ICYMI – Part 4

In keeping with the Trump ethnic cleansing policy, the administration announced that all “foreign” college students whose schools are planning purely online instruction for the next school year must leave the United States. https://nyti.ms/2ZOCb33 Trump and neo-Nazi Stephen Miller will stop at nothing to remove as many non-white people as possible from the United States.

The full impact on the students and schools is not known because not all colleges have firmed up plans re online versus attended classes. However, “vocational program students and English language training program students will not be allowed to take any classes online” so those students’ access to US higher education is effectively being terminated. The revenue streams from those students (potentially numbering hundreds of thousands) will, of course, also be lost to higher education. Since Trump’s “education” was a complete waste, he apparently doesn’t care what happens to American colleges and universities as long as he can strike a blow for an all-white America.

BUT Harvard and MIT are not taking this lying down. They have sued to block the action. https://cnn.it/2Co23uQ and have been joined by other universities.

UPDATE: For reasons not made clear, in less than one week, the Trump administration, aka the Katzenjammer Kids and/or the Keystone Kops, reversed its decision to force foreign students to leave or be deported. https://cnn.it/2CPyFxL But stay tuned. The neo-Nazis advising Trump are not deterred.

Trump’s Storm Troopers descended on Portland OR wearing camo outfits with no outward identification and used flash-bang grenades and tear gas to facilitate “arrests” of peaceful protestors without charges or Miranda warnings, using unmarked vans and generally behaving like the Stasi, the feared secret police force in communist East Germany. This “federal help” was imposed over objections from Oregon’s governor and Portland’s mayor and, on the face of it, seem to have made the conflict on the streets of Portland worse rather than better. Trump is promising to send more such “help” to various cities he has deemed unable to defend themselves against protestors demanding more just policing and removal of racist statues and symbols from public view.

Trump seeks to strangle COVID testing programs by withholding funds because the surge in infections and deaths is, he rightly believes, imperiling his chances for re-election. His personal political goal is more important to him than the health of the people he took an oath to protect. Following what we hope will be his overwhelming defeat in November, Trump may well face charges of crimes against humanity, among other offenses committed during his term.

Trump has suggested he will not accept any election outcome in which he is not the winner. He was squarely asked more than once in a Fox interview and said, “I’ll have to see.” Meanwhile, he continues to complain that any form of voting except in-person will result in a rigged election. That, despite his own use of mail-in ballots and their use by multiple states with no evidence of meaningful fraud issues. The Post Office, whose funding Trump also wants to cut, will surely face challenges in handling the increase in mail traffic but given the past decline in postal use due to electronic communications, it seems implausible that this is an issue that can’t be resolved within the months before the election. Unless, of course, Trump doesn’t want to solve it but wants to cripple the agency responsible for mail ballot transmission to bring about the very problem about which he claims to be so concerned.

Despite Florida’s attempt to doctor the data, COVID cases and deaths continued to spike there and through most of the states outside the northeast. https://tmsnrt.rs/3eKvmVP Trump, however, using his customary word-salad, continued to claim that the virus will soon just disappear:

“We have embers and we do have flames. Florida became more flame-like, but it’s – it’s going to be under control.”

Trump on “Fox News Sunday” repeated his assertion that the virus would eventually disappear.

“I’ll be right eventually,” he said. “It’s going to disappear and I’ll be right.”

https://reut.rs/30x0OBB

It is well known and widely discussed by many people that Trump is always right. Many people. Bigly. A grateful nation must appreciate these reassuring words from their leader. (thick sarcasm for those who don’t recognize it).

In the least important news, Kanye West, who had previously announced he was running for president, then announced he had suspended his campaign, has now apparently decided, in his best imitation of a human pinball machine, he is running after all. He has missed qualifying on many state ballots and the entire enterprise seems like a sick joke that is not remotely funny. Despite his manifest lack of qualifications, even more so than Donald Trump, West has a large, and like Trump, inexplicable following of people who would actual waste their votes on him. Some of us don’t even think he’s a decent musician, and he certainly cannot do anything but muck up an already problematic campaign situation for the nation’s highest office. It is equally inexplicable that news media think this is a newsworthy story and continue to provide oxygen for what should be ignored.

In multiple disturbing videos, the New York City Police Department is shown to have used unreasonable and unnecessary violent force against protesters in the recent demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd. Be advised that the videos in this New York Times report are extremely violent: https://nyti.ms/39bNNBs NYPD says it used restraint, which is ludicrous gaslighting in the reality shown in the video.

Equally disturbing video shows an individual painting black paint over the Black Lives Matter street mural that was placed on 5th Avenue by the city in front of Trump Tower. NYPD officers purport to be trying to stop her but this one woman is somehow, while crawling on all fours, able to manhandle the officers and continue what the defacement. https://bit.ly/39cMIJK  Later she posted this message on Twitter stating that she was treated “like royalty” by the police who actually approved of what she was doing and thus it may be concluded that their faux “arrest” was just for show. https://bit.ly/3jnlp43 The city has some explaining to do.

 

ICYMI – Part 3

Such a cornucopia of Trumpian gems, it’s hard to choose.

Ignoring the ongoing slaughter of Americans at the hands of COVID-19, Trump has decided that the path to his re-election requires doubling-down on racially divisive themes of grievance. This will motivate his diminishing political base but seems destined to alienate many former supporters and entire classes of ethnic voting groups. https://wapo.st/3f6LG4f: “Never in our lifetimes has the Independence Day holiday been used for such divisive and personal ends.”

In a stunning move against the environment, the Democrat-led House Armed Services Committee voted to yield 800,000 acres (one-half) of southern Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the Air Force for training activities at the already enormous Nellis Air Force Base (more than 3.2 million acres of land next to the refuge). Less surprisingly, the move was led by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who thinks it a good idea to convert public lands to private use. https://bit.ly/2VUE1yp The move is consistent with the Trump administration policy of repurposing national parkland and other natural treasures for commercial exploitation. Until, to repurpose the great line from Kismet, “no one but me is left.”

Coronavirus infections set a new record on Independence Day, with the 7-day rolling average at a new high for the 27th day in a row, testimony to the gross mismanagement of the crisis by the Trump administration. https://wapo.st/2O6OBhb Indeed, Trump seems to have thrown in the towel to the virus and moved on to other issues, mainly centered on retaining racially motivated monuments. Republican-led states whose governors accepted/adopted Trump’s phantasmagorical thinking about the imminent disappearance of the virus are now backtracking on premature re-openings and “do your own thing” policies on masking and social distancing.

Trump is holding up funding for the military (that he claims to love) – a  $740 billion defense authorization bill — to stop the renaming of Army bases named after Confederate generals. https://wapo.st/2ZJLSQd The president has now firmly and openly aligned himself and the Republican Party with the white supremacy element of American society.

In perhaps the most ludicrous act of his bizarre presidency thus far, Trump signed an executive order calling for creation of a national monument park to contain new statues of the “greatest Americans to ever live.” If the list didn’t reflect the insane thinking of the Trump administration, it would make a great comedy skit. Defending against what he called an “assault on our collective national memory,” Trump named Billy Graham, Davey Crockett, Antonin Scalia, Daniel Boone and, wait for it, Audie Murphy. Excluded were Democratic presidents – so no Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson – Native Americans (no “heroes” there – we killed them all; Trump doesn’t like dead people, even though he’s responsible for killing some 130,000 so far). General George Patton was ‘in’ but Dwight Eisenhower was not. You can see the full list here: https://wapo.st/38Cnh43

After much struggle, the Trump Administration finally gave the SBA permission to disclose the recipients of at least the largest loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. https://wapo.st/2ZJqLO4 Not surprisingly, ethical considerations appear to have had no role in the decision-making. Thus, significant loan money was given to businesses owned by or closely connected with members of Congress, Trump’s personal lawyers, tenants of Trump’s real estate company, as well as,

private schools catering to elite clientele, firms owned by foreign companies and large chains backed by well-heeled Wall Street firms. Nearly 90,000 companies in the program took the aid without promising on their applications they would rehire workers or create jobs.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s (wife of #MoscowMitch, Republican Senate Majority Leader) family’s shipping business was a beneficiary. And many others too numerous to mention separately. One must wonder, of course, how much of the Trump tenants’ relief money will end up in Trump’s pocket as rent. Grifting by Trump and his Republican enablers is nothing new, certainly. In keeping with established practice,  Yeezy, owned by Trump sycophant and supremely wealthy alleged musician Kanye West, was awarded between $2 million and $5 million. https://bit.ly/300UMcz

Of course, the program was intended to help workers stay off unemployment, but there are some real curiosities in that regard. Among recipients, for example,

48,922 reported zero as the number of jobs they would retain with the money, and 40,506 applicants appeared to leave that section blank. It appeared that 10 other companies received between $5 million and $10 million but reported retaining only one job with the money they received.

Also curiously, the SBA ordered affiliates of Planned Parenthood, a favorite target of Trumppublican “pro-lifers,” to return their loans.

And so it goes. More gems soon.

ICYMI – Part 2

In the most stunning revelations to date regarding Trump’s unfitness for office, see this must-read article by Carl Bernstein of Watergate reporting fame: From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump’s phone calls alarm US officials https://cnn.it/2NQ1CeU I won’t do spoilers here. You really need to read this one.

Trump was elected with Russian help and wants more of it. It’s therefore no surprise that the Republican-controlled Senate strips provision from intelligence bill requiring campaigns to report foreign election help https://cnn.it/3dRpZn2 Republicans forced the removal in order to include the intelligence bill in the “must pass” defense policy legislation, another clear indication that Republicans will sacrifice anything to re-elect Trump, including the nation’s defense.

In a move as rare as discovering life on another planet, it appears that a Trump nominee to head the imperiled Consumer Product Safety Commission is too in-the-pocket of the chemical industry even for a few, very few, Republicans. The nominee is reportedly a “former chemical industry lobbyist named to a high-level post at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump” who “has been rewriting chemical safety rules to make them less protective of consumers and more friendly to businesses.” Seems like she’s right up the Republicans’ alley of indifference (at best) to the environment but the nomination may not make it out of committee. https://bit.ly/2D0IEAl  Go figure. Maybe they have a “better” nominee lined up in the shadows.

In the “no surprise to anyone paying attention” category, we are reminded yet again that the president of the United States does not read the President’s Daily Briefing Book, a departure from practice going back at least seven administrations. https://wapo.st/2C1yleD The same story reports that oral briefings are often limited because the president doesn’t want to hear certain information that conflicts with his personal agenda, particularly matters involving Russia. Do we have a traitor sitting at the head of our government? Or just a fragile, incompetent, egomaniacal man-child who thinks he’s a king?

Trump’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis has left the U.S. in a condition of economic peril, notwithstanding Trump’s endless excitement (on the up-days) about the stock market. The stock market marches to a different drummer, often going up when the health news is the worst, as it is now. You need look no further than the European Union’s decision to bar Americans when it reopened today. https://bit.ly/2NKL4VE The United States’ banishment is shared by the likes of Russia and Brazil. Another “well done” for the Trump administration whose leader only today repeated his earlier claim that the virus would just “disappear” one of these fine days. https://wapo.st/2NLZDbB

If you want a good shorthand picture of why the U.S. is in such COVID trouble, look at Bloomberg.com, specifically at this article: https://bloom.bg/31yBr4y  which shows the problem graphically in five charts.

ICYMI-Part 1

You are likely familiar with the abbreviation in the title of this post. My own good intentions of keeping up with, and writing cogent interesting posts about, the major news stories of the day have come to naught. The insanity is coming so fast and furious that I can’t keep up. I start dozens of posts that never get finished because a flood of new material arrives almost continuously. I spend obscene amounts of time reading the news from multiple sources, most of which is unpleasant or worse.

I have therefore decided to start “ICYMI,” which will contain abbreviated commentaries on some of the news that catches my attention. The posts won’t be in any particular order, but roughly will appear in reverse chronology, starting with the most recent and working backwards in time as best I can manage. The reason for this is that November is coming and as we move further away from, say, March, we simply lose memory of many of the insane things that, for example, Donald Trump has said or done. Since his corrupt and incompetent administration of the nation’s affairs dominates most news cycles, it will dominate ICYMI as well. But, first, a few preliminary thoughts:

November presents the last chance to save the United States and our quasi-democracy from final political, cultural and social destruction by Trump and his Republican enablers. Therefore, as we get closer to the election, I will be reminding everyone of events they have likely forgotten. It is also true, of course, that the onslaught of insane news will continue and perhaps worsen, so most posts in this series will include both contemporary and gems-from-the-past. I will continue to write longer “single topic” posts as time permits.

It is vital that we never forget who Donald Trump really is. He started with a large financial gift and made money in real estate. Not too difficult and certainly no innovation (a la, Steve Jobs). The evidence over the years is that he hung with people like Jeffrey Epstein, cheated vendors to enhance corruptly his own wealth and managed to bankrupt a range of businesses. That did not stop Trump from having his own TV show on which his schtick was to fire people. Show ‘em who’s boss. Always.

Factcheck.org reports,

President Donald Trump’s namesake charitable foundation agreed to cease operations in late 2018 as part of an agreement with New York’s attorney general, who alleged that the nonprofit organization was improperly leveraged to further Trump’s business and political interests. A November court order resolved the lawsuit, and Trump ultimately paid a total of $2 million in damages to eight charities, which also received equal portions of the foundation’s remaining $1.8 million.

[https://www.factcheck.org/2019/12/social-posts-distort-facts-on-trump-charities/]

The settlement also required Trump’s children to undergo “training” relating to charitable organizations. Very trustworthy, that bunch.

THAT is who Trump and his family are.

The Blue Wave must be overwhelming on November 3. I see that many polls indicate Biden is leading Trump by substantial margins, but polls are fickle things. Many polls had Hillary Clinton winning handily, and we know how that turned out. All that matters in the end is that every possible Democratic vote is in fact cast – for Biden and for the down-ticket Democrats who can restore a Democratic majority to both Houses of Congress. Only then can the process of healing, reconciliation and progress resume. If we fail at this, Trump will be unconstrained for his final four years. American democracy will then succumb to a stacked Supreme Court, stacked federal judiciary and corrupt Congress that will stop at nothing to establish the Republican Party’s long-sought theocracy/autocracy.

Because of the polls and their Trump-supported and promoted collection of grievances, Trump’s troops (now officially called the Trump Army—think about that) have an increased sense of threat and will almost certainly turn out in huge numbers to try to save him. Little is to be gained by trying to understand why they continue to support him. Theories are plentiful. The only important take-away is that the Democratic vote, possibly assisted by rational Republicans who have finally seen enough of Trump, is maximized. Hopefully, reading ICYMI will stimulate readers to promote, and actively assist, voting among trusted family, friends, colleagues and strangers in November. We’re going to need every one of them.

So, ICYMI ….

Trump uses Twitter to promote racist messages: he retweeted a video of supporters rallying in golf carts in Florida (of course) one of whom yelled “white power.” Trump called his supporters “great people.” https://wapo.st/3dMCfVY Remember the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville: “fine people on both sides.” Sometimes I wonder if Trump has a KuKluxKlan robe in his closet.

Climate change is worsening despite the pandemic’s favorable impact on some pressure points. https://wapo.st/3icwZyh Trump’s presidency has reinforced the decline by “rejecting international pacts, gutting national environmental protections and regulations, and sidelining and censoring its own climate researchers and scientists.” The Republican Party’s nominal “pro life” stance actually just refers to birth; after that, they could care less if you die a horrible death as the planet suffocates.

In a non-shocking revelation, studies show that watching Fox News had a negative effect on viewers’ beliefs about the lethality of COVID-19. https://wapo.st/31toSHK

A Trump campaign spokesman equated protests over the murder of George Floyd and other non-white people by police with attendance at a Trump rally: “We don’t recall the media shaming demonstrators about social distancing — in fact the media were cheering them on.”  https://wapo.st/2VrBgUL Campaign staff removed stickers from seats that were placed by building management to induce social distancing. Trump will stop at nothing to promote himself and his message that COVID-19 is not a serious problem.

States that opened too quickly and, following Trump’s lead, with little regard to the scientific and medical advice of experts are experiencing large increases in COVID cases and in states have been forced to reverse their reopening plans.

In his continuing effort to lower standards of performance in the federal government, Trump signed an executive order directing the government to develop non-degree-based evaluation procedures, citing alleged “credential inflation.” https://bit.ly/3ig7HiQ The new system provides for something called “skills- and competency-based hiring,” though it is characteristically vague on how this will work and how safeguards will prevent gaming such a regime to exclude minority and other workers who may not be “favored” by the regime. The EO effectively equates a college education/master’s degree as just a “piece of paper,” an apparent reflection on the quality of the education received by Trump himself.

An online set of intriguing suggestions for constructive social changes can be seen at https://bit.ly/2BptvrR I cite it not to endorse all those ideas, but to help jump start thinking about these issues. This time around needs to be better, much better, than the last time. Removing Trump in November will not solve the core problems affecting this country. Creative actions are required, and we can learn a lot from the way some other countries approach similar issues. America’s favored moral codes based on right/wrong and guilt/punishment are not the only ways to manage behavior.

From the Covid Act Now Daily Download:

The Houston Chronicle reported that this past weekend Texas Medical Center hospitals stopped updating key metrics, and, when the charts came back online, eight of the 17 original slides had been deleted — including any reference to hospital capacity or projections of future capacity. The institutions — which together constitute the world’s largest medical complex — reported Thursday that their base intensive care capacity had hit 100 percent for the first time during the pandemic and was on pace to exceed an “unsustainable surge capacity” of intensive care beds by July 6

Well done, Texas, well done.

A selection of headlines from yesterday’s Washington Post:

With Trump leading the way, America’s coronavirus failures exposed by record surge in new infections

Texas, Arizona face record coronavirus hospitalizations as U.S. cases near 2.5 million

Russian operation targeted coalition troops in Afghanistan, intelligence finds

###

Outrage Without Power is Useless

I have been seeing a number of social media posts in which people are venting their more-than-justifiable outrage at recent events of which George Floyd’s murder is probably the worst but far from the only case. It’s the worst because of the apparent quiet deliberation with which his execution was accomplished. Many of those posts are directed at the political process that has failed to address systemic racism and that led to the election of Donald Trump. Frustration is widespread, along with anger, despair and related emotions. The country-wide protests are just one manifestation.

There has also been considerable violence, much of it inflicted by police officers who are supposed to protect and defend the people  in the exercise of their constitutional privilege of free speech. We have seen many videos of police protectively escorting armed men and other almost-all-white people screaming about their “right” to refuse to wear masks for public health There have been a few videos of police aligning themselves with the protesters, to be sure, but the majority, based on my unscientific review, involve police engaged in unnecessary and unprovoked attacks on peaceful protesters.

There are also videos of violence perpetrated by mostly unknown people against businesses and police, some apparently just angry random acts and others designed to take advantage of the protest chaos to destroy property and steal whatever was at hand. In my view these acts are unjustifiable by any standard, even as we recognize the anger and pain of witnessing “official violence” over and over again. Violence begets violence and hate begets hate. In the end it doesn’t lead anywhere good for anyone and provides a convenient excuse for people to reject the awful realities that led to the protests.

Most people of good will are united in the belief that Donald Trump is the worst president in America history. The number of white people, of all ages, who have joined the protests has shocked the country. But there are intimations that the outrage and sadness experienced by Black people and now also by an apparent majority of white people may be directed at targets that will not contribute to meaningful solutions. Examples include statements to the effect that “if Joe Biden doesn’t pick XYZ as his VP, I am sitting out the election” and “if Biden doesn’t aggressively support policies A,B and C that were proposed by Bernie Sanders, I’m voting for the Green Party.” There are many variations and references to the outrage felt by “my group” with intransigent statements of “my way or the highway.” Some of them say Joe Biden is just another old white guy and a traditional politician who is a member of the political elite that is responsible for the state of society now.

As another admittedly old white guy, I am deeply troubled by these statements. There is no doubt, none whatsoever, that our society has much to account for. Donald Trump, who is in my view evil incarnate, is not alone responsible for that debt but he is responsible for unleashing the reactionary forces that hold a fantasy view of the America of the past that they somehow believe was “better” than now and thus follow the “make America great again” trope that Trump has promoted. Readers of this blog know where I stand on Trump so I’m not going to belabor that here today.

My main point here is those people whose righteous anger, frustration and pain have stirred their passions to new heights must, if they want American society to improve in meaningful, systemic ways, focus that rage on the right targets. As it stands, our political system, for better or worse, is based on a two-party political system that makes it impossible for third-party candidates to win major elections. It is, I am certain, a truism of American political life that no third-party candidate has a chance to be president. No matter how appealing single-issue or narrowly focused their platforms may be, anyone who votes for them is, in net effect, voting for the re-election of Donald Trump. The mathematics of this are undeniable. If we’re going to begin the process of healing the country and moving forward with a more progressive agenda, the election of Joe Biden is absolutely critical.

I have engaged a number of people on social media platforms on this question. Most of them are immovable. They make statements like “it’s better to vote for a moral platform than the continuation of the politics that got us to this sorry state.” No doubt, a morally superior agenda is to be desired. Accepting, for example, that the Green New Deal is such a morally outstanding program of ideas (which I do, for the record), the fact remains that no Green New Deal candidate is going to be elected president. Anyone who votes for a GND candidate is enhancing the voting power of the Republican Party that supports Trump and assuring that the exact opposite of the principles the GND supports will prevail.

That simply cannot be the morally superior choice among the available options. I have also heard the “my voting for the GND will teach them a lesson, that they can’t ignore us and carry on as before.” Same response. The “lesson” isn’t going to teach anyone anything if Donald Trump is re-elected.

Fundamentally, while the choice of leader is extremely important, in reality it is equally important the chosen leader select exceptional people to staff the key components of the government. The people who surround and advise the president are as important as the president himself. The president’s value system will guide these choices that ultimately control how the government makes policy and otherwise goes about its business. The truth of this principle can be clearly seen throughout the history of the Trump administration. Many of his key advisors and cabinet choices were picked for entirely the wrong reasons, leading to unprecedented graft and corruption. Trump’s administration has had no fewer than 14 indictments of key players, including campaign staff and senior advisors. Multiple cabinet members have left office in disgrace for various offenses against the public good.

The election of a president elects a related value system, a set of judgments about who are the right people to lead the country. While the president has the final word, much of what a president does is effectively controlled by the advisors/cabinet that he selects. This is how the president “forms a government” that can function and deliver on policy commitments for the common good of the people. Under Trump, the “best people” became a sick joke, but moving past that, the reality is that only the “best people” can do the job and you only get the best people if the value system of the president is sound.

I am one of the growing number of citizens who believe the November election is “for all the marbles” insofar as the American idea of democracy is concerned. I accept without hesitation or equivocation that the United States has failed terribly to live up to its aspirations as set out in the Declaration of Independence and as manifested in the Constitution. There is plenty of disappointment to cite, plenty of falling-short of our ideals. The weaknesses of the constitutional structures established in the country’s early years are quite evident, but very hard to change. What makes the US and is citizens “exceptional” is not the purity of what has been achieved but the aspirations to which the majority of our people and institutions continue to adhere.

So, we are left with what we have. That reality is most troubling, but for now, it is the cards we have been dealt. It is, therefore, imperative that the anger, frustration and pain of recent and past events be directed at the real targets of opportunity. Only by acquiring political power can the justified outrage be translated into action that can produce real change. Without power, the outrage is useless. The forces arrayed against change, against justice, are strong because they are also passionate in their beliefs, however much we may deride them. They hold enough political power to impose their craven agenda on everyone. The constitutional system gives them disproportionate leverage. To defeat them requires a massive show of political will and political action by those who believe the present system is fundamentally broken.

Voting on the basis of a single issue-set is not good enough. The choice in the 2020 election is between two different value systems. To give but one example, one of those value systems defends arresting, separating and literally putting in cages thousands of children brought into the country illegally, many of whom will never see their parents again. That value system assigns blame and fault, which drive their actions regardless of the human consequences. The other value system says that approach is morally wrong, that whatever policy we follow regarding illegal immigration, there is no justification for this treatment of minor children. That’s just one of the value choices involved in this election.

Another one, larger in scope, is the value system that maintains that truth is relative and ultimately is whatever the people in power say it is. That value system prevailed in, among others, Nazi Germany. It rejects science in favor of ideology. It is the path to dehumanization and totalitarianism. It is happening here, now. That is the real meaning behind the slogan “fake news.”

To stop it requires a massive show of political will and political action by those who believe the present system is fundamentally broken. We must choose among the real choices we have, not the ones we would prefer. Only with the exercise of intelligent choice now, can we reach the place where we have better choices, not because we are more angry or frightened than others but because we have the power to make the changes we need.

That concludes today’s sermon. Believe.

The Flynn Case — Lying Sanctified by Court

I am not going to go on at length about this. By now, I hope those of you who watch the news about such things, are aware that the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has, in a 2-1 panel decision, intervened in a District Court judge’s consideration whether to permit the government to drop its prosecution of Michael Flynn for lying to the government.

Flynn admitted twice, I believe, under oath, that he had lied. The prosecution, under orders from Trump’s personal attorney/U.S. Attorney General William Barr, decided out of the blue that the government should not have been questioning Flynn in the first place and, therefore, his admitted lying was apparently unimportant.

The presiding judge, Emmet Sullivan, apparently thought, with justification, that something funny was going on and decided that, before granting the government’s motion to dismiss the prosecution, he would delve more deeply into what might be up. This, of course, sent the Trump administration into a delirious state and it sought a mandamus (a form of a court order, like an injunction, directed in this case to the District Court) from the Court of Appeals, thereby bypassing the problematic course of trying to get permission for an interlocutory appeal (normally one cannot appeal if the lower court has not entered a final order).

As forcefully noted by the dissenting opinion, the decision of the two judges in the majority effectively means there is zero chance for judicial oversight over dubious or corrupt decisions by prosecutors. In the Flynn case, there is good reason to believe that the decision to drop the prosecution was driven by the Attorney General who these days operates as if her Donald Trump’s personal attorney. Not least is the fact, as reported by Politico, that

Just before Barr’s decision to seek to abandon the case was revealed publicly, the Washington-based lawyer and Mueller office veteran who was the lead prosecutor on the case since its outset, Brandon Van Grack, formally withdrew in an apparent protest against the attorney general’s action. The other career prosecutor on the case, Jocelyn Ballantine, also declined to sign the motion.

https://politi.co/2YzNdtE

By granting the mandamus motion, the Court of Appeals took the extraordinary step of taking over the case and deciding it before the District Court had concluded its consideration and issued an opinion. This had the effect, clearly intended, of foreclosing any inquiry that might have revealed disturbing, to put it mildly, facts about the basis for the decision to end the prosecution.

But it’s not over until the last batter is out. Any judge on the Court of Appeals, including Judge Robert Wilkins who wrote the blistering dissent, can ask the full court to hear the case. Judge Sullivan, for reasons not clear, has put all dates on hold. This may signal his intention to seek an en banc consideration or something else. He could be planning to comply with the Circuit Court order but with an “opinion” on the case as he now views it. Time will tell.

Who Am I?

The current upheaval over the treatment of Black people in America has stimulated some troubling memories and questions for me. I’m sure I’m not alone.

First, some history. It’s usually good to start at the beginning. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. One of the local “jokes” was that Memphis was actually part of Mississippi. This meant that the “culture” of Memphis, particularly race-related, was more like Mississippi than Tennessee. Tennessee had actually been “two states” during the Civil War, with the eastern part, heavily mountainous and not connected to the cotton-focused agrarian economy of the Deep South, aligned with the “north.”

In Memphis, it was often said that “cotton is king.” Indeed, situated on the mighty Mississippi River, Memphis at that time was a major depot for shipping of cotton delivered mainly from points south. One of the highlights of life in those days was the Cotton Carnival, a huge citywide series of fancy-dress balls, a large parade, selection of a King and Queen and various princesses plus other events celebrating the cotton that sustained the local economy. The reality that the cotton-based economy had developed on the backs of Black slaves was not much mentioned or considered. It simply wasn’t “relevant.”

The history of the Cotton Carnival, started in 1931 and now called Carnival Memphis, can be seen at https://carnivalmemphis.org/carnival-history/ including a brief but revealing video montage of the Cotton Carnival parade and this strange photo:

At the time, I did not know the origin of the “cotton is king” mythology but, come to find out, it originated, not surprisingly, with a South Carolina pro-slavery politician (owned 300), James Henry Hammond, who made a speech in 1858, declaring that,

In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. … It constitutes the very mudsill of society …. You dare not make war on cotton — no power on earth dares make war upon it. Cotton is king.

https://bit.ly/3fKWzbG That, of course, turned out to be quite wrong a few years later. If you choose to read Hammond’s story in Wikipedia, brace yourself as he is reported to have been, among other things, a serial rapist, a fact that did not prevent his being elected to the U.S. Senate.

Most of the young boys I grew up with were overt racists. The n-word was used in normal conversation to refer to all Black people. These boys thought all Black people were ignorant, dirty, untrustworthy and dangerous. I seriously doubt, however, that any of them actually knew any Black people, except possibly in their role as maids or people who performed menial tasks for their parents. For reasons I still cannot explain, I was the odd- man-out in this racially problematic environment. This was partly because I did know two Black people, one a Black man who worked in my father’s carpet business and the other was Beanie, my grandmother’s maid/housekeeper/cook/attendant. Both of these people were naturally kind, among the best people I have ever known.

I am still bothered by an incident involving Beanie. When I returned to Memphis from college at Christmas holiday time my freshman year, it was expected that Beanie would prepare all my favorite foods for a true feast at my grandmother’s place. Beanie was an extraordinary cook. When it was time for Beanie finally to go home, I insisted on driving her. She reluctantly agreed but insisted on sitting in the back seat. When I pressed for an explanation, she said it would be trouble for her if she were seen in her neighborhood driving in the front seat with a white man. Such were the wages of our sins.

The hostility of whites to Black people, and Black people’s apparent acceptance of that reality, made no sense to me. As a non-practicing Jewish person, I was acutely aware of the oft-heard theme in my family and elsewhere that Jews were the subject of class discrimination, placing them below other white people but above Black people in the social/economic hierarchy. That discrimination didn’t make sense either and felt like a constant wounding. I could not understand what these considerations (being Black or Jewish) had to do with anything important, with what kind of person you were.

In any case, I think my personal interactions with Black people from a very early age likely shaped my thinking and left me “out” of the typical racial attitudes held by my friends. Whenever the subject came up, which was rare, and I asked, “why do you hate Negroes,” no one could ever answer coherently. They just did. They thought it was obvious why they should fear and hate them. And it was not a question they thought was important. It was just how things were.

One of the consequences of my upbringing in this environment was that I “identified” as “southern.” Questions of “identity” as such did not come up in those days, of course, but it was clear to me that I was “southern.” When fate delivered me to Yale University in 1960 in New Haven, CT, the “southern” contingent found its members quickly and during early and long nights in Vanderbilt Hall on the Old Campus quadrangle, students would sometimes open their windows to shout. It was common for someone to scream “I am not a number” and slam his window. A contest of sorts emerged and we “southern” boys met the “Yankees” singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic with robust renditions of Dixie.

This exchange wasn’t about race; there were few Black students in that class, and I don’t believe anyone thought of it as a racial thing. It was just “who we were.” We missed home and this was a way, I suspect, of proclaiming that. We didn’t much think about the complex and troubled history of the key words:

I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten,
….
In Dixie Land where I was born in, early on a frosty mornin’,
….
Then I wish I was in Dixie, hooray! hooray!
In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand to live and die in Dixie….

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixie_(song) for more on that. Looking back, however, it is horrifying and shameful that we were so ignorant about this subject. The words of the song are prescient because those who still believe in it are stuck in what they imagine are the “old times” and happily proclaim their willingness to “take my stand to live and die in Dixie.” The question is, stand for what?

Fast forward a full lifetime in which I have been blessed to, among other things, have traveled the world and interacted with people from many cultures, some quite alien to our own. From those experiences I came away with one major impression – ordinary people everywhere want pretty much the same things: an opportunity for personal development and security from want. In short, they desire personal freedom, the chance to grow, to have a family, to get an education. Everywhere I went, it was the same.

Fast forward again. The United States is torn apart by the realization by many, almost certainly the majority, that something is fundamentally wrong with our society. While Donald Trump is not responsible for this condition, he has sponsored, promoted and encouraged division from the very first moment of his presidency. The reality is that he is playing on something that already existed. It took the murder of a Black man by police, one of many such events over many years, to once again shatter the veneer that has enabled American society to overlook this gaping hole in our history and in our national morality.

One of the many consequences is the movement to take down the symbols of our hateful past – the statues, the paintings, the flags and other indications of our troubled history. The central question now, at long last though not for the first time, is “what does it mean to be an American?”

That question is really one of identity. What symbols do you identify with? And why?

While enjoying the light breeze in Central Park Sunday morning, my wife observed that there were many statues in the Park whose provenance she did not know. I thought, that’s pretty normal; many of these things we “see” but do not really think about unless we have a particular reason to observe more closely. These are in a sense failed symbols most of the time. Even tourists often don’t pay attention; these symbols are no different to our conscious minds than the trees and rock formations that cover the Park.

But there are some such symbols that we do notice. In our case a good example was the Confederate soldier statue that, until recently, stood in the middle of the intersection of South Washington Street and Prince Street in Alexandria, VA where we lived for many years.  I suspect that we were conscious of it because of its peculiar location that forced you to veer slightly around it when driving north on Prince. We often wondered aloud why the statue was still there in what had become a politically liberal community.

The many proposals to remove these symbols of the Confederacy have sparked a fierce reaction among many Americans who claim that these monuments are not symbols of racism but are only reflective of their “heritage” and their “history.” These are puzzling claims.

It is 2020. Americans are still arguing that statues of Confederate soldiers who fought against the country in order to preserve the system of slavery – the ownership of one person by another in which the slave was forced to provide free labor to enrich the other – on which the economy of the south had been based are related in some way to their current conception of themselves.

The question that puzzles me about this is: why would anyone in 2020 see his identity as tied to the “heritage” of slavery and treason against the country?  The Confederacy lost the Civil War. Why are so many people attached to the iconography of a defeated political entity? Americans typically do not think of themselves as “losers.” Most astute observers agree that the Vietnam War was lost, but even then, many Americans refused to accept the idea that America “lost” a fight.

Why then do so many Americans reimagine the Civil War as a conflict over “states’ rights” when the main, if not only, “states right” at issue was the power of people to own other people for the purpose of extracting free labor from them? These folks are not going around regularly pondering the complex relationship between the federal and state governments or how that relationship is affected by the structure and language of the Constitution.

There are many options available for building an identity, but these people are passionate, sometimes to the point of violence, that these symbols reflect who they really are.

I strongly suspect that the Confederacy identifiers’ actual knowledge about the conditions that led to the Civil War, and its aftermath is shallow at best and for most it is just a set of simplistic and false ideas about what happened and why. And I am even more convinced that they have blocked out, if they ever knew it, the history of what happened after the war and that continued until at least the mid-1950s, sanctioned by the Supreme Court throughout.

I recall that in my own eighth grade American History class, our teacher informed us that in our reading and discussion of the Civil War there was to be no mention of slavery. That was not, she said, what the war was about and therefore we were to avoid the subject. Instead, we spent our time memorizing the names and dates of major battles.

That was in the 1950’s, of course, more than a half-century ago. While I hope that educators today are more informed than that, the truth is I don’t really know what is taught to children these days. Maybe that is part of the answer to my question.

But I suspect there is something else, something deeper, at work and I think it’s just plain racism. I just saw a video on Twitter of a white woman sitting in the back of a pickup truck covered in Confederate flags. She is holding a large such flag and shouting at someone off-camera: “I will teach my grandkids to hate you all,” as she drapes herself in the flag, raises a fist and says “KKK.”

This is not a unique event. Huge swaths of Americans are in thrall of Donald Trump’s overtly racist policies. Neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville chanting Nazi slogans and Trump said there were “fine people [pause] on both sides.” Trump has facilitated the public emergence of an overtly racist class of Americans who are attracted to his idea that America was once “great” and that he will make it “great again.” It is these same people who identify with the Confederate flag and statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians who tried to destroy the country and waged war that killed 750,000 men in arms and an untold number of “civilians.”

Racism seems to be the only unifying principle behind all this. The virulent response to the removal of statuary that, bizarrely, sits in, among other places, the hallowed halls of Congress cannot be explained by anything else. The “history” and “heritage” represented by the Confederate flag and monuments of traitors who fought against the country so they could retain the slavery system is the concept at the heart of racism historically: that Black people are a subordinate and inferior people whose biological destiny is to be under the heel of the superior white race. There is much scholarship on this history, including recently Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, the documented revelations in which will stun you.

If it’s not racism, what could it be? Adherence to a mythology that conflicts with the very “idea of America,” the notion of American “exceptionalism” on which we have for so long rested our moral-superiority hats, must have a powerful source. If you stood up at a meeting and announced only that, “I want to be identified with losers, people who identify with a vile ideology from the distant past,” most people would think you had a screw loose. But if the meeting were in rural West Virginia or South Carolina and you then broke into Dixie, it’s likely most of the people there would immediately understand and rise to join you in the chorus: In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand to live and die in Dixie.

Good old times are not forgotten.

 

A Hero for the Times

People who know me well are aware that I have no heroes. All of them were murdered in the troubled 1960s. Since then, no one person emerged as a true hero, although Barack Obama came close. When he was elected, I fooled myself into believing that America had changed, that the bigotry and willful ignorance I had seen growing up in Memphis had receded and that great times lay ahead. I was wrong. As the Obama presidency proceeded, the Republican Party morphed into essentially what it is today and managed to block many of Obama’s greatest potential achievements.

The final blow to my aspirations for the country came when a relic of our ugly past, the Electoral College, worked to put Donald Trump in the White House. Every day of his administration is a tragic reminder that we could have had an intelligent, articulate, committed woman as president. A lot went wrong, of course, not just the flawed Constitutional structures put in place to placate rural and southern interests and that handed the national leadership to Trump with a minority of votes. It doesn’t much matter now. Trump is president and, as fate can do, his incompetence and corruption have been laid bare for the world to see, a bleeding open sore on what was one of the greatest countries on the planet, flawed but pure of aspiration, in need of much work but full of hope and promise.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a catastrophe for humanity. It was also an opportunity for the putative “leader of the free world” to show that, for all his obvious flaws, he could rise to the occasion and steer the country through one of its greatest challenges in a century. It was an opportunity to put to rest the oft-stated concern that, faced with a genuine crisis (threat of nuclear attack, for example), Trump’s staggering incompetence would destroy us. COVID-19 is not a nuclear attack but Trump still failed in almost every way imaginable. In the future I will devote much of my time in this blog illustrating those failures in the hope that the people of this country will rise to the occasion as Trump did not and remove him from office once and for all.

Meanwhile, I want to recognize another leader who emerged from the gloom and despair of the pandemic to do what needed to be done, to say what needed to be said, who did the right thing. He was already an experienced leader of government, the political head of the state with the largest Gross Domestic Product per capita, a major driver of the national economy: New York.

New York City, the centerpiece of the state and the gateway to the nation for travelers from around the world, became the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. As of today, the World Health Organization reports 8,385,440 total cases and 450,686 deaths worldwide. The United States leads the entire world in both cases and deaths: 118,365 souls lost. New York City, the most densely populated metropolis in the country, quickly developed the most infections and ultimately, so far, more than 17, 546 deaths, as it was flooded by millions of travelers from Europe who brought the virus with them while the federal government hyper-focused on China. In my neighborhood alone, there were 616 cases and 43 deaths. Yesterday, there were fewer deaths than that in the entire city.

Mt. Sinai West Hospital sits immediately adjacent to our apartment building. You can walk to the Emergency Room 50 steps or so down the street. As the city emptied out under the lockdown that started in mid-March, way too late, we were witness to the relentless parade of ambulances bringing critically ill patients to the hospital.

There are two points to be made here. One, the president held a series of daily “press conferences” involving a task force headed by the Vice President and the leading medical authorities at the Center for Disease Control, among others. It quickly became apparent that these events were really for the president to promote himself as the successful defender of the country against the virus, even as the cases and death toll continued to rise. He simply denied any facts that made him look bad. He paraded a random group of corporate leaders in to praise him. He descended into a clown show in which he proposed that the government health authorities investigate injecting bleach into the body or using light of some kind. He promoted the use of drugs for which there was no medical support and which multiple studies indicated could be dangerous to large swaths of the public. He stopped the conferences when his staff finally convinced him that they were counterproductive to his goal of self-promotion and re-election.

Second point: in New York, people who were paying attention saw a completely different approach, one based on scientific facts and evidence. These were the daily briefings by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. In the last of these briefings, the Governor reported that a total of 59 million viewers had watched these presentations, each of which involved an opening statement and questions from reporters. The Governor always had staff and sometimes important guests, with him to help address questions, most notably Melissa DeRosa (Secretary to the Governor). In the wake of the George Floyd murder, Cuomo devoted substantial parts of each briefing to addressing the issues around policing practices. He proposed specific legislation that was passed immediately and signed at one of the briefings.

Cuomo proved to be a lifeline for many of us who were quarantined in our apartments.
My wife and I found great comfort in his rational, fact-based approach, his appeal to the better selves of New Yorkers and his repeated admissions that this was personal for him, too. In March he proposed Matilda’s Law, an executive order with the force of law, named for his elderly mother and aimed at protecting the elderly and the vulnerable by putting New York “on pause” with special guidelines for the elderly. We tuned in almost every day, as did millions of people around the world seeking some truth and objectivity in the maelstrom of falsity and self-serving lies from Trump and his enablers.

I won’t go on about this. Cuomo, like all prominent political leaders, has his critics. But whatever mistakes may have been made in his management of the COVID-19 crisis, they appear to be very few and given all the circumstances, understandable and not consequential. I do not believe anyone can legitimately say he did not do his best for the people of New York. The results are clear and undeniable. The cases and deaths attributable to the virus are now the lowest in the country. As the Governor put it, “from the worst to first.”

I urge you to watch this video of Cuomo’s final statement and the video that follows it. It’s less than 13 minutes long. Compare this to Donald Trump’s performance on any issue on any day. This is what actual leadership looks like. What a refreshing experience, even in the midst of the most terrifying situation. Cuomo’s handling of these events will be written about in textbooks and studied in leadership programs for years to come. The 13 minutes you spend watching this will be well spent.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=274891703966298&ref=watch_permalink

Successful Activism is Not a Part-Time Job

I have seen a number of comments by younger people to the effect that voting is a waste of time because after “activist candidates” are elected, nothing much changes. See, for example, Young Protesters Say Voting Isn’t Enough. Will They Do It Anyway? https://nyti.ms/2AKA2fZ

Given the staggeringly long history of racism in the United States, now combined with the militarization of police departments in the age of terrorism and the wanton use of brute force throughout the country , including federal troops in the Capitol deployed against peaceful protesters, the frustration and impatience with this “just vote” message is entirely understandable. There is no doubt that the sad place at which we have, as a society, arrived, is attributable in significant part to the failure of elected leaders to live up to their promises to bring about a more just society.

I am going to offer some thoughts about how this dysfunction has prevailed for so long. To be clear at the outset, I offer these not as excuses. There are no excuses. The racial situation is and always has been a national disgrace.

These thoughts are possible explanations that might illuminate a path forward and provide some hope to those whose frustration with failed progress has overwhelmed them in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the most recent in a long line of tragedies and surely just the tip of the iceberg in what has gone on when there was no one around to video.

I base these observations on a period in my life when I was active in local politics in Virginia, leading a citizens’ group pitted against a large oil company that had purchased the development rights to finish the master plan for our “planned community.” The situation is not, obviously, analogous to the problem of police violence against people of color, but some of the lessons learned may be useful in thinking about the “is voting useless” issue.

For context, the oil company’s interest typically was in increasing development density – more homes and more people per available acre. Deviations from the original master plan for the town were subject to the approval of a Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. The Board was the elected governing body for the county in which the planned community) was located.

Our group reviewed every proposed plan deviation and demanded hearings before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. The oil company soon began to refer to us as “rabble rousers” and “troublemakers.” It employed lawyers and experts to fight us at every stage. Sometimes we prevailed, sometimes not.

The governing bodies were typical of many local elected governing bodies across the country; regardless of how compelling our case was in any single situation, we faced resistance from some leaders who were more concerned about protecting developers’ “rights” and assuring rapid economic growth than they were interested in the environmental and social issues we often raised.

We were not without champions on these governing bodies, but the reality was that they had to deal with the other members of the bodies on a regular basis. Conflicts required compromise that often felt to us as “selling out of citizens’ interests to the commercial aspirations of greedy developers.” Our champions often fought hard for us but were outvoted. Sometimes their support was simply not as strong as we wanted. We told them so but were usually met with “you need to understand that to get anything done, we have to deal with the opposition in a measured and respectful way.” In those days the very idea of a “planned” community was anathema to many old-line Virginia conservatives and citizens demanding to have a voice in everything was a noxious concept to many.

We learned a few things from these experiences. It was necessary to show up all the time. Being ‘part-time’ advocates simply didn’t work. The politicians, those on our side and the others, needed to understand that there would be no respite. We would always show up, often accompanied by large numbers of supporters carrying/displaying some kind of identification that could be seen from the dais. Nothing disruptive but something clear enough that they would know we were there, watching. Voters in the room for every relevant decision. No respite.

There was pushback, to be sure. Our issues often were scheduled for late on the agenda, allegedly because they were “controversial,” but really so that it would be harder for our “troops” to stick around. Tenacity was important but ultimately many people with jobs the next day would have to leave the hearing for home before our items were taken up. As the group’s leader and advocate, I always stayed, sometimes until well past midnight. Nevertheless, our group’s unmistakable presence in the room, even for a few hours, signaled to the decision-makers that we were watching. Voters in the room. And the decision-makers also knew that by stalling us, they were offending many constituents. We got a few newspapers to write about it. Politicians hate bad publicity even when their names are spelled correctly. No respite.

My argument here is that it is simply not enough to vote. Bearing constant witness and constant engagement is critically important. After a while, our oil company knew we weren’t going away. Their management was furious that they could not control us. Calling us names just angered people even more. We used that against them to stir up more activism.

Well-healed adversaries, including police unions, can lobby all the time. Citizen activists are at a huge disadvantage, but can compensate to a large degree by (1) voting, voting, voting – the constant threat to remove ineffective politicians who can’t/won’t deliver on their promises (if they don’t think your group votes, they won’t care what you think or say), (2) making clear that you and your crowd will always show up for relevant decisions – pack the room, (3) treating everyone with respect, but (4) making clear you will not accept deflection and will use the tools of public advocacy, including particularly the press, to expose aggressively corrupt and indifferent decision-making, and (5) showing appreciation for victories won, even small ones – name the names; reward … and punishment. We are here. We will always be here. Deal with us and our concerns or pay the price. No respite.

Making change, progressing an agenda of challenging ideas is very hard. The natural inclination of most decision-making bodies is to move in tiny steps, if at all. Offend as few people as possible, go along to get along, etc. etc. Protests are extremely valuable for bringing attention to morally outrageous situations, but they are, standing alone, insufficient. Laws still have to be written, lobbied, passed, enforced. Recalcitrant leaders must be brought around. They must come to see that you are not going away. “Enough is enough” is not just a slogan. You cannot wait us out. Talk, talk, delay, study – no. Not good enough. We are not going away until you do the right thing. No respite.

America, We Have a Problem

Readers old enough or well-versed in space flight history will recognize my playing off the famous statement from Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell, shortly after an explosion aboard the spacecraft enroute to the moon: “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” So calm you might have thought he was just reporting routine fuel burn information.

I had the honor of working briefly with Commander Lovell, then retired, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. He was exceptionally gracious and willing to do whatever was asked. Our communications team at what was then the American Society of Travel Agents had the idea to have an astronaut film a public service announcement emphasizing that it was safe to fly again. We filmed it at O’Hare Airport, showing Lovell picking up a boarding pass, confidently going through the new security system. The PSA was seen by more than 200 million people.

I often think of those days in which our country was united in support of intelligently and safely getting the country moving again in the wake of the attacks that shut down air travel.

After the events of the past five or six, or is it 100 or the 56,575 days since the Civil War ended, I also often think of the ending of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet in which the Prince addresses the warring Capulet and Montague families:

See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punish’d.

The Prince’s fine words are ultimately not enough to quell the irrational conflict between the families as they vie for who will create the better remembrance of the dead children. Thus, the Prince ends the play with,

A glooming peace this morning with it brings,
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.
Go hence to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

As I wrote recently, we seem to have learned nothing. Hate breeds hate. Violence breeds violence. Hate and violence reside in the ignorance of those who only see the “other” as less than human. It has been ever thus. Our beloved Constitution counted slaves as only 3/5 of a free person for purposes of congressional apportionment, thereby increasing the representation in Congress of states that legalized ownership of one person by another. The “North” won the Civil War but lost the peace. After “Reconstruction,” we reverted to Jim Crow and then segregation and it wasn’t just in the South that racism drove our politics.

That is part of the ugly truth of the history of the United States. Having spent my formative years in Memphis, Tennessee, often jokingly referred to as “really part of Mississippi,” I grew up all too familiar with the way racism robbed people of their dignity, their ability to earn a decent living and an equal education and, often of their lives without meaningful recourse.

Now in 21st century not much seems to have changed. Aside from income inequality, educational deprivation, and all the rest, we have again and again seen outrageous acts of white people against black people that go unaddressed. And those acts are often by police who have been given what the law calls “color of authority” to bear arms and enforce the law on the streets. They are given the benefit of the doubt in most close cases.

We all understand that their job is difficult and dangerous. There are many bad actors in our society, as in all societies, and we depend on the police to protect everyone else. The theory is that with good police protection, the citizenry does not have to arm itself and prepare to “take the law into its own hands” when it believes the police power needs to be invoked. That’s the theory.

Most police, I continue to believe, are honest, hard-working people trying to do the right thing. Their job does involve danger. That is why, among other things, they are provided training, advanced weapons and communications tools. I participated in one-day “school” in Alexandria, VA a few years ago, providing exposure to some of the tools and training that the police there were given. It was impressive. It also was discordant with some things I had personally witnessed on the streets of Old Town Alexandria in which police officers behaved in an unhinged way toward citizens who had engaged in minor violations of traffic laws. The line is a fine one.

It is also true that there are many police who cannot conform to norms of conduct. I have read stories of medical personnel saying they have treated many injured police officers and were stunned to see how many “white power” and similar tattoos they had.

So, finally, to the main issue for today. Multiple American cities are in turmoil. Protests have turned violent and the violence has been met with more violence, by the local police backed by state police and National Guard forces in full combat gear with military grade vehicles and weapons. To be sure, the LEOs are usually outnumbered but the protesters are unarmed at least usually. There are exceptions, of course, but the evidence so far is that the protesters’ main weapons are water bottles and traffic cones. And their bodies. Multiple videos have surfaced of police crashing cars into crowds of protesters, pepper spraying passively protesting individuals, physically attacking unarmed women and on and on.

Meanwhile, of course, the inevitable has happened. We are told, and there is no reason to doubt, that much of the violence (burning of buildings, destruction of storefronts, looting) has been caused by people from out-of-state to the city in which they were arrested. I expect that the affected cities will “throw the book” at these provocateurs; surely by now there is a state law everywhere for crossing a state line to perform terrorist acts or something similar.

I say this is inevitable because it simply is. Society, sadly, includes many people who are unwilling or unable to comply with law. It also includes people who, for reasons of ideology, will try to coopt a protest to make the protesters look bad. The right-wing media and the politicians to whom they cater will then try to shift the narrative to “it’s not a legitimate peaceful protest because, look, it’s looters and arsonists, etc etc.” This is a familiar refrain that is often, wittingly or otherwise, legitimized by the mainstream media. It doesn’t take long on the main channels to realize that the violence is getting most of the attention. It always does. And that’s part of why it happens.

The obsession with the violence obscures critically important issues that arise every time we are in this situation.

The major police presence at the scene of protests does not just happen. The police has a command structure. Orders are given. In light of the scenes of police behaving in inexplicably violent and seemingly random ways, it’s more than fair to ask, indeed, it’s essential to know:

What role do the police have? Stop the protest? Arrest as many protesters as possible? Just wait and crack down after the curfew? Why are they on the street?

Without focus, they seem intent on attacking demonstrators. Their role of protecting property seems minor or irrelevant to their reason for being there.

What instructions were the police given?

The videos I have seen tend to show large numbers of police either blocking protesters’ path or trying to push protest groups into particular spaces. If they are resisted, they react explosively. The videos show police using batons in repeated blows to protesters on the ground and multiple instances of pepper spray being used against unsuspecting, fully complying individuals.

Where are the police on-site leaders during these events?

There appears to be little or no leadership. If it’s present, the leadership seems to condone if not actually order these attacks.

One situation that brings the above question sharply into focus is a video of a roughly few dozen police marching down a residential street in Minneapolis, screaming at residents to “get inside.” The person who was apparently on her front porch filming this and expressing surprise at the force appearing on her street is suddenly fired out with either paint balls or rubber bullets. They flee inside. Fortunately, no one was hit in the face or worse.

In another video that has attracted the attention of the Mayor of New York City and the Governor of New York State, a police car drives up to a metal rack, similar to a bike rack, being held by a large group of protestors in the middle of the street. The car stops. Water bottles and a bag are thrown at the car. Another police car appears and passes the stopped car on its right and plows ahead into the protesters. The first car then moves rapidly against the metal rack, driving it and the protesters holding it sharply backwards. Many people go down. It appears, miraculously, that no one was killed. But they easily could have been.

I understand that the police in those cars may have felt threatened. But they could have backed up. If they had a critical reason to advance at that particular moment, despite the risk to the protesters, it will presumably be disclosed in the forthcoming investigation ordered by the Governor to be conducted independently by the state attorney general.

It is difficult to understand how these seemingly random acts of police violence contribute to anything positive.

Why were the police sent into these situations? Do they not employ spotters and have advanced communications to produce high-grade situational awareness?

The police in the Minneapolis residential video can be heard issuing the order “light ‘em up” just before the shooting starts.

Is that what the police are for? To “light ‘em up?” Rough them up so they’ll want to go home?

There is, of course, another way. There is a video from Flint, Michigan, one of the most troubled communities in recent history, in which the sheriff tells the protesters, “we’re with you. We’ve put down our batons. Let’s make this a parade…. My officers love you…. Where do you want to go?…. we’ll march all night. Tell us what you want.” The result: protesters want their selfies with the sheriff and peace prevails.

Another image shows police on one knee in solidarity with protestors, while yet another shows Kansas City police holding signs that say, “End Police Brutality.”

I want to make three other points. First, Governor Cuomo, whose work on the pandemic has been, in my judgment, exceptional, passionately addressed the protests in his briefing today. He, of course, decried the violence. Fine. He also offered several specific proposals to change the way things work. He mentioned having independent review of complaints about police conduct, saying “self-policing just doesn’t work.” He argued for a uniform state law across the country on what constitutes “excessive force.” Both are good ideas.

But they do not go to or anywhere near the root problem, which is the persistence of racism throughout the United States. We won’t eliminate racism everywhere overnight, especially given the history that has brought us to this sad day. But, is it not time to address racism in the police departments around the country? Surely, it is not acceptable to have police be members of white supremacy organizations. Surely, there are ways to detect suppressed racism and subliminal bias and racist attitudes through testing and investigation. What is missing is the will to do it. There is simply no excuse to have racist cops on the force. On any police force. Yet, judging from the events of the past five days, likely to be repeated tonight, there is a staggering amount of racism rampant among our law enforcement services.

Next, I have been disappointed, stunned really, to see that the past five days of protests have seen few if any political or religious leaders on the streets with the protesters. This is not how it was during the Vietnam protests. We often had major political figures with us and “handlers” who understand how to keep the crowd’s “temperature” down when “outside agitators” tried to provoke violence. And it wasn’t that way during the major civil rights protests and the Women’s March.

Finally, I truly understand how horrified many people are about the looting, burning and rioting of some of the protesters. Related to the other points I’ve made, however, is the proposition that if you don’t given people anything to hold on to, they will just choose something at random. This usually has bad outcomes, as it did this week. We might have expected that the president of the country would step into that void but was kept busy throwing red meat to his political base with tweets promising “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” would be used against protesters if they breached the security perimeter of the White House. Then, the president took the day off.  Nothing more need to be said about this total failure of leadership except that it, yet again, shows how unfit Donald Trump is to lead the country.