Archive for the ‘opinion’ Category

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An Unfortunate Step Backwards

June 5, 2017

On this World Environment Day we are left to ponder the latest chapter in human irresponsibility, the decision by Mr. Trump to have the United States, the second greatest polluter in the world, withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

This decision manifests the President’s unacceptable lack of understanding of reality. After hearing his comments and speech, one is left to wonder if he actually read the agreement. Trump’s assessment of the Paris accord and its supposed effect on our nation once again displays his “willful ignorance and disinterest” and “failure of intellectual virtue” as columnist David Brooks (a Republican, no less) aptly phrases it.

This is an agreement involving a non-binding timetable for the reduction of carbon emissions. No country is imposing restrictions on any other country, contrary to Mr. Trump’s assertions. Under the agreement, we already have the freedom to make adjustments as dictated by our circumstances without penalty.

Trump claims that the accord “would effectively decapitate our coal industry.” For those who pay attention, the coal industry was in decline long before the accord because of the availability of cleaner and cheaper energy sources. As a matter of fact, even the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham, Kentucky, switched to solar power in order to save money.

He said in his speech that he “was elected to represent the people of Pittsburg, not Paris”. It is of some interest to note that the people of Pittsburg voted overwhelmingly in favor of Hillary Clinton and is a green city of its own volition.

Economically, there is widespread agreement that any short-term gains made by the fossil fuel industry will be greatly offset by our inability to capitalize on the inevitable world-wide shift to renewable energy. By leaving the Paris agreement, we jeopardize our potential to be at the vanguard of clean technology and the economic gains that come with it, a vacuum sure to be filled by other industrial nations, notably China.

This withdrawal seems to be more about sending a misguided “nationalist” message to the world (courtesy of the unelected Steve Bannon) than about global warming. It is the product of the bunker mentality of a man who sees not facts or points of view but instead a pantheon of enemies composed of any person or group who disagrees with him.

Mr. Trump has chosen to put us in the company of only Nicaragua (who voted against the accord because it wasn’t tough enough) and Syria in the world community. He has basically abdicated the leadership role the United States had formerly embraced in this critical issue. Instead of forging ahead in the field of sustainable energy, he has chosen to go backwards in spite of the opposition of a large number major corporations (including, amazingly enough, Exxon), 211 mayors representing 54 million Americans, and his own Secretary of State.

By now there should be no question about climate change being affected by carbon emissions caused by mankind (though some in the current administration still have their heads in the sand on this one) and no question that an immediate concerted effort is needed to curtail the damage being done before it is too late. Any negative impact this may have on our economy (and that is indeed disputable) is far outweighed by the positive impact we could and should make concerning the future health of this planet and the future generations that will inhabit it.

The Paris accord is by no means perfect, but at the very least it takes a step forward in uniting the nations of this planet in a common cause, one that is critical to us all. To abandon it is an act of self-absorbed fantasy which only serves to accelerate the advance towards an incomprehensible cataclysm. The reality is that we are all in this together. It is a time for America to step up, not take this unfortunate step backwards.

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The Hundred Day Hustle

May 2, 2017

“My fellow Americans, I truly believe that the first 100 days of my Administration has been just about the most successful in our country’s history.”

Just about the most successful in our country’s history!? Talk about hyperbole!

Donald Trump hustled a large portion of the American voters with his sales pitch during the election campaign, and now one hundred days into his administration, he is still at it.

He has resorted to his histrionic campaign-style speeches as of late, full of inflated and often inaccurate assessments of accomplishments, patriotic platitudes, and attacks on anyone who disagrees with him, particularly the press. But on closer examination of the facts — something foreign to the normal Trump modus operandi — one gets a far less rosy picture.

For example, let us examine Trump’s 28 bills signed, something he points out with quite a bit of puffery as being second only to Harry Truman’s 55. Closer scrutiny, though, reveals that most of these are not of great significance.

Three of the bills appoint individuals to the board at the Smithsonian Institute, two of them give names to buildings, and one designates a location for a National Memorial.

Thirteen of the bills are reversals of Obama regulations rather than ones breaking any new legislative ground. Though these reversals affect important issues, they are the product of the mechanism of the Congressional Review Act that requires such reversals to get through Congress in the first hundred days.

Conspicuous by their absence are the ten pieces of legislation that Trump promised during the first hundred days in his much-ballyhooed “Contract with the American Voter,” such as a repeal and/or replacement of the Affordable Care Act (the only one of the bunch to actually make an appearance and which couldn’t make it through a Republican-controlled Congress), tax reform (in spite of the rushed presentation of a one page outline proposal lacking any salient clarifying details), infrastructure investment, school choice, military spending, and affordable childcare and eldercare, to name a few.

On the economic front, there are many instances of taking credit where credit is not due. The incorrect claim of 500,000 plus jobs created by the Trump administration included the final months of the Obama presidency; the actual number was 317,000. For one who claimed to be the Great Job Creator, Trump’s average for the two months of his reign thus far is 158,500 compared to Obama’s average for 2016 of 187,00 per month. The much-touted Keystone pipeline is expected to employ only 35 people permanently; the estimated 42,000 other jobs would be temporary (3,900 of them in construction) lasting only while it is being built. Additionally, the investment and job creation in the auto industry is not in actuality Trump’s doing. The Ford decision of canceling its new plant in Mexico in favor of Arizona was made in 2011, and the billion dollar investment plans that General Motors and Fiat Chrysler announced had been years in the making.

An extremely problematic though less talked about issue of this new administration concerns the vacancies yet unfilled by Trump that are critical to the day-to-day functioning of government — the deputy secretaries and undersecretaries, chief financial officers, ambassadors, general counsels, and heads of smaller agencies — which are causing anxiety and frustration for his Cabinet secretaries. The Senate has given confirmation to 26 Trump picks in these first hundred days, but there are 530 senior-level jobs that have remained vacant, and Trump has advanced only 37 nominees for those. The turmoil within the Trump team certainly has not helped to expedite this critical task.

Another supposed feather in Trump’s cap, the Tomahawk missile attack on an airbase in Syria as retaliation for a sarin gas attack by Assad on his own people, turned out to be more spectacle than substance. With no real strategy formulated to deal with the Syrian situation, it was a one-and-done operation, and the airbase was up and running the following day.

Even the centerpiece of Trump’s “success,” the confirmation of a conservative to the Supreme Court, is not so much the accomplishment of Trump as it is the result of the ethically indefensible obstructionist tactics used by the Republicans in Congress to block the Obama appointment of the eminently qualified Merrick Garland.

Clearly the first one hundred days of any endeavor is at best an arbitrary yardstick by which to measure success. However, Trump apparently wants it both ways. To proclaim his “tremendous accomplishments” during that time period while at the same time downplaying the importance of that benchmark is ingenuous and hypocritical. But then again, what else should we expect from the master of the hustle.

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The Myth of “The Mess”

March 1, 2017

There was something different about Donald Trump’s address to Congress Tuesday night. He seemed presidential, something that is notable only because it is an aberration from what has been the case throughout his campaign and his first month in office. But there was unfortunately something that was the same: his unnecessary diminution of the previous administration. He made a point of cherry-picking “facts” which would portray the supposedly dire circumstances he inherited (from which he, of course, will now grandly extricate us). He had referred to this previously as the “mess” he was left.

Yes, indeed. What a mess Donald Trump was left. Let’s take a look at it.

When Barak Obama took office (when there was a real mess), the Dow was at 6,626. When he left, it was at 19,875. The country had 82 straight months of private sector job growth — the longest streak in the history of the United States — and 11.3 million new jobs had been created. Unemployment went down from 10% to 4.7% (the intentionally misleading 94 million “out of the labor force” statistic used by Trump includes high school and college students, people with disabilities, stay-at-home parents, and retirees — the actual number of unemployed according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics is about 7.6 million). Consumer confidence had gone from 37.7 to 98.1 The U.S. auto industry was saved — the number of American cars sold at the beginning of his term was 10.4 million and upon his exit 17.5 million. Corporate profits were up by 144%. U.S. exports were up 28%.

Additionally, homelessness among U.S. veterans has dropped by half and billions of dollars were added to mental health care for veterans. Reliance on foreign oil is at a 40 year low. Solar and wind power are at an all time high. Abortion is down. Violent crime is down. High school graduation rates hit 83%, an all time high.

Are things perfect? No, they’re not, nor have they ever been. Are there problems that need to be addressed? Absolutely, as there always are.

Are things a “mess?” Sorry, that’s just not the case.

It is good that Mr. Trump laid out his vision and gave us his plans (though a few specifics would have been nice) and most importantly acted like a president (hopefully something that will become a daily occurrence). However, it is too bad that he chose to spend time pointing a finger of blame at the “mess” he was left. Taking shots, particularly undeserved ones, at the previous administration in this address — purportedly one in a spirit of unification —  is beneath the office Mr. Trump now occupies.

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Protecting America

February 28, 2017

Donald Trump often proclaims that one of his primary goals is protecting America. This is the reason he has given for his travel restrictions directed at seven majority Muslim nations, the fear of terrorist attacks being the driving force behind it. It behooves us to look at the justification for this deservedly controversial measure.

Let us examine these facts.

The countries falling under the restrictions are Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen. The total number of terrorists from these countries who have perpetrated acts of violence in America is zero. The countries from which terrorists staging attacks in America have come are Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, and Chechnya. Not one of those countries is included in the ban. Furthermore, intelligence analysts in the Department of Homeland Security concluded in an internal report that the “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.”

Over the past decade, a total of 24 Americans have been killed on our soil by foreign-born terrorists. In contrast, over just the past five years, the U.S. has averaged 11,564 gun homicides a year. That is an average of 32 per day. This puts the gun homicide rate in our country over 25 times higher than that of other developed countries.

How then, in light of this information, does Trump’s proposal protect America? Clearly the facts indicate that whatever we are now doing is working well on the terrorism front in spite of the public fear mongering on the part of some. The facts also indicate that the area that is in dire need of addressing is protection from homicides involving guns.

The fact of the matter is that the average American is 4,818 times more likely to be shot to death by another American than he or she is to be killed by a terrorist from a Muslim nation.

Why then is this not the primary focus of protecting America? Is it perhaps because the gun lobby has so much undue influence in the halls of our government? Or maybe the knee-jerk reaction is simply greater when it comes to Muslim terrorists?

It is time to take a hard look at what the real danger is and take suitable action to deal with it. The travel restriction makes for flashy headlines and patriotic posturing, but it does not address the real problem. Mr. Trump, if protecting America is truly the goal, then do something about the proliferation of guns in this country and the deadly violence it engenders.

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Welcome to Trump World

February 26, 2017

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It is hard to know where to begin to assess the ignominy that has been the first month of the Trump administration (and I use the word administration loosely — only 14 positions needing confirmation out of 549 have been filled, and Trump hasn’t even nominated anyone to 515 of them as of Feb. 21). It is a world filled with misinformation and distorted half-truths (the fact-checkers have needed to work overtime), classless name-calling, continuous narcissistic delusions of grandeur (biggest victories, largest crowds, greatest cabinet choices), incessant juvenile tweeting, and vitriolic animosity directed at anyone who disagrees with him, all of which has created an unprecedented atmosphere of dissent and resistance in what would normally be a period of grace for a new President.

Much of this reflects the attributes Trump fostered after the mentorship of the ruthless and villainous New York lawyer Roy Cohn in the 1970s. Cohn had gained fame during the witch hunt that was the McCarthy hearings, taking great pride in ruining lives, demeaning his adversaries, and freely making things up to suit his cause (sound familiar?).

Trump learned several lessons from Cohn which he had applied consistently throughout his campaign and has continued since his inauguration: don’t let the truth interfere with your agenda; when attacked, hit back viciously and often; never admit you’re wrong; and even if you lose in actuality, claim victory anyway.

The greatest of the casualties of this Trump era thus far (and there have been many) is the truth. He has long subscribed to the infamous fascist method of The Big Lie (no doubt with generous help from his chief goon, Steve Bannon): repeat something — true or not — enough times, and people will start to believe it. His desire to suppress contradictory information coming out in the press is straight out of the playbook of repressive totalitarian regimes from Hitler’s Germany to Putin’s Russia.

This is exactly why Trump and Bannon consider the legitimate free press to be the enemy: it is the primary vehicle for uncovering the often unflattering and inconvenient truth. In the words of one of our esteemed founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, “Our first object should therefore be to leave open … all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”

Trump’s insistent claim has been that the “dishonest news media” has been foisting “fake news” on the people of the country (rather ironic because the majority of it has originated from him and his staff). Reporters, networks, and newspapers have been belittled and shunned, and the smear campaign against the supposed “enemy of the people” has reached a fever pitch.

Sorry, Mr. Trump. You can call any fact that is at odds with what you say “fake news” all you want, but that does not change what it really is. You can malign the press too, but as long as this remains a democracy, their presence will remain a crucial element in maintaining an honest government.

Sadly, some of the easily led (or, more accurately, misled) have swallowed this nonsense hook, line, and sinker. However, history has shown that eventually the truth will find the light of day. And when it does, Mr. Trump will find himself in a different world where veracity and accuracy actually do matter, one where his indisputably unpresidential words and actions shall be held to account.

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Black History Matters

February 19, 2017

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Yes, I know. All history matters.

However, it is necessary to make this proclamation because of the very nature of history itself. It is, after all, not just the telling of what happened in the past. It is the telling of what happened in the past from the perspective of those who are writing the history. In the words of Dan Brown, “History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books — books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?’ ”

The Arawak, Taino, and Caribe peoples of the Caribbean islands did not get to tell the story of Columbus and his “discovery” and subsequent conquest. Theirs would have been quite a different version than the one we have read for years in our grade school history books. So too did the Cherokee, Chippewa, Sioux, Blackfoot, Apache, and Navajo not get to describe the “taming of the West” as they knew it.

Nor did the slaves during that shameful two hundred forty-six year period in our history or their descendants who bore the oppressive burden of segregation have the opportunity to give voice to their experience for the greater populace to understand and appreciate.

This is the reason black history matters. And women’s history. And that of Native American Indians, Hispanics, and all others that have been traditionally disregarded. To ignore both the struggles and contributions of these groups is to taint the history of this country as incomplete and misleading.

Mention this year of Black History Month has been all too scarce (other than the hollow Trump statement with its ridiculous reference to Frederick Douglas). I would have hoped this is because we have reached a time of greater enlightenment. However, the present climate in which both emboldened intolerance and the phenomenon of “alternative facts” have gotten a foothold would indicate otherwise.

It is unacceptable for the American people as a whole to not have proper knowledge of a significant part of our population, especially since it has had an integral role in shaping the very nation we have become. It is important to recognize the impact — both on the perpetrators and the victims — of the  slave trade: the abject misery of the Middle Passage, the brutality of the treatment the captured Africans endured, and their ensuing life in America as mere property. For a country which purports to live by the ideals of liberty and justice for all, it is necessary to recognize that we imposed such arbitrary and restrictive practices on that portion of the population living in servitude and then after the Civil War, though supposedly free, the incredible injustice and indignity of the Jim Crow Laws. We as a nation should also be inspired by the words and deeds of those who stood up to the injustice and by the amount that was accomplished by them in the face of great odds, lessons unfortunately still applicable to this day.

It is clear that there is work in this area remaining to be done if we are indeed going to continue to make strides and actually see the day when, as succinctly put in the lyrics of the Wailers’ song, “there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation….(and) the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes.” We will need all members of our society to gain a more complete and balanced understanding of the past and its continued effect on the present. It is not enough to merely pay lip service to the paramount American ideal of equality. We have enough insincere politicians doing that. An America that truly lives up to its principles must recognize and affirm its past, shortcomings as well as successes. Black History Month was and still is one necessary step in that process.

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Unpreventable?

December 7, 2016

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The war that we have carefully for years provoked                                                                                         Catches us unprepared, amazed and indignant.
— Robinson Jeffers from the poem “Pearl Harbor”

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a date that President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed “will live in infamy.” On this day in 1941, Pearl Harbor, the primary American base in the Pacific, suffered a devastating surprise strike by the Empire of Japan which resulted in the death of more than two thousand Americans and crippled the critically important Pacific Fleet, plunging us into World War II.

Never before had a foreign attack of this magnitude occurred on American soil causing such loss of life and property. This was the original 9/11, another day that caught us unprepared, amazed, and indignant. And much like 9/11, the way it happened would read like a novel had it not been true. There occurred a perfect storm of unusual circumstances and missed opportunities by the United States, and Japan’s shocking triumph resulted.

Months before, a meeting proposed by Japan’s Prime Minister Konoye to “solve the unsolvable” never happened. Despite the urging of Joseph Grew, the American Ambassador to Japan, the State Department did not share his optimism that such a meeting would prove fruitful and disregarded the viewpoint that Japan’s desperation over the U.S. embargo and sanctions would drive them to war. Prince Konoye subsequently resigned, General Hideki Tojo became both Prime Minister and War Minister, and seven weeks later Pearl Harbor felt the result.

The Japanese government had intended to convey a declaration of war thirty minutes before the attack was to have begun. However, officials at the Japanese embassy in Washington had taken too long to decode the document thus unintentionally delivering it two hours after the fact.

Normally, the entire fleet would not be present in the harbor at one time, a common safety measure taken by the Navy. On this day, though, the entire fleet was in, all concentrated in a small area, providing a perfect target.

Normally, in each of the warships enough compartments would be sealed off making them water-tight in case of attack to prevent the sinking of the giant vessels. That coming Monday an Admiral’s inspection had been expected, so the compartments were left open to facilitate his visit, a decision that had dire consequences.

At 6:40 on the morning of the assault, the crew of the destroyer U.S.S. Ward spotted the periscope of a submarine headed for the entrance to the harbor. It dropped depth charges in an attempt to sink the sub. This information was radioed to Headquarters. It should have been a red flag precipitating an immediate alert. No alert was issued.

At 7:02 the radar station, manned by young and inexperienced personnel, detected a massive flight of airplanes 132 miles from the island and approaching rapidly from the north. Lt. Kermit Taylor, a pilot only on his second day at the station, made the assumption that it was an expected flight of American B-17 bombers from California. In actuality it was the 183 Japanese aircraft bent on delivering a knock-out blow to the American military might in the Pacific. No action was taken.

At 7:55 the first wave of torpedo planes swept in, and the devastation began. During the next two hours, the lightning strike planned by the Japanese — one they thought would entail an intense battle from which most would not return — was successful beyond their expectations.

Could Pearl Harbor have been averted? After 9/11, the same haunting question was asked. More importantly, what about the next Pearl Harbor, the next 9/11? Is complete preparedness even possible?

As former CIA operative and writer Charles McCarry noted, “Richard M. Helms, the first director of Central Intelligence to rise from the ranks, was fond of saying that the CIA had been founded to make sure that there would never be another Pearl Harbor. Underlying this mission impossible was the wishful supposition that an America that knew everything could prevent anything.”

It is doubtful that there could be an America that knows everything. It seems unlikely both because of our free society and expectations of privacy as well as the logistical improbability of such a herculean task. And if that is the case, then the very idea that America can prevent anything is untenable.

So what are we to do? Yes, we must insist that our government, military, and police remain vigilant. The same should be expected of the citizenry. But beyond that, the need to be proactive in eliminating the root causes of the animosities that would rise to such a level of aggression is paramount, another seemingly impossible mission. However, it is one that must be attempted, for not to do so condemns us to a future of Pearl Harbors to come.