Thursday, September 26, 2019

Whistleblower, Act 1

I watched a few hours of the testimony of Acting DNI Chief Joseph Maguire today.  I also read the whistleblower complaint;

All I can say is there may be a time in history when we will be asked where we were when the impeachment proceedings against President Trump began, and what was our opinion of the proceedings, and I for one will know precisely my answer to those questions.

A few thoughts.

What is transpiring in live action is the result of decades of erosion in the balance of our three branches of government.  While one might say that for the most part, the Supreme Court has avoided too serious a lurch in the favor of one political party over another, hence has released rulings that have favored and irritated both sides, the legislature has incrementally abdicated its power to the executive branch.  Rather than tackling the difficult topics of the day, Congressmen on both sides of the aisle have punted the really hard decisions down the line, leaving the presidents to handle them through executive action, or resulting in non-action, which has created a lack of trust and respect in the electorate.  Additionally, a number of opinion papers within the judiciary of the executive branch have moved the needle of executive privilege and, hence, non-accountability, to the point where, as we speak, there are lawyers representing the president in court claiming that he can not be indicted or investigated while in office.  In other words, we are seeing the idea of "president' moving ever closer to King.

The good news is that there are whistleblower laws within our government that specify that complaints must be evaluated, investigated and brought to the attention of the appropriate entity, and that the whistleblower must be protected from retribution.  And while I have no doubts, after watching acting DNI director Maguire's testimony, that he believes that he followed the law, I do have doubts that had there not been reporting of this particular complaint in the news, we may have never learned about this complaint, at least not through the proper channels.

Clearly, Maguire believes the integrity of the whistleblower, and the Inspector General (IG) who received the complaint, investigated it within the appropriate time frame, deemed it credible and urgent, and then passed it onto Maguire.  But just as clearly, Maguire also believes that it is not within his job description to evaluate the actions of the president, regardless of the seriousness of the accusations, and that his only recourse for this "unprecedented" complaint was to refer it to the justice department for its legal advice.  Perhaps this reveals a naivete on his part, in light of Attorney General Barr's handling of the Mueller report, and the current spate of rulings that seem to elevate the president to a place above the law, and perhaps when he referred it to the FBI he expected they might investigate, but. like Robert Mueller, he missed his chance to demonstrate a patriotism that transcends the law, a patriotism that compels us to reveal the illegal machinations of a CEO, a state representative, or the POTUS, despite a ruling or opinion.

Mueller should have indicted the president after detailing the double digit instances of obstruction of justice, (if you haven't at least glanced at the Mueller report, why?), and Maguire should have turned over the complaint to the Intelligence Committees as required by law, without checking with the accused, his lawyers and his lap dog Attorney General, as to what to do.

There are times when principle stares us right in the face, when our true character is revealed, such as the recent video of a neighbor helping firefighters rescue children from a burning home by catching the kids as they were dropped by their dad.  There are times when we must act, without covering our ass.  While I do not blame Maguire for his decision, I fully believe that when one works in a bureaucracy or corporation, it is wise to learn to follow the rules as laid down by those above you, without question.  It is a good recipe for advancement, but not the best attributes for leadership.

There were a number of questions asked by GOP representatives.  Some chose to laud Maguire for his public service to date, which is, in fact, an admirable achievement.  We need men and women like him to do the everyday work of protecting our country and serving the public good without regards to politics.  Some emphasized that he did his job to the letter of the law, which, as I have explained is a bar not hard to reach, but perhaps one which needed to be leaped over, in this case.  More than one apologized to Maguire for having to appear, as if his testimony was an affront to decency.  Isn't it the job of the legislative branch to investigate these exact type of issues? And some alluded to the idea that the whistleblower might be a "leaker" and that perhaps he/she should be investigated, which I found to be an incredible insult to the entire concept of providing protection for those who truly see illegalities before them.

None of the GOP questioners, however, touched on the actual complaint, although one emphasized that the person willingly stated that much of the complaint was not witnessed by him/her, but based on multiple accounts from multiple people.  And, of course, none of them brought up the fact that the IG is a Trump appointee, which reveals as high an act of patriotism as one could imagine in this bipartisan environment.

My biggest problem with Maguire was his insistence that the complaint was not related to election security when the white house released notes which detail Trump broaching the subject of investigating the Biden's multiple times (remember, this was in July when Biden was comfortably leading in the polls), and the president's statements that he would have his private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the Attorney General call him to hash out the details.  Additionally, the fact that Trump mentioned Crowdstrike in his phone call, also indicates that he is still trying to absolve Russia from interfering in the 2016 election, a belief that runs contrary to our own national security infrastructure.

The real issue, the one that is staring us all in the face in regards to Donald J Trump, is the danger of imbuing the power of the presidency of our great country into the hands of a person who has demonstrated time and again his belief that he can do whatever he pleases.  His entire life of business dealings and personal relationships reveal the same insidious thread; abuse of power whether that power has emerged from his father, his own wealth, his influence through "donations" to public servants of both parties who were far too willing to due his bidding to preserve their office or line their pockets, the hundreds of non-disclosure agreements that he foists on almost all who enter his world, and the nonchalant way he suggests that anyone who disagrees with him is a bad person.  He has convinced far too many Americans that if you are not pro-Trump you are not pro-America. 

His tweets questioning the party affiliation of the whistleblower reveals it all.  No one on my team questions me, so anyone who questions me must be against me, and by extension, America.  He has no ability to entertain the thought that someone might disagree with him and love America, it is just not possible.  His publicly stated disappointments with ex-Attorney General Sessions for not having his back, adds even more fuel to the fire, as his love of himself justifies his use of, and control, of all other public servants.  They all work for him, not America.  And so, we have handed over immense and awesome powers to a person who calculates every move, performs every action through the lens of what is good for Donald Trump. 

Trump demands loyalty above all, even when that loyalty runs against the good of the country.  His GOP enablers have demonstrated the loyalty he requires, placing the importance of the party over the needs of the country.  This is not to say that the Democrats have not done the same thing in the past, did not ignore President Clinton's obvious flaws, and lies.  At the time, 4 articles of impeachment were voted on by the House, two passed (perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice), and two failed  (a second vote on a different instance of perjury, and abuse of power).  Five Dems voted for 3 of the 4 articles, one for all  articles.   Five Republicans voted against the first article, 8 against the second resulting in those two moving along to the Senate, while 28 Republicans voted against the third article, and a whopping 81 against the abuse of power article, which is why those two did not move onto the Senate.  In the Senate, where 2/3 majority is required, all 45 Democrats voted against the two articles thereby making them mute, but also 5 Republicans voted against the perjury charge and 10 against the abuse of power, making, that last article a bipartisan rejection of impeachment. 

It is not certain that there will be an impeachment vote in the House and trial in the Senate.  If there is one thing for sure, the Democrats are great at misplaying the obvious.  They have let us down more than once by checking the direction of the wind, rather than leading the electorate, more worried about polls and gaining political power than doing what is right.  But just as certain, Nancy Pelosi is shrewd, and appeared to have been waiting for just the right misdeed to galvanize her caucus, waiting for President Trump to go just a bit too far.  The fact that both House and Senate voted unanimously to compel the release of the white house notes and whistleblower complaint, is a possible first crack in the bubble that has protected Trump from bipartisan scrutiny. 

If I were to predict anything, it would be that at least two articles of impeachment would be presented, relating to using taxpayer money to extort foreign interference in the 2020 election, and abuse of power.  I would expect the Democratic majority in the House to garnish enough votes as they hold 235 seats and only need 218 for passage, not withstanding if any members of the GOP caucus vote their conscience. 

The Senate however, is a far different animal.  If all Dems and the 2 Independents vote to convict, that still leaves the necessity of 20 Republican Senators to vote for impeachment.  It is one of the main obstacles that drove Pelosi to express doubt about the wisdom of impeachment, up until now.  In addition to what seems a futile gesture, I had also had my doubts about impeachment from the standpoint of exacerbating country disunity, and the reluctance to void the democratic election and decision by the people of America to elect President Trump.  I would imagine that perhaps that last thought was in the mind of the brave GOP representatives who voted not to impeach Clinton, determining, maybe, that bad personal behavior is not enough to cancel out the voice of the citizenry.

Unfortunately, I believe we are far past just bad personal behavior.  And, not withstanding Maguire's clearly stated loyalty to the office of the presidency, I don't believe Trump has earned such loyalty.  He has besmirched the office in countless ways, not the least of which is using its power, and the monies designated by the Congress, to extort "a favor" from a foreign leader so as to help him win the next presidential election.  And, not to make too fine a point on it, a favor that would not have required any actual facts behind it, as Trump clearly demonstrated with his use of lies and misinformation in the past, most notably the insinuation that ex-President Obama was not born in America.

I was hoping that we might see a resounding defeat of President Trump in 2020, as a way of repudiating a man who believes that all that is good emanates from him, and all that is bad comes from those who disagree.  But it appears now, that Trump was not going to let that happen without using the full powers of the presidency to make sure he is elected again.  Just like those world leaders he admires so much, Putin, Jinping, Erdogan, and the like, Trump will do whatever he can to retain his power,  regardless of the rule of law or the preciousness of our American democracy.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Personal Happiness vs Global Anxiety

In general, I am a happy person.  Yes, I experience drops of water from my eyes in many situations, but I truly believe in tears of joy, and upon analysis have discovered that far more of my eye leakage reflects overwhelming emotions related to triumph over odds, and empathy of others epiphanies, rather than tears over tragedies.  I see a father in a movie on TV who is ecstatic over the happy marriage of his daughter, and imagine myself trying to get through a toast at the wedding of either of my children.  Instant tears.

Now, to be fair, I am a white male who has been blessed with many advantages.  Born of loving parents who were willing to sacrifice their own wants for their children's needs and future opportunities.  Born in America, where democracy still rules, albeit with the fractures of the influence of money and power on who we are offered as candidates.  Born with a strong constitution, rarely sick, high level of energy.  Born with a relatively healthy mind, just your average vices, although I do have a bit of a martyr complex that can bedevil me.  Born with a love of reading, which enables me to seek information to mold my perspective, and to access the thoughts of the greatest minds and most highly evolved spiritual beings who have graced our planet.

In reality, there should be less a question of my being happy, as wondering why someone like myself would not be happy.  I imagine that in the coming decades, as sociologists and psychologists and historians delve into the causes of so much violence and anger which permeates our culture, in addition to the toll that self destructive behavior is exacting on our population via opioids, alcohol, and easy access to guns, there may be some revelations about those among us who seem perpetually angry, always on the edge of violence, and eager for a fight, despite our collective advantages of being born in a country with far more freedoms and ease of living than, literally, billions of other people on our planet at this very moment.

I suspect that those in power, consciously or subconsciously, encourage the apparent jealousy and hatred that some Americans feel towards people born south of the border, or in poverty, or with difficult circumstances that have everything to do with the cards they were dealt at birth.  Directing our anger towards those with less, painting them as invaders who want to steal our advantages, or highlighting the small percentage of those who do take advantage of the social networks aimed at those who are struggling, while pretending that the vast majority of people who need a christian helping hand, are truly in need, and could be us if we were faced with an unexpected hardship or accident, is a good plan when the true leeches on society are the greedy rich who care only for accumulating more wealth, and the corporations which were formed precisely to divert responsibility for illegal and immoral behavior while reaping the benefits when everything is rosy.   

Or maybe it will ultimately just be because we have succumbed to our collective addiction to privilege, and can not handle it when we need to work through our problems, address them in the eye, acknowledge our weaknesses as well as our strengths, and act in concert with our brothers and sisters to solve the issues of the day, whether they be personal or national.  I have in my mind a book called
The Rise and (Hopefully not) Fall of America, which details why we need to reflect a little more on where we came from, and where we are headed, and turn, at least a portion of our selfish tendencies inside out so that Earth First, or even Humanity First replaces the insidious mantra that is harming the soul of our country, and impeding the progress that has been made in response to the evils enacted on humanity by the last country who's leader promoted the "Fatherland above all", and the superiority of the Aryan race.

I have seen much more mention of the angry liberal, since the 2016 election.  I see examples of it on certain news shows which depict progressives in the face of those who disagree with their politics, or who deride those who wear certain red hats, or who express such outrage at those who voted for a candidate other than their own, that they make the supporters of the other party, feel just like those among us who are afraid to acknowledge their crime of illegal border crossing, or who stay in the closet concerning their sexual preference, or true gender identity (some liken the idea of "coming out" to the debutante's coming out party of days gone by), or who are reluctant to enroll in the various social support programs to avoid the stigma which they or their children might experience.  Sometime karma can be a real bitch!

At first I scoffed at such attempts to paint liberals as angry or violent, and now I realize I was wrong.  Just as in any movement, from the battle for women's suffrage, to equal rights for blacks, to the struggle to acknowledge that AIDS is a disease, not a punishment from God, there are always people who tire of waiting and turn to violence.  I believe that the first such organized example of this was the War for Independence.  So yes, I guess there are some angry, violent liberals who believe so strongly in their cause that they lash out at those who they see enabling the very thing that they find the most despicable, the most harmful for America and Earth. 

It is hard to hold true to the notion that if you are right, then continued, non-violent, demonstrations, relentless publicity about the correctness of your cause, total devotion to what you truly believe is the right, and moral, path, will not win the day.  However, when time passes, and progress is slow, and suffering continues unabated, it is understandable that enough can become, literally, enough, and frustration pushes a normally patient person to act in a way that they don't normally act.  I imagine that like people, movements have their breaking points as well, and once reached, either fade away (Occupy Wall Street), or develop a new strategy.

I do not advocate violence in any shape or form.  As liberals, we need to be better than those who use intimidation and violence to make their point.  While America may have a history of this kind of behavior, from our treatment of the Native population that was here before us, to the current separation and jailing of children at our southern border, it does not mean we should fall to the level of the opposition.  It is not an easy path, and there will be times when we stray.  Like most people, I am in a hurry for real climate change action, real immigration reform, real support of democratic values which exclude the influence of money and foreign enemies.  But, if there is justice, the reforms will happen whether we get to see them or not.  History is filled with people who worked tirelessly to create change, only to die before that change came to fruition.  It is probably the hardest realization one can have when involved in something bigger than one self.  And if we are not right, or if too many Americans continue to be blind to their selfishness, then...

Which brings me to Global Anxiety.  Can a happy person as I believe myself to be, also acknowledge and experience the dread that some of us fear when it comes to the future of our planet?  Can one be happy, and still be anxious, and do the actions of someone who is passionate about the alarming data related to climate change, actions which may seem angry to those who do not sense that danger, actually indicate an unhappy person?  Or to put in another way, can someone who is unhappy with our national nonchalance about climate change, be happy in their personal life?

Oh, the complexity of the human animal!

I guess, like so many things, we must strike a balance.  Acknowledge the good things in our lives, the love of our family, the good fortune that enables us to sit and type on a weekday, or read the words someone else has typed on our WiFi connected phone, or personal computer.   Look around at the beauty of nature, the unfathomable size of the sky above us, and yes, even at the great accomplishments that man has created, and smile, be grateful. 

It is OK to feel the privilege of living in America, as long as you recognize that there are those among us who do not share in all the privileges, or who have come here looking to earn those privileges.  It is OK to spend a leisurely day at the beach, unwinding from the stresses of everyday life, as long as you recognize that we need to protect those same beaches from plastic trash, and to enact policies that restrict the dumping of poisons into our oceans.  It is OK to laugh, make love, watch mindless entertainment, as long as you also recognize that those moments should also fuel your desire to see all people be able to have the same moments, whether they be a white male from Jamaica Estates, or a black girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

I guess I have concluded that Personal Happiness does not negate Global Anxiety.  That both can exist in your life, and heart.  And, perhaps, that both should!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Last Resort (Revisited)

When I was a young man, I kept a journal for quite a few years.  At some point, I encountered the song
The Last Resort written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey of the Eagles.  I remember writing it down (yes, with a pen and paper), and commenting on it within my journal.  Last week, I heard it on the radio for the first time in quite a while.  It still gives me chills.  Here are the lyrics.

"The Last Resort"

She came from Providence,
the one in Rhode Island
Where the old world shadows hang
heavy in the air
She packed her hopes and dreams
like a refugee
Just as her father came across the sea

She heard about a place people were smilin'
They spoke about the red man's way,
how they loved the land
And they came from everywhere
to the Great Divide
Seeking a place to stand
or a place to hide

Down in the crowded bars,
out for a good time,
Can't wait to tell you all,
what it's like up there
And they called it paradise
I don't know why
Somebody laid the mountains low
while the town got high

Then the chilly winds blew down
Across the desert
through the canyons of the coast,
to the Malibu
Where the pretty people play,
hungry for power
to light their neon way
give them things to do

Some rich men came and raped the land,
Nobody caught 'em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes,
and Jesus people bought 'em
'nd they called it paradise
The place to be
They watched the hazy sun, sinking in the sea

You can leave it all behind and sail to Lahaina
just like the missionaries did, so many years ago
They even brought a neon sign: "Jesus is coming"
Brought the white man's burden down
Brought the white man's reign

Who will provide the grand design?
What is yours and what is mine?
'Cause there is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here

We satisfy our endless needs and
justify our bloody deeds,
in the name of destiny
and in the name of God

And you can see them there,
On Sunday morning
They stand up and sing about
what it's like up there
They call it paradise
I don't know why
You call someplace paradise,
kiss it goodbye

Of course, reading the words are no where near as powerful as hearing Don Henley sing them.  His tone, his emphasis on certain phrases, his use of pitch, all combine to project one's mind to see what he is singing about, and feel the sadness when we wonder why man tends to destroy what he finds beautiful.  I invariably turn up the volume, sing at the top of my lungs, and cry as Henley sings

"I don't know why" in a falsetto, then finishes with "You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye" with the true disgust that we should all feel when we become aware of our treatment of nature.

Whether we harken back to songs like this, written in 1976, or Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, written in 1962, or John Muir's iconic photographs of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, or perhaps even President Theodore Roosevelt who was extremely proud of his conservation accomplishments, it is abundantly clear that concern for Planet Earth, while recent, has a rich history of advocates across political, social and economic lines.  

It is even more interesting to me, to see how the words of The Last Resort continue to ring true, perhaps even more so in these times of climate change deniers, severe melting of the Arctic, and more violent severe weather occurrences, along with the ever on-going battles by Native Americans to protect what little land they have from further destruction. 

"We satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God."

While I certainly disagree wholeheartedly with the current actions of Brazil's president who rejects interference from other world leaders in relation to the burning of the Amazon as if we all do not have a stake in this situation, I can understand his anger when he comments that we already burned our forests, so isn't it a bit hypocritical for us to condemn his country for doing the same.  We conveniently forget that much of Europe and America were forests before we turned the trees into homes and businesses or just paved them over to improve our transportation systems.  Do as I say, not as I do (or did, in this case). 

"''Cause there is no more new frontier, we have got to make it here".

Yet we continue to act as if technology, or divine intervention, will save us from ourselves, or worse, choose to pretend that new shipping lanes in the Arctic will improve business, therefore improve the world.  All the while imagining that we can escape to the moon or Mars, which of course, means that even if we somehow make it off this rock, it will only be those with the money and power who will get to repopulate those places.  The only choices ordinary people will be offered is where to die, and with whom to share that last experience. 

But Joe, it is such a huge problem, and I am just one person.  What can one person do?

Well, fortunately, people like T Roosevelt, J Muir, R Carson and D Henley, did not just throw up their hands in frustration, but did what they could to bring attention to our suffering environment.  Now, don't get me wrong, it is nearly impossible to live life in the 21st century without adding to the problems of greenhouse gas emissions, single use plastic waste, air and water pollution.  But awareness that there is a problem, does not take any effort other than listening to the Earth and the scientists who study her.

Once we allow that concern to enter our mindset, actions, perhaps small at first, will follow.  Use real silverware and dishes rather than plastic ones.  If there is recycling at your work, make the effort to throw in your recyclables, and if not, establish a collection area.  Same at home, separate your trash from recyclables and investigate where they can dropped off, or when your town might pick them up at your house.  Invest in a water container that you can reuse rather than buying 32 or 36 packs of water every week.  (It still amazes me, a child of the 70's who drank water from a backyard hose, that the bottled water industry is valued at hundreds of billions -  that's B for billions - of dollars).

And, if possible, choose to drive less, especially if you can car pool or combine multiple trips into one trip with a few stops, and choose your next vehicle with an eye towards gas consumption, whether that results in a more fuel efficient car, or a hybrid or an electric.

From there, it might not be so big a step to volunteering at a local chapter of the Sierra Club or some other organization that contributes through water way or highway clean-ups, awareness seminars at local schools and churches, or other such activities that produce positive results.

And, as I did today, sign up for email updates from the National Geographic Planet or Plastic site, and visit the site for more info on just how precarious the state of our planet is becoming.

Finally, give a SHIT.  Stop hiding behind "well, I'll be dead soon, so what do I care", or "I am just too busy to care about the planet", or "it is all fake news".

This is real folks, it is happening, and pretending that we are not changing our home for the worse is the same as pooping on your own lawn and advertising the strength of the stench. 

Sometime in the next 20-40 years, we will know for sure the extent of the damage we are doing.  I implore my readers to side with our Big Blue Marble, do what you can, and engage in positive conversations, so when those born in the 21st century are making the decisions, they might be able to thank us for trying, rather than condemn us for our lack of vision.