Category Archives: politics

March on Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. felt like a ghost town yesterday. Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States of America yesterday, and the 92.8% of Washington, D.C. that voted for Hillary Clinton could not be found.

Today the city burst into a sea of pink, a vibe of feminism, and tsunami of liberalism. An estimated 500,000 people went to the National Mall, easily doubling Donald supporters’ presence the day before. What a difference a day makes.

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Photograph by author. January21, 2017

Nobody should be fooled; dark days are ahead. Traditionally strong alliances will be sorely tested. Canada and Mexico would suffer economically if Trump scraps NAFTA outright. Donald just last week lashed out at Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, which no doubt emboldens nationalists in Germany who want to keep Germany for themselves. If that makes people shudder from echoes of Germany’s not too recent past, it should. New alliances with unsavory characters like Russia’s Vladimir Putin will likely be forged in a mutual pursuit of petrodollars and utter contempt of criticism. On the domestic side, a newly constructed wall and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) appear to be the priorities for the administration. An ultraconservative Supreme Court nominee is in the works, and whose decisions will try to place the brakes on an increasingly-progressive America.

Today the city bled pink, and cities all over the United States of America did the same. It is reassuring to find Americans uniting around a common set of progressive ideas, and uplifting to find Americans rejecting the newly minted President Trump not through hate, but by bonding with love. President Trump may have won the election, but he lost the popular vote, and he sure did not win the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans.

Once again there is hope. Not because the road is short, or easy, or at times outright terrifying. Rather, there is hope because my fellow Americans will stand up for what is right. Today is the start of the resistance. Today is a reminder that love trumps hate.

Donald, good luck enacting your agenda. For come tomorrow, we are here to stop you.

Politico provided the information on Merkel and voting data for Washington, DC

 

 

 

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2016, and Beyond

With the 2016 US Presidential Election in full swing, I cannot help but reflect.  Republican candidate Ben Carson recently insinuated that no US President should be Muslim, and that a flat tax is advisable because the bible requires a 10% tithe.  Republican candidate Donald Trump remarked that Mexico sends us its rapists and criminals.  Republican candidate Scott Walker suggested building a wall to our north.  Huckabee reminds us that climate change science is not yet settled.  Mind-boggling ideas, all of them.  

The concern is that these ideas are grounded not in fact or reality, but in a made-up narrative designed to appeal to a select set of voters.  Candidates create narratives of climate change (lies!), guns (freedom!), and gay marriage (abominable!) using similarly delusional logic to appeal to voters.

None of this is really new; look at Romney’s campaign in 2012 and Bush’s in 2004.  Romney veered hard to the right during the primaries, claiming that he would make conditions so tough that immigrants would want to self-deport.  With Bush in 2004, Rover masterminded said on November 9, 2004 “that opposition to gay marriage was one of the most powerful forces in American politics today and that politicians ignored it at their peril.”  

My concern is where this all ends.  Huge political problems exist in the world, ISIS and Syria for one.  Climate change looms large.  Inequality grows.  And while ISIS, climate change, and inequality are vastly different issues, the next US President must address them all head on.  More importantly, the next US President must acknowledge that such problems even exist.  Combating extremism with extreme statements – that a Muslim cannot be president, that climate change does not exist, that growing inequality does not somehow hollow-out the very core of our country – is extremely concerning.

May cooler heads prevail.

Gay Rights Move Straight Ahead & Gaily Forward

An historic event took place in Ireland on Friday, May 22, 2015, wherein two out of every three voters came out and endorsed same-sex marriage. As some of my friends might put it: yassss!

The event is historic because, as The Northern Ireland-based “The Rainbow Project” puts it, “the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.”  With the referendum results in hand, Ireland now joins Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and most of Western Europe.  I am undoubtedly leaving out some other countries and clearly some states (Iowa) and significant cities (Mexico City), but that simply is because there are so many to name.  And that is the point: gay marriage is increasingly seen as inevitable and a nonissue, which is remarkable.

Take, for example, the United States.  Back in 2004 Bush rode to reelection thanks in part to anti-gay initiatives at the state level.  In a 2006 paper authored by Daniel A. Smith, Matthew DeSantis, and Jason Kassel, the authors note:

In 2004, activists and state legislators placed anti-gay marriage questions on the general election ballots of 11 states. All of the ballot measures passed easily, receiving on average roughly 70 percent support…

In the same paper, the authors made a nuanced conclusion, but nevertheless a “positive correlation in both states [Michigan, Ohio] between support for the anti-gay marriage measures and the vote for Bush in 2004, even after taking into consideration the strong predictive value of the vote for Bush in 2000.

Even if the anti-gay strategy had failed to mobilize voters, the fact that the Bush campaign developed and then executed an anti-gay platform to win reelection is telling.  Eleven years on, the political landscape is markedly different.  Some 37 states legalized gay marriage in recent years, although only three by popular vote.  More telling, The United States will likely endorse same-sex marriage in an upcoming Supreme Court ruling expected in June 2015.

In sum, it is tremendous progress.

The only caution is that human rights should not be held hostage to popular vote.  In Ireland, the voters sided with the right side of history.  But thinking back to 2004, or back to the days of Jim Crow when segregation was not only legal but popular, holding referenda as a basis to deny basic human rights to a subgroup constitutes a clear abuse by the majority.  Indeed, what if the Irish miscalculated and the country enshrined bigotry instead of freedom?

Thankfully the Irish will no longer need to answer that question.  The arc of history is bending once again, and this time for the better.  And it’s fabulous.

Netanyahu’s Etch a Sketch Moment

During the 2012 presidential election, when asked during a CNN interview if Mitt Romney felt forced to tack to the hard right in order to bolster his chances in the Republican Primary, Romney’s senior campaign manager said this:

“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes,” Fehrnstrom responded. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

This week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is having his own Etch A Sketch moment.

The problems started when Netanyahu made two distinct remarks just prior to the March 17, 2015 elections.  First, Netanyahu appeared to reject, outright, the two state solution.  A more nuanced reading suggests that Netanyahu finds the two state solution, at least under the present circumstances, ‘unachievable.’  The media pounced on the ‘unachievable’ remark, and even if the remarks are somehow taken out of context, as some claim, the remarks are fully consistent with the reality on the ground: the settlements built over Netanyahu’s tenure better speak for themselves. The two state solution is effectively dead.

Netanyahu’s other remark, that “Arab voters are heading to the polls in droves” further inflamed tensions.  In a tighter than expected election, Netanyahu’s calibrated remark encouraged and catalyzed his base. While the comments helped ensure his reelection, the cost is steep: the remark tears at the fabric of a democratic society and serves to further isolate Israel and Netanyahu on the world stage.

While French President Hollande and Canada’s Prime Minister Harper congratulated Netanyahu, each reiterated their commitment to the two state solution.  The United Nation’s Ban Ki Moon did the same.  The United States, a stalwart ally, took two days before congratulating Netanyahu, and meanwhile vowed to explore alternatives to the two state solution.  Meanwhile, President Obama is wedded to an Israeli Prime Minister that that aligns more closely with hawks in the Republican Party that also, coincidentally, despise the President’s foreign policy objectives.

This week, Netanyahu is walking back his comments and trying to undo the damage.  In an interview with NPR, Netanyahu explained that he really has not retracted his support for a two state solution.  Upon winning the election, Netanyahu said he would be a Prime Minister for all Israeli citizens.

Netanyahu is shaking the Etch A Sketch and hoping that the world soon forgets the divisive lines he traced.  For President Obama, many Americans, Israelis, and, really, anyone interested in securing a stable Middle East, the lines are far more permanent, and a solution far more daunting.

Time to go back to the drawing board.

An Open Letter to the US Senate

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Congress on March 3, 2015 and gave a speech studded with so much applause it felt like a State of the Union address.  The speech focused on terror threats in the Middle East, namely Islamic State and Iran.  Netanyahu emphasized that any kind of accord with the United States and other key actors should be viewed as a mistake, and that “no deal” is better than the deal on the table.

Congress’ invitation to the Prime Minister caused a stir because Congress never consulted the White House, and on March 9, 2015 dozens of Senators sent an open letter to Iran.  The letter followed Netanyahu’s speech’s central theme: that no deal is better than any deal signed by President Obama.

The open letter, signed by 47 (Republican) Senators made headlines because the open letter openly rebukes the President’s foreign policy objectives and explicitly takes a hardline towards Iran.  Never mind the American people elected a president who in his 2009 inaugural address, said:

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

In short, the 47 Senators who signed openly disagree with the President and exposed core political differences in a nation that, at least when it comes to foreign policy, needs to exhibit strength and unity.  Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright called the letter “unprecedented and fairly outrageous,” precisely because it undermines the United States’ negotiating power.

Newspapers have roundly covered this, but the other point worth raising here is how incredibly condescending the open letter is to its intended audience.  The letter explicitly threaten to torpedo any agreement with Iran, which surely makes Iranian leaders wonder if the United States is negotiating in good faith.  Further, and what everybody should find particularly egregious, is the way the Senators belittle a formidable foreign government.  Some of the open letter’s excerpts include:

-It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.

-As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades.

-What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.

In short, the open letter presumes high-level Iranian government officials are entirely unfamiliar with the basic underpinnings of a nation they have been negotiating with for months on end; offend democracies everywhere by asserting that some of today’s Senators intend to stay in office in perpetuity; and, that Congress will do everything to thwart good-faith negotiations made by the Executive Branch.

The open letter sets a dangerous precedent for future negotiations and further reinforces the partisan divide in Washington.  Meanwhile, if Iran sees no viable deal in reach, then the incentive to develop nuclear technology for bad instead of good grows ever larger.

Netanyahu’s speech and the Senators’ open letter close the door to diplomacy, leaving the White House with a bad deal all around.

Slate offers a similar viewpoint here.

IS

Writing about Islamic State (IS) is a struggle.  IS commits brutal acts of violence, packages it for social media, and broadcasts it to the world.  IS recently beheaded 21 Christians and did the same to its hostages, including American James Foley.  IS’ violence is a declaration of war against Christianity and Western values as much as it is a call for Muslims to move to IS and join the fight.

The struggle, at least in my view, is which concept will win out.  The West will not tolerate gross human rights violations nor, and perhaps more importantly, security threats.  IS’ own propaganda could bring such outrage that Western governments feel compelled to stamp IS out.  Meanwhile, IS is building a brand based on bloodlust and the concept of a pure Islamic state.  For the thousands of unemployed Muslims in the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere, the allure is real.  Why not fight for something you believe in, and through violence imbues you with meaning?

If IS can recruit and sustain itself, the threat of a viable nation-state is indeed terrifying.  Indeed, reports reveal that IS can govern, setting up post offices, issuing parking tickets, and policing territory.  IS ultimately runs on a governance model based squarely on violence, intimidation, extortion.  Sadly, the same model works: just ask North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or some of the world’s other autocrats.

Yet, IS is in trouble.  IS’ decision to kill a Jordanian Muslim by trapping him inside a cage and setting him afire provoked outrage in Jordan and the West.  IS’ decision to kill the 21 Christians brought swift retribution from Egypt.  President Obama is seeking a ‘use of force’ authorization from Congress.  In short, IS is waging a war against too many fronts.

IS has a number of enemies, and that list grows longer with every act of violence perpetrated.  Those enemies will, ultimately, force IS to collapse under its own weight.  Its end cannot come soon enough.

Enhanced Interrogation – A Tortured Definition, and US Leadership after the Global War on Terror

Abu Ghraib never really faded from memory.  The images shattered the idea that the United States upheld equally the life and dignity of not just its citizens but of its friends and its foes.  The Senate’s (heavily redacted) torture report released earlier this week renews, with full, brutal force, the debate on torture, enhanced interrogation, and America’s place in the world.

The United Nation’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment entered into force on 1987 and enjoys the support of 156 parties.  The United States’ obligations to the treaty began under President Clinton in 1994.  Article 1 includes the following text:

For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession…

Other treaty obligations include (1) not extraditing a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that (s)he would be in danger of being subjected to torture, and (2) ensure that all acts of torture are offenses under each party’s criminal law.

The United States potentially runs afoul of the UN treaty on three levels:

1. The CIA used enhanced interrogation methods (waterboarding, rectal feeding, shackling) to produce intelligence, shattering the distinction between enhanced interrogation and torture by the UN Convention’s own definition of the term.

2. The United States, using extraordinary rendition, flew suspected terrorists to foreign but friendly governments that sanctioned torture sessions on the US’s behalf.

3. The US Department of Justice declined earlier this week to re-open a criminal investigation of Americans involved in the post-September 11 torture.

The US Constitution also prohibits acts of cruel and unusual punishment and guarantees certain inalienable rights to those accused of crimes against the state.  Of course, US officials would argue–and correctly so–that the US Constitution applies only to US Citizens.  How true.

Yet, how very disappointing.  If the United States is a beacon of hope and a shining light of democracy to the world, if the United States is a true custodian of human rights and a steward of its own constitution, then how could a Abu Ghraib ever happen?  Will other countries continue to follow the United States through the moral vacuum we created?  Will China and other human rights abusers listen when the United States speaks up for women, gays, and other minorities the world over?

For better or for worse, in doing research for this piece I came across references to Mai Lai (Vietnam) and the Japanese Internment Camps (World War II).  The incidents serve to remind us that the United States was, and will continue to be, a global leader, global arbitrator, and global policeman.  The most recent abuses under the War on Terror, President Obama’s order to stop torturing its enemies of the state, and the US Senate favoring transparency over secrecy by releasing the report, should remind all of us how far we have come, and how very far we have to go, in order to form a more perfect Union and make the world a better place.