Would Your Grandparents Believe What Has Happened To America?

Think if it were possible to talk with your grandparents. For many of my readers those loved ones have left us, but consider if we could update them on one of the top news stories this week.

We would tell them the House of Representatives was required to vote in finding Stephen Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for stonewalling the investigation into a seditious and traitorous attack on the United States Capitol. Which played out on national television. The attack was aimed to undermine the electoral process. Police officers died, scores of others in Blue wounded.

The reason Congress needed to act today was due to Donald Trump, the previous holder of the Oval Office, working to thwart a full investigation into his involvement in the most severe attack on our government since the Civil War.

Sadder still, was the almost purely partisan Congressional vote in pressing Bannon to man-up to his role in undermining our constitutional process of counting the electoral votes.

Yes, we have to wonder what our grandparents would say?

A couple Republican members lifted their votes to the nation on the contempt issue, but it concerns me that once again the bulk of the Republican Party has denied their role in demanding the truth be brought to light about the January 6th attack by Trump’s supporters.

Think about the values our grandparents had over the decades of their lives. I speak in a unified tone about their lives as I do believe basic connections of right and wrong, respect for the law, a moral code, and set of ethics guided them be they from the West or having lived 100 years ago, be they voters of FDR or Alf Landan, Black of white, Catholic or Holy-Roller. You get my point.

They would be shocked at what played out at the Capitol this past January.

In our current climate facts are no longer valued. Constitutional norms are cast aside and besmirched. A president even autographed a Bible, and used another one for a partisan stunt!

I know that in the times my grandparents lived some general themes could be used to define Republicans. They were positioned as the party that could state they had respect for traditional political institutions. With their years of service in wars or sending their sons off to foreign lands, our grandparents likely felt the GOP was also respectful of democratic processes. After all, it was one reason we fought in Europe.

Our grandparents also felt that there should be a degree of decorum in public life. A president and paying a porn star for sex would have no more been aligned in the same sentence for them than thinking we could land a spacecraft on a comet.

Our democratic institutions were under attack on January 6th. To understand fully what happened and who was involved is absolutely imperative to ensure we can reign in this threat to our future.

I am completely certain our grandparents would not only agree with a thorough investigation, but say ‘why have you forgotten the lessons we taught you’?

And so it goes.

A Dagger At The Heart Of Our Democracy

I recall as a late teenager, in a conversation with a relative, stating there were certain foundations of knowledge that all Americans needed to attain so to be solid citizens. I also recall the odd reply.

“We can’t all sit around reading.”

That memory came back to me this week as the debt ceiling mess grew larger and we heard still more outrage from some parents regarding safety measures at public schools so as to ward off the virus causing a pandemic. If we took the view at 30,000 feet over our nation there is only one thing that would be uttered.

‘What has happened to the people?’

Throughout life many of us have had political opinions, some of them strongly held. As history proves repeatedly such varying views and perspectives are what democracy requires to grow and strengthen. But what has been added in a larger dose to the mix is out-and-out liers and demagogues both in our elected offices and others adding such voices in our national dialogue through social media.

In the past on this blog, I weighed in on results, such as from the Annenberg Public Policy Center where it was found that only 26% of Americans could name all three branches of the federal government. Stunningly, 33% could not think of one! To add to the sad data 37% could not name a single right protected by the Bill of Rights.

That type of polling is telling regarding our educational failures as a nation. What has resulted from such a disregard for holding students accountable with a foundation of information before they graduate is now playing out. A wanton disregard for facts has been unleashed, as evidenced by the election-outcome deniers in 2020 and the anti-vaccinator crowd, underscoring the toxic nature of what is eating away at the very fabric of democracy.

Especially since 2008, we have witnessed the use of our poorly informed citizenry by partisan interests, who have the skills of messaging through social media, to place a dagger at the heart of our democracy. From Sarah Palin and the Tea Party to Donald Trump’s overt messaging of continued lies and twisted meanings, a direct line can be traced across the body politic. From disregarding the need for any wisdom to be elected, to the undermining of national institutions a theme emerged from conservatives.

That threat was presented in real-time to a nation on January 6th where it was clear the rule of law, our political institutions, and the election processes of our nation were no longer understood, or cared for.

I have never had a personal conversation with anyone who thought dinosaurs and people lived at the same time. But I have had online discussions with people who feel that the pandemic is a hoax with inflated case numbers and that five ultra-rich families control the world’s finances. I wish I was joking.

So how do we reverse course and head towards sanity and a stronger foundation as a nation? Well, let’s begin where this post started.

It is clear every person has a very busy life. We start out with different abilities and sets of interests. No one should be expected to master the Federalist Papers. But in allowing for that we can not, must not, accept the almost complete lack of knowledge that runs shamelessly through a wide swath of the electorate. The impact from that under-educated class is having a dreadful impact on both the political health of the nation and physical health of our populace.

Because of too few strict standards in our education system and the broad acceptance of ‘any view is valid’ even from the most outlandish right-winger, we now must ponder the survivability of our democracy.

It is simply imperative that the rest of us stand up and speak out for the needs of the nation.

And so it goes.

Donald Trump Was Grifting Even On 20th Anniversary Of 9/11

History books will show that Donald Trump spent the 20th anniversary of 9/11 continuing to act in ways that run counter to healthy emotional norms, and way outside the lines of good taste.

It was probably best for the entire nation that Trump would not participate with the former presidents at very somber events held to commemorate the horror of events in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

Having said that, however, it would have been best for the most emotionally stunted and deranged person to have ever sat in the Oval Office to just go play golf and cheat his way around the course.

Instead, Trump appeared via taped video at a conference of the Unification Church, better known as the “Moonies cult”, repeating the lie that the election was “rigged”, and then in a South Florida casino delivered several hours of commentary on four boxing matches for Triller Fight Club in an “alternate telecast” available for $49.99 to pay-per-view ticket-holders?

No one should be shocked that Trump was grifting even on a day of national reflection and heavy hearts.

At some point that day, dressed in the same blue tie that he wore to the fight later that night, Trump appeared in a taped video over a backdrop styled as a pastel-shaded galaxy, to praise the leader of the Korean-based Unification Church (“a tremendous person”) and her late husband, founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon, for starting the conservative Washington Times, he said, “an organization for which I have tremendous respect and admiration.” The Moons’ son, Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, leads a U.S.-based offshoot of the church, attended the insurrection at the Capitol, and teaches his followers that the “rod of iron” in the Bible is a reference to the AR-15.

Historians will use the behavior of Trump on 9/11 to underscore the serious flaws in his personality, his aching need to be always visible, his lack of self-awareness, his craving for money in any way possible, and his lack of a moral center.

What I want researchers to dive into in the years ahead is what did his parents, Fred and Mary Trump, do or not do, that created such a dysfunctional and retrograde person?

And so it goes.

What To Do With A Racist And Conspiracy Nut In The Family?

The Trump Republicans have created more than their share of dysfunction in families and the nation. Today in the Boston Globe some advice was given to what has been, and continues to be a source of strife.

‘My father has gone down the rabbit hole of conspiracies and white nationalism’ How to confront a parent who embraces racist ideas.

My father (78) has gone down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and white nationalism. He is a good man (no, really) and I love him, but he seems increasingly determined to “convert” me, maybe to ensure his legacy lives on after he’s gone. I’ve never unloaded on him over his frankly racist attitudes, but the other day I snapped. I’m mad, he’s hurt, and we’re not speaking. I am not going to change, nor is he. But this is not how I want us to be in the final years of his life.

Let’s start with that “legacy” thing. Sometimes, when people know or sense that a separation is imminent—a kid leaving for college, a friend moving to a new town, a co-worker resigning, or the ultimate separation that may be on your father’s mind—they start fights. Some do it so that the loss doesn’t hurt as much. Others, like your father, are trying to maximize their influence in the time they have left. This behavior confuses the heck out of folks who don’t have that particular bug in their software, so thank you for the opportunity for a P.S.A. on the topic as the school year begins!

Now let’s talk about you, you and your racist dad.

You need to set boundaries. You should have been doing that from the start, but oh man, “the start” is sometimes only clearly visible in the rearview mirror. Call him, or take his call, when you are good and ready. Apologize for not having spoken up sooner and letting things slide until you blew up—not for what you said. Most importantly, tell him that you both are aware of each other’s views on right, wrong, and reality, and henceforth all such topics are off-limits because you can either enjoy the time you have together, or not.

Then follow the rule yourself and enforce it with him. Shenanigans? Dad gets one warning before you end the call or leave the room. If you can’t leave, open an app and donate to a civil-rights organization with an ostentatious poke to the screen every time he crosses the line. Make sure you have plenty of other things to talk about or focus on, so he’s not tempted to stir the pot out of boredom, and bring your filial A-game when he stays on topics of mutual interest and benefit.

Your father will either get with the program, or he won’t; he has agency in this situation. If he continues to antagonize you—well, write back, because I’m reaching my word limit. If he is the good man you believe him to be, he’ll make the right choice. But understand that the burden of peacekeeping is not 100 percent on your shoulders. And that burden is never, ever, on the shoulders of any people of color your father may abuse in your presence. If he does so, make it immediately and loudly clear that what he said is unacceptable, apologize to the other person without excuses, and if possible remove him from the scene.

No Black And White About Exit Strategy In Afghanistan

If you listen to the angry politicians who take to the airwaves and pontificate over Afghanistan a listener might be falsely led to believe that there are absolutes at play in the end to the nation’s 20-year war in that nation. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

Over the past weeks, I have very much limited my intake of the reactionary Republicans on Capitol Hill who consider a dialogue on par with a fourth grader to be the extent needed when conversing on this topic. Making only inflammatory remarks when an international crisis flares are not my definition of leadership.

In addition, it is not possible to have the sureness the Republicans are pushing without the context of how we arrived at this point in time. That of course does not stop them from talking, nor those who listen from gobbling up the pablum.

I have found the best path to facts and analysis about Afghanistan are the same sources I use continuously. The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The New Yorker, NPR, and BBC.

And of course, The New York Times.

I want a broad-based and intelligent perspective on what is taking place.

Sunday the NYT ran a superb news analysis article written by Peter Baker. If Baker writes it there is no way one should miss it. He is one of our essential reporters in America today.

Baker certainty questions the approach taken by President Biden, but also places the exit from Afghanistan in the larger arena of events.

Under the four-page deal signed in February 2020, Mr. Trump agreed to withdraw all American troops by May 1, 2021, lift sanctions and compel the release of 5,000 prisoners held by the Afghan government, which was cut out of the negotiations. The Taliban committed to not attacking American troops on the way out or letting terrorist groups use Afghanistan as a base to attack the United States.

While the Taliban agreed to talk with the Afghan government, nothing in the publicly released part of the deal prevented it from taking over the country by force as it ultimately did and reimposing its repressive regime of torture, murder and subjugation of women. It was such a one-sided bargain that even Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser H.R. McMaster called it a “surrender agreement.”

Following the deal, Mr. Trump reduced American forces in Afghanistan to 4,500 from 13,000. Eager to be the president to end the warhe signed a memo to the Pentagon instructing it to pull out all remaining forces by Jan. 15 before leaving office, but was talked out of it by advisers. Instead, he ordered the force drawn down to 2,500 troops in his final days, although about 3,500 actually remained.

For Mr. Biden, inheriting such a small force in Afghanistan meant that commanders were already left with too few troops to respond to a renewed Taliban offensive against American forces, which he deemed certain to come if he jettisoned Mr. Trump’s agreement, requiring him to send thousands more troops back in, officials said.

The Biden team considered other options, including keeping a small presence of troops for counterterrorism operations or to support Afghan security forces, but reasoned that was just “magical thinking” and would take more troops than was sustainable. They discussed whether to renegotiate the Trump agreement to extract more concessions but the Taliban made clear it would not return to the bargaining table and considered the Trump deal binding.

Mr. Biden’s advisers also considered extending the withdrawal deadline until the winter, after the traditional fighting season was over, to make the transition less dangerous for the Afghan government. The Afghanistan Study Group, a bipartisan congressionally chartered panel that was led by Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., a retired Joint Chiefs chairman and that included Ms. O’Sullivan, in February recommended extending the May 1 deadline and seeking better conditions before pulling out.

But Mr. Biden was warned by security specialists that the longer it took to withdraw after a decision was announced, the more dangerous it would become, aides said, so he extended it only until Aug. 31.

Particularly influential on Mr. Biden, aides said, were a series of intelligence assessments he requested about Afghanistan’s neighbors and near neighbors, which found that Russia and China wanted the United States to remain bogged down in Afghanistan.

“Biden basically faced the same issue that Trump faced,” said Vali Nasr, who was a senior adviser to Richard C. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, “and his answer was the same — we’re not going to go back in, we have to get out.”

Republican criticism now, he added, was brazenly hypocritical. “They’re the ones who released all these Taliban commanders, they’re the ones who signed this deal,” he said.

Mark T. Esper, a defense secretary under Mr. Trump, agreed that the deal was flawed and in fact argued against drawing down further in the final months of the last administration before being fired in November. In recent days, he said, “there were more options available to President Biden” than simply continuing Mr. Trump’s withdrawal.

“He could have tried to go back to the table with the Taliban and renegotiate,” Mr. Esper said on CNN. “He could have demanded, as I argued, that they agree to the conditions they established or they agreed to in the agreement and that we use military power to compel them to do that.”

How we arrived at this stage of the Afghanistan war must be viewed from the start of the mission. Republicans will not tell their constituents that , but Foreign Affairs presses the point continuously.

‘’In the aftermath of 9/11, intervention in Afghanistan took on enormous importance for the Bush administration, which was determined to prevent another catastrophic attack on American soil. But the administration had no desire to garrison Afghanistan indefinitely, so it chose to help build a successor regime to the Taliban that could presumably govern the country on its own one day—and ensure that it didn’t again become a safe haven for terrorists. The invasion of Afghanistan and the ousting of the Taliban went surprisingly smoothly, producing a quick, low-cost victory. In the flush of this initial success, the Bush administration was led to believe that the follow-up nation-building mission could be similarly easy.

The Bush administration’s first mistake was a failure to fully appreciate the geographic obstacles in the way of an Afghan reconstruction effort. Afghanistan is on the other side of the world from the United States, and in addition to being landlocked and inaccessible, it is surrounded by several powerful and predatory neighbors, including Iran, Pakistan, and nearby Russia. The only way the United States could get most of its forces and their supplies into or out of Afghanistan was through or over Pakistan—a country that did not share American objectives there and actively sought to subvert them.

Moreover, the population of Afghanistan was considerably larger than that of any other country involved in a post–World War II U.S. intervention: in 2001, Afghanistan had almost twice as many people as wartime South Vietnam. Typically, the troop-to-population ratio is an important determinant of the success of a stabilization operation. Two years before the invasion of Afghanistan, in 1999, the United States and its NATO allies had deployed 50,000 troops to stabilize Kosovo, a country of 1.9 million. Afghanistan’s population in 2001 was 21.6 million—yet by the end of 2002, there were only around 8,000 U.S. troops in a country that was more than ten times Kosovo’s size and had no army or police force of its own. There simply weren’t enough U.S. boots on the ground to secure the country the United States had captured.

One reason for the relatively small deployment was that the Bush administration did not intend for U.S. forces to assume peacekeeping or public security responsibilities—rather, they focused exclusively on tracking down residual al Qaeda elements, at the expense of the foundational security required to build a functioning state. The Bush administration also neglected to commit the necessary financial resources to the Afghan stabilization effort. In Bosnia, the United States and other donors had provided economic assistance amounting to $1,600 per inhabitant per year for the first several years after that war. The comparable figure in Afghanistan amounted to $50 per person—a paltry sum.’’

Why Most Americans Did Not Know Of Problems In Afghanistan

The assessment of what happened in Afghanistan over the past year, and how that translates into the chaos at the Kabul airport or the headlines being reported hourly is most worthy of our attention. There is no way to watch the bedlam and misery being unleashed following the Taliban takeover and not wonder what was missed leading up to the past weeks? Americans are asking how could the White House and Defense Department not have responded ‘more appropriately’?

The images from Afghanistan are gripping, the many questions have merit, and they absolutely require detailed responses. Some of those issues will start to be examined with Capitol Hill committee hearings this coming week.

But it also must be asked of the American public, “Where were you during the past 15 months when this removal process was being crafted by the Donald Trump Administration?” That is not a partisan jab, but rather a pointed reminder that the role of a citizen of this nation must include staying current with the affairs of the country.

While I understand the nation grew, rightly so, weary of a two-decade-long war it also needs stating the end of the American footprint in that war should have elicited more than a passing glance at how its conclusion was going to proceed.

The brunt of my question does not land solely on the average American sitting on their sofa, but in equal measure to the main television networks which did a most miserable job of reporting what the Trump White House was proposing for the military withdrawal. Additionally, the public needed to have been aware of the snail pacing of the application process so as to move certain Afghan citizens (and their families) out of that nation for their safety.

International publications such as The Economist were constant and probing with their reporting on Afghanistan, the BBC without doubt ‘on top’ of each development, and monthly offerings such as Foreign Policy examining in-depth the options and policy proposals in that nation. BUT the majority of the nation receives their news from network evening broadcasts.

The networks, however, proved to be simply embarrassing with their coverage of this international story.

Out of a combined 14,000-plus minutes of the national evening news broadcast on CBS, ABC, and NBC last year, a grand total of five minutes were devoted to Afghanistan, according to Andrew Tyndall, editor of the authoritative Tyndall Report, which has monitored and coded the networks’ nightly news each weekday since 1988. 

Those five minutes, which covered the February 2020 Doha agreement between the United States and the Taliban, marked a 19-year low for Afghanistan coverage on the three networks’ newscasts. They compared to a high of 940 minutes the networks devoted to Afghanistan in 2001, all of it following 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. intervention, as shown below.

While the pathetic amount of coverage of the conflict last year can be partially explained by the virtually total dominance of the news agenda by the COVID-19 pandemic, the three networks devoted a total of only 362 minutes to Afghanistan in the preceding five years, or just two hours of coverage per network, or an average of only 24 minutes per network per year.

My pointing out this lapse in reporting from the networks does not absolve the responsibility of a citizen to stay informed. PBS News Hour is a weeknight offering and is thoroughly substantive concerning events of the day. Not seeking such news reporting can only be placed upon the individual.

Many Americans now weighing into the ‘whys’ and ‘what-ifs’ regarding events in Afghanistan are doing so mostly blind. That will result in stilted hearings, with certain politicians playing to the under-informed base. That is not the way to make for a true and complete analysis of the events leading up to the headlines of the recent past.

This is just one more example as to why an informed citizenry is a must for a working, competent republic.

And so it goes.

Trump Was Right…Once In 2017–About Raising Debt Ceiling, Fight Now Underway Again

No need to send emergency vehicles screaming down my street upon reading the first three words in the headline of this post. I am drinking coffee, alert, and able to make my own decisions. I still know where my car keys are located, and more importantly what they are for!

The fact is, however, that at one moment in Donald Trump’s time in the Oval Office he actually said something that made sense. I even made my readers aware of the event in September 2017. Republicans may not accept the fact, but I am a fair umpire when it comes to policy moves by politicians.

In a White House meeting with congressional leaders on Wednesday, he asked Republican and Democratic leaders why Congress needed to vote on the (debt ceiling) issue at all. 

There was a bipartisan discussion in the White House about eliminating the debt ceiling altogether. The debt ceiling is the legal limit on the total amount of federal debt the government can accrue. 

“There are a lot of good reasons to do that,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, acknowledging that the era of debt-ceiling drama could be nearing an end.

Obviously, the one idea that Trump had which made sense never came to fruition.

I write about this matter yet again as lawmakers missed a Saturday deadline to extend a two-year suspension of the nation’s borrowing limit, which was automatically reinstated at the beginning of August.  Once again a partisan fight will be waged over this matter. There are serious consequences if members of Congress do not act like adults with even a rudimentary understanding of Econ 101.

Raising the limit does not authorize the government to increase spending beyond the level Congress has approved. Rather, it allows the government to meet its existing obligations to citizens, vendors, and investors.

The shallow end of the legislative pool proves what the problem is when dealing with this topic. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn’t expect any Republican senators to vote to raise the debt ceiling. When it comes to just plain partisanship let it be recorded that McConnell ranks at the top of the list in the Senate. Meanwhile, let it be noted that Democrats joined three times during the Trump administration to do the responsible thing by raising the debt limit.

How Republicans who tout their love of business and the bottom line can miss the point about the need to raise the debt limit is totally befuddling. Failure to do so could hurt America’s international standing and push up borrowing costs.

As of Monday, the Treasury Department suspended reinvestments by a number of retirement funds for civil servants and postal workers. The funds will be made whole once the debt limit is either suspended or increased. The Treasury uses emergency accounting maneuvers to conserve cash so the government can keep paying its obligations such as to social security recipients, along with veterans and others. However, should those measures run out, the Treasury could begin to miss payments on its obligations. If that were to happen it could trigger a default on U.S. debt.

When it comes to the debt limit there has never been any doubt as to where I stand. It would still be the soundest move to pursue a deal that would permanently remove the requirement that Congress repeatedly raise the debt ceiling. That would be good news for the nation. But Republicans, being the scolds they naturally are, would be most scornful of such an outcome.

And so it goes.

Nixon Was A Piker Compared To Trump, Our Grandparents Would Agree

As we head to the August anniversary of the resignation of President Richard Nixon comes a news story this morning showing how much more criminal and outlandish were the actions of Donald Trump following his 2020 election loss. While the 37th president had his own list of unconstitutional behavior, nothing compares to what we read about today about the 45th person to reside in the White House.

Trump pressed top Justice Department officials late last year to declare that the election was corrupt even though they had found no instances of widespread fraud, so that he and his allies in Congress could use the assertion to try to overturn the results, according to new documents provided to lawmakers and obtained by The New York Times.

The exchange unfolded during a phone call on Dec. 27 in which Mr. Trump pressed the acting attorney general at the time, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and his deputy, Richard P. Donoghue, on voter fraud claims that the department had disproved. Mr. Donoghue warned that the department had no power to change the outcome of the election. Mr. Trump replied that he did not expect that, according to notes Mr. Donoghue took memorializing the conversation.

“Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me” and to congressional allies, Mr. Donoghue wrote in summarizing Mr. Trump’s response.

It goes without saying that that the least we should expect, and demand from any person who is elected president is that the leader has a basic regard for democracy. While there are sure to be policy differences with a wide segment of the nation the citizenry should never need to fear that a would-be dictator has taken over the White House.

I recall when watching the television news at times with my Grandma there would be comments made that Grandpa did not care for Nixon. I think about Herman and wonder, with all that he heard about Watergate, what he would have to say about what Trump has done to our politics. His world of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon Johnson would then find a very hard time squaring with the attempt made by Trump to steal a national election.

Why I place this current story into the context of sitting in the living room and watching the news on a larger console set is that my grandparents–and yours too–were not tempered with what I term normalization fatigue. What we have witnessed over the past five years has in some respects deadened our senses and reactions to the complete outrageousness of Trump’s action. In essence, today’s news of an attempted stolen election by the loser of the national balloting is not overly surprising.

The outrage and sincere anger from past generations will be greeted today with ‘that sounds like Trump’ and we move to the next story. The national news tonight will no doubt lead with COVID, wildfires, and Olympic coverage.

What is happening to our democracy, and the willingness to marginalize it among a troubling segment of the nation, are the type of events that our grandparents would have been not only watching, but demanding a resolution so as to never, ever happen again. They may not speak in the way I write, of Trump’s seditious attempts to cancel democracy, but they would know it in their bodies and minds.

Too many today have no regard for the foundations of our democracy, were never adequately taught in school about civics and so today will pick up their handheld device and think the latest news about the Green Bay Packers is what matters.

Grandpa knew better.