Muslim Bans

January 31, 2017

This past weekend  the Trump Administration took the first steps to implement a ban on Muslims from certain countries. People can argue the semantics that it is not a ban of all Muslims because other predominantly Muslim nations were not included, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (which have produced the most number of terrorist attacks and casualties in the USA, and which also coincidently have Trump Resorts). The bottom line is that the courts are correct in reading the plain language of the presidential order and its intent. It is a ban of all Muslims from those countries, which violates laws against discrimination based on religion and on country of origin.

Christian refugees from these same countries are allowed in under the pretext that they are oppressed minorities. However, Shi’a Muslims are oppressed in Syria and Yemen, as are Sunni Muslims in Iraq, but they are still banned, which makes the intent to ban people based on their religion even more transparent.

What is remarkable about the presidential order is that Trump issued the order without consulting with his nominee for Secretary of Defense, Homeland Security or the State Department. Why the agencies most tasked with protecting our safety at home and abroad were not consulted is obvious. This is not about protecting national security. Mattis (Defense) and Flynn (Homeland Security), both former Marine Corps Generals, are on record as saying that the ban would harm national security. In fact, the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff for all Armed Forces are also on record as objecting to the ban in any form.

Furthermore, diplomats serving around the world also agree that the ban harms national security and the effort against Islamic terrorism. So why is Trump implementing an order that virtually everyone other than his closest political advisors agree will harm our national security? I guess the answer is in the question.

For many of us, this is a moral issue. For others, it is a legal issue. However, for a few Americans, the ban is more personal. Families with troops serving in war zones with Muslims are far more at risk today than they were last Friday. Men and women in Iraq, for example, must rely on the loyalty and goodwill of Muslim troops and civilians to fight ISIL. Why would a Muslim in Iraq risk not only their life but also the lives of their families to assist American troops at this point? How would an American advisor explain to his Muslim troops that they should help him kill other Muslims when they are considered unworthy to immigrate to America?

No doubt there are Americans so overcome with fear and prejudice that they will ignore any moral or even legal issue to advocate for bigotry, but they should at least give up any pretext that their concern is national security and simply admit their hatred.

Trouble in Trump Tower

January 9, 2017

As the concerns over the Russian attack on the U.S. elections continues to grow, questions are increasing. Not questions about whether or not the Russians actually did attack the U.S. in an attempt to undermine the integrity of our elections. Virtually everyone, except for Trump, who has received classified briefings are certain the Russians did attempt to interfere with the election through selective leaks of materials obtained through cyber-espionage, and social media campaigns of false news – all to the detriment of Clinton. The questions that are being asked are related to Trump’s response to the attack, which has become increasingly bizarre and worrisome.
I can understand a natural defensiveness about the reporting on the Russian attempts to influence the election in his favor. Some will argue that it delegitimizes the elections, but no one is arguing that it invalidates the election result. The fact is that Trump is invalidating himself. Trump could have responded very differently and led a defense of our Country. He could have been Presidential. For example, he could have said something to the effect that as President, he will never tolerate any foreign interference in our elections and called for even more significant sanctions against Putin. Instead, he is delegitimizing himself by attacking the people providing the intelligence and aligning himself with Putin, even to the point of cheering Putin’s response to U.S. sanctions as “smart”.
For many in the GOP, let alone the military and intelligence communities, the last straw was Trump citing Julian Assange as a reliable source supporting the denials of Putin and himself. Assange is recognized as a man who has compromised our intelligence operations and directly contributed to the death of U.S. troops and intelligence assets. His Wikileaks site claims to be a source of information about government malfeasance, but somehow only releases classified information stolen from the U.S. and our allies. He is on the payroll of Russian State Television, and in asylum in an embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on a sexual assault charge. Since most Americans recognize Assange as an enemy and reacted negatively to his Tweet, Trump has since tried to distance himself from his own words in typical Trump fashion: he has claimed that the plain words of his Tweet regarding Assange didn’t really say what it said and the media is lying.
The cumulative weight of evidence suggests that something more than simple naiveté, or political miscalculation is going on in the Trump camp. Two important Trump campaign members were forced to resign when it was revealed that they were being investigated as undeclared Russian agents (his former campaign director and lead economic adviser), he directly encourage Russian espionage to find “Hillary’s e-mails” (later claiming he was only “joking”), he has appointed a man who was a former analyst for Russian State Television as his chief intelligence advisor (Flynn), nominated a Putin friend and business ally as Secretary of State, a member of his transition team was forced to resign when he was caught disseminating false news created by a Russian social media site, and he consistently praised and never criticized Putin. His relationship with Putin is unclear. He once denied ever meeting Putin, but had to recant his denial when confronted with an earlier statement that he met and liked Putin. He has refused to release his tax returns as promised, although it is known that Trump has business interests in Russia. Now we have the unprecedented, if not bizarre, sight of a President-elect allying with two known enemies of the U.S. against his entire intelligence network and every Senator of both parties who have seen the evidence. Maybe it’s time for a bi-partisan, independent investigation of the links between Trump, Putin and Assange.

It Will Be Interesting, If Nothing Else

January 4, 2017

Weeks before the Inauguration of Donald Trump, I was already are experiencing controversy fatigue until the first day of the GOP Congress. Consider the almost daily brush fires kindled by Tweets and walk-by press conferences. The President–elect is rooting for Putin against his own Country, picks a fight with the Chinese, suggests that sensitive documents be hand-written and delivered because no computer is safe, attacks his own intelligence agencies, falsely claims job creations… the list goes on.

However, the Congressional crash and burn over gutting the ability of independent investigations of ethical violations was a bit of a curve ball. Up to that point, everything Trump did was consistent with someone who cared little about facts, ethics, or the effects of his Tweets. Then came the Tweet questioning the timing (not the propriety or the process) of the late night, closed door, anonymous Congressional vote. The next day, the vote was reversed. Of course the Tweet had less to do with the reversal than the massive flooding of complaints by citizens, but Trump deserves some credit for the momentum to reverse the scurrilous vote.

Trump has more apparent and hidden conflicts of interests than any President in modern times, but that just makes the whole episode even more interesting.  The undercurrent of the ethics office vote could be a harbinger of a very ambivalent relationship with the GOP Congress. No doubt some Congressmen looked at the lack of transparency and obvious conflicts of interests of Trump – failing to produce tax returns, failing to identify assets, failing to establish a blind trust, taking money from foreign governments for rentals of his D.C. hotel, etc., etc. – and figured they could also get in on the action. The ethics office was a major obstacle to unfettered corruption, so in a manner revealing the true priorities of the GOP their first official act was to meet behind closed doors, literally in the middle of the night and cast an anonymous vote to end independent ethics investigations.

GOP Congressmen obviously thought that Trump would look out for them. They learned very quickly that Trump only looks out for himself. Well, maybe for Putin too, but that’s it.

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

January 3, 2017

One of the more distressing aspects of the disastrous Presidential campaign of 2015-2016 was the breakdown of communication – not only between the media and citizens but even more so between family members and friends split between the candidates. Both sides are to blame, and both sides have a vital stake in restoring some common basis for dialogue.

Progressives (and many Conservatives) can rightly bemoan the lack of consideration of facts and reality among Trump supporters. The numerous lies, false claims, reversals of statements, etc. seemed irrelevant to them. Even an admission of his sexual predation only briefly concerned some Trump supporters before it was summarily dismissed anyway (most white women voted for Trump). Even Trump encouraging the Russians to conduct cyber-espionage against our Country to his benefit – and then they did – is dismissed as irrelevant to the one over-riding issue of supporting Trump no matter what. That phenomenon is real and it is a real danger to our Country. However, it is important to realize that the 48.5% of Americans who voted Trump into office didn’t suddenly lose their minds or sense of reality, or their loyalty to America.

Trump supporters are driven by certainty of their beliefs, no matter what the facts are. Those beliefs are in large part driven by emotions – fear and anger primarily. When a person feels those strong emotions then they will over-ride rational argument. It is a bit like arguing with a person about their religious beliefs – faith “trumps” reality. Some of the fear is a reaction to what they perceive are threats exploited by the media (for profits) and by Trump (for votes). Some of the anger is a reaction to a valid sense of judgment and intolerance from the left, embodied by Hillary. For too long the insistence on tolerance by the Left has created intolerance of some basic values that many Americans hold. Even more important is that the Left has displayed intolerance even to attempts by some of those same Americans to simply talk about their concerns. If the Left has been telling these Americans in words and actions “we don’t care what your concerns are or what you have to say, you must conform to our values…” then why should those same Americans care about anything other than making their point by ignoring reality and elect Trump?

Without an attempt to listen and not judge Trump supporters there will be no movement back to respecting facts and reality as a basis of forming consensus and policy.