What Makes A Nation Great — Part III

In Parts I & II of this project, I spent a great deal of time pointing out the things that, in my view, keep the United States from being ‘great’.  In truth, the word ‘great’ is a superlative that sets my teeth on edge anyway, but it’s something we should always strive for.  If we strive for greatness, perhaps we can at least achieve ‘goodness’.

Make no mistake … despite its many flaws, some potentially fatal, there are good things happening in this nation, there are things that should give us hope for the future.  I didn’t want to end this project without pointing those out too.

A nation is only as good as the people who inhabit it, and we have, in this nation, millions of good people.  Every Wednesday, I write about some of those good people.  Most all of the people I know in this country are caring, kind, compassionate people who would literally give you the shirt off their back if you needed it.

Teachers in this nation are underpaid, overworked, and often expected to pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets.  Yet, I personally know a number of teachers who are dedicated in a way that no other professionals I know of are.  I know teachers who have taken a student in for a weekend when there was an illness in the student’s family.  Almost every teacher I know or have known personally go the extra mile every single day, and for little or no recognition … just because they believe that educating our young people is the most important job in the world.

I know people who spend every weekend working in homeless shelters and food pantries to help those less fortunate than us.  I know still others who give a portion of every paycheck to worthy causes that help people … not politicians, but people in need.  During this ongoing and devastating pandemic, there are many people who are bringing food and supplies to elderly friends & neighbors, checking on them to make sure they are okay and don’t need anything.

And let us not forget those on the ‘front lines’, the healthcare workers who are risking their own lives every day, working long hours, to help those who are sick, whether with coronavirus or other ailments.  These people have sacrificed sleep, meals, time with family, and their own health to take care of people they don’t even know.

We have countless volunteer organizations manned by people who help with everything imaginable, from child care to feeding the poor to rescuing animals to visiting the sick & elderly to picking up other people’s trash on beaches and along highways, to name just a few.  The majority of people in this country really do care about other people, about animals, about the environment.

Yes, there are many people who are self-serving in this country, who eschew the diversity and would turn the country into one comprised entirely of white Christians with women taking a backseat as they once did, but those people don’t deserve mention here.  To me, the ‘good people doing good things’ are a large part of what is good in this nation.  But there is more, as well.

One of the items on the list in Part I that I think contributes to what is good in this nation is the diversity.  Just on my own street, we have families from Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and Nigeria.  Knowing them has enriched my life.  I’ve learned things about the Middle East that you don’t get from history books.  I’ve tried new foods – some I loved, others not so much.  I’ve made new friends who have broadened my horizons, expanded my world view.  Immigrants have given so much to this nation, asking in return only a safe place to live and the opportunity to take care of their families.

There are signs of hope for the nation.  I think that the majority of people are waking up to what is wrong and understanding that, as a nation, we have taken a wrong path somewhere along the line.  I think people are ready and willing to make the changes we need to start the process of re-building the nation.  The divisiveness we see today cannot continue, and I do think most people realize that it is counter-productive.  I think people are finally ready to stand up against the systemic racism that has always existed here.  The overall response to the murder of George Floyd, as well as other recent episodes of police brutality against black people, is encouraging.  While I despise the violence some of the protests have spawned, I do like the fact that people are finally becoming aware and determined to demand change from our police and government.

The first steps in repairing what is broken in this country must be to realize that our government is not serving us, but rather is self-serving.  We must demand some changes in campaign finance rules, in term limits, and in transparency in government.  We must educate ourselves and our youth in how our government is supposed to work vs how it is actually working, then we must do whatever is necessary to demand change.  We must remind the people in Washington that it is We the People to whom they owe their allegiance, not the NRA, not the person in the Oval Office, and not the big corporations.  We must hold them accountable for every vote they make, for every dime of our money they spend, and for the things they don’t do, as well.  We must do this now, while we still have the right to peaceful protest, while we still have the right to vote people into or out of office, and while we still have a free press to keep us informed.  If we don’t, I see those rights slipping away.

We must learn to set aside our petty differences and focus on the big picture.  Think of two people building a house together.  We agree that I will do the right side of the house and you will do the left side.  If we don’t communicate and compromise, I build my walls 8 feet high, but you build yours 9 feet.  I paint my half yellow, you paint your half pink.  What we end up with is a mess that neither of us can nor want to live in.  This is what the partisan divide is doing to this nation … leaving us with a mess that we cannot continue to live in.  We must learn to put aside the petty differences and work together to resolve the bigger problems, such as racism, affordable education and health care for all, helping those who need help, narrowing the income gap, and more.  And how can we do this?

We cannot do it by pointing guns at one another.  We cannot do it by screaming and yelling such that our message is lost in the noise.  We can only do it by talking and listening, then seeking common ground for compromise.  We must stop trying to impose our own ideas on everyone else and work on the bigger picture.  What is the bigger picture, you ask?  Ensuring that this nation works for everyone, not just some.  Stepping up to the plate and being a part of the global community.  Working to reverse global warming, to clean up the environment, to find alternatives for plastics, working on ensuring the safety of not just this nation, but of the entire globe.  I could go on, but you get the picture.  On a scale of 1-100, with 100 being truly great, I would rank the U.S. as it stands today in the 30% range.  We can do better … the question is, will we?


What Makes A Nation Great — Part II

I began this three-part series with yesterday’s post in which I listed some criteria that, in my view, are in large part what makes a country great.  Let’s take a look at how the United States stacks up on some of those …

We have a right to vote, but those who live in poor or minority neighborhoods may find it hard to do so, for polling places may be prohibitively distant, or the hours shortened such that the working person hasn’t the ability to get there.  Restrictive voter ID laws are more likely to disenfranchise poor and minority voters. We’ve seen, in recent months, how hard our ‘leadership’ fights to deny us the right to vote by mail during this pandemic year.  Polling places on college campuses where voters may be more ‘enlightened’ are shuttered.  And, due to gerrymandered districting, every vote is not equal.

A series of Supreme Court rulings between 1990 and 2010, most notably Citizens United v FEC in 2010, made it possible for large corporations and lobbyists to contribute nearly unlimited amounts of cash to political campaigns.  Many of our politicians are in the pockets of various industries, notably the fossil fuel and gun industries, such that the decisions they make in the legislature are not necessarily in the best interests of the people of the nation, but rather of those who pay big bucks to keep them in office.

The U.S. Constitution calls for a separation of powers, a system of three equal branches of government and the responsibility of each to keep the other two honest.  Our legislative branch, Congress, has become so divided by political party that Congress is deadlocked on most every bill.  Checks on the executive office were proven to be null and void on February 5th when the U.S. Senate voted against the evidence, against their collective conscience, and acquitted a ‘president’ who is guilty of crimes far greater than any who came before him.  Even the highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court, is largely divided by loyalty to party.

As for an investment in shared infrastructure … think Flint, Michigan, and the water crisis that began in 2015 and continues to this day.  Need I say more?  More than a few times, states have been threatened with the withholding of federal funds if they didn’t accede to the wishes of the ‘president’.

And justice?  Let’s talk a minute about justice.  If you are Black, Muslin, Hispanic, or Native American, or poor, you might as well leave the room, for the justice that applies to you is different than that which applies to white, wealthy people.  Justice is for the wealthy in the United States of 2020.  Justice is for the friends of William Barr and Donald Trump.  I will pay a heftier price for a minor traffic violation than corrupt government officials will pay for robbing the citizens of this nation of millions of dollars.

Internally, we have a government that is doing everything in its power to deny affordable health care and education to its populace.  We have a government in favour of denying assistance to those in need.  We have a head of government who is racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic.  We have a government that is prejudiced against thinkers, prejudiced against so many groups that I cannot name them all.  We have, today, the wealthiest government in our history, yet their concern for our well-being is next to nil.

What makes a nation great is how well it functions for all the people, not just the few who are wealthy and powerful.  This nation fails that test miserably.  Our government favours those in large industries, gives them tax breaks, while 90% of us struggle to put food on the table, pay the rent/mortgage, and clothe our children.  Our government literally worships wealth and tells its citizens that the wealth of the 1% will somehow “trickle down” to them.  It doesn’t … never has … never will.  The prices of food, housing, and other commodities rise, but our wages do not rise at an equivalent rate, for the wealthy decided they needed to add another zero to their investment portfolios.  No, my friends, this is not what makes a nation great.

A great neighbor helps their friends in time of need.  We, instead, have largely abandoned our allies and instead have cozied up in bed with those bullies who would see the world relegated to only two or three great superpowers.  Our allies needed our help in such things as the Paris Climate Accords, World Health Organization (WHO) and the Iran nuclear agreement … and we turned our backs.

A great neighbor takes care of its home, its neighborhood. They don’t throw their trash into their neighbor’s yard, but that is exactly what we are doing. Science has proven that we are destroying not only our own environment, but that of the entire planet.  Oh, the planet will go on, but much of life on earth will not.  We had only just begun, by 2017, to make inroads in controlling the CO2 we put into the atmosphere, and the amount of plastics and other garbage we put into our landfills and ultimately the oceans that belong to all nations.  Now, all the regulations have been ditched in favour of … again … profit for the few, and we are the pariah of the world for our lackadaisical response to climate change.

In the midst of a deadly worldwide pandemic, our government has told us lie, stacked upon lie, stacked upon lie.  The scientists warned governments early on, yet ours chose to tell us that it was nothing, nothing to worry about, nothing to see here.  The lies added up until today we account for over 26% of the world’s cases of the coronavirus, though we have just over 4% of the world’s population.  And still, our leaders are lying to us, telling us it’s nearly over (it isn’t, not by a long shot), and urging us to put ourselves and our children at risk to grow an economy, though it may cost us our very lives.  The scientists, the medical experts, are being criticized, demeaned, and their voices stifled by a government more concerned with remaining in power than with our lives.

The United States has the highest level of income inequality of all the G7 nations.  The median black household income is only 61% of that of the median white household.  The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, where it has been since July 24th, 2009.  More than eleven years since the minimum wage was raised!  Meanwhile, many of the wealthiest in the nation pay taxes at a far lower rate than the middle-income earners, if they pay taxes at all!  In 2016, the CEOs of the top 350 U.S. firms earned on average $15.6 million.  The annual average pay of the typical American worker, by comparison, was $58,000.

There are other factors, of course, that could be considered, but I think that you can see by this assessment what a long way we have before this country can be considered ‘great’.  Given the divisiveness within our society today, it becomes obvious we are not successfully addressing our problems … a contented nation has no need for hatred and violence.

However, lest you think I am blind to what is actually good in this nation, I will have a third part to this series to talk a bit about the positive, what keeps us from being one of those “shithole” countries, and why there is hope for us yet.  So, I hope you’ll stay tuned for that!

What Makes A Nation Great — Part I

This started out to be a simple post, but by last night I was already at 1,868 words and realized that it would need to be broken into two, or possibly even three parts.  I hope you’ll bear with the ramblings of my mind, as I attempt to define what, in my view, makes a nation ‘great’, and where the U.S. stands in that assessment.

For more than five years now, we have been bombarded with Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, “make America great again”.  I have argued that the U.S. was never ‘great’.  It was once a decent country, certainly one whose citizens enjoyed more rights and freedoms than those of many other countries, but ‘great’ in my mind is something akin to perfect, and the United States has never been anywhere close to perfect.  Nor, for that matter, have most other countries.  A number of readers have argued that the U.S. aka ‘America’, is truly great, if a little bit rusty around the edges these days.  I think that ‘rust’ has eaten into the inner workings.

All of which begs the question: What does it mean to be ‘great’?  Merriam Webster provides 11 separate definitions for the word, but for our purposes, I think we can narrow the field to just a couple:

  • Notably large in size
  • Predominant
  • Markedly superior in character or quality

Well, I can’t argue with the first one.  With a land mass of 3.797 million square miles and more than 330 million people, it is ‘notably large in size’, in fact the 4th largest country on the planet, and the 3rd most populous.  But that doesn’t make us ‘great’ … only big.

Predominant — having superior strength, influence, or authority?  Granted, the U.S. has had notable influence in the western world until recently, but that word ‘superior’ bothers me.  We had that influence mainly because of our bloated military and our willingness to help our allies, to be a key player in the global community.  But that was a few years ago, and today we have shunned any responsibility to our global partners.  We are no longer trusted by any nation, and deservedly so.

And the third one is simply arrogant and disgusting.  Superior … no.  We have as many flaws as any nation on earth, more than some.  The U.S. may well have a superiority complex, but we are not superior.

So, what makes a nation great?  If you Google that question, you will be rewarded with 3.42 billion results in only 0.53 seconds!  Obviously I am not the first to ponder the question!  I read through a few of the top ten results, many cite a successful capitalistic economy, others the contentedness of the populace, but the one I found most nearly matched my own views was on a website called 20SomethingFinance  , written by one G.E. Miller.  He provides a list of criteria that I am almost completely in agreement with:

  1. a truly democratic vote – every vote is equal, and representation is fair and just. Voting is encouraged (not suppressed), accessible, quick, and easy – the higher the participation, the better.
  2. an election system where political contributions are publicly funded or capped at levels accessible to all incomes and corporate and private dark money influence is kept out.
  3. separation of powers – a system of checks and balances.
  4. an independent and free press.
  5. significant and continued investment in shared infrastructure.
  6. a fair and just legal, court, and prison system.
  7. equal access to data and information (ideally via strong local libraries and a speedy broadband connection).
  8. diversity in backgrounds and opinions.
  9. broad and equal guaranteed human and civil rights, liberties, and freedoms (speech, religion, voting, assembly, press, etc.).
  10. an investment in people through an affordable education and works skill that leads to opportunity for economic/financial success for all.
  11. kindness/care for its citizens and for the citizens of other countries.
  12. a desire to fill the role as a shining light of good for other countries.
  13. broad consumer rights and protections.
  14. harsh punishment for government and corporate corruption and corporate anti-trust.
  15. strict protections for the water that we drink, air that we breathe, and land that we walk on.
  16. an emphasis on data, science, truth, and transparency in the government decision-making process.
  17. strong employee rights that put an emphasis on health, safety, the right to form a union, equal opportunity, equal pay for equal work, and family/life balance.
  18. affordable health care for all as a right, not a privilege reserved for only the wealthy.
  19. economic justice and a muted level of economic inequality.

On paper, the U.S. meets most every one of these criteria, but the reality is something quite different altogether.  In fact, reading through the list for the third time, I can honestly say that the only bullet points we still come close to fulfilling are #4, #7, and #8.  We do still have a free press, though they are constantly intimidated and demeaned by our ‘leaders’ in government.  We do have broad access to information, both through libraries, bookstores, newspapers, and other media avenues.  And we for damn sure have diversity of backgrounds and opinions, though some count more than others.  Every other item on that list has been diminished in the past decade, especially the past three years.

So, let me tell you my vision of a ‘great’ country.  I view a great country rather like I view a great family, for what is a nation but a larger family?  In my vision, the perfect nation recognizes and acknowledges its role as part of the larger global community, understands it has a responsibility to help other struggling nations, and does not see every situation in terms of “what’s in it for me?”  In a truly great family unit, while individualism may be encouraged, the ‘greater good’ is paramount.  The ideal family is part of the greater community and helps neighbors when needed.  They are also part of the nation and pay taxes, use their voices to get things that help people done.  And ultimately, we are all part of the global community, like it or not.  In this, the 21st century, what you or I do affects people all around the globe. 

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II …

A Man Of Honour & Integrity Speaks

I have wondered lately about Robert Mueller.  I understood why he was keeping a low profile … to an extent.  His work was done, he did it well, and while I wish he had done more, I also realize that he was prohibited from doing so by the abominable U.S. District Attorney, William Barr.  However, I was surprised that with all Trump’s recent blathering about the Mueller investigation having been a ‘witch hunt’, after the Department of Justice dropping the charges against Michael Flynn, and now Trump commuting Roger Stone’s sentence, Robert Mueller remained silent.  Trump and his henchmen have used every trick in their books to attempt to override the indictments the Mueller team made, and to attempt to convince the public that the Mueller investigation was a sham, naught but an attempt to bring Trump down.  I thought surely it must eat at Mueller, surely he must be itching to speak out, to defend his work, if not his own integrity.  Well, the Roger Stone episode was, apparently, the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Robert Mueller has spoken.  His words are far more important and more intelligent than any you’ll hear from Stone, Flynn, Barr, or Trump.  Mr. Mueller has something that none of them has:  honour and integrity.

Robert Mueller: Roger Stone Remains a Convicted Felon, and Rightly So

By Robert S. Mueller III

JULY 11, 2020


The work of the special counsel’s office — its report, indictments, guilty pleas and convictions — should speak for itself. But I feel compelled to respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper, and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office. The Russia investigation was of paramount importance. Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.

Russia’s actions were a threat to America’s democracy. It was critical that they be investigated and understood. By late 2016, the FBI had evidence that the Russians had signaled to a Trump campaign adviser that they could assist the campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to the Democratic candidate. And the FBI knew that the Russians had done just that: Beginning in July 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen by Russian military intelligence officers from the Clinton campaign. Other online personas using false names — fronts for Russian military intelligence — also released Clinton campaign emails.

Following FBI Director James B. Comey’s termination in May 2017, the acting attorney general named me as special counsel and directed the special counsel’s office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The order specified lines of investigation for us to pursue, including any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign. One of our cases involved Stone, an official on the campaign until mid-2015 and a supporter of the campaign throughout 2016. Stone became a central figure in our investigation for two key reasons: He communicated in 2016 with individuals known to us to be Russian intelligence officers, and he claimed advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ release of emails stolen by those Russian intelligence officers.

We now have a detailed picture of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The special counsel’s office identified two principal operations directed at our election: hacking and dumping Clinton campaign emails, and an online social media campaign to disparage the Democratic candidate. We also identified numerous links between the Russian government and Trump campaign personnel — Stone among them. We did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its activities. The investigation did, however, establish that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome. It also established that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.

Uncovering and tracing Russian outreach and interference activities was a complex task. The investigation to understand these activities took two years and substantial effort. Based on our work, eight individuals pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial, and more than two dozen Russian individuals and entities, including senior Russian intelligence officers, were charged with federal crimes.

Congress also investigated and sought information from Stone. A jury later determined he lied repeatedly to members of Congress. He lied about the identity of his intermediary to WikiLeaks. He lied about the existence of written communications with his intermediary. He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of WikiLeaks’ releases. He in fact updated senior campaign officials repeatedly about WikiLeaks. And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress.

The jury ultimately convicted Stone of obstruction of a congressional investigation, five counts of making false statements to Congress and tampering with a witness. Because his sentence has been commuted, he will not go to prison. But his conviction stands.

Russian efforts to interfere in our political system, and the essential question of whether those efforts involved the Trump campaign, required investigation. In that investigation, it was critical for us (and, before us, the FBI) to obtain full and accurate information. Likewise, it was critical for Congress to obtain accurate information from its witnesses. When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. It may ultimately impede those efforts.

We made every decision in Stone’s case, as in all our cases, based solely on the facts and the law and in accordance with the rule of law. The women and men who conducted these investigations and prosecutions acted with the highest integrity. Claims to the contrary are false.

On Complicity …

I receive a weekly newsletter titled “Opinionated” … a weekly summation of opinions by writers both well-known and obscure.  One of the leading contributors to the newsletter is Bill Press, a long-time political commentator and author of several books.  Last week’s column was along the lines of one I’ve been considering for several weeks: the complicity of the republicans in the U.S. Senate in the  atrocities our nation is facing today.  While I might disagree with Mr. Press’ opening sentence, for I no longer see this nation as anywhere near ‘great’, I fully agree with the rest of his commentary …

Fifty-three Republican cowards: Hold them responsible

bill-pressGreat country that we are, there are still shameful moments in our history. Among them: 1857, the Dred Scott case, when the Supreme Court upheld the institution of slavery; 1942, FDR’s Executive Order, which forced the relocation and incarceration of Japanese-Americans; 1950-54, the failure of President Eisenhower and other leading Republicans to repudiate the ugly red-baiting by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. And the list goes on.

As bad as they are, however, we’ve experienced perhaps the most shameful moment of all: February 2020, when 53 cowardly Republican senators refused to hold Donald Trump responsible and toss him out of the White House. In so doing, they not only ignored overwhelming evidence – all of which has subsequently been confirmed – that Trump tried to bribe the president of Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 presidential election and, on multiple occasions, abused the powers of his office to obstruct justice, they also degraded the image of the United States by ratifying Trump’s criminal, ugly, racist, boorish behavior as acceptable conduct for the highest officer of the land.

Fifty-one Republican senators voted not to call any witnesses in the Senate trial. Fifty-two Republicans, all except Mitt Romney, voted to acquit him of abuse of power. Fifty-three, including Romney, voted to acquit him of obstruction of Congress. In the end, all 53 Republican senators put their party above country. And we’ve been paying the price ever since. Just consider the disasters we’ve suffered over the last six months.

For his incompetent handling of the coronavirus pandemic, his disastrous and premature attempts to force reopening of the economy, his insensitive response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and his shocking failure to act on reports that Russia was paying bounties to members of the Taliban for killing American soldiers – Yes, blame Donald Trump. But blame especially those 53 Republican senators who voted to keep him in office.

On the coronavirus. After first denying or minimizing the risk and refusing to set an example by wearing a mask, Trump suddenly declared the virus over, stopped talking about it, and urged states to reopen bars and restaurants. The result: more COVID-19 cases in more states than ever before, with 200,000 projected to die of the disease by October 1. Blame Trump, yes. But also blame the enablers who kept him in office.

After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, when millions of Americans across the country took to the streets to protest repeated examples of systemic racism in police departments, Trump called protesters terrorists, ordered the use of tear gas and armed troops to clear streets around the White House for a photo op, and denounced Black Lives Matter as a “symbol of hate.” Blame Trump, yes. But also blame the enablers who kept him in office.

And, in the most unbelievable display of lack of presidential leadership, when intelligence agencies warned the White House that Russia was offering bounties to Taliban militants to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, Donald Trump – who’s never discovered anything yet about Vladimir Putin he doesn’t admire – did absolutely nothing. Repeat: Russia reportedly pays members of the Taliban to kill American soldiers and Donald Trump orders no investigation, takes no action, and instead, calls it a “hoax.” Again, blame Trump. But also blame the enablers who kept him in office.

Trump’s response to each of these crises proves that he’s unfit to be president of the United States. But remember: Trump wouldn’t still be there, these disasters might not have happened, or might not have been so severe, America could have been spared – if only those 53 senators had done the right thing.

Unfortunately, we can’t boot all 53 Republican senators out of office at the same time. But 20 Republican senators are up for re-election this year (see cookpolitical.com for full list) and must be held responsible. No matter what other good things they may have done in the Senate, for their vote to acquit Donald Trump, for that one vote alone, every one of them – every one of them – should lose their seat. And no one deserves to lose more than Susan Collins.

“I believe that the president has learned from this case,” she told CBS News in trying to justify her vote. What nonsense. As we’ve seen over the last six months, the only lesson Donald Trump learned from not being convicted in the Senate is that as long as there are cowardly Republican senators like Susan Collins, he can say and do anything with impunity. But, hopefully, not after November 3.

He Deserved Better …

Often in these days of the manic news cycle, with Trump dominating nearly every headline, we forget stories from a few months, or even a few days ago.  And I find that there is a portion of the people who don’t really care about anything that doesn’t appear to affect them directly.  The brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, therefore, may have been relegated to the backs of most people’s minds, but … pull it out and dust it off, if you will, just for a few minutes.

Mr. Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian dissident, author, columnist for The Washington Post, and a general manager and editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel.  On October 2nd, as his bride-to-be waited outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where Mr. Khashoggi had gone to obtain documents needed for his wedding, Mr. Khashoggi was set upon in a well-planned attack within the consulate. It would be two weeks later, October 15th, before a search would turn up evidence that Mr. Khashoggi had not only been murdered, but tortured and dismembered.

So why is he back on my radar today?  Because last week Turkey opened a trial into the Khashoggi’s murder accusing 20 Saudi nationals, though in absentia, for Saudi Arabia refuses to extradite them.  The murder took place in Turkey, so it is only right and proper the trial be held there.  Twenty Saudis are on trial, likely to be convicted for their part in the plot, and likely to be sentenced to death.  None, however, are likely to ever be punished.  But what bothers me most is that the one person who, more than any other, is responsible for this horrible murder is not on trial and never will be.  That person is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aka MbS. trump-bin-salmanThe Saudi government has prosecuted 11 men for carrying out the killing, and sentenced five of them to death in December, but did not find any senior officials responsible.  Imagine that.

The twenty on trial in Turkey?  They were plebes doing just what they were told.  Sure, they are guilty as hell, but … the real guilt is on the one who ordered the murder from the comfort of his luxurious palace.  And he will likely never pay the price.

If Jamal Khashoggi had not come to the United States in 2017 and been hired by The Washington Post, we might not have even noticed his brutal murder, for most people in the U.S. don’t pay much attention to what happens in the Middle East.  But he did come here seeking asylum, seeking safe harbour.  He was a part of our nation, even though he was an immigrant.  He trusted us.  No, we had no way to keep him safe while he was in Turkey, so that is not our burden to bear.  But what is our burden to bear is that the so-called leader of the U.S., one Donald Trump, without any justification, disputed information provided by the CIA proving that MbS ordered Khashoggi’s murder, and instead lavished praise on the Crown Prince.  He was more concerned about selling weapons to Saudi Arabia than the brutal murder of a man of honour.

Back in April, 18 months to the day after Khashoggi’s murder, Trump called bin Salman “my friend”.  What a slap in the face to Mr. Khashoggi … what a slap in the face to us all.  Mr. Khashoggi was, by all indications a good man, a man with a conscience, a man who was not afraid to speak up and tell the truth.  He deserved better.

Da Snark Just Won’t Stop …

I have a really bad habit of checking my phone for messages, notifications, and headlines each time I waken during the night.  Since for the past several nights I have been waking up every hour like clockwork, this means I get more news than I do sleep!  I think this is the reason I wake each morning filled with snark and it has to have somewhere to go, lest it overflow!

If there is another nation on the planet that has done as poor a job in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic as the U.S., it is Brazil.  In truth, Brazil hasn’t done quite as badly as the U.S., but they’re sure as heck running a close second.  Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is another pea in the Trump pod, denying climate change, ruling from self-interest rather than common interest, has an ego the size of his country, and tolerates no criticism.

Like Trump, Bolsonaro has been skeptical of the coronavirus and the preventative measures that are required to curb its prevalence.  He has described the virus as “a little cold”, repeatedly waded into crowds of supporters, threatened to host a large barbecue to defy health measures, and as recently as last week attended a Fourth of July party at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia without wearing a mask. A Brazilian court last month ordered Bolsonaro to wear a mask while in public.

Well, guess what?  Jair Bolsonaro now joins the 1.6 million people in his country who have tested positive for the coronavirus!  Sometimes karma just catches up with you.  This morning he told reporters …

“There’s no problem. It’s natural. There’s no dread. It’s life.”

Okay, then.  It couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.  Well, perhaps there is one other who is equally deserving …

These days, there are so many ‘breaking news’ stories that it’s hard to keep up with them all, and today’s jaw-dropper may fade to the back of our minds by three days hence.  Remember just over a week ago when the news broke that Russia had paid Taliban operatives a bounty to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan?  Trump had been briefed by the intelligence agencies but had kept quiet and not acted on the information.  He claimed he hadn’t been briefed, but there was ample evidence that he had.

To date, Trump has still done nothing … no sanctions against Russia, no promises to act in order to protect our military in Afghanistan and elsewhere, no … nothing.  Trump has, however, ordered an investigation.  No, not an investigation into Russia or the Taliban, but an investigation to try to find out who leaked the information!  It matters not that Russia is paying to have our military killed, but it only matters to Trump & Co who “ratted him out” for sitting on the information rather than acting on it.

Remember back a few years ago when we had a real leader in the White House?  Ah, those were the good ol’ days.

Well, folks, Trump and his family tried really hard to keep his niece, Mary L. Trump, from publishing her book. Not only did they fail, but now the publication date has been moved up from July 28th to July 14th, due to “high demand and extraordinary interest”.  That attempt to stifle rather backfired on Trump, didn’t it?

Two snippets from the New York Times article this morning …

mary-l-trump-bookEven at the start of Mr. Trump’s campaign, his sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a retired federal appeals court judge, had deep reservations about his fitness for office, Ms. Trump writes.

“He’s a clown — this will never happen,” she quotes her aunt as saying during one of their regular lunches in 2015, just after Mr. Trump announced that he was running for president.

Maryanne Trump was particularly baffled by support for her brother among evangelical Christians, according to the book.

“The only time Donald went to church was when the cameras were there,” Ms. Trump quotes her aunt as saying. “It’s mind boggling. But that’s all about his base. He has no principles. None!”

As a high school student in Queens, Ms. Trump writes, Donald Trump paid someone to take a precollegiate test, the SAT, on his behalf. The high score the proxy earned for him, Ms. Trump adds, helped the young Mr. Trump to later gain admittance as an undergraduate to the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton business school.

Mr. Trump has often boasted about attending Wharton, which he has referred to as “the best school in the world” and “super genius stuff.”

Hmmmm … no wonder the one with a super thin tolerance for criticism was trying to block the book’s release!

There is a pharmaceutical company, Novavax, based in Maryland, that has never yet brought a product to market.  And yet, the federal government has contracted to pay the vaccine maker $1.6 billion to expedite the development of 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine by the beginning of next year.

Think about that one for a minute.  The company has never yet been tried or tested, has never successfully produced a drug, and yet Donald Trump has decided to place the lives of some 330 million people in this company’s hands.  And he is giving away a massive amount of our money to do so.  And if you have any doubts, Trump will demand that the drug be for U.S. citizens only, which is probably a relief for people in other countries, for you and I both know this drug will not be properly tested before it is turned loose on a largely unsuspecting populace.

In May, the administration announced it was awarding up to $1.2 billion as part of Operation Warp Speed to the British drugmaker AstraZeneca, which has said that its vaccine could be available by October. Four other companies — Moderna Therapeutics, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Sanofi — have also received federal assistance for their experimental coronavirus vaccines.

They surely are playing fast & loose with our hard-earned tax dollars, aren’t they?  And would you trust any vaccine that came out of a company that has never successfully developed a drug?  I wouldn’t.  I envision two years down the road, everyone who took the vaccine developing some form of cancer, or suddenly experiencing abnormal heart attacks or strokes.  No thank you, Donnie … could you refund my portion of the money you paid them, please?

Okay, I feel better now … thank you for letting me get all that off my chest!

Don’t Label Me!

I would much rather live in a world where everyone has equal rights.  I would rather live in a world where free education … a good education where young people are taught to think … is affordable and available to all.  I would rather live in a world where good health care is available to all at a very small cost to those who cannot afford it, and a higher cost to those who can.  I would rather live in a world where people have been taught since birth to respect everyone and everything … humans, but also the environment, all animals, trees, flowers, grass.  I would rather live in a world where people can disagree without fighting, without screaming and yelling, without threats of violence.  I would rather live in a world where people gladly stop to help a stranger or give up something – time or money or ‘things’ – in order to help another, whether person or animal.  I would rather live in a world where it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, straight or gay, male or female, Christian or atheist, but where everyone is treated fairly and equally.  I would rather live in a world filled with love, than hate.  I don’t mind if nobody can afford to own a mansion or a private jet, as long as everybody can afford food, shelter, medical care, education, and as long as we are cleaning up our own environmental mess.  I would rather live in a world where people don’t worship money.  I don’t care if I can never afford a brand-new car, or designer jeans, or if I can never take a vacation to Monte Carlo.

Obviously, the world I would rather live in doesn’t exist anywhere on this planet, although a few countries, Finland and Denmark most notably, have come close.

So, because I want all these things, I am told that I am part of the “woke culture” and that this is a very bad thing to be.  I had, of course, heard the term ‘woke’, and in fact it was once used by my own congressman, Warren Davidson.  I thought he meant awake, and I corrected his grammar.  However, I simply thought the term meant being aware of … whatever the topic of conversation at that moment might be.  Apparently, I was quite wrong and am not too terribly bright.

Lately, I notice a number of new terms cropping up … words that have a meaning, but are suddenly assigned a different meaning by … nameless, faceless people … and then that becomes a cultural ‘thing’.  Now, I am too damned old to try to keep up with what is meant by a “Gen X” or a “millennial”.  Those are bad enough, but now we have these terms like ‘social distancing’, ‘woke’, ‘cancel culture’, and more.  C’mon people … say what you mean.  Woke.  Yes, I awoke this morning, or rather I was awakened by the body saying it needed the bathroom.  I woke Miss Goose up because I needed her to help with the house chores.  Don’t try to pin the label ‘woke’ on me and send me scurrying to try to figure out just what the Sam Hell you even mean!

Now, from a day or so of research, trying to learn just what is meant in today’s strange culture by “woke”, the nearest I can conclude is that a ‘woke’ person is one who calls for social justice, who supports Black Lives Matter, who supports Roe v Wade and Obergefell v Hodges, who believes in equality for all and is trying to make the world a better place.  If that is the right definition, than I am proud to say that yes, I have awakened and am an enlightened social justice warrior, or in today’s vernacular, I’m ‘woke’.

So, a reader claims that being ‘woke’ is a terrible thing, much worse, even, than being a trumpeter! Hmmm … something is wrong with this.  Let’s see if we can figure out why it’s better to be a corrupt racist misogynistic psycopathic liar than a person who advocates for equality and social justice.

One explanation I found is that those who are considered to be ‘woke’ are pretentious and cultural elites.  Huh?  Okay, I know what ‘pretentious’ means, and … I can honestly say I’ve never once had cause to be pretentious a day in my life!  And … cultural elites???  Heck, folks, I’m about as elite as … Jethro Bodine from the old Beverly Hillbillies show! I don’t own fancy clothes or drive a fancy car … my van is 20 years old and has 250,000 miles on it, and is only safe to drive no farther than I could walk home. In my lifetime, I’ve been homeless, I’ve been attacked, I’ve had a gun pulled on me, I’ve worked my ass off to get an education and take care of my three children, sometimes working three jobs … ELITE???  Hell no!

So look … don’t bother to consider whether I’m “woke” or not, for it really doesn’t matter.  Consider me a person who cares very much about many things:  the environment, animals, all people, equality for all, government that works for the people, not against them.  I want people to learn to get along, to accept each other as they are, and to value diversity.  I want an end to all forms of bigotry, from racism to homophobia to anti-Semitism to misogyny to Islamophobia.  I want people to care instead of hate.  I want our elected officials to work for us, not be lining their own pockets.  I want an end to guns, the sole purpose of which is murder.  These are the things that are important to me.  Don’t label me.  I am who I am, which is far from perfect, for I am sometimes grumpy, have a fairly low tolerance for willful ignorance and stupidity, and I have a sharp edge.  But what I do, I do with kindness, caring, compassion, empathy, and love.  I am not a label, such as democrat, liberal, snowflake, woke, or any of the other labels people so frequently use.  I am me … just that.  I do my best.

Never-Ending Snarky Snippets

snarky-4I just can’t seem to tamp down the snark these days … every time I see any news, it raises the hackles and the snark just rolls out.  Today is no exception, and the three four stories below are only the tip of the iceberg.

The purpose of an executive order is not to bypass Congress, though Trump is not the first ‘president’ to use them as a tool to accomplish their goals without the muss & fuss of waiting for congressional action.  Trump has abused the power many, many times, and is planning to do so again this week.

According to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows …

“We’re going to get them done when Congress couldn’t get them done.  The interesting thing is this president will do more in the next four weeks than Joe Biden and his team did in the last 40 years. So, you just need to stay tuned.”

Somehow, this raises red flags, especially that last sentence … it sounds rather like a threat to me.  Rumour has it that the latest batch of executive orders will involve China, immigration, and prescription drugs.

Meadows also said, in the same interview on Fox & Friends, that Trump was right when he claimed that the coronavirus is ‘mostly harmless’.  Without actually presenting any data, Meadows claimed the data shows that for 99% of people, the virus is not harmful.  Hmmm … I wonder why, then, there have been more than a half-million deaths worldwide, 133,000 here in the U.S.?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually trust our ‘leaders’, if every utterance by Trump & Co didn’t send up red flags?  Sigh.toon-1

Could it be that Trump and Fox are headed for a divorce?  Trump claims he’s done with Fox and urges his base to switch to OAN.  OAN stands for One America News, however it is anything but a news network … it is a right-wing propaganda network, pure and simple.  So, what led to this breakup?

On Sunday, Fox presented the results of their latest polls, showing Trump still trailing Joe Biden.  As usual when a network says something Trump doesn’t like, it is labeled ‘fake news’ by him.  In this case, he claimed he was leading in “real polls” but did not cite any such ‘real’ polls.

“@FoxNews gladly puts up the phony suppression polls as soon as they come out. We are leading in the REAL polls because people are sick & tired of watching the Democrat run cities, in all cases, falling apart. Also, now 96% Approval Rating in the Republican Party. Another 2016!”

Um, Donnie?  You might want to double check those numbers.  You are trailing Biden in every legitimate poll, and the 96% republican approval rate you cite is way off base.  Last I heard, it was around 85%, with only 57% of republicans saying they strongly approve of the job you’re doing.  And you wonder why we don’t believe a word you say.

At any rate, the switch to OAN doesn’t trouble me overly much, for they do not have nearly the exposure nor the credibility that Fox has (not that Fox has much credibility, either).  Most people never even heard of OAN until a couple of months ago when they started replacing Fox as Trump’s new love interest.

You may remember the controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline?  The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have opposed the pipeline for years, saying it endangers Lake Oahe, a reservoir on tribal land that the pipeline passes under.  Today, Judge James Boasberg for the U.S. District Court District of Columbia ruled that the Dakota Access pipeline must be emptied and shut down while the Army Corps of Engineers conducts the environmental impact review that it should have completed before it granted an easement that allowed Energy Transfer Partners to build the pipeline bringing North Dakota crude oil to Illinois in the first place.  The judge gave ETP 30 days, until August 5th, to shut it down and empty it completely.  The environmental review is expected to take approximately 13 months.

And in other pipeline news, another highly controversial pipeline, the Atlantic Coast pipeline, has been canceled after numerous lawsuits by environmental groups had kept the project in limbo for nearly six years.  Duke Energy and Dominion Energy said that lawsuits had increased costs to as much as $8 billion from the $4-5 billion initially projected.  The project would have crossed the Appalachian Trail, a historic 2,190-mile hiking trail.

So, score two for the environment this week!

We are personae non grata, and rightly so.  Our failure to take the needed precautions to tamp down the coronavirus has led to a steep escalation in new cases, and last week, the EU announced it would not accept travelers from the U.S.  Canada had already closed their borders to us, and the UK is likely to follow suit.  And now … Mexico!  This is the ultimate irony, after Trump has spent nearly four years trying to ban Mexicans from coming into the U.S.  This is what I call poetic justice!toon-3The town of Sonoyta, just across the border from Lukeville, Arizona, has blocked the border from the U.S. due to growing concern about the surge of cases of the virus in Arizona. Sonoyta Mayor José Ramos Arzate issued a statement Saturday “inviting U.S. tourists not to visit Mexico,” and that people from the United States should only be allowed in “for essential activities, and for that reason, the checkpoint and inspection point a few meters from the Sonoyta-Lukeville AZ crossing will continue operating.”

Good for you, Mayor!  It was the right decision … but I’m beginning to feel a little trapped.  If the election should go wrong on November 3rd, and we all feel like leaving the country, will there be anyplace left where we would be welcomed? toon-2

If Liberty Dies in Our Hearts, no Constitution Law or Court Can Save It: A Meditation on Independence Day in the Trump Era

Our friend, Padre Steve, has done an excellent job in this, his musings about “liberty” … what it does and doesn’t mean, and how we in this nation have so often misunderstood what true liberty is. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read this, for I think it has much value in relation to the state of this nation today. Thank you, Padre

The Inglorius Padre Steve's World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been contemplating the ideas of liberty and freedom this week. I intentionally did not watch the President’s speech at Mount Rushmore for after what he did at Lafayette Park and in front of St. John’s Church on June 2nd showed me that when he speaks of freedom, he speaks of his own, and when he speaks of liberty it is for the few, and servitude for the masses, and yes those masses include the bulk of the men and women that blindly follow him. So instead I read the official transcript today and look at images and videos as well.

Nothing I read in it surprised me. It was as scripted as Leni Reifenstahl’s Film of the Nuremberg rallies, right to Trump making a flyover in Air Force One. After a series of platitudes invoking the President’s whose images are carved on that…

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