Hekmati Can’t Drink the Water

January 25, 2016

Amir Hekmati returned home to Flint after being freed from an Iranian prison by President Obama. Amir had been imprisoned for years after he went to Iran to visit his sick grandmother. Hi comments upon returning home have been interesting, considering what has happened in the world in the last 4 years. Notably he thanked President Obama for never abandoning him and for ultimately working out the deal to have him released. I wonder if he has learned yet that even as the President was getting his release, Republicans were publicly accusing the President of abandoning him and betraying the trust of Americans. I wonder if he had learned that he would not be able to drink the water or bathe in Flint as he discussed the deprivations of Iranian Prisons… prisons where he could bathe and drink the water. I wonder as his jet landed in Flint, if he was aware of Republicans calling for bans on Moslem immigrants and refugees – like his parents were.
For sure, having him freed and home is a reason to rejoice and to remind ourselves of how important it is to never leave any American behind. He seemed genuinely moved and thankful for the efforts made on his behalf. He related a story that during one interrogation, the Iranians demanded to know why so many people were working to get him freed and his response was that “this is how we Americans are…” and it’s true. So, as we celebrate his return home, let’s remember that he is the kind of person who makes America great even as he returns home to a Third World city. Hopefully, he will sleep comfortably in his own bed tonight (and drink only bottled water).

MLK Day 2016

January 22, 2016

As we celebrate the memory of Rev. Martin Luther King in 2016 it would be instructive not so much to review the mountains of prophetic speeches, homilies, sermons and quotes as it would be to look at how he lived his life. More than any man I know, he was a public figure who lived his life consistent with his words. He was a public figure not because he sought to be a public figure so much as his courage to speak out and his heroism if acting on his beliefs distinguished him from other public figures. In other words, he did walk the walk.

Contrast his public life with those of the current crop of figures running for President. King didn’t seek leadership, he simply acted and others followed. He wasn’t naïve politically, but he had the humility to listen, to remain in the background. He didn’t need the mantle of leadership and was able to make hard decisions – impolitic decisions, such as his opposition to the war in Viet Nam. Contrast that humility with the ego of a Trump or Cruz.

Unlike virtually the entire GOP field of candidates who seek to exploit fear and to divide people, King was regularly an optimist who in the midst of violent attacks extolled the virtue of love and forgiveness. Unlike Ms. Clinton, he was not a man who paid lip service to the poor and economic injustice when politically advantageous… he didn’t pander to oppressed groups while living among the Wall St. elites and donor class.

Some argue that our social leaders now are subject to constant media scrutiny and none can bear the unrelenting lens of public scrutiny. Rev. King has had every paper, every action, and yes, even every manufactured scandal designed by the government and some of his own civil rights allies scrutinized for decades and has only grown in stature and respect.

The life and example of Rev. King is even more a prophetic beacon for our society than ever before.

“George Trump”

January 18, 2016

The apparent vogue in the media lately is to point out the similarities between the campaigns of George Wallace and Donald Trump. I have to admit, the similarities are remarkable. History does repeat itself with only slight variations. However, the political formula has long existed for men like Trump, or even Wallace. Fear is a powerful thing and demagogues have exploited that power for centuries. What seems distressing about the Trump ascendency at first blush is that many of his supporters (maybe as much as 20%) are educated, middle-class people. Education does not inoculate one from fear I guess. Being for Trump is not so much about making anti-establishment sentiment as it is about scapegoating our fears.

I do have to admit a certain glee though, when Trump started “birthing” Cruz. It seemed like Trump is the demon-spawn of the GOP, who subtly encouraged his birthing of President Obama while pretending to above the pond scum. Now he is turning on every Republican candidate, and even the Republican establishment as often as he feels threatened. A rabid dog doesn’t differentiate victims. I also have to admit a certain satisfaction when Trump targets the media covering his campaign during rallies. You remember the proverb of the scorpion who hitched a ride on the back of a frog across a pond? It’s in his nature. Now that he has turned his venom on the GOP, the “establishment” is appalled. Karma is a bitch, eh?

Prosecute Snyder and Co-Conspirators on Flint Poisoning

January 14, 2016

Finally the U.S. Attorney has begun to investigate the Snyder Administration’s deliberate and covert decisions to allow the people of Flint to be poisoned through the water supply. Did they sit down and make a deliberate decision to poison children with lead? Probably not, but they did make a decision to allow them to continue to be poisoned by covering up their knowledge of the poisoning and allowing it to continue. It is hard to see their behavior as anything other than a criminal cover-up.

Recall that the Emergency Manager (don’t even get me started there) decided to shift the source of water for Flint from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. Health advocates warned that the Flint River was unsuitable, but government officials at the DEQ under the direction of the Snyder “studied” the water and cleared it for drinking after cursory treatment for excessive levels of E. coli bacteria. As critics (including scientists and public health researchers) continuously published data indicating a serious health risk, Snyder and his staff publicly mocked them and provided falsified declarations of safety. However, we now know that behind closed doors they knew that dangerous levels of lead were being released in the water supply. As health professionals began to document increasing cases of lead poisoning, Snyder continued to publicly declare that the water was safe, even though he knew it was not.

The acts of the Snyder administration may be as criminal as a drunk driver running over and killing a child, then denying doing it. Hopefully, prosecutions will ensue, but in the meanwhile, the Federal Government needs to get involved and declare Flint a disaster area and provide emergency water supply and medical treatments to minimize the health damage done to the citizens.

Which Clinton?

January 13, 2016

If I were Hillary …

If I were Hillary I would stop the pandering to various fractions of voter blocks in the hopes of garnishing an argument that Liberals support her, but that’s not the point of this blog. The challenge from Trump to attack her indirectly through attacking Bill Clinton is in whether or not she can find a way in the general election to turn Trump’s attacks against himself. It’s looking like Trump may be the GOP nominee, and that is a frightening thought for the country. Trump is denigrated as a caricature, a carnival barker, a demagogue … all of which are true, but history is replete with characters like this who later proved to be very dangerous when in power. So how should Hillary respond to the attacks on Bill? Back down and stop pointing out the misogyny of Trump? No.

If I were Hillary I might respond something like this: “The problems in my marriage have been well publicized, even though that publicity often failed to appreciate the personal pain of our family. The real story of my relationship with Bill is that we do love each other despite our problems and we have kept our promise and commitment to marriage. So if there is a lesson in this campaign to be learned from Bill and I, it is that we rise above our pain and keep our commitments. Who do you want as President? Someone who can rise above self-concern and work through problems, no matter how difficult, or someone who jumps from marriage to marriage whenever the whim hits him because to him women are just an ornament to make him look good?”

Another Terrorist Attack???

January 12, 2016

What if the headlines read … “Armed Islamic Terrorists Seize Federal Building Vowing to Kill or be Killed”? There would surely be incessant, hysterical news coverage and there would be an immediate call for military action from the right wingers (and probably impeachment of President Obama). So when gunmen in Burns, Ore. take over a federal building spouting rhetoric about “God calling them to defend their rights” and “willing to be kill or be killed” why has there been only incidental mention in the media? Could it be that these men are not considered dangerous only because they are white? Or “Christian”? Could it be because the only difference between Islamic “terrorists” who claim to be called by God to defend their rights and Christian terrorists who claim to be called by God to defend their rights (or the rights of the “unborn”) is contrived by our bias?

I suppose some might argue that Islamic terrorists have moved beyond sovereign rights to the ISIS pronounced apocryphal mission, but how is that different from group like the Branch Davidians or Evangelicals promoting a war in the Middle East to hasten the Second Coming? Maybe the truth is that we create enemies to justify the violence that fear creates in our own hearts and minds, rather than do the real work that is required to change the world: personal conversion. So maybe one question to ask is whether or not religion is an obstacle to the conversion to a peaceful world?

A Year of Fear and Loathing

January 11, 2016

One of the more interesting authors of our lifetime was Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote a series of farcical social and political critiques. These included “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (a critique of the perversion of the American Dream) and “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail” (a critique of the 1972 presidential election) and “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl” (you can guess what that is about). Watching the news programs and reading the papers today somehow evoked his memory. Maybe it was the already incessant coverage of the coming election with the prospect of nearly 46 weeks of the xenophobic and tabloid politics of the GOP and the relentless campaign of Hillary, akin to the inevitability of food spoiling after being left out too long.

Reading Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail” could be an informative, if disturbing exercise in realizing that history repeats itself in a manner more similar to a regression toward the mean. Ultimately, the contest for the Democratic Party came down to the anti-war liberal George McGovern and the establishment candidate Hubert Humphrey (whom Thompson described as a “hopeless old hack”). Of course, McGovern won the nomination, then promptly lost the election before the campaign even started by selecting and then deselecting a mentally ill running mate. I don’t think that Bernie Sanders will even get a chance to make the same mistake as the hopeless old hack momentum seems too financed to overcome.

Thompson’s critique is just as unforgiving of the media coverage of the campaigns as he was of the campaigns and candidates. Too bad we don’t have his intellect to provide some comic relief to what is looking like a pretty depressing year of politics.