This Is Not Our Country

We are losing our heart and our soul as a nation.  I hope that we can recover.

With the Trump Administration policy of “zero tolerance” we are experiencing the full depth of depravity that his leadership instills.  And make no mistake about it, it is a policy, not a law.

Repeat after me:  There is no law that requires separating children from their parents at the border.

There are so many lies surrounding the implementation of this policy and the explanations for its continuance that is hard to know where to begin.  Let’s start with the rationale for it.

Mr. Trump and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security state that it is simply the enforcement of the law.  (All together now:  There is no law!).  However, the Attorney General and high ranking presidential advisers say that the policy is an attempt to deter further immigrants from coming to the border either illegally or for the purpose of claiming asylum – of which the Attorney General changed the criteria for what we will accept under that claim.

Other presidential advisers, including the president himself, basically argued that it was a political gambit to get the Congress to pass legislation to fund his “big beautiful border wall.”  You know, the one he promised that Mexico would pay for.

Taking the second argument first, it is totally despicable and un-American to use children, including babies and toddlers, as political bargaining chips.  The mere sight of these internment camps should be enough for Americans — regardless of one’s views on immigration — to say “not in my America!”

The argument that it is a deterrent is short-sighted and won’t work.  Here is the fallacy in their reasoning.  People that are fleeing unspeakable crimes, persecution and fear will risk whatever lies at the end of a very long road because it cannot be any worse than what they are experiencing and there is a chance that it could be better.  Desperate people do desperate things.  Think Sophie’s Choice (either the book or the movie with Meryl Streep.)

As many of you know I experienced this first hand in the early 1980’s off the coast of Viet Nam.  On several Navy deployments we rescued refugees at sea fleeing the oppressive communist regime of the time.  Note this — we were not there for that mission.  No US Navy ships were there for that mission.  We were merely transiting from one mission to another and happened to be there — far off the coast in regular shipping lanes.  Unimaginably rickety wooden boats of 40 or 50 feet loaded with about 50 people of all ages — babies to grandmothers — on board would head to sea hoping that a US Navy ship would see them (not a sure thing — small boat, big ocean), stop, and pick them up to take them to a refugee camp.  If they missed the US Navy, perhaps some friendly merchant ship would pick them up (some did, but not all).  If they weren’t lucky, they were lost at sea.  Unknown numbers were never rescued.  I should point out that there was no specific government policy to pick them up.  It was our duty as mariners to help those in peril on the sea and our duty as human beings not to let them perish.

Those experiences over about three years have made a lasting impression on me ever since.  I could not and can not imagine what it would take to put my entire family at risk of perishing at sea in the hope — the hope — that there might be something better for us.  And if there wasn’t, well maybe we would still be better off perishing together than losing family members to evil forces.

That is why those people come to our borders.  They won’t stop until the conditions in their home countries change.

Additionally may I add that on numerous occasions over the decades, I have read about a senior military officer, politician, public servant, fireman, successful business person, and others that were among those rescued during that period.  I have no idea whether any of them were among those on the boats that we saved.  I do know that if we had not exercised our obligations as human beings we would have never known about them because they would never have lived to be the proud and productive Americans that they are today.

Some of those in the child internment camps will have similar stories in a few decades.  If we let them.

As I write this, the president just announced that later today he will “sign something” to alleviate the situation at the border regarding the removal of children from their parents.  I hope it is meaningful.  The damage is already done, however, to our standing as a moral leader in the world and in our communal sense of what it means to be an American.

Mr. Trump is using the most vile, scare mongering rhetoric imaginable to demonize these potential contributors to the USA.  It is on purpose.  When he tweets that they “pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13” he brings out the very worst in our nature. Pour? Infest?  What?  Sound familiar?

“From the rostrum of the Reichstag, I prophesied to Jewry that, in the event of war’s proving inevitable, the Jew would disappear from Europe. That race of criminals has on its conscience the two million dead of the First World War, and now already hundreds and thousands more. Let nobody tell me that all the same we can’t park them in the marshy parts of Russia! Who’s worrying about our troops? It’s not a bad idea, by the way, that public rumor attributes to us a plan to exterminate the Jews. Terror is a salutary thing.”  — Adolf Hitler October, 1941

“You see what happens with MS-13, where your sons and daughters are attacked violently.  Kids that never even heard of such a thing are being attacked violently, not with guns, but with knives because it’s much more painful.  Inconceivable — here we are talking about business — inconceivable that we even have to talk about MS-13 and other gangs.  They attack violently, the most painful way possible.  And a bullet is too quick.  And we’re allowing these people into our country?  Not with me.  We’re taking them out by the thousands.  We’re taking them out by the thousands.”  Donald J. Trump, 19 June 2018

There are so many more references from Mr. Trump where he demonized those of color.  There is a reason that to date, the only pictures, still or video, from inside the child internment camps are from the US government.  What do they show?  Only teenage boys of color shuffling along and kept in cages (or as one DHS official claimed that they aren’t cages, they are just walls made of chain link that go from floor to ceiling).  As Mr. Trump rails against “MS-13” — is the president really saying that every man woman and child seeking entry from the south is a gang member — the video subtly reinforces his vitriol.

The president is trying to create a vision of a nation at war.  That we are under attack from the south and the refugees at our borders are enemy combatants.  With that psychology, of course we “capture” them and put them in POW camps.  It is an artificial war and a created crisis.  Created for political purposes.  The president is trying to create an issue that he thinks he and the GOP can win on in November 2018.  Truth is trampled in the process.

Look it up.  The numbers apprehended at the border have plummeted between 2000 and now.  For example in March, 2000 about 220,000 people crossed the border.  In March of this year, when the “crisis” resulted in the zero tolerance policy, about 40,000 were apprehended trying to cross illegally.  Looking at yearly totals since 1960, apprehensions increased steadily until peaking in the late 1990’s at roughly 1.6 million people.  Since then the trend has been downward, hovering around 300,000 to 400,000 during President Obama’s second term and about 300,000 last year. Hardly “unheard of” or “the most in history” or “unprecedented”.  By the way, part of the reason was that there were dramatic new hires in Border Patrol officers begun under President George W. Bush and expanded further under President Obama.  As a side note, one should be aware that the historic rate of crimes for illegal immigrants is half of that of natural born citizens and the rate for legal immigrants is about a quarter of that for natural born Americans.

The current condition is a cruel manufactured crisis for crass political purposes.  We are a nation of immigrants.  We are better than this.  Or at least I thought so.

Despite Mr. Trump’s fake claims that the Democrats want “open borders” to get more criminals, drug dealers and future voters into the country, the vast majority of Americans understand that immigration must be controlled and that laws must be the rule of the land.  That said, it is possible to have and execute immigration laws with compassion.

Let’s hope that when Mr. Trump “signs something” today, he solves this problem.  Whatever that something is, however, we have already seen clearly what is in his heart.  What is now happening on the border is evil.  It does not represent the values of the United States of America that I know.

In truth, I do not believe that Mr. Trump really cares one way or the other about immigration and the welfare of children on the border.  It just makes a good wedge issue to enhance his own power.  We have seen that Mr. Trump will stop at nothing to exploit fear and to promote his personal gain.  Wake up America!  This is what the future holds if we do not begin to demand more from our elected officials.  Now.


Bible Study

“I thought I would take a little digression here to discuss some concerns raised by our church friends about separation of families… I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”

–Attorney General Jeff Sessions on why our country is adopting a new “zero tolerance” policy on immigration that includes separating all children — no matter their age — from their parents after crossing the border.

“This is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.   Whenever Romans 13 was used in the 18th and 19th century — and Sessions seems to be doing the same thing, so in this sense there is some continuity — it’s a way of manipulating the scriptures to justify your own political agenda.”

–Professor of American History John Fea.

I’m just sayin’….


Who Cares?

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— The sonnet “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring to was added later (and) is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.

— Senior White House Adviser Stephen Miller in response to a question about new immigration proposals as compared to the sentiment from the sonnet.

Happy New Year!  I hope that 2018 brings us all health, prosperity and happiness.  Hopefully, you had a joyful holiday season.

I was fortunate to participate in several social gatherings during the last few weeks and to spend eleven days traveling in the great state of California.  The gatherings and travel afforded an opportunity to forget about politics for a while and yet at the same time to get a snapshot from friends, acquaintances, and family as to their views on the state of politics in our great country.  The comments were wide-ranging.

Among other things, I was asked why I write an “anti-Trump” blog.  “We get it.  You don’t like him.  Move on.”  Others asked why I don’t write about him more often.  Some are thrilled with the current president, or at least his policies.  Others despair over the future of our nation.  Many said that they had stopped following the news because it was just too upsetting.  Others advised that they just ignore what the president says, and especially tweets, and are much happier for doing so.  It set me to wondering.

I must admit that I was happier without hearing “all Trump all the time”.  I thought that maybe it would be a good idea to stop worrying about him and what he is doing to the office of the president and to our country.  I reflected on this course of action at length.  It certainly would be easier.

In the end I find it impossible for me to ignore what is going on with the president and I worry that too many people are choosing to tune him out.  This is dangerous.  If citizens do not pay attention to what our government is doing, then the politicians are free to do whatever they want.  If we do not understand the issues and their implications then we are doomed to living out the results of decisions that change our way of life.  In reflecting on the current state of affairs I asked myself how the president’s actions are impacting me, personally, and my day-to-day life.  In truth, I had to answer very little if at all.  So why get upset?  The answer is easy and not a shoulder wrenching pat on my own back — if no one pays attention then eventually it will impact my life and that of my family but it will be too late to do anything to change it.  More importantly, I realized that many people around me are being impacted right now.  Today.  And it is life changing for them.  As Americans, we do care.

This brings me to a representative example of what I see as very disturbing trends under this president.  That is his views on immigration.  It is what I used to tell my staff in my sea-going days:

“Know the difference between what things are and what they mean.”

In that context let’s look at Mr. Trump’s comments made last week regarding immigrants from non-white countries.

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front.  In the end, it is not important that the president used vulgar language in expressing his disparaging view of immigrants.  Whether it was “hole” or “house” is hardly relevant.  If Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark) and David Perdue (R-Ga) want to lose their integrity over the changing stories and provable lies in their interpretation of the suffix to the president’s vulgarity they will have to face themselves in the mirror.  The actual words don’t matter as much as the sentiment does.  Mr. Trump is not the first president to swear in the Oval Office and he won’t be the last.  It is embarrassing to the nation and unbecoming of the office, but in the end it isn’t the most important thing.  It is what it is.

What it means is something else.  Mr. Trump’s temper tantrum in response to a bi-partisan plan proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill) set in motion a string of events that will have both long and short-term impact.

Only days before the blow up the president said that he “would sign anything” that the Congress brought forward on solving the Trump created crisis concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or “Dreamers”.  If not resolved very soon, the Administration could cause roughly 800,000 law-abiding hard-working people to be deported from the only country they have ever really known.  Whether or not the Graham-Durbin bill was the final answer, it did have bi-partisan support and gave the president much — but not all — of what he wanted regarding increased border security, changes to immigration quotas and other immigration procedures.  If nothing else, it was a starting point.  Only two hours before the Oval Office meeting, the president tentatively agreed to the outlines of the bill when it was explained to him over the phone.  Unfortunately, hard liners like Stephen Miller — quoted above — were afraid that the president would agree to the deal and thus called in Senators Cotton and Perdue to talk him out of it.  They succeeded.

What is the fallout?  In the short-term it significantly increases the likelihood of a government shutdown at midnight on Friday 19 January.  Democrats have been under intense pressure to “solve” the DACA dilemma quickly.  Their best leverage is to use a spending bill to do so because the Republicans cannot get enough of their members to pass it on their own.  There is still a lot of negotiating underway as to how to keep the government running, but membership on both sides of the aisle is tired of short-term Continuing Resolutions (CR) which are in and of themselves detrimental to an efficient government.  It could get ugly and there will be lots of finger pointing.  The rest of us suffer.

Longer term the president has exhibited — again! — that he does not understand what makes America the country that it is.  As has been written often, and more eloquently than I can, we are a nation of immigrants.  Most of them poor and from nations that in their day were not any more appreciated than those that the president now disparages.  For example, look at the history of Italian, Irish and Eastern European immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Look to many of our own family histories.  These were not lawyers, doctors, bankers or other wealthy immigrants.  Most could not read or write their own language, much less English.  But they worked hard.  They assimilated over time.  They produced generations of lawyers, doctors and bankers.  Many became wealthy and contributed to the development of industries we now tout as “all American.”  Mr. Trump clearly does not know this.  Probably he does not care.  Mostly, it does not interest or impact him so he pays little attention other than to what he thinks will appeal to the “base” that seems to be the only America he is interested in leading.

Longer term he has changed the way that the rest of the world looks at these United States.  Lady Liberty’s torch no longer seems to be a beacon to those “yearning to breathe free” but rather a torch searching out those not like us.  Mr. Trump revealed — again!–  who he really is.  For goodness sakes, our closest ally is the United Kingdom and they don’t want him to visit.  The UK is very divided politically right now, but all parties agree that Mr. Trump can stay home.

Longer term Mr. Trump’s actions hinder and impede our national security.  When allies question their level of cooperation with our own intelligence agencies because of his actions, we suffer.  When nations that are friendly to us send official diplomatic requests for an explanation of the president’s remarks we may find that they won’t stand with us when needed.  When we have military forces under fire in Africa and in other nations (remember we lost four good soldiers fighting terrorism in Niger) will they be reliable in the common defense if they think the commander-in-chief declares them unworthy to come to our country?

Everyday the list gets longer as we count the attacks on our nation as an idea and an ideal.  I do not think that Mr. Trump understands that.  By his words and actions he is steadily destroying what we stand for in the world and at home.  I am surprised at the number of folks that told me that they don’t care for Mr. Trump that much as a person but that they like what he is doing.  I have to assume that they mean they like the tax cuts and Supreme Court appointment and not his actions infringing on the First Amendment, claiming that the FBI actively worked against his campaign, his besmirching the judiciary whenever they rule against him, and the countless list of daily insults that spew forth and inexorably demean our nation and undermine our way of life.

His views on immigration are only one example of how he is changing our nation.  Reasonable people can reasonably disagree on the path forward in many areas of policy.  What concerns me more than Mr. Trump’s policies is the steady erosion of our American ideals.

So, yes.  It would be easier to just ignore it all and go on with my daily life.  But we all need in our own ways to have our voices heard and let it be known that it is not okay.  I am not anti-Trump in my writings.  I am pro-America and what we stand for.  A president that wants to be president to only 33% of the country needs to come to understand that he represents all Americans.  Those of Haitian ancestry as well as those of Norwegian ancestry.

Who cares?  We care.


The First Amendment Is Under Attack

“You are a slow learner, Winston.”
“How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”
“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

— George Orwell in 1984

Our current president has always had a problem with the facts.  Past presidents have often had an adversarial relationship with the press.  We now reach new levels of concern as both trends continue to grow under one man.  This week they reached very troubling levels.

In case you missed it,  the president has been busy on Twitter again.  Not content to fume and attempt to merely belittle the press, he now actively undermines it.  Today Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reached the same troubling level as did Presidential Adviser Kellyanne Conway’s infamous declaration that “we feel compelled to go out and clear the air and put alternative facts out there.”

I’ll explain.

Hardly anyone, whether paying attention or not, can be unaware of the president’s constant attack on the news media — except Fox and Friends of course.  Constant.  Fake news.  Liars.  On and on.  You’ve heard it.  It is far beyond normal criticism.  Many of his tweets I take to be based either on his ego, or his perverted sense of humor, or some mostly spontaneous spasm of mind that causes him to blast the world with another tweet.  I think his attacks on the media fall into a different category.  The attacks have been relentless and continuous from well before his election.  They have escalated in the time since he took office.  I think the attacks are considered, premeditated, and part of a larger plan to make it difficult to separate truth from fiction and thus cover up his shenanigans and wrong doings in and out of government.  It reached a new peak this week.

This past weekend he tweeted out (in this and all other tweets quoted the capitalization is all his):

“Fox News is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”

Another mindless attack?  I think not.  Especially I think not because the international reaction was swift.  Those that support a free press were quick to condemn the tweet and those that would prefer to hide the truth from their populations — and the BBC and CNN International are the main reliable sources of information for many around the world as those of us that travel frequently know — can now point to the president of the United States as saying it is all fake and no one should believe it.  Reckless behavior on the part of our president.  This sure does help us promote democratic ideals.  By the way, this week President Putin, the only person in the entire world our president refuses to criticize, required all U.S. reporters to register in Russia as “foreign agents”– reinforcing the idea that all news is propaganda and not real.

And it keeps getting worse.

Two days ago he tweeted:

“We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me). They are all bad. Winner to receive the FAKE NEWS TROPHY!”

Ha.  Ha.

Of note is the fact that a merger between AT&T and Time-Warner is blocked by the Justice Department.  Time-Warner owns CNN.  Whether or not you think the merger is a good idea for us as consumers we might be concerned that at one point the suggestion was made that if Time-Warner sold off CNN the merger would be approved.  The issue is now heading to court and one can be sure that the lawyers on the side of the corporations will certainly bring up the many, many, many attacks on CNN from the president.  In the military this is called “command influence.”  The person in charge by deed or dialogue influencing, directly or indirectly, the outcome of what is supposed to be an impartial hearing.

It has now been widely reported that according to private conversations the president had with some friends and advisers, he now doubts  the “authenticity” of the Access Hollywood tapes where he admits assaulting women.  Additionally, to many of those same people he continues to espouse his belief that President Obama was born in Kenya.  One wonders if he is Orwellian or just losing his grip.

And it keeps getting worse.

Today the president re-tweeted three inflammatory videos from “Britain First”, a white nationalist organization in the United Kingdom.  All three were anti-Muslim.  They have proven to be false and/or out of context.  They were distributed by a hate group intent on enraging non-Muslims, perhaps to violence.  British Prime Minister Theresa May felt compelled to put out a statement condemning our president for tweeting these videos, saying that it was “wrong.”  The statement said in part:

“Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions.  They cause anxiety to law-abiding people.  British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudice of the far right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents: decency, tolerance, and respect. It is wrong for the president to have done this.”

Way to go Mr. President!  And that’s from our closest ally.

Besides wondering why he would re-tweet something from that group in the first place, one might wonder what he is doing on a white nationalist web site anyway.  Why?  Why would the president patrol hate group web sites?  Doesn’t he have other things to worry about such as, oh I don’t know, maybe that the North Koreans tested an ICBM that can reach all of the United States?  Or maybe he has a staffer that patrols such web sites for him.  Not really much better.  Where are the filters?  Oh, yea, I forgot.  His is not a “conventional presidency.”  Conventional or not I would think that there are certain conventions of human decency that should also apply to the President of the United States.

And it keeps getting worse.

After the realization set in of what the president had done, reporters asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders — the voice of the president to us as citizens and to the world as the voice of our nation — about it and she said that it didn’t matter if the videos are real or not.  “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real.”  Mrs. Sanders, welcome to the Kellyanne Conway Club.

All of this in the span of a few days.

And it will keep getting worse.

Our president, and apparently those that work for him, have no respect for the First Amendment.  We should be very concerned.  His antipathy for anything even remotely critical of him is more than troublesome.  He is creating an atmosphere where nothing can be trusted by anyone unless he says it is true.  This is the first, most basic move of any autocrat.

Also recall that the president only allowed Russian media into his office when he met with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador.  (Where he famously — perhaps eventually infamously — bragged he fired FBI Director Comey and said “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job.  I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”)

Recall that the president agreed with Chinese President Xi Jinping that the press should not be allowed to ask questions during his visit to China earlier this month.  The first time in memory that the President of the United States acquiesced to a dictator to keep the American press silenced.

Recall that during that same trip the president laughed when autocratic Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte responded to press questions by telling them no questions were allowed as they are “spies.”  The same President Duterte that is on record saying “just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch.”

These are but a few recent examples.

We might discuss whether the current administration is merely incompetent or malicious.  Hard for me to say except as it pertains to freedom of the press.  Regardless, the result is the same — a threat to our freedoms. I think the constant attacks against the press are part of a larger plan.  They are not accidental or merely reflective of his natural tendency to lash out at criticism.

By nature I am not an alarmist.  This pattern alarms me.  He is doing great harm to our nation and to our friends and allies around the world.  It is becoming “normal.”  That worries me the most.

I think a tweet from General Michael Hayden (ret.), former director of the CIA says it best for me.  In response to the president’s tweet about CNN (above) he wrote:

“If this is who we are or who we are becoming, I have wasted 40 years of my life. Until now it was not possible for me to conceive of an American President capable of such an outrageous assault on truth, a free press or the first amendment.”


thoughtsandprayers

A single failed 2001 shoe bombing attempt on an airliner bound for Detroit.

— We all now take our shoes off before boarding any airliner.

A single failed 2009 underwear bombing attempt on an airliner bound for Detroit.

— We all now have to go through full body scanners before boarding any airliner.

A plot to turn a lap top into a bomb was foiled.

— Laptops were banned on many airline flights.

A legal immigrant kills 8 and injures 12 in New York City.

— Close the borders to immigrants.  “Extreme vetting.”

A single terrorist shooter kills 59 and wounds 241 people in Las Vegas.

— thoughtsandprayers

A single terrorist shooter kills 26 and wounds 20 in Sutherland Springs Texas.

— thoughtsandprayers

— “It’s not a gun situation.”

378 mass shooting incidents (defined as four or more people shot) in 2017 alone.

— thoughtsandprayers

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

— thoughtsandprayers

In February 2017 the president signed a decree scrapping the regulation aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of severely mentally ill individuals.

— thoughtsandprayers

Gun homicide rates in the U.S. are 25 times higher than any other high income nation.

— thoughtsandprayers

Guns kill approximately 1300 children in the U.S. each year.

— thoughtsandprayers

The Congress refused to pass legislation preventing individuals on the terrorist no fly list from buying guns.

— thoughtsandprayers

It is not anti-gun to be for gun safety.  As the greatest nation on earth we should be able to figure out how to keep our Second Amendment right without giving up our right not to be randomly shot by a disgruntled idiot.  It is a national disgrace.  It most definitely is not “the cost of freedom.”

I don’t want to hear anymore “thoughtsandprayers.”


The Tumbling Tumbleweed

Yesterday the Trump Administration put a six month limit on the continued use of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy that was in effect for roughly the last five years.  This is the order that allowed undocumented immigrants brought here as children, with no say in the matter, to stay in the United States as long as they met certain criteria.  You may know the recipients of this policy as Dreamers, which came from the Congressional DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) which is legislation proposed in Congress in various forms since 2001 with chances of passage in either the House or the Senate, but never both at the same time.  After the last failure, President Obama in 2012 put the DACA into practice.  The criteria for being designated as a Dreamer are as follows, although under the policy, meeting these criteria does not automatically qualify the applicant as a Dreamer.  They had to:

  • Come to the United States before their 16th birthday
  • Live continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007
  • Be under age 31 on June 15, 2012 (i.e., born on June 16, 1981 or after)
  • Be physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making their request for consideration of deferred action with US Custom and Immigration Service
  • Have no lawful status on June 15, 2012
  • Have completed high school or have a certified GED or have an honorable discharge from the Armed Forces or be enrolled in school
  • Have no convictions of a felony or serious misdemeanors, or three or more other misdemeanors, and not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

It is estimated that there are approximately 800,000 registered Dreamers in the United States.

“Registered” could be a problem because they were promised no retribution if they came in out of the shadows and became useful members of society.  How many are now waiting for the knock on the door that they thought would not be of concern to them?  The talking points distributed by the Administration includes this advice to the Dreamers.

The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States — including proactively seeking travel documentation — or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.

No worries.  They will just go back to a country where they probably know no one and do not even speak the language.  Sure.

There is much ado about how “conflicted” Mr. Trump is about this decision because he wants to follow the rule of law and yet he has “great heart” and “loves” the Dreamers.  Just ask him.  His administration portrayed the decision as a moral dilemma.  Hogwash.  Mr. Trump has about as good of a moral compass as a tumbleweed.  Over time, Mr. Trump has had as many moral and political positions on the widest variety of issues as anyone known to have achieved elected office.  You name a position, and he has had it at one time or another, including on Dreamers.

Mr. Trump is not conflicted over moral decisions.  He is only conflicted in terms of what gives him the best political outcome.  In this case, he got himself into a dilemma because there is no good political outcome.  All he cares about is “winning” and not what the impact of the policy might be.  Follow his argument in the ensuing paragraphs and see how circuitous and illogical it actually turns out to be.

His primary purpose for announcing this change in policy now, under less than optimal circumstances given the need before the end of September to raise the debt limit, pass a budget, provide aid to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, deal with the crisis in North Korea, and prepare for what looks to be another major crisis from Hurricane Irma, to name just a few things hanging over our heads, is to satisfy the hard-liners in his base — which continues to shrink.  Arguably, on this issue he is not even following his base.  Most polls show that about 75% of Americans approve of DACA and only about 15% say the Dreamers should be deported.  Of Trump supporters only 25% say the Dreamers should be deported and about 70% think that DACA should stay in place.

Mr. Trump’s motivation is only and purely political. Yesterday, he showed that he does not have the fortitude to stand by the tough calls.  We all know his penchant for the big show and, as he calls them “ratings.”  So here is a big “tell” — he was nowhere to be found when the announcement that DACA would end was made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The Attorney General took no questions from the press after the announcement.  Mr. Trump demonstrated no sense of responsibility for his decision, even as his press secretary constantly turned all questions to Congress and away from Mr. Trump.

There was no moral dilemma for Mr. Trump.  I would say there never is one that impacts his thinking, but I digress.  Instead of addressing the issue, he passed it to Congress in a very Pontius Pilate kind of way.  He washes his hands of it.  If in six months there is no new DREAM Act or something like it, then it is not his fault.  Oh by the way, Mr. Trump gave absolutely no guidance to Congress as to what kind of bill it should be, what he wants to see (or not see) in it, and what problems it should solve.  No guidance whatsoever.  Like many issues, he provided no leadership on the issue.  I suppose as with health care legislation, “I am sitting with pen in hand” to sign a bill.  Any bill.  We are winning.  If nothing passes it is not his fault.  If it does pass he will be the first to proclaim that he solved the problem.  A huge problem.

Mr. Trump cannot take the lead on solving the Dreamer problem because if he does, it will undermine the entire basis of his campaign and post-election rhetoric.  His demagoguery is based on the argument that immigrants are stealing jobs.  But he suspected, and now knows, that there will be a big backlash to heartlessly tossing out young people that are Americans in every way except on paper. Mr. Trump needs to prop up his campaign lies (fact checkers now have him at 1,114 false or misleading statements in the first 227 days of his administration) that deportation helps US jobs.

He rose to prominence as an anti-immigrant fear monger, starting with the despicable “Birther Movement” claiming President Obama was not an American.  Since then has built his coalition around being anti-immigrant.  Simply compare the record of the average Dreamer and what they have done for America (and perhaps more importantly what they will do in the future) to all of the accomplishments of Mr. Trump’s hero, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Even with that, he cannot be consistent.  Mr. Trump makes an economic argument as to why we should deport all undocumented immigrants because they are taking all the jobs.  But then he turns around and pushes Congress to pass a law to keep them.  Great logic, great morality, great demagoguery.

Houston, we have a problem.  Who is going to rebuild following Hurricane Harvey?  Who does Mr. Trump think is going to do the construction and hard-core clean up following the destruction experienced across many, many square miles of Houston, east Texas and Louisiana? Sure, let’s get rid of all those hard-working $10 an hour folks and bring in, who exactly?  Get real.

Most people may understand what Mr. Trump’s decision means on personal terms to those impacted. Most, however, probably do not understand the economic impact.  Every major CEO and most small business owners opposed the termination of DACA based on economic factors.  Studies indicate that about 91% of all Dreamers are employed.  As their work permits expire, about 30,000 will lose their jobs each month. That translates to lots of lost productivity and expertise for the their employers and adds up to reducing the national gross domestic product by $433 billion (yes, with a B) over ten years.  It also means the loss of nearly $25 billion (another B!) dollars in taxes to programs such as Medicare and Social Security.  (Yes, Dreamers pay taxes.)

None of that takes into account the Dreamers currently serving on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.  What happens to them?  What happens to the veterans that honorably served this nation? Just throw them out?

There clearly are some Constitutional issues.  These are worthy of consideration and debate.  Clearly Congress should shoulder the burden and do their job, as they should do in so many areas where they seem unable to govern.  Usually, however, Constitutional issues get settled in the courts, not by a unilateral decision on the part of Mr. Trump or Attorney General Sessions.  As I write, many state Attorneys General have spoken up and plan to take Mr. Trump’s decision to court.  We shall see how that unfolds.

But let me ask this rhetorical question.  Early in his administration, Mr. Trump’s Muslim Ban was touted as being totally within the Constitutional bounds of his office.  They argued that he had “extraordinary powers” in cases of immigration and was totally within the power of the office to keep people out. Does it not seem logical that if Mr. Trump can keep people out, he can also use that power to keep them in?

In all, I find this one more example of a tumbling tumbleweed administration.  Mr. Trump is just blowing in the wind, merely reacting day-to-day with no particular vision (and according to reported sources inside the White House, no understanding of the issues or their implications) other than keeping the dedicated base cheering at his campaign rallies.  And oh, spending time watching “the shows” on television and tweeting.

 


Disturbing

The last few days have been deeply troubling.  I fear that I will be saying that over and over and over for the next three and a half years.  Every time it seems that our president cannot do anything more outrageous, he does it.  There is no low bar.  Every time I think he’s gone about as far as he can go, he goes further.  Yesterday takes the cake.  So far.  I can never say he won’t go lower.

I do not need to go into detail about President Trump’s impromptu press conference from the gilded lobby of Trump Tower.  You have undoubtedly heard all about it already.  And if you haven’t, all you need to know about his support of Nazis and Klansmen, not to mention how he butchered our history by putting Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on an equal basis with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, is the following Tweet at 4:45PM, immediately following the president’s remarks yesterday, from former KKK leader David Duke:

Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.

So now what?  Well, lots of politicians and business executives separated themselves from President Trump’s moral equivalency of putting the KKK, Nazis, Anti-Semites and other white supremacy groups on the same level as those that oppose them.  Unfortunately most did not separate themselves from the president himself — just his remarks.  Look carefully and you will see that very few actually condemned the president.  A real failure of moral courage.

As Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said in a speech to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  For two years we have listened to Mr. Trump disparage group after group after group, from women to Mexican Americans.  The events of the last few days are just one more data point in a long list of unacceptable statements and actions of the same vein. He is the same guy, we shouldn’t be surprised.  So, when is he going to be held accountable by an equal branch of government — the Congress? When are Cabinet members and White House Staffers going to leave?  Any ideas that Mr. Trump will change are pure fantasy.  In a piece published this afternoon, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote out five concrete steps that Republicans must take to regain the moral high ground, restore the good name of the Republican Party and put Mr. Trump in a box to limit any future damage to our country.  It is worth a look.

Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely that the Republican leaders in Congress will do anything substantive to rein in Mr. Trump.  They are focused on achieving their “agenda” which apparently does not include taking action to counter the rise of the vilest elements of our society.  Thus the rats know that they can come out into the light now because no one is trying to push them back into their holes.

Looking at this from another angle, I am deeply disturbed not only by the president’s defense of racists bent on destruction (“both sides” did not commit a terrorist act, which I am not afraid to say even though Mr. Trump said it was “legal semantics”).  I am ever more disturbed by his actions, of which yesterday’s impromptu press conference was just one more in a long line of troubling actions by the president.

This is what I mean.  Yesterday’s press event was supposed to be an announcement concerning infrastructure plans.  The president was to sign an Executive Order and turn the event over to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (spouse of Senator Mitch McConnell by the way) and depart — no questions from the press.  It was planned.  The Chief of Staff John Kelly, the Secretary and other cabinet level individuals were in place, briefed and all knew the plan.  The president knew the plan and said he would stick to the “script.”  He lied to all of them.  The evidence?  He had a copy of his speech from Saturday in his pocket which he pulled out.  It wasn’t left over from Saturday — he purposefully pulled it from his pocket to start his tirade about the events in Charlottesville.  He knew before he came down that would happen but did not bother to tell any of the other participants.  One look at the photos and videos of the Chief of Staff show his dismay and dare I say horror at what was happening.

And that is my point.

Mr. Trump just had to prove — had to — that no one can control him and that he can do whatever the heck he wants to do.  Period.  He gave an inappropriate speech on Saturday following the disturbing events in Charlottesville.  He doubled down through a nameless staffer on Sunday.  On Monday cooler heads got to him and he read a prepared speech, without any emotion or sense that he believed what he was saying, but he did it and it helped.  And then, and then, he could not control himself and the real Donald J. Trump came through.  A petulant, whiny individual who always, always, always has to have the last word.  He will not be controlled, he cannot be controlled.

You need further evidence?  Look at his remarks on North Korea and Venezuela.  Yes, Venezuela.  He threatened military action against Venezuela because he could.  And thereby undermined ongoing diplomatic efforts with our Latin American neighbors trying to bring pressure on that regime.  And undermined Vice President Mike Pence who was on a diplomatic mission in Latin America.

He does things just to show that he can.  Because he wants to.  It is always, always, always only about him. That is even more frightening than what appears to be in his heart.  Whether or not Donald J. Trump is a racist is something I can never know.  But his words and actions indicate that if he is not, he is at least clueless about the mission and intent of the white supremacists who see him as “their man” and see him as helping their cause.

Where are our moral leaders at the national level?  Thank goodness many mayors and governors around the country and of both political parties stood up and took action.  Shoot, even the members of the service leaders on the Joint Chiefs of Staff put out statements today condemning the events in Charlottesville and the racist nature of those acts.  They were clear and unambiguous.  They did not mention Mr. Trump directly, but it is very clear when you read them that they are reacting to the president’s remarks from yesterday.

When will Congress find its moral footing?


Shameful

It was a sad day for our country in Charlottesville Virginia yesterday when white supremacists, including self-avowed Ku Klux Klansmen, Neo-Nazis, Anti-Semites and others demonstrated, resulting in the loss of three lives — one woman killed in a white supremacist terror attack and two Virginia State Police Troopers helping to protect the citizens of Charlottesville died when their helicopter crashed.

I could hardly believe that this was happening in our country.  Not so much that such people exist — it is a sad but true fact that they do — but that so many of them came from around the country to impose their twisted vision of America on the good citizens of Charlottesville.

More unbelievable, and vastly more disappointing and troublesome to me, our president refused to denounce the white supremacists and refused to call it an act of terror when a car deliberately plowed into a crowd of peaceful protesters denouncing the white supremacists .

Shameful.

I just happened to see the president’s remarks live, as they happened.  Many of you probably saw them replayed on various news stations.  The clip most played is the president saying:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.”

Watching it closely, and paying attention to the body language, it was clear to me that President Trump was ad libbing the “many sides” phrase.  Which he repeated with his characteristic hand gestures usually utilized in conjunction with “believe me.”  What is not shown, and astounded me in the moment, was during his prepared remarks, he deviated from the script several times, including a long riff in the middle of his remarks about the unfolding tragedy in Charlottesville to assure us, as a nation, that he was doing a great job.

“Our country is doing very well in so many ways. We have record — just absolute record employment. We have unemployment, the lowest it’s been in almost 17 years. We have companies pouring into our country. Foxconn and car companies, and so many others, they’re coming back to our country. We’re renegotiating trade deals to make them great for our country and great for the American worker. We have so many incredible things happening in our country. So when I watch Charlottesville, to me it’s very, very sad.”

It always has to be about him.

Not only did he fail his course on Presidency 101 and what to say and do when faced with a tragic event, he totally failed in calling out the white supremacists and in making clear that there was no place for them in our United States.  On “many sides” indeed.  He doesn’t have the guts to call out Nazis? The KKK? He has the guts to call out the immigrant parents of a United States Army officer killed in action defending our country but not these yahoos?  What the heck?  My father and father-in-law were World War II veterans, what did they fight for if professed Nazis can carry swastikas in the streets and the president refuses to call them out?

The only answer I can come up with is that he doesn’t want to upset his “base.”  One would hope that he doesn’t want white supremacists in his base, but apparently that isn’t the case.  Am I hyperventilating? Perhaps. But I am not making this up from thin air.  Look at the comments from the former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke on the eve of the demonstration.

“This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back. That’s what we gotta do.”

Was that a one-off?  Let’s take another sample from a white supremacist who said the following after the president’s remarks.

“Trump’s comments were good.  He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides! So he implied the antifa [I looked this up — it is short for antifascists] are haters.”

“There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all. He said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about white nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

You get the picture.  That’s why words matter and especially from the president.  He knows that and if he doesn’t then his staff sorely let him down.  But having watched his remarks live, he appeared to deviate from his prepared remarks on several occasions so as not to be specific about the groups behind the hate.  I guess he just cannot bring himself to separate from his so called supporters.

As I write, the White House staff is in full damage control mode saying essentially that of course the president denounces all hate groups.  Why would they go into damage control mode if the president’s remarks were not in fact totally inadequate?  Because he didn’t and he hasn’t actually rebuked these far right-wing extremists and terrorists.  How hard is it to say that driving a car into a peaceful crowd to purposely maim and kill is an act of terrorism?  He certainly is not shy.  Except in these cases.  Where is Mr. I’m-not-politically-correct?

Thankfully politicians of every stripe from Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex) to former Vice President Joe Biden came out in full-throated condemnation of the white supremacists and also chastised the president for his missed hand slap to the violent white supremacists.  There is hope that all of us will stand up for what we believe actually makes America great and not let this behavior continue unchallenged. And we should voice our opinions to President Trump to let him know how badly he let us all down, both as president and as a person.

Clearly these far right-wing nuts think that the president is on their side.  With so called alt-right (a nice name for white supremacists) supporters on his personal staff in the White House — Mr. Steve Bannon and alleged doctor Sebastian Gorka to name two — they have good reason to think so.  The only way that he can disabuse them of that notion is to clearly, forcefully and unambiguously tell them to climb back into their holes and that he refuses their support in any way, shape, or form.  Otherwise, he is not the president of the United States that I know and love.


What Are We Supposed to Think?

We are approaching the end of the third week of the administration of President Donald J. Trump.  For some reason it seems more like the end of three years of his administration.  I am already getting worn out from seeing All Trump, All The Time.  I suppose that his ever-present countenance would be a natural result of the characteristics of the type of person, campaigner, and president that he is — all based on his perceived success as a “brand” and a television reality star.  Like the old cliché goes, even bad publicity is better than no publicity at all, apparently.

By nature, I am not prone to hyperbole and have worked in Washington D.C. long enough to know that sometimes people make mistakes and that the learning curve can be very steep.  Missteps blow up on the national stage.  So I would like to think that the Trump Administration is growing into the job. Three weeks is not enough time to get everything in order.  Indeed, his cabinet is mostly just now reporting for duty.  And yet.  And yet.

It is difficult for me to ignore or give the benefit of the doubt to his words and actions thus far.  In truth, many of his actions — the Executive Orders — are mostly PR events, with the obvious exception of his ban (his word not mine) on refugees from seven Muslim countries.  One can debate whether that is a good or bad policy — personally from a national security perspective I think it does far more harm than good — but my interest is bigger than just one particular Order.  Since it came out, I have watched with interest all the activity around it, from the White House, to Congress, to the judicial system, to the press corps .

From what I have seen, I am deeply concerned that a Constitutional crisis is not far ahead.

Here is why I think so.  At the risk of taking a “Chicken Little” approach to his administration, and understanding that any criticism is labeled as whining and makes me a “LOSER!”, there are some troubling indicators.  As I think about these indicators, I am unsure whether they are part of some master plan, or if the president and some of his senior staff are just unable to deal with reality, or if their management style may be likened to a three wood shot in a tiled bathroom.

President Trump lashes out at everyone that he believes is in his way.  It doesn’t matter if it is a television host or the leader of another country.  If he wants it, he should get it. Childish?  Perhaps. Impetuous?  Perhaps.  Dangerous? Yes, but in what way?  Is it dangerous because it is a master plan to create chaos and let things get so bad that our fellow citizens look for a savior to reclaim the land?  What powers will be given to that savior that undermine our core values?  Or is it dangerous because the president really does not know what he is doing and may in fact have some disability that precludes rational behavior?  Deliberate or accidental?  I am not sure it matters if the result is the same.

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake.  We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power.” —  1984 by George Orwell

(Most of us read 1984 in High School.  I just re-read it and recommend it to you.)

President Trump seems to be the type of person that has always used power, in one form or another, to achieve his personal goals.  When thwarted, he lashes out.  When he lashes out, he does so to belittle and demean those that have displeased him.  He has a long history of doing so.  When he was a television personality it didn’t matter and may have been mildly amusing.  As a presidential candidate it was troublesome, but had no direct impact on policy and the well-being of the nation.  As president, it has direct consequences.

The most disturbing aspect of his attacks is where they are directed.  We have three equal branches of government.  They often disagree and criticism of one branch by another is not unheard of in our history.  However, at least publicly, those criticisms were of a decision or a policy and not directed at the individual or the institution.  President Trump attacks the person and the institution.  For example, when his ban on refugees entering the country was put on hold by a Federal judge, he attacked not only the decision, but the individual.

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”  –President Trump on Twitter 4 February

Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!  — President Trump on Twitter 5 February

These are but two of his many tweets about the case.  (I never thought I would use the words “tweets” and “president” in the same sentence and actually have it make sense.)  Besides attacking the judge, and in a speech this week he attacked the entire judiciary system, he is removing himself from any responsibility for keeping the nation safe.  Claiming that if “something happens” (note he doesn’t just say a terrorist attack) it is the fault of the judge and judiciary system and not his as Commander-in-Chief. Sorry, Mr. President. Your job is to use every legal method available to you to keep our nation safe. Period.

Fear-mongering seems to be another aspect of this presidency and helps to create the conditions for a “savior”. President Trump’s tweets, statements, and those of several of his advisers make it sound like a catastrophe is at hand.  In their telling, since the stay went into effect thousands of people, most of whom are terrorists, woke up and decided to go to the airport, buy a ticket and fly to the USA. Gotta get the terrorists there now, now, now.  Profoundly untrue.  The “people pouring in” have gone through “extreme vetting.”  They are green card holders and people, usually families with wife, husband and kids, with visas.  It is easy for anyone to know (and one would think the president would be one) what procedures the newly arriving refugees (not “illegal immigrants”) go through.  And if you don’t know, I recommend this article written by a person that conducted those interviews and reviewed the cases.  No visa was granted in less than 18 months of vetting, most take three to five years, and far more people are denied entry than are allowed to enter the country.

When established news outlets try to present such information, the president attacks the media with continual claims of “fake news” for every story unfavorable to his preferred narrative.  Apparently, if one criticizes anything related to the president (including the sale of his daughters apparel) you are “unfair” or “very, very dishonest”. Speaking of which….

No, I won’t go that far yet.  It just is amazing to me, however, that the president and his advisers can pretend that something didn’t happen or that they never said something when the video and audio exists to prove that in fact they did.  I don’t want to exaggerate, but it is eerily reminiscent of what came out of the Ministry of Truth in the use of “doublethink” in Orwell’s 1984.  Here is an explanation of doublethink from the book.

“The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”

Congress thus far chooses not to exercise its role as a further balance to the president.  With four or five individual exceptions in the Senate for very specific issues, the Republican controlled Congress has not challenged the president.  Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in particular goes out of his way to ignore the daily tweets, misstatements and falsehoods coming from the White House.  He is probably taking the long view that the president will eventually come around and that the Republican Congress can get its agenda past the president.  Why he still thinks that, I have no idea.  President Trump is the same guy as Candidate Trump and the same guy as The Apprentice Trump.  Until the Republican Congress (Democrats cannot do it, they are all whiners and losers) stands up to the president and calls him out for his more egregious actions, there will be danger in the air.

To me, that is why President Trump is going after the judiciary and the media.  Congress has provided no resistance.  Only the bench and the journalists are holding him to account.  If he can discredit both of those institutions, then he may decide that he can ignore them with impunity.  There goes the system of checks and balances.

Remember that President Trump continually reminds the nation that he does not have to do certain things (like reveal his taxes, divest his business interests, and countless other issues) because the law exempts the president, and besides, as I’ve heard him say way too many times “I won. I don’t have to do it.  The people who voted for me knew all about me and XX.”  (Fill in the blank — feel free to use just about any issue one can think of.)

Am I ready to man the barricades?  No.  I do think that it is incumbent on all of us to continue to watch developments very closely and to not become desensitized to the outrageous words coming from the White House, or worse, become bored with it all.  The minute we stop paying attention is when we enter the most dangerous period.

We may not all agree on the policy questions, but I think that we all agree that keeping an eye on all three branches of government is important to our way of life.  Is the current atmosphere a case of rookie mistakes, undisciplined advocates, unhealthy egos, part of a plan, or all of the above?  I have no idea what to think, but in the end, it just doesn’t matter.  All are potential threats to our well-being.


Searching For A Better Life

I recently returned from a vacation tour through Europe.  We were fortunate enough to travel from Budapest, Hungary to Amsterdam, Netherlands and had a great time.  It was interesting on many levels — history, culture, fellow travelers, all of it.  As always when traveling overseas, of course, it also reminded me of how lucky I am to live in the United States.  For all of our troubles and differences of opinions, at least in my lifetime, we have been incredibly fortunate.

This was brought home in one way by the opportunity to visit cities and towns throughout central Europe that were occupied by the Soviets, Nazis, or both.  As I am always reminded, it is one thing to learn history from a book, and quite another to talk to people who lived through the experiences. To these people, it is still a living history.  In the former communist states of Hungary and Slovakia, the rebuilding from World War II is nearly complete.  Construction was delayed for decades because of the Soviet occupation and the reluctance or lack of caring (or both) to put any thought or effort into rebuilding locally important buildings.  While the Soviets (and local regimes) obviously built structures during the period leading up to 1989, they did so without regard to historic local norms, desires or long-standing culture.  And, not to put too fine of a point on it, but what they did build is down right ugly.

In Austria and Germany the scars of World War II remain.  Perhaps not so much with respect to rebuilding cities, but with their history.  Indeed, we were told that the now famous museum in Nuremberg retelling the story of Hitler’s rise and rule — used to educate German youth of the horrors of that period — was not built until 2002.  According to our guide, it could not have been built any earlier because no one wanted to confront that chapter of German history.  Only the younger generation could face the facts.  Many of the medieval cities along the Main and Rhine Rivers had to be rebuilt as they were mostly 90% or more destroyed by Allied bombing.  For the locals this was just a fact — not something raised in acrimony — although they often pointed out that there was no tactical or operational reason for the bombing.  There was only the strategic goal of breaking the will of the people through sheer helplessness.  We have not experienced anything like that since the 1860’s.

Likewise, it was with helplessness that many in these countries watched the flow of thousands upon thousands of people from the Middle East into Europe.  We have seen the reports on  the news here in the U.S., but again, in Europe they are living the reality of the situation.  It is a tragedy seemingly without a solution.  Hundreds, if not thousands, have died making the attempt to get to safety, primarily by sea to Greece where they then try to move on to wealthier nations.  The European Union is grappling with how to deal with the situation.  Provide humanitarian assistance and it probably entices more people to make the dangerous run.  Do nothing to help them and thousands of people suffer and die.

From a distance, the most interesting discussion involved what to call these people.  Perhaps that discussion is relevant to our own political debates in the run-up to the 2016 elections.  The question was whether they were “migrants,” “refugees” “asylum seekers” or “immigrants.”  The question is more than one of semantics as under international law and under the standards of humanitarian treatment, how they are categorized makes a difference in how nations should, and will, deal with them.  To those making the dangerous trek however, it may matter little.  It is a problem that is only going to continue to grow as the civil war in Syria continues, and ISIS and other groups operate in the Middle East.  Without solving that root problem, the mass migration, the largest since World War II according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will continue.

In 1980’s I had two experiences with people fleeing what must have been intolerable conditions. I still think about them to this day.  They were on a smaller scale than those going on today in Europe, but in some ways are even more unbelievable.  Today’s refugees leaving the Middle East for Europe take boats across the Mediterranean Sea headed for Europe.  It is very dangerous and they are horribly mistreated by smugglers profiting from the endeavor.  But they have a destination in mind and a relatively short trip.  In the early 80’s refugees were leaving Viet Nam in small boats heading out to sea. No destination, per se — they were just hoping that a passing freighter (or their greatest hope, a U.S. Navy ship) would spot them and pick them up.  Some made it, some did not. There is no real way of knowing because those that didn’t make it were lost at sea without a trace.  Those that got picked up ended up all over the Pacific because most ships would continue to their destinations before off-loading those they had picked up.  On two different USN ships I was part of the ship’s company that picked up some of these refugees.  We were not on any mission to do so, it was purely luck or providence that we spotted them adrift at sea as we proceeded through the area.  Of the several occasions, it was nearly always the same. We would spot a rickety non-sea worthy vessel of about 50 feet adrift with upwards of 75 or 80 people on board. Usually those on board consisted of a couple of extended families (babies to grand parents) from the same geographic area. They were out of fuel and food and nearly out of water. They had nothing but the clothes on their back as in each case pirates intercepted the boats before we did and took everything of value from the people — including pulling teeth with silver or gold fillings. There were rarely young women on board as the pirates took them too.

Unbelievable.  To this day I ask myself how bad things would have to be to put my entire extended family in a non-sea worthy boat and push out to sea with no destination and only a vague hope that a friendly ship would stop and help us.  And the odds were that no one would see us.   I cannot imagine risking the lives of my entire family in such a way.  I still think about it.

(As a footnote, I later served on ships where some of the new crew members reporting aboard were babies or small children on those boats rescued at sea in the early 80’s by U.S. Navy ships.  Only in America.)

In the late 1980’s my ship was operating in the Caribbean Sea on a mission unrelated to the migration then taking place from Haiti.  The U.S. Coast Guard was actively involved in rescuing those migrants, also in flimsy boats, from the sea.  They would take the refugees to the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where they would be processed by Immigration and State Department personnel and then generally returned to Haiti.  Pure chaos. Again what came through was the overwhelming desperation of the people.  While we were not directly involved in that operation, we were certainly able to observe at close hand how difficult it was to effect the rescues on a mass scale and then to humanely treat the people once they reached shore while still trying to maintain some degree of orderliness and safety.  It is an extremely difficult task.

I can only imagine what is going on at sea and ashore in Europe as the numbers of people flowing into Europe dwarf anything that I participated in or observed.  A very tough situation.

We are so lucky in so many ways.  As partisan divides emerge, I trust that all of us will realize how lucky we are compared to so many in this world — past and present.