Category Archives: Politics

Too political?

My daughter told me that I’ve become too political. That set me thinking. It is true that I pay much more attention now.

I hardly paid any attention in the 70s and 80s. I was too preoccupied with small children in the first of those decades. Graduate studies, two teenagers and an inter-city commute took over in the second decade. In the 90s, Clinton and his impeachment, his relentless pursuit by members of the political establishment who abandoned even the pretense of commonality, riveted my attention.

When an unprecedented, horrific attack on a complacent nation spurred the newly installed triumvirate of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to curtail our civil liberties with the Patriot Act, I was galvanized. I warned anyone who would listen to me that proud and prosperous German Jews were decimated because they believed “it can’t happen here.” It can happen here. History has taught us that no government, no society, is immutable. I was afraid we were falling down a slippery slope, and indeed, that was when Americans lost not only their privacy but their faith in the impregnable fortress America. The same powerbrokers plunged us into a war we couldn’t win. Surveillance, fear, and torture insinuated themselves into the American experience.

In the Obama years, blind hatred and the corrosive antagonism between Democrats and Republicans further undermined American democracy and paved the way for the clownish but unfunny despot who is doing his best to undermine and sabotage the institutions that made America powerful and just.

How can one not be “political”? How can one ignore Trump’s peevishness, his enthrallment with himself and his desires, his reckless onslaughts on long-established norms, his ignorance, mendacity and deliberate sabotage of arduously wrought pacts to rescue the planet and provide care for the poor and the sick?

American democracy is under siege. Only activists, roused by anger and fear, can sway the politicians who have the power to save the Republic.

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Trump’s “meddlesome priest” skewers the king

Sen. Roy Blunt and former FBI Director James Comey

James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee would have been high entertainment if it weren’t so disturbing. The former Director of the FBI, abruptly fired by Pres. Trump, answered every question thoughtfully in a calm, measured tone. He elaborated the details of the meticulous memos he wrote immediately after every one-on-one encounter with the president. When Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) asked Comey why he hadn’t given the memos to a reporter himself instead of giving them to a third party to leak, Comey replied,

The media was camping at the end of my driveway at that point, and I was actually going out of town with my wife to hide, and I worried that it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach.

It was a light moment in a very serious context.

Comey said he began to record his meetings with Trump after the first of these occasions, when the president-elect abused his power by demanding Comey pledge his loyalty. Comey wouldn’t do that and cited three reasons for his decision to write the memos:

  • the circumstances: Trump had dismissed his advisors and officials, leaving him alone with Comey
  • the subject matter: the Steele dossier and its account of “golden showers” and other salacious details
  • the nature of the person: “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting….I knew there might come a day when I would need a record” to defend himself

Wow. No prevarication. No fuzz. A senior official calling the president a liar. For anyone who’s been paying even minimal attention to the Trump saga, this allegation is not a surprise. We know Trump lies, but for Comey to assert it baldly, under oath, publicly, is truly shocking. A U.S. president who lies transparently and repeatedly is mind-boggling, an oxymoron, until now.  .

From the outset, Comey bristled against Trump’s “defamation” of himself and “more importantly,  the FBI. Those were lies, plain and simple.”

Sen. Angus King and former FBI Director James Comey

Comey is clearly quick-thinking and erudite. One of the best moments of the hearing came in the second hour, when Sen. Angus King (I-ME) was up at bat. In the context of Trump’s saying, “I hope you will hold back on that,” referring to Trump’s implied order that Comey suspend the criminal investigation of Mike Flynn, Comey observed, “It rings in my ear as kind of ‘Will no one rid me of that meddlesome priest?'”

Sen. King jumped in, “I was just gonna quote that. In 1170, December 29, Henry II said, ‘Will no one rid me of that meddlesome priest?’ and then the next day he was killed. [Archbishop of Canterbury] Thomas À Becket. This is exactly the same situation. We’re thinking along the same lines.” The king’s men understood his question as a directive to murder the priest.

Two men quoting a 12th-century English king makes my heart sing. As a medievalist in a former life, I am cheered and encouraged that classics and history are not yet completely extinct. That both men remember the history they’d studied and see its relevance to the present day is just what every teacher hopes for.

 

 

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Trump: “a pustule of ego”

Devastating. Donald Trump’s functional illiteracy is all that could save him from the excoriation of Rebecca Solnit’s sardonic wit:

He was a pair of ragged orange claws upon the ocean floor, forever scuttling, pinching, reaching for more, a carrion crab, a lobster and a boiling lobster pot in one, a termite, a tyrant over his own little empires.

and

The man in the white house sits, naked and obscene, a pustule of ego, in the harsh light, a man whose grasp exceeded his understanding, because his understanding was dulled by indulgence.

Trump is “the most mocked man in the world. After the women’s march on January 21st, people joked that he had been rejected by more women in one day than any man in history.” He is the butt of jokes in newspapers and magazines worldwide and most famously, in the weekly skits on Saturday Night Live.

Solnit writes of a man with boundless appetites, one who is ultimately alone, because he does not acknowledges the existence, let alone the needs, of anyone else.

While Obama represented the best of America, Trump revealed the seamy underside; he turned over a rock and exposed the vermin crawling in dung.

I will be going to Europe in a few days. I will have to explain, nay, insist, that Trump doesn’t represent America, that someday Lady Liberty will raise her head again, proudly. He can’t debase and defile the soul of a noble though imperfect nation.

Hat tip: Vox

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Church & state: separate!

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https://twitter.com/virginiahughes/status/855794610802741248/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2F

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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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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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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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