Saturday, November 26, 2016

To Republican Senators Who Rejected Trump: Don't Abandon Your Principles

Everyone assumes that Republicans have control of the Senate and that Democrats will have to resort to endless filibusters in attempting to stop those aspects of Trump’s agenda that denigrate or attack specific groups of American citizens on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  But there is another possibility, which strangely I have not seen discussed in the media nor regarding which I have received any petitions.

Four Republican Senators publicly disavowed Trump prior to the election … Gail Collins (ME), Ben Sasse (NE), Jeff Flake (AZ), and Lindsay Graham (SC) … saying that he was unfit to serve as President, that he would divide the country, that he did not respect human dignity, and did not represent their party.  What should they do now?

Trump is making a show of reaching out to those who slammed him, such as Mitt Romney, but it is only show and indicates no moderation of his positions and attitudes.  His true intentions are shown by the consistency of his character, the major appointments given his cronies, and most scarily his naming Steve Bannon, the racist, anti-Semitic alt right guru of Breitbart News, as the White House’s Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor.  (News Flash: Trump tells The New York Times that he disavows the alt right and that Bannon and Brietbart are not alt right or racist.  So much for honesty.)

The four have a critical decision to make now which will impact the future of this country and the welfare of their fellow citizens.  The new Senate will have 51 Republicans (including them), 48 Democrats, and 1 Independent who caucuses with the Democrats.  Thus Trump/
Republicans only control the Senate by a 2-vote margin.  The four have the power to nullify that.

Will the four have the courage of their convictions?  The most courageous position for them would be to switch their party identity to Independent (there is precedent for this).  They wouldn’t have to caucus with the Democrats, which they would probably be uncomfortable doing.  Just changing to Independent, and not caucusing with the Republicans, would deprive Republicans and Trump of a majority and thus control of the Senate and its committees.  Since they didn’t vote for him for President because they thought he was unfit, this would seem appropriate.

However, they are life-long Republicans, hold the Party (at least in its former iteration) dear, and so switching would be unlikely.  The next option, still courageous, would be for them to work with Trump and the Republican majority when they can morally support measures before the Senate, but clearly indicate, ideally upfront and in concert, that they will vote with the Democrats to block measures that are morally unacceptable.

The last option, which would show no courage whatsoever, would be to cave in to Trump’s bullying and act as part of the Republican majority regardless the measure.  To vote in lock-step with the majority leader as they did during the Obama administration.

Upon their action depends the fate of the nation not just for the next four years but perhaps for the foreseeable future.  Each of these Senators will have to decide what to do.  The issue cannot be evaded.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How to Respond to the Election?


After the dismaying election season and the heartbreaking election results, my first response was that I needed to start planning to leave the US.  The country is broken in so many ways.  The rage unleashed by Trump against Latinos and Muslims is scary.  As is his contempt of women and the “elite,” meaning educated liberals.  Given the darkness of his campaign, I saw things could easily move in an even more unpleasant direction.  

And incoming reports confirm my fears; just since the election, hate crimes are on the rise, committed by people often invoking his name.  And the FBI just reported that hate crimes were up 6% this past year.

During a morning meditation though I asked myself what a spiritual person should do.  What did spiritual, good people do in other situations where people were persecuted?  And I thought of the people who at great risk hid Jews or helped them escape from the Nazis.  I thought of the Danish citizens who marched with yellow stars on their coats.  I thought of churches here who offer sanctuary to undocumented aliens.  I thought of what Pastor Niemöller said in Nazi Germany, “First they came for the Communists, and I did nothing,  Then they came for the Jews, and I did nothing.  Now they have come for me, and it is too late.”  I knew I had to do something.

At the same time, I was aware that millions of Trump supporters have been suffering terribly for decades as a result of jobs lost overseas and wage stagnation, their middle class world shattered.  That they rightfully felt neglected by the political establishment, and their anger was a reflection of that suffering.  They need help as well.

Each of us, in ways small and large, can act to let those being attacked as well as those who have suffered know that they are not alone.  

As for myself, I realized that this disaster presents a once in a lifetime, perhaps once in history, opportunity for America to get past its internal problems of racism and all forms of bigotry and inequality.  And so I came up with the idea of starting a nonprofit, American Solidarity, which would, in concert with other national organizations, organize mass non-violent rallies across this country for people to stand in solidarity with Latinos, African-Americans, Muslims, LGBT people, and women, as well as the white displaced worker.  To show that you can’t rebuild America physically while leaving its social fabric frayed.  Go to www.americansolidarity.org.  

I purposely am not calling these gatherings “protests” because that’s not the spirit I want to project.  Why?  One has to understand a basic fact regarding Trump: if you criticize him in any way, he will respond with vitriol and disdain.  And so all the ranting protests, regardless how large, will not move him an inch and actually be counter-productive.  He feels victimized by the establishment, by moderates and liberals, and so this type of protest will only feed that perception and strengthen his resolve to go his own way, supported by the alt right.   

Instead, I want these rallies to be dignified statements of solidarity with all those being attacked as well as the millions of blue collar workers who have been suffering terribly.  

What we need is a Gandhi/MLK moment.  This is a time for all 63,000,000 of us who voted for Hillary as well as millions who voted for Trump out of economic despair, not hatred, to come together and say to Trump, “yes, rebuild the country’s infrastructure, create jobs, but be, as you pledged, the president of all Americans.”


Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Better Way to Respond to Emigration Crises

Over the past several years, almost 5 million Syrian refugees have fled their battle-torn country for safety in other countries.  Most have gone to neighboring countries, overwhelming their resources.  Roughly 500,000 have fled to Europe creating, together with another 500,000 refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries, the well-reported refugee crisis there.

This is a crisis on several levels.  It is an obvious humanitarian crisis as the refugees have left their country not willingly but of necessity for their safety, and they really have no place to go.  And it’s a crisis for the countries to which the refugees flee because the large numbers both overwhelm the resources of the host country to care for and integrate the refugees and unsettle the established social context of the countries.

The current lack of anything that could remotely be called a “system” has been a disaster for all concerned.  The international community, i.e. the United Nations, needs to come up with a better system.

Prior to WWII, during parts of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th, there were massive waves of migration from various countries in Europe mostly to the United States.  These migrations did not become refugee crises because at that time the United States and other countries receiving the refugees needed them to populate their countries.  

However, by the 1930s, when German Jews tried to emigrate from Germany to other countries, most had set up strict quota systems for immigration because they were no longer open to masses of new migrants.  And so, for example, by the time my father  started trying to leave Germany in 1937, there was NO country to which he could go.  All the doors were closed, even countries such as Australia and Bolivia.  Luckily he finally managed to get his family out, but many were not as fortunate.

After experiencing the huge numbers of refugees created by the havoc of WWII, the United Nations in 1950 created the High Commission for Refugees to help care for refugees from conflict.  And it has done the best it can, given its limited mandate, to ensure that refugee asylum rights are protected and that they do not live in squalor; that they have some modicum of orderliness in their lives.

But experience has shown that what refugees need is to be resettled, not just housed someplace in temporary housing until the crisis that caused them to flee is over and they can return to their homelands.  The current problem in Europe is that, with the exception of Germany, the countries are not prepared to take in so many refugees, either politically or logistically, and so the refugees suffer.  The scope of the problem is just too large.

What is needed is a new international compact in which the signatories agree that in cases where civil war or persecution creates a mass of refugees they will accept refugees and resettle them according to an established quota system based on the country’s population/size and economy, or whatever other factors are considered appropriate.  Yes, that means that many refugees would not get to go to their country of choice, but a country cannot be expected to put its own economy and social peace in jeopardy by its humanitarian response to a refugee crisis.  European Jews were willing to go to any country that would take them.  Modern-day refugees need to be asked to accept similar conditions.

The other piece of the puzzle needed in such a new compact regards the transport of refugees to their new homes, whether from the crisis point or a neighboring country.  We have seen the horror, deprivation, and exploitation refugees suffer when they have to flee across water, whether from Vietnam, Cuba, North Africa, or Turkey.  Somehow, the compact needs to deal with this issue.

The world is a community of nations and people.  We are all ultimately God’s children.  And we all have a social obligation to care for our fellow man.  It is past time for the United Nations to fashion a system that works for both refugees and receiving countries.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Plea to the Conscience of Conservative Republicans and Independents

The question for you on Tuesday is:  do you vote for Donald Trump because he’s the Republican candidate and just hold your nose, or do you vote for Hilary Clinton because, although she’s a Democrat and a disliked Clinton at that, her presidency would clearly be in the better interest of the country than a Trump presidency?

What is a presidential election about?  Is it just about winning, like many things in our culture?  Or is it about something bigger … doing what is best for our country?  Clearly it is or should be the latter.

There was a time in the not so distant past when one could make a very legitimate case that the election of either the Republican or Democratic candidate would be in the best interest of the country.  They each would do things differently, have different agendas, but they were both solid, good, level-headed people who you knew without any question wanted what was best for the country.  They had strong egos, lord knows, but in their minds the election wasn’t about them, it was what they could do for the country.

Let’s look at this year’s candidates in this light.  First, Donald Trump.  Donald is as far from level-headed as one could get.  He has an incredibly thin skin and he’s a bully.  It is all about him.  Is this the person you want as Commander-in-Chief and responsible for our safety as well as the welfare of you, your children, and everyone in this country?  

Is Donald a good person?  Would you hold him up as a role-model for your children?  Donald has spent his life with only one goal … to make as much money and attract as much attention to himself as possible.  Now there’s no moral sin to being rich, or seeking riches.  But when one does so to the exclusion of concern for other people. when there is no socially redeeming aspect of your life, then that is a sin.  And that is the case with Donald.

Then there’s the question of whether he is a good citizen.  It’s probably safe to say that most rich people, hell most people, try to pay as little taxes as they can get away with.  They do not really view taxes as being a responsibility of citizenship, of paying one’s fair share to help the larger body politic, their fellow citizens.  They pay taxes grudgingly as something one has to do, or else!  

But if someone is running for President of this country, should he or she be someone who has this attitude?  Who says, “Hey, I’m just doing what the law allows me to do?”  The answer should be, no.  Someone running for President, who is seeking to lead this country, should be a role model regarding the responsibilities of citizenship.  And clearly Donald Trump is no such role model.

I could go on and on listing the reasons why a Trump presidency would not be in the country’s best interest, but I think these are really the main points.  We have had numerous candidates and presidents that were not well-disposed to people of color, just none that have been so openly hateful in their speech.  We have had a number of  candidates and presidents who were womanizers, philanderers.  Not just Bill Clinton; the list is filled with many otherwise good people.  But in each of these cases, the people were otherwise good, level-headed people who, if one took off one’s partisan hat, one would have to say acted in the best interest of the country.

Now let’s look at Hillary Clinton.  Hillary is certainly level-headed.  One may disagree with her conclusions, but she is always level-headed.  She has been prodded and provoked for years, but she has always remained level-headed (to my knowledge).  A sharp barb may escape her lips, but that’s about it.  I don’t know if she holds a grudge, but I do know that she doesn’t seek revenge.  She is not a bully like Donald.

Is Hillary a good person?  Would you hold her up as a role-model for your children?  I would answer that question, yes.  Although she is certainly ego-driven, and has made lots of money from her political-celebrity status, she has always had at the top of the list  of things driving her a concern for the welfare of those less fortunate … whether women, children, or people of color as well as working men and women.   Quite the polar opposite of Donald.   And she has worked tirelessly on their behalf.   Clearly, she’s not a revolutionary a la Sanders with her ties to Wall Street, but that does not diminish her work.  It just limits her.

Is Hillary a good citizen?   Both Hillary and Bill Clinton, while having gotten quite rich, do pay their fare share in taxes.  They are in an income tax bracket where had they so desired they could have instructed their tax planners to devise legal ways to pay much less, but they … as opposed to Donald … chose not to go that route.  She and they both understand the responsibility of citizenship.

Finally, I want to make the point that for someone of Trump’s low ethics to besmirch the ethics of Hillary is truly chutzpah!  Everyone should take whatever he says with a huge grain of salt.  Plus, LATE BREAKING NEWS, the FBI has just told Congress that they found no evidence in the new cache of Clinton emails that she was guilty of wrongdoing.

So ask yourself the question when you vote on Tuesday: which candidate’s presidency would be in the best interests of the country?  And vote accordingly.  Not according to your partisan position, but for what’s best for the country.