart on behalf of the Republicans.  To the contrary, the majority of the Republicans who refused to support it did so not because they wanted to preserve health care for Americans, but because they didn’t think it gutted the Affordable Care Act enough. Not because they wanted to provide health care for more Americans, or that they were disturbed by how the bill would hurt millions of people, but because IT DIDN’T HURT ENOUGH. Let that sit in for a minute. Because it did not hurt enough.
This is the world we are now in — the Republicans have control of the Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court, yet they are unable to legislate on their signature issue.  The failure is not due (as President Trump wants people to believe) to the obstruction of the Democrats. Instead, it is the result of a growing ideological divide that exists within the Republican Party itself.  We seem to be in a bit of a time vortex, as philosophically, many in the Republican Party seem to have gone back in time to the Lochner era of the early 20th century, that time when the “liberty of contract” and substantive economic due process ruled American politics, where any notion of legislating for the pubic welfare was verboten. A time where laissez faire ruled the day, which reined until it was ended by Roosevelt’s New Deal. In the Lochner era, not only would health care not be a federal issue, it would not be a matter of public concern.  Private forces in the market would rule the day.  This is what, ultimately, the “Freedom caucus” wants–a complete gutting of federal programs regulating health, safety, and general welfare. This is the battle raging in the GOP today.   
As a result, in many ways the Democrats only had to ensure that their caucus remained united in opposition to Trumpcare and then they were able to grab a bowl of popcorn and enjoy the show, watching the Republicans eat their own.   The end result is that Obamacare lives for another day, and the GOP has been dealt its first major defeat (at its own hands) in the age of Trump. The great deal maker, the master negotiator, the king of art of the deal, who apparently lobbied 120 Republicans this week, failed miserably. 
But now that the drama over killing Obamacare is over, maybe we can move on, and get serious about investigating the collusion of the Trump campaign and Russia in the election, and get the impeachment show on the road?

Have we learned anything from 2016?

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A month after the election I wrote a blog trying to make sense of what happened. I reflected on Mark Lilla’s New York Time’s op-ed, “the end of identity liberalism,” a controversial essay that placed the blame for Clinton’s loss on her towing the progressive left line, and ignoring the working class.  He wrote, “… the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”

I do not want to regurgitate the piece I wrote in December, but now, as I write in March, it has been almost 60 days since the inauguration.  We have seen some of the craziest turn of events in American politics in my life-time, and the stirrings of scandals that I truly believe will dwarf both Iran-Contra and Watergate, but I want to focus on “the resistance.”  And on the question of whether anyone has learned a thing since the election.

The resistance to Trump began on two different fronts.  First, there was the women’s march on Washington, on January 21st, and the more than 600 parallel marches across the nation and world, in which an estimated 4 to 5 million people participated in. There has since been a “day without women,” and many smaller rallies and marches, focused on a variety of Trump’s proposed policies. The second front has been the effort to organize efforts to unseat Congressional Republicans, and to put constant pressure on Congress to reject Trumpian policies. This has come in the form of an anti-Tea Party, a movement known as “Indivisible” in which former Democratic staffers have provided a framework for localized mobilization, training, advocacy work, and efforts to put intensive pressure on GOP representatives — and Democrats as well, urging them to do everything in their power to obstruct.

I was moved by the magnitude of the rallies, and I understood the initial impetus for a women’s march — Trump’s history of degrading women, and the October revelations of his “locker-room” talk with Billy Bush.  Yet, I wondered why the first major act of resistance should be focused in a narrow way, and why it wasn’t a call for all Americans to come out in opposition to his politics. I wondered if millions of pink “vagina” hats  was really the best way to build a broader movement.   Was this going to mobilize those on the left?  Maybe.  Was it going to build support from the 62 million who voted for Trump, and the tens of millions who sat out the election? I doubt it.  It did provide incentive for many women to consider becoming more politically active, at all levels.  It was resoundingly successful in making it clear that we are more divided as a nation than we ever have been since 1861.

Then there is the indivisible movement. It is absolutely essential to put pressure on Republican representatives and senators.  To force them to confront the fact that there are a lot of constituents who disagree with their policy proposals.  It is absolutely essential to cultivate candidates who can mount successful campaigns in 2018.  It is critical that there is a way to maintain focus and interest, when the fatigue of almost daily “breaking news” alerts has become exhausting. But is this movement doing anything to broaden the base? To reach out to those who felt abandoned by the Democrats?

Here is my concern.  I’ve watched (and even participated) in some of the social media groups dedicated to “the resistance,” including an indivisible group, a “Voices of Reason” group, and for awhile, a “Drinking Liberally” group.  In each of these groups, I see post after post of criticism of Trump (deservedly) and often derision (hell, I’ve made more than my fair share of comments attacking him), and I’ve seen some excellent calls for action, urges to call the local Congressman, rallies at local congressional district offices, support for rallies against the travel ban, etc…. All of that is good.

What I haven’t seen is ANY actual effort to learn from what happened in 2016.  To actually make any meaningful effort to reach out to working class voters who abandoned the Democratic party — although we might also suggest—that the Democratic Party abandoned them. I have seen no indication whatsoever that anyone has learned anything.  The narrow focus on identity liberalism might energize those in the movement, but will it do anything to gain support of those who voted for Trump or stayed home? To the contrary I have seen the continued intersectionality, not of systems of oppression, but of identity-liberalism itself.  The continued belied that there is a one-sized fits all approach to every single progressive issue. And that support for one issue means support for all.  Yet, I’ve seen no effort at all to try to figure out how to create a true big tent. I’ve seen no effort at all to consider the views of working class voters who for a variety of reasons don’t support some or many of these issues.  I’m not even sure there has been a meaningful effort to try to understand them.

The only way out of this is to prove Lilla wrong, and demonstrate that we are not “narcissistically unaware” of conditions outside our self-defined groups.  If we can do that, then it will be a lot easier to defeat the narcisssit of a different bent, inhabiting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Perjury, presidential delusions, and theater of the surreal

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The past several days has been a whirlwind of political accusations and the theater of the surreal. First it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had lied to the Senate during his confirmation hearings, claiming he had never had any communications with the Russians, when in fact he had two meetings. Sessions knowingly and willfully misled the Senate, while under oath. Those are the elements of the federal crime of perjury. This led to calls for his resignation by several Democrats, and Sessions took the step of recusing himself from any role in a DOJ investigation of Russian interference in the election. The president fully supports Sessions and claims he did nothing wrong, as everything about Russia is fake news and an effort to unfairly target his administration.
As if this wasn’t enough, the president went on a series of tweet-storms in which he accused President Obama of illegally wiretapping Trump tower during the election, and then calling for an investigation. The president offered no evidence, and the claims have been met by widespread disbelief. The tweets suggested that the president has no knowledge of how wiretaps work; nor does he understand the nature of presidential power. The DOJ and FBI have wide authority to seek warrants to conduct a wiretap. That authority has been broadened considerably since September 11, 2001. What the president does not, and has never had, is the power to unilaterally conduct wiretaps. To do so would be to blatantly violate the law, and claims that Obama did this are quite simply, absurd. 
If there was a wiretap it was done after a judge issued a warrant, in which the Court was presented with probable cause that a crime had been committed, or that there had been foreign interference in the election. That warrant would most likely go through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  By Sunday afternoon, after members of Congress on both sides of the aisle were suggesting it was highly unlikely, even the Director of the FBI, requested that the Department of Justice reject Trump’s claim.
But the story gets more surreal. The president’s mis-spelled tweets not only tried to implicate President Obama, but invoked imagery of Nixon, Watergate, and McCarthyism. Why on earth would he do any of this? What is the end game? Forgetting the fact that a president accused of complicity with foreign interference in the election should never utter the words Nixon or Watergate.  But the question remains, what benefit could he gain from this? Well, quite simply, the whole thing stinks of the manipulative maneuverings of Steve Bannon, the president’s alt-right chief strategist. With the evidence mounting of the Trump campaign’s improper ties to the Russian government and businesses, what better distraction could there be than to suggest that President Obama had violated the law.
In some ways it is brilliant. If there is one thing Trump supporters hate with a vengeance, it is Barrack Obama. Thus, what better distraction is there than to allege illegal wrongdoing by the Obama administration? It is the perfect game of smoke and mirrors. Don’t fall for it. Don’t be that gullible. The focus should remain on the one issue that is at the center of this —Russian interference in the election, the president’s refusal to release his tax returns which would either implicate or exonerate him, the numerous high ranking individuals associated with the Trump campaign and administration who are implicated in improper connections with Russia. This is the issue.
President Trump made reference to Watergate and President Nixon. The reality is we are sitting on a time-bomb, which is likely to make Watergate look like small potatoes. A constitutional crisis we have not seen in 45 years. There needs to be a independent investigation and a special prosecutor named, to uncover the truth. The Constitution is robust enough to withstand another Watergate. Indeed, we may have gone so far down the rabbit hole that such a crisis is essential to restoring American democracy.
Don’t be distracted. There is one issue, and we know what it is. It isn’t President Obama. That is for sure.

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Lying with numbers

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“The murder rate in 2015 experienced its largest single-year increase in nearly half a century.”

These are the words uttered by President Donald Trump in his first address to Congress on February 28th.   It seems scary.  It suggests that there is a huge problem in America, where crime is out of control, and where “carnage” rules the day.   Here is the problem.  It isn’t true.

Yes, the Uniform Crime Reports recorded 15,696 homicides in 2015, an increase of 1532 or 10 percent  over 2014. But the claim offered by the president leaves out the fact that the homicide rate in the United States has been falling consistently since 1992.  The claim by the president is manipulative, it takes a one year increase, and makes it sound like there is something sinister going on.

But he did say murder “rate,” so let’s look at the actual homicide rate (calculated as the number of homicides per 100,000 Americans). Here the change does not seem so dramatic.  The homicide rate in 2014 was 4.44 per every 100,000 Americans, and increased to 4.88 in 2015.  Yet this is rate is less than half of what it was in 1991, when the homicide rate was 9.79 per 100,000 people. There were roughly 250 million Americans in 1991, whereas in 2015 the population increased to more than 320 million.

Homicide Rates, US, using FBI UCR Data.

The claim that it is the largest single-year increase in nearly half a century is also factually inaccurate.  It is a lie.  There have been several increases in the past half-century when the raw number of homicides increased by more than 1532, and the murder rate increased by more than 0.442..

  • In 1990, it increased by 1940 homicides (increase of .763) over 1989.
  • In 1986, it increased by 1633 homicides (increase of .633) over 1985.
  • In 1980, it increased by 1580 homicides (increase of .473) over 1979.
  • In 1979 it increased by 1900 homicides (increase of .780) over 1978.

In each of these examples, the homicide RATE was more than double what it is today.   Moreover, there have been several years since 1992, where there have been increases in homicides over the prior year, such as an increase of 592 in 2005, but the over-all trend has been a large decline.   If we look at the data from 1990 to 2015, we can see that the increase in 2015 is relatively minor, and if anything, appears as if 2013 and 2014 were somewhat lower than the rate from 2010 – 2012.

The president’s statement is a lie.  It is manipulative, and it is intended to fit his narrative of law and order.  This is no surprise for Donald Trump. He has routinely made false claims, and then repeated them so many times that people begin to believe they are true.  By taking a small blip in a 25 year period of almost continual declines in crime, the president is trying to make it appear that the nation is facing lawlessness in the streets.  He can use this to try to counter the numerous public complaints against abusive behavior by law enforcement that have been at the forefront of American politics since 2014.

Don’t fall for the lie.  Don’t let him gaslight you into questioning reality.

Stop falling for the distractions!

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Sweden is a distraction.

Bowling Green is a distraction.

His inability to utter a coherent sentence is a distraction.

The press conference was a distraction.

STOP FALLING FOR THESE DISTRACTIONS.   You are playing right into Steve Bannon’s playbook. Bannon knows full well that if we focus our energies on these things, we are not focused on what matters.  We are not focused on Russian interference in the election.  We are not focused on Russian hacking of the DNC.  We are not focused on the mounting evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  We are not focusing on the 30 page dossier.  We are not focusing on the refusal to release his taxes, which would either incriminate or exonerate him.   We are not focused on the actual treason that the former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn engaged in, and that the president knew about it for two weeks, and did nothing.

When we focus on non-existent terror attacks in Sweden, we are not focused on Putin and the real issues.   When we focus on the non-intelligible press conference, we forget that Trump is doing exactly what he did in the campaign, and he is playing right to his base.

When we joke about Trump falsehoods using claims of Alternative Facts we are legitimizing his own ridiculous attacks on the media, who he is now calling the enemy of the people.   There are no Alternative Facts.  They are lies.  Plain and simple.  Call them that.  The only fake news is coming from Breitbart.   And don’t call them the Alt-Right; call them the right-wing white supremacist neo-nazi’s that they are.

I’ll admit, I have fallen for this. I’ve joked about Bowling Green, and even joked about Sweden (although with an actual Swedish friend).    In some ways it is is a defense mechanism, a way to stay sane in the insanity of the last month.  But no more.  No more jokes about Never Remembering what did’t happen in Sweden.   No more laughing at alternative facts.  Just call bullshit for what it is. Lies And keep your eyes on the prize.

The prize is Russia.   Russia.  Russia.

Subtle ways to delegitimizing the judicial branch

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What is going on here, and why are people ok with this?    The media is reporting, and I have confirmed it with my own eyes, that the White House has removed the Judicial Branch from the tab “Our Government.”

Here is the White House website as of 8am on January 30th. Look, we no longer have three branches of government.  We have two.  The Executive and the Legislative branch.


Here is the White House website as archived on January 1, 2017.   We had three independent branches of government.  A Judicial branch.  You know, that thing which has the Third Article of the U.S. Constitution.  “The Judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as Congress shall ordain and establish…”


Now, you might think, maybe the Trump webmeister decided to include the Judicial Branch under the heading “the Constitution,” but that isn’t the case.  That page merely describes what the Constitution is, and provides a link to the full-text of it, which of course, includes the Third Branch of government.

Yeah, something stinks at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and if I had to guess, I’d argue that this is a subtle way for the Trump administration to delegitimize the Judiciary — where it knows that all of its controversial policy actions are going to end up in litigation.   Don’t be fooled people.  And don’t just ignore this.  It is a serious problem.  We have already seen indications that the administration is going to try to ignore the federal court order putting a stay on the Muslim Ban (and yeah, it is a Muslim ban).

So, let’s have a refresher in Political Science 101.  Basic principles of American constitutional government. There are three branches of government, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The legislative (Congress) makes the laws, as spelled out in Article I. The executive (the president) executes or enforces the laws (Article II), and the Judiciary interprets the laws (Article III).

Alternative facts: We have two branches of government. How long until the First Branch disappears and there is only one Supreme leader.    I am sure the Ministry of Truth can easily rectify all of this.

Be vigilant people.   Call Congress.  Tell them they are at risk of disappearing too.

Edit:  The Judicial Branch has come back.   Wow.   I guess it was just a trial balloon to see if we missed it.  Yeah, whatever. 

A ten day bender… a bad case of the “DTs”

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Every day since January 20th, I wake up and think I have a case of the delirium tremens, or the “DTs.”

In the words of the Irish song-writer Christy Moore,

“I dreamt a dream the other night, and I couldn’t sleep a wink, because the rat’s were trying to count the sheep and I was off the drink.  There were footsteps in the parlor and voices on the stairs. I was climbing up the walls and moving’ round the chairs. I looked up from the blanket and up at the fireplace, and Donald Trump and Kellyane Conway were starring me in the face. Suddenly it dawned on me I was getting the old D.T.’s, when Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos were dancing on the mantlepiece.

Wait….  wait… wait…

The problem is I actually haven’t had a drink in the past ten days.  I probably should have, and I planned to on Inauguration Day, but regardless, like many in America, I feel like I have a serious case of the D.T.’s. But the DTs I have a case of aren’t the delirium tremens (a serious case of the body reacting to the withdrawal of alcohol).  I’ve got a bad case of the DTs, aka that feeling of nausea, disbelief, and illness from the actions and words of Donald Trump.

But the reality is nothing has been a dream. Oh, there have been nightmares, but everything has actually happened.  We have had a president give an inaugural address (ghost-written by a neo-Nazi-alt-right chief strategist) who declared it would be AMERICA FIRST! From here on out.  We have a president who thinks he is still on the campaign trail, and is so pre-occupied by his own popularity that he has repeated again and again about how large his inauguration crowd was, and then attacked the media – FAKE NEWS! – for reporting actual photos demonstrating that the crowds were about 1/3 the size of those of President Obama’s first inauguration.   Given that he also went off in a primary debate about the size of his genitals, this should be no surprise.  But it was an early sign that there were not normal times.

The first ten days had fifteen executive orders. Within hours of taking office, the executive branch was instructed to scale back on enforcement of the Affordable Care Act.  Power had returned to the people, but those who are most vulnerable would be at risk of having their health care ripped away from them.

Twenty-four hours into the Trump bender, a half-million people, mostly women, ascended on Washington DC for the Women’s March. 600 parallel marches across the nation attracted almost 4 million people, voicing their opposition to the expected policies of the new administration.  Trump initially ignored it, but he headed to the CIA to give his first address, aimed at improving relations with the nation’s primary intelligence gatherers.   He spoke in front of the memorial wall that commemorates the 117 CIA operative who gave their lives in service of their country, and largely ignored where he was, and gave a campaign speech, focused on the size of his, ahem,  inaugural crowd.   There was laughter and applause — and later we learned the audience had been populated with Trump supporters.

This wasn’t enough though, as he ordered his press secretary to speak to the media, where he attacked then, and then lied about the inauguration crowd. Again.  The president also banned the National Park Service from using twitter, in retaliation for tweeting side-by-side photos of the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations. Later in the week, numerous agencies would find their twitter privileges revoked.  This resulted in at least fifteen government agencies going “rogue” with unofficial twitter accounts.   Somehow park rangers were at the forefront of the resistance.

The next morning, Kellyanne Conway was challenged on NBC News about the president’s focus on the inaugural crowd, and uttered words I fear will be with us for the rest of his administration.  They were not lies, they were alternative facts.  Alternative facts????   It was then that I first realized we were in trouble.   This was straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.

Monday (Day 4) started when the president revoked the Trans Pacific Partnership, instituted a federal agency hiring freeze, and re-imposed an old federal policy that forbade the use of federal funds for abortion.  Given the rest of the week, it was a quiet day.

The bender was in full-swing by Tuesday (Day 5), when the president announced that we would move forward in construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.  The environment — and Native American sacred lands be damned!  But that wasn’t enough.  He tweeted his congratulations to Fox News for its ratings in the inauguration coverage and once again called CNN “FAKE NEWS.”  Then, the president went to twitter to threaten martial law in Chicago if it didn’t get the “carnage” of gun violence under control.   Bring in the Feds.  Delegitimize the media and threaten martial law.    This is stuff you see in a dystopian novel, not the real world.

Wednesday proved that these dystopian fears were true.   Trump has been so bothered by losing the popular vote by 2.9 million that he has repeated – and his press secretary has repeated – the lie — excuse me, the alternative fact  – of massive voter fraud.  The president announced a major investigation of voter fraud (including dead people voting) in the 216 election.  Even though the only FRAUD that has any evidence behind it — is the role of the Russian government’s interference in the election.  And that several of his closest advisors – including one of his kids – were registered to vote in two states.

But Wednesday wasn’t over.  Trump had just begun.  He was going to follow through on another major campaign promise.  The Wall.   He was going to build a wall along the entire Mexican border — And Mexico was going to pay for it.  Wait, Mexico says, the hell we will.   Ok, we’ll make them pay somehow.  He ends the night with a surreal interview on ABC News, in which he remained focused on himself, and his popularity.  And there were more alternative facts.

It was probably not surprising that on, George Orwell’s 1984 had soared to the #1 position on the Amazon best-sellers list.  A 1949 dystopian novel about re-writing the news, erasing facts, and doublespeak, was the number one selling book in America.  Seems legit.

On Thursday, Trump threatened to impose a 20 percent import tax on all goods coming from Mexico.  He attacked the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and promised to end it.     But there was more.  The Nazi-in-chief-strategiest described the Media as “the opposition.”     And then the top four career diplomats announced they were resigning from the State Department.  There were alternate facts though, as the administration reported they were asked to leave and did not voluntarily resign.

Friday was a doozy.  He called out both the Washington Post and New York Times as “FAKE NEWS” on twitter.   Further efforts to delegitimize the news media.

The president announced his immigration ban on Muslims.   He would impose a ban on all immigrants and refugees from 7 Muslim countries in the Middle East, promising to protect us against terrorism.  There would be extreme vetting.  The president suspended the entire resettlement (refugee) policy for 120 days, and indefinitely banned the arrival of Syrian refugees.   WHAT?  Syria was where the greatest refugee crisis in the world had been transpiring.  Syrian refugees were trying to escape the civil war, the oppressive regime of Asaad, AND ISIS.  But they are out.  And no longer welcome.   Oh, the president would cut the total refugees permitted in the US by sixty percent.    We might as well tear down the Statue of Liberty.

The President did something even more frightening. He demonstrated his “extreme” islamaphobia, and announced that Christians would be given priority over individuals of other religions.  There would be a religious test for entry into the United States.  And sadly, many “Christians” applauded.  Thankfully many were horrified by it.

Saturday marked the 9th day of the Trump administration.  It was a week since the Women’s March – a coordinated, organized protest in the works since November 9th.  This Saturday the protests were spontaneous, beginning at JFK International Airport when the first international flights arrived, and the Customs and Border Patrol began detaining, and turning back individuals seeking entry into the U.S.   Many were not even allowed to board flights for the U.S. People with green cards were detained; people with visas found their visa’s revoked.  The vast majority of these people were not refugees. Similar stories began emerging from every international airport — Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco International, Dallas-Fort Worth,  Atlanta, and Seattle.  Lawyers began arriving, filing emergency petitions for writs of habeas corpus for individuals being detained.  Protestors began to swarm airports.  Thousands of people in Chicago headed to the airport, practically shutting down Terminal 5. New York City taxi drivers announced a one hour boycott of picking up travelers at JFK, acting in solidarity against the new policy.   Democracy was in the street.   A Federal judge ultimately issued a temporary stay on the imposition of the new policy.

The day was not over.  Late Saturday evening, the president issued a directive adding Steve Bannon, his alt-right-white-supremacist-neo-Nazi chief advisor to the National Security Council.  WHAT?  WHAT?  There was more.  The Director of National Intelligence, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the top generals and admirals of each branch of the military) would no longer be official permanent members of the NSC, but would only attend when it was relevant.   I don’t even know what to say about this.

Yeah, the last ten days has been a bender for the ages.  But this isn’t a joke.  Hell, I haven’t captured half of the insanity that has been the last ten days.  I am, however, committed to writing, to protesting, to speak truth to power.

There is a lot of work to do.  And intense pressure has to be put on the House and Senate GOP to stand up to the new “leader.”  We can not allow him to re-write facts, to “gaslight” us into questioning  reality and accepting the leader’s new reality.

I’ll end with a bit more from Christy Moore.

I dreamt I was in ecstasy in Heaven, and in agony in Hell. I was bored in Limbo and then I was in Purgatory as well. And there was original sins and venial sins and mortal sins by the score. So I tied barbed wire around my underpants and flagellated myself on the floor. Then I dreamt I was in the confessional box and auld Bishop said to me: ‘Any impure thoughts my chid?  ‘‘Yeah,t he fu#$n barbed wire was killin’ me.

Well, folks, we definitely have a case of the DT’s (or the DJT’s), but barbed wire won’t fix it.  Day 11 begins tomorrow.  Keep the pressure on.  There is work to do.  The Constitution needs us.   Donate to the ACLU,  participate in a march.  Call your representatives and senators.  Reach out to the local Muslim community and say  You are welcome here.

And if you need a drink, by all means, have one.

What we do matters

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Today was the day the world recognizes as the International Holocaust Memorial Day.   The day when the world remembers the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazi’s in World War II.  It is a day in which we pause to reflect on one of the greatest horrors in human history.   The systematic executions of 6 million human beings for no other reason than the fact that the fascists in Germany were so anti-Semitic that they treated Jews as non-humans, resulted in the death of 37 percent of all Jewish people on the planet.

The Nazi’s persecution of Europe’s Jews was something that sadly, the world’s powers ignored.  Indeed, as it became clear in the late 1930s that Jews were at risk, there was an effort by many to escape the Third Reich.  In May 1939, a ship, the St Louis, left Hamburg, Germany, filled with 937 people, almost entirely Jews, escaping Germany.  The ship’s intended port was Havana, Cuba.  But Cuba refused to provide refuge.  Only 28 were allowed to enter, and the ship was forced out of Cuban waters.  It sailed towards Miami, with 908 refugees, and efforts to get President Roosevelt to authorize entry of the refugees were ignored. There were strict quotas on the numbers of refugees, and the State Department refused to make an exception.  The ship sailed back to Europe.  Arrangements were made for entry visas in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.

According to the United States Holocaust Museum, “Great Britain took 288 passengers; the Netherlands admitted 181 passengers, Belgium took in 214 passengers; and 224 passengers found at least temporary refuge in France. Of the 288 passengers admitted by Great Britain, all survived World War II save one, who was killed during an air raid in 1940. Of the 620 passengers who returned to continent, 87 (14%) managed to emigrate before the German invasion of Western Europe in May 1940. 532 St. Louis passengers were trapped when Germany conquered Western Europe. Just over half, 278 survived the Holocaust. 254 died: 84 who had been in Belgium; 84 who had found refuge in Holland, and 86 who had been admitted to France.”

Had Cuba and the United States not refused entry, 254 people would not have died at the hands of the Nazi’s.

When I first saw the display on the Voyage of the St. Louis at the USHM, it was early during the current Syrian refugee crisis.   Today, as we remember the Holocaust, I am disgusted by the fact that on this very day, the president of the United States has issued an executive order limiting refugees into the United States from Syria and a temporary ban on refugees from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.  Not only did the president issue a ban on refugees, he made it government policy that the entry of refugees would give priority to Christians and other religions over the entry of Muslims.  He created a RELIGIOUS TEST.

The president created a religious test.  Let that sink in.  In a country of immigrants, its chief executive said we will favor Christians over Muslims, and we will not all any refugees in from Syria – the country where a monumental humanitarian tragedy has been on-going.

When the Holocaust is remembered, it is common to say Never Forget. and Never Again.   We must never forget what happened.   The United States Holocaust Museum uses the statement #WhatWeDoMatters.   What We Do Matters.   If the American people allow the president to get away with this, we are all guilty.  If we allow this travesty to continue, then every single one of us is culpable for the consequences.  It is incumbent on our elected officials to stand up to Mr. Trump and say NO.   What we do matters.  And this is not what America stands for.   It is incumbent on every one of the 62 million Americans who voted for him to say NO.  We are better than this.

What we do matters.




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