Being Nice to Dictators

From a Google Image Search – BBC

Being Nice to Dictators

This is what American foreign policy has come to. We give dictators whatever they want in order to keep the peace and to keep migrants from flooding Europe and by extension, eventually, America (and for oil). Today Trump announced that he will end the sanctions against Turkey in exchange for a cease fire in the land grab against the Kurds in Syria and to end the presence of a minority group despised by Turks for reasons that are rooted in ancient animosities. Ending sanctions may not be a done deal yet, but it most likely will be. Next the Russian sanctions will end by executive decree because Trump likes to imagine that he is a strong man, despite the fact that he is just a corrupt bombastic pawn.

Once again the president exerts his executive power as if Congress does not exist. He does not see this as breaking an oath to uphold the Constitution because he sees the executive branch as all-powerful and he finally has a Chief Justice who agrees with this self-serving interpretation of our founding documents. Once again the president of America chooses to please Putin in Russia and Erdogan in Turkey, both “strong men.” 

We have been wary of backing these men because their goals in Europe (and now in the world) are imperialistic as well as political, and because the spread of authoritarianism was something we have opposed for decades as democracy offered the world more freedoms. Now that capitalism has spread everywhere, perhaps we see that greed was our true goal, and now that we achieved our economic goals our humanistic goals of encouraging nations towards democracy have become expendable. 

So we remain silent as the citizens of Hong Kong demonstrate to preserve freedoms they already own from being taken away. China’s business is China’s business, until one day in the not-so-distant future it becomes our business. We don’t want a war with China, but we should take a principled stand in support of human freedoms and telegraph that we mean what we say. We do not usually knuckle under to dictators until now when the economy of the entire world is so tied to the new capitalist China that stock portfolios trump humanitarianism. 

China has also become a bit scary. It is so big and it is a giant machine run by one man. There is no way to be disloyal to the leader in China except from jail or from exile. Capitalism run by one leader is intimidating enough; the thought of a military with unlimited human resources run by one leader who demands absolute loyalty is terrifying. If we are afraid to stand up to China on the small things, I think we can one day expect to have to face this giant on some fairly big things, or perhaps we will just capitulate and keep our thoughts to ourselves. Isn’t love of freedom the reason we are usually not nice to dictators?

Of course we can’t have this conversation without a few words about North Korea and the mythic-dispenser-of-cruelty-to-his-own people, and dictator supposedly in a “love affair with our President. Sometimes people are so convinced of their own deity that no amount of “tough love” will change the way they behave. North Korea is a bit quieter but it could be a silence that is covering up a plan to treat the world to some future dastardly deeds with killer results. 

It is difficult to believe that someone as egomaniacal as Kim Jung Un plans to go peacefully into the sunset. Exactly what his plans are it is difficult to discern but if he ever teams up with Russia, China, and Turkey he will have access to some pretty enormous pieces of world real estate and whatever assets and weapons the leaders of these nations choose to grant him. Perhaps this is the reason that Trump thinks cozying up to all of these nations is a necessity right now. Sadly what seems to be the case is that he would like to become a member of this “strong man” group. 

Goodbye freedom. Goodbye Republic. Goodbye democracy and free speech, including freedom of the press. Learn to follow orders blindly and just do the tasks assigned to you by the Big Brothers and you will be fine. Life will be a grim business and mercifully short. This could be our future if we don’t figure this out now. This is what being nice to dictators wins us.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-poised-to-make-statement-on-turkey-syria-situation-amid-mounting-concerns/2019/10/23/809d3e80-f5a1-11e9-a285-882a8e386a96_story.html

We Are Waiting

Murmuration of starlings from a Google Image Search – The Independent

We are Waiting

Waiting for the end of the Trump years is truly an exercise in patience, although our patience constantly wavers. Waiting to see if our democracy/republic survives seems far too passive. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s ersatz chief of staff, tells us that Trump’s administration uses political extortion all the time and we need to get over it and get used to it. Will we ever get over it? Should we get used to it? Mr. Mulvaney acknowledged that using a quid pro quo to get a deal, or even to order a foreign government to do Trump a favor though, is just business as usual. The extortion comes in because this little piece of coded conversation intimates that before we send you the military aid we promised you must do us the favor of providing dirt on one of my (Trump’s) political opponents. This is also called a quid pro quo and it is an impeachable offense against our Constitution.

Even after we are done with waiting for Trump to leave office we will not be done with waiting. Next we will be waiting for the GOP to act like the real GOP or perhaps a better GOP, or suffer big losses at the ballot box, which could take decades because they have “stacked the deck.” Waiting and waiting has consequences. Time is not on our side.

Don’t we all feel such a sense of urgency. Years of climate denial. Years of backward and racist ideology. Years of pushing against our documents and our traditions to mold them to accord to the Party’s desires. Their legacy, a mad and bad boss that they cannot even control.

It seems that we will never be free to tackle our most important issues and that our freedoms could be lost any day now, are being lost already. Watching decades of painstaking compromises disappear in a sharp, Sharpie minute is excruciatingly frustrating. Watching our allies treated with contempt and accused of not having value because the only value America now understands is money is embarrassing and actually against our best interests. Watching dictators sit in the Oval Office as honored guests makes us ashamed of what our government has become. But there are losses even greater than this although not in the Washington limelight.

There are 3 billion fewer birds in the world. Perhaps it is difficult for news like this to compete with the way we have betrayed the Kurds in Syria who helped end the caliphate and lock away ISIS terrorists. It sounds anticlimactic. These birds are, however, the proverbial “canaries in the coal mine.” That’s 3 billion canaries. It’s a loss of song and beauty. Birds keep insect populations under control. They spread seeds. They twitter and flit and entertain. But the loss of so many birds is also a warning that if we stay on our current path, if climate deniers keep all of us from devising ways to keep our planet balanced and healthy, then we will soon be reading articles about human population loss. There will be mass migrations, food shortages, water shortages, epidemics, fights, and chaos everywhere. This GOP government will not have predicted apocalypse; they will have caused it.

We need these people gone before they trash civilization and the planet. We must turf these gas-guzzling, authoritarian-loving, lawless, regulation-banishing, money-grubbing people out of our government. The dilemma is that we must turf them out using the tools our nation has given us in order to stay true to our Constitution and our laws, in order not to have to begin again from scratch. Can lawfulness win out over such flagrant and brazen lawlessness? It is not looking at all promising. Our tools require that laws still matter. But it seems we have a president and a party that no longer has any respect for laws.

We are hoping to outwait Trump as we are watching our 243 year old republic turn into an authoritarian state in the tiny hands of a man who engenders pride and trust in no one. This man will say that it is the windmills that killed the 3 billion birds, but he will be wrong. He doesn’t care about facts but some of us still do and the fact that you can still look this up on the internet tells me that we still have some time to rescue ourselves and our offspring from oblivion, or the demise of our republic.

Catching Up with Trump

Call me – From a Google Image Search – Al-Monitor

Catching up with Trump

In order to catch up with Trump we first have to talk about Ukraine. Wow! Ukraine. Who knew that Ukraine was the center of all intrigue. Well I guess many people knew this. I could see that Russia was being very aggressive towards Ukraine, that Ukraine is actually a divided nation and that its future as an independent state is not at all certain. Russia has troops in Ukraine, it has allies among some of the Ukrainian people. Reporting on Radio Free Europe classifies the Russian presence in Eastern Ukraine as an occupation. “The U.S. special envoy on Ukraine has called Russian activity in eastern Ukraine an “occupation” and has called on Moscow to start implementing its obligations under the 2015 Minsk accords — the international agreement aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists.” https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-russia-occupation-volker-zelenskiy/29969431.html

Ukraine’s government has long been seen as corrupt; operating on a system of cronyism and favors, threats and blackmail against any who sought to expose the corruption, and with a series of prosecutor generals who prosecuted only the enemies of the corrupt. An article from the Washington Post sums up some of what is known about corruption in Ukraine and if you follow the link to the article you can get more of the juicy details. 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/10/10/trump-administration-wasnt-rooting-out-corruption-ukraine-it-was-encouraging-it/

“Ukrainian presidents have used their prosecutor generals to prosecute their rivals for corruption since the country was founded in 1991. If there was one constant in Ukrainian politics before the election of Zelensky, it was the use of graft to enrich the top elite — and the threat of selective prosecution to keep that elite in line.”

“…behind the facade of Ukraine’s formal institutions, there have always been elements of a “blackmail state.” Thus, in seeking the criminal investigation of a rival, Trump administration officials weren’t fighting corruption in Ukraine — they appeared to be reactivating corrupt networks for their own political gain.”

“The real problem lies with the informal rule of Ukraine’s presidents

Scholars have shown that informal institutions such as those in Ukraine can be very sticky. Two Ukrainian revolutions — in 2004 and 2014 — didn’t end the widespread corruption of Ukraine’s elite, or the role of the Ukrainian prosecutor general in protecting that elite from prosecution.”

“The Trump administration, in its push to get the Ukrainian government to investigate Burisma Holdings, the firm whose board Hunter Biden served on, was not rooting out corruption in Ukraine. With the help of people such as U.S. envoy Kurt Volker, who knew how to navigate Ukraine’s shadows, the Trump administration was trying to reactivate that old corrupt system for its own ends.”

For President Trump to add to the problems already faced by Zelensky, the new President of Ukraine, to set this leader who promised to reform Ukraine and end corruption back on the old corrupt pathways, is a kind of politics that should never be practiced by a President of the United States of America. Ukraine obviously has quite enough problems with a Russian leader plotting to restore the old boundaries of the Soviet Union sitting in the nation’s eastern provinces and threatening war. Add in the president of our still powerful nation pushing from the west and we wonder how a state so beleaguered is supposed to have any room to solve its pressing domestic problems and end the cycle of corruption in which it has been trapped.

From a Google Image Search – NPR

This is fascist Trump, back in election mode, Trump the thug, who demonizes his political opponents by repeating or inventing any political blunders these politician might have made as they came up through the ranks, or as they pursued their private careers. These blunders, whether real or made-up, are then blown up into fatal flaws and repeated by Trump and Republicans as slurs until the opponent is so tarnished that s/he no longer is any threat to candidate Trump, who already holds the added advantage of incumbency. In this manner you beat up on your opponents without using any actual violence.

Trump apparently tried to work through his usual method of sending his henchmen to do his bidding so that he could claim his innocence and no one could offer any proof of his guilt. So he sent Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine and perhaps Rudy enlisted the help of two busy and previously light-hearted Trump donors with ties to Russia. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were part of a conspiracy to funnel foreign money into U.S. elections and are now found to be interested in the fortunes to be made in legal marijuana. 

Trump seems to have made a big mistake this time and lost his deniability because he thought he was being subtle enough in a phone conversation with Zelensky, that his coded words would protect him from discovery even though he knew many were listening in on the conversation (because they were supposed to listen in). For backup he knew that transcripts of the conversation would be filed away in an unusually secure place. His code was a bit too transparent on this particular occasion and there was a whistleblower who called attention to what transpired on the call. That’s how we arrived at the impeachment inquiry.

Trump also backs a complex conspiracy theory that assigns blame for Russian interference in the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton and the DNC, the FBI and the CIA. He has the people’s Justice department and State department heads, who are his toadies dashing off to Europe and China to find or invent documentation to prove his nutty nonsense, which has already been discredited. Trump simply keeps attacking the credibility of any government agency that denies the truth of Trump’s ridiculous theory. He does the usual; he blames someone else for his own criminal or un-American activities. 

At this point, even if Trump finds “proof” that the “deep state” (any enemy of Trump) got Russia involved in the election, who will believe his so-called proof except his base. He uses all these people who sworn oaths to work for the American people because he thinks doing so either protects his part in the scheme, or gives his “investigations” legitimacy. But, in the process, he has to destroy every institution of our democracy/republic that we have always relied on to be nonpartisan. He turns the very people appointed to run our American government into lackies. He turns what was a swamp when he entered the Oval Office into a sewer. Well, America happens to possess a sewer drain. It is called Impeachment.

From a Google Image Search – Drain Cleaners

Xi and Hong Kong – and Communism

Hong Kong demonstration – from a Google image search – Bloomberg

Communism – Xi and Hong Kong

Communism sounds so good in theory but, so far, it is a system that never works. There is no such thing as a nice little (or big) communist country. The people own the means of production the theory goes. What exactly does that mean? You would think that it means that each person has a share of ownership of their workplace whether it is an office, a factory, a shop, or a farm, and they share in the profits. 

But communism has turned out to be something much grimmer than that. In order to share the booty of trade, production, etc. you must belong to the communist party. The communist party has an inner circle of ideologues who end up being more powerful than other members of the party. After a power struggle at the top one person usually emerges as the Dear Leader. Party members are constantly tested for the purity of their beliefs and must answer questions with the ‘right’ answers according to an ever-shifting doctrine. If wrong answers are given punishment can result. In the case of the USSR, people who were not loyal enough were executed, sent to prison or to serve a long grueling sentence in a gulag until considered sufficiently subdued to offer no further trouble to the regime. 

The inner circle, if they manage to toe the party line can make out like bandits, stealing or skimming from the projects or operations they are supposed to oversee on behalf of the people. Since no one is allowed to spread failures or corrupt practices as news, news sources and journalists are carefully controlled and all media is state-operated. Poets and authors who try to write exposés of the flaws in the system, or the brutal acts against any who are even thought to be dissenters, are fair game for imprisonment and even execution. Sometimes though the books or poems are smuggled out for the world to see. Perhaps a writer gets punished less if the outside world is watching. 

Why would a system the people love need an ‘Iron Curtain’ or a Berlin Wall? It wouldn’t. Why is North Korea so secretive? China? Is it because they are basically slave states and they don’t want anyone to know the lengths they must resort to in order to keep the people under control? It is most likely also because if people could see the freedoms others around the world enjoy they would be in despair or revolution. In every communist country I have seen in the news or read about in books, the people are virtually captives. Trying to leave and move to another country is called a defection and is a crime. Imagine if it was a crime to leave America. Not as hard to imagine today as it once was, but we are not there yet.

Now imagine that you have lived in Hong Kong, once a protectorate, not part of China, where you lived a basically free existence. China (Beijing) recently decided to send people who break a law in Hong Kong to the mainland to be tried and punished if found guilty. The once-free people of Hong Kong see this as a major step to a total loss of autonomy, the end of their special status as a part of China, but a relatively free part of China. Now Tiananmen Square could happen in Hong Kong. Now their purity as communists and subjects of Xi can be tested and they can find themselves losing all their freedom for the slightest infraction. They can be removed from their home city, an island far from Xi, and can find themselves in trouble, with totally arbitrary punishments since no code dictates what punishments will be used, no impartial court exists to hear the details of their case. 

I could be wrong about this but from all I have read and heard, from Solzhenitsyn to The Three Swans of China to the Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, communism involves anything but the people owning the means of production or owning anything else. There is always a capricious leader who uses fear and harsh punishment to keep people in line, as if without making people fear you there would be chaos all the time. Fear is used, more likely, to keep people from banding together and revolting and from noticing how deeply they are being ripped off. 

So when I see the people of Hong Kong out protesting in the streets of their island city, when I see the city streets packed with thousands of bodies all at risk, I admire the bravery of the people of Hong Kong even as I am already mourning their eventual failure. Who can they turn to for help to keep their freedoms? Well not us that’s for sure and actually not anyone. No one wants to or can take on Xi’s China which is perhaps not powerful enough yet for world conquest, but is certainly powerful enough to defend its boundaries.

To take freedom away from people who have tasted its heady rewards, its unfettered mind, is a very tough task indeed. The people of Hong Kong deserve our praise, and once we might have gone to war to help them win their fight, but not now. Perhaps they will just be our shining example so that we don’t give up our own freedoms, any more of our own freedoms, without a fight. I wish that for once the underdog would win and Xi would decide to back off, find a way to do it without ‘losing face’, if that is still a thing, and let the people of Hong Kong go back to living with the freedoms they are used to having. -Just because Xi is President for Life and he can do that.

Take Down Trump, Then Tackle Republicans

The light side v the dark side – from a google image search – DIY Website Tool

Take Down Trump, Then Tackle the Republicans

We are all adults here. We know that good and evil are never completely separate from each other. We also know that we have the potential for both good and evil within us. We also are aware that for whatever reasons (nature or nurture) there are people who do not seem able to tell good and evil apart, people who cannot suppress harmful impulses, people who make bad choices, and people who go down bad pathways. 

We don’t expect that people will wear white hats or black hats so we can tell who might harm us. We know there may be a side that heeds the “light” and a “dark side,” but most of us have access to both kinds of impulses. We try to cut people some slack if we find that they are starting to act out of character, or when an aspect of their character seems to turn more dark than light. (I’m using this tired Star Wars analogy because it is a shared cultural meme.)

In politics this knowledge that we all contain both good and evil is the philosophy behind both-sides-ism. This is the basis of the statement that, “The Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans.” Well when it comes to corruption and money this might be true. There are just as many Democrats who seem to come away from Washington rich as there are 

Republicans. At least conventional wisdom says this is so.

But when it comes to governance, and the agenda each side has for the America people, it has become clear that Democrats are moving to the “light” side and Republicans have chosen to champion the “dark side”. Democrats have passed a number of bills addressing issues the American people care about: gun control legislation, drug price controls,  LGBTQ rights, paycheck fairness guarantees, a bill to secure elections and make it easier for people to vote, a bill to protect immigrant children born in America (dreamers), a Climate Action Now bill, a bill to restore the Violence Against Women Act, and a Save the Internet Act. 

All these bills are sitting in the Senate because Mitch McConnell will not bring them to the floor for a vote and if he did bring them to the floor they would be voted down. But why? Each one of these bills secures a right for some or all American people. There is not one thing contained in these bills that should be considered injurious or that would have a negative effect on America or the American people. Even the most controversial bills protect rights for a segment of America.

Why is it that Republicans can get away with acting as if being born as an LGBTQ individual is a sin that will rub off on anyone of faith who gets near a same-sex couple or doesn’t try conversion therapy on a perhaps already-‘gobsmacked’ teen. In fact why should it be traumatic at all to find out about your sexual preferences? Why would a person of faith assume that it is fine, in fact required by God, to treat any person in this group as unacceptable, or even criminal?

For over two centuries people who were stolen from their homes and sold in America as slaves have been considered by “religious” Americans as less-than-human even as they fathered children by indiscriminately forcing enslaved women to lie with them and they could see that procreation was possible (thus proving the humanity of dark-skinned folks). 

Haven’t we already been through this with people who claim that they believe these things because they are conservative when the rest of us can see that they are really just intolerant or bigoted patterns of behavior. People who identify as right-wingers want us to believe that immigrants are also subhuman. While there might be valid reasons that a nation cannot allow itself to be overrun with too many migrant people at one time, and while it may be true that some migrant people could be nursing hate for the land they want to enter, pretending that people are not human enough to live among us takes the fear just a bit too far. It takes it into the “dark side”. It appears that migrations will increase worldwide so it would seem better for the world’s nations to make a plan to make the upheaval of settled populations less unsettling.

Holding Back the Future = from a Google image search – Hulen Street Church

It gets tiresome to keep tolerating hate and fear. It prevents a nation from looking to the future and coming up with reasonable ways to solve problems that are trending in the world at a particular time (such as migration due to climate change). These supposedly conservative, republican people are letting themselves be taken over by the “dark side” and there is no rational purpose for sympathizing with them except that they tend to get scary when challenged. They are wrong-headed and we know that they are holding us all back.

For some reason the entire Republican Party has gone over to the “dark side.” They insist that they are saving a nation that they are actually killing. Even before Trump was elected in 2016, Republicans wanted things that helped the Party and the wealthy far more than the people they promised to serve. Elite Republicans in the Senate could never have inspired the Tea Party. Talk Radio and Fox News did that. And they were the warm-up act for Trump. 

Why would ordinary Americans, either urban or rural, care about tax cuts that only benefited the wealthiest Americans and corporations. These folks were sold a bill of goods; the trickle-down bill of goods. The Republicans at the base of the party were promised their factories back, which the Republican Party had to know was a lie. Republicans have experts to advise them on economics. The Republicans stick to trickle-down because the money trickles into their own bank accounts and stock portfolios. 

Why would average Americans care about state’s rights? I doubt if many people who work every day have spent a lot of time thinking about what the US would be like if the state’s individually had more power than the federal government. Chaos is not conducive to peaceful productive lives, nor does it make America a great place to raise your children. If every individual state made its own laws things would begin to feel complicated. 

Why would people who live in states that are destroyed time and again by ever fiercer storms like to see rules passed to stop protecting people from toxic environmental anomalies? We see the tracks of people’s grief, homes turned to splinters. The only reason I can think of is that these folks have been convinced by media that our factories left because those awful Democrats forced them to follow environmental rules. That may have been part of why factories left but cheap labor and new markets were the real temptations to stray.

Why would people fight against the Medicaid expansion that Obama offered and cheer on their red state when it turned the federal money down? These were people without jobs at the time. They needed health care. Why did they vote against their own interests? Tradition? Brainwashing? The fear of creeping socialism planted in their brains by the instruments of propaganda. 

It is called budgeting when the American people decide how they want to spend their tax dollars. If they want to spend on programs that help parents who work, help people afford good health care and meds, help turn out productive young people by subsidizing the cost of good post-high school training or education, on updating infrastructure, that is the people’s business. It is not socialism. 

Republicans were already going about the business of dismantling bipartisan government and remaking it in the image that was hammered out in meetings between Conservatives, corporate heavies like the Koch’s and Evangelicals. How many people cared about whether Creationism should be taught in schools before these right-wing believers convinced them that this is not a nation that guarantees religious freedom to all; this is a Christian nation they say, and Christians believe in creationism, not evolution. It is so hard to argue that Christians have gone over to the “dark side” but they have. It is no longer easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven. Now if you are wealthy you are chosen by God and he proved it by making you rich. That’s not in the Bible I read, however.

If the Republican Party has gone to the “dark side” then Trump is their perfect minion, although now transformed into their “anything-can-happen” boss. He is not even Darth Vader, because Vader still had some light in him. He is Supreme Leader Snoke, that man so evil that he did not realize how ugly he had become. Take heart. Although Snoke did have power, he was not quite as invincible as he believed himself to be . 

Trump also has a very weird effect on people. He can turn them into absolute loyalists who scurry to do his bidding even though this corruption could destroy our American dream. Toadyism turns our government representatives, who pledged an oath to uphold  the documents that make our country a republic, into something too terrible to contemplate, something we have spent 240 years trying to stave off. 

Even if we get rid of Trump as we need to do, we are left with the shameless and lawless Republican Party. I cannot believe that people still interview Republicans and pretend that Democrats are deliberately refusing to be bipartisan when it is totally the other way around. Republicans no longer have a bipartisan bone in their bodies. The only reason I can see for them to behave as they do is because of their ‘Grand Plan’ to take over our government and remake it according to reactionary right-wing visions; to keep our country tied to fossil fuels even if it kills our economy and our planet; and to never again have to listen to a “liberal” idea. 

Unless the Republican Party gives up its not-so-shadowy takeover agenda and turns back into a party that helps steer us and keep us somewhat fiscally cautious as we move forward, either the Republican Party will die or the Grand American experiment will. Under the ‘Republican Plan’ we will all become ‘sad’ little subjects of some leader’s capricious whims for many, many ‘sad’ years. 

No amount of power, no amount of stockpiled money will suffice to assure that you can keep the future at bay through stubborn will. Despite many flaws recounted in the news every day (we all have flaws) we need to let Democrats lead for enough years to guide us smoothly into what promises to be an increasingly global future as leaders of a nation involved in determining what that future will look like.