Justice Must Be Done For Jamal Khashoggi

Yesterday, the U.S. Intelligence report on the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was made public.  The bottom line, as I said from day #1, is that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) ordered the hit on Khashoggi.  No surprise there … the former guy remained buddy-buddy with MbS and claimed he had nothing to do with it, but those of us capable of adding 2+2 and coming up with an answer of 4, knew better.  So, what comes next?  Apparently nothing.

The Biden administration has concluded that it could not risk a full rupture of its relationship with the kingdom, relied on by the United States to help contain Iran, to counter terrorist groups and to broker peaceful relations with Israel. Cutting off Saudi Arabia could also push its leaders toward China.  I understand the reasons … I really do.  However, I think there comes a point when we must take a stand.  If we don’t, then how can we claim to be a nation of justice, of human rights and humanitarian values?  I share with you Nicholas Kristof’s column in the New York Times that goes into a bit more detail than I am able to do.


President Biden Lets a Saudi Murderer Walk

The crown prince killed my friend Jamal Khashoggi, and we do next to nothing.

nicholas-kristof-thumblargeNicholas Kristof

By Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

The United States government publicly identified Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia as the murderer of an American resident, and then President Biden choked.

Instead of imposing sanctions on M.B.S., Biden appears ready to let the murderer walk. The weak message to other thuggish dictators considering such a murder is: Please don’t do it, but we’ll still work with you if we have to. The message to Saudi Arabia is: Go ahead and elevate M.B.S. to be the country’s next king if you must.

All this is a betrayal of my friend Jamal Khashoggi and of his values and ours. But even through the lens of realpolitik it’s a missed opportunity to help Saudi Arabia understand that its own interest lies in finding a new crown prince who isn’t reckless and doesn’t kill and dismember journalists.

What should Biden have done?

As a matter of consistency he should have imposed the same sanctions on M.B.S., including asset freezes and travel bans, that the United States imposed in 2018 on lower-level figures who carried out the murder of Khashoggi. These sanctions should also apply to the stooges and front companies that M.B.S. has used to accumulate assets around the world.

“The key message that should be sent not only to M.B.S., and others in the Saudi Court and government, but also to other would-be killers of journalists around the world, is that there is a heavy price to pay for such crimes and nowhere to hide,” Agnes Callamard, who as a United Nations official investigated Jamal’s killing, told me.

The United States should also have suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia. United States law bars military assistance to security units involved in gross human rights abuses, and that is true of security forces under M.B.S., who also serves as defense minister.

Biden reportedly feared that sanctions on M.B.S. would poison relations with Saudi Arabia. Yes, that’s a legitimate concern, and I agree that it’s often necessary to engage even rulers with blood on their hands. But in this great balancing of values and interests, the towering risk is that M.B.S., who is just 35, will become king upon the death of his aging father and rule recklessly for many years, creating chaos in the Gulf and a rupture in Saudi-American relations that would last decades.

In other words, it’s precisely because Saudi Arabia is so important that Biden should stand strong and send signals — now, while there is a window for change — that the kingdom is better off with a new crown prince who doesn’t dismember journalists.

M.B.S. is the sixth crown prince Saudi Arabia has had over the last decade, and only one of them (King Salman) rose to become king. Two died, and two were deposed. If it becomes clear that Saudi Arabia will not have a workable relationship with the West if M.B.S. becomes king, perhaps we’ll see a seventh crown prince. That’s not the U.S. dictating to Saudi Arabia, but pointing out reality.

“King Salman and any independent advisers he may still have would be well-advised to consider how unsustainable it will be for the kingdom to retain M.B.S. as crown prince,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now. “M.B.S. has proven time and again to be a liability and a danger for the kingdom, reviled and avoided by the international community.”

American officials sometimes say that if we don’t sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, then France or Russia will. But what Saudi Arabia gets from America is not only high-tech weaponry but, far more important, an implicit promise of defense from Iran or other countries. France and Russia can’t provide that.

Some Saudis tell me that it’s a foregone conclusion that M.B.S. will become king. Maybe. But the fact that M.B.S. has detained rivals, like Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz (who is broadly admired in Saudi society) and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, suggests that he doesn’t think it’s a done deal.

“It’s not a given that if you’re crown prince, you’re going to become king,” noted Dr. Khalid Aljabri, who is currently in the United States but has close ties to senior Saudi royals, and whose father was allegedly targeted for murder by M.B.S. “Just apply the law. Sanction MBS! If they sanction MBS, the whole country would come to a standstill, and King Salman would have no choice but to remove his son, even if he doesn’t want to.”

Perhaps I’m biased because I knew Jamal. Some may think: It’s too bad about the murder, but other leaders have killed people, too. True, but M.B.S. poisons everything he touches. He kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister. He oversaw a feud with Qatar. He caused the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. He imprisoned women’s rights activists. He has tarnished his country’s reputation far more effectively than Iran ever could.

So, Mr. Biden, it’s not a human rights “gesture” to sanction M.B.S. Jamal was a practical man who didn’t believe in mushy gestures — but he did dream of a more democratic Arab world that would benefit Arabs and Americans alike. And by letting a murderer walk, you betray that vision.

Your thoughts?

Pardon Me??? — Part I

Meet Stephanie Mohr …

Mohr

In the middle of the night on Sept. 21, 1995, a local Prince George’s County police burglary stakeout unit found two homeless men on the empty roof of a business, eating food they had found in the trash in Takoma Park, Md. Ordered down from the roof, Ricardo Mendez and his friend willingly climbed down. Lit by a police helicopter above and facing a brick wall, the two men were surrounded by police officers, some with guns drawn, and Mohr holding her German shepherd on a leash. Both men obeyed commands and stood facing the wall with their hands up.

It should have been over. It wasn’t.

A police sergeant later testified that he was approached by Mohr’s supervising officer who said, “Hey Sarge, we got a new dog. Mind if it gets a bite?” The sergeant gave consent, and Mohr set her dog to attack Mendez, an undocumented immigrant whose only crime was seeking a safe place to eat and sleep. Mohr testified that she was doing her job as trained, and the victim needed “only 10 stitches.”

Think about that: only 10 stitches. Mohr disregarded her training to give her dog a taste of flesh and blood.

This was no accident or split-second mistake. It was a willful and deliberate act of police brutality. It was also not Mohr’s first — and there was a pattern to the violence. Evidence at trial showed that Mohr had previously released her dog on a Black teenager sleeping in a hammock in his own backyard. She had threatened the relatives of a fugitive that she would let her dog attack their “black ass” if they did not tell her where he was. There were other incidents that the jury did not even learn about, including one in which Mohr put her dog into a trash dumpster to attack a man who had fled from police.

At trial, in addition to the police sergeant at the scene who pleaded guilty and went to jail for his role, numerous police officer witnesses testified about the incident. The jury convicted Mohr and the presiding judge gave her a significant prison sentence. A unanimous panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, one of the most conservative appellate courts in the country, affirmed her conviction. Mohr was released after serving a 10-year sentence.

On December 23rd, Donald Trump pardoned Ms. Mohr.  This is but one of many unconscionable pardons issued by Trump last month, and not by far the most horrendous.  Throughout his tenure, Trump has issued pardons for those charged, and in most cases convicted, of crimes from something as simple as drug possession all the way up to and including premeditated murder.

Throughout history, presidents have used their pardon pen to pardon the unpardonable, but none have abused it in the ways that Donald Trump has.  It is time to take away the presidential pardon pen.  Why should one man be able to undo sentences handed down by judges and juries?  Why should it be possible for one person, with the stroke of a pen, to release killers back into our ranks?  And why should the person elected by the people of this nation not be held to account by those people?

Trump’s very first pardon, in August 2017, was the notorious Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who had a history of racism and human rights violations, failure to comply with federal laws, and basically thumbing his nose at humanity.  On July 31, 2017, Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt of court.  Less than a month later, on August 25th, Trump pardoned him. The pardon covers Arpaio’s conviction and “any other offenses that might arise or be charged.”  Trump announced his decision on Twitter, declaring that Arpaio is an “American patriot” who had “kept Arizona safe.”  Safe for whom?  Certainly not for the Latino population, many of whom Arpaio had jailed simply for the crime of existing.

On December 22 – 23, Trump issued some 41 pardons by my count.  The ones you’ve heard the most about, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Duncan Hunter and his wife Margaret, while shameful, are far from the worst of the lot.  The worst was Trump’s pardon of four men convicted of killing innocent civilians, including children.  The pardoning of four Blackwater guards – Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten and Paul Slough – may well have been a violation of international law, and is most definitely, as United Nations experts have said, “an affront to justice”.

Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Paul Slough, Nicholas Slatten

FILE – This combination made from file photo shows Blackwater guards, from left, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten and Paul Slough. On Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, President Donald Trump pardoned 15 people, including Heard, Liberty, Slatten and Slough, the four former government contractors convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad that left more a dozen Iraqi civilians dead and caused an international uproar over the use of private security guards in a war zone. (AP Photo/File)

In the next day or two, I plan to delve a bit deeper into Trump’s pardons, particularly those, like the Blackwater guards, whose crimes truly are ‘unpardonable’.  Why did Trump pardon the ones he did?  What was in it for him?  As we all know by now, Trump does nothing without expecting something in return.  Can any of these pardons be reversed once Trump leaves office?  And lastly, is it time to take away the presidential pardon pen?  I believe that, like the Electoral College, it may well be a law that has outlived its usefulness and is now the subject of much abuse.

Stay tuned …

A Tale Of Two Mikes — Part I

This week, the two Mikes, Pompeo and Pence, our two main global envoys, went abroad as ambassadors of the United States, representing our nation.  The blew it.  In keeping with Trump’s modus operandi, they pandered to corrupt strongmen such as Viktor Orban, but worse, they denigrated and threatened our true allies.  Their antics went largely unnoticed amid a looming government shutdown and then a trumped-up ‘state of emergency’, but We the People need to keep our eye on this ball, for the security and strength of any nation lies, in part, with its relations with other countries, particularly long-held close alliances.

The week began with Secretary of State Pompeo visiting Hungary, where he literally pandered to autocrat Viktor Orban, a virtual pariah in European capitals because of his embrace of “illiberal democracy.”  The Orban regime is noted for suppression of independent media, the judiciary, and civil society groups, corrupt cronyism, and demagoguery that drips with xenophobia and anti-Semitism.  Yet the Trump administration lauds him.  Perhaps it is that his rhetoric so nearly matches that of Donald Trump, as he calls immigrants a “threat to Christian culture” and speaks of building a fence along the country’s border to keep them out.

Next stop for Pompeo was Slovakia, where he met with Slovak President Andrej Kiska,  Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, and Foreign Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák.  Pompeo made it clear that the U.S. is putting strategic interests and great power politics ahead of human rights concerns.  Just last year in Slovakia, a leading journalist who exposed government corruption was murdered along with his fiancée.

Pompeo then went to Poland where he met up with the other Mike, Vice President Pence for a U.S.-organized conference on the Middle East.  The intent of this conference was to rally European and Middle Eastern nations against Iran.  It would seem that Trump and his minions have an ill-conceived intent to start a war with Iran!  Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement and impose sanctions on Iran was only one of his worst moves in the past two years, but one that has had serious consequences for our allies.

And so it was that Mike Pence made a complete fool of himself and further eroded our relationship with our allies.  Pence used his address to the conference to demand that European countries withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement. He further urged U.S. allies to back Washington’s sanctions on Iran. Long-standing U.S. allies in Europe favor staying in the deal and have sought ways to keep open trade and financial dealings with Iran.

“The authoritarian regime in Tehran represses the freedom of speech and assembly, persecutes religious minorities, brutalizes women, executes gays and openly advocates the destruction of the State of Israel.”

WHOA there, Mikey!  First, I might remind everyone that Mike Pence is one of the most homophobic people in our government, that as Governor of Indiana he signed into law a bill titled the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that allowed individuals and companies to openly discriminate against LGBT people!  And now he’s concerned about the rights of the LGBT in Iran?  I don’t think so.

But even more to the point, while this nation is supporting dictators such as Viktor Orban, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Rodrigo Duterte, we are overlooking human rights violations around the globe. Trump has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the hard evidence presented by his own intelligence officials that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.  And now he claims to be so concerned about human rights violations by Iran?!?!?  Can we say ‘hypocrisy’?

“Iran endlessly spews hatred against Israel, our most cherished ally,” says Pence.  What a slap in the face to our true allies, the EU, UK, Mexico and Canada, to name a few!  Israel is by no means our ‘most cherished’ ally!!!  Benjamin Netanyahu is just about as corrupt as Donald Trump … he’s just more intelligent and hides his crimes better, but he and his wife are both currently under investigation for multiple issues.  Israel has become a bully-nation just as Trump is trying to make the U.S. into one.

And then came Munich.

Initially I intended to make this a single post, but by the time I reached this point, I realized that the Munich Security Conference is important enough to warrant a separate post.  Stay tuned for Part II of A Tale of Two Mikes on Monday afternoon.

The Shame Of Our Nation …

“The Trump administration says it would require extraordinary effort to reunite what may be thousands of migrant children who have been separated from their parents and, even if it could, the children would likely be emotionally harmed.” – Associated Press, 02 February 2019

Say WHAT???

The first thing that comes to mind is … let’s get somebody to ‘remove’ Trump’s youngest (known) son, Barron, and then say we cannot likely return him.  I wonder if Trump would just shrug his shoulders and say, “Oh well,” as he obviously expects the parents of those stolen immigrant children to do?  In truth, it might be a kindness to Baron, for just look at how Trump’s other children have turned out.

According to Jonathan White, who leads the Health and Human Services Department’s efforts to reunite migrant children with their parents …

“It would destabilize the permanency of their existing home environment and could be traumatic to the children.” 

Where was the concern about the trauma to the children when they were unconscionably stolen from their parents?  Where was the concern when they were dragged, screaming and crying, from the arms of the only caregivers they had ever known?

The reality is that the government did a piss-poor job of record-keeping and now has no earthly idea where a vast majority of these children have landed.  They didn’t even know how many children they had separated from their parents and greatly underestimated the number.  They still don’t know, but Health and Human Services’ assistant inspector general, Ann Maxwell, said that the number of separated children was certainly larger than the 2,737 listed by the government in court documents.  They didn’t even keep records!!!

People, these are lives we are talking about here, not electric light bulbs!  One does not simply take children from their parents, put them into cages, and then dispose of them willy-nilly without so much as a thought to remembering who went where!!!

“The department’s inspector general report didn’t have a precise count, but Maxwell said staff estimated it to be in the thousands.”

You may remember in June that Judge Dana Sabraw ordered all children held in U.S. custody to be returned to their parents, an order that still has not been completely fulfilled.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is requesting that Judge Sabraw amend that order to include children who were released to sponsors before his initial ruling.  A hearing is scheduled for February 21st.  ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said …

“The Trump administration’s response is a shocking concession that it can’t easily find thousands of children it ripped from parents and doesn’t even think it’s worth the time to locate each of them.”

I agree.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) claims that to review the 47,083 cases in an effort to track down these children would require too much time, too many man-hours.  Seriously???  We place a cost on the value of a child’s life and that cost isn’t worth hiring extra staff???  The department claims that 90% of these children were released to ‘close relatives’.  I don’t believe them.  How, after all, can they make that claim when they admittedly do not know where the children went?

On January 4th, The Guardian reported that the U.S. has stopped cooperating with the United Nations’ investigators over potential human rights violations occurring inside the U.S.:

Quietly and unnoticed, the state department has ceased to respond to official complaints from UN special rapporteurs, the network of independent experts who act as global watchdogs on fundamental issues such as poverty, migration, freedom of expression and justice. There has been no response to any such formal query since 7 May 2018, with at least 13 requests going unanswered.

Nor has the Trump administration extended any invitation to a UN monitor to visit the US to investigate human rights inside the country since the start of Donald Trump’s term two years ago in January 2017. Two UN experts have made official fact-finding visits under his watch – the special rapporteurs on extreme poverty and privacy – but both were invited initially by Barack Obama, who hosted 16 such visits during his presidency.

Paradoxically, the Trump administration’s decision to shun the UN’s independent watchdogs places the US among a tiny minority of uncooperative states. There are very few countries that resist international oversight from UN special rapporteurs – one of them is North Korea.

Imagine, if you will, being a parent of a young child, living in a country where turmoil and violence are the norm.  Imagine wanting to protect your child, wanting to give your little boy or girl a better life.  You’ve heard that the U.S. is one of the ‘greatest’ countries in the world, the ‘land of opportunity’, so you give up everything you have, which is little enough, to make the long trek on foot to a place where you believe you and your child can live in safety, can carve out a life, can have a hope for the future.  And then … suddenly, bright lights shine in your eyes, booming angry voices scream at you, guns are pointed at you, and your child is taken screaming and crying, while you are powerless.  Imagine being told, then, that you will likely never see your child again because … “We don’t remember where we put him, and it’s just too much trouble to figure it out”.

This is the United States of America under Donald Trump.

On The Rights Of People …

Two things have my angst on edge tonight, both involving humanitarian rights.


From The Guardian, Friday 04 January 2019 …

US halts cooperation with UN on potential human rights violations

The Trump administration has stopped cooperating with UN investigators over potential human rights violations occurring inside America, in a move that delivers a major blow to vulnerable US communities and sends a dangerous signal to authoritarian regimes around the world.

Quietly and unnoticed, the state department has ceased to respond to official complaints from UN special rapporteurs, the network of independent experts who act as global watchdogs on fundamental issues such as poverty, migration, freedom of expression and justice. There has been no response to any such formal query since 7 May 2018, with at least 13 requests going unanswered.

Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s human rights program, said the shift gave the impression the US was no longer serious about honoring its own human rights obligations. The ripple effect around the world would be dire.

Externally, Trump has forged an increasingly unilateral path on foreign policy: in June he shocked the world by pulling the US out of the UN human rights council, complaining it was a “cesspool of political bias”, and he has caused further consternation by siding with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, despite evidence linking Prince Mohammed to the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Domestically, Trump has run roughshod over the constitutional rights of asylum seekers at the US border, attempted to deny the legal existence of transgender people and introduced tax cuts that have greatly exacerbated income inequality in a country in which 40 million people live in poverty, among many other controversies.

In any democratic form of government, oversight is a key component to ensure that corruption does no run rampant and that the rights of the people are not being trampled.  One of the functions of the United Nations is to provide such oversight, to ensure that the rights of the people are being honoured and protected by the government.  In the case of the U.S. under Donald Trump, those rights are being neither honoured nor protected, and now one of the main overseers has been disabled.  We have literally been hung out to dry.  Which leads to my second source of angst …

From The Washington Post, 03 January 2019

Trump administration considers rollback of anti-discrimination rules

The Trump administration is considering a far-reaching rollback of civil rights law that would dilute federal rules against discrimination in education, housing and other aspects of American life, people familiar with the discussions said.

A recent internal Justice Department memo directed senior civil rights officials to examine how decades-old “disparate impact” regulations might be changed or removed in their areas of expertise, and what the impact might be, according to people familiar with the matter. Similar action is being considered at the Education Department and is underway at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In the first year of Trump’s tenure, 18 civil rights prior rulings were cancelled, either by agencies within the administration, or by executive order.  Some of these rulings pertained to women’s rights, some protected minorities from discrimination in the areas of law enforcement, education, housing and employment.  Until now, the rulings were reversals or rollbacks of rulings by the Obama administration, in keeping with Trump’s master plan to eradicate every good thing that Obama had done.  But now, with the plan to rollback disparate impact regulations, the nation is stepping back even further to Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.


It seems to me that the main role of any legitimate government, certainly one that claims to stand on democratic principles, is to protect the rights of its citizens.  Our government seems to have forgotten their role, abandoned the principles to which the framers of the Constitution adhered.  For a period of nearly two hundred years, this nation mostly progressed.  Oh sure, we made mistakes, took a few steps backward from time to time, but overall, we came a long way in human rights … civil rights.  But in just the past two years, we have slid back in time, back to a time when African-Americans were considered second-class citizens, when homosexuality was taboo, women were subjugated by men.

Where is this nation headed?  Right now, we have a tin-pot dictator who has made the U.S. the source of derision throughout the Western world.  Worse, our government is eroding the freedoms, the basic human rights, of large groups of people, giving more consideration to corporations that are largely owned by disgustingly wealthy people, than to the majority of people who pay taxes and work hard to take care of their families.  Our rights are being violated and it’s time for it to stop.  Human rights, civil rights … these don’t even require thought, or at least shouldn’t require thought in this, the 21st century!  We fought a Civil War to end slavery, we’ve come through the women’s rights movements, the Civil Rights era, we’ve seen people die standing up for the rights of Native Americans, African-Americans and others.  Do we really need to go backward and have to start all over???  I surely hope not.

And We Thought Trump Was Horrible?

On Sunday, October 7th, Brazilians elected a new president, Jair Bolsonaro.  Until this man was elected, I thought that the U.S. was alone in having lost its collective mind, as evidenced by the election of Donald Trump.  Bolsonaro is every abominable thing Trump is … and much more.  I have to question the sanity of the 55% of Brazilians who voted for this demagogue.  But then, I have long questioned the sanity of those in the U.S. who voted for Donald Trump, also.  Oh, and guess who worked on Bolsonaro’s campaign?  None other than Trump’s former campaign advisor, Steve Bannon!!!Bolsonaro-TrumpFirst let’s look at some similarities …

  • Opposes most all forms of gun control
  • Strongly opposed to same-sex marriage
  • Opposes environmental regulations
  • Opposes women’s right of choice
  • Opposes affirmative action
  • Opposes land reforms
  • Opposes secularism
  • Plans to pull out of Paris climate accord
  • Plans to move Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem
  • Is on his third marriage (yes, it’s irrelevant, but still says something, I think)

But then there are those ideas and rhetoric that take him beyond even what Trump dares to say …

He has made statements in defense of the former Brazilian military regime (a dictatorship known for constant human rights violations). He claims that torture is a “legitimate practice” and says that he would try to pass new legislation regarding the introduction of life imprisonment to the Brazilian penal code.

Bolsonaro said that “the error of the dictatorship was that it tortured but did not kill”.

Brazil has the world’s largest tropical rainforest in the Amazon basin. Bolsonaro has chafed at foreign pressure to safeguard the rainforest, and he served notice to international nonprofit groups such as the World Wildlife Fund that he will not tolerate their agendas in Brazil. He has also come out strongly against lands reserved for indigenous tribes. Bolsonaro advisers additionally say that he plans to expand nuclear and hydroelectric power into the Amazon.

In a 2017 speech, Bolsonaro stated, “God above everything. There is no such thing as this secular state. The state is Christian, and the minority will have to change, if they can.”

Bolsonaro argued that men and women should not receive the same salaries, because women get pregnant; adding that he believes federal law mandating paid maternity leave harms work productivity.  Bolsonaro said that he had five children, that the first four were male and that for the fifth he produced a daughter out of “a moment of weakness”.

Bolsonaro said that “I would be incapable of loving a gay son,” and added that he would prefer any gay son of his “to die in an accident…”  Seriously???  Wow, what a dad, huh?  He went on to say that if a gay couple moved in next door to him, it would lower the market value of his house. Bolsonaro linked homosexuality to pedophilia, claiming that “many of the children who are adopted by gay couples will be abused by these couples.”  I have to ask … what rock did this pos slither out from under???  “If I see two men kissing in the street, I will beat them.” He then publicly defended beating gay children by saying: “If your child starts to become like that, a little gay, you take a whip and you change their behavior.”

On October 4, 2018, Bolsonaro said: “A father does not want to come home and see his son playing with a doll by the influence of school. Homosexuals will be happy if I become president”

trump-jr-eduardo-bolsonaro

Don Trump, Jr. (center) with Eduardo Bolsonaro (second from left)

Trump and Bolsonaro both indicate they plan to work together to improve relations between the U.S. and Brazil, and their sons have already met.  Eduardo Bolsonaro, Bolsonaro’s eldest son, met with Don Trump Jr. in Las Vegas. “They went to a shooting range together—not a major meeting but they got to know each other a bit,” according to a member of Bolsonaro’s party.  Following Bolsonaro’s victory, Trump tweeted …

“Had a very good conversation with the newly elected President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who won the race by a substantial margin. We agreed that Brazil and the United States will work closely together on Trade, Military and everything else!”

Bolsonaro-2Bolsonaro’s election is another feather in the cap of the populist movement.  He won by tapping into a deep well of resentment at the status quo in Brazil — a country whiplashed by rising crime and two years of political and economic turmoil — and by presenting himself as the alternative.  Unlike Donald Trump in 2016, Bolsonaro actually won the popular vote by 55%, but one thing they both said that is striking is that “I alone can fix this”.  And they have in common their loudness, their crassness, their utter contempt for such things as respect, common courtesy and quiet dignity.  They are both loud, ‘in your face’ sorts.  Both countries have a large women’s protest movement … in the U.S. it is “Never Trump” and in Brazil it is “Ele Nao” (Not Him).

Like Trump, Bolsonaro has been a divisive figure in Brazil and those who love him seem to do so mainly for his tough talk.  Having seen what nearly two years of Trump has wrought upon this nation, I can only empathize with the people of Brazil.  Is this, then, the face of things to come, the type of ‘leader’ that people around the world will choose in the future?  Let us hope not.

Turn a Blind Eye …

Consider this from yesterday’s Washington Post

“A group of prominent U.S. evangelical figures, including several of President Trump’s evangelical advisers, met Thursday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose role in the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi remains unclear.”

What strikes me about this is how these same evangelicals openly condemn women who have an abortion, take birth control, or leave their abusive husbands, but they are willing to meet with a man who has blood on his hands and is a known violator of human rights.  Can anybody explain to me how a woman who refuses to be a punching bag is worse than a man who just this year threatened to behead a woman and her husband for being human rights activists?  Or how the marriage of two men is somehow more terrible than the bombing of innocent men, women, and children in Yemen?khashoggi-posterAll indications are that Mohammed bin Salman authorized or ordered the brutal murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi last month, yet Donald Trump continues to throw his support behind bin Salman.  And why?  In part, because his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked him to, but also because Trump has significant financial interests in Saudi Arabia.  Trump has denigrated the leaders of many of the nations who are our allies, such as Canada, the UK and Germany, but at the same time, he is willing to befriend a cruel dictator … a man who almost certainly murdered one of our own.toon-3That Trump is such an unconscionable ‘man’ should not surprise us, but I am highly confused by a group of so-called evangelical Christians who are willing to turn a blind eye to bin Salman’s many human rights violations and sit around the fireside chuckling and telling jokes as if he were just another of the ‘good ol’ boys’.Evangelicals meet MBS.pngJust as an aside, does anybody remember that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia?

toon-4The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act allows the president to impose sanctions, including freezing of assets, against individuals or entities responsible for or acting as an agent for someone responsible for “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights,” or if they are government officials or senior associates of government officials complicit in “acts of significant corruption.”  In other words, Trump could freeze any assets held in the U.S. by the Saudi government or by bin Salman.  Instead, Trump sends a delegation of his trusted ‘religious advisors’.

The group was led by author/activist Joel Rosenberg (pictured at top).  As to why they agreed to meet with bin Salman, an article in Religious News Service (RNS) sums it up …

“U.S. evangelical leaders decided to meet with the Saudi crown prince despite the Khashoggi controversy because Saudi Arabia is among the wealthiest, most powerful, and most important nations in the Middle East, in all of history.”

So … still have any doubts about what takes precedence in the evangelical community?

The Saudi royal family is consistently ranked among the “worst of the worst” in Freedom House’s annual survey of political and civil rights.  Their human rights violations include capital punishment, torture, human trafficking, censorship and imprisonment of journalists, killing of homosexuals and transgenders, and the list goes on.  But, the religious leaders seem to have no problem overlooking those minor details.toon-1Trump’s evangelical advisory board has come under fire before for having tested the limits of separation of church and state by advising Trump and White House staff on issues including taxes, health care and judicial appointments.  And now, they are assisting in setting foreign policy, supporting a cruel dictator.  Ah well, they’ve been turning a blind eye to Trump and his obscene behaviour for two years now, so what’s a little bit of murder, beheading and dismemberment among friends, eh?  Especially when there’s a profit to be turned.toon-2

Blood On Our Hands …

Jim CarreyDonald Trump has blood on his hands – the blood of at least 40 children who were killed by a bomb while riding their school bus in Yemen on August 9th.  40 children.  School bus.  Bomb.  We The People have blood on our hands for allowing this to happen, for electing a president who cares more about a feud with his predecessor than the lives of 40 children.

In March 2016, Saudi airstrikes killed 97 people in a market in Yemen using bombs supplied by the U.S.  In October 2016, Saudi strikes killed 155 people in a funeral home in Yemen … again, using bombs supplied by the U.S.  At that time, President Obama banned the sale of precision-guided military technology to Saudi Arabia over “human rights concerns.”  On 11 September 2001, 19 hijackers guided 4 airplanes in an attack on the U.S.  15 of those hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia.

Donald Trump, in his hatred of all things related to or done by President Obama, overturned the ban just two months after taking the oath of office.  And yesterday, the Saudis struck again, this time the U.S. made bomb hitting a school bus and murdering at least 40 children.  Donald Trump rode to an electoral victory in part based on his hatred and prejudice against President Obama.  He rallied the masses by promising to undo everything that President Obama did.  And now, because of that particular bit of inanity, he has murdered children just as surely as if he personally put a knife into their backs or a gun in their faces. dead Yemeni childNot only did we supply them the tools, but helped them with their strategic planning, according to Secretary of Defense James Mattis:  “I will tell you that we do help them plan what we call, kind of targeting. We do not do dynamic targeting for them.” 

In addition to the 40 children, 11 adults were also murdered, as the bus exploded, sending chunks of burning metal into shops along the street.  And 79 were wounded, 56 of whom were children.Yemeni children injured.jpgAccording to a June article in The Guardian

Donald Trump is quietly escalating America’s role in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, disregarding the huge humanitarian toll and voices in Congress that are trying to rein in the Pentagon’s involvement. Trump administration officials are considering a request from Saudi Arabia and its ally, the United Arab Emirates, for direct US military help to retake Yemen’s main port.

With little public attention or debate, the president has already expanded US military assistance to his Saudi and UAE allies – in ways that are prolonging the Yemen war and increasing civilian suffering. Soon after Trump took office in early 2017, his administration reversed a decision by former president Barack Obama to suspend the sale of over $500m in laser-guided bombs and other munitions to the Saudi military, over concerns about civilian deaths in Yemen. The US Senate narrowly approved that sale, in a vote of 53 to 47, almost handing Trump an embarrassing defeat.

The war has killed at least 10,000 Yemenis and left more than 22 million people –three-quarters of Yemen’s population – in need of humanitarian aid. At least 8 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine, and 1 million are infected with cholera.

The United States is not at war with Yemen, and the only reason the U.S. and Saudis remain allies is one word:  oil.  We share no ideological commonalities and the only reason for selling arms to them is $$$$$.  We assisted in the murder of those 40 children and countless other civilians for $110 billion … the value of the defense contract Trump signed in May 2017.Trump-SaudiTrump has shown a propensity for embracing authoritarian leaders. In May, on his first trip after taking office, he chose Saudi Arabia as the first stop on his itinerary. Saudi leaders gave Trump a grandiose welcome: they filled the streets of Riyadh with billboards of Trump and the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud; organized extravagant receptions and sword dances; and awarded Trump the kingdom’s highest honor, a gold medallion named after the founding monarch.  It was during this visit that Trump announced the aforementioned weapons sale, claiming that it would boost the U.S. economy, even though much of the hardware had already been built prior to Obama’s ban. Since then, Trump has offered virtually unqualified support for Saudi leaders, especially the young and ambitious crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the architect of the disastrous war in Yemen.

The intentional killing of civilians is a violation of international humanitarian law and as such, the U.S. could be implicated in war crimes and U.S. personnel could, in theory, be exposed to international prosecution.  Not that it is likely, nor am I as concerned at the moment as I am for the lives of the children being slaughtered by the Saudis with the help and consent of our own government. Most experts agree that the U.S. is making the situation worse, rather than helping.child reading grassI looked outside my windows today and I saw the sky was blue … not even a cloud, let alone smoke from bombs.  The grass was green, and children were playing happily, secure and not concerned for their lives.  When a plane flies over our neighborhood, children do not often even look up, let alone run for cover.  Can you imagine what the children in Yemen do when a plane flies overhead?Yemeni children

Playing With Children’s Lives

When Donald Trump directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to separate children from their asylum-seeking parents at the southern border, we were horrified by the inhumanity of such an order, and more horrified still by the manner in which the order was carried out.  Today, that horror reaches an all new level.

Last month Trump signed an executive order to stop separating families at the border, in response to the bipartisan hue and cry over the practice.  However, no plans were made to re-unite the families who had already been torn apart, the children in hastily-constructed and poorly-managed detention centers.  It took a court order from U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw to force the government to begin reuniting children with their parents.  Judge Sabraw ruled that all children under 5 be reunited with their parents by July 10th, next Tuesday, and all other children by July 26th.  As I noted in my post on Friday, the Justice Department planned to request an extension in time.  Their claim was that they were doing DNA matching to make certain they reunited the right children with the right parents, and were also conducting criminal background checks on all the parents, as well as any others that will be living in the home.  My antennae went up when I heard this, thinking that in all likelihood the record-keeping of the hasty separations had been so poor that they didn’t know where all the children were.  I was mostly right.

Turns out, it’s the parents they have lost track of, although I will not be surprised when, at some point, it is discovered that there are some children whose whereabouts are unknown.  When Judge Sabraw asked for a status update on Friday, he was told that 19 of the parents with children under 5 had been released from ICE custody into the U.S. and their whereabouts are currently unknown.  Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian said …

“For those folks, in some cases, for example, if we’re not aware of where the parent is, I can’t commit to saying that reunification will occur before the deadline. … We’re still determining what the situation is there and whether those are situations where reunifications may not be able to occur within the timeframe.”

But it gets even better, for 19 parents with children under 5 being held by ICE have actually been deported, and the Justice Department asked Judge Sabraw for ‘clarity’ regarding whether he expected those parents to also be reunited with their children.  They had to ask??? The judge affirmed that they were indeed part of the order.

Judge Sabraw said he would agree to delay the deadline for reunifying the youngest children if the government could provide a master list of all children and the status of their parents. Sabraw ordered the administration to share a list of 101 children with the American Civil Liberties Union by Saturday afternoon. “What I’m expecting is a lot of work over the weekend,” he said during the meeting

The judge scheduled a status conference for 10 a.m. Pacific time on Monday. A government lawyer said she could not attend a status conference over the weekend because she had out-of-town dog-sitting responsibilities.  Excuse me, ma’am, but I think the lives of 3,000 children may be of a higher priority than your dog-sitting duties???

I have to wonder what the Justice Department thought to do with those children whose parents were already deported, since they seemed uncertain when they asked the judge for clarification?  But then, I found the answer … they intended to remand them into the foster care system!

On Friday, six state governors sent a letter addressed to Alex Azar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  The letter begins …

Dear Secretary Azar and Secretary Nielsen:

As governors representing states where separated migrant children are being detained, we write to express our growing concern with this Administration’s ability to reunify families in accordance with the federal court injunction issued on June 26, 2018. Given recent reports suggesting this process is being carried out chaotically and inconsistently, and in light of your agencies’ latest admission that hundreds more separated migrant children are in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) than were previously accounted for, we remain deeply concerned that wholly inadequate resources and procedures are in place to ensure children and parents are reunified safely and securely within the court-ordered deadlines.

The letter goes on to say that the responsibility for the children’s welfare and reunification with their parents lies solely in the hands of the addresses, and asks a series of questions related to what is or isn’t being done to ensure the children are reunited without delay.  The letter is signed by Governor Jay Inslee, Washington; Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York; Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Connecticut; Governor Phil Murphy, New Jersey; Governor Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania; Governor Kate Brown, Oregon.

The letter was primarily in response to information that HHS considered any placement of a child to amount to a reunification — even if the sponsor wasn’t the parent from whom the child was separated, including a foster care setting.

Meanwhile, rumours abound that some of the children who have been returned have been in less than stellar condition, dirty and lice infested.  And in one case, it is said that a sexual predator is an employee of the facility and has frequent contact with the children.  I do not know how much is true and how much is rumour, so I make no comment on these, other than to say that nothing will surprise me at this point.  The federal government has been an extremely poor steward over the lives of 3,000 children, as well as their families.  We should be ashamed.

Another Open Letter to Donald Trump

Mr. Trump,

Once again it seems that I need to set you straight on a few things.  You are rather like the child who has been allowed to play with the bully down the street, and now you are beginning to act like him.

On Tuesday you met with Kim Jong-un, the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea as it is commonly called.  You seem to have come home with some wildly mistaken notions about both Kim and your own role in the U.S.  I am not sure why your many highly-paid advisors are failing to advise you, leaving it to me to do.  Have you simply surrounded yourself with stupid people who do not understand global relations any better than you do?

First, allow me to set the record straight.  Kim Jong-un is a dictator.  He is not elected by the people of his nation, but rather inherited his position from his father.  Kim will stay in power indefinitely until either he dies, chooses to step down, or is overthrown.  You, on the other hand, are an elected official and answer to every citizen of this nation.  Your term of office will end – sooner than later if you don’t change your attitude toward We the People.  So, when you say of Kim, “He’s the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head. Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same,” you are asking for trouble.  We are not “your people”.  We are, quite frankly, your employers!  You do not have the same power that Kim has, and never will, for the United States is a democratic republic, a nation guided by a Constitution that gives the power to the people, the citizens.  It is imperative that you understand this, for comments like that are offensive to every citizen of this nation!

Second, contrary to your inane comment, Kim Jong-un does not “love his people”.  In order to consolidate his power, Kim had his uncle executed and ordered the murder of his half-brother.  There are as many as 100,000 people being held in gulags in slave-like conditions in North Korea. These are not murderers, thieves or rapists – they are simply people who crossed Kim in one way or another. He orders public executions and allows ‘his people’ to starve to death.  And have you forgotten Otto Warmbier?  Mr. Warmbier was a 22-year-old U.S. citizen who was held prisoner in North Korea for over a year on orders by your buddy Kim. Warmbier’s crime?  Trying to steal a propaganda poster. Last year, he was sent back to the U.S. in a coma and died just a few days later.  Remember way back when you called Kim a ‘madman’ and a ‘killer’?  You were spot on then, but now you are either blind, stupid or simply don’t care about the human race.  Which is it?

Third, your treatment of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is despicable.  You have acted just as I would expect a five-year-old child to act – a spoiled brat!  Trudeau has, I’m certain, bit his tongue on more than one occasion, has tried very hard to be nice to you and to compromise on issues such as trade between our two nations.  But it seems that the word ‘compromise’ is not in your vocabulary and you insist on a game of winner-take-all, where you are the winner.  That is not how politics work, not how international relations work, and is not, in fact, how life works.  Your parents must have been very self-focused people, for they failed to teach you manners, failed to teach you that there are other people in this world and that life is not all about you and what you want.  While you were campaigning for the office you now hold, you said one of your goals was to make America safer, and yet, by pushing away all our allies, you have done just the opposite.  You brag and take credit for a strong economy, for low unemployment numbers, even though they are not yours to take credit for, but allow me to speculate that since you have imposed unreasonable tariffs on Mexico, Canada, the EU, and China, that economy will not remain strong for much longer.  I anticipate prices of goods and services will rise, people will be unable to afford to buy those goods and services, companies will lose money and begin laying off people, and there you have it – a new recession.  And believe me when I say that you will deserve every bit of the credit for that!

To summarize, Mr. Trump, you are doing a lousy job as leader of the United States.  Were it up to the majority in this nation, you would be fired today, but democratic processes take time.  I realize that you are not much of a reader, but the best advice I can give you at this time is to read about the French King Louis XVI and the fate that befell him for ignoring the needs of “his people”.

Sincerely,

Jill E Dennison, citizen/voter