Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trump WH Dislikes Freedom of Info, Blocks NYT, CNN, BBC, Politico, Buzzfeed from Gaggle

"We have great respect for the press when it comes to government. That is something you can't ban an entity from – Conservative, Liberal or otherwise. I think that's what makes a Democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship." Sean Spicer December 16 2016

On Feb 24 2017 the White House held a press gaggle  instead of its daily press briefing and barred NYT, Politico, CNN, LA Times, Buzzfeed, BBC, the Guardian and Daily Mail from attending. Allowed to attend were Breitbart News, Hearst, McClatchy, Washington Times , One American News Network  and TV networks CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC.

Alarmingly, when some journalists gathered outside in frustration, they were removed by Secret Service, on the order of the White House.

It's not unusual to hold in camera press gaggles, but it is unusual to cherry-pick who can attend. Gaggles with the press secretary usually limit the pool of reporters when they conflict with the president's travel arrangements, in which case they often happen on Air Force One.  

This gaggle, however, simply replaced the daily press briefing. The motive was ludicrously transparent. They wanted to avoid uncomfortable questions about the FBI's refusal to accommodate the White House demand that coverage of possible relationships between Trump staff and Russia be censored. They also wanted to minimize damage done by Donald Trump's manic, rambling, non-sequitur-packed, contradictory, nonsensical  tirade against the media at CPAC, where he revved up the crowd of adoring fans into virtual hysteria.

Much like Mitch McConnell's attempt to muzzle Elizabeth Warren in Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing, and as all the Trump Administration moves have done so far, this one backfired on the White House. Interest in the Russian connection has ballooned and liberal outlets have gotten good publicity already over this gaggle. Public outrage has flared up again, and legitimate media are expressing their disdain. 

Wall Street Journal issued a statement saying that it had attended not knowing about the exclusions and "had we known at the time, we would have participated, and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future." Executive editor of  McClatchy Washington said the same.

Marty Baron, Executive Editor of The Post  called it appalling and added "This is an undemocratic path that the administration is travelling… We are currently evaluating what our response will be if this sort of thing happens again."

The Committee to Protect Journalists and the National Press Club condemned the move and  White House Correspondents Association president Jeff Mason said, "We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not. The board will be discussing this further with White House staff."  New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker wrote to the WH press corps email list, "Congratulations to Time and AP for not attending today's gaggle in protest."

Ben Wizner, Director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union said that this is "Another disturbing example of the Trump administration’s contempt for the vital role a free press plays in our democracy."

Is there a sector of western democracy that the Trump Administration has not assaulted in some way in the  past month? Each one is worse than the last as Bannon gains power and Trump believes more and more that he can get away with anything.

It's clear that they and their close team are trying to replicate Vladimir Putin's assault on freedom of the press. But they're missing a couple of important factors, the first one of which explains why they're missing them. Putin is a nasty and dangerous man but he's really intelligent, insightful and strategic, which none of the Trump camp are. Secondly, Putin does love to boast, but not about his underhanded moves. Trump and Bannon can't stop themselves. Thirdly, Putin never exposes himself in writing—i.e. in tweets.

Again, Trump can't stop himself. Fourthly, most Americans aren't as brain-washable as Russians seem to be. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, in The Gulag Archipelago, “In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” 

That appears to be happening again in Russia, as Putin's popularity increases for no reason that has any sense or moral good to it, but it will never happen in America.

Bannon, Trump, Priebus, Conway, Spicer can all rant and rave about the corrupt press as much as they want. But they're only reaching a negligible number of Americans in comparison to the huge number they are inspiring to take a stand. Most of America, and the whole world, can see the truth. An enormous amount of pro-democracy activity is happening at every level, people of all ages, including the youth, getting involved in politics beyond just voting, going to town hall meetings, voicing their protest, joining and/or volunteering for pro-democracy organizations. Democratic politicians are stepping up in response to demands from their electorate that they fight.

Hillary Clinton has resurfaced, as have the Obamas. And of course the FBI is continuing with its investigation into the Russian Connection.

The stupidity, the lies, the constant denials are intensely frustrating. Trump's attempt to disenfranchise the press as part of a larger strategy to disenfranchise every non-white and every poor and middle-class white in America is terrifying. But it's feeble in the face of the sleeping giant that his dictator-type tactics have awoken. To quote Representative John Lewis:

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Enemy of the People – the Free Press or Donald Trump?

"If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was & never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty & property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." Thomas Jefferson to Colonel Yancy, Jan 6 1916
Not too long ago Donald Trump the candidate was boasting about how the press was giving him so much coverage that he didn't have to buy expensive campaign ads. He loved the press in those days. They loved him back. Then the liberal media developed a conscience, unequivocally condemning Trump as a dog's breakfast. Bigoted, sexist, racist, unworthy, unstable, unqualified.

Since his inauguration, they have been on him like an army of red ants. Reporting truthfully. Investigating. Doing their job with journalistic integrity and courage in a way that recalls Watergate. There is nowhere for the president to run, nowhere to hide. His attacks on the press have been constant and well-documented—mostly by himself, as they're executed in his tweets. Lately the current president's attacks on the media have intensified. His message has gone from labeling the press corrupt, fake news to calling it the enemy of the people. (To see his tweets in handwriting that matches his emotional maturity, download Trevor Noah's app.
It has a sinister and familiar ring to it. Initially it was used correctly, to describe Nero who, when Rome fell into ruin, took an expensive vacation and then ignored a revolt. The Senate declared him an enemy of the people. Nero committed suicide to avoid arrest and execution. In 1882 Ibsen wrote a play Enemy of the People, about a doctor who is persecuted for rightly and publicly criticizing the mayor. At first the townspeople are grateful, but they're manipulated and turned against him. Anybody thinking of Hillary Clinton at this point?
The next public figure to use the phrase was Adolph Hitler, allegedly a fan of Ibsen. He twisted it, using it to describe the Jews. His propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels wrote on Nov 16 1941:
"Every Jew is our enemy in this historic struggle, regardless of whether he vegetates in a Polish ghetto or carries on his parasitic existence in Berlin or Hamburg or blows the trumpets of war in New York or Washington. All Jews by virtue of their birth and their race are part of an international conspiracy against National Socialist Germany… Each Jew is a sworn enemy of the people... If someone wears the Jewish star he is an enemy of the people… The Jews are the enemy's agents among us. He who stands by the Jews aids the enemy…"
Stalin and Mao both used the term to describe objectors, some of whom were slaughtered for their courage.

New York national affairs editor Gabriel Sherman had good reason to call the president's latest tweet "full-on dictator speak." Republican Senator John McCain echoed the sentiment, talking to Chuck Todd. 
Reince Priebus' response to the president's tweet was "I think you should take it seriously. I think that the problem we've got is that we're talking about bogus stories like the one in the New York Times, that we've had constant contact with Russian officials. The next day, the Wall Street Journal had a story that the intel community was not giving the president a full intelligence briefing. Both stories grossly inaccurate, overstated, overblown, and it's total garbage."

Shades of Richard Nixon. On the December 1972 tape he's recorded as saying "the press is the enemy of the people." In July 1974 he said that Watergate, "the broadest but the thinnest scandal in American history… would have been a blip [but for the press] who hate my guts with a passion..." In August he resigned.

The current US president should take heed. Fun as it is for him to use the tactics of  Stalin, Mao, Hitler and his propaganda machine and to echo Nixon, those men all met their just deserts for being, like Nero, the true enemy of the people. The thing is, how many people will have to suffer before this US president meets his fate? Trump's attack on the press has been well mixed up with exploitation of fear of Muslims and Mexicans. He's upping that ante every day. His Muslim ban didn't succeed but his message got through to his supporters and now he's planning another executive action to replace it. Again, taking a page out of Hitler's playbook, using Joseph Goebbels as his mouthpiece.
"It is the job of the government to deal with [the Jews]. No one has the right to act on his own, but each has the duty to support the state's measures against the Jews, to defend them with others, and to avoid being misled by any Jewish tricks. The security of the state requires that of us all."
For "Jews" read "Muslims," "Mexicans" and "the press". The truth is that the Roman Senate's use of the phrase enemy of the people was the one we need to revert to. The security of the state requires that the president is held to account. Hopefully the Judiciary and Democratic politicians will continue to fight for all civil rights. But without a free press there is nothing to protect democracy from becoming a dictatorship. Again, to quote Carl Bernstein, 
But the final words go to former President Barack Obama, speaking at his final press conference (the link takes you to the NYT page with the full transcript).

"...You’re not supposed to be fans [or] to be complimentary. You’re supposed to cast a critical eye on folks who hold enormous power and make sure we're accountable to the people who sent us here. 
It goes without saying that essential to [our democracy] is a free press... Our democracy needs you, to establish a baseline of facts and evidence that we can use as a starting point for the kind of reasoned and informed debates that ultimately lead to progress. And so my hope is that you will continue with the...hard work of getting to the bottom of stories and getting them right and to push those of us in power to be the best version of ourselves and to push this country to be the best version of itself.
I have no doubt that you will do so... I want to thank you all for your extraordinary service to our democracy."

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Carrying the Torch for Integrity Against the Intolerance of Donald Trump

Has it only been two weeks since sanity, coherence, joy, optimism, good leadership and dignity vanished from the White House? It feels like years.

The four months since the New York Times took an unequivocal stand for Hillary Clinton and against Donald Trump feel like decades. Remember the Democratic National Convention, when Hillary Clinton broke a glass ceiling, when the world felt like a safe place because hope and optimism for the future of America as a tolerant nation where everybody was equal, were at an all-time high? It was only six months ago, but it feels like a lifetime. 

And who could forget former First Lady Michelle Obama's impassioned denouncement of sexual abuse and plea to New Hampshire voters? We'll never forget, but it feels like another era.

It's impossible to read about, let alone to process everything that Trump and his Administration are doing to create carnage nationally and internationally, elevate intolerance, exploit fear and distort truth. Shock and horror prevail and ripple out from the epicenter into the world every day. 

But if anybody thought that the majority of Americans were as easily brainwashed as the average Russian has been by Vladimir Putin, or that the free world would let itself be led into a dark age of intolerance, they'll have to think again. If anybody was ever afraid that the majority of Americans would let Donald Trump's bigotry, racism, flagrant ignorance, sexism become the new normal, or that the Trump brand would make a fortune out of the presidency before Trump bankrupted the country and walked away scott-free, they can set that fear aside. 

In two mind-numbing weeks Trump has united people across America and round the world. Adults, women and men, kids, schools, universities, communities, organizations, politicians, judges, former presidents, the media are speaking out, shouting out, protesting peacefully, organizing, taking action. Not on our watch.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

My Protest Letter to Women's March Organisation for Dishonoring Hillary Clinton

Hillary and Bill Clinton at the 2017 Inauguration

How could it have happened that the Women's March organization didn't want to have Hillary Clinton at the top of their list of honorees? It's a disgrace that can only be put down to partisanship. Which the march was not about. It was about inclusion, human rights, equality. Hillary Clinton made an enormous contribution to equality throughout her public life and especially throughout her campaign. She endured terrible, relentless persecution and horrific double standards. She didn't fold in the face of the nightmare lies that were told about her and spread so liberally around the internet. She never gave up, she never gave in, and she never stopped believing that women could achieve equality.

She has always behaved with superhuman dignity in the face of challenges that would floor any of us within a very short period of time. She has worked harder than any of us, been a phenomenal role model. She inspired me hugely. Her example, her inner strength, her willingness to fight for rights that I and so many struggle with, her belief in women's right to total equality, changed how millions of girls and women saw themselves. Changed how I felt about myself; the way I see myself.

I've always felt like an outsider and never knew what it felt like to believe that I belonged in the world, that there really was a place for me. When Hillary Clinton won the primaries and began to campaign against Donald Trump, something shifted in me. Tectonic plates of belief. I began to see that I do have a place.

My grief when she lost the election was overwhelming. The refusal to honor her was as painful for me as if the Women's March organization had thrown acid on a festering wound. And on their home page they say let us Make History! Why not say History Made and add the hashtag for good measure? They have blatantly used the essence of her campaign hashtag, piggy-backed on her achievements and her sacrifices. And they couldn't honor her?

And all the speakers; they didn't want to honor her either? I would like to have seen each of them refuse to speak until she was given her due, and then to talk at length about the incredible role she played, the important place she will always have in history.

I marched in Cape Town for Hillary Clinton and I have celebrated that so many marched around the world. But some part of me feels queasy. I don't trust the foundation on which this movement is built. On the one hand there's Donald Trump and his crew with their blatant lies, which we're all raging about, as we should be.

But on the other hand there's the Women's March being blatantly dishonest in refusing to honor the woman who gave herself throughout her career to improving life for women and children. The first American woman presidential candidate, the first American woman to win the popular vote. The woman who would now be Madam President if there had been no outside interference. The woman who made history for women but was robbed of the triumph of wearing the badge. Women's March organization is saying that woman, Hillary Clinton, isn't important. Doesn't that belong under #AlternativeFacts?

I'm angry, I'm hurt and sickened at the ingratitude and the agenda, whatever it is, but worst of all I'm beyond disappointed. This is not what women who change the world are about. We are better than this. We are about inclusion, respect for all, especially those who fight on our behalf and do make history. We're also about fierce honesty. Without it, we are no better than Donald Trump.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Can the Democratic Party be Blamed for Trump's Success?

"Those values upon which our success depends -- honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.  
What is demanded, then, is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.  
This is the price and the promise of citizenship." Barack Obama 2009
I'm hearing a lot, from liberals, that the primary reason for Trump winning the election was the failure of the left to deliver. It's good that Democratic politicians are questioning themselves and self-evaluating, but were they really the problem? I don't believe so.

Firstly, the electoral college win was due to a lot of factors that were in place before the election. Past gerrymandering gave red, rural areas disproportional over-representation; laws and policies were put in place made it harder for (Democratic leaning) minorities to vote.

Then there's the blurring between truth and fiction, and the appetite for it. Apart from the fake news fiasco, the GOP and Fox news promoted a narrative that Obama was the epitome of every worst thing in a human being, let alone a leader, and they targeted Hillary Clinton very successfully. Also, RT, Russian state-owned media, has targeted populists for a while, left and right, creating a narrative that the 'establishment' is all evil. Bernie Sanders die-hards bought into it, believing that Hillary Clinton was a rapist and a murderer, and Obama a monster. And now many of them are saying "what's wrong with Russia and Vladimir Putin?"

It's impossible to tell the difference between the far left and the far right sometimes, for the mindlessness and the hatred that's spewed out, all in the name of democracy. So the problem in this aspect has nothing to do with Democratic politicians not delivering. It's got everything to do with far left liberals believing and promoting the same myths that the far right got riled up by. Try to point it out and you'll be told you're stupid.

Then there's the underlying racism in the US that reared its ugly head again during the Obama Administration, and the not so underlying sexism that also surfaced with a vengeance during Hillary Clinton's campaign which, together with the GOP culture of discrimination, bigotry, exclusion, inequality etc, created fertile soil on which to sow the seeds of untruth.

Also, conservatives who fear losing status quo are very motivated to fight for it. They band together, are tremendously loyal, and they make no effort to try and understand liberals. They fight to kill and they play dirty. But Democrats are a different animal. They often feel morally obligated to see all sides, so they're not as blindly loyal to their own as conservatives, and can even be quite easily disillusioned. It takes a lot to make them fight, and historically, they don't turn out in the mid-terms. If they had, and Democrats had held onto Congress, Obama would have been able to achieve more, and more people would have felt the effect.

Bernie Sanders' inability throughout his whole political career to generate a huge following would have continued. The myths generated by the GOP, Fox News and RT, wouldn't have landed on any liberals. They would have appreciated Hillary Clinton and been inspired to vote for her, and not simply because she wasn't Trump. It would have been a landslide.

In reality, Barack Obama and Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, worked themselves to the bone, during the Obama Administration. What more could they have done?

The voters didn't do the same. If all the blame is placed on the Democratic Party for inadequate delivery nothing will change. But if voters ask, "How did we fail ourselves? How did we fail Obama and Hillary Clinton? What more can we do to protect our values?" then things will change and the change will be sustainable. Even those of us who aren't American citizens but who are devastated at the results of this election could ask ourselves that question, because Trump's win will affect us directly.

We all take power into our own hands only after disaster has struck. If only we could all somehow learn to be awake and aware enough to do it as prophylactic… After all, Obama was only echoing what John F. Kennedy said in 1961 at his inauguration.

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

Thursday, January 19, 2017

My Letter of Thanks to President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama

Dear President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, thank you for the grace and dignity you brought to the White House. You made it a thoroughly beautiful place, that exhibited and has come to symbolize truthfulness, profound understanding, inclusion, joy and values that sustain individuals, families, relationships, friendships, communities and whole societies. 

A place of intelligent, humane government, wisdom, humility, a real striving towards world peace through dialogue instead of war. Of the importance of equality in every walk of life, and of triumph through adversity.

For so long politics has been portrayed as a dirty game. I know the worst needs to be exposed but often that happens at the cost of the best. Russian-driven fake news aside, a democratic society with freedom of speech isn't easy when our salacious instincts are so powerful and they're constantly spoon-fed a diet that's so rich and so gratifying to them. Let's face it, the dirty parts are more dramatic than the clean. The distorted picture is hard to resist if your only source of information is a media driven by the need to make money, employing journalists who need to make a living, and to support their families.

Some people instinctively search for something better, but many either soak up that rich and gratifying diet and utterly abandon independence of mind, or they're nauseated by it and give into cynicism, become enervated, lose interest, and don't realize that by not searching for the best, they're strengthening the worst.

But you have been a shining example that's been right out there for everyone to see, and that some have been blind to but that most have ultimately embraced. You entered the minds and hearts of millions, at home and around the world. You elevated politics, reminding us all that it should be, can be and is something of beauty, something that inspires and gives hope. A means through which people can be drawn together and society can be healed and constantly improved.

We've seen, up close and personal recently, that instant gratification of baser instincts, of the salacious part, lasts a few seconds and then the after-effects kick in. They last much longer than a few seconds and they spread like a virulent disease.

You have proved that living with courage is attainable and rewarding. That wisdom isn't always instantly gratifying but that it makes space for giving and receiving love, for experiencing joy and fun, for the best kind of bonding experiences. That going high creates massive challenges within, but that when we rise to them, the sense of fulfillment and peace, the knowledge that we've contributed to making the world a safer place for ourselves and everyone around us, that we've opened the door to give and receive love and respect—that is unparalleled, long-term and sustainable gratification. And nothing beats it!

I'm not an American citizen, although I've longed to be one forever. It was hard to watch the election process and be powerless to play an active role. I wanted to be on the ground, talking to people, helping out, doing my bit. America has always epitomized for me a society where those who have to fight for equality do so with incredible courage, persistence and resilience, though the worst of times. Joined and supported by those who do have equality and want it for everybody. A society where the power and importance of hope and faith are recognized and nurtured.

These past eight years have illustrated those qualities to me more than ever before. You changed the way America deals with its own problems and, as a member of the international community, although it's the "biggest kid on the block", your Administration has behaved with restraint and respect, with profound understanding of long and short term consequences for all.

I've raged and mourned, along with millions round the world, the results of the election. But I've been uplifted at the power of the fight to preserve values that are under siege in many place round the world. It's always true that the worst time bring out the best in the best people.

Mr. President when I watched your press conference last night, I soaked it up with a mixture of intense intellectual satisfaction, relief at your sane and coherent responses, pleasure at the way you spoke about your beautiful daughters, infinite sadness that this was your last press conference, and profound gratitude for everything you have done for the world and for me in my own life. I didn't want you to leave that podium.

You and the First Lady have "lived your lives out loud" and illustrated every day, in so many different ways, that real power, real strength, is a quiet thing but it somehow speaks the loudest, its voice travels the furthest, and its message reverberates in hearts and souls forever.

Referring to the US Olympic athletes, you said what a pleasure it was to interact with people who are the best in the world at what they do. Well, every person who has interacted with you and the First Lady, have had that experience. You've carried the weight, the burden of responsibility with grace, good humor and dignity. I've seen how it bowed you down, though, and lately, although your sadness at the end of this incredible era is palpable, it's seemed as if, in shedding the burden, you've not only lost the weight of it, you've lost years!

Thank you for bowing out of the White House in such a mind-bogglingly graceful, soulful and completely undefeated manner despite the results of the election; in fact, in a way that has left me, and I'm sure millions of others, notwithstanding our fear of what's coming, with a sense of the gentle closing of one door and the opening of many others.

God bless you and your family, and keep you safe.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Teresa May Forgives, but Meryl Streep Condemns Donald Trump at the Golden Globe Awards

On Saturday Sophie Ridge from Sky News interviewed Teresa May on a host of subjects ranging from Brexit, of course, to Donald Trump, equally of course. Acknowledging that it made her uncomfortable to say the words, she read what Trump said when he bragged about grabbing women and groping them. She asked Teresa May how it made her feel as a woman, apart from her role as prime minister.

The Prime Minister said that of course it was unacceptable but she was very quick to add that Donald Trump had admitted as such and apologized. 

Most of us know that I'm sorry but means nothing, especially when it's followed by insults and threats to sue the women who subsequently came forward with abuse allegations, but Sophie Ridge didn't poke around there. The PM added that the relationship between the US and the UK was much more than the personal relationship between the leaders. And that was that, done and dusted. 

It left me with a sour taste in my mouth, longing for somebody in the public arena to stand up and unequivocally condemn Trump, as Hillary Clinton and the Obamas, and so many others did before the election. 

Then Meryl Streep stepped into the limelight. At the Golden Globes last night, she didn't mention Trump's name but she didn't have to; everybody knew what she was talking about when she said: 
Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said: You, and all of us in this room, really belong to the most vilified segment of American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners, and the press.
But who are we? What is Hollywood, anyway? It’s just a bunch of different places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey, Viola was born in a sharecroppers cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Amy Adams was born in Vicenzia, Italy, and Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and was raised in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here nominated—for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here playing an Indian, raised in Tasmania.
So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing else to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts! They gave me three seconds to say that though! As an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like, and there were many, many, many powerful performances that did exactly that—breathtaking, compassionate work.
But there was one performances this year that stunned me; it sank its hooks in my heart, not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job—it made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth.
It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter—someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie; it was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.
Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose. 
Of course her speech elicited tweeted insults from Trump, which only proved Meryl's point.

So many Democrats, Hillary Clinton supporters, and those who understand and are grateful for the tremendous work Barack and Michelle Obama have done in the past eight years are angry. But underneath the anger is a lot of broken hearts. We thought the world was better than this. Meryl Streep ended her speech saying, 
Okay, this brings me to the press: We need the principled press, to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage; that’s why our founders enshrine the press and its freedoms in our constitution. 
So I only asked the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the committee to protect journalists, because we’re gonna need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Will Donald Trump Quit Before The Inauguration? Can Republicans Hold Onto Their Power?

Participants in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. 
From Library of Congress. Photo by Peter Pettus

25 March 1965. The day Martin Luther King led thousands to the capitol steps in Montgomery, Alabama, after marching for five days from Selma, Alabama, to support African Americans, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership had campaigned for voting rights. King told the assembled crowd:
 "There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of its embattled Negroes." 
African Americans had endured generations of violence and assault to every part of their being, but they endured and their spirit of resistance slowly gained momentum until it peaked under the leadership of Martin Luther King. The world lost one of its greatest men, and thousands endured further assaults and violence for the Civil Rights Movement to succeed, but it prevailed in the end.

Fast forward to Nov 9 2016. The day the world got pretty damn dark again for millions. The day the quintessential banana republic bigot was elected as president of the most powerful country in the world—the country thought of as the most advanced democracy—with the help of a rogue FBI Director and the Russian government and now America is on the brink of being rolled backwards at the speed of light, to pre Civil Rights Movement days.

We share joy and triumph and hope, but grief is the most isolating experience. A predominant fear among many has been that with time grief will heal and the outrage will fade. Don't let this be the new normal has been a common theme.

This being Donald Trump's ignorance, stupidity, racism, bigotry and sexism, and culture of covert and overt white supremacy, promotion of inequality, discrimination against women, minorities and Muslims, exploitation of people and the earth's resources, the many being sacrificed to the few, rolling back clean energy, embracing policies that will enrich the few, destroy the poor, erode the middle class again and accelerate climate change.

How could what Trump personifies, and has exposed as the underbelly of our lovely Western culture, ever become a new standard for what's acceptable, the new normal? Because we do become inured unless we make a conscious choice not to be. But a huge body of people have already made that choice to fight for and preserve a coherent world for everybody. Including some powerful legislators and media organisations who aren't allowing Trump to become the new normal. As an example, the New York Times, which made a decisive switch from sitting on the fence to condemning Trump and endorsing Hillary Clinton during the primaries, actually increased its digital readership by 21% in the third quarter of 2016.

The investigation into Trump's charity foundation continues and he's powerless to stop it. Democrats in the Senate are delaying their acceptance of eight of Trump's cabinet picks while they call for more information, tax returns, and ethics investigations. They can't block the posts because they don't have the votes but they can delay and jam up the process. And that's what they're doing.

In North Carolina, a judge delayed the law overhauling the elections panel, a law that would severely restrict the powers of the soon-to-be Democrat Governor.

It's obvious from Trump's body language and his utter inarticulacy when questioned on matters of state that he's totally out of his depth and very uncomfortable with the heavy investigative spotlight on him and his family. Whatever he's hiding by not releasing his tax returns will come out in the wash somewhere.

He's been horribly—or wonderfully—humiliated by so many celebrities refusing to perform for his inauguration, and by the recent defection of performers in two of the groups that he did manage to secure, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Rockettes. Trump's response was to say that he'll have a protracted inauguration day parade and he'll only attend three balls (Obama attended eleven), because he wants to get to work immediately. The notion of Trump working is ludicrous; all he's doing is showing his vulnerability.

His transition team is a shambles, his tweeting is still out of control and now he's intimating that the Intelligence report on Russia's hacking prior to the election was inadequate. Even GOP politicians who have weak-mindedly endorsed him are putting boundaries down. So he'll be up against his own team as president.

Trump never wanted this job, but when he 'won' the election he obviously thought he could carry on lying, cheating and exploiting. Now that he and his posse of children are waking up to reality they're scrabbling around like crazy.

Trouble is, he's made a lot of very smart, very informed people very angry. And they have the law on their side. It's ironic. Trump craves constant approbation and to be able to do whatever he wants, and he only ran for president to pump up his profile so he could expand his businesses. Now he is being excoriated every day by the press, he's despised by millions in America and around the world; he's in a job that's virtual straitjacket for somebody like him; his charity foundation is under investigation; and he's having to divest!

Poetic justice. Speaking to Seth Meyers, Michael Moore predicted Trump will find a way to quit the presidency before the inauguration. I'm half inclined to agree with him but even if that happens, the battle has just begun. 
"Collectively we come together and we say, you know, we're going to preserve some things that last beyond our individual lives, that we're going to pass that on. And we have to do it together. You know, that is hopefully part of what is best about our government. And so every once in a while we need the ability to step back from our personal wants and project something finer and better for future generations." 
Barack Obama said this in 2010. He was in Yellowstone talking about the preservation of State Parks, but his words apply to preserving anything important. Throughout history, when decency and democratic legitimacy have been under threat, people with integrity have instinctively come together and fight, and it's happening now. A force like this might isn't bully-driven so it might not seem powerful at first, but it gathers momentum that's unassailable and it sustains itself until it succeeds, no matter how long that takes.

Liberals and Democrats are already looking to 2018. If they can reach Democrat voters for those mid-terms, they could regain control of Congress because all 435 House seats, and 33 out of 100 Senate seats are up for grabs. And to illustrate the interest, if you Google "what congressional…" the sentence completes as "seats are up for reelection in 2018". With 27 million search results.

Enjoy your power while you have it, Republicans. It's not going to last very long.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Mormon Tabernacle Choir Singer & Rockettes Refuse to Perform at Trump's Inauguration

It's no secret that Donald Trump has struggled to secure celebrities to perform for his inauguration—Elton John, Celine Dion, John Legend and others have all said no. There have even been reports that Trump's team tried offering bribes of positions in his cabinet. Not surprisingly, he had no takers.

Finally, three days before Christmas, he managed to get the Rockettes. The day they learned the news, one of the dancers cried her way through a Christmas show, so distressed that she would have to dance for Trump. Another dancer posted her violent objection on Instagram: 
"I usually don't use social media to make a political stand but I feel overwhelmed with emotion. Finding out that it has been decided for us that Rockettes will be performing at the Presidential inauguration makes me feel embarrassed and disappointed. The women I work with are intelligent and are full of love and the decision of performing for a man that stands for everything we're against is appalling. I am speaking for just myself but please know that after we found out this news, we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts #notmypresident" 
A senior-ranking official of the American Guild of Variety Artists stated that full-time dancers had to dance where they were told to. But there was such a public furor that the Guild backed off, stating that dancing at the inauguration would be voluntary. So the Rockettes can choose, but many are afraid that if they don't they'll lose their jobs or future opportunities, as only thirteen have permanent positions and the others dance ad hoc.

A dancer who spoke anonymously to Marie Claire, risking getting fired for it if she's exposed, said "This is making our show, our job, our name, branded as right-wing. An extreme right-wing. There's a reason why everyone else is turning this down. Why are we not?" She also noted that  no minority dancers had signed up.  

Then we learned that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would sing at the inauguration. Lifetime Mormon Randall Thacker started a petition against the Choir performing,
"and especially for an incoming president who has demonstrated sexist, racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic behavior that does not align with the principles and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church's participation will harm this spectacularly talented and beloved choir's image, misrepresent the diversity of Mormons worldwide, and sends the wrong message to LDS children as they will perceive the Church's participation as endorsement of a president whose words and actions do not align with our values."
And one singer in the Choir, Jan Chamberlin, chose to resign. She posted a letter of explanation on Facebook. That post has since been taken down but you can read it here. Below is an extract. 
"Since “the announcement”, I have spent several sleepless nights and days in turmoil and agony. I have reflected carefully on both sides of the issue, prayed a lot, talked with family and friends, and searched my soul. I’ve tried to tell myself that by not going to the inauguration, that I would be able to stay in Choir for all the other good reasons… 
But it’s no use. I simply cannot continue with the recent turn of events. I could never look myself in the mirror again with self respect. I love you all, and I know the goodness of your hearts, and your desire to go out there and show that we are politically neutral and share good will… 
I also know, looking from the outside in, it will appear that Choir is endorsing tyranny and fascism by singing for this man. And Choir’s wonderful image and networking will be severely damaged and that many good people throughout this land and throughout the world already do and will continue to feel betrayed.   
I know that I too feel betrayed. Tyranny is now on our doorstep; it has been sneaking its way into our lives through stealth. Now it will burst into our homes through storm…
 In the show Wicked, the Wizard says “ I create conflict to stay in power.” This allows those in office to do whatever they want to unchecked. I believe this has been done to us, both cunningly and intentionally…   
I could never “throw roses to Hitler.” And I certainly could never sing for him… My heart is shattered and broken............. but my conscience is clear. And THAT, really is all that matters." 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Goodbye to Dignity in the White House

President Obama & the First Lady at the 2016 CBC Foundation Awards Dinner

President Obama & First Lady Michelle Obama at CBC Foundation Awards Dinner

It's a daunting prospect, four long years without an American president and first lady who have been a joy in every way and a constant reminder of the true nature of integrity, dignity, compassion, understanding, courage, sanity, coherence, brilliance of mind.

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to OprahWinfrey in June this year about the next generation of women. When Oprah asked what single piece of advice she could give to young women, Michelle Obama's response, and she included young men, was that "We can never be complacent... The work always continues…We have seen in recent times how quickly things get taken away from us if we aren't vigilant."

Indeed. And that was in June. From then on the nightmare has just gotten darker and darker, as every decent human value has been assaulted by Trump and his cohorts.

Do we even know how to be vigilant enough anymore? Did we ever? Conservatives are very good at vigilance because they're often driven by anger and fear, which are the most powerful motivators to action. Liberals aren't so good at the kind of vigilance that's necessary to stop sociopaths from getting into power. Too often they try to see the best in everybody, which is good as an overarching philosophy, but not if it blinds you to the reality of what people's anger and fear will drive them to. And it's not much of a motivator. Let's all try to get along. If somebody is abusing your child, do you try to get along with them?

Don't sweat the small stuff. People say it a lot, but the small stuff is the early warning signal, it's the hairline crack. Small cracks never go away, they always widen, and if you catch them early, not much damage is done. The more you ignore them, the less sensitive you become to them until you only wake up when your house has collapsed.

Throughout the lead-up to the election, every intelligent person and journalist with a conscience and the capacity to separate media-driven hysteria and fake news from reality was shouting warnings about Trump. But it was too little too late.

Where has everybody been during Obama's terms, where the GOP has done everything it could to obstruct him and not do its job? Where was the liberal media outrage at Obama's unpopularity when he was doing a sterling job despite the obstructions? Where was our outrage at the vicious racism that was directed at him and the First Lady and at the up-swelling of racism and white fear of losing status quo that led to a burgeoning of white supremacist groups?

That's not where it all started, but it's where it could have been stopped. The GOP got away with not doing its job. It got away with the gerrymandering, with targeting minority voters, making it harder for them to vote. Those were some pretty sizable cracks.

It was small step from there to a candidate who would campaign on enabling hatred and assault on human decency in every aspect and encourage Russian interference in a presidential election and was too stupid to understand how that would imperil American democracy. A small step to millions believing fake news and to the main social media platform through which it was disseminated not identifying it until it was too late. The mainstream media didn't identify it either. From there it was easy for an FBI director to 'innocently' release a statement that would sway the election and hand it to a sociopath.  

Yesterday, apropos apparently of Putin's speech to his military leadership that Russia needed to upgrade its nuclear capacity allegedly so that it could penetrate sophisticated defense systems, Trump tweeted that the US needs to increase its nuclear capacity until people come to their senses about nukes. When I saw the news last night my blood ran cold. So best buddies Putin and Trump are in stand-off already.

Two out-of-control narcissists, hungry for control and desperate for affirmation, and both with the power to set off another world war. The alarming thing is that Putin is a terrible man but he's intelligent. The same can't be said of Trump, who is frighteningly gullible and manipulable. 

This is what happens when an over-enabled cheat, obsessive liar, a racist, a sexist and a bigot with an over-sized ego is elected with the help of a partisan FBI director and Russian intervention.

From the Obama Administration to this. Pave paradise and put up a parking lot. Vigilance; we need to upgrade our idea of what it entails. I've seen a huge outpouring of frustration on Twitter and Facebook from people who were vigilant, and who did speak their mind, over and over. Who turned out for the vote. But it was too little too late. Even as a non US citizen, I could have done more. A whole lot more.

Because this isn't just America's problem. It affects all of us. The racist bigot who is about to take over the White House has enabled white supremacy in the US, which has a ripple effect around the world. He will happily screw up international trade agreements and relationships and create massive uncertainty in the global economy. It would thrill him to increase nuclear capacity and give the order to bomb the shit out of a country at three in the morning because somebody in that country told the truth about him, or because he read something on a fake news site, or because he realized that the hair he has left is thin and straggly.

Before the election, I went to a lecture given in Cape Town by a visiting US professor, a passionate Democrat, unequivocally damning of the GOP and Trump. He said that up until recently his only involvement in politics has been to vote, but it's not enough anymore. It's not enough for any of us.

How did America go from the best to the worst? While we were sleeping. We thought we were awake but we were dreaming. Now we've woken up to a nightmare. What's left to do?