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.

Russia’s desire to build pipeline through N. Korea had more to do with Kim’s decision to stop nuclear development & meet Trump than Trump’s saber-rattling

Sometimes bad people do good things. And only those who hold the absurd notion that the small, impoverished country of North Korea is an evil devil incarnate don’t see that Donald Trump meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a good thing.

The main complaint, as exemplified by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, is that the United States gave away too much. That’s ridiculous. North Korea is going to temporarily stop nuclear weapons development and the sanctions remain. The “too much” is the de facto legitimization of the North Korean government that a visit from a U.S. leader entails; as Peter Baker put it in the New York Times, “they did not want to reward Pyongyang with the prestige of such a meeting unless there was substantial assurance of a breakthrough.” That’s ridiculous. The Old Testament proverb that “pride goeth before a fall” applies to those who think that a presidential visit has tangible value at a negotiating table as much as it did to the planners of the Vietnam and Second Iraq wars.

Another concern is that it’s Trump who is going, so we can all hold our breaths like parents of a poorly socialized four-year-old in expectation of bad behavior: saying the wrong thing, snubbing the hosts with cultural faux pas, getting pissed off, and making idle threats. But that sounds like the way he treats our allies, not autocrats like Putin, Xi and bin Salman. Who knows? Trump may come away with some good ideas for his military parade. The bigger threat of course is that he gives away the store, as he has proven to be a terrible negotiator in government.

The last objection is that if the negotiations fail, it will bring us closer to war, as that will demonstrate to Trump that his view that war with North Korea is the only answer is correct. That’s what Victor Cha, former national foreign policy advisor to Bush II, is saying. But should we then wait for Trump to conclude that negotiations don’t work without even trying them? Yes, it would be nice if Trump and Kim followed diplomatic niceties and first had their people work out the details of what would be discussed before agreeing to a sit-down, but doing so would not have guaranteed a successful outcome, especially with two people as erratic and publicity-seeking as Trump and Kim. The sudden surprise and the big splash is more their style.

Besides, negotiating is always better than saber-rattling or bomb-dropping, no matter who is doing the negotiating. Period.

Let’s not, however, confuse this development with Nixon going to China, as many Trump admirers want to do. Just hold in your mind for one minute three words and you’ll see the difference. The words are: China. North Korea. A country with more than a billion people versus a country of 25 million. What is the difference in trade potential with China in the 1970’s versus with North Korea today? The potential impact of a war with either? The significance in terms of the international balance of power?

The question at this point should not be whether a Trump trip to North Korea is a good thing, but if Trump has achieved a diplomatic success by his tough talk? Is the Trump bluster—pushing our weight around with threats of military intervention and trade wars—a more effective tool than diplomacy and alliance building?

To answer that question let’s first analyze what happened. Trump made violent threats and Kim responded by launching rocket tests. Meanwhile, sanctions kept up their slow torture of the North Korean economy. Trump shut up for a few months and Kim came to the table after much traditional courting by the South Koreans. Those facts don’t make a good case for Trump’s brand of speaking loudly and wielding a big stick.

I am going to propose some other reasons that Kim decided to halt North Korea’s nuclear arms development while still under sanction and to meet with the United States. Some combination of all these reasons probably compelled Kim to act. Spoiler alert—I think it’s the last one mentioned:

  • The Olympics made Kim recognize the advantages of being part of the society of world nations and the global economy, and not an isolated outlier constrained by economic sanctions.
  • The sanctions worked and Kim realizes that he has to bend to the will of the rest of the world.
  • Kim has run out of money for further development of a North Korean nuclear capability for a while.
  • Russia put pressure on North Korea to get serious about negotiations with South Korea. Russia is interested in building a natural gas pipeline through North Korea to supply South Korea with natural gas. That would explain both South Korea’s overtures and North Korea’s willingness to listen and talk. Sounds like the type of deal that’s getting done a lot lately, like the new Trans-Pacific Partnership—done without the United States.

So I don’t think Trump’s actions instigated Kim, but recent events do represent a turnaround in what he’s been saying for a long time: that negotiations have failed and we have to take further action. Maybe now that he’s ready to talk to Kim—even if it’s for no other reason than to see another parade and hear the cheers of another crowd of people in a foreign land—Trump might recognize that using sanctions and negotiations to stop countries from developing nuclear capabilities is a good thing and change his mind about the Iran nuclear deal. Of course, first he would have to get over his racist notion that if a black man did it, it couldn’t be good.

Trump’s fits of anger & other purely emotional responses are harming millions of people. Let’s hope it doesn’t also lead to dropping the big one.

People generally act for one of four reasons: 1. The facts lead them to the action; 2) Self-interest; 3) Their belief system; 4) Something emotional, such as anger, pride, jealousy, shame, hatred or fear.

From the very start of his unsuccessful career as a business person and through his successful career playing one on TV to the current day, Donald Trump has never been guided by facts. But in this regard, he is not alone. The Republican Party from its very beginnings as a voice for the abolition of slavery have been guided by self-interest, essentially creating crony capitalism during the Civil War and the Gilded Age that followed it. In recent years, the Republicans have allowed their belief system and self-interest to trump any use of facts in such areas as environmental, economic and health policies.

Trump isn’t even the first elected official to make decisions on purely primordial emotions. Although based on their belief that people of color are inferior to people of European descent, the decision by Republicans in Congress to block everything that President Obama wanted to accomplish was essentially emotional, the operating passion being hatred of the black man. Another example: it was Kennedy’s testosterone-fueled need to prove his manhood—at heart, an insecurity—that led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

How Trump differs from all those who have come before him on the national political stage is the degree to which he lets emotions guide him. Yes, self-interest and a flawed value system come into play, but the means by which Trump protects his self-interest or advances his value system usually reduces to a full-throttled expression of an emotion: hate, rage, fear, insecurity, the will to dominate. That Trump is guided by his emotions represents a far greater danger than his fascistic beliefs, his unrelenting unethical conduct in pursuit of self-interest or his propensity not just to ignore the facts, but actively to create lies in their place.

These past few days have seen Trump make two enormous mistakes that will hurt hundreds of millions of people, both on purely emotional grounds. The more reported blunder was to announce steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. While giving a small boost to these two mature industries, the tariffs will hurt a number of other industries and primarily will apply to our closest allies such as Canada. Moody’s Analytics has already figured out that 119,000 American jobs will be lost because of the tariffs. (Add that to the 30,000 jobs lost by undoing the Clean Power Plan and Trump is about one-fifth of the way towards reducing jobs to match the decrease in the workforce that will result from sending the Dreamers to the country of their parents’ origin.) The only Americans who won’t be paying higher prices for something or another because of these new tariffs will be those who never use anything containing steel or aluminum. In other words, everyone will suffer. And that’s before the trade war that likely will ensue as our pissed-off allies react.

Most mainstream media have reported that Trump made the tariff decision on the spur of the moment, in a wild fit of caged-animal rage in reaction to the news that his son-in-law was in deep doo-doo and that the Mueller investigation was rapidly getting closer to proving that Trump and his advisors cooperated with the Russians to help Trumpty-Dumpty in the last presidential election and then attempted to conceal their treasonous collusion. Little details like the fact the Trump Administration encouraged Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar after Qatar refused to loan his son-in-law hundreds of millions of dollars have tightened the noose around Trump’s own neck.

His reaction has been a blinding anger that confidential sources say made him do the equivalent of coming home and kicking the dog after a brutal day in the office. In this case, Trump’s dog are other countries, but in his rage he never bothered to have someone run the numbers and recognize that the dogs he kicked are his best friend and that he’s also hurting his own country. Or perhaps he knows and doesn’t care. Trump, and virtually the entire roster of elected Republicans, manifest a mean-spirited disregard of groups that they dislike or are not likely to vote for them. Establishing these new tariffs was a brassy expression of power that enabled Trump to reassert his manhood—at least to himself.

Less prominent is another recent instance of Trump lashing out in anger and hurting the country. The New York Times has reported that Trump is pushing Republicans in Congress to oppose funding for a new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey because it’s an important project to New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. Trump is engaging in a childishly emotional game of tit-for-tat, getting back at Schumer for blocking Trump’s nominees. Unfortunately in thwarting Schumer, Trump also hurts tens of millions of people in the financial and economic heart of the country. It affects the transportation network over the entire eastern seaboard from Boston to Washington, D.C., since every Amtrak train passing from New York to New Jersey uses the current tunnel, which is in a deteriorating condition that led to extensive scheduling changes last summer to accommodate repairs. The Obama Administration rated building the new tunnel as the single most important infrastructure improvement facing the country.

But Trump doesn’t care about what happens to the 25-million New York metropolitan area, the eastern seaboard or the rest of the country. He only cares about himself and placating whatever emotion is controlling his unconscious and conscious mind at any given moment. Gaining revenge and assuaging his anger with the symbolic blood of his adversary are all that matter to him.

What will happen when Mueller gets even closer? Or issues an indictment against Kushner, his sons or himself? The big fear is that Trump’s rage will cause him to order the dropping of a nuclear device on North Korea. What will the generals do? Will they obey the order or take the engaged madman into custody? And what will the GOP do? Republicans have made a devil’s bargain with Trump, overlooking his ethical lapses, emotional outbursts, erratic behavior and likely crimes to pursue its faith-based vision of an unfettered market. But will they follow him into nuclear war?

Equally as horrifying a thought as dropping the big one is the possibility that Trump tries to install an autocratic regime. In recent days, he has stressed his lack of respect for the American tradition of law at least twice. He hinted he wanted to end due process to take guns away from people with mental illness. More significantly, he speculated at a Republican donor function that maybe the United States would try to have a president for life, as China appears to be doing with Xi Jinping. How will his advisors, the military and other Republicans react when he wants to declare Marshall Law, let’s say, after the Democrats sweep into Congressional power in November or Mueller issues an indictment? Will they put the Donald under lock and key or will they continue to follow him? After all, the two fundamental principles of the U.S. military are chain of command and civilian control, while an autocratic regime would keep the Republicans in power.

A very scary thought indeed.

Few care that Trump dodged the draft, but saying he’d run towards gunfire without a weapon is bombastic hypocrisy masquerading as moral high ground

I’m reluctant to throw stones at Donald Trump for his gratuitous but certainly mendacious comment that with or without a gun, he would have stormed into Majory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) to protect the high school students being mowed down by Nicholas Cruz’s AR-15 assault weapon. My hesitation to condemn Trump comes because I would never do such a thing, as I am at heart a coward, afraid of guns and of death. I would certainly intervene in a knife fight or if thugs were threatening someone with words or fists in the subway or another public place. My confidence that I would help the victim in a gunless situation derives from having done so in the past.

Once a gun appeared or a shot rang out, however, I would run for cover. I admit my cowardice and therefore appreciate those willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect society, as long as they treat everyone they encounter with respect and without illegal brutality. The failure of a security guard to perform his job at MSD is disappointing, as he was a professional (not a civilian) paid to intervene and protect. But it’s no more disappointing than the countless instances of racial profiling or unnecessary violence to subdue a suspect.

Trump’s reference to imagined bravery is particularly odious, even for the master of the inappropriate, for a few reasons. First of all, as virtually all mainstream media stories about his bold declaration point out, is Trump’s inherent hypocrisy. He did, after all, use a medical deferment for bone spurs to avoid serving in the military during the Viet Nam war. Now let’s be clear, I’m not condemning his use of a minor and temporary injury to avoid military service. To avoid military service, I documented a case of migraine headaches and as a back-up compiled a dossier supporting that I was a conscientious objector to all war in case I did end up classified as physically fit to serve. Turns out all that work was unnecessary, as my congenital flat feet disqualified me from military service except, as the desk sergeant told me, “after a nuclear war and then, only in a desk job.” So I have no problem with Trump’s having documented a physical ailment to avoid the draft. I’m even okay with the fact that his father’s riches gave him easy access to physicians to document the agony of bone spurs. After all, there was a war going on, one that was obviously a senseless exercise in imperialism.

It’s not that Trump was a draft dodger then. It’s that he’s now making self-serving and self-gratifying statements about his imagined bravery, an obvious hypocrisy.

More disgraceful than the hypocrisy is the fact that Trump has tried to set a moral bar for action. He has used the bully pulpit that all occupants of the oval office have to advocate that civilians should engage in suicide missions. He tried to promote sacrificing one’s life pointlessly as the first and logical choice that most people would make in the given situation—outside a building, armed or unarmed, it doesn’t matter—and you know an active shooter is getting off round after round of rapid fire. He tried to make the audience of state governors complicit in setting this standard by saying, “but I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon and I think most of the people in this room would’ve done that too.”

Of course, that’s a false assumption: Most people would seek cover and then use their cell phone, first to call 911 and then to try to contact anyone they knew to be inside the building.

Trump’s empty boast that he would bravely jump into the fray like Bruce Willis or Jackie Chan going against a horde of bad guys is as harmful to American society as his boldfaced lie that he knew someone whose child contracted autism after having a vaccination or his assertion that good people existed among the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, and for the same reason. It’s an untruth that also sets a suspect standard of behavior. I can imagine benighted Trump supporters invoking his statement when deciding not to vaccinate their infants. Certainly many thought Trump’s Charlottesville comments normalized the behavior of the neo-Nazis while equating it with the actions and ethics of their victims.

To create a moral imperative to walk towards gunfire fits nicely into the solution to gun violence proposed by Trump and the National Rifle Association: arm teachers. Both propose to fight gun violence with actions that promote more gun violence and which enlarge the battlefield. Both cheapen the value of human life through an implicit glorification of guns. Most importantly, both make no sense whatsoever. Good guys without guns are just more cannon fodder for the bad guys. Good guys shooting a gun tend to be inaccurate and could likely hurt innocent bystanders in the crossfire—even the police hit their target less than 50% of the time, as many reporters have already pointed out. Furthermore, when the authorities get there, they won’t be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Finally, gun deaths and injuries are always and everywhere a function of the number of guns in society. By giving teachers guns, we will without a doubt increase the number of gun deaths and injuries. The inanity of running towards gunfire prepares the public for the even more inane notion of army teachers.

In the case of Trump’s empty boast, the moral bar is a senseless suicide mission. Contrast with the training and indoctrination that soldiers get. In a traditional war, the casualties among front-line soldiers are terrifying. Generals know that upwards of 70% of those at the front of a traditional battle will die or be injured. That’s why army indoctrination stresses the chain of command. Following orders is the highest value. Frankly, I don’t know how any general can sleep at night without the benefit of alcohol or some other artificial assuagement. It makes sense that Grant was an alcoholic—it was how he dealt with the death sentence he knew he was imposing on many of his soldiers.

But Grant, and every other general, had a purpose, a goal and a plan that involved the coordination of many combatants. There can be no goal in running towards fire in a spontaneous situation, with or without a weapon, unless you are a trained professional who has reconnoitered the facility and terrain. That Trump, the quintessential “summer soldier,” wants us to believe otherwise is unconscionable. That he does so to satisfy his weak ego’s need to always be a hero honored and loved is pathetic. That his statement serves as an object lesson to the American citizenry is a moral outrage.

Russian social media manipulators have nothing on the National Rifle Association as far as infiltrating Facebook & Twitter goes

We see playing out before us two great dramas involving vast plots to manipulate the minds of millions of Americans. The first is obviously front and center: the Mueller indictments against 13 Russian nationals and 3 companies, which puts to rest any argument against the idea that the Russians intervened in the last national election to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. We know now that there can be no doubt the Russians interfered and intend to do so again.

The second, unpublicized campaign of distortion is being run right now by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to prevent the mass murder at a Parkland, Florida high school from resulting in stricter gun control laws. Now I’m not accusing the NRA of taking over the Internet identities of unsuspecting people or using bots to boost its posts, like the Russians did. What I am saying is that the NRA engages in an extensive and probably very expensive social media campaign to keep myths and false arguments about gun control in front of social media users.

During the presidential campaign I saw almost none of the garbage that Russia surreptitiously dumped onto Twitter and Facebook, except as reported by the mainstream news media. By contrast, since the Parkland shooting, my Facebook feed has been bombarded by false memes regarding gun control, presented in photographs, cartoons, videos and headlines, typically originating from websites I have never heard of before. Here is a sample of the ridiculous cant being posted:

  • We should arm school teachers.
  • Mentally ill people commit mass murders, not guns.
  • We should have veterans with automatic weapons patrolling the halls of our schools.
  • We should blame video games.
  • A teenage girl crying in delight at having gotten a gun for a present.
  • Determined killers will always find another way.
  • God allowed the shooting because prayer is banned in public schools.
  • We should teach our kids martial arts so they can “Jackie Chan” school shooters.
  • The FBI is solely to blame for the shooting (Trump and the GOP’s excuse for not talking about gun control).
  • We’re not outlawing cars even though thousands have died in car accidents since the beginning of the year.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen plenty of memes proposing gun control since the latest horror. I particularly like the one that suggests that the senators and congressional representatives voting against prohibiting automatic weapons should be charged as accomplices of shooter Nicholas Cruz. I also like the mentions of how much individual politicians have received from the NRA and the headlines that point out that guns are not allowed in the chambers of Congress.

But remember, the approximately 3,500 people in my Facebook network are almost all followers of my very leftwing blog, family and friends (who are decidedly leftwing) and members of the international poetry community (which skewers left). My Facebook network is decidedly more pro-gun control than it was pro-Hillary. Remember too that a large majority of Americans—and gun owners—are in favor of banning automatic weapons, extending waiting periods and other “centrist” gun control legislation. The Russians didn’t really ever penetrate my network with real garbage, but the NRA has made its presence felt to the point that for a while I saw about as many posts against gun control as for gun control. Since I kept asking Facebook not to show me further updates from the originating sources for NRA propaganda, the anti-gun control Facebook posts have finally died down a bit.

Turning now to Twitter: I have no way of evaluating the political beliefs of my approximately 38,000 Twitter followers, except for noting that the campaigns I have conducted to expand my Twitter network have always focused on Hillary and Bernie supporters or the followers of people who retweeted or tweeted my progressive and often pro-gun control tweets. Comments from Twitter followers almost always praise my tweets or the OpEdge articles to which they usually links. Over 9+ years, there are only two subjects that get substantial negative feedback from people opposed to my tweets: when I propose raising the minimum wage and when I advocate more gun control legislation. And it happened again after Parkland.

I don’t have the operation to track the origin of every anti-gun control tweet (or Facebook update), so I am only assuming that behind most of it are NRA-funded groups and individuals, or the NRA itself. Again, I am not accusing the NRA of doing anything underhanded or illegal, but of spending a lot of money legally to monitor social media and respond in one way or another to as many pro-gun control tweets as they can.

Remember that the extensive NRA activity on social media reinforces the nonsense that its elected factotums piously spew, stating that just after a tragedy is not being the time to discuss gun legislation, blaming mental illness or the FBI, or advocating we arm school teachers. It also reinforces the NRA party line blathered by Fox News and the rest of the rightwing news media. On the one hand, we could conclude that the program is a failure, since surveys track a growing interest in strengthening gun control laws among the American public. On the other hand, the NRA’s vast marketing campaign helps to create the alternative reality in which the politicians they finance can thrive. The false statements of the politicians and their reverberation in social media and the right wing news media help to set the agenda for the mainstream media and continually keep pro-gun control advocates on their heels, in a reactive mode, even after the increasingly more frequent tragedies that everyone knows could be prevented by greater gun control and reducing the number of weapons circulating in American society.