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“A Different Kind of Courage”: Soul Piercing Hard, Quiet Sacred Moments

Much has been written lately by people who think that President Obama has done an inadequate job of calming the nation’s fears. Today he takes on a very different task as the Consoler-in-Chief. On his way to the family’s Christmas vacation in Hawaii, the President will stop in San Bernardino to spend some private time with the victims and families of the shootings that took place there earlier this month.

I don’t expect that we’ll hear much about these meetings. But they’ll probably be much like the ones he held with the families of the shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago. If you’ve never read Joshua Dubois’ account of that day, here is a portion of it:

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss…

And the funny thing is—President Obama has never spoken about these meetings. Yes, he addressed the shooting in Newtown and gun violence in general in a subsequent speech, but he did not speak of those private gatherings. In fact, he was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.

Those were quiet sacred moments – much as the ones today will be.

There is a twisted way in which our culture often associates courage with the kind of chest-thumping we saw on the Republican debate stage Tuesday night. But that dismisses the kind that it takes to look into the eyes of a mother/father/son/daughter/husband/wife who has lost a loved one to senseless violence and embrace their grief. There is a reason why most of us avoid being put in a situation like that whenever possible. It’s soul-piercing hard. So today I want to take a moment to think about what it says about President Obama that he would chose to go there. Beyond what he’s actually done to keep us safe, that’s at least as important as what he says to allay our fears.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 18, 2015

December 19, 2015 Posted by | Mass Shootings, President Obama, San Bernardino | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The GOP Is The Party Of Fear”: Scaring The Voters Works; There’s No Reason For The Republicans To Stop

The Republicans might consider themselves as the party of freedom, but their true identity, as Tuesday night’s debate made clear, is the party of fear. All the candidates on stage, with the partial exception of Senator Rand Paul, painted a frightening picture of America as a country that, as frontrunner Donald Trump warned, is on the verge of disintegrating.

“We need strength,” Trump said. “We’re not respected, you know, as a nation anymore. We don’t have that level of respect that we need. And if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker and just disintegrate.”

Trump is often portrayed as an anomaly among the GOP candidates, but consider the words of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, widely regarded as one of the moderates in the party.

“America has been betrayed,” Christie said in his opening statement, where his words were clearly carefully planned.

We’ve been betrayed by the leadership that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have provided to this country over the last number of years. Think about just what’s happened today. The second largest school district in America in Los Angeles closed based on a threat. Think about the effect that, that’s going to have on those children when they go back to school tomorrow wondering filled with anxiety to whether they’re really going to be safe.

Think about the mothers who will take those children tomorrow morning to the bus stop wondering whether their children will arrive back on that bus safe and sound. Think about the fathers of Los Angeles, who tomorrow will head off to work and wonder about the safety of their wives and their children.

One might wonder how Obama and Clinton are responsible for the Los Angeles School District overreacting to a bomb hoax. One might also wonder that about a presidential candidate who uses the Los Angeles incident not to criticize the tendency to overreact to perceived threats but to stoke fear.

But Christie was hardly alone. All the other candidates spoke of an America under siege, no longer respected in the world, with a weakened military, threatened by both homegrown terrorists as well as immigrants and refugees who might be terrorists. To be sure, Senator Rand Paul did enter a few libertarian caveats about the dangers of ranking security above liberty, but even he used xenophobic fear of immigrants to attack rival Senator Marco Rubio. Ultimately, all the candidates played to a politics of fear—and history suggests it will help them in 2016.

How did fear come to loom so large as a part of Republican rhetoric? The crucial turning point surely was 9/11, which gave birth to a culture of fear in America—about which a small but vital literature has emerged, such as Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream (2007), Corey Robin’s Fear: The History of a Political Idea (2006), Peter N. Stearns’s American Fears (2006). Using historical evidence, Stearns argued “that there either more fearful Americans than there once were, or that their voices are louder or more sought after and publicly authorized—or both.”

The best articulation of this culture of fear—and the concomitant willingness to do almost anything to secure an impregnable level of safety or security—can be seen in the 1 percent doctrine as articulated by Vice President Dick Cheney: “If there’s a 1 percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” In effect, Cheney was calling for the United States to become one giant safe space, even if it meant massively overreacting to threats abroad.

Sanctioned by Washington, a language giving priority to safety has increasingly shaped other parts of society, including academia. Last September, Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, argued that freedom of speech has to be tempered by an acknowledgement of the demands of safety and civility: “[W]e can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility.”

The culture of fear that grew up after 9/11 inevitably stifled free speech. “As a writer and editor,” Michael Kinsley wrote in The Washington Post in 2002, “I have been censoring myself and others quite a bit since Sept. 11. By ‘censoring’ I mean deciding not to write or publish things for reasons other than my own judgment of their merits. What reasons? Sometimes it has been a sincere feeling that an ordinarily appropriate remark is inappropriate at this extraordinary moment. Sometimes it is a genuine respect for readers who might feel that way even if I don’t. But sometimes it is simple cowardice.”

With both academia and journalism cowed, the years after 9/11 were a golden age for Republicans, when they were able to push a large part of their agenda, not just in foreign policy but often domestically as well. So it’s no surprise that Republicans keep returning to the well: Stirring up anxiety in the electorate has been so profitable for them. In his closing statement in the debate, Christie cagily evoked the memories of 9/ll:

On September 10th, 2001, I was named chief federal prosecutor in New Jersey and on September 11th, 2001, my wife and my brother who are in the audience tonight went through the World Trade Center and to their offices just blocks away from the Trade Center.

I lost touch with them for six hours that day and prayed that they were alive

Reviving 9/11 level fears is now a campaign strategy. Consider the midterm elections of 2014, when alarmist accounts of Ebola patients, “anchor babies,” and ISIS assassins all flooding the United States became a staple of Republican discourse. This fear-mongering paid handsome dividends at the ballot, with the Republicans winning the Senate and strengthening their hold on the House and in state legislatures. Scaring the voters works. There’s no reason for the Republicans to stop.

 

By: Jeet Heer, Senior Editor at the New Republic, December 15, 2015

December 19, 2015 Posted by | 9-11, Fearmongering, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Rubio-Schumer Gang Of Eight Bill”: How Ted Cruz Will Try To Destroy Marco Rubio

Imagine you’re Ted Cruz. Things are proceeding according to plan — you’re in second place nationwide and ahead in some polls in Iowa, you’re consolidating the support of evangelicals, most of your opponents are falling behind or falling away, and, after treating you like a fringe figure for so long, the media is finally taking seriously the idea that you might be the party’s nominee. There are only two guys standing in your way. The first is Donald Trump, and who knows what he’s going to do or say. The second is Marco Rubio and, if you can take him out, it’ll be down to you and The Donald — at which point even the party establishment that so despises you will probably rally to your side.

So how can you sweep Rubio aside and make it a two-man race? The answer Cruz has seized upon is immigration, Rubio’s soft and vulnerable underbelly.

This tactic came out in Tuesday night’s debate, when Cruz said, “You know, there was a time for choosing, as Reagan put it. When there was a battle over amnesty and some chose, like Senator Rubio, to stand with Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer and support a massive amnesty plan.” He even called a bill that Rubio co-wrote the “Rubio-Schumer Gang of Eight bill,” which is pretty low.

This attack isn’t surprising; that Gang of Eight bill has been just waiting to be exploited. Back in 2013, Rubio joined with a bipartisan group of senators to write the comprehensive immigration reform bill, which passed the Senate and then died in the House. Even though the bill had a lot of what Republicans wanted, Rubio was immediately excoriated by the very Tea Partiers who had championed his election in 2010, called a traitor and an alien-coddler because the bill included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Rubio has since distanced himself from the effort, but it clings to him still.

Why is it such a big deal? Well, as Rubio knows, immigration is one of the main reasons so many white, older Republican voters feel out of place in a changing America. It was the subject of endless conflicts between the Obama administration and Republicans in Congress. Obama’s executive actions on immigration are the evidence conservatives hold up to support their assertion that the president is a tyrant who ignores the law. Those executive actions were the cause of one of our many government shutdown crises. And it has been one of the main sources of conflict between the party establishment, which believed that the GOP needs to support comprehensive reform in order to make an opening with Latino voters and thus have a chance at winning the White House, and the base voters and conservative members of Congress who say, “Hell no.” So, as complex as the issue is, it isn’t hard for Rubio’s opponents to say that there’s a right side and a wrong side on immigration, and the senator is (or at least was) on the wrong side.

Cruz himself has been moving steadily to the right on this issue over the course of the campaign, though his precise position on the question of undocumented immigrants has at times been hard to pin down. While he has always opposed a path to citizenship, at various points he has seemed to support work permits that would allow the undocumented to stay in the country legally. This is what Rubio is referring to when he says that Cruz supports “legalization.”

But Cruz is now backing away from that position, saying in the debate, “I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization.” Ask him about it now, and he’ll talk only about border walls and deportation. He has even come out in favor of repealing birthright citizenship, the constitutional principle that anyone born in the United States is a United States citizen.

When he gets asked about his work on the 2013 bill, Rubio has a long, detailed answer, one he’s repeated many times. It hits all the appropriate notes — slamming the Obama administration, talking about how border security must be accomplished first, noting that the E-Verify system has to be in place so employers don’t hire the undocumented, and explaining the lengthy process that would be required for an undocumented person to get citizenship, a process that could take as much as a couple of decades. His basic point is that once we do all the things Republicans want, then we can get around to thinking about a path to citizenship — but it’s so far down the road, it would be after he served even two terms as president.

But after Rubio gives that long, detailed answer, Cruz can just point to him and say, “Nope, he supports amnesty.” Which, depending on how you define it, is true.

Had the Gang of Eight bill managed to pass the House, Rubio would have been hailed in many quarters as a hero, someone who had broken the logjam, found a solution to a complex policy problem, and delivered the GOP something it desperately needed, a chance to win over one of the fastest-growing parts of the electorate. But as it is, that 2013 bill is a millstone around Rubio’s neck, one that someone like Ted Cruz is happy to pull on to make Rubio’s burden even heavier.

In the context of this primary campaign, it’s far better to have never tried to accomplish much of anything on policy, like Cruz. Rubio did try, and Cruz is going to make him pay. While the issue of terrorism may fade in the coming weeks and months, immigration will always be there in this campaign. And as long as they’re both in the race, Ted Cruz is going to pound Marco Rubio on it without mercy, until one of these two sons of immigrants leaves the race.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, December 17, 2015

December 19, 2015 Posted by | Immigration Reform, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Trump’s Big, New, Stalinesque Idea”: A Concept With A Dark And Profoundly Un-American History

In a season full of comments we never thought we’d hear during a modern American presidential campaign, this one, spoken at the debate Tuesday night by of course Donald Trump, is arguably the most shocking: “I would be very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”

It’s not the first time Trump has said it, but it hasn’t gotten the focus it deserves. This idea of punishing or somehow threatening the family members of criminals has a name. It’s called collective punishment. And it has a history, which as you’d imagine is not pretty—think, oh, Stalin, for starters. And finally it has a status in international law. Under the Geneva Conventions, collective punishment is a war crime.

Collective punishment can take and has taken different forms. It doesn’t have to mean family members. In many cases it has meant the relocation/eradication of entire villages in response to rebellious or perceived treasonous acts by a few. It might also mean a kind of generalized and indiscriminate violence visited upon a population. Scholars debate, but surely Southerners would all agree, that William Tecumseh Sherman engaged in collective punishment during his infamous March to the Sea. You know, the one through that state, Georgia, where in the latest poll Trump holds a 27-point lead.

But in many cases, it does refer to families. Trump’s antecedents here are chilling. The Nazis used collective punishment against Poles and others who harbored Jews. The website of Yad Vashem tells the horrifying story of the Ulma family, who hid a Jewish family on their farm in 1942. They got ratted out, and the entire family, including six living children and one more in utero, was shot.

But Stalin was the master of collective punishment. It was for a time against the law in the USSR to be a family member of a counter-revolutionary or obscurantist or what have you. Stalin said in November 1937: “And we will eliminate every such enemy… we will eliminate his entire lineage, his family! Here’s to the final extermination of all enemies, both themselves and their clan.”

In our own time, Israel is practicing a form of collective punishment every time it blows up the home, often in occupied East Jerusalem, of the family of a suspected terrorist or even in some cases a teenager who got caught throwing some stones at the military. North Korea has been known to imprison the family members of dissidents.

This behavior is covered in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which reads in its entirety: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”

The definition of “protected persons” is a little complicated, and you can read it here, but it includes both citizens of a given country (“nationals”) and non-nationals who find themselves in the hands of a hostile power, which President Trump’s America would surely be to Muslim non-citizens, morally if not always legally.

So now comes the question: What does Trump mean by “very tough”? He probably won’t say. Let’s grant that he doesn’t mean execution. He’s not that crazy. In his mind, he might “just” mean detaining family members, putting the screws to them, seeing what they know. Obviously, under any number of circumstances, interrogation of family members of those who commit crimes is reasonable. It happens every day, hundreds of times across the country.

But Trump sounds like he’s talking about more than that. The way he appears to think about these things, it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched to imagine that he might envision, say, detaining the family of someone who commits a future terrorist act. You know, just to teach the others a lesson.

A Trump administration could probably find some antique (or not) federal law under which to do such a thing, and then fight the inevitable court challenges and see what happens. And if such a case landed before the right kind of Federal Society judge, well, it seems unlikely that any American federal judge could possibly justify such a thing, but in a country that actually elected Donald Trump president, who knows? And would the GOP really object? After all, we already have the precedent of Republican officials from John Yoo to Dick Cheney telling us that we don’t have to bother with all that Geneva twaddle.

It’s yet another new Trump low, and it raises the specter of a lawless government ditching norms that we’ve (mostly) stood by for decades. And if we ditch them, look out, because others will too. One doubts we will, but the mere fact that the front-runner for the Republican nomination is putting this stuff into the national discourse is horrible enough. And good God, what’s coming next week?

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 17, 2015

December 19, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Geneva Conventions, Joseph Stalin, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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