Changes

September 15, 2017

As I left for work this morning and saw the clear blue skies and the warmth of the sun, it reminded me of that fateful September 11th. The memory is still so fresh that it is a little surprising to realize that it’s been 16 years since then. It was an historic moment of profound shock and vulnerability. The attack was followed by months of what became the realization of the best moments of our national character. President George W. Bush had stolen the election with one vote from the Supreme Court and had been playing golf at a record clip. But standing on the ruins of the World Trade Center while embracing a firefighter, he showed the strength of character and resolve that captured the best qualities of our country. He told Americans that we should respect Islam as a religion and that American Muslims were Americans who had also been attacked that day. He made the distinction between the terrorists who had attacked us and focused us on our response to them. However much his administration bungled the war afterwards, W. showed leadership in those early days and it led to a united country.

Now, we have a very different kind of president and country. He may have stolen his election as well, and has already been golfing more than W. did in four years as President. However, the similarities end there. This president is being investigated for conspiring with an enemy to attack our country, and whether he colluded or not, there is no doubt we were attacked and his response has been to deny and divide. Instead of uniting Americans with tolerance and purpose, he has targeted American Muslims with fear mongering, suggesting at one point that we should have give American Muslims special identification and watch them closely. Many of the same Americans who were incensed by the attack on 9/11 now dismiss the attack of 11/7 as “fake news”. Even worse, some Americans admit the Russian attack and say “so what?”. It is a divided, angry nation with the fear of terrorism (Islamic type) nurturing the ugly character of nativism. It is an America that reflects their president, rather than an America being led by their president to rise above fear.

God! I never thought that I would long for the days of W., but who wouldn’t now?

 

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Reality Check

September 14, 2017

Last week we had flooding in Texas, a category 5 hurricane eventually hitting Florida, the largest wildfires in recent history in the West, the most violent earthquake in over a century in Mexico, which was also hit by a hurricane. Yet somehow it seemed like a good week with no major Trump Twitter-induced drama. I do recall something about a deal with Schumer and Pelosi and a very pointed and public diss of McConnell and Ryan afterwards. Oh, there was also DACA, or was that the previous week?

Am I getting numb or has life in the Trump era honed my capacity for denial to the point where reality no longer matters? Just when I was starting to doubt my orientation to reality, I was fortunate to hear a clip of Rush Limbaugh expounding on how there are no more hurricanes than in the past, and they are no more powerful than in the past. He went on to say that the mega-storms were not really mega-storms and that it was all a conspiracy to use the fake hurricanes for fake news on the hoax of climate change. Thank god for Rush. He is like the North Star for the reality challenged. Just when you begin to think you have lost touch with reality, Rush provides another petulant hurricane of his own insanity to serve as guidepost – a clear and bright baseline of insane ideology to measure against any slippage of our own.

Now that the insanity of right-wing media has shaken me from my disorientation, let’s look at what happened last week. Wildfires and hurricanes are increasing in intensity, and they are even more destructive if one considers the damage done even with the tremendous advances in disaster mitigation. Warmer temperatures worldwide have heated the oceans and the withered land mass. Storms, fires and drought are the predictable result. Hurricanes as large as Irma will be dwarfed in the next decade. The denial of the Trump Administration of basic sciences will only exacerbate the disasters. After cutting the NSF, NASA and EPA funding, scientists have begun to flee to European Universities where they can continue basic research, even if their findings will be denied here at home.

Pelosi and Schumer emerged from their “deal” with Trump with Cheshire cat grins – the kind of clueless grins that many people who make deals with Trump have until they realize that he has broken virtually every deal he has ever made from the first hotel in New York City to casinos in New Jersey to his failure to repeal ObamaCare and build Mexican-funded walls. Maybe they did benefit from what appears to be an intended humiliation of the GOP leadership by Trump, but if they are reality oriented then they will be looking for a knife in the back soon.

The Emolument lawsuit is proceeding and it will be interesting to see how these so-called “Federalist” judges on SCOTUS will interpret the clear language of the Constitution. Taken at their plain meaning, the Constitution prohibits exactly what Trump has illegally done since becoming President – enriching business at the expense of the country. Add to that the Facebook admission that fake companies connected to Russian intelligence bought adds that targeted swing voters in key counties in the U.S.; Mueller’s request to interview former White House aids; and the expansion of Mueller’s investigation of Trump family financial dealings (AKA money laundering), then we have three potential routes to impeachment.

Twitters to follow … no doubt.


Hypocrisy

September 1, 2017

There are so many instances of hypocrisy from politicians of every persuasion it almost goes without notice most of the time. However, the current level of hutzpah from Texas Republicans is worthy of notice for its sheer audacity. Virtually all the Texas Republicans voted against relief for Hurricane Sandy and insisted on budget reductions to offset the costs. While some of the Texans, such as Cruz, now insist they voted against the bill because it contained pork barrel spending not related to hurricane relief, they all insisted at the time that ANY relief bill would be blocked unless the money was found by reducing funding from social safety net programs. They wanted to homeless to suffer so that the other homeless could go back home. This is what conservatives do: complain about the evil of “big government” until they need the help.

Of course, I wouldn’t want the badly needed relief not to get to Texas, but it would be nice to rub their noses in their own stuff. Maybe they should call the bill the “Hurricane Sandy Payback Bill” or something similar. As much as conservatives complain about the self-righteous hypocrisy of liberals, there is more than enough among conservatives to match up, especially among evangelicals. Remember, evangelicals wondered if Sandy was a judgment from God against New York. Maybe God is punishing states that voted for Trump, or for denying climate change … it’s a slippery slope, my conservative friends.

Enough political fun. I do hope that people in Texas, especially the poor and homeless, will get the help they need and stay safe.


Courage Needed

August 31, 2017

I have fears and anxieties like everyone else, but there is something in me that pushes aside fear when representing my clients. Maybe it’s anger over what was done to them. Maybe it’s an impulse to protect the people I care about. I don’t know where it comes from, I just know it’s there and I can’t ignore it. It’s not about courage, or any virtue I’m claiming, I am just telling you that it’s automatic – I can’t let an injustice go.

So, I can’t for the life of me understand how members of Congress can stand by while this president is not just dividing the country, but assaulting the very foundations of our country. He threatens judges, prosecutors, Senators, the media. Every element of our check-and-balance system is being assaulted by Trump, and every one of those GOP members of the House of Representatives and the Senate knows it. Some of them, ironically enough they call themselves “Tea Party” Republicans, like what Trump is doing. Their goals are consistent with Trump’s to some extent, so I can understand their silence. I don’t like it, but at least they have the decency to not pretend to be decent.

It’s men like Paul Ryan who stand by in silence, or in finer moments issue mealy-mouthed, muted criticism, that I can’t understand. Ryan never criticizes Trump directly, he just kind of shrugs his shoulders and says ‘I don’t agree with what was said, or done.’ There are plenty of other men like him in Congress, but he is supposed to be some kind of leader and have some kind of influence. We are not talking about providing political cover for a President so that they can pass their political agenda. At this point, we are talking about standing up and defending the values and institutions that are the foundations of our country.

When a president tells us that the media is an enemy of our country, he is not defending the country, he is assaulting our democracy. There may be some in the media who don’t like the country. There may be some in the media who are biased and have an agenda. However, the media is a critical element of checks and balance to the power of the president, and for the most part they have been much more vigilant in protecting that balance now than they have in times past (such as the lead up to the war in Iraq). To vilify the media in general to the point of calling them the “enemy” is inciting violence, or at the very least attempting to cower them into silence … the same silence of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.

I take on powerful bullies every day,  like insurance companies with nearly infinite resources and every ally in the Michigan Legislature they can buy. I can tell you that the only way to respond to a bully is to do it immediately, aggressively and every time. Bullies become bullies because they are fundamentally cowards reassuring themselves by pretending to not be afraid by making others afraid. Resist their bullying and they eventually can’t pretend anymore and slither away. In the courtroom, it is the future lives of individuals at stake. With Trump, it is the country’s future at stake. Cowards like Ryan and McConnell should never be in a position to have to defend our liberties. Let’s hope that other men and women in Congress will emerge as the patriots we need at this critical time in history.

 


Article 25

August 30, 2017

William Shirer’s classic “the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” should be mandatory reading in high school, maybe even as part of civics courses. It certainly would be timely. For example, after he was elected as President of Germany on August 19, 1934, Hitler used campaign-style rallies of his followers to attack other members of the Wiemar government. The campaign against his own government was a vehicle to create unrest and ultimately a means of justifying his takeover as dictator. Watching that rally in Phoenix last night was frightening. First of all, what president has campaign rallies AFTER he is elected? Now you know.

Trump attacked members of his own party such as McConnell, Flake and McCain. One of the many chants at the rally was: “Die, John, Die.” Trump did nothing to discourage the blood frenzy of his followers. In fact, he encouraged it by further accusing the media of hating the country. In a moment that had to be terrifying for CNN, Trump lied and falsely accused them of cutting off the live feed of the rally. His followers began to express their outrage at the media. This is classic stuff – tactics used very effectively in Spain, Italy and Germany in the early 20th Century. It’s also dangerous. I think the GOP leadership is starting to realize it. For example, some Senate staffers are denouncing Trump openly and suggesting impeachment is not such a remote possibility. Others with more intimate knowledge of national security matters (such as James Clapper) are suggesting invoking Article 25 of the U.S. Constitution (removing a president deemed unfit for the duties of the office).

The real danger, as I see it, is not Trump as much as his followers, who appear utterly devoted to him no matter how dangerous he acts. The prospect of violence if articles of impeachment are invoked – forget that – violence in response to his rhetoric is becoming real. These are scary times and hopefully we can learn our lessons from history.


This is Really Worrisome

August 23, 2017

I have friends who are Trump supporters, and I love them, but I am ashamed of their willingness to tolerate anything and everything he does. I just can’t understand it. They are intelligent, good people, but their unquestioning support is vexing. It seems to be rooted in an emotional need which is oblivious to logic or even reality. Perhaps some of it is defiance – against the judgmental aspect of identity politics. Maybe it’s as simple as the refusal to admit they made a full throated, terrible mistake. Whatever the motivation, it is now becoming strained and stressed.

How is it that otherwise good people would be so vulnerable to a demagogue exploiting anger and division. He promised to make the country great again, to restore economic strength, eliminate the scourge of immigration and attack the elite left and biased and unpatriotic media, to establish law and order and to push back against other countries wo have taken advantage and abused the nation. I never understood what made otherwise decent people in Wiemar Germany support a leader no matter what he says or does, until now when it is happening in my country in my lifetime. In my country, founded on the ideal that all men were equal and expanding the meaning of that phrase ever since, is now locked into a debate on whether Nazis were morally equivalent to people fighting them. WWII veterans must feel terribly dismayed to hear their own President tell them that they were just as guilty of violence as the Nazis when they landed on the beaches of Normandy.

What happened in Charlottesville and since is eerily reminiscent of Wiemar Germany and this is no hyperbole. The same politics, the same issues, the same violence and the same polarization. When Communists and Democrats battled the Nazis on the streets of Germany, their political leadership elevated a movement rooted in racial superiority and the subjugation of other races to the status of a legitimate political movement. One has to wonder how Kushner can stand by silently while the Alt.Right attacked him for “stealing one of our own” (i.e. Ivanka), while his father in law defends them as “decent people”. How can men like Kelley and Mattis stand by even as they have to repudiate their own President every week for one reason or another. Whatever the reasons, the gulf between Americans is widening – I can feel the distance with the people I know – and unless we do something dramatic soon, then Charlottesville will be a mild harbinger of what is to come.

 


Credit Due (Or Not)

August 9, 2017

I am a strong believer in giving credit when credit is due … a little praise when it is earned. The Trump Administration’s vote in the United Nations sanctioning North Korea was a real diplomatic accomplishment. It was a rare occasion when the entire General Council voted unanimously – something that has happened less than a dozen times in the last 25 years.

Ambassador Nikki Haley appears to have pulled off a minor miracle, and she has already raised expectations with her stellar performance at the UN so far. That said … Trump has been very vocal about how meaningless past UN votes are, and he is right (or was right, since he has done the usual Trump thing and completely reversed himself on the UN as being totally worthless). China is notorious for signing off on previous sanctions against North Korea and ignoring them afterwards. Russia’s calculus is probably along the lines of win-win: they win by looking diplomatically reasonable, and they win by escalating tensions between us and N. Korea even more. Still, what else could be done with North Korea, except maybe ignore them until a missile is launched our way? It would be nice if we had a functioning State Department to pursue more diplomatic efforts. No doubt the multiple levels of anti-missile defenses between here and N. Korea should be able to handle a few nukes, but who wants to wait for that event?

Balanced against the overall performance of our foreign policy, the UN vote is extraordinary not only for the actual accomplishment, but more for its singularity in the face of a continual stream of foreign policy failures. We are losing the war in Afghanistan, China is taking over the South China Sea, we are isolated on the issue of climate change, and no one anywhere has a sense of what our foreign policy goals are … The State Dept. has less than half its vacancies filled, including some important ambassadorships, and our president is the laughingstock of the world’s media. Putin declaring Trump “weak” is certainly a bad sign for the future. We are like a champion boxer staggering around drunk: everyone is amused but still not wanting to take him on in a fight. That could change soon.

Now onto other matters before you think I have gone mad … How pathetic is it for Trump to “trumpet” economic news? The jobs growth has been consistent with Obama’s, the growth of the economy over the last six months is virtually identical to Obama’s economy, there is no wage growth (who would celebrate the creation of minimum wage jobs with no benefits?). The record Wall Street levels means billionaires are making more billions – how many of you are making a killing on the market vs. being killed at the market (grocery)? BTW, the percentage increase of the GNP under Trump is anemic so far compared to Obama’s economy, even with records being set.

I guess if you want a good job you could go to West Virginia and work in a coal mine. They are hiring like crazy according to State-Run TV (not the Russian’s, but Trump’s new network – funded by… who?).