Tuesday, March 12, 2019

WHEN THE TRUTH HURTS: Ilhan Omar Has a Point

The sharp divide in this country between conservatives and progressives is becoming a major concern in a number of ways.  It reached a new level recently when Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) questioned the U. S. unwavering support for the nation Israel and the acceptance of Israeli lobbyists who regularly seek to influence members of Congress to support programs and legislation favorable to Israel.  Specifically, she has criticized the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, also known as AIPAC.   AIPAC is a powerful lobbying group that has used strong-armed methods to garner support for the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister.  The response to Rep. Omar has been powerful and condemnatory.  But I have to ask: could Omar have a point worth looking at, and are her critics’ objections based on facts?

Just by raising this question I am sure I will find myself in hot water with some people.  But can we try to put emotions aside and look at just what it is that Rep. Omar said?  As I understand it, Omar has criticized the policies of Israel on a number of occasions.  These criticisms led Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy to threaten Omar and another congressperson for criticizing Israel with the potential use of censure.  Omar then responded to McCarthy with a tweet that read, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.”  I must confess I was not sure what that meant until I researched it a bit.  For the uninformed this is another way of saying that McCarthy and others are only objecting to her comments because they have received lots of money from AIPAC (Benjamin Franklin’s portrait is on the $100 bill.  I honestly thought she was making a vague reference to Benjamin Netanyahu – shows how uninformed I am!)  McCarthy and others claim that Rep. Omar has engaged in anti-Semitic language based on her criticism of Israeli policy and Israel’s publicity/lobbying agent AIPAC.

To be clear so far as I can tell, Ilhan Omar at no time criticized the Jewish race or made disparaging comments about them.  She has clearly criticized Israeli policy, especially as it relates to the Palestinians.  I must admit I feel she has a very good point.  Israel needs to be held accountable for their many offenses against the Palestinian people.  Israel is indeed guilty of carrying out a terrorist war against Palestine.  In saying this I am not implying that the Palestinians are completely innocent.  The violence has gone both ways.  But to blindly and ignorantly place all the blame on the Palestinians is wrong!  Let us not forget that Israel at least has a nation they can call their own.  The Palestinians do not.  I have said numerous times in the past that the only solution for this Middle East tension between Israel and Palestine is to make good on the United Nations pledge for a two-State solution.  (See my previous post entitled Resolution 181 Revisited dated 11/4/2011).  As a reminder the United Nations decision that established the State of Israel in 1948 also called for a separate State of Palestine to be established.  However, to this day the second part of that resolution never was enacted.  At the very heart of the crisis in the Middle East is this solitary fact:  Israel has a homeland at the expense of the Palestinians.

Adding fuel to the fire is the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has held the office from 1996 – 1999 and again from 2009 to the present.  His policies have been oppressive toward the Palestinian citizens of Israel, especially with regards to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, where they have built and defended settlements.  But Netanyahu’s problems go deeper.  In recent years he has come under investigation for possible “fraud, breach of trust and bribes”.  On February 13, 2018 Israeli police issued a statement saying there was enough evidence to indict Netanyahu and just this year the Attorney General of Israel announced that he planned to go forward with the charges.

Ilhan Omar is entitled to her opinions about Israeli policies.  Some of her comments might be better served if they were worded more carefully but here is the thing.  What difference is there between Omar’s comments on Israel and Donald Trump’s offensive language?  Trump has openly criticized U. S. allies such as Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Mexico and others.  He has denounced the NATO agreement that has maintained peace on the European continent for over 70 years and is integral to American security.  He has disparaged his political opponents with slander and malicious name calling.  Numerous sources claim that our President has lied well over 8,000 times since taking office.  The tragic part about this is that so many of his lies actually endanger  our security.  The man who is our Commander In Chief simply cannot be trusted on any issue.  That makes me extremely nervous.

Add to this the fact that Trump routinely rebukes and humiliates his own security advisors, intelligence officers, law enforcement agencies and officials, and takes the word of our sworn enemies (Putin, Kim, and Xi) over theirs.  How can this be?  As bad as this is I remain baffled why members of Congress remain so silent – and in many cases, defensive – towards our deceiving President while being so outspoken and critical of Rep. Omar’s opinions that are actually more factual than Trump’s. 

More importantly, Omar has very publicly apologized for her comments and taken responsibility for them.  Has Trump?  Of course not!  He responds to his own lies with even more humiliating and distorted rhetoric.  It seems to me if anyone deserves to be censured it is The Donald.  I suspect that a major reason why the Right is making such an issue out of Omar’s comments and framing them as “anti-Semitic” is an attempt to divert attention away from the constant turmoil surrounding our current Administration.

When I was just a kid my parents taught me to be careful when pointing a finger at someone else because in doing so there are three fingers pointing back at you.  That is what I see here. Sometimes the truth hurts.  Ilhan Omar needs to take responsibility for her comments – and she has.  Can we accept that and move on?

Friday, March 8, 2019

Judges Ruling Favors Special Education

Disability advocates won a major victory against the Trump Administration recently when U. S. District Judge Tanya Chutkin ruled the Department of Education under Betsy DeVos inappropriately delayed the so-called "significant disproportionality" rule.

The rule was established in 2016 under the Obama Administration and was set to go into effect last summer.  However, the Trump Administration tried to delay its implementation.  This is yet another example of the incompetence of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary and her distorted agenda which seeks to undermine the effectiveness of public education.

Details on Judge Chutkin's ruling can be found at https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2019/03/08/trump-reinstate-sped-rule/26137.

What Will It Take To Restore Honor?

The President of the United States has declared a national emergency on our Southern border.  He justifies this by claiming that we are being invaded by masses of terrorists and drug dealers who are threatening the security of our nation.  That is a serious concern indeed.  Or is it?

We have yet to see evidence that supports Trump’s delirious claims.  I wonder how many weapons have been confiscated by border security from those who are being contained.  The fact is weapons are being smuggled out of the United States, not into it, according to the Associated Press.

“A 2013 report by the University of San Diego says the number of firearms smuggled from the United States was so significant that nearly half of American gun dealers rely on that business to stay afloat. On average, an estimated 253,000 firearms each year are purchased in the United States expressly to be sent to Mexico, the report said, the vast majority of the sales originating in the border states of California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.”

Lisa Marie Pane

The Associated Press

September 30, 2018

And what about drugs?  How many drugs have been found in the possession of the illegal immigrants?  The Federal government’s records show that most of the drugs entering the United States come through the legal ports of entry. 

It is essential to understand how many people we are talking about who are seeking to enter the United States illegally.  The Immigration and Customs Enforcement reports that in 2018 there was an average of 42,000 people in custody on any given day.  Of that number, 15,000 were children under the age of 18.  These minors were also separated from their parents and held in different facilities.

There is no denying that this represents a serious concern.  However, it is not a threat to our national security.  Rather, it is a humanitarian problem that needs to be addressed in a rational and humane way.  Many of those being detained are seeking asylum.  United States law allows people to apply for asylum for anyone who has suffered persecution, or who fear they will suffer persecution, due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion, according to the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Those who seek asylum may remain in the United States while their application is considered.  This includes persons who attempt to enter the country through ways other than the legal ports of entry.

At least this is how it is supposed to work.  However, once again the Trump Administration plays by a different set of rules.  Since then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance policy” toward illegal immigrants even those who seek asylum are now treated as criminals.  Children are separated from their parents and all are locked up in detention prisons to await deportation.  I do not get it!  The United States of America is morphing into a police state.  Fear is driving our national activity and shaping our policy.  This fear is unfounded but is promoted from the highest powers within the land - - the White House.  And the Republican Party has crumbled into a bunch of cowering puppets who are terrified to hold their rogue President accountable.  There are individual exceptions but they are powerless against the majority within the GOP.

Let’s get realistic here.  Is there a crisis?  Yes.  Is this crisis a security threat to our nation?  No!  This is a humanitarian crisis caused by the Executive Branch of our government.  Kirstjen Nielson, Secretary of Homeland Security, oversees the agency responsible for supervising immigration.  Her recent appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee on March 6, 2019 was most revealing.  In her testimony it became painfully obvious that Nielson either is determined to deceive Congress and the American public by refusing to answer questions and defying our laws, or she is woefully ignorant of what is happening at the border.  Either way she proves herself to be incompetent and unqualified for her job.  Consider these takeaways from her testimony under oath, as reported by CNN.

·         On children in custody: Nielsen said she didn't know how many children are in Customs and Border Protection custody.

·         On Trump's national emergency: She defended President Trump's national emergency declaration despite his claim he "didn't need to" do it.

·         On terrorists entering the US: Nielsen confirmed that most terrorists were stopped while trying to fly to US — not at the border.

·         On zero tolerance: Nielsen defended the administration's "zero tolerance" policy, which called for the criminal prosecution of adults crossing the border illegally and, as a result, the separation of families. 

·         On the dangerous journey to the US: Every girl over 10 who crosses the border is given a pregnancy test, Nielsen said.

·         On family separations: She said family separation wasn't intended to be a deterrent despite leaked memos.

·         On drugs at the border: Nielsen said she didn't have numbers on drugs coming through border.

·         On cybersecurity: The current cybersecurity threat is “blinking red” and is possibly the "highest threat" to the US homeland, she said.

For the life of me I cannot understand how Republicans in Congress can possibly continue playing dead in the path of this Administration’s absurdities.  There are exceptions, thankfully, and opposition is beginning to mount.  But it is slow in coming.  One has to wonder what it will take to restore honor and responsibility to our national identity.

G. D. Gehr

March 8, 2019

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Urgency of Repentance

            These are not boring days!  The United States recently endured the longest partial government shutdown in its history.  Very shortly before the shutdown President Donald Trump proudly took full responsibility for it in a nationally televised scene from the Oval Office.  During the shutdown, as the days mounted and public opinion clearly turned against him, Trump did a complete reversal and placed the blame for it on Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.  Trump has a long history of being blown about in many directions, and this was just one small example of it.  But now we are seeing something completely off the charts.

            In an effort to avoid a second government shutdown three weeks after the end of the one mentioned above Congress got its act together to finally worked in a bipartisan way – like it is supposed to do – and passed a compromise spending plan.  In true Trumpian fashion the President warned ahead of time that any bill passed by Congress would have to include over $5 billion to begin building his signature wall on the Southern border.  This is the same wall that he repeatedly promised during the 2016 Presidential election process – sort of.  In the past he promised and big, beautiful, concrete wall and further insisted that Mexico would pay for it.  Any thinking person should have realized the United States government has no influence whatsoever over how any foreign government, such as Mexico, spends its money.  That is like me telling my neighbor to pay for my new roof and heating/cooling system.  Hey, maybe I should try that!

Looking back one has to wonder if this was a test by Trump.  Could it be that he was testing his followers to determine just how gullible they were and how much he could get away with?  If enough people would actually accept the claim, no matter how bizarre and ridiculous, that Mexico will pay for a project that the United States undertook, then they would likely accept just about anything this madman would feed them.  In a sense this was similar to the way Jim Jones brainwashed his followers.  By demanding that they drink the supposed poisoned juice Jones discovered who was faithful and who was not.  Truth blurred with lies until the day Jones served real poison and destroyed his colony.

Now, in the light of realism and fact Trump has changed the wall concept to become a steel slab barrier paid for by American tax payers.  But no matter how much Trump wants a physical barrier he needs to be informed that Congress approves spending funds, not the Executive Branch.  Furthermore, spending plans must originate in the House of Representatives before being passed on to the Senate for their approval.  Only after both chambers of Congress approve expenditures can the President sign them and begin using them for their intended purpose.

            So, what happens when Congress passes a spending bill that only includes $1.375 billion for some form of a border barrier instead of the $5.7 billion Trump demanded?  Why, the President declares a “National Emergency” so he can rob Peter to pay Paul, meaning by Executive Order he claims the authority to take designated funds from other agencies in the Federal government so he can feed his ego, build his wall and look like a hero in the eyes of the faithful.

            This move will certainly be challenged in the courts.  I am not a legal expert so I will not begin to say how this will end.  But I will say this:  why not put it to the voters in this country to decide if we should build a wall?  Its our money, right?  As taxpayers we are the stockholders in this corporation we call the United States.  And since we claim to be a democracy why should we not put this issue to a vote?  Oh, WAIT!  We DID!  The American people already voted and the majority of people decided they did NOT want a wall.  What I mean is this:  In November of 2016 we the people voted for Barack Obama’s successor.  And we all know how that ended.  Hillary Clinton won by nearly 3 million votes!  Of course due to a quirky clause in the Constitution the people do not actually elect the president.  They only elect “electors” from each State, one for each member of Congress from each State.  These electors consequently vote in what is known as the Electoral College and their vote is the only one that counts.  It is a dumb system for the 21st century but it is our system.  As we well know these electors elected Trump over Clinton.  Nevertheless, given the promises and positions of the candidates, the popular vote was, in effect, a referendum on the question of a border wall.  It follows, then, that the people of this country voted against the construction of a wall since the majority of the voters cast their support behind the candidate who opposed the wall.  Her name is Hillary Clinton.

            If that is not enough consider this.  What kind of emergency can exist under the following conditions.

·         Border crossings are down from previous years;

·         Trump and his GOP (Good Old Puppets) controlled all of the Executive and Legislative branches of the Federal government for two years but could not see an emergency on the Southern border until after they lost control of the House of Representatives.  Now, suddenly, POTUS wants to fulfill half of his pre-election promise, namely to build the wall but without having our next door neighbor pay for it.

·         Trump publicly announced before a national audience that his claim for an emergency is bogus.  He admitted that he did not have to make this extraordinary claim, that he could have waited, but he just did not want to wait.  Acting like the childish and immature person he is, he wants what he wants when he wants it.  And if he does not get his way he will steal it by any means possible.

All this makes me wonder just what is the motive behind this crazy scheme?  When a young child does not get his or her way they will do one of three things.  First they will likely throw a temper tantrum.  If that does not work they might play one parent off against the other, that is to say if mom won’t give me what I want I will ask dad.  If that, too, does not work they may try one last trick:  Distraction!  Redirect the attention of the parents to something else, and then when they let their guard down take what you really want.  This last option is particularly effective when the child knows they did something they should not have done but they do not want to get caught. 

I suspect that is what is really going on here.  Trump is becoming increasingly distraught over the Mueller investigation.  Too many of his cohorts have been caught and are heading to jail.  He lives in daily fear that Mueller’s report is nearing completion and will ultimately bring an end to this Presidency.  So, because he cannot deal with that thought emotionally, he is attempting to distract everyone’s attention away from Mueller by creating a fake crisis.  Of course, this is mere speculation on my part but from where I sit I believe it has some merit.

            Putting that speculation aside I fear we have a much larger problem on our hands that demands attention.  It is what some call the Imperial Presidency.  The concept of the Imperial Presidency has actually been evolving for a long time.  An argument can be made that most modern Presidents have exceeded the authority that was envisioned by the founding fathers.  The position has certainly taken on an identity quite foreign from the example set by the first person to hold it.

            Since today is Presidents’ Day I did a little research on George Washington.  According to History.com Washington was very conscious that his interpretation of the office would serve as an example for all who followed him.  I was particularly struck by the article’s description of Washington’s approach and character, saying, “Washington worked hard to set an example of fairness, prudence and integrity. In foreign matters, he supported cordial relations with other countries…”  Does that sound familiar?  No?  Well, I agree.  It is the exact opposite of President Donald Trump.  I cannot imagine anyone describing Trump as “an example of fairness, prudence and integrity.”  Washington also held a disdain for partisanship.  This, too, has been completely reversed over the years but especially so under Trump.

          I suspect every school age child remembers hearing Washington’s supposed quote “I cannot tell a lie.”  I have no idea if this is an honest representation of our first President but I do know it is a far cry from our current Chief Executive.  The Washington Post’s Fact Checker claims Trump has told 8,718 false or misleading claims since taking office.  The lies are nothing short of nauseating.  They are foolish and outlandish.  He seems to think that if he says something often enough people will believe it.  However, anyone who is able to look objectively should be able to see right through the smoke and mirrors.  Personally, I find it insulting that this madman thinks we are so stupid that we would fall for his deceptions.  The larger question is to determin why he does so.  I suppose there are a few possible reasons.

·         Perhaps he lies intentionally, possibly to hide or cover up facts he does not want us to know about.

·         Or, he may just be a habitual liar who can’t help himself or perhaps doesn’t even have a grasp on reality.

·         Then again, the man might just be in way over his head.  Could it be Donald Trump is uniquely unqualified to be President?

On the one hand I admit that, in my opinion, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President of the United States.  Having said that, however, I do not wish to give the impression that Trump is an immature, childish person who is completely clueless and has no idea what effect his words have on others.  Neither do I think he is senile or mentally unstable.  Those are questions that only mental health professionals can determine and perhaps time will tell.  What I will say is this:  Donald Trump demonstrates certain behaviors and traits that should cause a great deal of alarm for all of us.  Among these concerns are…

·         The constant disregard for truth and reality, as I already mentioned;

·         The use of the term “Fake News” to describe any report that is not favorable to his position or views, or that contradict the Trumpian agenda;

·         The extremely high number of personal attacks he directs against his political rivals or anyone whom he deems to be a threat to his popularity or his policies, attacks that include personal insults, false claims, and rude comments;

·         His disregard for the political process and protocols.  Examples include his public request for Senator Mitch McConnel to change the rules of the Senate by using the “nuclear option” (i.e., set aside the Senate rule allowing the use of filibuster) in order to force his agenda through the Senate. 

·         His demand for loyalty and submission on the part of those who work in his administration, including the use of non-disclosure agreements and other tactics of intimidation;

·         His apparent obsession with attempting to prove his superiority over his predecessors, particularly Barack Obama and George W. Bush, along with his frequent disparaging remarks aimed at Hillary Clinton, whom he “defeated” in the 2016 election;

·         His obnoxious support for racists and bigots such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Roy Moore, David Duke and so many others;

·         His antagonistic approach towards traditional allies of the United States coupled with his inexplicable praise of tyrants and dictators such as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Xi-Jinping, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud;

·         The way he accepts the word of Russia’s President Putin while rejecting the counsel of his own Intelligence Officials;

·         The ever-growing number of Trump lackeys who have already been indicted by Robert Mueller and his team, all of whom have had deep ties with Russian oligarchs and the Russian government – 12 so far that we know of, plus another 25 Russians who have been indicted for crimes surrounding the 2016 election.  That’s a total of 37 persons and possibly more to come;

·         And, finally, the term he uses to describe news outlets and media critical of him or his administration, namely “The enemy of the people”.

This last item, “the enemy of the people” label carries with it some serious connotations.  The website www.pri.org offers a great insight into the use of this phrase.  I recommend you take a look at it by following the link https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-02-27/donald-trumps-language-echoes-russias-soviet-past.  Not surprisingly some of the greatest and most feared Russian dictators commonly referred to the press and political opponents/dissidents as “the enemy of the people”.  One has to wonder why Trump habitually uses the term himself, and where did he pick it up from?  Could it be another sign of his involvement with the Russians?

            The Russian connection with Donald Trump is unnerving.  Together with his tactics of intimidation, authoritarianism and deception it raises images of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and other notorious dictatorial regimes.  In fact, Trump’s disdain for and humiliation of Congress is not unlike the attitude of the Roman Emperors towards the Roman Senate.  (For an eye-opening experience try searching the web for “notorious Roman Emperors” and read about the likes of Caligula, Nero, Caracalla, Domitian and others.  While their exploits are horrifyingly excessive, there are more than a few disturbing similarities portrayed by Trump, including immoral conduct, excessive lifestyle, humiliation of opponents, and acceptance of conspiracy theories.)

            Where will this end?  It is difficult to say.  Clearly the Mueller investigation will have a large impact even though it will likely be challenged.  But in spite of everything I still have confidence in the American Constitution and the process of law.  These are troubling times but thy are not the end of the American Experiment.  It is quite conceivable in my mind that when the smoke clears and the Trump Era is over we just might take corrective steps to strengthen the integrity of our political system and our national identity.  Perhaps we need to go through these dark days to awaken us from our slumber and realize the urgency of repentance.

G. D. Gehr