That’s just so jenky
Photo credit: Stephen Crowley NYT
That’s just so jenky
Photo credit: Stephen Crowley NYT
Already so much has been said about today's bombshell op-ed in the New York Times. (Conveniently distracting for the moment from the coverage of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings). It is entirely possible that this is op-ed comes from an earnest place, ringing the alarm bell for the country while sincerly believing he or she needs to stay in the job to prevent the worst harms from happening.
And yet, as so often seems to be the case with our current (and former) White House occupants, each move is calculated with spin, misdirection and distractions to achieve some other objective. And as such I'm having a lot of difficulty placing altruism as the motive for this piece. To be sure, I certainly believe much of what is actually written in the piece is likely accurate. Additionally there's a big part of me that's relieved at some level that someone in the asylum is admitting that in fact the place needs about 12 inches of latex foam padding on each wall. Maybe the author believes Trump is going down and wants to preserve some shred of integrity when it all falls apart saying "see, I tried to stop it". Hell, as Rachel Maddow said, maybe Trump authorized the op-ed himself to create a crisis as an excuse to consolidate power even further (she said not likely).
And yet. If we take the memo at face value, we now apparently have unelected officials making significant policy decisions based on their assessment the President is unfit for office. What does this potentially say about the civilian control of the military at this very moment? And by releasing this op-ed in the manner it was, which appears to be designed to inflict maximum psychological damage to the President, has the author put the nation in even more danger given the Trump's current autocratic and impulsive tendencies? All of this is puts us into really really scary territory.
In the end, the author may have felt no other choice but to act as he or she did as there are likely not the votes with the Vice President and the cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment. Heck maybe the entire cabinet thinks Trump is mad but Pence won't sign on, or nobody thinks he will (you need the VP as part of invoking the 25th). What really chaps me is that this person waited to write until after both the tax cuts were enacted, and after the Kavanaugh nomination in all likelihood won't be derailed.
In any event, this isn't the end of it, and we as a people need to demand of our representatives in Congress an accounting of the fitness of the President to continue to serve. The Constitution provides a remedy, it's time to start looking at it.
It doesn't really matter what your politics are. You shake the hand of a man whose child has been killed by gun violence. That is what any person of decency would do. Hiding all the documents in the world from public scrutiny can't hide Kavanaugh's actions. We may have suspected before - but this is who he is. If you haven't seen it, the video is here.
Andrew Gillum won a historic primary in the race for Florida's governor, an unexpected victory over the establishment Democratic candidate, Gwen Graham. Just twelve hours after the results, while Graham graciously threw her support behind Gillum, his opponent, Ron DiSantis, warned Florida voters on Fox News - and this is a quote - "the last thing we need to do is to monkey this up and try to embrace a socialist agenda."
Of course, DiSantis and his campaign has denied this had any racial overtones, and Trump has indicated his support for DiSantis. Racist robocalls have been making the rounds in Florida. Laura Ingraham, is actually demanding Gillum make an apology to DiSantis. This is ugly, wrong, and the provenance of cowards. Gillum for his part, is staying above the fray and on message.
Yes, there is a story about an FBI investigation that has come out that he has been involved in, but he has not been implicated and is cooperating with them. Yes, I know very little about him except what I've read over the past few days (to-date which I've liked). And yet - when the chips are down, it's time to support what's right. I am making a donation to the candidacy of Andrew Gillum. You can too, at this link.
Josh Marshall over at TPM makes a compelling case that if the Democrats take the House this November, that the focus should not be on impeachment. Rather, the focus of a Democratic House should be investigating the President’s finances and conflicts of interests as well as connections to Russia. Nutshell is that there will not be enough (if any) Republicans to vote to convict Trump in the Senate. So a lot of time and effort into a process that will ultimately go nowhere and hand Trump a victory, vs. investigative proceedings that may shed a great deal of light on Trump’s actual dealings. It’s worth a read.
The Trump administration just announced a $200 million cut in humanitarian aid to Palestinians. This, on top of cutting aid to a U.N. agency that assists Palestinians in need. Both of these actions follow the United States' moving its embassy to Jerusalem this year. Neither of these moves are designed to promote peace in the region, and do not recognize the deeply held beliefs of Palestinians in their need for self governance. Pulling humanitarian aid in the name of promoting conflict and trying to improve a bargaining position is not only unjust, it is immoral.
In my last post, I covered a lot of ground on Israel's history, including the need for Jewish self governance, as well as the detrimental effects of being an occupying force in the West Bank since 1967. The need for self governance is no less acute for Palestinians than it was for the Jewish people in 1948 - Palestinians are a people without a homeland; what other country can and does claim the Palestinian people as its own? Palestinians are at the mercy of other nations for aid and goodwill. A Palestinian nation could attract investment, infrastructure, and be a platform for trade and international recognition and relationships with its neighbors. A functioning Palestinian state would give Palestinians a voice and a role on the world stage, and a chance to manage their own affairs. It would relieve Israel of the corrosive and detrimental burden of occupying the West Bank and ruling over millions of Palestinians.
No doubt this would be a long and winding road to get there - the region has a history of violence, and the current Hamas governance in Gaza is dedicated to terrorism and Israel's destruction. This would have to change, but that is not without precedent. The IRA, Sinn Fein and the UK reached across the table to make peace with each other. The horrendous conflict in the Balkans was brought to an end, with each state able to effect its own governance in relative stability.
Israel, the U.S., and surrounding Arabic countries would need to help the new state onto its feet. Symbolism and longing is incredibly important to the Jewish people, and it is no less true for Palestinians; the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is a sacred and ancient holy site for Islam. Some part of Jerusalem would need to be the capital of Palestine. While the 'right of return' as it is commonly thought of is not a feasible option for Israel to accept, the 'right of return' for Palestinians to return to a Jerusalem capital absolutely is.
Coming back to the recent actions by the Trump administration to pull aid - this is a terrible development, weakening the ability for the U.S. to be a broker of peace. While it is true that the UN continues - unhelpfully - to promote the idea of a 'right of return' for Palestinians, I do not believe humanitarian aid should be conditional. Like so many other actions of this administration, it shows little regard for human suffering and instead picks fights regardless of the costs to people in need. We need to speak up for all peoples in need, and call out injustice where we see it. I adamantly oppose cutting off aid to Palestinians, and in fact believe we should be doing the opposite by investing in, and helping the Palestinian people to its feet.
I just finished reading two books covering the subject of Israel - the first in sequence being Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by Dan Ephron; the second being Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis. One goes into great depth and analysis about the events leading up to and immediately after the killing of Yitzhak Rabin, while the other creates a broad narrative of the modern state of Israel, starting all the way back to the causes leading Theodor Hertzl to convene the First Zionist Congress in 1897. It was fascinating to read them both back to back; I felt like one gave context for the other. There is far too much information packed into each book for me to adequately summarize all of what is in them, although I found both very easy to read. What I will attempt to do here is provide an overall view of each book, and how I perceived each to lend its perspective to the story of Israel.
I read Killing a King first - it is a dual track story, following the paths of Rabin and his eventual assassin, Yigal Amir, a Jew from an orthodox family. Ephron gives us insights as to what ultimately motivated Yitzhak Rabin, an Israeli military hero from the 1967 Six Day War, to make peace with Yassir Arafat, the man who extensively practiced terrorism both in Israel and abroad during most of his leadership of the PLO. This is important - Rabin, one of the key people involved in the capture of the West Bank and the Sinai - believed Israel's future lay in making peace with the Palestinians and moving them towards self governance in the West bank. (No less than David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding father and first prime minister, thought Israel should leave the captured territories.) At the same time, Ephron provides the thinking behind Amir's move towards, and ultimately act on, the killing of Rabin. Many in the settlement movement, in particular certain ultra-Orthodox groups, viewed Rabin's actions as nothing short of treasonous towards Israel and the Jewish people, and extremist right-wing incitement towards Rabin may have fueled this fire. The peace process had been gaining momentum, the first of two peace accords was signed in 1993, the second in 1995. Violence marred much of these two years, as extremists opposed to the peace process tried to derail it through terrorism. The years 1994-1996 began some of the worst terrorism that Israel has suffered, with frequent suicide bombings in public squares and on public transit that resulted in mass casualties, many of which were perpetrated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It must be said that there was violence from Israelis as well during this period (most notoriously the massacre of Arabs praying at the Cave of the Patriarchs, perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in 1994). Right in the middle of this violence, on November 4, 1995, Rabin was killed by Yigal Amir, which for all intents and purposes ended the peace process.
It's a devastating story, all the more so that he was killed at a peace rally attended by 100,000 supporters for peace. It also made me wonder how Israel got to that place, and where it is right now. I knew the general outlines of Israeli history of course, the big events. But I was seeking something a little richer, a story from the beginning that might shed a little bit more light and context on Israel's story. That brought me to Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn.
A Concise History tells the story of Israel in a broad historical arc - it is in part a story of how the Jewish people see themselves, and in part the story of how the modern state of Israel came to be. Like the old joke that if you ask a question to three different rabbis, you'll get three different answers, A Concise History pushes and pulls on its assumptions, delves into philosophical reflection, and tries to see the flaws and mistakes the Israelis have made in addition to its successes. I admit I found it riveting.
Daniel Gordis traces the roots of modern Israel all the way back to the destruction by the Romans of the Second Temple in 70 CE, and the Bar Kokhba rebellion against the Romans in 132-135 CE. The Jewish population was decimated and exiled, and the Diaspora began. The reason Gordis starts with this context is to give the reader an idea of the stories Jews have told about themselves over the centuries, in particular Jewish liturgy and observance often speaks of the return to the land of Israel. Most prominently, every year (even today), each Passover ends with "Next year in Jerusalem". This context and background is important - while the persecution of Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries (including the Holocaust) directly led to the creation of modern Zionism and the formation of Israel, the roots of the modern day state of Israel hearken back millenia - as a core identity and ritual of the Jewish people.
Gordis takes us through the years that followed the First Zionist Congress in 1897, formed by Theodor Hertzl. Jews began to emigrate to their historical land of Judea from the darkening clouds in Europe; at that time, the Ottoman Empire had controlled the region for centuries. In 1917, the British issued the Balfour Declaration, which stated support for a Jewish state in Palestine. In the interwar period, many more Jews began to immigrate until the British tightened immigration restrictions before and during the Second World War. During the war, boatloads of fleeing Jews were turned away from many countries - including the United States - only to be returned to Europe. And as stated above, the British severely restricted immigration to Palestine during the war. The horrors of WW2 were indeed the catalyst for the UN partition plan of 1947 which created both an Arab and a Jewish state in Palestine. The land now known as the West Bank belonged to Jordan. Immediately, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq all attacked Israel, but in 1948 an armistice was signed and Israel was reborn. That territory did not include the West Bank, the Golan Heights, or Gaza.
The modern state of Israel was essentially a secular endeavor, with its leaders (all the way back to Herzl) looking to step away from the dark past for the Jews. In 1967, the surrounding Arab countries moved to attack Israel, but wound up losing control of the West Bank (then part of Jordan), the Sinai peninsula (part of Egypt), Gaza, and the Golan Heights (part of Syria) to Israel. This changed the character of Israel into an occupying force; many, including as mentioned above, David Ben-Gurion, advocated an exit from the occupied territories. The rise of settlers, largely but not entirely religious, began to complicate matters for the government. Much of what we see in modern Israel today traces back to the 1967 war, and the inability and/or unwillingness for the Israeli government to exit the occupied territories. Additionally, Israel's laudably broad welcoming of immigrants resulted in separation between the generally white Ashkenazi (Eastern European) community and darker complexion Sephardic/Mizrachim (Medeterranean/Middle East) communities. In 1977 Menachem Begin - of Russian descent - is elected to Prime Minister; he supported religious and Mizrachim communities, opening up a new era for these groups to influence Israeli politics. (Note it was Begin who made peace with Egypt and gave back the Sinai.) A complex and tense dynamic arises, and Gordis takes us through Israel's varying wars, successes and failures, all the while confronting violent terrorism and continued efforts by much of the international community to de-legitimize Israel's right to exist.
Gordis' approach to the Rabin assassination differs from Ephron in the sense that Ephron took a generally positive approach to Arafat's detailed involvement in the peace process and how his relationship with Rabin developed, while Gordis reminds us that Arafat did not speak out against the continued violence perpetrated by Hamas, and puts the blame for violence in large measure on Arafat's shoulders. Ephron focused on the decay caused by radical extremism in some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities as a catalyst to Rabin's assination; while Gordis agrees with the premise put forth by Ephron, his focus is on the repeated cycles of violence perpetrated by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups to derail the process, separate and apart from Rabin's killing. Subsequent efforts, whether by Shimon Peres or Ehud Barak, both of the Labor party (the more liberal party), proved fruitless. Ariel Sharon of Likud (the conservative party) decided to just pull up stakes and exit Gaza, which led to Hamas controlling the region.
Where that led me to is Israel then, finds itself in a duality it is difficult to escape from - it is a country of wonder, filled with dynamic and enterprising people looking to best make a just home for the Jewish people. It is also a country that has made mistakes, and is in constant vigilance from peoples and countries expressly sworn to its destruction. An understanding of its experience in unilaterally exiting territories it occupied, in particular Lebanon in 2000, and Gaza in 2005, helps bring context as to why Israel doesn't just pull up stakes and leave the West Bank. In each case, a well funded and organized terror operation sworn to Israel's destruction (Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza) wound up controlling those territories and increased violence against Israel. The world judges Israel in ways that most other nations are not.
As history has shown, the Jewish people have a core need for self governance and self reliance. Israel is that rare country that while often imperfect, is very open about its successes and failures. It is a technological, educational and cultural powerhouse, and is unapologetic about its right to exist securely. It struggles trying to find the right balance between the secular and the religous, and the issues that come up with each. It continues to debate and search for its Jewish identity and its future, much as the Jewish people have done for thousands of years. And - it is entirely possible that Israel's own progress could be used to help build a Palestinian state. If you have any interest in the story of Israel, both the good parts and the bad, I wholeheartedly recommend both books.
I was surprised about how moved I was on hearing the news of the passing of Aretha Franklin. I don't have too many words, this Time article is lovely, and you should listen in full to her performance of Rock of Ages in the church her father had preached for 33 years. She sang this as part of an interview by Time magazine. Here it is:
Rest in peace, Aretha.
Today I am going to be talking about race and violence in America, with a particular focus on police violence. Let's begin with two very recent events.
On July 26, a black man, Daniel Hambrick, was shot in the back running away from a white police officer. Not only does the video clearly show the man running away, the police officer stops, calmly plants his feet, and fires. Later in this post we'll get to some stats on police violence in America.
On August 10, many NFL players resume protests during the playing of the national anthem. Some knelt, some raised fists, some simply stayed in the locker room.
That same day, Mr. Trump tweeted the following:
So let's talk about this for a second, in particular the piece - from the person occupying the office of the Presidency of the United States - that players are supposedly "unable to define" what they are protesting.
1,147 people were killed by police in 2017, of which 92% were through use of a gun. Of those killed, half of them were not even accused of having a gun. Only 13 officers were charged for misconduct, with even fewer convicted. There is even a case of an officer being fired for, instead of shooting his gun, trying to de-escalate the situation. His fellow officers came in and shot the person in question. In 2018, 646 people have been killed by police so far. Of those killed, 25% were black, despite being 13% of the population. 30% of black people killed were unarmed. Statistically, black people are 3x more likely to be killed by police than white people.
Let's remember a few names and stories: Philando Castile, 32, shot while reaching for ID. Terence Crutcher, 40, shot with his hands up in the air. His car stalled in the middle of the street. Freddy Gray, 25, who died after being arrested and taken into custody by police. Samuel DuBose, 43, pulled over for a missing license plate and was shot. Charleena Lyles, 30, shot in front of her children after she called the police to report an attempted burgalary. Akai Gurley, 28, shot by police in a stairwell due to an "accidental discharge". Eric Garner, 43, killed by police for selling loose cigarettes. Walter Scott, shot in the back. Tamir Rice, 13, shot holding a BB gun. Sandra Bland, 28, pulled over for failing to use a signal. Found dead in her jail cell three days later. Michael Brown, shot 6 times. Remember Michael Brown and Ferguson? That was in 2014. He, like many others, was unarmed. Most of the police officers involved were not disciplined.
This is not a recent phenomenon. What has happened is the advent of widespread use of video and cameras has brought forward what has long been known - that people of color are disproportionately impacted by state and/or state sanctioned violence. In the late 19th and through much of the 20th century, thousands of black people were lynched across America. 4,000 have been documented, there are of course surely many more.
I would strongly encourage you to read this article about the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the first museum of its kind to document the history of lynching in this country. The impact on families and communities is deep and runs long - as evidenced by the story about the lynching of Elwood Higgenbotham in 1935. Lest you think this kind of thing has totally gone away, do you remember the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman? (Zimmerman was acquitted). Our very own fellow Americans have been terrorized since the beginnings of this country.
My point in this is we need to come to grips as a country that black people have been and continue to be impacted by systemic harrassment and violence daily. If you don't realize this, you're not paying attention, and my guess is you have not had a candid conversation with a black person, especially a black male. Or maybe, you simply don’t care enough to notice. I know this may sound harsh. Well, my words are nothing compared to what some of our friends and colleagues have had to go through since childhood.
Black youth and men, by the way, continue to be incarcerated at significantly higher rates than whites. I have had multiple friends and colleagues tell me about their experiences with the police - and when I grimace, and attempt to empathize, one of my friends says "well, that's just Tuesday." My friends have told me about terrifying encounters against people of color on the subway in Manhattan - Manhattan! - and other people on the train did not speak out. Or being tackled and thrown against a police cruiser while jogging to the gym.
If you are reading this and you are white - which I am - then I need to ask have you ever had to have a discussion with your child about what you need to do and not do when a cop stops you so you can stay alive? How about having a conversation with your child about navigating the treacherous waters of racial animus in this country, about why people have hostility towards you due to the color of your skin? I have not had to have those conversations. Maybe you haven’t either. But there are lots of people who do. And who must.
Back to the NFL protests for a moment. These are players peacefully using a platform to deliver a message about racial inequality in America. And the outrage over it is telling. If you oppose these peaceful protests, then you need to ask yourself why that is. If a peaceful protest in front of millions of people is not appropriate, then what exactly is appropriate? Somewhere that no one can see people protesting? A violent protest? Please. These protests are not about the flag. They are about justice. But I would be remiss to not note that the Star Spangled Banner - our national anthem - called for the capture and killing of slaves promised freedom by the British in exchange for their assistance in the War of 1812. Did you know that? We don't learn and sing this part of it in school, at least I didn't.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
In addition to conversations, to help begin this journey, I highly recommend engaging with two works - the nonfiction film 13th, available on Netflix. It is a compelling and gripping exploration of the impact of the U.S. justice system on black Americans. Additionally, I also recommend Colson Whitehead's novel The Underground Railroad. I've reviewed this book in the past. While it is historical fiction, there are few works that have been able help me understand, if just a little, what it is like to walk in the shoes of a black American as this one does. It's not an easy book, but if I had my way, it would be required reading for all high school students. Of course, I would also read up on major historical figures from the civil rights era, and the power of non violence in accomplishing major legislation in the 1960's, and the violent reaction to peaceful protest. But these two works had a particularly profound impact on me and I recommend them to you.
We are in crisis, and need to speak up now. If you didn't know, this weekend, on August 12, the so-called "Unite the Right" white supremacist group is having a rally in Washington, D.C. This is the same group that marched in Charlottesville last year, killing a woman, Heather Hoyer.
This is a conversation that we need to have not just today, but a continued dialogue with our friends, our family, our elected officials, our colleagues. I personally challenge you to come on this journey of reconciliation with and recognition of our fellow Americans, and speak out against hate wherever it rears its head.
There are three songs I would like to end this post with, and I love them all. The first is “Lift Every Voice And Sing”, as sung by Bebe Winans. “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty, let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea!”
The second is “Just Imagine It” by MKTO. “Somewhere off in outer space, there’s a world no wars, no hate, where all the broken hearts are safe, I don’t know where it is, I just imagine it. Somewhere far off past the stars, where the light shines in the dark, where you can just be who you are, I don’t know where it is, I just imagine it.”
The third is “America the Beautiful”, as sung by Ray Charles. “O beautiful, for heroes proved, in liberating strife, who more than self, their country loved, and have mercy more than light! America, America, may God thy gold refine, till all success be noblest, and every gain divine!“
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "None of us are free until all of us are free."
I always try to maintain an open mind about my point of view. Like most people, I’m not always successful in doing so, but I like to think when I have misread a person I am willing to admit it. (But it took me a month to process and write this post.) So it was when I became excited about Maria Estrada’s candidacy for the California Assembly, a self styled progressive who says she supports single payer health care, immigrant rights, and labor protections, among other things. We met her at an event we helped organize to support Tim Canova, a progressive candidate for the House running against Debbie Wasserman Schultz. We exchanged phone numbers, and stayed in touch, planning to organize a similar event for Maria when the time was right, and ultimately picked a date to have the event. Some details were still TBD, but it felt like it was going to happen. Very exciting.
I subsequently learned about her comments about Zionism, “God’s Chosen People”, and her “enjoyment” of Louis Farrakhan’s speeches, and her standing by those comments. My heart sank into my stomach. The first thing I thought was “someone put a rhetorical “hit” on Maria - this was crazy”. But it turned out to be true. Now, I can understand how people that do not follow Israel closely might confuse Zionism for radicalism - this is not the case, Zionism means support for the state of Israel, not support for right-wing policy and biblical rhetoric that tries to solely claim the Zionist mantle. She also accused Israel of “genocide” without (to my knowledge) a concurrent condemnation of violence initiated by Hamas, which is a perpetrator of terrorism and also responsible for many deaths. Even that might be able to be walked back as excessive rhetoric. (For the record, I oppose Netanyahu’s settlement policy, his approach (or lack thereof) to relationships with the Palestinians, his over-response to the recent Gaza protests. I’ll have more to write on that in a future post.) However, there’s zero excuse for citing support for Farrakhan’s speeches, and refusing to back off of that stance. And that, coupled with her other comments, including getting mad at CA Dem Chair Eric Bauman for not keeping “your party, your religion, and your people in check” really makes me believe that she may not like Jews.
This was a surprisingly difficult moment for me I’ll admit - I was super excited about Maria’s candidacy, and was ready to go all in on it. I wanted to reach out to Maria and see what was going on, and frankly was ready to step up and defend her if there was some kind of misunderstanding. We reached out to Maria to respectfully inquire about it - after all, people can be misunderstood, or not quite aware of the impact of their words - but we received no response. Remember, we were in contact with her over text and messenger to coordinate an event for September. She did not appear to want to discuss it with us.
This is a non-starter. Let’s be clear - Louis Farrakhan hates Jews. His hatred of Judaism is central to his world view, and in his view many of the problems the world is experiencing today is because of Jews. It is not possible to take “parts” of Farrakhan’s speeches as they are replete with anti-Semitic rationales for the U.S. and the world’s problems. Anti-Semitism is a feature, not a bug, of Louis Farrakhan. Karen mentioned to me if we were invite people to a round table about building peace and civil institutions, Farrakhan would not be at that table.
We had hoped to host an event with her to promote progressive values but that will not be happening. I’m still mad, we need progressive candidates who uphold and advocate civil rights for everyone. And respect for all peoples is core to that goal. Full stop.
Believe this is a 1968 Camaro.
"But it's all working out. Just remember: What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening." Except when you have to start a bailout to industries impacted by your own policy. The article, by the way, notes that this amount is nowhere near what the anticipated adverse impact of the tariff policy will be.
We were in Maui and watched the sunrise from the top of Haleakala, about 10,000 feet above sea level. Three representative pictures below. (It was flippin' cold too).
A Higher Loyalty, By James Comey
Of course I had to read this book, given all the drama surrounding the 2016 presidential election, Russian interference in it and its links to the Trump campaign, the Mueller investigation and of course Hillary Clinton’s emails. I’ll say at the outset Comey is a very persuasive writer and storyteller - after all, he was the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Deputy Attorney General under G.W. Bush, as well as the head of the FBI, the nation’s top law enforcement agency. He knows how to make a case. I would say it is a good idea to put that filter on while reading the book, to help maintain an ability to analyze what he is saying.
The upshot of the book is it is primarily a defense of the FBI and its (and his own) handling of the investigation into the Clinton emails as well as the investigation into Russian interference in the election, and Comey’s own dealings with Donald Trump.
Relating to the Clinton e-mails, Comey goes into a good deal of detail as to why he went public both times - once in June of 2016, and again right before the election in late October. Essentially, the conflicts of interest involved and data that got into the hands of the House GOP that could be leaked without proper analysis led Comey to announce on his own in October - without the Attorney General - the fact that additional emails came to light that needed to be analyzed. You have to read the book to get the full accounting.
As for Donald Trump, Comey’s account largely relates to his interactions with Trump after the election - with each encounter described in exacting and compelling detail, threading an overall narrative of how Trump deals with the people around him. You get a clear sense of how Trump was seeing the election, the emails, and his perceived exposure to the Russian investigation. Early in the book Comey relates his experiences as a prosecutor, bringing cases against organized crime, in particular against the Gambino family. It is this experience that leads him to compare Donald Trump to a mob boss, with the demands of personal loyalty, bullying, an “us versus them” mentality, the lying with impunity, casting people out with public shame, and so on. Frankly, it scared me not just a little to read this account. As with the emails, you really have to give it a read to get a sense of it - the encounters are up close and personal.
If you are interested in the events leading up to the election, and are looking for a detailed first hand account of how the President interacts with his staff, then I would highly recommend this book. Of course, the book is written from his point of view; even with the filter I suggest above, it is sitll a very interesting read.
Grant, by Ron Chernow
As soon as I started reading this book, I pretty quickly realized that I didn’t know very much about the man. And I wondered if others felt this way too. I unscientifically asked a few folks “what do you know about U.S. Grant?” The answer invariably came back “Well, he was a drunkard, and used brute force to overwhelm Lee to win the Civil War. Bad president.” And that’s what I had thought as well.
In the same vein as David McCullough’s rehabilitation of John Adams, Ron Chernow provides us with a rich narrative of Grant’s life, providing deep and exploratory insights into his character, working through both his strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately we learn that Grant, while having certain weaknesses and blind spots, found ways to conquer many, but not all, of the key issues that faced him during his life.
Grant’s early military career ended in his getting kicked out for drunkenness, and he subsequently went into business, and failed miserably at it. He was married to Julia Dent, who came from a slaveholding family in Missouri (Grant’s father-in-law remained unrepentant his entire life). Grant, however, got his chance to get back into the military when the war started. Between his wife Julia, and his closest military aide John Rawlins, Grant by and large controlled his drinking problem throughout the war, and later on, his presidency.
We learn that Grant, far from being just a meat grinder general, was actually an astute strategist and tactician. The battle and capture of Vicksburg, for example, ranks among the great military campaigns in world history. Grant was also the first modern general to command multiple far flung, highly mobile armies in a unified, coordinated campaign, primarily utilizing Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee and Meade’s Army of the Potomac, as well as Phil Sheridan’s cavalary units. Grant’s capture of Vicksburg, and Sherman’s subsequent march through the South, kept Joe Johnston’s army away from the eastern theatre while Grant (now in charge of all US Armies) and Meade kept Lee occupied. Grant did acknowledge his campaign at Cold Harbor was one of the biggest regrets he had.
Grant fully supported Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and was instrumental in accepting and organizing freed slaves in the nation’s war effort. Grant, more than any other person, was responsible for how newly freed black Americans were treated on initial contact. No less than Fredrick Douglass said of Grant:
“To [President and General Ulysses S. Grant] more than any other man the negro owes his enfranchisement and the Indian a humane policy. In the matter of the protection of the freedman from violence his moral courage surpassed that of his party; hence his place as its head was given to timid men, and the country was allowed to drift, instead of stemming the current with stalwart arms.”
Douglass’ second sentence is an indictment of the Republican Party growing weary of Grant’s ongoing efforts as President to combat, mostly successfully until the end of his second term, violence against blacks in the South, more on this in a moment. Grant also was astute in offering generous terms to both Lee and Johnston on surrender - avoiding, until the Klan came up in the 1870s, continued guerrilla warfare from remnants of the Confederate Army. Congress, and the Union States with Grant’s public support, passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. Ratification of these was required for a Confederate State to rejoin the Union.
As President, Grant seemed to find ways to surround himself with people who were corrupt - and he was often the last to see it. On the other hand, Grant’s support for black Americans was unwavering - appointing the first black ambassador for the U.S., as well as a number of other administration posts. He repeatedly sent troops down to the South to quell violence against black Americans, and worked to crush the Klan terror that sprung up during the Johnson administration. Grant was a major proponent of Reconstruction, and during that time there were black congressmen and senators, as well as local elected officials. Ultimately, however, the North got weary of federal troops in the South, and as federal troops left, Jim Crow arrived. Without a military presence, Reconstruction was doomed.
Grant’s record as president is decidedly mixed - the corruption scandals throughout his presidency reflected poor judgment, and while he made huge efforts to combat violence against blacks in the South, he alone could not stem the dismantling of Reconstruction. In the end, Chernow presents Grant as an earnest servant of the United States, however imperfect, and a staunch supporter of civil rights.
I re-watched MLK's "I have a Dream speech", posted below. Let us all recommit to MLK's dream to "lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time, to make justice a reality for all of G-d's children".
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I literally could not breathe for a second when I saw this. And it's not me that is saying it - it is the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Defense that is saying this. Here's the link to the DoD document. I've also posted it separately to my site as according to this Forbes article from late last year it apparently was taken down before being reposted in a different place. Key finding from the report:
Think about it for a second. There was a $6.5 trillion of unspported adjustments to the Army's financial statements in 2015. The total budget for the Pentagon for 2018 is $700 billion. Here's a quote from the Forbes article, citing the GAO itself on what an unspported journal voucher adjustments are:
I should note that this article questions whether $21 Trillion of unspported adjustments were made. I'm "only" referencing the $6.5 Trillion because that's the backup I have.
I really don't know what to say except I'm floored.
Read this NYT opinion piece by Will Wilkinson. The gist of it is that this brutal machinery of immigration "policy" has been in place at least since the time of George W. Bush. Trump is taking an already difficult and harsh structrual problem and making it downright cruel. Obama does have the distinction of deporting more immigrants than any prior president - 2 million deportations over eight years. In 2014 he sought almost $900M (among other large items) to detain and deport families. The border machinery has been there for years, starting after the 9/11 attacks. However, seems like a key difference is that the Obama adminstration did not appear to separate families as Trump claims. A useful comparison between the two administrations on this issue is here. And - Obama didn't trade in the language of hate and use phrases that imply that immigrants are somehow "pests" and subhuman.
The tweet from Trump below - I didn't see this until today - talks about people "infesting" the United States. This is the type of language that the Nazis would use in justifying their crimes against humanity. A lot of things coming out of the Administration are scary - but we should not ignore the trading in this type of messaging.
This, on top of the fact that undocumented immigrant labor underpins key parts of the economy, and are often underpaid and working in harsh conditions - wondering how you get those fresh huge packs of strawberries for only $4? At the same time, these workers are castigated as a drain on the economy, painted as criminals, and forced into a scary existince where they could be taken at a moment's notice. And this is before Trump started taking children from families.
All of this is to say that I do agree that Congress needs to actually undertake long overdue, humane immigration reform that recognizes workers' essential contributions to our economy and not forcing them into a dark existence. At the same time, there does need to be an orderly process for how people are admitted into the country. Temporary work visas can make this possible. Immigrant workers must be entitled to the same pay and safety conditions as citizens and permanent residents. It is in this way a fair, just and compassionate system can be implemented. Those who hold a continuous mode of employment for a period of years could have a path to citizenship. After all, if the GOP really does value hard work as they claim they do, then let's let folks work in the full light of day and help our economy and industries grow, and reward them for wanting to be a part of the American fabric. Let's not spit on the people who have worked harder in a week then most of Congress does in a year. Instead, we must recoginze and respect our friends who help us every single day. I want you to get mad, stay mad, and speak up. And VOTE in November.