Christmas Eve Alone with Friends & Foes

(Photo Credit Mario Tama | Getty Images)

Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, the French army was barracked in Providence, Rhode Island. On Christmas Eve 1780, the people of Providence celebrated with the Catholic French-speaking soldiers bunking at University Hall at Brown University, singing carols and lighting candles.

http://www.quahog.org/factsfolklore/index.php?id=159

One hundred and four years ago, enemy soldiers stared across the cold battlefield of northern France and, out of respect for each other, a Christmas truce sporadically broke out along the Western Front… French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another…

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/england/10455611/England-v-Germany-when-rivals-staged-beautiful-game-on-the-Somme.html

In World War II, specifically, on December 24, 1941, at precisely 4:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, as dusk gathered and the temperature dropped, the red-coated Marine Band on the White House lawn struck up “Joy to the World,” accompanying choirs from area churches. Thousands had gathered in the fading light. After some further carols, the band began “Hail to the Chief.” As the sunset gun at nearby Fort Myer boomed, the president and Mrs. Roosevelt appeared on the South Portico with a group of guests, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

http://www.historynet.com/christmas-in-wartime.htm

These days, instead of honoring allies like playing “Joy to the World” to the Prime Minister of Britain, or singing carols to French soldiers away from home to help America, no, instead of celebrating friends or even seeking a temporary white-flag with enemies like the 1914 Christmas Truce, as I’m recording this right now at approximately 6pm Eastern, the President of the United States has spent Christmas Eve 2018 sending out more than 10 tweets already today attacking Democrats, Republican Senator Bob Corker, Trump’s own former anti-terrorism envoy Brett McGurk… and complaining about US allies overseas… that’s right, rather than support foreign allies or seek a detente to the domestic tensions at home, President Trump shows he’s more Grinch than Gingrich, forcing a government shutdown for the holidays after the House and Senate had already passed a bi-partisan bill to avoid this, the third shutdown of the year. Oh, you know, the shutdown that, on December 11, 2018, Trump proudly declared I’ll tell you what: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. I will take the mantle… I will be the one to shut it down — I’m not going to blame you for it.”

https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/24/politics/trump-christmas-chaos/index.html

Weird how now Trump and his few allies left, like Mark Meadows are trying to blame the Democrats in the Senate for blocking the appropriations bill. Apparently, the approximately 3 million Federal civil servants aren’t as important to the Republicans as Neil Gorsuch was, otherwise the filibuster rule would be removed entirely, right?

So here we are. The second year of the Trump Administration. The filibuster rule that was in place for 100 years has been removed by Republican Senators to seat a conservative justice. The US has broken its treaty responsibility under the Paris Agreement. The US has threatened its own allies in NATO. The US was withdrawn from the Iran Framework. The US has announced its withdrawal from NAFTA and renegotiated the agreement. The US has withdrawn from a nuclear weapons deal with Russia negotiated by Ronald Reagan. And, this fall, the US has done nothing as a Saudi resident-alien living in the United States is murdered on diplomatic grounds by the goons of Mohammed bin Salaman. Most recently, Trump talks with Turkish dictator Erdogan and then announces the withdrawal of US forces from Syria. Cui bono? Who benefits? Dictator Erdogan, Dictator Al-Assad, Dictator Putin, and -ironically- even the Iranian backed terrorist group Hezbollah… and who suffers? The stateless Kurds. The same Kurds that were betrayed by the US in ‘91, the same Kurds not given enough support in IS’ Northern Iraq offensive in 6/2014 & now Trump’s betrayal in 12/2018…

Why does Trump coordinate more with Dictator Orban, Dictator Duarte, Dictator Putin, Dictator MBS, and Dictator Erdogan than Angela Merkel, Theresa May,  Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, or Shinzō Abe?

Why does Trump exude admiration for Dictator Xi when he removes term limits, builts re-education camps for the Uighers? Is it because Xi has recognized more than 125 trademarks for Trump and his families businesses in just these last two years?

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-40283830

So this Christmas Eve? December 24, 2018, when President Trump just tweeted out “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House”?

https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/24/politics/trump-christmas-chaos/index.html

I truly believe this is a man who has built his own prison. Attacking the Bush Family, attacking John McCain, attacking the Federal Judiciary, attacking Jeff Sessions, the DOJ and the FBI, pretending George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, and Paul Manafort are nobodies, attacking Michael Cohen, building an administration with the likes of Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn, Tom Price, Steve Bannon, Anthony Scaramucci, Omarosa Newman, Gary Cohn, Ronny Jackson, Ryan Zilke,

Forcing out HR MacMaster, Rex Tillerson, David Shulkin, and firing Jim Mathis for announcing his retirement….

And let’s not forget that Trump now has had three chiefs of staff in less than 2 years…

And this is the guy who complains, on Christmas Eve, that he’s all alone….

 

 

 

The Moral High Ground

(Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan AFP/Getty Images)

Morality is individual, ethics is collective. Often we talk about the so-called “moral high ground” referring to the consistency of moral behavior or a code of morality that allows a person or even a nation-state to respond to the issues of the day or the actions of other nation-states and individuals… Nixon’s lies, Reagan’s “I don’t recall”, the Bush Family’s oil interests, Clinton’s sexual predatory behaviors… all of these call into question that moral high ground of the Presidency and of the United States of America.

Imagine that. Imagine if the preponderance of evidence indicated that a president was guilty of lies, deceptive recollections of memory or facts, business conflicts, AND sexual predatory behaviors?

  1. Before publically announcing his intention to run for president, Trump mocked President Obama for his vacation days and games of golf. How’s that working out?
  1. Trump said as a presidential candidate that he would drain the swamp and hire only the best people….
  • General Michael Flynn… has pled guilty…
  • Michael Cohen has pled guilty and been sentenced to three years…
  • The National Inquirer has admitted to conspiracy and campaign violations in a prosecuting-avoidance deal with the SDNY…
  • Campaign Manager Paul Manafort has been convicted of tax fraud, conspiracy, etc…. Trump’s defense? Well, Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan too… thought Trump seems to forget that Manafort worked for Reagan BEFORE the fraud and conspiracy, whereas Manafort worked for Trump after and during the criminal activities….
  • Rick Gates? Yup him too….
  • George Papadopoulos who has pled guilty to trying to coordinate with the Russians….
  • Trump’s friend and ally, Roger Stone has taken the 5th Amendment in regards to subpoenas by the Republican-led US Senate and is also being investigated by the Mueller probe…
  • Roger Stone’s associate Andrew Miller held in contempt…
  1. Sitting Presidents “can’t be indicted” because that’s been DOJ tradition since the early 1970s… you know what’s else has been a tradition since the Nixon Era? The release of tax returns by presidential candidates.
  1. The Russia assassination of Alexander Litvinenko? The Russian attempted-assassination of Sergei and Yulia Skripal? Horrible! Tragedies! Against the rule of law! Then there’s that assassination of American resident alien journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman?
  1. Trump complained about NAFTA and has renegotiated with the threat of withdrawing from the agreements… like he withdrew from the nuclear weapons deal with Russia, the Paris Climate Agreement, and the Iran Framework… But he expects other countries to follow their obligations such as military expenditures under the NATO Treaty agreements… But China does not have to follow its treaty obligations under the WTO, but they do have to pay tariffs on steel and soy, but maybe not if they make a deal to buy agricultural equipment from the US, but not Harley’s because Harley is a bad company because they moved operations overseas…not like Carrier who laid off 200 employees after Trump claimed to have saved 2000 jobs… honestly, I can’t keep up with the whiplash following this guys logic…. Now arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei… Trump’s dangling leveraging Meng with the tariff negotiations, but condemns the use of pressure on Trump Organization and Trump Campaign personnel as virtually criminal acts by the DOJ, you know, his DOJ that’s led by his Attorney-General and his Director of the FBI….
  1. Today, Mika Brzezinski criticized by Trump for her offensive slur against gays…. This criticism by the man who said Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers, Africans come from shit hole countries, and women should be grabbed by there genitals… only he didn’t say genitals, did he? And today, Trump criticized Comey’s non-answers to the House Judiciary Committee, while his own lawyers refuse, limit, and redact questions and answers to the Special Counsel’s Office.
  1. Also today, the House Oversight Committee under Trump ally Mark Meadows began investigations into the Clinton Foundation… what’s weird is that the House is using tax returns to investigate the Clintons…. Imagine if the same committee had access to the tax returns of the president and or the Trump Organization?
  • Then the OVERSIGHT Committee might look at the 63rd Floor of Trump Tower and Vadim Trincher, one of the leaders of a Russian-American crime ring that operated an international gambling operation from Trump Tower which laundered over $100 million, according to the U.S. attorney’s office and FBI.
  • Then there’s the 49th floor rented to ex-FIFA official Chuck Blazer frequently attended Trump’s Miss Universe competitions and let Trump film a commercial for Trump University in his apartment. That’s the “university” that Trump would settle lawsuits brought by students against the now-defunct Trump University for $25 million. As for Blazer, he went on to befriend Russian President Vladimir Putin and voted for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup before admitting in court to taking bribes and pleading guilty to tax evasion, money laundering, racketeering, and wire fraud.
  • 43rd floor –- condo of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
  • 26th and 25th floors — Trump campaign and presidential transition offices It was here that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Manafort agreed to take a meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 after being promised potentially damaging information on Hillary Clinton, according to email records. After the election, Michael Flynn and Kushner arranged a separate, private meeting with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower that they said was to establish a “fresh start” in U.S.-Russian relations, according to a statement made by Kushner in July 2017. Last December, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Kislyak and is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigation while facing up to five years in prison. Kushner denies any wrongdoing. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/controversial-residents-trump-tower/story?id=52577191
  1. Then there’s the Wall Street Journal Report from today… Federal -that’s right, FEDERAL- prosecutors are investigating whether the Trump Inaugural Committee misspent $107 MILLION of donations = and is examining whether top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump Administration, policy concessions, or to influence official administration positions…. Who!, That sounds A LOT like that whole pay for play that the Clinton Foundation is being accused of, doesn’t it? When did that House Oversight Hearing get called? Oh, right, today… the same day that the Republican owned Wall Street Journal reported that Trump is being investigated for pay for play… I wonder when Mark Meadow’s will have that hearing?

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-tells-meadows-no-on-white-house-chief-of-staff-wants-him-on-capitol-hill/2018/12/12/3148be46-fe57-11e8-83c0-b06139e540e5_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.2398a2e6d74c

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/controversial-residents-trump-tower/story?id=52577191

A Return to Civility, Part II

In our last podcast, I spoke about the history of recent Supreme Court confirmation proceedings. But why? With so much animosity in the news, why just point out the problems in the nomination, confirmation, and SCOTUS decision-making processes?

To think, there are so many other issues facing our Federal government. Debt-ceiling gamesmanship, deficit-spending, questionable tax policy, exploding entitlement budgets, delusionally bloated Pentagon-spending, ACA, insurance premium-gouging, prescription price-gouging, questions about social media censorship and regulation, environmental regulation and climate change, election interference from overseas, immigration policy,  NAFTA, NATO, ICC, WTO, TransPacific Partnership, human rights… and on, and on…

So why obsess about the deterioration of the Supreme Court confirmation process? Well, because its symptomatic of what I see as the reductionist, myopic, and selfishness that has, while it has always been there, has now completely overtaken the American corporate and political landscape. Identity politics has replaced political debate; Political disagreement is now seen as evidence of a moral or patriotic flaw in those with which we disagree. The neo-tribalistic perceptions of political ideology have become the norm, and compromise is a now bad word. There are fewer and fewer true leaders left in elected government. Common purpose and Noblesse oblige have been subsumed by personal and partisan Machiavellianism. Relativism is now the dominant moral philosophy of Congress and the White House.

But, maybe that’s just me. It seems, to me, that the lack of political courage domestically and internationally has brought us closer to the edge – the point of no return in terms of climate change, the edge of losing the stability of international NGO regimes that were developed in the ashes of the Second World War, instead of recognizing our collective human destiny, the national and international actors seem to desire a return to the competition for international resources and hegemony that brought us colonization, jingoism, racism, two world wars, and near use of nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

To use psychological terminology, both internationally and domestically, we are regressing, not maturing. We’re playing Hungry Hungry Hippo and zero-sum games, as opposed to incorporating game theory and win-win into our mindsets and guiding principles. We need a long game, not a putting game; as the Iroquois often said in deliberations, we need to think about the Seventh Generation, not our personal checkbooks and neotribalistic aspirations.

Because, what the world needs, if American leadership. Yes, for decades, there has been a robust debate between those who support unilateral American leadership and those who believe in multilateral world leadership with a strong, active, and an engaged American presence in the world stage. What the world has now, is an international power vacuum.

Today, as we speak, there is a genocide against the Rohingya in Burma… and the Burmese say, what happened to the Native Americans, don’t you still keep them on reservations even today?

Saudi and other US allies bomb Yemenese civilians with US-made bombs, and whisper that it’s their Vietnam, their Nicaragua after all, right?

Russia commits assassinations and attempted assassinations of dissidents in the UK, and says, hey, the US did it too in 1953 Iran, 1954 Guatemala, 1963 South Vietnam, and 1973 Chile.

Russia annexes Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and intimidates its neighbors… and sends social media bots to exacerbate divisions between Americans; all the while, the President of the United States says he respects Putin and believes the Head of State of a foreign power, over his own government’s non-partisan intelligence community.

Of course, it is not just Putin that Mr. Trump admires, he has also expressed his admiration for Duarte of the Philippines, Kim of North Korea, and Xi of China.

Yes, China, where the decades-long Hannification of Tibet is essentially complete, during which the US let China into the WTO and facilitated the transfer of technology through not just corporate espionage but nation-state espionage against US corporations… then the US became dependent on borrowing money from the very people who have stolen US technology, and even imprisoned the Panchen Lama. Would the US react so banally if the Vatican Secretary of State were kidnapped, or the heir to the Chief Rabbi of Israel?

Which brings us to this week. This week news broke that there are nearly a million Uighurs interred in concentration camps in the People’s Republic of China. Once again, the US hems and haws. Officials toss the word ‘sanctions’ out again like a panacea, whereas it is more like a placebo.

After all, China has weathered the steel sanctions well enough, while American soybean farmers suffer and Harley-Davidson has announced it is moving some production to Europe. Not overseas where its cheaper as the jingoistic narrative goes, but to the land of socialism, free university, and free healthcare… Europe.

So, how does the US tell China to stop the internment of Uighurs. The US still imprisons foreigners in GITMO without Due Process and separates asylum-seeking families at the US border. And just this week, as news of the Uigher re-education camps broke, leader of the United States has denied the death of thousands of Puerto Ricans…

And our response, as Americans and human beings, our response has been to double-down into neotribalism and identity politics. The problems facing the world are not the fault of one man, but it has been exasperated by him.

Trumpism needs to be rejected and filed away in history with fascism, Stalinism, McCarthyism, South American Caudillos, and rulers from across the globe including the Middle East and Africa who use cult-of-personality strongman tactics. I hear conservative voices cry out against the increasingly violent Left, the so-called AntiFa; but many of the same voices have been silent about the violent Right… from the the continuous presence of the KKK in America, the institutional racism of Southern law enforcement that attacked Civil Rights protesters, right up to the militia movement, the Sovereign Citizen movement, Ammon and Randy Bundy, etc.

Violent rhetoric and political violence from all sides of the political spectrum must be stopped. Instead of complaining about political violence and violence rhetoric from our ideological opposites, we all need to remove the log from our own eyes and ideologies before pointing out the splinter in others’ eyes and ideologies.

Democratic politicians who play the same games of manipulative populism and fearmongering need to be voted out; we used to talk about who we are, not who we’re not. We used to promote vision, not vitriol. Yes, its hard to be the minority party, but it doesn’t mean you have to lower your standards to the lowest forms of politics. It is also hard to be the party in power, to govern not gripe. The traditional Republicans need to regain their moral standards. Since 2010, traditional Republicans have thought they could use the Tea Party movement, only to become controlled by them… don’t believe me? Just as Speaker John Boehner. Ask Jeb Bush. The Republican leaders who have tolerated Trump in exchange for tax cuts and Supreme Court seats need to go. We need new leadership in both parties. We need national unity, not national dysfunction. The New Jerusalem is shrinking from its promise as the beacon on the hill for the world to look up to, no, America has become dystopian, not Utopian.

It’s possible. Rhode Island, long one of the most nepotistic judiciaries, implemented reforms that have ushered in candidates of qualification, not political affiliation. A return to a supermajority for Supreme Court nominations. An end to the gerrymandered districting in the House of Representatives. Bi-partisan co-sponsorship for legislation. Guaranteed up/down votes on bills offered by the minority party. Depoliticalization of the debt ceiling. Ending dark money. Rebuilding partnership with historic allies, and maybe taking a break from questionable new allies. A commitment by politicians, especially presidents, that recognizes treaties are -according to Article VI of the US Constitution- the supreme law of the land and cannot be withdrawn from, but need to be renegotiated or unratified legislatively at the 2/3 threshold in the Constitution.

We can meaningfully address the myriad of issues facing our Federal government. Debt-ceiling gamesmanship, deficit-spending, questionable tax policy, exploding entitlement budgets, delusionally bloated Pentagon-spending, ACA, insurance premium-gouging, prescription price-gouging, questions about social media censorship and regulation, environmental regulation and climate change, election interference from overseas, immigration policy,  NAFTA, NATO, ICC, WTO, TransPacific Partnership, human rights… and on, and on… We can do it if we collaborate and compromise with a win-win mentality, not the reductionist neotribal mindset that has become the norm in recent years.

It’s possible. And, even if it wasn’t, are we willing to live in the tit-for-tat Banana Republic as we’ve become, or do we want the new America to be like the old America: imperfect, but searching to be a more perfect union.

PHOTO CREDIT (Public Domain):  https://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/american_originals_iv/images/jfk_inaugural_address/inauguration.html
Photographer/Painter: Record Group 111, Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer (111-SC-578830)

Of Elephants, Pornography, and Genocide

Happy birthday Mr. President! I’ll spare you my rendition of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy, after all, you’re dead.  In fact, 46 years deceased.  Regardless, happy birthday Mr. Truman.  May 8, 1884; that’s quite a long time ago.  May 8, 1884, to December 26, 1972, now that’s quite a life.  A very distinguished life, as well.  Fighting political corruption, V-E Day (on our birthday no less!), The Marshall Plan, Truman Doctrine, creation of NATO, creation of the United Nations, the integration of the military, recognition of Israel, the Berlin Airlift, the defense of Taiwan, the defense of South Korea, firing of General MacArthur, renovation of the White House, the firing of Attorney-General McGrath, and most importantly, the response to Paul Hume’s criticism of your daughter Margaret.  A very distinguished life.  I have admired you for many years, and I am very proud that we share a birthday, but there is that thing.  You know that.  It.  The decision.  The decision before Lebron James’ “The Decision.”  The one that killed 199,000 humans immediately, thousands more hibakusha from radiation sickness and cancer, and has also infected later generations with residual effects, such as anxiety and somatization.  That decision.  The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I know you think you made the best decision.  And I’m sure it was not an easy decision.  Nor do I envy that fact that you had to make that decision.  And I get it; I’ve heard all the rationalizations: punish Japan for Pearl Harbor; “They started it first;” it saved American soldiers lives; it avoided a protracted invasion; it was a prescient warning to the Soviet Union; it prevented Japan from being divided as Korea and Germany were divided; it was a necessary evil; it had to be done, after all, what choice did we have?  How about this one: we didn’t know how destructive it would be.  Well, you know what?  We should have.  And, after August 6th’s bombing of Hiroshima, we surely ought to have known.  After the bombing of Nagasaki, we knew.  Tsutomu Yamaguchi knew.  He survived both Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and later died of stomach cancer on January 4, 2010, at the age of 93.

Ask the Korean conscripted prisoners about the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Approximately 22,000 innocent Korean prisoners died in the atomic blasts. Mr. President, I know that the 9/11 Attacks happened many years after your death, but I assure you, it was a big deal.  The attacks have seared a place in our national psyche.  In denouncing the 9/11 attacks, it is often pointed out that -even if perpetrators were trying to kill Americans- more than 12% (372) of the fatalities from the victims were foreign nationals.  Three hundred and seventy-two foreign individuals died because al-Qaeda was trying to kill Americans.  And in August 1945, more than 22,000 non-Japanese died because Americans were trying to kill Japanese civilians.

I am particularly fascinated by those two terms, Mr. President.  Let’s take the second one first: Civilians; non-combatants: women, children, the elderly, teachers, policemen, excetera, excetera.  In fact, eight of those non-combatants were European prisoners-of-war (one British national, and seven Dutch nationals).  And one American soldier, Joe Kieyoomia, was captured by the Japanese Imperial forces and only survived Hiroshima because the falling wall of his cell shielded his body from the blast.  Now, I don’t want to get too Biblical on you here, because I know you’re a good Baptist man and you know your Bible.  So you already know that, in Genesis Chapter 18, God decides to not destroy the “exceedingly grave…wicked” people of Sodom and Gomorrah to save just ten righteous people; would that you could have had the same compassion, my President?

And that is just the term, “civilian.”  Honestly, I am even more concerned about the term “Japanese” when we discuss the almost quarter of a million Japanese civilians who perished in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I know that Germany had surrendered earlier that year, but I have to ask, would you have used an atomic bomb on Germany?  Would you have utterly destroyed the great cities of Berlin, Hamburg or Munich?  After all, Munich was the seat of Hitler’s early rise to power, perhaps “they deserved it too”?  I know we fire-bombed Dresden and did incalculable damage, but would we have vaporized a German city of innocent women, children and the elderly?  I feel that we would not.  I feel there is an inherent bias in the decision to bomb Japan and not Germany.  In the 1940s, a plurality of Americans were of German ancestry and most Americans were of European descent.  Europeans are Christian Caucasians, just like the power brokers in Washington, DC, were in the 1940s.

US Civil War General Sherman said it best: “War is hell.”  War is, by definition, violent and people die.  Innocent people die.  But, when you make decisions to spare the cities, civilian populations, and art work (think Albrecht Gaiswinkler and the real life Monument Men) of one racial/ethnic/religious group of people while, at the same time, not considering the human, historical, architectural and artistic heritage of another demographic group, it should start to become uncomfortable.  It should make people squirm.  It should start to raise questions.

Perhaps we shouldn’t condemn the leaders of the past.  After all, we are all products of the context and cultural biases of our time.  (For example, recently we have debated President Woodrow Wilson’s reputation and place in our history.)  Hindsight is 20/20; ex post facto logic and all that jazz.  Sparing condemnation, however, does not mean necessarily mean exoneration or impunity.  Mr. President, you gave the authorization that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings in an instant.  And you withheld that same bloodlust when it came to bombing European cities and population centers.  You discriminated your actions, at least in part, on the unique demographics of the target populations.

A few years after your decision, the United Nations (which you helped usher into existence) created a new international law known as the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  In this statute, genocide is defined as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”  (Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2, 1948).

Mr. President, I know you don’t know me as well as I know you; but I have to tell you that, right now, there are people out there rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, and saying something akin to “Oh, Tom; there you go again: genocide, genocide, genocide.”  I know it, now you know it too.  I get it.  But I hope you get it too; that is, I hope you can connect the dots.  As a people, as humans, we now have this term “genocide.”  This term has a legal definition and, it says, genocide is defined as killing either in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.  You, Mr. President, killed hundreds of thousands of people that all belonged to a national/ethnic/racial/religious group that was distinct, not just from your own and the majority of our country, but also distinct from the other belligerents in Europe who were treated much differently.

Much later, in 1964, a WWII veteran famously said that pornography was difficult to define, but, said LTJG Stewart, “I know it when I see it.”  That Lieutenant Junior Grade officer was Potter Stewart and he went on to become an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  Mr. President, I admire much of your work, but there is that one decision that I question.  In this case, there is an elephant in the room and, as another expression would have it, your decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki has failed the Elephant Test.

Happy 132nd birthday, my birthday twin,

 

 

The Turkish Coup of July 15, 2016

Image result for erdogan
PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of Netherlands (2012)

A few thoughts about the July 15, 2016, attempted coup d’état in the Republic of Turkey. It matters. It matters for the E.U. and the migrant refugee crisis. It matters for the Syrian Civil War. It matters for N.A.T.O. and the treaty obligations that the United States and its allies have with Turkey. It matters in the on-going war against the Islamic State (ISIL, or ISIS). It matters for the future of the West’s relationship with the Muslim world. It matters in terms of free speech and freedom of the press. And it matters in terms of legitimacy and the possible establishment of further international legal precedent. It matters in terms of how the coup may have impacted the genocide of Yazidis and Christians in the region as well as how the history of the Armenian Genocide is taught in Turkey. Finally, the coup may also affect the ongoing conflict between the Turks and Kurds. It matters.

Turkey, straddling two continents on each side of the Bosporus, also straddles the Western world and the Muslim world. The secular Turkish republic has been an example that Islam and the West can co-exist and, after Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s election in 2002, Turkey has also held the promise that democracy and Islam can co-exist as well. Note the past tense in those two previous statements. Previous Turkish governments have been comprised of secular Muslim leadership and intervening military juntas. In contrast, Erdogan’s party espouses Islamic philosophies and his tenure as Prime Minister and later President of Turkey has been scrutinized for more than a decade. That initial promise of an Islamic democracy has been eroded over the years, but perhaps it is not his Islamic inclinations, but his autocratic nature that is to blame.

If the military coup of July 15, 2016, had closed one chapter of Turkish history and begun another, then the world no longer has to wonder if Erdogan would surrender power peacefully. [Verily, democracies are not measured by elections, but by the peaceful transfer of power between political rivals.] So, would the coup have saved Turkish democracy and/or made Erdogan into a tragic hero? We will never know. Erdogan was democratically elected. Isn’t that what the West has supposedly advocated? Democracy? Didn’t US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair promise their actions in the region would promote democracy in the region? But elections have consequences. It is hard to proclaim the sanctity of democratic elections if the results of those elections are not respected by those same voices, à la Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Egypt 2013, and possibly now Turkey 2016.

The coup, to the degree, that its believed to have been a genuine attempt to overthrow the government, may have made a heavy-handed autocrat into a somewhat sympathetic figure. So, are coup d’états to be accepted or not? After all, the American Experiment began as a coup in 1776. No matter what you learned in Civics class, there is no line in the Magna Carta nor Coronation Act of 1688 that legitimizes the overthrow of the government, regardless of how well Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s mesmerizing prose is a logical conceit, not an established legal president. After all, Americans have criticized the Burmese military for years for ignoring the 2010 elections results that had favored Aung San Suu Kyi. It is hard to credibly argue to have it both ways. Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk who knew first hand from the court of Henry VIII how fickle the whims of leaders could be, said famously to Thomas Cromwell, “a man cannot have his cake and eat his cake.”

Many have argued Erdogan is no longer qualified to serve as head of state. After all, the detractors insist, he lost his legitimacy when he began attacking journalists and academics, yet that self-justifying logic is a slippery slope. Politicians must be removed by the rule of law, to do otherwise undermines the very rule of law Erdogan’s enemies purports to defend. It is also quite selective to question the legitimacy of Erdogan when Duarte dines at the White House, journalists mysteriously die in Putin’s Russia, Trump calls the media enemies of the state, and Orbán wins another election.

The Turkish military has had a tradition of intervening to “protect the republic,” specifically in 1960, 1971, and 1980. Let us hope the military does so again. Do not let your dislike of Erdogan cloud your judgment. If it is acceptable for the Turkish military to remove democratically elected civilians from power, what other militaries, in what other countries may now think to do the same? The 2016 attempted coup d’état in the Republic of Turkey certainly matters. It matters to the war against Islamic terrorism and the civilian casualties of the Syrian civil war. Perhaps equally important is what the coup says about the future of democracy in the Muslim world. But what happens next is anyone’s guess.