What to Do

December 15, 2017

There were new reports this morning that Russian trollers were active once again in an American election – this time with the Alabama Special Election. The materials being posted on social media were split between favoring both candidates, but the essence of the postings were false and inflammatory stories which seemed intended to further divide Americans against each other. Apparently, the goal of the Russian government is to divide Americans socially and politically, and to undermine our trust in American Institutions such as Law Enforcement. It seems to me there is an easy and powerful solution to the increasing divisiveness in America, a solution so obvious that it suggests that there really is collusion with the Trump Administration.

The easy solution is to unite Americans against the Russian threat to our Democracy. A common threat, a common enemy is a powerful force to unite Americans as we have seen throughout our history. The fact that Russians are using cultural issues to divide Americans is an even more compelling argument to expose and resist this threat. What better to unite Americans than the idea that we may disagree with each other, but we can put aside those disagreements to fight a common foe? It’s an even better political play because the threat happens to be real.

It is such an obvious solution IF the goal were to be to unite Americans. However, that does not appear to be the M.O. of Trump and the GOP. Their concern is for domestic politics and seem to be ignoring the overarching threat. This is why there has not been a single Federal initiative (not even a single executive meeting on the issue) to protect the integrity of the 2018 elections. Maybe the role of the Russians in the Alabama election might compel some Republicans to act, but the only response from Republicans so far is to call for the firing of Special Prosecutor Mueller, and appoint another to investigate the Justice Department (further undermining trust in law the law enforcement institutions). It is as though no one in Washington is taking the Russian threat seriously and considering unifying Americans in an effort to protect against the threat to not only our Democracy, but our society as well. “Country before Party” may be a cliché, but in this case it is also a solution.

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The Lessons of History

December 12, 2017

General Flynn pleaded guilty to a felony, to avoid the likelihood of being convicted of even more serious felonies. Apart from the delicious irony of the man who self-righteously led the Republican mob chanting “lock her up” even as he was committing felonies, or the legal implications to the Trump cabal, there are some interesting lessons from history that are immediately apparent. I’m not talking about John Dean or other more contemporary parallels, although the implications of Flynn cooperating with the Special Prosecutor do suggest a parallel. I’m talking about the figure of Flynn, his actions and understanding their significance. I’m talking about another famous general: Benedict Arnold.

Both Arnold and Flynn were respected generals. Both were fired from their jobs and became resentful and bitter as the result. Both men felt they were intellectually and morally superior to the men who hired and fired them, and both became secret agents of a foreign country for personal gain. Their cause became personal enrichment and vindication. Both of their treachery were uncovered as the result of intercepted communications. In the end, both men acknowledged their crime, but not their wrongdoing. Their narcissism prevented them from admitting they were wrong as much as it led them to their betrayals in the first place. Theirs was not the fate of the tragic hero who falls because of a fatal flaw. Theirs was the fate of men who served themselves above all else. Their motivation was rooted in narcissism, not altruism or any genuine concern for the common good. They strove for recognition, admiration and enrichment. When they failed to get what they believed they deserved, their rage translated into self-destruction.

There is one important difference of course. While both deserved to be fired from their jobs, their bosses were markedly different. George Washington was a man with an ego kept in check by his conscience, and President Obama had a similar character. Both Washington and Obama were alarmed by the self-serving ambition, the duplicity and destructive effect of their generals and fired them. Flynn’s most recent boss however, lacks both a conscience and any sense of judgment of their abilities other than personal loyalty before loyalty to Country. Even though Trump knew that Flynn had betrayed the country, he kept Flynn on until the public exposure necessitated letting him go. For Trump, self-enrichment involving betrayal of the country was not troublesome until the public opinion began to affect his own stature. That’s the alarming aspect of how Trump handled Flynn, and maybe a portent of what is to come. He didn’t care that Flynn had been compromised by foreign intelligence agencies and had broken the law. Trump kept him on in one of the most sensitive intelligence positions of any Administration even knowing Flynn was a foreign agent. That should worry all of us. That error of judgment would never occur to Trump and worry him. At least not nearly as much as the cooperation of Flynn with Mueller. In fact, Flynn may be nothing more than a moral reflection of Trump and consequently the reason why he was willing to tolerate Flynn’s lawlessness and betrayal of the Country.


The Real Significance and Impact of “Roy Moore for Senate”

December 7, 2017

The election campaign of Roy Moore to the U.S. Senate is far less significant politically as it is socially. The Republican position seems to have settled on that it is better to elect an “alleged” pedophile than a Democrat. That message, being sent by Republicans to the victims of child sexual abuse, is virtually the same as their perpetrator’s. Consider the following.

Most pedophiles are “alleged” only because virtually all of their victims remain silent, and even fewer pedophiles admit their crime. Those victims who break the silence suffer the very pain that all victims desperately seek to avoid for most of their lives: public exposure, shame, fear, guilt, and a profound sense of worthlessness.

Victims of childhood sexual abuse remain silent for decades (if not for their lifetime), which make prosecutions nearly impossible. This is because they remain mortally afraid children who dare not talk about it. Even as adults they stay silent. The power and control that the pedophile creates in the child is so profound that if suffocates them for life – a fear to even breathe at times. That fear is felt emotionally by that person throughout their life just as they experienced it as a child.

Some victims don’t come forward because they totally repress their memories of the event and live lives of self-destructive compulsions with little insight, unless and until triggered by some other life event. Their terror was too overwhelming for the brain to recall voluntarily. This is one reason why after the first victim comes forward, so do many others (and still more victims remain silent).

Some victims go on to live what appear to be normal lives, but not one victim remains unaffected for their life. Any public discussion of pedophilia is a “trigger” causing anxiety, panic, depression, and other aspects of the unhealable wound that is being re-opened.

Victims who survive are told by the perpetrator that they are worthless and nobody cares, they are a bad child, and they (and their family) will be harmed if they ever talk about it. The cruel message sent by Republicans who support Moore directly, or indirectly, is saying the same to the child victims as their rapist: “you are worthless (or at least you are not worth more than one vote in the Senate), if you speak up you will be publicly shamed, attacked and blamed for what happened, and it won’t matter anyway”.

The support of Republicans for Moore has already done more damage than simply re-opening the wounds of these victims, even if Moore is not elected. Their willingness to accept the “alleged” pedophile their candidate will also damage the children who will be targeted by pedophiles encouraged by a real sense of social permission – as long as Republicans can count on their vote. On cannot overstate the power of an entire Political Party accepting an “alleged” pedophile to past and future victims. We should be shamed into action by this President and Republicans who shamelessly allowed this to happen. Finally, if the response you hear to these arguments begins with the phrase “yes, but what about…” then you already understand one thing about pedophiles: how they justify their actions.

 


Someone Please Explain This to Me!

November 30, 2017

The State of Alabama. Please explain the support for Roy Moore, in particular. I see television interviews of individuals and of press conferences where Alabamans routinely invoke religious principles and concepts to justify their support for an “alleged” pedophile.

I understand those who simply deny the reality of the claims of the victims. It’s not uncommon for a man of his stature and reputation as a religious man (however contrived or manufactured a reputation) to get the benefit of the doubt. After all, people denied that for decades that many Catholic priests and bishops systematically sexually abused children. It’s hard to accept a person you have trusted for years is a monster. It’s scary to people that they failed to see the signs of a pedophile, and it’s easier to deny the claims of an individual(s), especially if they are made long after the fact. However, Moore has already admitted to dating underaged girls in the past.

I can understand people who see Moore as a champion of their “religious rights”. After all, he was twice removed from office for refusing to honor the Constitution and legal Court orders related to matters of his religious beliefs. He is a man who openly admits that his “religious” beliefs are more important than the law and the Constitution. To those people, their religion is a convenient cover for their bigotry (e.g. is there any doubt that Moore would be gone already if Moore had sexually assaulted boys?), and from the days of Reconstruction the Constitution has been ignored in Alabama until forced to comply. The fact that Moore was removed as a judge by a Federal Court makes him all the more electable in Alabama.

What I can’t understand is how people who define themselves as “Conservative” or “Christian” or “Evangelical Conservatives” can believe the evidence that Moore is a sexual predator of children and reward him with their vote because he will promote their political agenda. I thought the whole thing about Evangelicals is that spiritual principles are more important than anything else, even politics. I have heard some say that “God forgives every sinner”, but I understand enough to know that forgiveness is the end-result of confession (admitting you sinned) and repentance (changing behavior). Moore has done neither.

The religious support for Moore is especially galling to those who have actually read Scriptures and understand that Jesus was especially protective of children. What would electing Moore do to those hidden and future child victims of sexual abuse if a pedophile is allowed to attack his victims and be rewarded with public trust? Granted, some of his supporters step right up to the threshold of saying that in Alabama its OK to date children (e.g. the State Representative that justified the behavior by saying that Moore always asked for parental permission), but Moore did not ask for permission. Can a pedophile actually be banned from shopping malls in Alabama but still be elected Senator?

The reality is that Moore is likely to win, primarily because in Alabama religion and politics are fused. Moore has set himself up to represent those “good vs. evil” people and many churches appear to consider a pedophile to be more representative of their religious beliefs than any Democrat.  That kind of hatred is hard to overcome.


The Quiet Takeover

November 29, 2017

While the country is devolving into political tribalism, encouraged by the Trump Administration and his GOP allies and abetted by a profit driven media, there is another profound change being executed by Trump that may have even more devastating consequences to your liberty and welfare. The noise of Russia, Moore and Twitter has diverted attention from and enabled a quiet but devastating take-over of the last remaining Branch of Government protecting the common welfare – the Judiciary.

The Federalist Society (a group cynically named, and just as woefully devoted to the worst kind of judicial activism) has been put in charge of nominating virtually all white men as Federal Judges who are qualified only by their devotion to ideology and not the Constitution. For the first time in history, a half-dozen nominees for Federal Court positions have been assessed as “unqualified” by the National Bar Association. This is the same Bar Association that assessed Bork, Thomas and Gorsuch as “qualified”. In other words, the Bar Association gradings have been ideologically neutral. Their only criteria are the record and writings of nominees. Why such a dismal evaluation of Trump nominees? The list of nominees includes men who have never even tried a case in Court, at least one nominee who lied under oath, another who not only has never seen the inside of a courtroom, lied under oath but also failed to disclose he is married to the Trump appointee nominating the people for judgeships!

There are other aspects of commonality among the Trump nominees beside the fact that they are virtually all white males, and have poor reputations in the legal community. They are all members of the Federalist Society, a group devoted to judicial activism in favor of corporations and government interests. All men being nominated have openly advocated the reversal of voting rights, civil rights, access to the courts for individuals and ignoring legal precedent. They are being approved at a record rate with the corporate shills in Congress sometimes interviewing and approving several nominees in the same meeting. Consider the fact that the same Congress violated the Constitution and stole a Supreme Court seat and refused to approve any Obama nominees in the last year of his term, and you can see the silent takeover coming to fruit.

The Courts have always been the last resort of justice for the individual oppressed by the powerful. It is the one place that we all, as individuals, could count on a change of justice. That last refuge may be disappearing with little notice or resistance. The Citizen’s United ruling codified the takeover of the Executive and Legislative Branches by a few families and corporations. The result has been a government unwilling or unable to act in the common good, putting Party over Country and very soon – a tax code that will guarantee that a permanent class of Plutarch will remain in control.


Tribes

November 28, 2017

As I was considering the state of politics and society today I remembered a movie made in 1970 titled “Tribes.” It was about a Marine Corps drill instructor who was disgusted by a draftee who was a “hippie.” The movie explored how difficult it was for people who were so socialized into a closed group that they couldn’t tolerate those who weren’t part of the same “tribe.” Ultimately, the drill instructor came to accept the recruit as a human being and worthy of his beloved Corps. Well, that’s Hollywood. We are experiencing the much more immediate reality of Tribalism. If only our reality could end as satisfying as the movie…

We despair at times about the tribalism of the Middle East which has resisted every attempt to reconcile Jews and Muslims, Shi’a and Sunni, etc., etc. etc. Generations of blood feuds that have translated into a modern world of international conflagration. In our country of immigrants and the rule of law, we have largely escaped the curse of tribalism so prevalent in the world. Of course, every new wave of immigrants was met with resistance, but ultimately our country accepted every ethnic, cultural and racial wave. There has always been a bit of tribalism in our history, but our foundation of the Constitution and the rule of law reigned in the more critical effects. The Constitution guaranteed individual rights and the reality of Blacks, Catholics, etc. living next door – with their children going to school and playing with ours – mitigated the hatred and led to acceptance. When we have civil relationships with people of other religions, races and cultures because the law would not allow anything less, it neutralized the stereotypes and hostility. Until now, I’m afraid.

The election of Trump marked a time when tribalism rose to the level where facts and reality are less important than emotions and loyalty to identity. The resentments, fears and tribalism of many white people became more important than relationships, or reality. Whether the resentments are the result of years of Liberal judgment is irrelevant now. The resentments have spilled over into an acceptance of behaviors that would never have been tolerated before by otherwise decent people. It has translated into an acceptance of the possibility of treason by the Trump Campaign, even acceptance of a pedophile as an alternative to electing a member of the other “tribe”.

Citizens United created a government that has become corrupted by money. The Legislative and Executive Branches of government are, arguably, now a function of a few rich families and corporations and not the common good. The continuing acceptance of Trump – no matter what he says or does – has also hardened the attitudes of the other side and created a vacuum of dispassionate reason. It’s hard to accept the real possibility that our society is becoming as impossibly divided as the Middle East. While the Executive and Legislative Branches of Government are largely controlled by the same monied interests and therefore unwilling (if not unable) to put County over Party, there is hope that the Judiciary will save us from a corrupt Trump Administration, it may not be able to save a United States.


Sexual Harassment is Not Politics

November 27, 2017

Roy Moore may be the drop that burst the dam, but the long sad history of men using power to sexualize and objectify women reaches back millennia. Recently the news about Al Franken broke, signaled by the same man (Roger Stone) using the same language (“time in the barrel”) used to announce the Wikileaks release of hacked e-mails from the Clinton Campaign. There is a political side to this issue, but this is a far more import issue than the election of a Senator (or President for that matter). The fact is that women have been abused subtly and not so subtly in our society and it’s long past the time to end it. The boy’s club should be closed.  It is not enough to reject physical sexual assault of women and tolerate verbal assault, or economic and social assault. But how to change?

Men are getting pretty nervous about now. Welcome to the experience of women. What is harassment and what is not? Is inviting a women coworker out for drinks after work harassment or a good will gesture? When is a joke a joke and when is it an assault? What is OK or not OK? Here are some suggestions guys…

If you want to share a joke, an invitation, or conversation with a woman in the workplace (or anywhere else), how about asking yourself if you would be good with someone doing that to your own daughter? How about treating women respectfully with clear boundaries until the woman knows you well enough to understand your motive? How about questioning your own motives first? How about asking women for permission and respecting their answer?

Of course, it will be hard on men for a while, and why not? It wasn’t men who precipitated this social change – it took the courage of women speaking out. Even now, victims of abuse from men are attacked and risk attempts to smear, shame and bully them into silence. Guess what? It doesn’t work anymore. We men have to change, and if we don’t know how to change then let the women around you define what that change looks like. Wow! You mean let women have some control? Yes, that’s right.

Even now, we can only begin to see the outlines of the path to change. Liberal men do it. Conservative men do it. It is a problem that transcends politics, but political ideology seems to be a defining aspect of responses. Al Franken immediately admitted the truth and apologized for behavior over a decade earlier and before he became a Senator. Trump and Moore attack their victims. Kind of ironic, if not sad, that the Party of Family Values is now becoming the Party of pedophiles. Whether it’s fair or not to be paying the price for behavior done decades ago, there is a moral difference between admitting your behavior was wrong and denying it and attacking the woman involved.

Some well-intentioned men, confused and fearful of their own past behavior being exposed, resent being put in the position where they may be “inconvenienced” by having to question their behavior toward women. Change is never easy, and for men in this society change is long overdue. We can start by rejecting the attempts to victimize women who speak out.