Monthly Archives: July 2018

Dodge Ball on Capitol Hill

If you were fortunate enough to miss the coverage of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at which Michael Pompeo, the current Secretary of State, testified, you missed little of substance.

If, for example, you were hoping that the Secretary of State would illuminate the recent “private” meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, about which no reliable information, indeed no information of any kind, has heretofore been revealed, your hopes were dashed. While Pompeo claims to have been fully briefed by Trump regarding the pas de deux with Putin, he provided no substantive insights, raising the possibility, stated by several senators, that in fact he had not been actually briefed and that, in any case, he could not be sure that Trump was telling the truth.

To say that the exchanges were testy to the point of personal hostility would be an understatement. This is not altogether surprising. In constitutional theory, the Senate is part of the checks and balances against the substantial power of the Executive Branch. History teaches that the Executive Branch, while uttering the usual niceties, is often unhappy being called to account before the Congress. Rough and tumble exchanges are common and the Pompeo hearing was no exception.

Try though he might, however, Pompeo, like Rex Tillerson before him and like the other Trump enablers in the Cabinet, cannot make sense of Trump’s approach to leadership. When confronted with blatantly contradictory statements from Trump, Pompeo tried to say that both were in fact statements of U.S. policy and that both statements, though flatly contradictory, were true. Yes is the same as No. Up is the same as Down.

That is, of course, right out of the Trump Chaos Playbook. He doesn’t care whether what he says is true or false because, like his role as bullying chief executive of his business empire, he knows the Republican Party will not hold him to account.  In Trump’s world a lie is just as good, often better, than the truth. That may explain why he lies so often and so consistently about almost everything to do with the government and his businesses.  Pompeo went out of his way to “assure” the Senate committee that Trump was personally and tightly in control of everything that was going on in the Executive Branch.

This was likely Pompeo’s way of signaling Trump that he was loyal to the core. The point has other implications, of course. If it is true, and Pompeo was emphatic about it, Trump has been deprived of any Nixonian claim that he didn’t know what was going on, that no one told him. Pompeo made clear that Trump is aware of everything and decides everything. This means that Trump is personally responsible for the destruction of the environment at the hands of the EPA, for the undermining of American public education at the hands of the very rich but apparently quite stupid Secretary of Education and for the Republican undermining of the health insurance system. Hearing Pompeo, Trump was doubtless beaming like the Cheshire Cat. Trump’s Humpty Dumpty style of “leadership,” where words mean whatever he or his enabler-of-the-day says they mean including nothing at all, may play well with his political base but he could be due for a big fall from the wall. Especially if Michael Cohen, former Trump “fixer,” can make stick his reported claim that Trump knew about and approved the Trump Tower meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. We can reasonably assume that Special Prosecutor Mueller has taken note of Pompeo’s tagging of Trump

BRAKING NEWS: Transcript of Private Trump-Putin Meeting Leaked

Washington, D.C. (former capitol of the United States) July 21, 2018

A partial transcript of the “no witnesses” meeting in Helsinki between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin has been provided to select media. It is reported that upon seeing the transcript, Fox News mouthpiece Sean Hannityovich said, “gaaahhorgggahiyi” and collapsed on the floor with foam streaming from his mouth. He was rushed to the local Minute Clinic and there is no official report on his condition.

The transcript is now believed to have been obtained and leaked by Melania Trump, First Lady of the former United States. It reads as follows:

[Trump & Putin shake hands and sit down; translators sit down also]

Trump: Well, Vladimir, here we are at last, just like I promised. Just you and me, babe. What do you want to talk about?

Putin: Donald, let’s cut to the chase, ok?

Trump: Wait, hold on! You speak English?

Putin: Of course, I do, Donald. What do you think I was doing all those years in the KGB? I am totally conversant in your language. It will be a shame when we have to ban it.

Trump: Wow. You really speak good English. As good as me and I have the very best words.  Everyone says so. I am impressed, Vladimir. I always knew you were smart. Not as smart as me, of course, but still pretty …

Putin: Enough about you, Donald. In fact, how about you just shut up for a few minutes so we can get some work done. I did not agree to this meeting just to make you look good.

Trump: Ok, ok, Vlad, don’t be upset. Whatever you want is ok with me.

Putin: Good. I thought it would be since you are president only because of the interference in the U.S. election that I ordered.

Trump: Well, that’s a little harsh, don’t you think? I mean, look at how many electoral votes I got….

Putin: Yeah, but what about her emails?

Trump: You got my message just right. I said, “Russia, if you’re listening …

Putin: I know what you said, Donald. Your American news media play it on TV every damn day! Listen to me. I have a very important thing to say.

Trump: [leaning in] I’m all ears, Vlad. What’s that?

Putin: You are going to invite me to visit the United States.

Trump: Sure, no problem. When you’re a star, they let you do what you want….

Putin: And while I’m there, I am going to defect.

Trump: …. Uh…er….

Putin: I am serious, Donald. You can close your mouth now. You remember when you made that comment about shithole countries? Well, Russia is one. I am sick of the winters here, the intrigues that never stop, people trying to stab you in the back, literally. All my opponents keep committing suicide, making me look bad. And, besides, I’ve always wanted to own a real democracy.

Trump: But, Vlad, I mean, uh, what would that do?

Putin: Nothing that you need to concern yourself with, Donald. You will move back to New York City, play golf every day, if you like. Live the life you always wanted.

Trump: They hate me in New York.

Putin: Yeah, well, what goes around comes around. But, listen, Donald, they are going to put you in jail. You have violated their constitution and made a hash of the U.S. government. I know how to run things efficiently. I will move into the White House. Melania can stay there if she wants. You know she sounds more like a Russian than an American. All will be well. Believe me.

[end of transcript]

Treason – Why Do They Do It?

The events of the past few days do not need recounting. By now, anyone who is awake is aware that the President of the United States adhered to and gave aid and comfort to an enemy of the United States. I define “enemy” here as a country that interferes in the internal politics of our democracy to prejudice the outcome of an election. My view is that because the Constitution sets out three separate forms of treason, only one of which involves “war” as such, it is possible to commit treason with a country as to which the United States is not technically “at war.” And I believe Trump clearly did that in Helsinki. No amount of later backpedaling and doubletalk can cancel what he did, especially recognizing that he insisted on a no-witnesses meeting with Putin that lasted for several hours.

The Constitutional definition of “treason” is stated as follows in Article III, Paragraph 3:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open court.”

I am aware that there is a lot of debate among legal scholars and historians about the exact meaning of Article III’s definitions and I don’t propose to recount or resolve them here. Instead, I am interested in the underlying question: why does anyone commit treason? In simpler terms, what would motivate an officer of the United States, and in particular the highest officer, to side with a foreign country engaged in hostile acts against his country when such alignment is resisted by most or all of his most senior and experienced advisors?

That question has now risen in importance as a result of the travesty of Donald Trump bowing and scraping before Vladimir Putin at the Finland joint press conference. Even members of Trump’s own party are asking the question because they conceive of no explanation that makes sense. His later “I meant ‘wouldn’t’ instead of ‘would’” warrants no more comment or analysis than just “look at the video and you will see he meant what he said: ‘would.’

The possible reasons for committing what I, and many knowledgeable commenters, believe was an act of treason include at least the following:

  • Ideological alignment on issues of overriding importance to the actor
  • Mental illness such as to fundamentally impair his ability to make decisions
  • Stupidity
  • Money/Avarice
  • Power
  • Blackmail

There may be some I haven’t thought of but for now this is the list. Let’s consider them one by one.

Ideological alignment on issues of overriding importance to the actor: I dismiss this one out of hand because Trump appears not to have a consistent ideology of any kind. He adopted the mantle of Conservative Republican when it suited his political ambitions but historically he has been all over the place on matters of ideology. There is no reason I have seen (confessing I might have missed it) that he would be attracted to communism or socialism. Ultra-right fascism is definitely a possibility, given his pre- and post-election tendency to morally equate the actions of white supremacist/Nazi/alt-Right extremists with those of the progressive Left. He clearly is attracted to authoritarian leaders – aside from Putin, Duterte of the Philippines comes to mind. Trump’s business history is that of a bully who pushes around and cheats people who are not in a position to fight back on an equal footing. 

Mental Illness:  Many experts and non-experts alike have addressed the question whether Trump has a “mental illness,” a “personality disorder,” or dementia of some kind. I don’t know the answer, of course, but am reluctant to argue that the fact of Trump’s seeing everything differently than I do is evidence of any of those things. Certainly, his behavior evinces a monstrously large ego, massive insecurity and need for approval and similar considerations, but whether those obvious characteristics would lead a person to commit treason seems weak. The same for his propensity to bully everyone to show that he is the bigger man, the most important person in the room/world.

Stupidity: To be clear, I believe Trump acts like an ignorant fool most all the time. He knows little or no history, reads little or nothing, declines to be briefed and appears to believe his massive intelligence overshadows all experts in all fields so that no one has anything useful to tell him. Still, can we conclude that he is just plain dumb? On the surface, at least, he is (was) an educated person. And he has had the resources to continue to be educated, though he seems to have affirmatively avoided taking in new information for decades. Trump is willfully uninformed about the important elements of his job, but does that mean his is too stupid, too ignorant to understand that aligning with a historical enemy of his country, run by a dictator (spare me the baloney about how Putin was “elected” in a democratic process in Russia)?

Money/Avarice:  Considering Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, the mounting evidence of secret business deals with Russians, his numerous lies about whether or not he has business relationships in Russia, and his and his family’s continuing to profit from incomes fed to his business empire by foreign interests, a plausible argument can be made that Trump would sell out his country simply to secure his business interests. It is possible that much of his past business activities have been funded by Russian interests. On the other hand, Trump is a very rich man and getting richer every day, often at the expense of the American taxpayer. So, would he commit treason for still more money? Possibly, because, for people like Trump, there is never enough money. The more they get, the more they want more. Always more.

Power: The president of the United States is reputedly the most powerful person in the world. What additional power would he expect to get by supporting a hostile foreign power against his own country? His party controls both houses of Congress already. He knows that cozying up to Vladimir Putin is worrisome or worse to even many Republican members of Congress who are otherwise slavering all over him to prove their loyalty (that he appears to value above all else, including competence). Yet, to borrow a contemporary meme, he persists. The power explanation rings true somewhat, especially when combined with the Money/Avarice option. It may be that my list oversimplifies a multi-element explanation. The answer may be a combination of personality disorder/willful ignorance/grasping for more personal and family wealth and power. Could be. But there is at least one other choice.

Blackmail: Since the disclosure of the Steele dossier (see https://bit.ly/2nFuZn4), rumors and stories have continued to surface about Trump being a Russian asset or at least subject to blackmail related either to personal misconduct in Russia or corrupt business dealings there. These views have gained new momentum in the wake of Trump’s bending the knee to Putin in Helsinki. There is no known way at the moment to verify this, although one hopes that the Mueller investigation is looking very deeply into the web of Trump-Russia connections and Trump’s inexplicable fondness for a historically hostile power. The extraordinary detail in the indictment of the 12 Russian hackers is an indication of the sophistication and thoroughness of U.S. counterintelligence expertise when aggressively applied in the hunt for traitors and their enablers.

Bottom Line: Spoiler alert: anticlimax coming.

I suspect that the awful reality is that, as suggested above, the explanation for Trump’s conduct toward Russia and Putin has multiple sources. Treason, especially by a president, is so serious that we must not yield to the temptation to believe in the simplest “explanation,” an “obvious” single cause.

Avoiding impatience is also important. Having conducted a corruption investigation early in my career, involving confidential “inside” sources, a conspiracy among multiple parties, some with “stellar reputations,” and serious efforts by numerous parties to hide the truth, I can attest to the importance of letting the painstaking, often tedious, investigative work proceed to whatever conclusion it will reach. The demands of Trump’s Republican enablers in Congress and elsewhere to “end the investigation” because it “has produced no evidence of collusion” are simply partisan and delusional wishful thinking. They have no idea what information is building inside the Mueller investigation and will not know, as we will not, until Mueller decides to conclude his work and report his findings.

The Sidestep — Trump’s New National Anthem

No need to worry about anyone taking a knee over Trump’s new national anthem. After witnessing Trump’s humiliation of himself and his country during the Appeasement Summit with Putin in Helsinki and the subsequent pathetic attempts to change what he said there, and his departure from the “non mea culpa” [not my fault] statement written for him by his staff, resulting in a “walk back” of the “walk back,” every coherent person anywhere in the world will acknowledge how perfectly this new anthem fits him.

It’s from the movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and is sung by the Texas governor who has been asked what he’s going to do about the Chicken Ranch, a whorehouse thriving in his state and which he had patronized himself on more than one occasion. Here is how it goes (for brevity, only one chorus fully spelled out):

“Fellow Texans, I am proudly standing here to humbly say.
I assure you, and I mean it- Now, who says I don’t speak out as plain as day?
And, fellow Texans, I’m for progress and the flag- long may it fly.
I’m a poor boy, come to greatness. So, it follows that I cannot tell a lie.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

Now my good friends, it behooves me to be solemn and declare,
I’m for goodness and for profit and for living clean and saying daily prayer.
And now, my good friends, you can sleep nights, I’ll continue to stand tall.
You can trust me, for I promise, I shall keep a watchful eye upon ya’ll…

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
….

Now, Miss Mona, I don’t know her, though I’ve heard the name, oh yes.
But, of course I’ve no close contact, so what she is doing I can only guess.
And now, Miss Mona, she’s a blemish on the face of that good town.
I am taking certain steps here, someone somewhere’s gonna have to close her down.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
….

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep…

And, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step…

Cut a little swathe and lead the people on.”

https://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/bestlittlewhorehouseintexasthe/thesidestep.htm

Mueller’s Indictment of Russia Hackers — Updated

In the original post, I reported that paragraph 43(a) of the Mueller Russian hacking indictment stated that a “candidate for the U.S. Congress” asked for, and received, stolen emails from the Russia hackers posing as Gucifer 2.0. The information related to the candidate’s opponent.

There is related news. The Palmer Report has stated that the Congressman in question is likely to be Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). https://bit.ly/2NPvWVX The basis for the report is that Rod Rosenstein had advised Trump in advance that the Mueller Russian hacking indictments were imminent and had identified to Trump the Congressman referred to in paragraph 43(a). Apparently concerned about the fate of the Congressman, given his involvement in using the stolen materials from the Russia hack, Trump issued a tweet out of the blue while on his overseas trip:

“Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida is one of the finest and most talented people in Congress. Strong on Crime, the Border, Illegal Immigration, the 2nd Amendment, our great Military & Vets, Matt worked tirelessly on helping to get our Massive Tax Cuts. He has my Full Endorsement!”

Why Gaetz? Palmer Report suggests it’s because Gaetz is close to Roger Stone who has admitted that he, Stone, is the unnamed Trump associate mentioned in the indictment. Prior to the disclosure of the indictments, Gaetz was all over the news for months, complaining that the Mueller investigation was biased. No wonder Trump likes him.

Back on June 14 Politico reported that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was among the chorus of Republicans wetting themselves (I said that, not Politico) over the Justice Department’s inspector general report about FBI agent Strozk, saying:

“It is smoking-gun evidence that the Mueller probe is built on a rotten foundation,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a freshman lawmaker on the House Judiciary Committee who has also earned Trump’s praise for his criticism of the Russia inquiry.”

https://politi.co/2uwkohy

Curiously, though, I can find no indication that Gaetz has had anything to say since the indictments were released and Trump effectively outed him. There is nothing on his official congressional website.

There is some element of speculation in all this but it is mighty curious that Trump would suddenly rush to Gaetz’s defense when no one else but Mueller/Rosenstein knew Gaetz was the Congressman mentioned in the indictment.

So, the plot thickens. And the Republican enablers of Trump’s treasonous conduct continue to berate the investigators.  None of those Republicans can answer the question: if Trump is guilty, what difference does it make that some of the investigators that collected the evidence were opposed to his presidency? Their logic is that it is only important that he’s guilty if he’s exposed by evidence collected by people who have no opinion on whether he is, or even might be, guilty. The thing is that people with no functioning minds are not very good at collecting evidence.

 

 

 

 

 

Mueller’s Indictment of Russia Hackers

I have plowed through the entirety of the indictment, which is full of details about the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Campaign Committee and related bodies. I only have a few observations to offer.

First, the indictment makes clear beyond a doubt both the sophistication of the U.S. intelligence apparatus in discovering these remarkable details about the hacking operation. It also explains in part why the Mueller investigation is taking so long. An extraordinary amount of work must lie behind the allegations in the indictment.

Second, the indictment has no direct bearing on the issue that Trump and his enablers are so obsessed about – to wit, the issue of collusion. As a result, the assertions of the Republican National Committee and other Trump sycophants that it is now “clear” that there was no collusion by the Trump campaign is preposterous on its face. These repeated claims of innocence are candy for his base, but Trump shows every sign of someone deeply guilty of serious crimes.

Third, the indictment contains a remarkable statement in paragraph 43(a). I must have missed the reporting on it. It states that a “candidate for the U.S. Congress” asked for, and received, stolen emails from the Russia hackers posing as Gucifer 2.0. The information related to the candidate’s opponent. The indictment gives no hints whether this was a candidate for the House or the Senate, nor any other potentially identifying details. But, whoever it was, that person must be sweating bullets tonight. And deservedly so.

So, on this Friday the 13th, the scary stuff is over for now. But not for long. I suspect this is just one small part of the muck that Mueller’s people are exploring.

Pulling on the Right Rope – ACLU

We are coming up on a momentous event in the form of the 2018 midterm elections. They offer the real possibility of overturning the Republican control of Congress, and thus ending the subordination of Congress to the president and the return of the checks and balances that were expected by the Founders to prevail indefinitely.

The grand scheme of the Constitution was a tripartite balance of authority and power in which each of the three pillars of the republic — Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary – would interact is a way that prevented any one of the pillars from overpowering the others. The Founders were not, of course, expecting a situation to arise in which a single political party would gain control of all three branches of the federal government and in which the members of that party would place the interests of that party above the welfare of the country. But that’s what we have and it is that which threatens the continued existence of the democracy that makes the United States a country of unequaled achievement.

Of course, the journey of American democracy has not been straight and pure. We fought a bloody Civil War to end slavery, struggled to end Jim Crow, and struggled to establish racial equality and opportunity in education, voting, employment, human relations and all the rest. Then we elected an African American man to be president. Twice. Many of us thought we had, at long last, moved past our past. We were wrong. Trump’s ascendancy has exposed the ugly underbelly of the nation’s bigotry, fear and cruelty. You know the story or you wouldn’t be reading this.

So, what to do? We don’t want to fight another civil war. Obviously, everyone needs to vote and help someone else vote. I have harped on this repeatedly and I won’t repeat it here. Instead, I suggest an additional approach: look at this as an exercise in tug o’war.

On the other end of the rope is the Trump administration. We all await, with hope and apprehension, Special Prosecutor Mueller’s action on the core issue of Trump’s illegitimate election victory as a product of Russian interference in which Trump and his campaign actively conspired. There is also a large body of evidence that Trump has committed multiple “high crimes and misdemeanors” which would support his impeachment and removal from office.

None of that is going to be resolved by November and the pull on the other end of the rope is strong. Many Americans believe that Trump is an ideal executive, disregarding his serial lying, attacks on our allies and sucking up to dictators around the world. They seem to be untroubled by his attachment to Vladimir Putin and his amateurish, schoolyard bullying of private companies and foreign countries.

On our end of the rope, we have … the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU. Think about that name: Civil Liberties Union. Since its inception, preservation of civil liberties and enforcement of the Constitution have been the singular preoccupation of this group. Sometimes the ACLU defended the rights of genuinely and widely unpopular people or groups, but they persisted because they understood that if the rights of one are disregarded, the rights of all could be next. We simply cannot pick and choose who gets protected and who does not.

If you are like me and have at one time or another made a donation to some #RESISTANCE group, you are no doubt being bombarded by requests to sign petitions and, more importantly, to donate more. Many great organizations are doing important work to resist the Trump administration’s fear-based agenda. Common Cause comes to mind. And Everytown for Gun Safety. And many others. The question is: which rope are you going to pull on?

I suppose I am prejudiced in favor of an organization that directly and forcefully challenges the illegal conduct of the administration at every turn and that wins most of its cases. The ACLU has initiated or joined most of the major legal challenges to the Trump administration’s most outrageous acts and policies and has enjoyed amazing success.

The ACLU record is genuinely remarkable. As reported in a major article in the New York Times Magazine on July 8, in the 15 months following the Trump election “victory,” ACLU membership increased by more than four times! A huge increase in funding followed, leading to the hiring of more lawyers for the 54 affiliated offices (1 in each state with 3 in California and one each in Washington, DC and Puerto Rico). But, the article notes, there are 11,000 lawyers in the Justice Department.

Since Trump’s oath of office, the ACLU has initiated 170 Trump-related actions, including 83 lawsuits. The additional resources have enabled ACLU to start two new advocacy organizations: PeoplePower.org and Let People Vote. With the new threat to the independence of the Supreme Court, the ACLU will face even more challenges.

Therefore, I make this appeal: yes, support all political and charitable organizations whose values align with yours, but also make an additional contribution to the ACLU. ACLU enlists the aid of the third and most independent branch of government, the Judiciary, to fight the incompetence and cruelty demonstrated repeatedly by the Trump administration. So far, the administration has accepted judicial decisions as binding. If that changes, we will have entered a new and perhaps final battle for the salvation of the American democracy. Until then, and, hopefully, that day never comes, the ACLU’s direct legal actions may be the last best hope for effectively resisting the Trump administration until we can remove him from office.

 

 

Good News & Bad News in Hawaii

Good News & Bad News in Hawaii

No, this not about the volcano, but it is about the environment. The bad news, of course, is that the coral reefs are being destroyed all over the world by, among other things, a process called “bleaching.” According to the National Ocean Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. Department of Commerce:

When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white…. When a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality. [A scientists way of describing “likely to die”]

In 2005, the U.S. lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in one year due to a massive bleaching event. The warm waters centered around the northern Antilles near the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico expanded southward. Comparison of satellite data from the previous 20 years confirmed that thermal stress from the 2005 event was greater than the previous 20 years combined.

Not all bleaching events are due to warm water.

In January 2010, cold water temperatures in the Florida Keys caused a coral bleaching event that resulted in some coral death. Water temperatures dropped 12.06 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the typical temperatures observed at this time of year. Researchers will evaluate if this cold-stress event will make corals more susceptible to disease in the same way that warmer waters impact corals. [That was 8 years ago – no update]

The NOS site also says: “If the stress-caused bleaching is not severe, coral have been known to recover. If the algae loss is prolonged and the stress continues, coral eventually dies.”

Quite.

Notwithstanding the optimistic views of NOS, the worldwide losses of coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, is progressing rapidly. Based on the best available climate change science, to depend on reversal of ocean water temperatures to save the corals is a fool’s errand. There are, however, other measures that can be taken and Hawaii has done so.

As reported in TravelMarketReport.com on July 5, https://bit.ly/2KYM2L6, Hawaii has banned, effective January 1, 2021, the use of two chemicals that contribute to coral bleaching. These obscure chemicals are used in many commercial sunscreens which, of course, are sold in huge quantities in Hawaii. One study found that, on average, more than 400 pounds of sunscreen a day fell on the reef at Hanauma Bay, an area on Oahu that attracts 2,600 snorklers a day. [Hanauma Bay shown in photo at top of post]

Not surprisingly, the legislation was opposed by the makers of commercial sunscreen. https://nyti.ms/2rdFsbR We can only hope that Hawaii’s model of aggressively protecting its reefs will spread rapidly to other states and countries. The oceans are getting warmer, notwithstanding the denials of the Republican science-deniers, and all the reefs are at risk.

While on the subject of Hawaii, I cannot resist the temptation to show a few of my favorite photos from some of the islands.These are typical of what you can see there.

Is a Non-Violent Solution to Trump Feasible?

Another outrage, another march. This time – Families Together. I marched again, from Foley Square in Lower Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge (yes, that one).  We dispersed quietly on the other side of the bridge and took the subway home.

The closest I can come to describing the feel of it is that it was like sitting through a baseball game in August, losing 1-0 at the end and slinking out of the stadium, exhausted and enervated by the heat and the futility and the sense of loss. The crowd was in a mixed mood, with the usual chanting but also some anger in the tone. At the same time everyone was buoyed up, cheering loudly, when cars would pass on the adjacent roadway, horns blasting and fists pumping out of windows in solidarity with the marchers. One or two gave us the finger; favor returned.

More to the point, at one spot on the bridge a young man was handing out slips of paper headed “STOP I.C.E. DEPORTATIONS,” The paper went on, “Starting now, we will be occupying space and interfering with deportations, not with court hearings or release of immigrants.” It includes the hashtag #OccupyICENYC,” among others. The Instagram account of that name, like many other social media sites, is a verbal battleground between those who see ICE as a military-type deportation force “following orders” from the Great Leader (recalling Nazi Germany) and people who appear to be terrified that the United States is being overrun by crazed hordes of lawbreakers and who support most forms of abuse of “lawbreakers,” regardless of their personal situation (fleeing MS-13, for example). Passions over these issues are running high and seem to be escalating as the “Abolish ICE” theme gained a foothold among the protesters and became a major point of counterattack by Trump’s supporters.

I was reminded of a scene from the late 1960s, during one of the largest of the protest marches against the Vietnam War. We were moving along on the National Mall, tens of thousands strong, when there appeared a small group of rough looking young men carrying Viet Cong flags and screaming at the protesters as they ran by “you’ll never end the war that way – come with us!”

The effort to recruit the protesters in a more aggressive posture failed at the time, although throughout the war protest period there were major incidents of violence inspired by the hatred and fear of what the United States was doing in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. For the most part the protesters believed that peaceful resistance was, in the long run, the only effective means of pressuring the government to change course. The conflict and passions ran deep, dividing families, neighbors and congregations.

In the end, the protests, I believe, had a lot to do with changing the “public mind” about the war, helped along by journalists who risked, and sometimes gave, their lives to reveal the lies the government was telling about body counts, strategy and pretty much everything about the war. In the end, the U.S. “strategy” became untenable. The United States, for the first time, was defeated.

The Trump administration, like the Nixon one, has the strong support of perhaps 30 to 40 percent of the voting population. Those people appear not to care that the President of the United States is a serial liar, corrupt to the core. He continues to feed on their ignorance. As Trump and his enablers in Congress and state governments work to strip social and economic support from the population while, like Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, continuing to enrich themselves, Trump’s supporters stick with him because of single issues that are at the core of their belief-systems. Issues like abortion. They are so sure that it is right for the government to intervene in the personal lives of women that they will accept any form of degradation to roll back the right to abortion. Their anger, fear and ignorance are so profound that they do not grasp the significance of the changes Trump is making to our government.

Trump, with his enablers at Fox News, Breitbart and other right-wing fantasy-news shows, continues to escalate the rhetoric, conspiracy theories and outright lies. His tweets are more personal and strident than ever. He attacks and threatens American companies that react unfavorably to his trade policies. He directly threatens long-standing U.S. allies with “you will do as I want or else.” I don’t believe any other president in American history has behaved this way. It sounds more like Adolf Hitler demonizing segments of German society than an elected leader of a democracy.

In discussions with conservative friends over the years, I have asked a hard question but never received a good response: how long do you suppose the American underclasses are going to accept the tilting of the economic and political system against them before they say “enough” and rise to challenge those who are oppressing them? No one seemed ever to believe such a thing is possible here in the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave.

The usual response was a form of whataboutism that I did not recognize as such at the time: if you work hard, you can get ahead; if not, too bad. My family came here legally so why should we let people who came here illegally become citizens? It’s our country — love it or leave it. And so on. Similar responses to those from Trump supporters. Don’t care what is happening to “them;” they’re not “us,” so to hell with them. Beneath Trump’s adoring masses are racism and xenophobia that we, foolishly, thought had finally been vanquished when Barack Obama was twice elected President.

Let me be clear that I do not believe violence is a workable response to the Trump despotism. My concern is that as Trump’s moral depravity, selfishness and egomania continue to degrade political discourse and threaten democratic institutions, including the right to equal counting of votes in elections, while he conspires with foreign powers hostile to the American way of life, we are going to cross a line of intolerance from which violent responses will seem to many the only viable response remaining. People in the right-wing already are talking of violent responses to any attempt to remove Trump from office, regardless of the evidence against him. ICE is arresting protesters, including elected officials, for purported interference with its deportation program that has, with direction and overt approval from the highest stations in the Trump administration, ripped apart families and shredded the oath of office he took to support the Constitution. Trump has overtly called for government coercive actions against people that will bypass the court system and ignore the clear mandates of the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.

Trump’s history as a corporate mogul is well documented. His behavior has been that of a bully who ordered underlings around at his whim, cheated many people and bankrupted many companies. It is therefore hardly surprising that a man who does not read, has no patience with facts that complicate his personal advancement and who has behaved with astonishing cruelty toward disabled people, women and non-whites, citizen and non-citizen alike, would behave like an ignorant bully in public life, catering only to those who show total obeisance to him. It seems entirely plausible that such a person would stop at nothing, including conspiring with enemies of the United States, to achieve his personal ambitions. It has happened elsewhere, and as many thoughtful scholars have documented, it can happen here.

As Trump’s conduct continues to degrade the office of the President, to undermine relations with important foreign allies, and to threaten the ability of the American political system to hold him accountable, the question lingers:  how long will this go on before desperation takes hold and desperate measures are taken? Even the Women’s March is growing impatient, as shown by this tweet: “Like we’ve been saying: marching is not enough. It’s time for direct action. It’s time to disobey. #WomenDisobey” The tweet referenced an opinion piece in the Guardian to the same effect. https://bit.ly/2KNvN3D

There is no clear answer to my question, I suppose. The question is, as it has always been, too hard. I believe that there is one, and probably only one, ray of hope that can forestall our descent into violent resistance: the elections of 2018. If you have read my posts before, you have no doubt seen my pleas regarding the importance of getting out the vote. As I reflect on our troubled past as a nation, not perfect but far from the worst, it seems to me that the election, the precious irreplaceable right, and obligation, to vote is the only path to salvation as a free democratic country.

In practice, however, it is not enough to just vote. The Trumpers are alarmed and engaged about the threat to their hero and they will be aggressive in voting too. And, of course, there are the numerous, documented cases in which legitimate voters have been rejected for various reasons at polling places around the country, particularly in red states. What is needed, I suggest, is for every voter in contestable precincts to take responsibility to (1) have all eligible members of the family registered to vote in November, (2) create an ironclad plan for how the family will get to the polls, and (3) identify one or more other people who may need help getting to the polls or actually voting and do what is necessary to get them there. Your country, your freedom is at stake here. One-party control of the government must be ended and this is the only way to do it.

For those interested, I have posted photographs from the New York City Families Together March in a separate post below this one.

Families Together March

The blog post that will shortly follow the posting of these photographs says all that I have to say about the march and the issues it raised. This is heavy stuff for the July 4 day of celebration but I think the times require a more serious reflection on what our independence means and what it requires us to do.

As Benjamin Franklin was leaving Independence Hall at the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he was asked: “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or a Monarchy? HIs answer: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”