It’s all Greek to me

greek alphabet

It is a sickness which somehow comes with every tyranny: to place no trust in friends. Aeschylus, “Prometheus Bound

 

Maybe it was a case of too much feasting during the Thanksgiving break. It could have something to do with overdosing on football. And there’s the desire to find somewhere else to be rather than listen to another family argument over whether it’s “stuffing” or “dressing”. Whatever the cause, I found myself searching Google for any little distraction that could help clear my mind of the holiday blahs.

How I ended up skimming through obscure ancient Greek tragedies is anybody’s guess, but that’s where I found the quote that begins this column. Strangely enough, it seems to fit nicely with recent headlines. 

They have eyes, but…

As the impeachment of President Trump heats up, the speculation intensifies. Will Democrats in the House be able to make a convincing argument? Is there a single Republican in Congress who is willing to put Country ahead of Party? Could the entire process work to Trump’s advantage, giving him the inside track toward a successful re-election? It’s impossible to guess, so I encourage you to avoid betting on the outcome. But there are a few things we know for sure.

We know that it was a team of Russians – NOT Ukraine –  that orchestrated a social media campaign designed to interfere in the 2016 election, working to mislead the American public with false propaganda. We know that Russian hackers managed to gain access to voter databases and political playbooks. And we know that all this was done with the approval of and under the watchful eye of long-time KGB agent Vladimir Putin.  We know what happened because our intelligence agencies told us what happened. Their overwhelming conclusion that Russia was responsible cannot be ignored. These are Americans who take their work – and our lives and security – seriously. You might be able to argue a point here, a point there. But when non-partisan, seasoned professionals bring the facts by the truckload, it’s time for you to set aside the Facebook rumors and show them some respect.

But that’s not where we are, America. We no longer can count on the average American putting trust in the facts. Instead, millions of otherwise practical adults are forfeiting their common sense, turning their minds over to whichever loud and flashy internet meme is the latest to capture their attention.

Or, whichever loud politician in an ill-fitted suit is shouting into the nearest microphone.

Have we no shame?

I find it embarrassing that so many people continue to stand behind this president. He may appeal to their deeply-held prejudices and fear, or they just might be so disengaged that they just don’t care if Trump is lying to them on a daily basis. But I just can’t understand how they can allow some of his most egregious actions to go unchallenged.

This president not only refuses to believe evidence of Russia’s malfeasance as provided by seventeen intelligence agencies, he bends over backwards to give Putin special favors. 

Trump works against the advice of military leaders, putting our service members and allies in grave danger and effectively handing control over to tyrants.

He publicly degrades our legal system, granting pardons to some and dangling a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in front of others.

The president can’t deal with the honest testimony of Americans in Congressional hearings, so instead he and his closest supporters falsely attack the integrity and loyalty of those who dare to come forward. I’m guessing that the Ghost of Joe McCarthy is giving Trump a thumbs up.

He has even used the pardon of a convicted Navy SEAL as a means of claiming his support of the armed services, even though that decision throws the entire military justice system under the bus.

And still, his followers think he can do no wrong. 

Once upon a time, the Republican Party claimed to stand for law & order and unending loyalty to our troops. If that were still the case, then our president would consider our intelligence agencies and military to be his bestest friends. But as Trump continues to quack like a tyrannical duck, Aeschylus’ quote seems to be more accurate with each passing day. 

What good will come of this?

It looks now that the House is just days away from voting on assorted articles of impeachment, sending the case to the Senate for a possible trial. As I’ve said many times before, there is no chance that Mitch McConnell and the Republican-controlled Senate will vote to convict the president, no matter how strong the argument and evidence. But wrapping up the impeachment proceedings quickly actually works to the benefit of Democrats running for congressional seats, if not also those seeking the White House. By forcing Republicans to go on the record and give the president a free pass, voters will be encouraged to take out their frustrations at the ballot box. Democrats will make the argument that Republicans can’t be trusted to stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law. 

It’s a risky strategy that just might work. But I’m not willing to bet the farm on it. Not yet, at least.

 

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald December 5, 2019.)

The time has come

steampunk-wall-clock

Benjamin Franklin was quite a character. He was a statesman, a writer, a ladies’ man, an inventor, and a word thief. You may remember old Ben’s famous quote, “..in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” That was part of a letter in 1789 in which Franklin was summing up his thoughts about our nation’s then-new Constitution, but in doing so he borrowed that now-famous quote from the author of “Robinson Crusoe”. Daniel Defoe penned the phrase, “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believ’d,” in 1726, but even he was not afraid of stealing a good line when he saw one. A few years before Defoe included that thought in “The Political History of the Devil,” it was Christopher Bullock who wrote, “’Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes,”

We can argue about original thoughts – and 18th Century plagiarism – but this much is clear: Bullock, Defoe and Franklin were each very sure that some things are inevitable.

And now, so is the other “I” word.

 

Im-Peachy Keen

I’m not alone in thinking the Democrats in Congress would never get to this stage. When it comes to using the powers granted to them in the Constitution, the current majority party has been dragging its feet like it was a child unwilling to leave the house on the first day of school. Obviously, their hands were somewhat tied for two years as the Republicans controlled the House as well as the Senate. But in the wake of the 2018 midterms, the Democrats found themselves back in the driver’s seat and once more had the ability to convene hearings and issue subpoenas. (More on that later.)

 

And so here we are. Most Democrats in Congress have now decided that impeachment of President Trump is the logical, necessary next step. While impeachment is indeed a political act, it is also the formal process established by our nation’s founders to investigate possible wrongdoing of the president and, if the evidence is convincing, to remove him from office. While I don’t see it going that far (not with Republicans firmly in control in the Senate), I also had doubts that Democrats would summon the courage to do more than hold the occasional hearing and generate soundbites for the evening news.

 

Reading is fundamental

There are many people who are telling us that the entire idea of impeaching Donald Trump is a waste of time and money. They point to the Mueller report and make ludicrous claims of “total exoneration” and “no collusion”, but these feeble arguments have no foundation. Anyone who has actually read the report knows that Robert Mueller and his team drew no conclusions about collusion since that is not a legal term and by itself carries no true significance. What Mueller did find was conclusive evidence that the president and others within the administration were involved in a multi-layered scheme of obstructing justice. Don’t just take my word for it. It’s all right there in black and white if you’re willing to read it

Yet the Democrats should have known that the investigation would never lead to an early end of the Trump presidency. Mueller’s hands were tied by a Department of Justice policy that prevents the indictment of a sitting president no matter how serious is the crime. Yes, the president really could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and not be arrested. (At least, not while in office.) Besides, how could anyone expect much from an investigation in which the Attorney General, who was hand-picked by the president, has final say?

But while Mueller’s findings may not provide the meat and potatoes that many Americans hoped for, the new whistleblower revelations just might. It’s too early to determine what might unfold, but I’ll say this: if the accusations that have already been revealed are not true (which is the argument by the president and his supporters), then why is Mr. Trump sending the Attorney General and others around the globe seeking the influence of other countries in our own system of government and our elections? That kind of panicked response is not what you would expect from an innocent man.

 

Don’t look for a Battle Royale

So the Democrats will convene impeachment hearings and issue subpoenas. At the time this column was coming together, President Trump’s personal attorney Rudi Giuliani was named in three subpoenas from House committees. But don’t expect much to come from that. Although he is always happy to appear on camera and spout utter nonsense, Giuliani is likely to simply ignore those Congressional edicts. He won’t provide documents and probably won’t show up to testify. It’s up to the Democrats to decide if they’re willing to use their Constitutional enforcement powers or if the administration will be allowed to continue to thumb its nose at the process. 

Here’s what we know: we are living in disturbing times. Too many people have decided that they’d rather ignore the obvious than give any credence to any facts that run counter to their own deeply-held convictions. In the end, there will always be those who refuse to be convinced. Admitting that they were wrong, that they were so easily deceived by a career con man, is more than they can accept.

 

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald October 3, 2019.)

Words that never were true

…just spoken to help nobody but you.

word cloud

In our 24/7/365 news cycle, there’s never a moment when the world stands still and gives us a chance to get caught up on the events of the day. For a newspaper columnist the challenge is to try to keep up, knowing that the next blockbuster headline is just around the corner. So, while they are fresh in our minds, let’s explore some recent events.

Seeing is believing?

After much speculation, we now know that members of the Trump presidential campaign were in direct talks with Russian contacts who were seeking to influence the 2016 election. This isn’t speculation. All parties who attended, including Donald Trump Jr., have come forward to admit that the meeting occurred, though there have been conflicting stories about the topics that were discussed.

Now, in a normal world, you’d think that we could agree on most of the facts. But since last November, it’s not as easy to call things ‘normal’. Take for example this excerpt from the results of a recent survey by Public Policy Polling. (This is insane.)

“On Russia related issues we find a certain degree of willful ignorance among Trump voters that can possibly best be summarized by this finding: only 45% of Trump voters believe Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with Russians about information that might be harmful to Hillary Clinton…even though Trump Jr. admitted it. 32% say the meeting didn’t happen and 24% say they’re not sure.”

Notice that? Junior admitted that the meeting occurred, and he even released the emails that prove his intention was to obtain materials from the Russians that supposed would be harmful to Sec. Clinton’s chances in the presidential race.

Nearly a third of Trump voters deny the meeting occurred… EVEN THOUGH JUNIOR SAID IT DID. The facts are undeniable, yet most Trump voters can’t allow themselves to see the truth that’s right before their eyes. That’s much more than willful ignorance. That’s self-imposed destructive stupidity.

It’s not the crime, it’s the…

Even more mind-boggling than the average Trump voter’s inability to grasp reality is the public’s quick and easy acceptance of any wrongdoing by the president’s inner circles. Part of Donald Junior’s rotating fairy tales about his secret chat was an effort to make it seem like it was all about trying to help Americans adopt Russian children. Now we know that President Trump dictated Junior’s official statement, trying to give it a spin of innocence. Does the elder Trump have no trust in his oldest son’s ability to speak for himself, or is twisting the story part of a plan to hide something nefarious?

By taking charge and re-directing the narrative, President Trump took the lead role in an attempted cover-up. This could be the opening special counsel Robert Mueller needs in his investigation into the Putin-ordered hacking and other efforts to help win the election for Trump.

Maverick? Meh.

As one of three Republican senators who voted against an Obamacare-killing bill, John McCain has been hailed as a hero by many on the political left. But let’s not rush into that. Senator McCain may have been standing up for what he thinks is right, although he’s not shown any previous love for the Affordable Care Act, so I doubt he’s suddenly decided that President Obama’s big achievement is worthy of his support.

It could be that McCain truly wants to see Congress return to the days of bi-partisanship on major issues, and thinks that his vote will convince others to regain a bit of sensibility. Then again, McCain may just have wanted to deny President Trump a victory.

For me, I have strong doubts that Senator McCain can be seen as an advocate for expanded health insurance coverage. That would take much more political courage than I’ve seen from him in many years. Now, if he were to go on Meet the Press and apologize to the American people for making Sarah Palin famous, then I might be convinced that he has honorable intentions.

How much is too much?

One final thought: as President Trump wrapped up his first six months in office, his administration saw many internal shake ups. His press secretary resigned under pressure, his newly-named communications director was hired and fired in just eleven days, his Chief of Staff was replaced, and numerous attorneys and spokespeople have come and gone. You have to wonder if the well will run dry. I was asked, “How long until Trump has alienated a critical mass?” That is, will we reach the point where no one else will work for him?

I think not. Considering the players that have been members of this administration so far, I’d say this:

There’s plenty of evil, untalented fish in the ocean.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald August 3, 2017.)

He ain’t heavy

unabomber

David had a problem. He had a story to tell, one that he himself didn’t believe. Couldn’t allow himself to believe. And yet, he knew he had to share the secret. Or, did he?

If he let the cat out of the bag, people might get hurt. Reputations would be damaged, perhaps ruined. Maybe it was best if he just kept it to himself.

But he knew he couldn’t. Deep down in his heart, he knew that the right decision — the only decision — was to come clean. To talk. And so he did.

 

Mailbomb murder mystery

Beginning in 1978, the United States was at the mercy of a serial killer. One of a different breed than most. Unlike the habits of murderers like Ted Bundy or The Zodiac who selected victims at random, this killer’s targets were associated with advancing technology. Mail bombs were sent to universities, airlines, computer stores, and private homes. In its investigation, the FBI decided to condense the words ‘university’, ‘airline’, and ‘bomb’ to tag the case file as UNABOM. Thus, the still-unknown killer was nicknamed The Unabomber.

Three people died and 23 others were injured in a murder spree that lasted nearly two decades. But the killer said he would stop if a major publication would print a lengthy essay that was harshly critical of industry and technology. The New York Times and The Washington Post agreed, and the so-called “Unabomber Manifesto” was printed verbatim.  

And that’s when David Kaczynski recognized the words as those of his estranged brother.

David and other members of his family had had very little contact with his brother, Ted, for many years. At first, David wasn’t convinced that his older brother was responsible for the string of deadly attacks. Before contacting the authorities, he organized a team to investigate privately. A few months later, David made the decision to speak to the FBI. His brother was arrested a few weeks later. He eventually pled guilty to multiple charges and was sentenced to life in prison.

Kaczynski

A matter of conscience

There’s no way to know if The Unabomber would have continued his terroristic ways if his brother had kept quiet. But it was clear that the FBI was stumped in its investigation. Because David Kaczynski acted when he did, any future attacks were clearly thwarted.

Essentially, lives were saved because David decided that it was more important to protect the nation than to keep his brother’s identity hidden. By putting his country first, he made the right decision.

Congress should do the same.

Which way will they choose?

The decision put before politicians in Washington isn’t one of trying to capture an elusive killer, but it’s no less serious. We’ve been hearing for months about Russia’s efforts in trying to influence the USA’s 2016 presidential election. (Note: I said “trying” for a reason. More on that later.) Seventeen intelligence agencies agreed that such attempts did occur, and their early investigations strongly suggested that members of the Trump campaign had been in contact with Russian government officials at the same time. It’s just common sense to find out who knew what, who did what, and what steps can and should be taken to prevent an adversarial government from manipulating American elections.

But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, members of Congress and others both within and outside the federal government are in denial mode. Rather than wholeheartedly embracing their oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States”, we’ve seen high-ranking officials work to delay or derail these investigations. Whether it’s the Republican chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence cancelling hearings in order to have semi-secret chats with the White House or President Trump’s move to end the FBI’s investigation by firing its Director, our elected officials are certainly not putting any meaningful effort into learning the truth about Russia’s activities.

Can you imagine the Reagan Administration working to protect Russia? Me neither, but today’s Republicans sure seem to be eager to cater to the nation that Ronald Reagan called the “Evil Empire”.

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that Russia actually caused the election to go Trump’s way. But they sure tried. What I’m saying is that Vladimir Putin wanted to see how far he could go to meddle in the most important part of our nation’s very being: our election.

We need to know what they did, how they did it, and who (if anyone) helped them. Most important: we need to know what to do to make sure they aren’t successful when they try again.

Our elected officials need to decide what’s more important: covering for somebody from their own party, a member of their own “family”… or protecting the entire nation.

It’s not a hard choice. Ask David.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald June 1, 2017.)

Home of the…?

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s time to rewrite the national anthem. Not the whole song, just the lyrics… and only a small part. Really, just one word.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the anthem or the sentiment of the verses. It’s just that one word. We don’t seem to be living up to that word.


Now don’t get excited. There are many, many Americans for whom that word is appropriate. Some, like retired U.S. Army Captain Florent Groberg who was recently awarded the Medal of Honor, it’s inadequate. Capt. Groberg was part of an elite security detail in Afghanistan when he confronted a suicide bomber. His efforts to shove the man away from the other soldiers in the patrol saved many lives, though Groberg himself was severely injured.


Groberg’s story is one of true heroism, but it’s not unique. Military personnel, law enforcement, firemen… I’m sure you can think of plenty examples. And let’s not discount everyday heroes… the people who put in a hard day’s work, who wring every last drop of sweat equity out of their paychecks, knowing that they could be downsized or outsourced at any minute.


And we need to recognize the boys and girls who do what’s right even if it means risking acceptance by the popular kids… standing up to bullies and, respectfully, challenging authority when a wrong has been committed.


These and more are… brave.


Unfortunately, the people who speak on our behalf… those that we entrust with the most valuable possession we Americans have, our votes… typically display the least courage. Some would argue that casting a “no” vote here and there or making a chest-thumping speech on C-Span takes an iron will and a steely spine, but I’m not buying it.


Politicians, you want to show me an act of bravery? Then let’s see you support something that is beneficial to everyone, not just your big-money contributors or your political base. Let’s start by agreeing to fix our roads and bridges, and I don’t mean a scheme that shifts funds away from other public services. Roll up your sleeves and come up with a plan that makes our highway system the envy of the world once again. Make it more functional and safer.


And for crying out loud… spend the money to get it done! We Americans kick in a huge chunk of cash every year. The least you could do is spend it on things that we need. Yes, we need a well-funded military, no argument here. But don’t focus too much on dropping bombs halfway across the world while ignoring the infrastructure that’s crumbling here at home.


While you’re at it, take a stand for what’s right… even if it means a handful of extremists will scream at your at your next town hall. Let’s hear you say something positive about independently-owned family farms, public school teachers, or even (gasp!) journalists. Acting like a grown-up might mean you’ll face a primary challenge from the fringe. But if you show up and do your job like we pay you to do, you’ll give us a good reason to vote you back in.


On the subject of showing up for work, let’s see you do something about your schedule. When House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy unveiled the 2016 calendar for Congressional House workdays, there were too many empty spaces that need filling. What were you thinking? Only 110 days in session?!?!? That’s even less than the 133 days on your schedule in 2015. Is it asking too much for us to expect you to put in a string of 40-hour weeks?


Spare me the stories about how you need all those other days to catch up on “district work” when we know you use that time to give stale speeches at fundraisers and play golf with your special-interest lobbyists.


There’s one more thing you can do to show that you’re worthy: be honest in all that you do and say. Telling blatant lies may be a great way to get yourself booked on the most popular talk shows, resulting in more and more campaign contributions, but it just makes us trust you less and less.


We’ve got people running for the most powerful job in government who act like they’re allergic to truth. They tell huge lies and when confronted with the facts, just tell bigger lies. Is that the kind of leadership we deserve? Based on the crowds they draw, I’m beginning to wonder.


Here’s one more way you can show you’re worthy: reject and condemn the candidates whose campaigns are filled with bigotry and unkindness. Do what’s right… even if you face negative feedback… and we’ll be more willing to consider you “brave”,

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald, December 3, 2015.)