Coming Soon To A City Near You

Events unfolding around the country are the previews for coming attractions, and it won’t be fun.  To look at what is happening in Portland Oregon one might see a trial run for more such activity — currently announced for, or underway in, Kansas City, Chicago and Albuquerque.

Going forward, remember that this is all right from the autocracy 101 hand book.  I will explain my thinking in this piece, but two major things are happening.  One is that Mr. Donald J. Trump is trying to get video to support his campaign claim that the cities are out of control and that “only I can fix it.”  Second, and far more ominously, he is laying the ground work for declaring martial law leading into the election.  Mr. Trump and his campaign know that he cannot win solely through the support of his base.  He needs to keep people from voting for his opponent — voter suppression — and one way to do that is to intimidate the electorate and to make it too hard to vote.  It is an election strategy that comes at the expense of American cities and their citizens.  It threatens the very foundation of our democracy.

As a reminder, federal law enforcement units in full combat gear have been on the streets in Portland for about ten days.  Theoretically, they are there to protect the federal court house from protesters.  In fact, they have been patrolling the streets of the city picking up people that look like they might be willing to foment trouble.  Let’s dive into this further.

The federal government has a duty and a right to protect federal property from destruction.  In cases such as the court house in Portland, this would normally entail coordinating with the local city and state authorities for a cohesive plan and would amount to a defensive — rather than offensive — effort to keep trouble makers away.  None of this is happening.  There is no apparent coordination with local authorities — indeed the mayor and governor have explicitly asked  those forces to leave — and they are definitely using offensive tactics with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and other agents against the crowd.  To be sure, there are trouble makers in the ranks of the protesters.  However, the vast majority are peaceful.  Additionally, with proper techniques and coordination, peaceful protesters are likely to cooperate in identifying the bad apples in the crowd as it is in the best interests of the other protesters to keep it peaceful and to not provoke an over reaction by law enforcement.  By all credible accounts, after weeks of protests, the demonstrations in Portland had settled into a peaceful occasion and were slowly dwindling in size.  That is until the federal authorities arrived and began using their storm trooper tactics.  In military combat gear, the federal authorities wear no name tags or unit identification badges, only a small generic “police” tag on their camos.  Reportedly, they are from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  One might ask who is guarding our borders from the supposed hoards coming across from Mexico if they are in Portland?  One might also ask what training these particular agencies give to their agents regarding community policing?

If you think it is an exaggeration, look at this video of a Navy veteran trying to talk to some of the agents and getting beaten and pepper sprayed while not even raising his arms or making any threatening movements.

All of this on its own is bad.  Very bad.  But it portends worse things to come.  Remember Mr. Trump’s words earlier this week.

“I’m going to do something, that I can tell you.  Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess.  We’re not going to let this happen in our country.  Look at what’s going on — all run by Democrats, all run by very liberal Democrats.  All run, really, by the radical left.”

So, first of all, only Democrat mayors are “bad.”  Secondly, there are currently no violent demonstrations in Philadelphia, Detroit or Baltimore or other cities he is going to “dominate.”  This is pure, unabashed partisan politics using federal law enforcement agencies for his personal gain.

Additionally, the hypocrisy is all too familiar.  The rationale behind the Portland deployment is to protect against citizens expressing their First Amendment rights on federal property.  In 2018 Mr. Trump gave full pardons to two Oregonians — father and son — that set fire in 2016 to 139 acres of federal land during Red Flag Warning conditions, endangering firefighters working on another fire nearby.  It resulted in a 40 day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by protesters supporting their cause.  He considered these men to be patriots.  Peaceful protesters in cities are considered to be criminals.

As I have written in this space before, I was very involved in figuring out Saddam Hussein’s next moves during Gulf War I.  We figured out after awhile that he pretty much always announced what he intended to do.  He couldn’t always carry it out, but he was pretty straightforward in his pronouncements.  Mr. Trump is the same way.  He announces exactly what he plans to do.

Here is the diabolical back drop to his strategy.  In my 8 May piece “American Carnage” I wondered aloud about how Mr. Trump could have so badly botched the national response to the pandemic and opined that perhaps it was deliberate.  I am now sure of it.  He did not create the pandemic, but he is going to use it to his advantage.  Similarly, he will use the Black Lives Matter movement to declare that they are terrorists working to destroy America.  He already barely hides his racism in this regard.  Yesterday in a speech he blamed Mexico (again) and the BLM protests for the spread of the Coronavirus in the South and Southwest.  He repeatedly declares that if the Democrats win the election, they will “destroy the suburbs,” a not-so-subtle racist canard.

Many pundits and political experts, as well as average citizens, have wondered for weeks and months why Mr. Trump refuses to put forward a national effort to halt the pandemic and to address racial injustice.  It dawned on me yesterday that as former Maryland Lt. Governor and National Republican Chairman Michael Steele explained on TV yesterday — this is his plan.  In other words, he will use the chaos currently engulfing our country to his advantage.  He will trot out again his beliefs that the the Constitution gives him “absolute power” and that “I alone can fix it.”  These will form the basis for action on his part to interfere in an election that he is already claiming — nearly daily — is rigged.  He is against mail-in ballots (even though he, his family, many of his aides and many service members vote by mail) and has installed a long-time ally as Postmaster General.  Mail bags mysteriously disappearing?  Mail trucks mysteriously bursting into flames?  The imagination can run wild.

The point is that we will not succumb to an outright coup on his part.  It will be gradual with incremental decisions and policies that set the stage for him to declare the election invalid and that he must stay on to save the country.  He is on record multiple times, most recently in his Fox News interview with Mike Wallace, that he will not accept the outcome of the election if he thinks it’s rigged.  Asked directly if he would accept the results he said,

“I have to see.  Look — I have to see.  No, I’m not just going to say yes.  I’m not going to say no.”

Since many of the states will use mail-in ballots, it could be days or weeks before the official results are in.  If the election is close as the polls close on Election Night, and the results change dramatically against Mr. Trump when the absentee, provisional and other ballots are counted, he could well declare the entire election a fraud and cancel it.  He is on record with the 2018 Florida election — which was very close and looked as if it would go against his preferred candidates — as saying that only ballots counted on Election Day should be valid.  He tweeted without offering a single piece of evidence,

“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged.  An honest vote count is no longer possible — ballots massively infected.  Must go with Election Night.”

Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis both won their races.

We already know that Mr. Trump will do anything that benefits him.  There is no ethical, moral or legal bottom for him.  He now has an Attorney General that acts as his personal attorney and shares Mr. Trump’s belief in an Imperial Presidency.

The U.S. military put Mr. Trump on notice after they were used in a political stunt at Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. for his bible thumping campaign photo op that they would not be used for political purposes.  Thus, Mr. Trump went to his flunkies in DHS (the top position and most of the sub-agencies are headed by “acting” leaders that do not have Senate approval) in order to create his own personal police force to pursue his personal goals.

Some may think that this is a “Chicken Little” scenario.  Alarmist.  Couldn’t happen here.  That’s not America.  Stop hyperventilating.  No way.  I hope that you are correct.  Personally, I am watching out for our “Reichstag Fire” moment.

 

 

 


The Mystery of Masks

As the number of deaths in the U.S. from the Coronavirus passes 140,000 (a number that just a few months ago would have been unthinkable), experts — actual doctors and scientists knowledgeable in the subject, not politicians — nearly unanimously agree that wearing a mask in public would significantly decrease the transmission of the disease and give us a chance to get it under control.  A seemingly innocuous precaution that is not a particular burden.  And yet.  Somehow it has become a major political issue often resulting in rude and belligerent behavior and sometimes, violence.

“No shirt, no shoes, no service” is an iconic sign posted in restaurants and shops around the country, especially in tourist or beach areas.  No one seems to have a problem with that requirement.  A sign that says “Please wear a mask in the store” somehow elicits the vulgar expression “F*** You!” and worse.  Somehow a mask has become an alleged Constitutional issue although I am hard pressed to find a single Constitutional scholar that can delineate how a mask worn to protect us all from a virulent disease is impinging on anyone’s rights.

Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the Bahamas and many other countries around the world will not allow tourists from the U.S. into their countries or requires them to quarantine because of our extremely poor record in combating the pandemic.  We are now the “dirty, disease spreading” refugees shunned by the rest of the world.

I look at it this way.  Not wearing a mask is like drunk driving.  Perhaps if you do it you will make it home safely, but you have endangered yourself, your family, friends, and everyone that you encounter on the way.  Chances are you will kill some innocent person just doing their best, going home from picking up the kids or a quick run to the grocery for some milk.  It is in the public good that we crack down hard on drunk drivers.  It is in the public good that we all wear masks.

Unfortunately, we have a growing number of selfish folks that can give any number of reasons why they do not mask up, none of which hold any credible explanation other than the fact that they are so self-centered that they are entitled to do whatever they want, the rest of us be damned.

With such a blatant disregard of the community and social welfare in mind, we will never get this pandemic under control.  Ironically, we know exactly how to get the situation under control and begin to safely open up schools and businesses, but no one seems to want to do it, least of all our political leaders.

In a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace, the president expounded about all sorts of issues for an hour.  No description I can give here would do justice to the amount of lies, misstatements and delusional thinking that went on during the interview.  To his credit, Mr. Wallace held Mr. Trump accountable during his ramblings and fact-checked him on several issues in real time.

Specifically with respect to the ongoing pandemic Mr. Trump said, among other things, that we only have so many cases because we do more testing than anybody (tests are up 37 percent and the number of cases are up 194 percent according to Fox News); but that is okay because, according to Mr. Trump, “many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day. They have the sniffles and we put it down as a test.  Many of them — don’t forget, I guess it’s like 99.7 percent, people are going to get better and in many cases they’re going to get better very quickly”; responding to a question about his multiple statements that the coronavirus will just disappear Mr. Trump said “I’ll be right eventually”; and so on.  Really, I recommend that you read the transcript for yourself and think about the fact that this man controls the nuclear codes.  But I digress.

When asked specifically about wearing masks and whether there should be a national mandate to wear them, as has been done in the countries around the world that have a far better handle on this pandemic than we do, he said,

“No, I want people to have a certain freedom and I don’t believe in that [wearing masks].  No, and I don’t agree with the statement that if everybody wears a mask everything disappears.”

And there we have it.  There is no national strategy to combat the pandemic and the person that should be setting the example and showing leadership in a crisis refuses to step up.  Some state governors take their cue from Mr. Trump and so there are cases like in Georgia where the governor is suing the mayor of Atlanta because she put out a mandatory mask order to help alleviate the crisis in her city.  And on and on and on and yet we wonder why we are having a problem.

We are apparently a nation of idiots (Covidiots) that think some how taking measures to stop the spread of a killer disease is violating their right to do whatever they want.  They should take a high school civics class and study what the word “freedom” really means in the United States of America.  It most definitely is not the right to do whatever one likes.

Here is my bottom line that should stop everyone in their tracks.  We are 4.3% of the world’s population and we have 24% of the deaths from the pandemic.  To quote the great philosopher Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does.”


In Case You Missed It

In case you missed it, the Confederate States of America (CSA) ceased to exist 155 years ago.  It will not rise again.  The current divisiveness over Confederate symbols, flags, and names for military bases makes no sense to me.  As I have written in this space before, there was a time when I was a young boy that I bought into the culture of the “Lost Cause” — the idea of a chivalrous, valiant, and courageous battle of the southern states against the oppressors from the North.  But, then I grew up.  I learned history.  I grasped what the Confederate States stood for.  I was appalled that many of the military leaders of the CSA were West Point graduates who swore a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and that they turned into traitors willing to destroy the country to which they pledged their allegiance.  And, oh yeah, they were losers.

Even today one will hear arguments that the war was really about “States Rights” (the right to enslave other human beings), or to preserve a “way of life” (based on the enslavement of other human beings) or to keep their economy from being destroyed (an economy based on free labor from the enslavement of other human beings).  It doesn’t take much to realize what all the code words mean.

Arguments that the majority of Confederate soldiers were not slave holders but were merely protecting their families and homes doesn’t hold water when you realize the psychology of those times.  While they may not personally have enslaved other human beings, they knew that no matter how bad their life might be, someone else was worse off and could be looked down upon as sub-human, abused, and treated as property — which made their own lot in life more acceptable.

The Defense Authorization Act working its way through Congress contains an amendment to rename the ten U.S. Army bases named after Confederate generals and directs the Department of Defense to no longer name anything after anyone or any battle victory or any other landmark from the Confederacy.  The Worst President Ever is threatening to veto the bill — putting in jeopardy the funding for our military currently fighting over seas — because of that provision.  Ridiculous.

Let’s look at the facts.  Of the ten bases, five were built and named during World War I, five during World War II.  Each of the bases were named for a general from that state in an effort to smooth the way for annexation of land needed to build the bases to fight our wars.  Local politics was mostly the reason for naming the bases, not some glorification of their military prowess or heroism.  Indeed, several of those generals were among the worst in military history, wasting lives on ill-conceived and poorly executed battle plans.  Losers.

And the monuments.  Yes, let’s look at the Confederate monuments that are now slowly coming down.  Of the roughly 740 monuments that remain, almost 700 of them were put up in the decades after 1900.  Nearly 400 in 1900-1920 were established in cities and towns.  The main source of those statues?  A powerful and determined lobbying group we know as the United Daughters of the Confederacy were responsible for the vast majority of them.  Ostensibly their cause was to honor their gallant fathers and grandfathers but they were so readily received because in post-Reconstruction America it was a clear signal to Black Americans that they may be free of their enslavement, but the rules and societal norms of the slave era had not changed.  Imagine as the free son or daughter of a former slave going to the county court house seeking justice and outside the building is a monument to a Confederate soldier or to someone like John B. Gordon (for whom a fort in Georgia is named) who was later the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia.  Intimidation was the goal and it clearly sent a signal that there was no justice under any law for Black Americans, regardless of what may be written in the statutes.

The Confederate battle flag came into popular use during the 1950’s and 60’s.  For example, it was flown at the state capital in Georgia beginning in 1956 and over the capital in South Carolina in 1962.  Coincidentally, one might suppose, with the beginning of the Civil Rights movement?  (Thankfully, they were removed after the shooting in a Charleston church in 2015, but not without a political fight.  Last week the Mississippi legislature voted to remove it from their state flag.)  Just today Mr. Trump got on Twitter and chastised NASCAR officials for banning the flag from their race tracks.  The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps only recently banned the flag from all of its bases, ships, aircraft and property.

Cries that the removal of these symbols of treason and oppression are attempts to “rewrite history” fall on deaf ears in my case.  The only rewriting is the canard that these symbols are somehow proud vestiges of America’s culture and founding principles and that they reflect the American spirit.  The only American spirit that they reflect is that of white supremacy.  When armed right wing militia groups demonstrate in Michigan or Oregon carrying Confederate flags, they are not celebrating their heritage.  They are purposely carrying a symbol of their hate for the “others” — anyone who does not have the same color skin as they do.

Under the First Amendment anyone can fly any flag they care to fly.  If some redneck thinks that a giant Confederate battle flag flapping from the back of his pickup truck somehow makes him more manly, have at it.  To me it only shows a heaping pile of insecurity on his part.  Or ignorance.  Or discrimination.  Or all of the above.  However, no institution in the United States government should be a part of glorifying a shameful part of our history.  In my opinion, no corporation, sports authority or any other public entity should support that cause either.

We cannot rewrite history. No one is trying to wipe out our past by advocating for the removal of these symbols.   However, we do need to write a fuller history that incorporates all elements of that past.  As the cliche goes, we need to include the good, the bad and the ugly and to put it all into context.

Arguments ensue and demagogues rabble rouse over the question of “where does it stop?”  How far do we go in understanding the flaws and failures of those who went before us?  Outside of the hate mongering and fear laced rhetoric, it is a difficult question.  Who should we honor and how should we do that are legitimate questions that deserve consideration through community input, scholarly research, historical context and the realization that no one of us is perfect.  Perhaps we differentiate between those that laid out fundamental principles toward which our nation continues to strive versus those that worked to hold back progress and to deny freedom for all.

It seems to me that it is a no-brainer as to where to start.  There should be no tax payer supported monuments or other honors for those that forswore their oath to the Constitution, turned into traitors against the United States of America, and fought a war to enforce the enslavement of our fellow Americans.

After 155 years, enough is enough!


Putin’s Obedient Servant

As Mr. Donald J. Trump continues to work hard over the last week to cement his status as the Worst President Ever, there are numerous examples of his total failure as a leader and as a person.  Whether it is continuing to espouse that COVID-19 will “sort of disappear”; promoting “white power”; holding thinly disguised rallies at national monuments; or running for president of the Confederacy, there are large numbers of occasions when one can only shake your head and hope that the election gets here soon.

And then it gets worse.

There may be no part of the job of President as important as that of Commander-in-Chief.  People die when the president gets it wrong.  For that matter, people sometimes die even when everything goes as planned.  It is a tough world and it is part of the pact between the military and the American people that service men and women will go in harms way to protect and defend the Constitution and our way of life in exchange for the promise that their lives, talent and American treasure will not be wasted in futile exploits and that those in charge — all the way to the president — will do all that they can to keep them safe in an inherently dangerous profession.  In the military it is known as force protection.

As a country, we can be reasonably certain that the recent revelations that Russian operatives worked with the Taliban in Afghanistan to put a bounty on the lives of US and coalition service members are true.  The evidence is startlingly clear.  The price for an American death was as much as 100,000 dollars.

Within a normal administration this would have caused one of several, or multiple, courses of action to kick in immediately upon learning of this threat.  The Russians would be warned at the highest level of government that this was a dangerous game that must stop immediately.  Likely, sanctions would be leveled against all involved.  Probably, especially if further evidence was uncovered, those involved in Afghanistan would have been on the receiving end of a capture or kill operation.

As we know, sadly this is not a normal administration.  The official announcement was that no action will be taken against Russia.

And then it gets worse.

Mr. Trump says, “I think it’s a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats.”  These remarks came on 1 July after several days of credible reporting that Mr. Trump continuously decried and belittled.

The excuses for inaction have come fast and furious.  Among those floated were the assertion that Mr. Trump was never briefed on the situation.  When that was reported to be inaccurate, the excuse was that it may have been in a written intelligence document but no one verbally briefed him.  When that did not quite pass the smell test,  the reason given was that the intelligence reports were not “verifiable.”  Well now.  That is not an intelligence term.  Most  intelligence reports in this vein are not verifiable.  The terms of art are “credible” or “not credible.”  When there is credible evidence of a terrorist attack, it is not verified that an attack is actually going to happen until it does.  The country does not — or at least did not — wait for an attack before acting.  The killing of Osama bin Laden was based on credible intelligence — they did not know for sure that he was in that villa at that time — it was verified when they got a DNA match from the dead body.  The terms that Mr. Trump and his enablers use are just gobbledygook designed to deflect from Mr. Trump’s dereliction of duty as Commander-in-Chief.

Rather than being bogged down in the weeds over who was briefed and to what level, etc. etc. etc.  the real question should be what action would a president take once the story broke?  The answer is easy.  The president picks up the phone and calls for an immediate update and then works with his staff for appropriate responses to counter the Russians or to put out a credible explanation as to what actually happened should the facts have been misinterpreted.

So now we all know about it.  Who knew about it when is not now important.  What is Mr. Trump going to do?  Apparently, whine about how it is unfair to him and that it is all designed to make him look bad and on and on with his usual “poor me” schtick.  Despicable.

It seems that the lives of US service men and women fighting our nation’s wars are less valuable than whatever political ax Mr. Trump has to grind.

The signal to Mr. Putin?  Do whatever you want Vlad because the USA is not going to hold you accountable.  It is open season on Americans abroad and on our national security at home.  Kill our folks.  Interfere in our election.  Conduct cyber attacks on our businesses and infrastructure.  Do whatever you want because the stable genius in the White House will not do anything to upset his personal apple cart full of Russian money.

To me, that is the best and most plausible explanation as to why Mr. Trump refuses, time and time and time again, to do anything to upset his “friend” Vladimir Putin.  My sense is not that Mr. Trump is protecting Mr. Putin.  My strong belief is that Mr. Putin is protecting Mr. Trump’s secrets and Mr. Trump is afraid that if he says or does the wrong thing, the Russians will put it all out there.  Putin is the name, blackmail the game.

No one with oversight responsibility has yet to see Mr. Trump’s taxes or the financial records of Trump, Inc.  Mr. Trump has fought long and hard in court to keep those records secret.  I am willing to bet that those records are full of illegal at the worst, unethical at the best, transactions.  Mr. Trump and Trump, Inc. had multiple bankruptcies.  US banks stopped lending him money for his far flung schemes.  My bet is that Russian oligarchs, beholden to Mr. Putin, bailed him out and in return Mr. Trump and his businesses helped the Russian Mafia to launder money and to conduct other illegal schemes.

Have you ever seen the movie The Godfather?  It’s all you need to know as to how Mr. Trump is entangled with the Russians.  And believe me, Mr. Trump is not the Godfather.  I don’t think he is even as smart or as skilled as Fredo.

We know that our values are totally corrupted when the Commander-in-Chief will take no action to protect our troops and the Party of Trump in the Congress stays silent.  It is hard for me to decide which is more loathsome — a president that will not do his job or members of Congress that protect and defend a corrupt president rather than our troops.