The terrible consequences of the largely symbolic move of U.S. embassy: At least 61 dead & 2,700 injured, plus U.S. credibility in international circles sinks lower

The demonstrations and killings in the wake of the United States moving its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem reminds us again of the power of symbolism: People are willing to put themselves in harm’s way and other people are willing to kill them for a symbol, in this case the symbolism of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The move encourages extreme Zionists, enrages Palestinians and rankles most other countries.

But the embassy move doesn’t change a thing in the Middle East.

It doesn’t alter the situation on the ground and it shouldn’t disturb the dynamics of any negotiations. Why should Jerusalem be off the table now in discussions of a peaceful settlement, be it a two-state solution or something else? It was so easy to move the U.S. embassy. All it took was money. Why can’t a future deal require the United States to move its embassy back to Tel Aviv, or elsewhere? It’s even possible that one day this new U.S. facility could be the U.S. embassy in a democratic Palestinian state that is allied with its neighbor, Israel? A peacenik can always dream…

Trump’s lunacy does have both immediate and long-term consequences. Short-term, it increases tensions and violence in Israeli and the occupied territory. Trumpty-Dumpty and his advisors must have known that the opening ceremonies would kindle demonstrations. But did they know that Israel would react with such brutality? Only among American evangelicals and hardliners in both Israel and the United States will the Israeli reaction to the demonstrations not seem blood-thirsty. Sixty-one dead and about 2,700 injured by a superior force that as of this writing reports no injuries or deaths is what the Latins used to say was res ipsa loquitur, a thing that proves itself. What it demonstrates is that the Israelis could have figured out a way to deal with the protesters and rioters without killing anyone, inflicting minimum injury. Fire hoses. Loud acoustics. Reinforcement of the fence. There are lots of ways to deal with protesters short of firing bullets and teargas.

The long-term implication of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is that it provides further proof that the other nations of the world can no longer trust the United States to abide by treaties and that the United States has little interest in collective decision-making on issues of global import. Trump has already walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Accord and the Iran nuclear agreement, and raised tariffs that threaten to start a trade war. Now he has ignored the United Nations agreement not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel until a peace agreement is reached. U.S. credibility is at an all-time low among our allies.

And for what? A symbolic move about a symbol.

As a secular Jew in diaspora, I am befuddled by the big deal that Jews make about the symbolic import of the city of Jerusalem. I’ve never been there, but I have seen ancient Neolithic, Greek, Roman, Carthaginian and Islamic ruins and experienced the expansive swell of religious joy and connection with past civilizations and peoples, the oneness with humanity, or a portion of it, that comes from knowing that values, ideas and artifacts persist in time. And yes, I did feel a special, Jewish tug when viewing the old synagogues of Prague and Spain. I get it.

But let’s consider the real symbolism of Jerusalem. It is called King David’s city, the city that King David conquered and made his capital, the city that King Solomon grew, the city of the temple of the Kings.

Kings. Royalty. The idea that certain people have a divine right that is passed down by birth, a right to command others, to mess with the lives of others by forming armies, fighting wars, deciding who should pay what taxes, and building monuments, often to their own glory. Royalty is the most autocratic and least democratic system of government. Royalty is the ultimate expression of racism: my blood is so much better than your blood that I’m always in charge. One could make a case that the kings weakened ancient Israel to the point that the Babylonians could take over the country. Why would Jews want to have anything to do with royalty? Most Jews everywhere in the world today believe in representational democracy and reject the very concept of kingship and royalty, yet worship Jerusalem, forgetting that the city is not just a symbol of Judaism, but of Jewish royalism.

True enough, both holy temples were located in Jerusalem, but the first was fruit of the evil seed of royalty. Remember, too, that the temple was the place of animal sacrifice, a practice that Jews gave up centuries ago. There are remarkable and religiously uplifting antiquities all over the state of Israel.

Giving up the obsolete is something Jews are used to doing. We replaced animal sacrifice with prayer centuries ago. Most branches of the Jewish religion have gradually ended or are in the process of ending the many sexist elements in ancient and medieval Jewish religion and custom. We’ve made changes to the liturgy—prayers and melodies. Isn’t it about time that we turn our back on the concept of royalty and thereby de-mythify Jerusalem? If I were involved in the negotiations, I would be willing to trade political control of Jerusalem in return for a real lasting peace that included economic cooperation with a Palestinian state, as long as Jews were allowed to visit and live in Jerusalem. Hell, yes.

The equations sometimes produced by symbolic actions like moving an embassy are as macabre as they are tragic. Ask yourself, if it were your children, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces, friends and neighbors, how many dead would be worth the symbolism? It shouldn’t be difficult to understand that Palestinians feel the same way. Of course, to believers in royalty, some people are worth more than others. The essence of royalty—as conceived of and practiced throughout recorded history—is that the better people can sacrifice or kill the lower orders. That military representatives of “the chosen people” should kill and maim so many as an almost necessary aftermath to Trump’s Jerusalem symbolism is the ultimate expression of the obscenity that is the concept of kingship.

Now for the latest installment of the mainstream media’s favorite game: Blame the Democrats!

It wouldn’t be a Sunday New York Times opinion section without a couple of articles blaming liberals for their supposed inability to capture the hearts and minds of mainstream America. It’s always the liberals fault for putting up the wrong candidate, being self-righteous, being too smart or wonky, focusing too much on identity politics, not articulating the message in bold terms, or not understanding the soul of middle America. In going through this list of Democratic “failures,” note how many descriptions could be coded language for “not being racist enough.” Then there are the special criticisms leveled at Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi’s political liabilities, which have always struck me as patently misogynistic.

This week’s edition of “Beat the Liberal” featured a piece by Gerald Alexander, an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia whose research suggests a right-wing bent. In “Liberals, You’re Not As Smart as You Think” the not-so-good professor claims that liberals “may be more effective at causing resentment than in getting people to come their way.” Alexander never proves his point. He doesn’t even bother to offer up one study or survey to demonstrate that when liberals talk, they turn off large numbers of people. Interestingly enough, his article is a mild revision of a piece he wrote for the Washington Post eight years ago. Bashing liberals is never out of style!

And what does Alexander think liberals do that piss people off so much? They publicly call racist behavior racist. What’s more, they do so self-righteously, with an “I’m better than you are” tone. Earth to Alexander: People who call out racism are better than the racists. That is, assuming you buy into Alexander’s shoddy premise that Democrats are self-righteous about their morality. Now maybe it’s my self-righteousness coming through, but as parent, I found that shame works wonders in getting people to do the right thing.

Frank Bruni joined in the “Beat the Liberal” game, too, this week, with another of a long line of columns by mainstream media pundits advocating that the Democratic Party can win if they become more like Republicans. The headline says it all: “Renounce Pelosi, Ignore Trump—and Win?” Bruni advocates for Democratic candidates who are less strident and project a less partisan image. In particular, Bruni touts the Democratic nominee for the seat in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, white male Dan McCready, who claims to have center-right political views. Of course he never gives examples of Democratic candidates who are too strident or too partisan, leaving us to guess who they are. I sincerely hope Bruni means something other than the coded message I receive from his article—that he wants more white males and fewer women and minority candidates. It would help if one of the candidates he lauds in his article was not all white male.

Bruni’s article quotes Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton, as saying “If we actually want to be a majority party, then we better embrace more Americans.”

What is he talking about? Democrats won way more votes than Republicans in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Clinton wiped out Trump in the popular voting. Survey after survey on education, healthcare, aid to dependent children, criminal justice reform, environmental policy, abortion and yes, even gun control, show that majorities of American—and sometimes overwhelming majorities—support the views of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and other liberal Democrats.

The game of blaming Democrats for their failure to take the reins of government conceals the real reasons Republicans today control the presidency, both Houses of Congress and most state governments:

  1. The current shape of Congressional districts, gerrymandered to structurally favor Republicans after the 2010 census.
  2. The raft of voter suppression laws that have swept the country, also since 2010.
  3. The natural electoral bias in states and nationally in favor of rural areas, built into our system by the Electoral College and geographic representation.
  4. The influx of money to support right-wing candidates and think tanks, especially since the Citizens United
  5. The constant anti-Democrat slant of the mainstream and rightwing media, which includes covering Republican primaries more closely than Democratic ones, using Republican premises when formulating coverage, conflating real scandals of Republicans with Democratic non-scandals and issuing a constant stream of these silly articles about Democrats shooting themselves in the foot.

Of these five factors, only one can be remotely blamed on the Democrats: the gerrymandering of Congress. Democrats assumed they were going to lose seats in 2010, since a new president usually sees his majority eroded in midterm elections. They therefore did not aggressively spend money on 2010 mid-term elections, while the Koch brothers and their billionaire buddies saw the historic opportunity created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that freed corporate spending on elections and ramped up their support of not just Republican, but ultra-right candidates. The news media helped out the Republicans in 2010 to be sure by ignoring Democratic primaries, focusing most political coverage on the new “Tea Party” movement, ignoring the progressive alternatives to the Tea Party, and providing inaccurate and misleading coverage of the key issue of the day, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There was certainly a lot going against the Democrats in 2010, but by not aggressively contesting the election, they did a pretty good imitation of a pro basketball team tanking the season to get a high draft pick.

We can find no fault with the Democrats in the development of the other four factors leading to Republican control of an ostensibly democratic country in which a majority of citizens support the views of the party out of power. The voter suppression laws have come in states controlled by Republicans. The rich white men who founded the country established the rural bias in the Constitution more than 200 years ago to placate the many slave owners among them.

In one way or another, Ronald Reagan is responsible for the other two factors. Reagan started the movement to allow single companies to own many media outlets in the same town and nationally and ended the Fairness Doctrine, which made all broadcast stations air the views of the other side when they gave an editorial. These moves more than anything else enabled the fringe right-wing media like mega-giants FOX, Clear Channel and Sinclair Broadcasting to emerge as powerful voices in the marketplace of ideas. And it was Reagan who nominated two of the five justices who voted that the constitution prohibited Congress from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations in Citizens United; he also gave important career promotions to the other three voting to unleash the Koch money machine on the political system.

But pundits will continue to blame Democrats for their current status in state and federal governments. It’s easier than doing real analysis and telling the truth: our country has been taken over by a small but very well-heeled minority who have used their money to manipulate our political system to their own end and to pursue their own interests, even to the detriment of overwhelming numbers of their fellow citizens.

Walking away from Iran treaty is enormous foreign policy mistake. It only helps Saudis & Benjamin Netanyahu

What I wrote last September about decertifying the Iran Nuclear Deal still holds, so rather than recreate the wheel, here it is again:

The sheer stupidity of “decertifying” the nuclear—or should I say “antinuclear”—treaty between the United States, five other nations and Iran beggars the imagination. That an ignorant bully with no experience and a history of failure should propose such an idea is not noteworthy, not if the ignorant bully is Donald Trump. That supposedly patriotic, educated and experienced cabinet officers and advisors are unable to squelch this move in any way possible makes me shudder for the future of this country—and the entire human population.

The decision is bad in every way. It destabilizes the entire world every time another nation gets nuclear weapons, because the entire world would suffer from any nuclear war. The more nations have weapons, the more likely one is going to slip into the hands of a nutcase who might push the big red button. Of course, that seems to have already happened.

The decision also sets back the peace process between Iran and the West, specifically the United States. Why would we want to be enemies with a country with such an educated population and unrivalled natural resources among mid-sized countries and whose thousands of years of history has been one of the major influencers of the European culture upon which America is built? Let’s also remember that Iran wields a lot of influence with insurgent movements around the world. Coming to a lasting, all-inclusive peace with Iran would ease tensions throughout the Muslim world.

Think, too, of the lost opportunity to reduce the need for armed forces. A rapprochement with Iran would enable us to dedicate money a large portion of the billions of dollars now spent on armed forces and counter-terrorism to fixing our infrastructure of mass transit, sewers, roads and bridges and investing in alternative energy.

The key moment in the history of American-Persian relations is a stupid mistake that the United States made in 1953. We were allies and big supporters of Iran in 1953 when the CIA engineered an overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was a secularist who wanted Iran to follow the model of American and European societies. Of course, he did nationalize oil industries, which was the secret reason the United States installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah of Iran. Yes, that’s right. Shah! King. Royalty. A dictator who rules by divine right. The system we fought a revolution to change. The United States of America overthrew a democracy to install a dictator not to protect our oil supply, but to protect the interests of certain oil companies. We continued to support the Shah of Iran as opposition to his rule grew and grew through the years until his overthrow in 1979 by ultra-right religious fanatics in what was a relatively bloodless revolution. It was in the immediate aftermath of the revolution that Iranian students took 52 Americans hostages and held them for 444 days.

The hostage crisis wounded America’s pride, leading to the current situation—decades of enmity between the two countries, during which we have embraced Saudi Arabia, a kingdom that oppresses its people and is the home to most of the 9/11 hijackers and the mastermind behind 9/11 and Al Qaeda. We’ve essentially taken sides in a regional religious dispute and selected a side less in tune with our values, all because the other side slapped us around a little after we had helped bludgeon it for 26 years.

The absurdity of not taking a road to pace with Iran will come into stark view if we consider that we have now had an adversarial relationship with it for 38 years, which is 10 years longer than Germany was our enemy in the middle of the 20th century. We essentially forgave Germany for all the death and misery it caused and immediate embraced it after WW II. Of course we beat their asses and they were Christians. When we deal with Iran across the peace negotiating table, we have to treat them as equals.

Usually when an Administration does something that hurts most people, the answer as to why can be found by following the money: who benefits. In this case, it’s primarily the Saudi Arabians and whichever governments, insurgent movements, terrorist groups and oil companies it is supporting. Also benefitting is the government of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Note I write the Israeli government, not the Israel people, who stand to benefit more than anyone else from peace with Iran. But Bibby needs another external enemy. We know Trump is buddy-buddy with both the Saudis and Bibby. It wouldn’t be the first time that crony capitalism has led America to make a bad foreign policy decision.

But in the case of Trump, I have to wonder. Media reports suggest that virtually all White House advisors are telling Trump not to do it and that he is digging in his heels. Why? Is he that much in the pockets of the Saudis?

Or could it be that Trump’s main motivation is to destroy everything done by that black man out of a sense of revenge for being the butt of a few jokes? For a while, I’ve heard and scoffed at the utterly Shakespearean theory that Trump’s hatred of Obama overwhelms all other thoughts and emotions when it comes to government. Trump as Iago or Lady Macbeth. An interesting and theatrical idea, but how could it be? Destabilize global politics? Throw 800,000 people with jobs or going to college out of the country? Walk away from our first real shot at addressing human-caused global warming? All because you dislike some uppity guy because he doesn’t know his place (although I imagine that instead of “black man” and “uppity guy,” Trump uses a different word when thinking about President Obama). Impossible, I thought. But maybe not.

Not that it will help, but we should all be jamming the phone lines and Internet bandwidth with pleas to Trump not to walk away from the Iranian deal and demands to our Senators and Congressional representatives that they announce they will support impeachments proceedings if Trump goes ahead with his plan to “decertify.”

Yet another study shows the negative effect that charter schools have on public schools and the communities they serve

Here’s another example of ideology being such a strong factor in perception that it overcomes facts. Two academic researchers Helen Ladd of Duke University and Josh Singleton of the University of Rochester conduct a fine study that shows another way that charter schools are bad for students and society, but their conclusion is not to end charter schools but to make it easier to open more!

What the esteemed professors Ladd and Singleton find is that shifting monies from public schools to charter schools leave the public schools with less money to spend per pupil, something like $500 per kid in the areas they studied, which is a lot of money when you start thinking about supplies, books and enrichment tools. Ladd and Singleton did their analysis on the Durham, North Carolina school system and follows similar research that found that Albany had $900 less to spend per public school pupil and Buffalo had $700 less to spend because of charter schools. Ladd and Singleton figure that the impact is greater on the North Carolina children because that state spends less per child on public education. Reversing the math, Ladd and Singleton compute that each charter school enrollee in Durham means there is $3,500 less to spend on the students who remain in public schools.

The biggest reason Ladd and Singleton find for the charter school drain on public schools is that fixed costs such as for buildings, vehicles, administrators and compliance remain the same but there is a smaller base of students to pay for these expenses.

Before considering how Ladd and Singleton propose to address the issue of charter schools draining public schools, let’s review what we already know about charters. Time and again, studies have shown that more than 70% of all charter schools perform either at a worse level or at the same level as the public school with which they compete. Thus in most cases, charter schools are not working and were not worth the effort and disruption.

What’s more, whenever researchers and journalists dig into any of the 29% of charter schools whose students seem to do better than the kids in the competing public school, they find a telling pattern: In every reported case I’ve seen, the charter school always starts with more kids in their early grades but as the years progress, gradually whittle down the class size. In other words, many of the limited number of successful charter schools weed out underperforming students so that their results look better.

For example, a charter run by the for-profit BASIS Charter Schools that U.S. News & World Report once named as one of the top 10 schools in the country, started with 125 students in sixth grade but had a mere 21 in the graduating class. The administration presumably weeded out low performers, who then returned to their traditional public school.

We must assume that Ladd and Singleton have reviewed this research. In fact, if they were doing work on charter schools, we would be highly surprised and suspicious if they were not aware of the growing body of research demonstrating that charter schools have failed to deliver on their promise to improve school performance.

So let me pose a common sense question. If you knew charter schools almost always do not do better than public schools and many of the small number of cases in which they do improve student performance the schools cooked the books, and then you found out that charter schools also hurt the kids who remain in the public school system, what would you recommend?

Remember, the results: Doesn’t work for the kids it teaches and makes things worse for other kids.

Let’s simplify some more: Doesn’t help users, hurts others.

Admit it. When learning that something usually doesn’t help the people it’s supposed to and hurts everyone else, wouldn’t you say, get rid of it!? Wouldn’t you take that prescription drug off the market, or not approve it in the first place?

But that’s not what Ladd and Singleton want. They don’t call for an end to charter schools. They don’t propose a process for reintegrating charter school students into the public school population. They don’t advocate for a public affairs program to explain to school boards, politicians and civic leaders why charter schools suck. They don’t even propose that charter schools pony up more money to public schools (which in this case means taking less funds or returning some of the money) to make up the difference.

No, what Ladd and Singleton advocate is that state governments provide local public schools with more funding to make up the difference when charter schools drain their student base.

We can only speculate idly about why two apparently well-respected academics would not only fail to recommend reining in charter schools, but actually propose a way to make it easier to form more. We have seen this kind of thinking before, usually from right-wing ideologues who place the free market system above all else, but also from Democrats who try to accommodate the free market such as the Clintons and Obama. Take the large number of policy wonks who continue to believe that making a market for pollution will lower pollution because the market will encourage more innovation than simply regulating emissions, despite the fact that all pollution markets have failed miserably. As we know, many of the most radical free-marketers are in the pay of the billionaire funders of the charter school movement, whose real goal all along has been to destroy teachers’ unions.

We have no way of knowing the real reason why Ladd and Singleton don’t condemn charter schools. All we can do is scratch our heads and wonder.

How else to understand the negative reaction to Michelle Wolf’s jokes at White House Correspondents’ dinner if not sexism & a double standard for women comedians?

I thought The Emperor’s New Clothes was a children’s story, not the plot to the latest media distraction: the wide condemnation by the Trumpverse and many in the mainstream media of Michelle Wolf’s performance at the recent Whitehouse Correspondents’ Association dinner. Everything Wolf said hit a truth about the current administration and many of its players, but in the Trumpverse the media, our civic leaders and the general public ignore and even deny the many lies, inanities and cruelties of Trump and his crew.

Meanwhile, Mika Brzezinski, Andrea Mitchell, Maggie Haberman and other mainstream media continue to look for any way possible to normalize as much of the behavior of the current White House staff as possible, and creating out of the blue the imaginary rule that you don’t make jokes about the White House press secretary is a cheap way to do it. After all, Miss Sarah is just a hard-working professional in a tough situation. True enough, but the way out of Sarah’s difficulties is not to lie, which means either quit or answer questions truthfully. Once you lie again and again and again over months, you become part of the corruption and an open target for the satirists of the world such as Michelle Wolf.

Word to the literally dozens of conservatives who use “it’s not the appropriate time, place and/or words” to condemn all manner of performances, demonstrations, speeches, community actions and other expressions of free speech:

There is no such thing as an inappropriate time and place to speak the truth.

There is no such thing as an inappropriate time and place for a comedian hired to perform to make fun of a person who is front of the news media almost daily.

Unless we’re talking about a death, a horrible accident, the victims of a tsunami or a similar personal tragedy. Or children.

But Sarah Huckabee Sanders is not a child and has not suffered any personal tragedy that she did not bring on herself through her own career choices. She is the public spokesperson for the White House, a public figure subject to comment, parody and joking. Moreover, she has chosen to be part of a corrupt political machine that seems to share more similarities to a crime family than to a political movement, an autocratic kleptocracy based on lies and unproven assumptions that knowingly lies to the public on a daily if not hourly basis.

Then there’s Kelly Anne, one of the longest running of the Trump crew of mean-spirited, racist liars. How is she not fair game for a political comedian?

No one has to think that Wolf was funny. I only liked about half her jokes. But to say it was a mistake to tell them, that the jokes were in poor taste because of the setting, is to assault the first amendment. You don’t have to agree with her or think she’s funny to recognize that Wolf exercised her First Amendment rights in the service of her profession. Whether it’s Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Chris Rock, Lewis Black or Stephen Colbert, comedians who talk about serious subjects often have punchlines that are unfunny, or funny but sad or sickening at the same time, but still a necessary part of the truth they are conveying. Anger lurked or lurks behind the humor of all these comedians. Those they shock are often angry at the joke because it cuts too close to home or it puts the lie to a myth they believe.

I don’t see the difference between what these comedians were doing and what Michelle Wolf did at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

But my wife saw a difference.

They were men and she’s a woman.

It’s hard to deny the reality of the facts on the ground. Starting with Colbert, male comedian after male comedian has gone after administration figures at these annual dinners, and the butts of the joke politely grin and bear it, while the comedian collects his kudos. A woman does it and she’s widely (but not universally) condemned. For an extended period of time by media standards, she becomes some cross between a cause celèbre and a political football.

 Plus, there’s the painfully obvious sexism of the administration, which starts with a lack of female appointees, but includes a high tolerance of sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere, a dismantling of regulations that protect women, and a war against birth control and abortion.

I wish I could come up with another explanation for why so much of the mainstream news media, including the White House Correspondents’ Association itself, swallowed the authoritarian and anti-American Trump Kool-aid on Michelle Wolf. But institutional sexism—a reluctance to give women the same rights and privileges as men—is the only rationale that makes sense, the only one consistent with the facts.

Not the finest moment for Mika, Andrea or Maggie.

Trump’s policies all feed the fear that many white Americans have of anyone or anything different from their lifestyle and beliefs

Something quite wonderful happened to my wife and me the other day during our annual public humiliation, which is how we refer to our one trip a year to buy sweet kosher wine—always for our Seder. We entered the neighborhood liquor store near Hunter College and sheepishly asked a group of employees gathered in front, “Where’s the sweet kosher wine?” I added, as if telling a joke, “You know, once a year…” to which the store manager answered with a lilting empathy that seemed to come from years of experience, “I know, once a year!” We were sharing a moment.

Except the manager was most certainly a sub-continental or Persian, and thus probably Muslim or Hindu and not Jewish.

In all, six ethnic groups were involved in this public ritual that always precedes our private religious-cultural celebration: A secular Syrian Jew and his Quaker wife of German-Dutch-English descent are served first by a South or Central Asian who asks his Latino employee to show us where to look—he said, “Jose, show them.” The cashier is a very friendly African-American woman.

Syrian Jew, WASP, Asian, Latino, Black—that’s five cultures. Six, when you count the man to whom the store manager was talking the entire time we were in the store—a jovial heavyset, tow-haired guy with an Eastern European accent.

Diversity and respect for everyone. It’s what I love about New York City, and what I love about America.

And it’s what Trump supporters fear.

Core Trump supporters fear the other—other cultures, other skin colors, other religions, other sexual predilections, other nationalities. They fear being invaded or physically harmed. They fear losing their traditions. They harbor a completely irrational fear of being displaced, after centuries of enjoying preferential treatment.

Virtually all the Trump positions that appeal to his white, mostly rural or working class, base begin with a fear of the other: The policy to build a wall, shut down immigration and deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible. The policies to get tough on crime and gut poverty programs, which appeal to the many white Americans who mistakenly believe that the majority of both criminals and the poor are people of color. The defense of Christmas, which isn’t so much a defense against encroachments on religious celebration as an attempt to assert the prerogatives of one religion as dominant and therefore normal. The anti-LGBTQ policies such as Trump’s several attempts to kick transgendered people out of the armed forces. The gun policies, as surveys show that those hoarding guns and spewing out NRA rhetoric tend to be whites who are afraid of African-Americans. Even Trump’s “America first” foreign policy reflects a fear of the other.

If it’s different from the normal defined by Walt Disney in the 1950’s, then Trump’s America hates it.

But it’s differences that I love in my America, an America I share with more than half the population, congregating primarily in big cities and their immediate suburbs along the coasts and major rivers and transit points.

In our America, we don’t fear the other, we embrace all others, as we’re likely an “other” ourselves. We enjoy our freedom to express our culture in our homes, our community centers and yes, sometimes in the streets. We love to see others express their cultures. We love to dabble sometimes in the culture of others—Native American, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Ethiopian, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Turkish, Persian, Indonesian and a myriad of other cuisines, parades, neighborhoods, music festivals and exhibits. We are not threatened by diversity. Diversity makes our surroundings more interesting and provocative. Being part of a big-tent America also protects us—or is supposed to protect us—from discrimination.

Those who fear the other have always been around to impede what Martin Luther King called the long arc of our history towards justice for all. Fear of the other has a long tradition in American culture and politics. It served as a justification for both slavery and how we treated freed African-American slaves. Fear of the other animated the nativist political movements of the 19th centuries and our restrictive immigration policies between the World Wars. It guided our housing, mass transit, urban renewal and land development policies and fueled the flight to the suburbs after World War II.

Over the past twenty years, the country seems to be polarizing around these two visions of American more than ever before. With the Republican and Democratic Parties taking turns as the dominant political force, our national politics must appear bipolar to the outside world, as we violently shift between policies that stultify diversity with those that encourage it.

Sadly, the GOP even before Trump has for years exploited the irrational fear of the other to gain support for an economic agenda that has inflicted severe harm on the very constituency most susceptible to their fear-mongering—less educated, rural and working class whites.

The ironic thing about this never-ending Kulturkampf is that Trump’s Americans—the evangelicals, the cultural conservatives, the gun lovers and even the white supremacists can live their lives as exactly as they want in the privacy of their own homes, community centers and hunting lodges in an America based on diversity, as long as they don’t insist on foisting their beliefs, cultural artifacts and definitions of normalcy on others. You do your thing and let me do mine. And we’ll keep public places and institutions secular and open to all.

I’m reminded of a heated discussion about what constitutes America that I had with my much younger step brother when he was in his angry white guy phase decades ago. He was blasting away against anti-American values and the threat of Blacks and foreigners, all the while eating a taco from a fast food emporium. When I pointed out that he was eating Mexican food, my then callow step brother insisted with some vehemence, “No, I’m not. Tacos are American.”

You’ll get no argument here.

Students marching for stiffer gun control should get “woke” to the fact that their struggle is related to #MeToo, BlackLivesMatter & the pro-immigration movement

The students of America haven’t been so united since the protests against the War in Viet Nam that followed the killing of students at Kent State University and Jackson State College (now University) in 1970.

Like most sane Americans and surely all of the almost 70% of us who want to ban all private ownership of assault weapons, I applaud the many high school and college students who marched across the country over the weekend, and especially the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School students who cast aside their shock and sorrow to get the ball rolling.

But in the exuberance of the moment, I can’t help but notice one interesting and perhaps troubling similarity about the Viet Nam War protests in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In both cases, large waves of students, most of whom have never engaged in protests on other issues, were united to protect themselves from getting senselessly killed.

No war since Viet Nam has directly threatened the lives of large numbers of American youths simply because in no post-1960’s war has the U.S. military forced people to serve. The ending of the draft in January of 1973 effectively ended all mass student protest against the Viet Nam War—and any sustained large-scale sustained movement to oppose any subsequent war. While there were some major marches before the First Iraq War, for example, as soon as the troops landed virtually all opposition disintegrated. Certainly in no antiwar protest or movement since Viet Nam has the Youth of America (to borrow Casey Stengel’s phrasing) played a predominant role.

Contemporary high school and college students literally have more to fear from on-campus gun violence than dying in war. It makes sense they would rise up to oppose our irresponsible and anti-social current gun laws.

But again, like the Viet Nam War, the primary motivation to protest is self-interest and not commitment to a political, social or economic ideal or policy.

I’m not chiding the kids. I love them. They’re smart, educated and articulate. In their leadership and organizational efforts, they seem to take American diversity and equality as givens. But all they’ve proven so far is that they can mobilize when their own lives are in danger, which ends up being the only thing that the Baby Boom generation ended up proving, too.

While expressing my enthusiastic support of the marchers, I also want to issue a challenge: Don’t limit yourself to this one issue which deeply involves you and your continued existence.

Students should keep in mind that gun control is connected in many ways to the #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, LBGTQ and pro-immigration movements, and to the much smaller and less well-known movements to shrink the military and ban nuclear weapons. One big connection is that these movements all have the same opponents, the Trump base of misogynists, racists and nativists, encouraged by the big-money ultra-right wing. Surveys show that those who hoard guns are primarily whites afraid of blacks. To a large extent, the gun culture, the white supremacy culture and the hetero-white-men-are-superior cultures overlap in their adherents.

But there are also subtler relationships between the sudden wave of anti-gun activity and existing grass roots movement that lean left: virtually all American mass shooters displayed racist or sexist behavior in their past, and all fed on the same pool of hate and fear that animates racists, nativists and misogynists. Moreover, the companies selling weapons and funding the National Rifle Association are often subsidiaries of the companies selling American weapons to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and dozens of other countries. The United States sells almost as many military arms to other countries as the rest of the world combined. The current administration is loosening regulations to make it easier for U.S. companies to sell arms abroad. The weapons industry is one of the most dominant forces in both state and federal government and one of the most insidious forces in mass culture.

When I started my anti-War activity at the age of 16, I was pretty dubious of the declarations of some of the more radical, and usually highly educated, among us that the War in Viet Nam was intimately connected with the abuses that the Civil Rights movement was battling. Soon enough I became “woke” to the relationship between racial injustice, cultural imperialism and unregulated free markets abroad and on the home front.

It’s time for the marchers in favor of stricter gun control laws to get “woke.”

Replacing McMaster with Bolton & Tillerson with Pompeo brings us closer to both a nuclear war & an authoritarian regime at home

Now I’m worried.

Correction: Scared out of my shoes.

A guy who is so bellicose in his pronouncements that he couldn’t get a Republican Senate’s approval to be Union Nations Ambassador, a mere spokesperson role, is going to be National Security Advisor, the person most responsible for formulating and implementing our foreign policy.

John Bolton is the kind of one-dimensional Dickensian fool who makes great confrontational TV, but dangerously ignorant policy.

Bolton has in the past expressed a desire to bomb North Korea and Iran. He fully supported the Iraq War from day one until today, even after it was revealed that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction or no ties to Al Qaida. He famously has opposed the International Criminal Court and the Biological Weapons Convention. He fully buys into the idea of a worldwide cultural war between the West and Islam. But like Trump, he doesn’t really like any other country. Correction, Trump does seem to harbor a fondness for totalitarian regimes, and Russia in particular.

If Bolton gets his way, thousands of American soldiers will die fighting major wars with Iran and North Korea, and tens of thousands more will have their lives ruined by physical injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of Koreans and Iranians will die, be injured or have their lives uprooted, most of whom will be innocent civilians. We will waste trillions of dollars that could go to infrastructure improvement, alternative fuel development and commercialization, education and help for the poor and elderly. Even worse, if nuclear weapons are detonated, it will poison our entire biosphere, leading to cancers and birth defects all over the world for decades, if not longer. It could also perhaps trigger the use of nuclear weapons against us by allies of Iran or North Korea.

At the very least, Bolton will encourage Trump to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, which will further isolate the United States from the rest of the world. The new tariffs on foreign goods, leaving the Paris Accord, not joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump’s desire to renegotiate NAFTA and his constant rhetoric already have compelled the rest of the world to start cutting deals that cut America out. The result of the “America First” policy will be a slow, then faster shrinking of our economy.

Bolton plays to all of Donald Trump’s worst instincts and most pernicious beliefs. Trump has expressed the idea that only a war can bring the United States together. My take on that comment is that he means that a war behind which everyone unifies is the only way to retain his current job in 2020, and perhaps the only way to avoid legislative disaster in 2018. Perhaps a war could serve as an excuse for suspending elections or declaring Martial Law, or for censoring the press or rounding up scores of innocent Muslims for a new round of detention camps run primarily by private prison companies.

Unfortunately, in weighing whether to follow Bolton’s counsel and go to war, Trump will not think about the financial costs, because he’s used to going bankrupt and leaving investors holding an empty bag.

He won’t think of the death and destruction a war will bring because he doesn’t think of other people’s suffering ever, except the suffering of adversaries, which he gleefully reveals in seeing.

He won’t consider that the likely outcome of a war against North Korea or Iran will not be a western-style democracy pliantly under America’s hegemony, but increased regional instability, decades of civil war, the creation of millions of refugees, an explosion of terrorism worldwide and the possible bombing of U.S. territories or territory. He’s far too enamored of the tough-guy persona and the us-versus-them narrative to consider the past in predicting a war’s outcome.

He certainly won’t consider how much progress has been made to address the world’s problems following the principles of multilateralism and economic sanctions because he prefers the disproven myths of his 1950’s childhood to facts and scientific analysis.

No, he will only consider one factor: Will it help him?

And in his distorted, self-centered, corrupt and mean-spirited universe, the answer could be that war will help Trumpty-Dumpty.

And it might in the short-term. The First Iraq War and our three-day farce in Grenada demonstrate that Americans like short wars that we win. The public even liked the Second Iraq War at first, despite the fact-filled arguments of those opposed to it. But the longer any war goes on, the less Americans like it. After 15 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have grown especially cynical. The public’s attention span for everything has shortened considerably—something that Trump’s speaking style takes advantage of—and is probably much shorter when it comes to suffering warfare than ever before. In other words, declaring war on Iran, North Korea, both or another imaginary bogeyman may backfire or may give Trump a very temporary lift. Unless, of course, he uses a major conflagration to grab authoritarian power.

Before now, the craven and unethical way that the GOP has tolerated Trump instead of working with Democrats to replace him has irritated but not concerned me. I—like many—have depended on the Democrats to take power in 2018 and use the results of the Mueller probe to rid us of the cancer that is Donald Trump. The current administration has already inflicted tremendous damage to our economy, our reputation around the world, our security, the environment and immigrants and other individuals, most of the harm could be quickly reversed, except for that done to individuals.

But a major war, especially one that could go nuclear or serve as an excuse to for an executive takeover, would be catastrophic. Replacing McMaster with Bolton and Tillerson with Pompeo brings us closer to both a nuclear war and an authoritarian regime at home

That’s why I’m scared. Very scared.

Which Senators will vote to confirm former torture supervisor Gina Haspel? Only those so corrupted by politics they no longer have a moral compass

The big question in my mind since learning that former torture Chief Gina Haspel has received the nomination for next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been: what should we demand of Haspel to demonstrate that she won’t allow torture to take place under her watch?

Haspel gained notoriety when the news media revealed that she was in charge of a CIA torture facility in Thailand at which at least two suspected terrorists underwent waterboarding. Haspel later participated in an attempted cover-up of the American torture gulag by helping to destroy videotapes that showed torture at a number of secret CIA locations throughout the world. This cover-up strongly suggests that Haspel and her comrades knew that the cruel techniques that they were ordering others to use to interrogate human beings were both illegal and morally wrong.

Certainly a simple statement that she will follow all U.S. laws will not suffice to convince us Haspel’s torture days are in the past, since she could turn around at a later date and say that torture is legal or use an interrogation technique that is clearly torture but declare it isn’t, backed by the weaselly lawyering of the next generation of John Yoos and David Addingtons.

But is it enough for her to state unequivocally that the CIA will not engage in torture nor encourage the intelligence forces of our allies to do so? Doesn’t she also have to define in the most explicit terms what she means by torture and detail the horrific, inhumane acts that she won’t allow to happen under her watch? Will it help if she also cites the overwhelming evidence gathered through centuries that torture does not work?—evidence that the CIA and the Bush II administration chose to ignore.

Will laying out a full policy against all types of physical and mental torture be sufficient to convince the Senate—and the American people—that the CIA won’t revitalize the torture gulag that the Bush II administration established in the first decade of the 21st century? Does she also have to admit that what she ordered others to do was illegal and wrong and that she regrets doing it? Will anything less than a complete and abject mea culpa satisfy our need to protect the United States from ever debasing itself again through the use of torture.

No.

None of it will be enough. There is nothing that Gina Haspel could say or do that could convince any Senator to vote to confirm her as CIA chief except for those so corrupted by politics and self-interest that they no longer have any interest in the United States following its ethical compass.

That doesn’t mean that I believe that once they have served their time we should not give criminals a second chance, restore their rights and let them feely pursue careers and other interests. I believe fully and faithfully in rehabilitation and reintegration of virtually all who commit criminal acts. If you did the time, we should set aside the crime. But I don’t believe in asking the fox to guard the henhouse. We’d be foolish to make a reformed embezzler chief financial officer of a company or to have a reformed sex offender chaperone a field trip of college-aged women.

Besides, up to now Haspel has admitted to no wrong-doing and has never been punished for either the torture or the attempted cover-up. While condemning our use of torture, the United States government has done nothing to punish or even condemn those who established the torture regime and gave the orders to put dozens of people—many innocent of anything other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time—through excruciating mental and physical anguish, despite the fact that virtually all studies show torture to be ineffective in gathering information from enemy combatants. Many like David Addington, John Yoo and Gina Haspel have fallen on their feet with cushy jobs or are enjoying a posh retirement like Bush II and his vice president.

There can be no doubt that Donald Trump likes the fact that Haspel engaged in torture. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he spoke often of bringing back torture and adding prisoners to Guantanamo, which with Bagram and Abu Ghraib has come to symbolize the American torture machine. He has called for “worse than waterboarding.”

There is a cruel streak to most autocrats. The ability to inflict meaningless or excess pain on one’s enemies or even those who disobey seems to come naturally to the dictators of the world. They don’t want merely to win, they want to crush their opponent into fine particles.

Cruelty not only reassures the autocrat of his extensive power, it also serves as a warning to others who might dare to cross the ruler. That was surely the intent when Trump pressured Jeff Sessions to fire Andrew McCabe, Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the day before he was eligible for retirement. Firing McCabe for political reasons, as Trump admits happened, was the government’s misguided prerogative. But to do it just before McCabe could cash in on all his years of loyal and competent service to his country was cruel, to say the least. Living in the high-cost D.C. area with two children, how likely is it that McCabe depended heavily on his government pension for his and his wife’s retirement. Unless the plan to work for a Democratic Congressional representative works out or he has enormous success in a post-governmental career, McCabe and his family may find themselves in an economic freefall. The cruelty of the act certainly serves as a warning to others in government wanting to speak up against Trump or cooperate with the Mueller investigation.

Haspel’s best possible excuse for ordering and overseeing the torture committed by her subordinates—that she was only following orders—is what makes her particularly attractive to the autocratic Trumpty-Dumpty. The autocrat likes people who blindly follow orders, even if they are incompetent or unsuited to their jobs. For the autocrat, an order-follower who is also extremely talented and accomplished is a rare jewel indeed. And one who will do anything, who will stoop to any level, who will throw away all scruples—what an extraordinary find that is indeed. Gina Haspel is tailor-made for the Trump administration.

Which is why confirming her as CIA Director would be bad for the country. I’m urging all readers to write their Senators and tell them explicitly that if they vote to confirm Gina Haspel they will lose your vote and support.

A contrast in ethics: SF ICE spokesperson quits rather than lie v. the whitewashing in the House GOP final report on Russian meddling in 2016 election

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) just resigned rather than tell a bold-faced lie that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other ICE officials have been floating. Sessions and other ICE-ers have been complaining that about 800 undocumented immigrants escaped arrest because Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned the community that ICE raids were coming. ICE’s San Francisco spokesperson James Schwab knew the real number was much, much lower and recommended that ICE use the correct figure. ICE wouldn’t change its overblown estimate, so Schwab quit.

Good for him! Like the scientists and career diplomats who are abandoning the current administration, Schwab makes us remember that professional ethics and the truth take precedence over the pursuit of money and influence. His act shouldn’t seem heroic, but in our second Gilded Age, it does.

That Schwab’s act of integrity should be reported in the San Francisco Chronicle the same day that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee abruptly ended their investigation into Russian interference in the last presidential election is the most bitter of ironies. Schwab placed the truth above politics. The Republicans have applied the thinnest of whitewashes to what all indications amounts to an enormous stain of collusion and cover-up. Over the frequent protestations of Democrats and some Republicans, the House investigation has been shoddy—not gathering enough evidence and not interviewing enough people. Moreover, the investigation took ridiculous detours, as when Republicans issued the Devin Nunes-produced memo that purported to show that Robert Mueller’s independent investigation was unwarranted but in fact only revealed that the FBI had plenty of cause to start their investigation (which morphed into the Mueller probe after the firing of FBI director James Comey).

The Republican’s latest conclusion—that Russia interfered in 2016 but not to favor any candidate—reminds me of the three monkeys who see, hear and speak no evil. Or perhaps the dignitaries politely applauding from their special loft as the Emperor sashays by in his birthday suit. Whereas Schwab wants us to look at the facts, House Republicans—and just about all of the current Republican power structure—want us to look away from a horrifying truth.

Republicans are too invested in the Donald Trump phenomenon to walk away from the Donald. Instead they try to protect him by issuing a report that they hope will short circuit the Mueller probe, which seems to be getting ever closer to proving that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the results of the 2016 presidential election in his favor. But by trying to cover-up the truth, the GOP subvert our democracy.

So what else is new?

The right wing, which has pretty much taken over the Republican Party, has done a lot to undermine our democracy over the past decade or so:

  • Established dozens of foundations, research centers and publications that routinely publish shoddy research and self-serving analysis of our economic challenges while pushing the right’s myth-based economic and social agenda.
  • Developed a huge alternative media universe that has spewed the right’s propaganda, pushed its agenda and sought to besmirch every prominent Democratic or progressive candidate.
  • Groomed a generation of Republican candidates and elected officials to be their willing and well-paid toadies.
  • Gerrymandered Congressional districts to give Republicans an edge.
  • Passed a number of laws that make it harder to register to vote and harder to vote.
  • Blocked the nomination of a centrist Supreme Court justice in hopes that a Republican president would nominate a more conservative judge.
  • Held their collective nose as the current administration—perhaps the most corrupt since the establishment of civil service rules in the late 19th century—breaks all rules of ethics in mixing government with private business, exploiting the White House for self-enrichment, using government funds for private inurement and rewarding contributors and cronies.

In the context of these subversions of democracy, perhaps the Republicans consider collusion to interfere with an election as fair play—even if does involve a global adversary trying to weaken us. As with Nixon’s treasonous backroom deal with the South Vietnamese government to postpone the Paris Peace talks until after the 1968 election and Reagan’s surreptitious deal with Iran to postpone release of the hostages in return for secret weapons sales, the Republicans have long tolerated treason in the service of winning elections.

The Republicans have both demographics and ideology against them. On economic and social issues, most Americans are centrists or progressive. Odds are they will look even more leftward politically in the future, as our population continues to become more ethnically diverse and younger voters with more progressive views replace older voters. The only way to maintain control for the benefit of the ultra-wealthy is to fix the system anyway they can.