TRUMP: THE NEW NORMAL…HE AIN’T

Martin Luther King Memorial, Washington DC
Martin Luther King Memorial, Washington DC

HAPPY NEW YEAR.

Donald Trump has won the White House.

He’s played by the rules, bending them, pushing them to extremes, avoiding them, and dissing them, but playing by them nonetheless, so at least for now (now being the next four years) he is our president. And with all the branches of government under Republican control he is most certain to believe that he is free to do whatever he chooses to do.

He may be right. We must make sure that he isn’t.

He is my president, but I didn’t vote for him and I abhor the lack of principles for which he stands. By myself I have no power to stop him, but by sticking to the principles of malice towards none and justice for all, I believe that he can be curbed.

People of good will, DO SOMETHING, anything, no matter how small to advance the cause that you care about. Justice is what we call love for all, so work towards overcoming injustice in some way. And it isn’t simply about the direct human condition, there are issues of justice that involve the environment, the earth,  or any attention to the natural world which in its complexity impacts the lives of all of us on this planet.

Be intentional, and do something more than you’ve done before, and make it in the interest of something greater than or beyond yourself. And it cannot be just a one-off event.

Commit yourself to full time engagement in advancing your chosen cause. If enough of us take this step wherever we are a movement or movements will coalesce that will protect an advance our cause even in what seems certain to be difficult times ahead.

The corollary to this effort is that we must not to sink to playing by any standard less than the ideals embodied in the golden rule. There has been a tendency to forget this on the part of progressives disheartened by the results of the elections. We must resist this temptation or risk becoming a caricature of those principles we oppose.

This is not going to be easy. We face difficult times. The rights of the working-class, poor, middle-class, people of color, women et. al. are going to be under a level of assault unknown to recent generations.

However, this is not the time to despair or disappear. Martin Luther King said it well and we must keep it in mind, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.’

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It’s All Over But The Voting

I’ve stopped watching the debates. Yes there’s still some drama left to be wrung from the candidates but the outcome seems obvious. For the Republicans it’ll be the reign of Machiavelli v the Dem’s optimistic (in small letters) hope.

Yes this is the view through my ‘progressive’ prism. From here the only question left before the vote in November is how much wealth will be transferred to the 1% owners of corporate media in the advertising orgy to come as the campaign rolls on.

Trump is the presumptive GOP’s candidate, and in the unlikely event it’s another, their agenda will be as disingenuous regarding the interests of the middle class, not to mention the poor which no one has bothered to mention for the last two election cycles. In no particular order the Republicans views on the issues making the headlines are virtually indistinguishable.

Immigration: They are are all against comprehensive immigration reform, except for Kasich, though he joins in the call for border control, which is their watchword of the day, with building a ‘beeyootiful’ wall the ultimate solution to the problem. Never mind that just like the anti-voting rights agenda where they’ve been obsessed, since the Obama presidency, with solving a problem that doesn’t exist, illegal immigration has been on a downward trend in recent years and is currently at a statistical trickle. If there are those that do not seek whole scale deportation of the undocumented they’re not in favor of a path to citizenship either. Regardless of the candidate, addressing the real issues of the undocumented immigrants’ value to our economy, their humanitarian needs, and the long term issues of poverty and violence in the countries from which most of these immigrants are fleeing are off the table as long as the current group of Republicans in Congress hold sway over the legislative agenda.

National Security: In varying degrees their solutions are to turn up the anti-Muslim rhetoric and fan the flames of hate and fear. Not all are as direct as Trump but their solutions in essence are the same; baton down the hatches at home, increase the military response and go on the attack abroad.

This is a complex problem and I don’t pretend to have answers but there are lessons from history that point to the comprehensive nature of any strategy needed to reach a long term solution. There is a legitimate need for an effective cooperative military strategy, but such a strategy must reflect our core national values, otherwise the terrorists will have already won. I have nothing but abhorrence for their violent tactics but in order to defeat them we must understand clearly what motivates them, and stop relying on convenient platitudes such as ‘they hate our way of life. More often they couldn’t care less about us. It’s a power struggle between our cultures and what they hate is that we are in their countries and they’re losing control to us over their way of life, and they want us to leave them alone.

This is not to suggest I agree with them; sometimes yes, but not always, especially on basic issues of human rights particularly to minorities and women. But they’re humans not animals and if we treat them as such we will never be able to exemplify the difference in our values and and counter the narrative they use to attract their followers. When for short term goals we dismiss values such as justice under law and resort to unrestrained violence of torture, it gives the terrorists a platform from which to undermine our moral claims in the eyes of their potential recruits. And make no mistake, this is a war over the moral core of our cultures. In addition to military and police actions we must address the conditions of corruption, poor governance, education and poverty that create the milieu from which acceptance of their vile use of violence and hate arise. We must be willing to listen and learn as well as to attack and impose. There are times when our military might is needed but as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars show, winning the peace is more difficult than winning the war.

The Economy: The GOP recently began giving lip service to the problem of inequality of wealth, yet their solutions are all variations on an old and discredited theme; trickle down economics. Cut taxes for the wealthy so that they’ll create jobs for the many. Throw the needy off entitlement programs that only increase the deficit, while tax loopholes remain for the wealthy, and ‘yuuge‘ transfer payments take place for wealthy corporations in the defense industry, energy sector, agribusiness, foreign aid, and manufacturing. Their austerity scalpel is prepared to slice away only at the weakest and most marginalized sectors of the social fabric.

Health Care: GOP candidates are uniformly dead set on blowing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to smithereens without any credible plan to replace it. Health care for their constituents is not a right but rather another commodity to be left to the forces of the market without any check on the greed of the drug and insurance companies, and the corporate healthcare providers despite their history of gouging the market with massively overpriced medicine and services and leaving nearly 40 million Americans without access to comprehensive healthcare prior to the passage of the ACA.

Climate Change: The most serious problem facing humanity but it doesn’t exist in the parallel universe of the Republican Party.

This is the unfortunate state of affairs in the divide between conservatives and progressives. Never mind the current rhetoric of prejudice and scapegoatism that overwhelmingly comes from the right and which has become a real threat to the stability and health of our democratic process. If there’s any substantive change in the position of any GOP candidate I’d be happy to reconsider my position, but in light of the above, I’m ready to vote right now, not so much for those on the left, as against everything coming from the right.

GENESIS OF THE TRUMP FACTOR

It’s interesting and mildly amusing to read the litany of opinions bemoaning the rise of the Donald as the standard bearer of the Republican Party. I’m as horrified as the next person that a candidate that embraces hate and division as the source of greatness of the American character is the one whose message is resonating with a large segment of the body politic.

There’s no lack of theories about how we got here. They range from a public angry with the greed of Wall Street that has robbed the middle class of its wealth, to a government in Washington that does not work, to a morally weak group of Republican candidates for the presidency, unwilling to take on the Donald and be forced to endure the scathing personal attacks that he substitutes for substantive policy debate.

All of these critiques have some merit, but there’s one factor that is being overlooked because in my opinion, it indicts so many of those now heaping coals on the Donald.

The fact is that ever since the election and inauguration of President Obama there has been a virulent strain of racism in the charged atmosphere of the opposition to him from all sectors of the Republican Party. No doubt many will deny that this was the basis of their animus towards Mr. Obama. It was his policies they will insist. But to those of us minorities long accustomed to the latent racism still present in the American lifeblood, as well as many of the unbiased observers in the majority community, there is no doubt that ever since this black man became President of the country, a license of acceptance was granted to those opposing him on open and thinly veiled racist arguments.

The disrespect heaped on him by both public and private figures, the vilification of everything about him from his birth, to his integrity for no other than personal dislike and hate of the man caused a groundswell among those on the far right. Hate groups have grown at an alarming rate, and there is no end to the most ridiculous of conspiracy theories about his motives to seize power and destroy the constitutional rights of the white citizens of this country.

Rather than disassociate themselves from this noxious bigotry the denizens of the Republican Party, including several of the candidates for the presidency, fanned these flames for their own political gain, and the division in the country is arguably at its worst since the Civil War period.

Into this putrid soup of discontent came the Donald to take the lid off the bowl and stir the pot even more by validating unequivocally the hatred and bigotry that many in the mainstream had exploited while pretending that they were engaging in serious policy debate. The Donald has openly engaged the lowest common denominator of our fears and taken the largest step in setting this country back in its march towards a more perfect union for all.

There is still time to stop his march, still time for us to realize the serious threat this brand of hate filled politics poses to our national interest. There is still hope that whether or not he is the Republican nominee a democrat will win the general election. (My preference of course) But even so there will be need for all of us to work doubly hard to push back against the rise of outspoken bigotry and hate that will remain after the hoped for failure of his candidacy.

To Republicans and Democrats alike who believe that we are all Americans first, and allegiance to party is about a real conviction in choosing a different path to arrive at the same destination of a better society for us all, our work is just beginning and we will have to be committed to it not for an election cycle but for a very long time to come.

JE SUIS CHARLIE

Charlie Hebdo rallies across France

I stand with the people of France.

I stand with all people who advocate for justice. Justice, someone once said, is what love looks like in practice for all people, and I believe it is the only way to peace for us all.

The terror attacks this week in France are shocking; perhaps no more so than other acts of terror that have taken place in other cities, or the reprehensible violence which occurs in the many wars, in places such as Syria, Iraq, Palestine or Afghanistan, or even the annual loss of 30,000 plus lives from gun violence on the streets of the United States, but nonetheless, they are shocking.

But what is different this time is the character of the response. The groundswell of the response across the spectrum of French society, and beyond to the broad swath of humanity has been remarkable for all the right reasons. It is not simply the universal condemnation, but more important, the strength of the demonstration that we as a people will not be afraid, and we will not be divided. There is a tidal wave of energy to include, to tolerate, and even to accept.

Charlie Hebdo rallies across France

The millions unified in the streets is a forceful affirmation that we overcome evil with good. The enlightened path of our cultural traditions all teach that evil is overcome not by resisting it, which usually excuses us doing more evil, but by doing justice, and bringing everyone into community.

There is no question that there are many different and even contrary agendas present. To some this is about freedom of speech, or freedom of the press, democracy, shared values, or our way of life. Some are simply political, or opportunistic. I do not think it matters.

These acts of violence were wrong, however provocative or offensive the cartoons may have been to some. This most basic human right must transcend all humanity. The taking of life may be excusable but it is never justifiable. And this time the people of France got that right.

Citizens carrying a banner which reads, "We're all French today" take part in a Hundreds of thousands of French citizens solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris

The world is more crowded and grows smaller every day. It is our destiny to become more multi-cultural. This is a good thing. Our evolutionary experience makes us afraid of change, keeps us tribal, and afraid of the other. But life is change. Our very bodies are changing at the cellular level.  Not to change is to die.

The problem of religious extremism is complex. Religious conflicts are rarely ever really about religion. Their root cause, as with most conflicts, is injustice. Injustice is the engine that drives these conflicts, religion is simply one of the high octane fuels used.

We keep responding with more security, and greater violence. These alone have only spawned more conflict, less security and less freedom. Standing in solidarity with the marchers in Paris will not solve this crisis, but it is an important, and often overlooked first step to finding a solution.

The values of tolerance, respect, peace, and love are the guiding principles that will heal our divisions, and this will occur when we demonstrate justice with an inclusive and collective voice. Je Suis Charlie is a good place to begin.

OBAMA’S INITIATIVE FOR MINORITY BOYS: Nice Shot but it Misses the Mark

I applaud the President’s efforts to engage the private sector and government in his initiative, to create more opportunities for young minority men and to improve conditions that keep them impoverished and imprisoned in disproportionate numbers.

However, its tepid rollout reflects the political reality of his limitations and that is part of the problem. There is no doubt this will help. The tragedy is that this is the signature assistance for the nation’s minority youth from our president.

This is not principally his fault. He is a victim of the same institutional racism that keeps people poor by failing to provide resources of opportunity through better health care, education, and jobs that pay a living wage.

Saddled with an historic recession, and vulnerable to criticism of being a president only for black people, he has been excruciatingly cautious about issues of race. His naiveté to the virulence of the racism he would encounter, that remains dedicated to destroying his presidency, made him avoid these issues in the hope he could broker progress by reaching across the aisle to find common ground.

He found no willing hand. He might as well have played to his base and stood firm on issues regarding equal access to resources and opportunity.

The fundamental problem in this country is that for the last 34 years since the Reagan presidency, when greed became good, the distribution of wealth has become increasingly more unequal.

Today, the top 1% of Americans own 42% of the financial wealth. The top 5%, meanwhile, own nearly 70%. The bottom 80% owns 7%. CEO pay is now 350X the average worker’s, up from 50X from 1960-1985. http://www.businessinsider.com/what-wall-street-protesters-are-so-angry-about-2011-10?op=1#ixzz2vhcPw2w7

The US has the highest income inequality among developed countries, and is the only one where the income gap is getting wider and not smaller. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/15/income-inequality-wall-street_n_3762422.html

The problem is the economic system, and the social underpinning it receives from social institutions, that has conjured acceptance of the status quo from the masses. Our economic system and the institutions that support it were created to benefit a specific class of people. That system remains in place today, and has been strengthened by laws that validate disproportionate access to government to wealthy people.

We accept the enduring myth that people are poor because they are lazy. This is often heard in the more benign but no less vulgar assertion that poor people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. There are poor people for many reasons, but the prime reason is they are not valued. Their labor is cheap and their earnings are exploited.

The solution to this is multi-faceted, but one obvious place to begin is to get money out of politics. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. The plight of minorities is inextricably linked to the plight of poor people in general.

In America, as Watergate taught us, sadly, the answer to any question is nearly always, “Follow the Money.”