Category Archives: Politics

Church & state: separate!

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Filed under First Amendment, Politics

Here we go— Bombs away!

NavyMissileU.S. warships in the Mediterranean sent about 60 Tomahawk missiles blazing into a Syrian air field, reports the A.P. The bombing was retaliation for the chemical attack launched from that same field that killed dozens of Syrian citizens.

Apparently Trump was moved by the horrible pictures of victims suffocating and writhing in pain. The president’s volatility is notorious; time and again he has been swayed by what he sees on television. Now, clearly afraid of being thought weak or indecisive, he has launched missiles rather than tweets. Is he trying to prove that he is strong where Obama was “weak” for resisting the commitment of even more boots on the ground? Of starting another war we can’t afford?

Throughout his campaign, Trump insisted that we had no business in Syria, that it could take care of itself. But a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, and now Trump’s committed an act of war.

What’s next? That may depend on how many Russian nationals are killed. Syrian rebels are being massacred and the refugees are increasingly finding most roads out of the horror barricaded against them. A response, on humanitarian, if not political, grounds is severely warranted. But what form should it take? Syria is a Gordian knot. Any strategy to disentangle it will reverberate within the middle eastern minefield with unknown but definitely adverse consequences.

The Russians have been supporting Assad against the rebels who want to oust the tyrant. Syria’s weapons defense and warplanes are Russian-built, and Putin has steadfastly resisted multilateral attempts to oust Assad. Will Trump’s palship with Putin weather this military offensive or will Putin take advantage of Trump’s aggression and attack us elsewhere? Trump has opened the proverbial can of worms.

Photo: U.S. Navy

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, Trump

Major stress

North Korea is rattling its nuclear saber. Trumpcare 2.0 would have cut back essential benefits to placate the far right, but the Republican factions couldn’t reach an agreement. Abetted by the Russians, Assad is waging chemical warfare against his own citizens again. Trump’s travel and Muslim bans are menacing American citizens. A 36-year-old with no foreign policy experience at all is in charge of dealing with most of these issues, as well as negotiating with China and Mexico, resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and more. These are difficult, uncertain times. Many are experiencing heretofore unknown levels of stress.

There is occasional good news. Trump demoted his close buddy, white nationalist Steve Bannon today. He removed Bannon from the principals’ committee of the National Security Council, perhaps an indication that Trump is actually beginning to listen to Gen. McMaster, his national security advisor and one of the few members of his cabinet with relevant experience. He reinstated the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence to the committee. The Times reports that Bannon didn’t go quietly, however, that he threatened to resign. No such luck. He still has the ear of the president and Trump’s son-in-law has the other. Little room for anyone else.

Trump snubbed German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a crucial ally, last week. This week he effused over the authoritarian Egyptian general who has taken control of Egypt, now a minor player in the Islamic world. Can’t wait to see how he handles Xi Jinping, the president of China, a very major player.

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, Trump

Snoops

Privacy is such a quaint notion. Since 9-11, we have become inured to having our personal belongings searched at theaters, airports and the lobbies of big buildings. Records and recordings of our calls reside in humongous government data warehouses, ready for scrutiny and analysis. We know that if we use the super-convenient transit credit cards like New York City’s Metrocard or drive past tollbooths with EZ Pass, we are leaving an easily followed trail of our comings and goings. Wayward husbands can no longer “hike the Appalachian Trail” in Buenos Aires with impunity. Credit cards, customer loyalty programs, just about anything that makes everything we do easier and faster comes at an unspoken price. We willingly and often unwittingly divulge intimate details that would have been unthought of only a few decades ago. Our faces are recorded by cameras in the street, at building entrances, public spaces and elevators.

One of the many devices we can rely on is a thermostat that can be remotely controlled. The Nest knows when you are home and figures out when to raise or lower the heat. It tracks your energy use and like Santa, sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, and it continuously relays all this information and more via the Internet to the company that made it. Amazon, Netflix and Roku know of your predilection for porn and what kinky action turns you on. Or not.

Your smart phone, as you know, is constantly sending out your MAC address, a unique identifier that can be tracked very precisely to determine exactly where you are, how you got there, how often you go there and where you go afterwards. Retailers can track you in their stores. The signals from your phone disclose which displays interest you, based on how long you ponder them and whether you subsequently buy the product. Storekeepers may also use this info to fine-tune the arrangement, positioning and content of their displays. We’re all familiar with the way Google and Facebook analyze what we write and the links we click to profit from that data.

Drilling down, merchants now know who is driving by their billboards and how many of those drivers are buying the advertised merchandise. According to The Boston Globe (May 19, 2016), “the nation’s largest billboard company, Clear Channel Outdoor Inc., is bringing customized, pop-up ads to the interstate.” Using data gathered from 130 million AT&T subscribers, augmented by phone apps that corral millions more, “Clear Channel knows what kinds of people are driving past one of their billboards at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday— how many are Dunkin’ Donuts regulars, for example, or have been to three Red Sox games so far this year.”

All this information is for sale, and it is probably impossible to control.

Even Trump must have been surveilled. Clearly, not directly by his predecessor. At the very least, the same devices that hover over all Americans will have collected data that can easily be exploited by any of the agencies that spy for the government. Did Trump gut the State Department and cripple Justice to hobble investigations of his Russian connections? He may have anticipated the exposure of some of the tentacles of his Russian deals, corruption and collusion.

Surveillance cameras photo by Quevaal at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.o0

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Filed under American Society, government surveillance, Trump

Trump’s fiddling ’cause he can’t put out the fire

What a MESS! One minute the demagogue’s rabble-rousing has me tearing out my hair in despair, but the next … I wonder long he can last. With a rising chorus questioning his indefensible charges against Obama, the courts against him on the travel ban, and everybody against him on Trumpcare— excuse me, Ryancare— he’s not WINNING.
How many more blows to his fragile ego can he take before he admits the presidency isn’t at all what he thought it would be? Not nearly so much fun, not a simple negotiation, not unquestioning adulation, but unanticipated opposition lined up against him. And not just from the Dems, but even from faithless Republicans as the scales slowly drop from their eyes.
Will he toss in his chips and go home? He and his family have, in this short time, already profited handsomely, even though they will never be satisfied. Still, he’s not used to being stymied so consistently, especially on the fanciful ideas that got him elected.
I’m probably guilty of magical thinking, but I don’t see how he can see it through for four years.

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Filed under Politics, Trump

Lilacs in the snow

Look closely and you’ll see the lilac buds. Lilacs are early bloomers, and their buds are already beginning to swell. The indomitable buds point straight up in defiance of the snow. It may have triumphed today, but the snow’s victory is ephemeral. Already it is weakening, its icy grip melting in the sun.

But what about America? Winter is coming. Trump’s grip is tightening. He is beefing up the army, fortifying the police and expanding the reach of the ICE. The power of all three is growing. Trump is adding soldiers, police, agents, jails and judges to enforce his decrees. Does this sound like the beginning of a police state? Does Trump want a Wall to keep his enemies out or will he have to keep Americans in?

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Stand up on International Women’s Day

Women’s rights are human rights. Wear red in solidarity with women across the US and in more than 30 countries. March 8 will be A Day Without a Woman, in which women who can will take the day off from paid and unpaid labor and avoid shopping.

Show up at town halls and petition your members of congress to repair Obamacare. Speak up for the gutted EPA, clean water and clean air. Insist on the importance of public education, of the arts and of a social safety net to provide the necessities, like nutritious food and health care to those who can’t provide for themselves. Defend regulations that were put in place to protect people from predatory lenders, to safeguard public health, to keep the stock market honest. The fabric of American democracy is being rent by a blitz of lethal blows. You know of others that also affect you personally. Stand up! Make yourself heard! There is power in numbers.

Read Emily Crockett’s “The ‘Day Without a Woman’ strike, explained.” She’s done a masterly job of examining the “gendered revolt” kicked off by the Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

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Filed under American Society, Politics, Women