Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Kavanaugh Confirmation Vote Delayed by #MeToo

Judge Kavanaugh. Chief Justice John Roberts has recognized that, quote, "the judicial branch is not immune" end quote, from the widespread problem of sexual harassment and assault and has taken steps to address this issue. As part of my responsibility as a member of this committee to ensure the fitness of nominees for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench, I ask each nominee two questions. First question for you: since you became a legal adult have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature?
Senator Maisie Hirono, D-Hawaii, asked this of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing on Sept. 5 2018. Judge Kavanaugh answered without hesitation. "No," he said.

A week later, news broke of an accusation that he sexually assaulted a girl when they were both at school in the 1980s. The accuser had reported the incident via a tip-line in early July, asking that her identity be kept secret. The complaint had made its way to Senator Feinstein, who honored that request. Somehow, unbeknownst to the Senator, the story was leaked, although initially the accuser's identity was still unknown.

Kavanaugh denied the accusations hotly. But in twelve days what started out as a flicker of a problem for him and those who want him confirmed erupted into a firestorm, driven by what is now the considerable heft of #MeToo.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University who teaches clinical psychology to graduates in a consortium with Standford University, decided to come out publicly with her accusation, in an explosive interview with the Washington Post. She alleged that 17 year-old Brett Kavanaugh and a friend of his, Mark Judge, both highly intoxicated, corralled her into a bedroom at a party, locked the door and turned up the music. Kavanaugh then pinned her down and tried to strip her and force himself on her, covering her mouth to prevent her from screaming or calling for help. Ford was 15 years old and feared that Kavanaugh might inadvertently kill her. She alleged that Judge kept calling out, first saying "go for it" then "stop". She managed to escape, and tried, unsuccessfully to bury the trauma, until 2012, when she revealed what had happened, in therapy sessions.

Mr. Kavanaugh again denied the allegations, saying he had never met Dr. Ford, and was willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in defense of his integrity. Unfortunately for him, Dr. Blasey Ford also said she would testify. Adding weight to her credibility is that in August, at the suggestion of her lawyer Debra Katz, she took and passed a polygraph, administered by an FBI official. 

For a few days Senate Republicans doggedly stood by their man and insisted that the confirmation vote on Thursday would go through. Even the two moderate Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski were tight lipped, despite huge pressure having already been brought to bear on them from their female constituents to reject Mr. Kavanaugh. A crowdsourcing campaign set up by some Maine voters vowing to support Senator Collins' opponent in 2020 if she votes for Mr. Kavanaugh, has raised over $1.3m. Senator Murkowski has repeatedly been reminded of her tweet calling for Sen. Al Franken's resignation for a far less severe allegation. 
Senator Murkowski hasn't felt the same about Mr. Kavanaugh. It seemed frustratingly clear that he and those who desperately want him in the Supreme Court were banking on the "who cares?" precedent set by the response to Anita Hill's accusations against then Judge Clarence Thomas. Who is now an Associate Justice.

A lot of people believed Ms. Hill's version of events and cared deeply, but they didn't have enough power to halt that confirmation.

Much has changed since then. This confirmation is taking place in the midst of a #MeToo revolution, and the court of public opinion has developed real political power, making it impossible to sweep sexual misdeeds under the carpet, no matter how long ago they occurred. Yesterday, Republican Senators Flake and Cornyn said they would not be comfortable voting for Mr. Kavanaugh until this issue has been cleared up, and Sens. Collins and Murkowski said they wanted to hear both sides. Even Kellyanne Conway said that Dr. Ford should not be ignored, after Donald Trump Jr. mocked Dr. Ford in a tweet.  

It marked a turning point. Today news broke that the vote scheduled for Thursday has been postponed and that both Mr. Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey Ford will testify on Monday. It's a major triumph for every woman who's ever been assaulted. A triumph for justice and for functional democracy which requires that politicians listen to their constituents and truly represent their interests.

In his testimony Judge Kavanaugh can categorically deny that he assaulted Dr. Ford, and it will be his word against hers. That she's taken a polygraph of her own volition speaks volumes. Will Kavanaugh do the same? She's a credible person and over 200 women who know her have attested to her character.

Kavanaugh, however, has very recently and provably distanced himself from the truth in the hearings. 93% of his record was withheld for the confirmation hearings. His main witness to the alleged assault, Mark Judge, was by his own account an alcoholic at the time and often blind drunk. And of the 65 women who Republicans garnered to swear to Kavanaugh's character, before Blasey Ford went public, 7 have now reiterated their support, but 5 have declined to comment and dozens of others either declined to comment or could not be reached, according to Politico.

Whether Mr. Kavanaugh takes a polygraph or not, can he legitimately deny that he went through a period at a very permissive school when he drank a lot? He may want to be careful about categorical denials here, because there would have been plenty of witnesses. Once that cat is definitively out the bag, Mr. Kavanaugh's denial about the assault will be meaningless. He might believe he didn't assault Dr. Ford purely because he can't remember the night in question. The forthcoming testimony isn't a court of law, but already, judging by the backtracking coming from Republican Senators, circumstantial evidence is piling up to the point of being impossible to ignore.

And how many times have men guilty of assault, from Catholic priests to Hollywood celebrities to the current US President, claimed their innocence?

As the NYT editorial board noted, Mr. Kavanaugh has a questionable relationship with the truth. He got away with obfuscating it many times in the hearings because so much of his CV was withheld and because even when it was obvious that he was lying, Republicans didn't care. But it's doubtful that he can lie his way out of this one. Not because Republicans suddenly care about the truth, but because of the heft of #MeToo. Democracy in action.

Bravo to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. May she be well protected. 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

You did good, Senator John McCain, thank you. Rest in Peace

US Navy Library of Congress

At John McCain's funeral service the tributes were moving and inspiring and as truthful and unpretentious as the man who was shot down, badly injured and captured by North Vietnamese, and was a prisoner of war for 5 years, enduring torture and refusing early release out of solidarity with fellow prisoners. Who, on his return, entered politics and served as a Representative and then Senator for 36 years.

But the most moving of all was Meghan McCain's eulogy to her father who she loved so deeply. She didn't hold her tears back but spoke fiercely and passionately and with the most wonderful articulacy. She unequivocally rebuked and condemned the current president and his behavior without naming him.

Everybody who spoke did that today, including 95 year old Henry Kissinger. As John McCain undoubtedly knew they would.

Barack Obama and George Bush spoke their truths about their personal and political relationships with him. They used the platform to promote unity and the ideals McCain believed in that they share. There was plenty of wry humor, but they both always brought it back to the most important thing about McCain - that he believed in equality and never treated a person differently on account of their religion, race or gender. That he spoke his truth to authority without fear.

The entire ceremony was transfixing. The tremendous respect was foremost and the grief was palpable. Rest in Peace Senator McCain. You did good, choreographing this service the way you did. Bringing people together. This was a sobering and wonderful moment in American history.

Friday, March 30, 2018

In Pursuit of Justice and Equality - and Truth

"One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don't share a common baseline of facts." President Barack Obama on David Letterman's My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.
Aristotle would have agreed with Obama. In his treatise on politics he wrote, "On questions of equality and justice, even though it is very difficult to discover the truth about them, nevertheless it is easier to hit upon it than to persuade people that have the power to get an advantage to agree to it; equality and justice are always sought by the weaker party, but those that have the upper hand pay no attention to them." He would have enjoyed meeting Obama, the exception to prove the rule, but would probably have shrugged his shoulders at the current US president and said, "You see?"

However, he might have been unpleasantly surprised at just how much more difficult it is now for civilians to hit upon the truth about anything, let alone what concerns equality and justice, despite our unfettered access to this hallmark of the 21st century, information.   

We've been totally enamored of and seduced by it, blindly believing in general that the accumulation of it equates to wisdom, and that in the political arena, where the controls lie for developing, protecting and promoting social equality and justice, the more information we have about candidates and the consequences of their behavior, the better our voting choices can be. But if that were true, given that there's a glut of information now, the world would be barreling along in peace, prosperity and national and international harmony. There would be no poverty, great divides in income or discrimination of any kind. Equality and justice would reign supreme.

Instead, established dictators are still getting away with murder and being congratulated by world leaders for corrupted elections. Leaders with ambition to be dictators are entrenching themselves in power, and vast swathes of super-malleable citizens are being tossed and tumbled about helplessly in tsunamis of terror at the prospect of losing forever a status quo that was never honestly earned and always gained at the expense of somebody or other. Stolen. 

The primary tenets of democracy, once so easily identifiable, seem to be losing their definition and potency, wasting away like the muscles of a cancer victim, leaving a skeleton. A lifeless, pitiful, vestigial thing.

Equality, freedom, justice; societies that operate on an understanding that the best interests for all must be enshrined—that's what we think our western democracies protect. But democracy simply gives power to whoever garners the most votes. If the voting system is skewed to provide better voting opportunity to supporters of a corrupt and unqualified candidate, or lies are spread about that candidate's opponent, no matter how well qualified they are, and those who know the truth don't fight hard enough, democracy will prevail, but the democratically elected leader will be destructive for all.

We'll be in the realm of dictatorships, whether or not we see that we've actually chosen it by default, by not holding our politicians to account, but mostly by not holding ourselves to account and taking responsibility for the information we soak up and share and act upon. 

The nightmare won't end until we get it, that information isn't necessarily truth, and until truth is re-established and the majority of the electorate want it and are capable of discerning it.
“If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not, and particularly in an age of social media when so many people are getting their information in sound bites and off their phones, if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.” Barack Obama, on Nov 17 2016 in Berlin. 
There's no escaping it; the problems he warned us of have burgeoned. The truth is that we turned our eyes away from the reality that the platform for the free flow of information has been a tool that's enabled the worst in us. Using the platform, we've actively facilitated bombardment of misinformation and have ourselves become a tool for blurring the line between truth and lies so much that many can't tell the difference any more. Caught by thine own springe. 

Brexit and the 2016 US elections woke us up to a living nightmare. Digital technologies, which we've practically made a god of, were used, primarily by Russia, to seduce citizens into thwarting the purpose of democracy, which is to create a system that protects and nurtures the best in humanity.

So now our democracies in the West are being torn apart and the doors are open wide for an autocrat with malintent, either actively pursuing destruction, or hell-bent on it by virtue of being narcissistic, intellectually challenged, over-entitled and enabled, dysfunctional, overridden by prejudice and fear, and totally out of control.

It's dismaying to see how easily misinformation wormed its way into the West through technologies that have been so helpful in every other way. Terrifying to see how easily so many were conned. We watch footage of North Korea and can see how brainwashed the citizens are. It's obscene; we're quick to cry foul, can't they see how they're being manipulated? We proudly believe that in the West we have much more control over our minds. Yet a slim majority in the UK voted to leave the EU on the strength of promises made that nobody ever had any intention of fulfilling.

Across the Atlantic, America voted in an incompetent bigot and the world has been gasping in horror daily for almost a year and a quarter at every new presidential assault on the values that sustain healthy societies and international relationships.

For now, it looks as if the line between truth and misinformation has been irrevocably blurred for millions and that bigotry, racism, sexism, persecution, are on the ascendancy, especially in the world's allegedly strongest democracy. 

It's been virtually brought to its knees by a president who, on the campaign, promoted misinformation, exploited race-based fear and fabricated a 'reality' of carnage within and massive international threat from without. His actions in the White House have savaged the rights and safety of minorities, undermined the strong social fabric and economy established by Barack Obama and his Administration, reset the climate change dial onto fast forward, disrupted the international culture of diplomacy reintroduced by Obama. He has antagonized former allies and jeopardized world trade and world stability.

In the UK, the fallacy of Brexiteers' promise of freedom from pestilential immigrants and greater economic strength and power in independence from that poncy EU has been exposed, as reality plays out. The Guardian has tracked 11 promises made that have been broken. And the government is led by a woman who was a Remainer. The Prime Minister, when asked on camera whether Brexit will have been worth the price paid, like young George Washington, couldn't tell the lie. She appears to have taken seriously her role, seeing it as her responsibility to lead the government to do the will of the people, but it's an impossible task. What the very slender majority wanted isn't achievable.

And, as that's becoming increasingly apparent, calls for another referendum are gaining momentum. For all we know, the majority might not want Brexit at all any more. As for the US, the president won with a minority vote. So who are the US and British governments serving? Not the will of the people in the way we understand it.

The will of the fearful minority, the prejudiced, the misinformed and misled, i.e. the far right, which feeds off untruth and which has gained power in other countries, perhaps encouraged by the UK and the US: France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Poland, Austria. Highly exploitable themselves, the far right has used the tools used against them, primarily by Russian operatives, to exploit the fear and economic need of their friends and neighbors.

In the US, still for now the most powerful country in the world, far right Republicans have jumped on that bandwagon, and organizations like the NRA have had their field day exploiting it all. It's a hall of distorting mirrors in a tunnel of horrors.

Digital technologies. They've sped up the flow of information, which works for good and bad. But they've also made the consequences of whatever choices we make that much more imminent. Ironically, that could be our saving grace. We can't hide for very long from our own mistakes as citizens any more. We have to think about and question what we read, watch, write, say, create, because when we irresponsibly pursue and share salacious misinformation we con ourselves and others, and add another signature to the death warrant of our democracies, paving the way for dictators. 

We sow discord and reap the nightmare harvest very quickly, laying waste to the social fabric of our world and leaving it in chaos for our children to clean up the mess. 

Far better to get to work now to clean up our own mess, take responsibility for our actions and our minds. Seek out truth, spurn and expose misinformation. Vote in droves for politicians who do the same. It's achievable. We can do it. Yes we can.
"For generations we have known of knowledge’s infinite power. Yet somehow, we’ve never questioned the keeper of the keys — The guardians of information." – Donovan Livingston, Harvard speech

Friday, August 18, 2017

Former President Barack Obama Shows Leadership

With three simple tweets, former President Barack Obama gave Americans across the spectrum, and people around the world, what they longed for in the face of the Charlottesville tragedy: wisdom, sanity, compassion, leadership.

It's been distressing to watch how the current administration has laid siege to everything that the best of America stands for and all the progress made by Barack and Michelle Obama and Obama's administration. When this couple were in the White House it was a place of knowledge, experience, respect, dignity, wisdom, inclusion, joy, exuberance, celebration of life and of people from every walk of life.

The shock of the election result wore off quickly, leaving grief, outrage and determination to preserve values without which no society can exist for long without imploding. The resistance, from Democratic politicians, citizens, academia and the liberal media, has been valiant and successful. But the constant deluge of scandals, back-biting, lies—scum of the earth stuff—has been exhausting to witness. It's hard to resist the idea that social progress in the US is being swamped and that everything the Obamas worked towards, every battle fought and won over the years for Civil Rights, equality and justice has been lost.

But the truth is that in the battle between Good and evil, so well illustrated by Charlottesville, and Donald Trump equating white supremacists and Nazi supporters to counter-protesters, Good has triumphed as Republicans, Democrats and world leaders condemned the president's support of what has been recognized as evil for a long time now.  Nobody but Mr. Trump believes these people have a place at the table. Nobody but Mike Pence has stood with Trump.

Good can seem fragile in this battle, when overshadowed by monstrous forces, but in truth it has roots sinking deep into the human psyche, into societies. And that gives it, ultimately, much greater power.

America's social progress hasn't ever been a smooth journey. But it's been a real one with real successes. They, and the achievements of Barack Obama and his administration have been assailed, but not dismantled in a way that can't be fixed, even though the government is entirely GOP-controlled. Republicans are at war with each other and their constituents, and the 2018 mid-terms loom. The Trump administration has bully power but nothing else and it is disintegrating at the speed of light, as is the president, by all accounts. Out of control, still obsessed with his campaign, he's been firing people at random when they get more attention than him or displease him, creating such havoc that nobody wants to work for him.

Now he's fired Steve Bannon, who has gone back to Breitbart News, thrilled at the prospect of war with the administration. Or so he says, as reported by The New York Post.  

The president's support base is reportedly shrinking, but former president Barack Obama's tweets about Charlottesville broke the record for the most Twitter likes. That's a pretty direct poll. And he's not getting any press coverage these days. There's power in the man, the kind that lasts because it has love and integrity as a foundation; it's the kind that rewards and builds.

In this existential battle in America—one that all of us can relate to in some way or another in our lives—Good has trodden and is still treading a steady path towards victory. It will come and then we'll see that social progress is not destructible by evil. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Trump Throws His Weight Behind White Supremacists & Nazi Supporters

On Tuesday the world watched in sheer abhorrence as the US president, speaking at length for himself and without a teleprompter, unequivocally laid equal blame on the protests against racism and bigotry—which he called the alt-left—and the KKK, white supremacists and Nazi supporters gathered in Charlottesville.  

In the largest gathering in decades, and as if the Civil Rights Era had never happened, white supremacists descended at night on the University town of Charlottesville, Virginia with burning torches, confederate flags, nazi symbols and rifles, chanting "You will not replace us / Jews will not replace us". They surrounded a small group of non-violent counter protestors gathered at the statue of Thomas Jefferson.  Shock and horror rippled throughout the country and beyond its borders.
“I cannot believe in my heart what I am witnessing today in America. I wanted to think not only as an elected official, but as a human being that we had made more progress. It troubles me a great deal.” Rep. John Lewis.
But not, apparently, in the White House, which was mute. The next day, white supremacists, itching for a fight, attacked those protesting against them in ugly violence which culminated in a Nazi supporter gunning his car into a peaceful gathering of protestors, injuring 19 and killing Heather Heyer, a courageous young woman who had dedicated her life to fighting bigotry and hate.

Donald Trump, the man who can't control his Twitter compulsion, waited until late in the day to even comment. His repugnant refusal to name and shame the KKK, Nazi supporters and white supremacists drew immediate bi-partisan fire, Democrats not afraid to directly criticize the president. Some Republicans joined them.   

The next day, in a strangely surreal mini-speech, Trump, newly coiffed and made up, did as he had obviously been told to. He read clumsily from a teleprompter words that had been patently written by somebody else. Words that he was very uncomfortable with. Anybody who was fooled hasn't been paying attention for a very long time. Those of us who have, weren't surprised when he broke out and said what he really wanted to say on Tuesday at a "press conference" that was mean to be about infrastructure.

It didn't take Trump long to dump the script and lash out at length at the counter protesters, calling them the alt-left, blaming them for their violence and for attacking the white supremacists and fascists, giving them an unequivocal boost.
General Kelly stood behind Trump, severely troubled. Did he really think he could control this terrible excuse for a man? Kudos to him for being bothered, but he should have been severely horrified long ago, enough to refuse the job and publicly condemn Trump and his administration.

Other Republicans also reacted immediately, except for Mike Pence of course, who praised Trump for meaning what he says and saying what he means. Hard to understand the logic of that, given his teleprompted little speech the previous day. There is only one way for Republicans to illustrate that they have any integrity at all. Unequivocally condemn Trump, get rid of him, and clean out his administration. Any Republican who doesn't do that? Their words of protest now are meaningless.

America has a white supremacist supporter, a bigot, a serial sexual abuser, a snake oil salesman, a liar, a cheat and a very stupid man with severe personality disorders for a president, and too many Republicans have been fine with it. They may criticize him but they don't care enough to protect their country from him. And that's the truth.

Fortunately, the majority of America do care. Even Trump's base is dwindling. Ultimately all he'll be left with will be the KKK, neo-nazis and white supremacists. The toxic dregs of American society.
Embed from Getty Images

Democrats care a great deal. They have lashed out at Trump in no uncertain terms. Stalwart of integrity, Civil Rights pioneer and icon Congressman John Lewis, who has courageously and unerringly devoted his life to defending Civil Rights and said in January that he didn't consider Trump to be a legitimate president, spoke out at a town hall meeting in East Point Georgia.

"It troubles me a great deal… Speak up, speak out, get in the way, get in trouble - good trouble and necessary trouble. We have to tell our people to get out and participate in the democratic process."

And while all of this is going on, the Russia investigation is ramping up. To date, analysts have had little faith in the likelihood of impeachment, which would need a Republican Congress to act. Recently, as Trump has gotten more and more out of control, more Republicans are either speaking out clearly against him, or drifting away. Suddenly, impeachment is starting to look like a real option, because if the GOP lets Trump stay he'll take them all down with him.

It's been obvious from the start but they haven't wanted to face it. It's becoming harder and harder to ignore. America will be rid of this scourge. The world will breathe a sigh of relief. Until he goes, a Washington Post editorial says it all. The nation can only weep.
That car in Charlottesville did not kill or wound just the 20 bodies it struck. It damaged the nation. Mr. Trump not only failed to help the country heal; he made the wound wider and deeper.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

US President Thrills at the Idea of Killing Hundreds of Thousands

"There are no mixed messages… There are no mixed messages… North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." Apart from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lest we forget.

Relishing the idea of killing and maiming hundreds of people in the cruelest way imaginable, the US president continues to recklessly up his rhetoric, poking his middle finger in the eye of a sociopath. Because it makes him look strong. In his own eyes. In those of most Americans and the rest of the world? Not so much. The administration reiterates ad nauseam that there are no mixed messages, but of course it's just another alternative fact to add to the Trump Administration Collection.

Rex Tillerson has oxymoronically tried to perform the magic trick of toning down the inflammatory rhetoric, while also rationalizing it. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has spoken with solemnity, pointing out that nobody needs to be reminded of the terrible damage done by nuclear war. 

Nobody but the US president. And neither of them are telling him to zip it. Nor is General Kelly. Apparently that's not his job. Senator Lindsay Graham is enabling Trump, as is Nikki Haley and any number of other Republicans who cling to power, no matter the cost to any number of human beings on earth. Including Guam residents, who could be the first Americans to go. 

Trump had this to say to Guam Governor Eddie Baza Calvo:
"Tourism, I can tell you this — tourism, you're going to go up like 10-fold with the expenditure of no money so I congratulate you… We are with you 1,000 per cent, you are safe…You've become extremely famous. All over the world they are talking about Guam, and they are talking about you."
Calvo's response was that he felt 100% safe with Trump as president. The mind boggles. Fortunately, some sanity prevails in Guam, whose Homeland Security Agency put out advice for residents in the event of an "imminent missile threat". Residents should create emergency supply kits, have an emergency plan, and make a list of concrete shelters close by, especially ones underground. 

When an attack warning is sounded they mustn't look at the flash or fireball because it can blind, and they must run for cover. However, "Fallout radiation loses its intensity fairly rapidly. In time you will be able to leave a fallout shelter." 

The Homeland Security website also has a link to an American Red Cross guide on how to shelter-in-place if there's a chemical or radiation attack.

If Kim Jong-un launches missiles, the US has to hope that its missile detection and destruction facility works. Wolf Blitzer spoke to a military analyst who said it's been tested but never tried. It would take 14 minutes for a N. Korean ICBM to reach Guam, but the decision to destroy it or not has to happen immediately the launch has been detected. The US literally has a couple of minutes to make a decision to destroy the missile or let it continue, judging that it will land in the ocean and isn't dangerous.

If they get it wrong; if the missile doesn't have a miniaturized nuclear warhead and would have landed in the sea but the US destroys it, preferring to err on the side of caution, Kim Jong-un has justification in his own mind for a real attack.

And the US president, a man with the personality disorder, has his finger on the red button. But, sure, Donald Trump, show the world how powerful America is. That's real manhood. Real strength of character. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Revisited as Trump Provokes N. Korea's Kim Jong-un?

On this day, 1945, the US dropped a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, instantly killing about 40,000 people, having dropped the world's first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima three days earlier. The horror has lived on in everybody's minds and hearts.

Yet yesterday, Donald Trump threatened N. Korea with "fire and fury" over its nuclear capacity and its own threat to destroy the US. The world watches, tense, as this out of control, intellectually challenged man, unleashes his ego, too narcissistic to understand the consequences and how close he's pushing the whole world towards nuclear confrontation.

When asked what the government was going to do about N. Korea a short while ago, he said vacuously, "We'll manage it, we'll manage it." He wouldn't take any more questions on the subject. Because he didn't have a clue.

It's been 201 days of this inept, dysfunctional American president with severe personality disorders, living in a private bubble utterly detached from reality. Surrounded by bottom-feeders and acolytes, scrabbling for power like a bunch of starving hyenas attacking a bloody carcass, snarling and tearing at each other. The leader of the free world isolating America from international trade, separating it from the free and the just.

An ultra conservative government, largely driven by Evangelical Christian 'principles', dragging the most powerful democracy back into pre Civil Rights days wherever it can, back into discrimination, unfair treatment, bigotry, sexism and xenophobia. A climate change denier in charge of the environment.

The list goes on. It's endless now. Over 200 days of human rights violations, scandals, vulgarities, lies, corrupted souls,  hiring and firing at the whim of a sick man addicted to himself and his TV enablers. Furiously trying to cover his Russian connection tracks and losing the battle fast. Swamped by the relentless push of 5 major investigations. Desperately trying to distract, failing abysmally.

Hemorrhaging popularity and trust, even in his ever dwindling base. The whole world worrying about how he'll cope with a real, international disaster. And now it's about to happen, only he's the author of it.

Nuclear confrontation has suddenly and by degrees become a reality for all of us, as the sick man with tiny fingers recklessly provokes the world's most frightening sociopath, Who, it turns out, has the capacity to target the US with intercontinental ballistic missiles that have miniaturized nuclear warheads attached. It's alarming how so many military analysts are saying that Kim Jong-un isn't insane, he's strategic, he knows what he's doing, and he's homicidal but not suicidal.

He's just saber-rattling, saying that he'll destroy America. The only way to deal with him is to push back, show him that America means business. Threaten to annihilate N. Korea. He'll buckle. He knows that a full-on US attack will destroy his country. He doesn't want that. He just wants to be safe, he wants a deterrent, and to be treated like one of the big guys at the table.

They were wrong about how developed N. Korea's nuclear capacity is. The Washington Post reveal surprised everybody.  Anything from 25 to 60 missiles that could reach the west coast of the US and possibly even New York. But they're not wrong about Kim Jong-un?

The worry is that these military analysts are still burying their heads in the sand. The problem with sociopaths is that they don't function the way most of us do. They don't have a stabilizing component in their brains. They can be supremely logical, sure; but their wires are crossed, and their rationale for behaving anti-socially makes sense to them. We have a prime example in Donald Trump.

Watching Kim Jong-un survey his gigantic weapons displays, and his mechanized, mind-vacated, supremely controllable puppet troops and citizens, it doesn't take a genius to see orgasmic satisfaction that is insane. Out of control. Push him too far with threats and there's no guarantee that he won't lose it and push back with an attack because it will give him an orgasm. It'll be too late then, as American cities burn à la Nagasaki and Hiroshima, to say, Damn! We were wrong. Too late, also, for Trump voters—and die-hard Bernie Sanders fans—to realize they made a mistake.

Some of them might even be dead. Or mutilated beyond recognition. Or weeping over their screaming children, helpless to save them. We were all concerned about the fate of the planet because Trump and his government are in denial about climate change. We may not have to worry about that any more.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Can Democracy Withstand the Trump Administration Onslaught?

Democracy. In the West we take it for granted that once established, the power of its values and laws intrinsically protect society from corrupt governments forming and stripping people of their rights. The Donald Trump administration has proven us wrong.

Value systems have always collided. In the West the ugly stuff was protected by legislation and social mores that gave power and freedom of expression to racists, sexists, bigots, homophobes, xenophobes, cultural persecutors, and deprived the targets of a platform if not the right to express their frustration, anger, hurt and outrage and work towards gaining equality. Gradually, though, the underdog in every sector of society has gained power. Those who were open to enlightenment embraced the concept of human rights, and legislated to protect them.

But you can't legislate what people think, what they want, what they read. Laws can't control the racism and bigotry that lurks under the surface, building momentum, lying in wait for an authority figure to grant permission to come out into the open, be vented and acted upon.

Spiteful, mean-spirited, greedy for power, panting for the right to be cruel without facing punishment and consequence.

You can't openly legislate for how those who need protection choose to vote, but you can introduce laws that make it difficult or impossible for them to even get to the polling stations. You can gerrymander districts so that those who can vote to protect decent human values don't, effectively, have a voice. You can use the written media, TV, radio stations, the church, to manipulate minds that are already leaning that way anyway, distorting truth until it's unrecognizable. Exploiting fear of change, fear of dark skins, fear of the other.

You can target those who don't have resources, who, if they could, would vote for representatives whose aim is to enfranchise everybody, create a fair society where equality and equal opportunity are the main principles of every branch of government.

In a so-called free society, even in the strongest democracies, much of the principle of do unto others has to be left to the conscience of the individual. It's constantly evolving for many, as it should. If that many isn't the majority, or the minority gets the power, society has a problem. In the West we're used to seeing corrupt leaders in  countries with no functioning democracy. We're accustomed to watching them destroy economies, commit genocide, imprison, torture and murder opposition to the government, prohibit freedom of speech.

We've believed that America was above that. It had long been the leader of the free world. Free and fair elections, freedom of speech, protection of the press, the importance of equality at least valued by one major political party which had an equal shot at gaining the power to improve society at all levels.

But now? Freedom of the press is under threat, hate crimes are on the rise alarmingly. Truth, equality and equal opportunity are not valued by the government, nor are a clean environment or international co-operation. Greed and destruction prevail in every sector of the administration, out-picturing the mind of its dysfunctional, mentally unstable leader. As for elections, was 2016 free and fair? How is possible that a man who lost the popular vote by close to 3 million votes—more than any president in history—could become president? The point is made ad nauseam that Russian interference did not affect the actual vote tally. That's not accurate; it affected the minds of far left and far right voters very successfully. It's not hard evidence, but lack of evidence doesn't equate in reality to absence of truth.

Liberals tend to believe that the search for enlightenment in every aspect of life is innate to the human race, or at least to the vast majority, that do unto others makes sense to most of us and dictates how we relate to each other.
But in our everyday lives, why then are reality shows that thrive on humiliation,  emotional and physical punishment so popular? What about Mad Men? It depicted the sexism, feminism, homophobia, antisemitism and racism of 1960's America. Yet it was widely acclaimed as being the greatest TV show ever. Did the majority watch to be outraged and celebrate that we've moved on? I doubt it. Was it Roman-type lust for watching Christians being thrown to the lions and torn apart? Possibly. Most likely, in the light of the 2016 election result, it was a hankering after an era where social conscience was a dinosaur.

Now a vulgarian who epitomizes that dinosaur is president of what was once unquestioningly the most powerful democracy on the planet.

The biggest mistake we make in the West is believing that democracy automatically delivers what's best for everybody. It doesn't. It doesn't even deliver what's best for the majority, when the voting system has been so eroded that a racist, bigot, con artist, arch manipulator, sexual abuser, ignoramus and compulsive liar can win an election on a minority vote, with the assistance of a foreign power whose primary objective is to undermine western democracies.

The words the American people are bandied about a lot by the current Administration. Which American people would that be? Those who support the government and the President are in the minority. Donald Trump has exploited the fears and lusts of his base and successfully controlled the narrative for them. There's no doubt in reality that he is an abuser who uses whoever he can, tossing them aside like so much detritus when they no longer serve him. Yet they mindlessly endorse his abusive behaviour, his dysfunction as a president, when the policies he pushes threaten their own lives. They believe anything he says, even when he directly contradicts himself. Blind loyalty to an abuser? It's a kind of variation on Stockholm Syndrome.

The liberal press and Democratic politicians have striven valiantly to keep truth alive and democracy functioning, but in the face of Trump's monumental lies and his determination to thwart democracy, everybody is exhausted. 

For democracy to function as a force for good in society, truth must be valued. When it's under siege and the minority has power, it spells trouble. It always has. It always will. Ultimately it seems to be true, looking at the big picture, that good triumphs over evil. That's not much consolation to the lives that are destroyed in the process. It's no consolation to the Muslim, Jewish, Latino or African American children who are targeted at school, with the upsurge in hate crimes since Donald Trump's campaigning. Whose lives will never be the same again. It's no consolation to the parents who can't protect them.

It'll be no consolation to any of us if the values that keep society intact are eroded beyond recognition and democracy rendered impotent in the country that is supposed to be leading the free world. 

Washing On The Line and All Things Italian

Photo by Jennifer Stewart

Call me an outlaw, but I love washing on a line. I didn't always; growing up, it was something for the back yard, fenced in, unseen by the neighbours. Not for nothing did we live by the creed don't hang out your dirty washing. Not, of course, that we did that literally. Anyway when I visited Tuscany for the first time, all my social conditioning flew out the window at the sight of sheets hanging on lines strung out across streets or from window to window, nonchalantly billowing in the dappled breeze. Man, I loved that about Italy. Armani came a close second.

Siena, late summer. I'd gone to visit the Duomo, to feel the grandeur, and watch the old women in black who kneel for hours muttering imprecations to the Virgin Mary, I’m sure of it.
"Madre, per favore, il mio sposo, mi ha fatto male per troppo tempo. Prendelo, prendelo, Le prego. Mi da qualche anni di liberta!" "Virgin mother, please, my husband, he's done me wrong for too long now. Take him away. Take him away. I beg you. Give me some years of liberty!"
Imagine: your philandering husband dies and you wear black for the rest of your life. Actually, imagine he doesn't die and he drives you mad with heartbreak and suppressed rage at your own helplessness. Eventually the Virgin Mary answers your prayers, takes him off your hands, and you can't even wear colorful clothes to celebrate. No wonder they mutter darkly. I steeped myself in duomic grandeur and satiated my curiosity about the old women until it became somewhat oppressive

Hot-footing it outside, I gave fervent thanks to the powers that be that I'd shuffled off those Catholic prohibitions against divorce and disobeying your husband. To celebrate, I climbed the stairs which take you to the top of the part that was never finished, but which gives you the view anyway.

Italy fills your whole being in some unearthly way. I stood for a while, drinking it in, Toscana in late summer. Bells rang for someone far across a valley.
Sketch by Jennifer Stewart

Heart full, I descended the stairs to a small cafe, with a couple of tables on the street. I sat down in the late summer sun, drinking my coffee, nobody else in sight. The air was still and it was very quiet, early afternoon; that time in Tuscany when everybody is doing whatever they do behind closed shutters. Sleeping off a hearty lunch of pasta, gnocchi di patate, pollo arrosto. Chianti. Pane. They eat more food in one meal than I do in a week, those Italians; no wonder they need to sleep it off.

A solitary person or two strolled by. A small slinky black cat with a paw that was half white, half ginger, came up to me and stroked itself against my leg. I knew better than to lean down to it; that makes them run away, so I just let it do its thing. Replete, I. And there across the street was somebody's washing, hanging out of the window, waving in the slight breeze.

My my.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dante's African Inferno

Photo by Jennifer Stewart

African summer in the city. You barely make it through the day, body hot and falling-down-dead lethargic, your flesh like candle-wax too close to the stove. And bones, you haven't got any; there's no structure to you, just this melt-down happening way beyond your control. 

I'd headed for the open road to get out of that hot as hell and nowhere to escape city. What did I know of what lay ahead? Zero. What did I care? I didn’t. 

Have you ever driven through the Karoo in a heat wave in a car which doesn't have air conditioning? Let me tell you first about the Karoo. It goes on forever, the road as straight as a ruler. It gets almost unbearable, no matter what you do to try and distract yourself. Your brain is baked anyway. On and on and on without relief, and as for the heat, if you close the windows you suffocate, but if you open them the hot air sears your lungs, dry-heat burns your mouth.

Even water doesn't help. How could it? It's hot in the bottle, anyway. Still, you try it and you shout in frustration, your throat is a furnace. I was trapped in the inferno before I could say Jack Rabbit. 

It'll get cooler, soon. Soon. You realize you said the words out loud. Your voice wavering like the shimmering road ahead. On and on and on and on, through dry, dusty scrubland. No trees, no animals, no people. Just the straight road and the heat. It's not going to get cooler. Ever.

Seconds dragged themselves lead-heavily, milestones passed interminably, face red, blood pounding, body a hot and sweat-sticky hell. That's when I knew, it's never going to end, this road, I'm stuck on a highway to perpetual hell. The ferocity of my longing for the open road in my new car, it stopped the world, turned it on its head. I'd forever be trapped in a Dante-type open-road-Inferno. I stopped fighting it, stuck in a dry-heat warp. I spoke the words out loud again, I forgot the damn air conditioning doesn't work. My voice sounded strange and eery, throat heat-gravel. I stayed silent and my thoughts shouted burningly, searing my brain.

The tarmac shimmered. Was that water? No, fool! Time stretched sluggishly, life became a slow-motion mirage, the straight road a hallucinated river tormenting me with a never-to-be-fulfilled promise of cool quench to my searing body-thirst.

It will never end. The words became a mantra. Something had happened to the workings of time. It had really stopped. Was I moving, was I imagining it? Hot air in my face, hot air down my dry throat. Please god let it rain, please, I'll do anything. No rain. It doesn't rain in the Karoo. If it did, the rain drops would boil. It can never end.

Suddenly it had. Ended.  

The torture was miraculously over. Out of the blue it was evening, and have you any idea what that means? It means the sun had set and I had arrived at a small hotel awash in an oasis sea of green, soft, moist grass, huge willow-green cool trees, cool on my face, cool under my bare throbbing feet, cool water drenching the thirst of my sweat-sticky body, cool crisp linen on my luxurious bed.

Then I heard the thunder, and Oh Sweet Heaven. Cool rain.