Friday, January 6, 2017

How Iraq Brought us 2017

The new year opens with a fascist poised to seize the helm of the American government, allegedly aided in his savage ascent by Russian intelligence agencies.  International terrorists threaten to redraw the map of the Middle East, and their menace to regional security has bolstered the standing of terroristic dictatorships, aided by a nihilistic Kremlin.  Turkey, the region’s most significant power, is lurching into fundamentalist authoritarianism.
Europe’s welfare states, the answer to a half century of bloodshed, reel under political and economic burdens, while crypto-fascists snap at the heels of their social democratic guardians.  The continent’s experiment in pan-Europeanism has been wounded, perhaps mortally, by the intertwinement of its elites with transnational financial interests and the British exit.
The best case scenario will see a much more dangerous, unstable, and unequal world.  In the worst case, we may be coming over a horizon to witness the final unravelling of the post-war innovations in social democracy, internationalism, and supra-nationalism, if not of the two-hundred year experiment in democracy that most of the world has taken for granted would continue to flourish.
There are clearly many factors--long- and short-term--that can explain these sinister developments.  But the speed of the global disintegration has been shocking, and I would argue that if we wanted to identify a single moment that ricocheted through the last thirteen years, inflicting damage on the fibre of individual nations, international norms, and the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, the 2003 invasion of Iraq is the best place to start.
For those who have forgotten, for reasons we still do not entirely understand, in 2003 the Bush administration, with broad bipartisan support, launched a stunningly violent and insensible invasion of a country that posed no discernible threat to U.S. interests.  The United States’ campaign of “shock and awe” and the subsequent occupation killed tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and dismantled the country’s physical infrastructure and civic institutions, the only things standing between the colonial creation of a nation and the civil war which broke out and remains unresolved.
It is difficult to know where to begin in measuring the effects of a war that was illegal, immoral, and ill-conceived, launched in defiance of international law and institutions, and in spite of warnings from intelligence agencies that the conflict would lead to the proliferation of international terrorism and the unravelling of the Middle East.
In the United States, the smear campaigns of the Bush administration cowed most Democrats and media into jumping onto the warmongers’ bandwagon.  Even the knowledge that the war was fought based on a set of calculated lies and distortions offered by the President, the Vice-President, the Secretary of State, and the intelligence agencies did not lead to a reckoning in the opposition.  The best that Democrats could manage as a collective entity was an admission that the war was poorly managed.  This failure to come to terms with the scale of the disaster they helped to unleash was, of course, due to the fact that their nominee in 2004 supported the war, and had his campaign torpedoed more effectively by his own “I was for it before I was against it” mumbling than anything the lying swiftboaters could launch his way.
Things did not improve in the next four years, because the heir apparent to the party’s leadership had not only supported the war, but was refashioning herself as a bloodthirsty neo-con, the better to compete with the Republican Party.
As Iraq was driven into civil war by the American occupation and the Al Qaeda fighters it drew to the country, the American body count grew and the popularity of what had been sold as a feel-good war began to wane.  
Americans backed away from the embrace of the leading Democratic neo-con, and pirouetted away from a Republican candidate who improvised war ditties at his rallies and seemed positively senile when fumbling about a dangerous financial crisis.
The public turned to Barack Obama, who represented both opposition to the war in Iraq, but also basic competence.  What they did not realize is that the debt-financing of a then nearly six-year-old and incredibly expensive war was partly responsible both for the financial crisis and the state’s difficulty in responding.
Instead of questioning the fundamental logic of the War of Terror, Barack Obama decided to wage it in secret, shielding the public from its immediate consequences.  His lethal campaign of terror from the air nonetheless inflicting stunning damage on lives, property, and the national fabric of societies on the receiving end of his bombs.  The secrecy of the conflict also necessitated the massive expansion of an already over-mighty security state, which increasingly bridled at the messy notion of legislative oversight, and launched a cold war against the democratic entities that sought to shed light on its machinations and alert the public to its serial abuses.  
We felt the long-term consequences of growing mistrust in the security state when in 2016 Donald Trump disingenuously deflected accusations of Russian meddling in an American election by invoking Iraq.
The government’s inability to avert a financial crisis, the effects of austerity, a culture of impunity shielding both financial and national security elites, at both the moment of crisis and in its decade-long aftermath, created an atmosphere of distrust in public federal institutions.
A Republican Party utterly discredited by its role in unleashing war in Iraq and financial chaos in the U.S. identified an opportunity in this climate, and launched a second war, this time a guerrilla conflict from within to sabotage and undermine the state and its capacity to protect its citizens.  Their core lies--that public institutions are fundamentally corrupt and that “government” doesn’t work--were built on specks of truth created by their own dangerous and authoritarian instincts in government.  An unheralded but long-term consequences of their guerrilla war is the inability of the U.S. to satisfactorily address the growing threat from climate change.
And their campaign to bring down the Obama administration by bringing the work of the state to a grinding halt and bringing their lies to life bear significant responsibility for the rise of Donald Trump.  The arrogance of a blinkered Democratic Party also shares some responsibility as the party, in its infinite wisdom, nominated a candidate proven to be badly compromised by her support for the war in Iraq.
While her supporters defended Clinton’s Iraq vote as an aberration, a google search of her public record in the senate and State Department easily proved that her support for destabilizing, violent, and senseless conflict, and for authoritarian regimes that provoked often-dangerous insurgencies was a fundamental part of her international outlook.
Trump’s repudiation of internationalism and its institutions might be particularly virulent and mindless, but he was only building on the work begun by the Bush Administration when it launched a campaign to smear the United Nations and accords banning torture and other war crimes, and continued by Clinton and others from within the Obama Administration as they sold a lawless doctrine of American exceptionalism.
As predicted, the Iraq war proved the boon to Al Qaeda and its ilk that 9/11 never was.  International terrorism spread to Iraq, Syria, Libya, and beyond, laying the groundwork for the rise of ISIS years later, and inviting the U.S. to launch superficially “clean” wars like that in Libya, which instead expanded chaos, boosted fundamentalism, and created new links between previously local terrorist organizations.
American lawlessness in its war making also offered a predictable “out” to Russia’s authoritarian leader, who answered criticisms of his expansions into the caucasus, Ukraine, and Syria, with an innocent shrug and a “they did it first” gesture toward his American and British adversaries.
The upheavals in the Middle East caused by the Iraq war--and the expansion of the war in Afghanistan, mulishly initiated by Obama to compensate for his winding down in Iraq--led to a mounting refugee crisis, piling pressure onto a government in Turkey that has marched toward authoritarianism, intolerance, and a break with both the United States and its own democratic and secular heritage.
The refugee crisis was also felt in Europe, which had been rocked by the Iraq war in other ways earlier.  Britain’s rush to join the U.S. in invading Iraq in 2003 led to the empowerment of the security state after the predictable terrorist backlash.  But it also mortally wounded the Blair government over the long-term, and has badly damaged the standing of the Labour Party, responsible for virtually all of the country’s twentieth century progress.  
Labour’s fall from grace led to the rise of a Eurosceptic Conservative Party that pursued crippling austerity, further eroding public trust and creating a climate of fear that helped to propel Britons to vote against membership in the European Union.  The Brexit vote was also facilitated by Conservative leader David Cameron’s deal with the devil that was UKIP, putting the country’s place in Europe on the line to satisfy the yapping of nationalist reprobates in his own ranks.  
A fear of migrants in the form of Middle Eastern refugees also helped to spur Brexit.  Britons ultimately refused to share in the responsibility for picking up the pieces after a conflict they helped to initiate, and are now committing to backing away from the principle of open borders.
In the short term, it appeared that the extent of damage to European states would come from their rupture with the U.S. over the War in Iraq, swiftly repaired after the inauguration of Obama.  But Iraq’s role in the financial crisis also reached European shores.  
More profoundly, Europe’s proximity to the Middle East, both through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean, meant that those nations on the continent that vociferously opposed the war in Iraq would nonetheless be forced to subsidize American foreign policy as they confronted rafts and columns of displaced families seeking to escape the spiralling consequences of American hubris and bloodlust.  
The refugee crisis has impacted European states unevenly, with Germany, Serbia, Sweden, and Hungary most affected.  Racism, xenophobia, and frustrated with botched government efforts to absorb hundreds of thousands of people in relatively small countries over an incredibly short period of time has led to the rise of crypto-fascist parties that promise to maintain the welfare state while re-negotiating access along the racial and ethnic lines that defined the fascist approach to welfare in the interwar.
The sudden strain on the welfare state in a continent already wracked with doubts about its ability to make good on the long-term promise of social democracy has also led to the resurgence of some liberal parties on the right who commit to undoing the gains made by workers in the last sixty years.  Elections this year in Germany, France, and Norway, and in Italy and Sweden in 2018, will be telling.  That Americans and Europeans on the left are looking at a tired and calculating center-right German Chancellor as democracy’s greatest defender is telling.
Retrenchment in Europe, Trump’s mix of imperialism and isolation, and the effects of decades of attacks on international institutions and norms has also marked a threatened withdrawal from the collective security arrangements that while imperfect, provided a security umbrella in parts of the world and made Americans at least partially aware of the consequences of their foreign policy.
The end of collective security is doubly troubling because it accompanies the deepening and rise of authoritarianism in Russia and the United States, the flexing of muscles by an authoritarian state in China, and the addled threats to Indian democracy issued by the country’s economic and religious fundamentalist Prime Minister.  
On autopilot, the U.S. war on terror continues to expand into Africa, and has corroded public trust, civil society, and public security in places like Kenya and Mali, while temporarily alienating the U.S. from regional powers like South Africa.  
In this sense, the rise of Donald Trump and the destabilizing forces at work in the world are hardly inexplicable.  Some of them are long in the making.  But most of them have been profoundly shaped if not directly caused by a decision by the Bush Administration, the votes of leading Democrats, the prostration of the American media, the deep ignorance of the American public, and the spectacular failure of will, imagination, and commitment on the part of the country’s leadership when it comes to dealing with the fallout.  

That our country and broad swathes of the world are now in the grip of irresponsible economic doctrines, infected by poisonous ethnic nationalism and religious bigotry and conflict, and with profoundly weakened institutions and capacities is utterly predictable.  Our inability to come to terms with the consequences of our actions, and the ability of nationalism to blind us to the better worlds that could have awaited help to explain why 2017 is a year of peril.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The State of the Swamp

Photo from premier.gov.ru
In less than three weeks, Donald Trump will assume the office of the presidency in the United States.  Trump’s campaign revolved partially around threatening to strip rights from many categories of Americans, but also focused on the idea that the federal government, Washington, D.C., and American politics more broadly were mired in corruption.  “Drain the swamp!” became a rallying cry at Trump’s angry rallies, and a typical sign-off on the fascist’s twitter tirades.
By now, Trump has named nearly all of the individuals who he hopes will serve at the core of his cabinet.  The people he has selected offer a window into the attributes he values in his entourage.  But they also give us some insight into how genuine Trump was when he inveighed against corruption in D.C., represented in his telling by the stupidity and incompetence of elites, and the deeply problematic overlap between corrosive elite private interest and access to the levers of power in public institutions.
So how do Trump’s appointees measure up to his claim that he would drain the D.C. swamp?
His nominee for Secretary of State is the representative of an industry and a company with a history of corrupting public policy debates, poisoning our environment, and engaging in massive human rights abuses.  You could not find a more vivid example of the toxic intermingling between public and private interest than Tillerson’s ties with Russia, its nihilistic president, and its leech-like oligarchs.  
Trump has nominated an Attorney General who doesn’t believe in the Voting Rights Act, a national security advisor who was fired for incompetence, and a Homeland Security leader who oversaw the prison at Guantanamo Bay that has been a core recruiting tool for international terrorists.  These appointments signal an embrace of undemocratic politics, serial lying and incompetence, and a stultifying and self-destructive national security conventional wisdom.
But it doesn’t stop there.  Trump has nominated a CIA director who supports the illegal and unaccountable surveillance of Americans, the murder of whistleblowers, and the use of state power to pursue vendettas against political opponents.  His would-be Treasury Secretary emerged from the belly of the beast (Goldman Sachs) that Trump tried to tie to Hillary Clinton.  His Labor nominee opposes a minimum wage for workers, and his Health and Human Services Secretary expresses enthusiasm at the prospect of stripping healthcare access away from Americans who will be set adrift when they are thrown back on the cruel inadequacy of the “free” market, mostly associated with the freedom of insurance and drug companies to drive up prices.
Trump’s nominees to head the Energy department and the EPA don’t believe that public institutions and the public interest should protect the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.  Repudiating more than half a century of dizzying and world-renowned commercial, medical, economic, academic, and scientific success, Trump’s pick for Budget Director suggests that there is no place for government funded research.  His Housing and Urban Development Secretary is equally allergic to empirical and historical evidence, and believes that charity rather than planned public policy is the antidote to poverty in our cities and rural regions.
Trump’s pick for Commerce has made his fortune by preying on American businesses and industries, and his appointment to the Education department wants to redirect public funds to private institutions, effectively transferring wealth to subsidize the education of elites and special interest groups rather than the broad public which contributes those funds.
His chief of staff comes from the very party institution that Trump successfully derided in his bid for the Republican nomination, and his chief strategist has made a living providing a bullhorn to anti-Semitic and white supremacist organizations.
In other words, Donald Trump has committed to staffing his administration with the nastiest, dirtiest, and most compromised denizens of the swamp.  Whether members of a corrupt corporate class, a discredited financial elite, party insiders, incompetent ideologues, or professional racists and provocateurs, Trump’s cabinet consists of all the people and interests he claimed were the problem in D.C.
How Trump’s supporters--who tolerated and encouraged his racism, sexism, and bigotry--respond to their candidate’s shameless, almost taunting hypocrisy will let us know whether they were motivated by so much as an iota of a desire to reform D.C. or whether, as seems likely at this point, they voted by way of lashing out aimlessly to destroy the work of two centuries in making our country a fairer, more equal, more open place where more of its citizens feel at home and have enjoyed an expanding array of civil, social, and economic rights.
In the meantime, we have to prepare to confront an administration that is intent on diving into bed with a Russian oligarchy, lurching into conflict with an East Asian superpower, going to war with the international institutions and accords that have changed the world for the better since 1945, and leading a renewed charge against the idea of the public good and the public responsibility that goes along with it.  
Trump’s actions and words suggest he will pursue this assault on the American public sphere and its democracy using a carrot and a stick.  He will offer to protect social security in the short term, peeling away older working class voters from the coalition that will seek to oppose his upward redistribution of wealth.  He will offer a “feel good” factor to racists and Islamophobes by targeting migrants and Muslims.  But he will also pursue the press, lie shamelessly and often, and use any state power he can lay hands on to abuse and intimidate his opponents.

We can only hope that his transparent embrace of corruption, avarice, private interest, and undemocratic politics will begin to put pressure on some of his erstwhile supporters and make them think twice about supporting the fascist and his radical party.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Trump's Cabinet Takes Shape, or, Donald Trump Thinks his Supporters are Suckers

Donald Trump was elected president after waging a campaign in which he promised to strip people of their rights on the basis of their race and religion.  But he also ran a campaign that targeted corruption in government, and became based around upending “politics as usual” and “draining the swamp” of Washington, D.C.  Trump told his supporters that he knew the smartest and the best people.  His people could turn things around and would adopt radically different approaches to those lately embraced in the capital.
Among the recipients of Trump’s ire were representatives of the financial class, and their toxic relationship with government.  A representative of big business himself, Trump claimed that there would be no place for entanglements between public and private interest in his administration.  Nor would there be a place for those members of the political establishment, he claimed, who were compromised or had “sold out” to lobbyists and private interests.
Why people thought the man for this job was this tax-cheating, worker-abusing, student-conning, venomous pustule, who has skin thinner than the wing membrane of a day-old fruit bat, the attention span of a fruit fly, and brains that appear to be made of fruit cobbler, I don’t know.  
But even allowing for a few blind spots--racism, hypocrisy, sexism--on the part of the electorate, Trump is nominating people to serve in his administration who should be categorically excluded on the basis of the central promise of his campaign.  But it turns out that “draining the swamp” really just meant giving it a makeover to keep its blood-sucking, ossified, reptilian inhabitants happy comfortable.
Trump launched the build-up to his inauguration with the much-heralded Carrier deal, which actually marks the start of a corporate welfare bonanza.  Trump both lied about the actual number of jobs to remain in the U.S. after his frenzied negotiations with Carrier, and failed to mention that this “victory” was probably less to do with his blandishments than with the hefty subsidy he offered the company but failed to mention in his public pronouncements.
Carrier offers the corporate world a blueprint for how to deal with this administration.  Inflate the number of jobs you claim to need to outsource, go to the administration, take a little bit of a public beating, but walk away being able to outsource the number of jobs you actually want to outsource, your pockets padded by a public subsidy, and sure in the knowledge that you have a corporate tax break coming your way.  Carrier and Co can get everything they want and more from this administration, now that they know they can play Donald Trump like a fiddle at an Irish reel.  
Trump’s other appointments similarly illustrate the low regard he has for the intelligence of his supporters.  He is clearly banking on them being sucker enough to forget that he spent the primary railing against investment bankers and hedge fund managers, and flaying his appointment for talking to Goldman Sachs.  Because now his pick to head the Treasury is an investment banker and hedge fund manager who comes from the belly of the beast Trump argued was corrupting our government.
When it comes to foreign policy, Trump is similarly unbound by consistency.  He is nominating the CEO of Exxon Mobil.  Some people might say this is a problem because it is unintuitive that the head of a giant multinational would have a foreign policy view.  They need not worry on that score.  Exxon Mobil has a foreign policy, all right.  But it has a foreign policy that represents each and every thing that is wrong and toxic about the conduct of international relations and our world more broadly: unrestrained corporate power; serial and systematic human rights abuses; impunity for physical and structural violence; denial of scientific evidence; exploitation of labor; outsourcing environmental destruction; and the subordination of public to private interest.
Trump’s other national security appointees are a collective joke.  General Flynn was fired from his last post not because he was some fearless Truth Teller, but because he was an incompetent liar who appears to build the foundations for national security policy on the basis of what internet trolls in his dark and odiferous corner of the internet tell him.  
Mike Pompeo is so much of a political insider that in the era of ISIS, a resurgent Russia, troubled US-China relations, the expansion of the War on Terror to Africa, climate change, he still believes that the biggest national security issue of his tenure in Congress was the faux Benghazi ‘scandal’ cooked up by his party leadership.
Trump’s other appointments are singularly noteworthy for the way in which they express a total lack of faith in the public sector and the departments and agencies they intend to run and serve.  We can disagree about the appropriate extent of state intervention, but as a collective, people recognize that there are many fundamental services that are best provided by a central, accountable, representative entity that has a broad public rather than narrowly private interest in mind.  
We do not, after all, trust the private sector to provide social security checks, military security, our mail, agriculture subsidies, mass schooling, and policing.  
And yet Trump is intent on running a Justice Department that doesn’t protect voting rights, intelligence agencies with no pulse on the public interest, a Treasury that ascribes to fantasy economics, and an Environmental Protection Agency that doesn’t recognize the importance of clean air, water, and soil to people’s health and welfare.
He’s staffing an Energy department with climate deniers and denizens of the swamp who are up to their necks in compromising relations with fossil fuel lobbies.  Labor goes to a man who represents the corporate world and doesn’t believe that workers have needs and rights.  Housing and Urban Development goes to a man who, whatever his accomplishments in the medical field, knows as much about historical, social, and economic reality as I do about quantum physics.
It turns out those brilliant people Trump claimed to know were the titans of the financial world who crashed the market and then asked for a bailout.  They were has-been politicians like Rick Perry.  They were the detritus of a primary comprised of people who Trump derided as incompetent and stupid, but who are apparently more than good enough to run the country for voters.  And they are people who do not believe in public institutions, the public good, or public welfare.  

They embody corruption, indulgence, and all the forms of corrupted power that Trump pretended he would destroy.  And they will populate a White House headed by a man who brought out the worst in people during his campaign and who has so much confidence in the stupidity of his supporters that he isn’t even bothering to hide the fact that he is constructing a government designed to enshrine corporate power and wealth on an unprecedented and unassailable scale.  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Message to Donald Trump

President-elect Donald Trump, you have offered what you think is a healing message on Thanksgiving, declaring that we should “begin to heal our divisions,” while acknowledging that this can’t happen “overnight.”  
However, your efforts at healing would be almost comical if they weren’t so deeply cynical and disingenuous, and so blithely dismissive of the consequences of your campaign and election.  Your call for national healing removes responsibility from yourself and your campaign, and disseminates it widely, allowing you to dodge all personal responsibility, one of the consistent features of your life in politics and business.
You spent the last fifteen months launching vicious, demeaning, dehumanizing attacks on Americans on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, gender, and sexuality.  
You spent the last fifteen months advocating war crimes and crimes against humanity.
You spent the last fifteen months promising to strip rights from people on the basis of their religion.  Your running mate would like to strip rights from people on the basis of their sexuality.  You repeatedly questioned whether other Americans can serve as full citizens depending on their race.
President-elect Donald Trump, you won the support of grotesque white supremacists and white nationalists, neo-fascists and anti-Semites.  You might not have openly asked for their support, and you might think he can “disavow” that now, but they heard your shrill dog-whistle, and there is a reason that these groups, who do not normally support candidates from mainstream parties, saw their savior in you.
Your cabinet nominees so far illustrate no remorse and no recognition of the damage you have done to our country.  Filling your administration’s ranks with racists and anti-Semites sends a very different message from your superficial and insulting Thanksgiving message.
You spent the last fifteen months building and running a campaign designed to tear our country apart and make huge numbers of people in our national community fear for their safety, security, well-being, and future.  You can’t walk away from that by seeming to say, ‘let’s heal, get over it, I don’t have anything with these people.’
You have resurrected and empowered dangerous emissaries from the darkest and most violent eras of our nation’s history and our world’s history.  You should understand how Americans feel when they hear the chants of “Heil Trump!”, the nazi salutes, the anti-Semitism, the slurs against black and Latino citizens, and the cries of “Take our country back” that accompany these symbolic and violent gestures.
Until you make profound amends for your hateful rhetoric, violent policy proposals, terrifying appointments, corrupt dealings, and abjectly ignorant and destructive pronouncements, none of which you have repudiated or expressed any meaningful remorse for, there can be no healing.  

In 15 months, you and your associates (admitted or otherwise) have done untold damage to our country, and have no business suggesting that the rest of us do the work of healing.  This Thanksgiving and every day that you don’t come to terms with what you have done to our country, Donald Trump, you can get stuffed.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Pence Opens the Door to Torture and Lawlessness

Donald Trump’s supporters are fond of championing the president-elect’s commitment to “law and order.”  As we know from his threats to provoke a constitutional crisis, unleash a bloodbath, support the assassination of his opponent, muzzle the press, etc, Trump’s embrace of “law and order” is highly selective.  We also know that the phrase itself served Trump and his supporters as a weapon as they sought to dehumanize undocumented immigrants, ostracize American Muslims, and defame black and Latino Americans.
The irony of the term is daily becoming clearer.  Mike Pence, a man who supports stripping LGBTQ Americans of their rights and subjecting them to conversion therapy to “fix” them because of their sexuality, recently outlined another area where a Trump administration will take a decidedly flexible approach to “law and order.”
Asked what a Trump administration would have to say about reinstituting the torture practiced during the Bush administration--since condemned as illegal, immoral, and counterproductive--Pence responded, “We’re going to have a president who will never say what we’ll never do.”
If you sift through the stinking pile of spin surrounding that answer--and for their candidate being a straight-talker, Trump supporters spent most of the campaign explaining why their candidate didn’t actually mean any of the things he said--it sounds like the Trump administration is willing to countenance what many Democrats and Republicans alike recognize to be an immoral, indefensible, and illegal activity.
This shouldn’t surprise us, since Trump also suggested murdering civilian non-combatants because of their family links to those suspected of terror.  Trump also suggested carpet bombing cities, using the illegal and indiscriminate deployment of violence to target ISIS.  
It is clear that the president- and vice president-elect are prepared to countenance committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.  
Trump, Pence, and each one of Trump’s nominees thus far exhibit a dangerous disregard for the law, abject unwillingness to learn from recent foreign policy disasters, callousness for human life, dignity, and rights, and basic cruelty in their willingness to exploit and harm people on the basis of their race, sexuality, religion, gender, and nationality.  

Because these individuals are broadcasting their desire to violate the law and inflict pain and suffering on Americans and people around the world, we have the opportunity to use all of the tools at our disposal--senate confirmation hearings, public protest, outspoken condemnation, and the courts--to put a halt to the climate of violence and fear that the Trump administration is promising to usher in to our country and the world.  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Senators, Oppose Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor

Islamophobe Michael Flynn
I just wrote the following to my Senator, asking him to oppose Donald Trump's nominee to serve as National Security Advisor. If you are troubled by the character of this and other appointees, I would encourage you to write to your senators and ask them to vote against confirming these nominees. In the case of the national security advisor, there is no senate confirmation. But senators could still weigh in.
-----
Dear Senator Heller,
I am writing to express my strong opposition to President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Lt General Michael Flynn to the post of National Security Advisor.
I think a combination of irresponsible views and associations, and a basic lack of integrity and consistency, would make Flynn a dangerous agent in the White House, and a poor advisor to an administration which already possesses an uninformed and toxic worldview.
In addition to his troubling affinity with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and his consulting firm’s close links to an increasingly authoritarian government in Turkey, Flynn has articulated his vision for a world order defined by fear of our country.  
I assume you share my dismay at the idea that the United States should conjure up fear and subservience in other people and countries around the world, and that you also recognize how fear of our designs and imperial power helped to create in the first place the power base and rationale of the international terrorist organizations which now make our world less safe.
In Lt General Flynn’s alternative universe, we should arm Syrian rebels willy nilly and fuel the fire of civil war as we did in the aftermath of our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Having tracked Flynn’s statements over the past year or more, I have seen him offer entirely contradictory assessments of the origins and antidotes to conflict in various parts of the world, depending on his growing proximity to the Trump campaign.  His increasing proximity to a president-elect who has pledged to commit war crimes has also seen Flynn express conditional support for torture, the murder of civilian non-combatants, and other war crimes and crimes against humanity which he previously opposed.
A man who revises his opinions on such fundamental matters with such regularity can hardly be trusted to offer sound advice or push back if our president-elect asks the military or intelligence services to engage in illegal and immoral activities.  
Finally, Lt General Flynn is openly Islamophobic.  He has stoked public fears of Islam and of Muslim Americans by arguing that “fear of Muslims is rational.”  He has also described Islam as a “political ideoogy” and a “cancer.”
Presumably, Senator Heller, you do not share Flynn’s comfort with characterizing the religion of around a quarter of the world’s population in this way, or with tarring its adherents.  And you presumably recognize the deadly peril you would create for American Muslims by legitimizing this hateful and ignorant rhetoric through supporting Flynn’s nomination.
I urge you to do everything in your power to oppose the nomination of an inconsistent, morally quiescent Islamophobe with dangerous ties and outlandish ideas.  Can  you reassure me and other Nevadans that you will oppose Lt General Flynn’s nomination?
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your prompt reply.
Sincerely,
Jeff Schauer
Las Vegas, NV

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trump's Inability to Absorb Criticism Bodes Ill

Donald Trump and his team spent the entire recent campaign mocking people who called for respect and safe spaces.  They answered the calls for civility and for a campaign free of racism and other forms of bigotry by doubling down on policies and rhetoric that insulted and threatened the safety and liberties of many communities within our country.
Vice-President elect Mike Pence recently attended a performance of Hamilton,the much-praised play, and was addressed in clear and respectful terms at the end of the performance by the cast.  Shushing members of the crowd who booed the running-mate of a candidate endorsed by supremacists, who himself has worked tenaciously to deny rights to same-sex couples in his home state, the cast declared, "We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us.”
Their remarks were framed in a respectful fashion, they were based on well-founded fears, and they simply asked to be heard.
Donald Trump responded with his trademark tweets, “Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!  The theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!"
Firstly, it’s absurd to hear a man who has derided what he describes as “politically correct” calls for safe spaces suggesting that the theater--historically a venue for the expression of political and social critiques--should be a space free of criticism and critical thought.  Trump, whose campaign is based around being a tough, truth teller, has been proven time and again to be a lying, hypocritical, thin-skinned man, eager to bully people when he holds the cards, but unable to stomach the kind of criticism that will be routine during the presidency.
Trump has turned our entire country--through his incendiary rhetoric and policy proposals, and now through his dangerous cabinet nominations--into a zone that is unsafe for many people of color, religious minorities, same sex couples, and political dissenters.  That he would compare the polite criticism directed at Pence, which basically amounted to a plea to hear people’s voices, to the vile cauldron of insults and slanders that Trump has launched at our fellow citizens, is a measure of the man’s delusional, ignorant, and callous persona.
That Trump would call a firm if polite request to be heard “harassment,” thereby equating it with the physical assaults he has made on women, or the toxic consequences of his words, demonstrates that this is a man utterly unfit for office.
It also demonstrates that Trump is in for some major disappointments.  If he thinks a few trite words can draw a line under 15 months of blistering hate, he is wrong.  If he thinks the white supremacist, Islamophobic, authoritarian cabinet nominees will sail through the senate, he is wrong.  

If he can’t handle Hamilton’s gentle injunction to his running-mate, a disgusting man who wants to subject same sex couples to conversation therapy to “fix” their sexuality and love for each other, Trump is in for a rough four years.  Because those of us who are under threat from his incoming administration and those of us who care about the liberties of our fellow citizens are not going to let up.  

Friday, November 18, 2016

Senators, Oppose Mike Pompeo as CIA Director

Congressman Mike Pompeo
The following is the text of a letter I sent to Nevada Dean Heller, asking him to vote against Donald Trump’s nominee for the post of CIA Director.
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Dear Senator Heller,
I am writing to express my dismay at President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of Congressman Mike Pompeo to the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency.  I hope that you will use all of your influence and all of your power in the senate to reject--and urge your colleagues to do the same--what I believe to be a dangerous nominee.
Congressman Pompeo has devoted much of his time in Congress on committees to investigating what was repeatedly proven to be the non-existent Benghazi scandal.  Congressman Pompeo's partisan obsession with this episode demonstrates both rank ignorance of how the diplomatic and national security structures of our government function, and wildly misplaced and deeply uninformed priorities.
Congressman Pompeo has also been highly supportive of the secret NSA surveillance, about which intelligence leadership lied directly to Senators charged with providing oversight.  Congressman Pompeo's support for these programs and for the secrecy and dishonesty with which they were executed suggests that he is likely to continue the unacceptable tradition of hiding critical information about programs that impact privacy from you and your colleagues who provide oversight, and from the public at large.
Congressman Pompeo moreover attacked whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose efforts are the only reason we know about these dangerous programs.  In attacking Snowden, Congressman Pompeo suggested that he hoped the whistleblower would face a death sentence if he returned to the United States.
Congressman Pompeo has also attacked Islamic leaders in the United States, suggesting that any such leader who failed to denounce terrorist actions would be "potentially complicit" in terrorism.  Logically and morally, this is a repellent statement.
Finally, Congressman Pompeo has opposed the closure of Guantanamo Bay and the movement of prisoners to the United States to face justice.  This is effectively a vote of no-confidence on his part in the efficacy of the federal government he would like to serve in this new capacity and the justice system and constitutional structure to which we are all accountable.
Congressman Pompeo's misguided priorities, ignorance, support for the violation of civil liberties, attacks on whistleblowers, lack of faith in the system he desires to serve, and Islamophobia in the wake of a presidential campaign defined by religious bigotry and racism make him unfit to act as Director of the CIA.
As you know, many Nevadans wear a libertarian stripe, while others identify as liberals.  What these two ideologies that define most members of our state community have in common is a belief in the importance of individuals rights and liberties.  Among these are rights to privacy and rights to information about what our government does in our name.  Congressman Pompeo poses a threat to both these rights, and I think many other Nevadans would join me in opposing his nomination.
Thank you for your consideration, and please let me know whether you feel able to oppose Congressman Pompeo's nomination to this post.
Sincerely,
Jeff Schauer
Las Vegas, NV

Senators, Oppose Jeff Sessions as Attorney General

Senator Jeff Sessions (credit: Gage Skidmore)
The following is the text of a letter I sent to Nevada Dean Heller, asking him to vote against Donald Trump’s nominee for the post of Attorney General
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Dear Senator Heller,
I write to request that you use all of your influence and voice in the United States Senate to oppose the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions to the position of Attorney General.
As you may know, Senator Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship was rejected by your Republican colleagues because he had a history of demeaning civil rights organizations, referring to activities that have brought justice and civil liberties to our fellow citizens as “un-American” and “Communist inspired.”  Senator Sessions has made a range of racist comments, and has spoken critically of the Voting Rights Act.  
The need for that crucial piece of civil liberties legislation has been made very clear by recent efforts in southern states to make access to voting more difficult.  This stands in clear contrast to what is in many ways a model electoral framework here in Nevada, built through collaboration between Republicans and Democrats.
Senator Sessions has also been a strong opponent of immigration reform.  As a Latino, a Nevadan, and an American, I see respect and support for migrants as part of your duties as senators and a core responsibility of the federal government.
These statements and positions demonstrate that Senator Sessions is unfit for the post of Attorney General.  President-Elect Donald Trump pledged to begin the work of healing the nation badly damaged by his divisive and racist campaign.  His nomination of Senator Sessions demonstrates that his commitment is thus far deeply insincere, and I think that the rejection of this nomination by you and your senate colleagues, across party lines, could send him a reminder of the pledge he made to the American people.
Can you please indicate in your reply whether you plan to reject the nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to the position of Attorney General?
Many thanks for your attention to this message, and I look forward to your reply.
Sincerely,
Jeff Schauer
Las Vegas, NV