Curtain Raiser

Kicking the Nuclear Football, Colltalers

It’s been a month since Donald Trump received the keys to the White House, and we haven’t written about anything else. Which means that, at least in part, we’re all falling for his dangerous histrionics. That’s something not to be proud of, but there’s more to it than a mere cop out.
For after leaving out the reality show skills he uses to direct attention to himself, there’s always an underlying urgency that needs to be reported. From our part, we’d choose the North Korea incident at Mar-a-Lago, last Monday, and the reelection rally Saturday, both in Florida.
They’re but brackets of yet another deranged and utterly concerning assortment of acts taken and statements made by this administration. As it mishandles pretty much everything it touches, from spur-of-the-moment nominations to threats to dissenters to renewed efforts to kick Muslims and Mexicans out, a growing feeling of dread, along a sense of general alarm, starts to take hold of most still sane Americans.
Trump’s plans to give the ban a new push, and the ongoing nationwide raids and deportation of Mexican-Americans and Latinos in general, happen at a particularly ominous time: 75 years ago this past Saturday, up to 120 thousand Japanese Americans were forcibly moved to the infamous wartime internment camps. Most would spend there the next four years, in one of the darkest actions taken by the U.S. in WW2.
Also extremely serious is the administration’s declaration of war on the media, ‘officially’ launched on Wednesday, during a fittingly zany sideshow-like news conference. For over a hour, the president that the majority of Americans did not vote for chastised and berated members of the press, chose what questions to answer, and often preferred to go on unhinged digressions whenever he didn’t like what was asked.
Two moments stood out: one, when a journalist took the now rare instance of challenging Trump on his often repeated, and incredibly blatant, lie about the Electoral College vote; and when another, representing a Jewish organization, was unceremoniously told to ‘sit down.’
In the first case, the reporter did stand his ground, another rarity, and delivered the facts, which frontally contradict the president’s assertions. But while his question hit the target, there was no followup to it, and he seemed deflated amid a room full of frighteningly silent journalists.
The Orthodox questioner was clearly not up Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Beware Unsolicited Gifts, Colltalers

Somebody must deliver an urgent message to Edward Snowden, the ex-NSA contractor, whose asylum in Russia has just been extended: don’t fall into a trap. Those floating the idea of returning you to the U.S., ‘as a gift,’ don’t have your best interests at heart. Also, they’re crazy.
In fact, now is possibly the worst time to play pawn in the hands of the Trump-Putin regime. Given what’s happening, ‘president’ Steve Bannon may be hedging his bets with a Pentagon overture, in case things go south, and he needs a war of diversion to remain in power.
Snowden, who’s still considered a traitor by large segments of the armed forces, would fit nicely in this equation. Having him trialled and sentenced to prison – for revealing the staggering extent by which U.S. intelligence spies on ordinary citizens here and abroad – would not just avenge the enraged community, but also place this administration on the good side of those who ultimately control the U.S. war machine.
Snowden, who is also a former CIA employee, has so far displayed exemplary restrain and self-sacrifice. He did not voluntarily choose to be stranded in Russia, it’s always useful to mention, but was forced to seek asylum there in 2013, after the U.S. threatened to throw him in jail.
Whether his was a act of civil disobedience, as rights organizations consider it, or treason, as the Pentagon declared it, is a matter to be decided in the court of civil, not military, law. After all, his revelations ignited an important conversation about the right of individuals to be protected from prying eyes of shadowy intel agencies, operating mostly above the law. And they did not cause harm to agents in the field.
Passing confidential information to the press, however, was a violation of at least the terms and conditions of his employment, and as such, a matter that deserves to be taken to court. Even though he wisely chose a team of reputed journalists to vet and decide what part of the large trove of documents he copied should be published, and did not profit from his actions in any way, it’s still a serious legal issue.
Just so happens that the U.S. Judiciary has had one of the most meaningful weeks in recent times, perfectly exercising its constitutional role to serve as a checks and balances to acts Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

What May Lie Beyond the Lies, Colltalers

Amid the growing chaos, outrage, and despondency the Trump presidency has sowed all around in just weeks, few things are easy to predict where they’ll lead us to; others are impossible to guess; and many may go either way. And yet, they all offer hints to enlighten anyone.
If what has happened in less than a month will be the norm, brace yourself for a lot more of the same: the president will continue to amass a staggering collection of mistakes, rallies will continue to resist and try to push them back, and not much else is likely to be accomplished.
Among last week’s deranged highlights reel, was his promise to ‘destroy’ the 1954 Johnson Amendment, pillar of church and state separation; rollback of regulations put in place to prevent another 2008-style financial meltdown; and the blatant invention of a political massacre that never happened, to justify the refugee ban. At this point, however, to simply recap the lunacy is futile; we’d rather add elements of analysis.
Because, for the around-the-block crowd, as unpredictable as it all seems to be, there are actual ways to gauge part of what’s happening, and its outlook, with some accuracy, given the appropriate pondering and sense of perspective. History, for instance, is always a good friend.
Thus, as Trump seems far from exhausting his arsenal of misfires, insults, and misrepresentations, public disgust and opposition toward them continue to increase. And this dynamics has already shown that it won’t be contained by U.S. borders, or diplomatic filters. Beyond the foregone conclusion that this collision course may only bring about disastrous consequences, though, all else is really up for grabs.
Will his non-sensical, and ultimate dangerous, course of action hit a wall and be curbed by circumstantial limitations? Will he be stopped by his own party, in an extremely rare display of cojones? Will he choke on his own intoxicating rhetoric and be forced Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Beat the Big Brother, Colltalers

Hard to believe it, but this is only the second Monday of the Trump administration. And things are already at least as bad as we feared. The reality TV host who now occupies the White House had a busy week, tweeting and lying, while checking items off his agenda of diatribes.
In fact, he threatened to executive-order America to death. But if his actions had any substance, they boosted at least one professional field: that of therapists and mental health workers. It’s that old cautionary tale: if the leader seems insane, everybody doubts their own sanity.
From the get go, he invested against Obamacare and abortion funding, revived the Keystone pipeline, hand-cuffed the EPA, terrorized immigrants, picked up a fight with China and Mexico, bullied our U.N. allies, while pushing his vote fraud fantasy. Nothing on Putin, though.
Did we mention that he and his minions lied too? A lot. By the end of the week, several groups had taken the streets to protest, and there was chaos at major airports, with mass detentions of refugee applicants. No wonder, several senior State Department agents wound up walking out too.
Luckily, as government workers, they’re insured, unlike so many who are now realizing that they voted for a president who wants to do away with their health care. Not be cynical about such a scourge as the opioid epidemic, but it’s likely that drug companies won’t have any trouble filling it in for long-term therapy: a study found out Trump won in counties with the highest rates of death from drugs, alcohol, and suicide.
Yes, that proves little without the context of a widening income gap. The resurgence of large-scale addiction to opioids, heroin and other street downers, has the common element of hitting those the GOP leadership deems freeloaders: the long-term unemployed, with chronic, and costly, diseases, Vets, former unionized labor, that is, hardcore blue collar workers, once a dignified staple of American workforce.
They were the ones a well-funded, comprehensive, and market integrated social welfare system was supposed to help back to their feet. But social programs and networks of support Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Cancel the Fire Sale, Colltalers

On Friday, some 70% of Americans who didn’t vote for Donald Trump watched or chose to ignore the swearing in of the 45th President of the United States, before an estimated 160,000 crowd. Saturday, the Women’s March gathered three times as many people to protest it.
That split in Washington may be the tonic of the next four years in America. In one side, a new administration quick to nominate a group of billionaires to lead the country. On the other, an entire genre calling all segments of society to join in and resist. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Yes, we’re back, if not exactly freshened up. Thanks for all the personal messages of encouragement and support, during our break, and of course, for your continuous readership. Although advocacy is not our purpose here, we’re glad to be part of a common defense of civil rights.
Every little action will count, apparently. And all signs indicate that the president is determined to pursue an agenda of hostility disguised as ‘America first,’ and contrary to our best values as a nation, will indeed consider everyone who disagrees with him his personal foe.
From his brief and dark-toned inaugural speech as Commander-in-Chief, loaded with words such as ‘carnage,’ ‘pain’ and ‘fear,’ to his first executive orders, signing an obscure set of instructions to undermine the Affordable Care Act and President Obama’s mortgage fee cuts program, the new boss of America has shown that, along with his nominees, decisive steps will be taken to disable his predecessor’s legacy.
He made a reference to the ‘little guy,’ and that such a figure of speech is now in charge of the White House. But it’s hard to know how, given that his appointed cabinet’s material wealth is actually greater than the combined income of a third of low-income Americans.
While some millions of women and their supporters around the world joined in the Saturday’s protest, Trump was Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Of Loss & Regrouping, Colltalers

The periodically vilified Electoral College, a tenet of U.S. democracy, votes today to ratify the Nov. 8 election results. Few expect any of these 538 special voters to stray from their parties’ directive; barring a political cataclysm, they will confirm Donald Trump as the president.
More than their constitutional duty, though, they’ll be exercising a far less formal attribution of their position: loyalty to those who nominated them. They’re not accountable to Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win, and most likely will remain oblivious to it, and her. Because they can.
Sadly, accountability itself was another concept to leave this world in 2016. The election was neither the first nor the last example of it. For apart from the boastful and the graceless, jubilant with Trump’s win, no one else is claiming responsibility for anything, one way or another.
From Republicans’ embrace of a lying master they claimed to reject when he burst out of party’s bowels, to broadcast media’s profiting from Fake News and his diatribes, to highfalutin moralists, to whom Clinton was too indigestible, to a Democrat establishment that failed to heed to his populist skills, no one is taking responsibility for the rebirth of authoritarianism Trump’s set in motion, even before the inauguration.
The president-elect himself has already taken a number of U-turns on critical themes he defended on his campaign, and seems confident that he won’t be forced to own up to any of them. Assuming, with some reason, he’s above any serious questioning, he’s become the bastion of unaccountability, an unfortunate trend that may have already fatally infected large segments of this country’s political intelligentsia.
We’ll all come to regret this sorry state of affairs, of course. Specially those whose convictions about what public service should be about, and moral duty towards society, and paying your dues, are all grounded on a sense of being accountable, of standing up and be counted.
Those who can’t conceive that such a catastrophic collapse of social responsibility could’ve happened suddenly, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Change the Climate Channel, Colltalers

With 2016 likely to be called the hottest year on record, there was no need for president-elect Donald Trump to make the fight to reverse climate change any worse. But by nominating fuel industry insider Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency he did just that.
So get ready to a new year of increased temperatures, melting polar caps, carbon and methane emissions, glacier cracks and lose icebergs, to be only half of the problem. The other will be a climate-change denying administration.
Practically every environmental organization has denounced Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt’s many legal battles against the agency he’s now set to lead, President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and other environmental initiatives, such as those signed at the 2015 Paris Conference.
With other attorneys general, he joined in the infamous 2014 29-state lawsuit against the CPP, which is still pending and may advance to the Supreme Court, where a majority vote, potentially boosted by a future Trump nominee, may undermine years of efforts to control pollution.
But the biggest case for Pruitt’s unfitness to head the EPA is his links to the industry he’ll be in charge of regulating. For instance, he was accused of signing letters, dismissing the environmental impact of natural gas drilling in OK, that turned out to have been written by Devon Energy lawyers. Also, the co-chairman of his 2013 re-election campaign was Continental Energy CEO Harold G. Hamm.
If a GOP-led Congress confirms Pruitt, and there’s really no reason to expect that it won’t, and the possible appointment of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, for Secretary of State, groups fighting for further environmental protection rules may have their job cut out for them.
It’s not just that one is a skilled litigator, and the other a wealthy executive, loyal for 40 years to one of the most profitable, and worst polluter, corporations on earth. But it’s the fact Continue reading