The Peace and Justice Files: The Cruelty Was The Point

On the screen, her eyes were full of tears.

I‘ve written before in this space about my German fiancée Jasmine – and about our ongoing efforts to get her back in the USA so we can get married. We‘ve been separated since March – separated not just by an ocean  and six time zones, but by the pandemic, benighted government policies, bureaucratic recalcitrance, and (so far) an unresponsive judiciary. We‘ve sued, petitioned, called, emailed, texted, written… all in vain.

It’s frustrating. And the emotional toll is heavy. We talk every night over the Internet, trying to balance dreams of front porches and rocking chairs with the seemingly endless reality of waiting. In the Facebook Groups for the couples in our particular lawsuit (Milligan et al. v. Pompeo, if you follow such things) and others in similar situations, every few days we hear of another couple who couldn’t take the strain anymore and called it quits.

So here was another morning, alternating between trying to be a comforter and trying to feel comforted… wanting to hold her in my arms and reassure her, but knowing that there was only so much I could do.

But I‘m not talking about this just to garner sympathy for us (though believe me, we do appreciate the messages of support we‘ve received). I‘m talking about this because it‘s just one more example of how the policies of the Trump Regime have had real-life consequences, on real-life people, with stories that fall way below the radar of the media.

The last four years have brought a lot of unnecessary pain to many, many people – not just us, but other potential immigrants, separated families, detainees, deportees, thousands of lives thrown into uncertain limbo – hopes dashed, plans delayed, dreams deferred.

And that‘s just talking about immigration. Add the pain of those affected by the Trump Regime’s malfeasance during the pandemic… or the results of this summer’s militarization of the police during the Black Lives Matters protests… or the dangers posed by the deliberate denial of climate change… or any of a dozen other issues.

“Abuse of power,” said epigrammatist Jenny Holzer, “comes as no surprise.” Members of the Trump Regime abused their power, and have abused our citizens, our systems, and our values… because they could. Because they wanted to.

Because no one stopped them.

There’s been a common theme here, running throughout Trump’s reign. Adam Serwer, a writer for The Atlantic, pinned it down succinctly in an article title two years ago: (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/the-cruelty-is-the-point/572104/)

“The Cruelty is the Point.”

From the talk of “safe spaces” and “snowflakes” to the T-shirts that said, “F*ck Your Feelings,” Trump’s supporters have been encouraged to belittle and disregard the pain of others… indeed, to wallow and delight in it instead. And hey, it’s fun, right? Just a little harmless joke, right? Don’t take things so seriously!

But such things can get very serious, very quickly, as my sweetheart and her fellow Germans know all too well.

Of course, now, after the election, things seem to have changed. And predictably, there will be calls for “reconciliation“ and “forgiveness,” as there were after the Bush Regime. Between us as individual citizens, that’s one thing. I encourage the mending of the social fabric. But the folks behind these abuses… that is another matter altogether. 

There is justice to be served.

What Finally Happened

As the Aeroflot jet passed into international airspace, Donald Trump realized that he had been holding his breath. There had been no air pursuit, no warning shots, no flybys.

He was free. Finally, finally free.

The people around him – his family, a few aides, the Russian Ambassador – were cheering. Backslaps, laughter, and high-fives mixed with the sound of champagne corks popping.

“You did it, darling,” said Ivanka, kissing him on the cheek. “Congratulations.”

“Like no one could have ever imagined!” said another voice behind them. They turned, to see the grinning visage of Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin looking down at them over the seat tops.

“Good morning, Vlad,” said Trump. “I didn’t expect to see you here on the plane.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to miss the moment of your greatest triumph, my friend,” said the Russian. “Ivanka, dear – would you mind if I sat with your father for a few minutes? Lyudmila requests the pleasure of your company in the aft cabin…?” Wordlessly, she nodded, and undid her seat belt.

“Well, Donald,” said Putin, as he settled into the seat, “how does it feel to have stolen a country?”

“Damn good,” said Donald. “Pretty damn good. Better than Stormy’s -“

“Ah, yes,” said Putin. “You have such a way with words, Donald. Such a way with words… You will pleased to know that, as expected, the streets of Washington DC are filled with chaos, as everyone tries to figure out which side is which. Your – what did you call them, “Proud Boys”? – have broken into the Capitol and set it aflame. The nation is waking to the news of your surrender, and your disappearance. Mr. Pence is even now on top of the Washington Monument, attempting to persuade the Almighty to smite his enemies. As per the surrender agreement, the Chinese forces – I’m sorry, ‘peacekeepers’ – will be landing in California soon… greetings from the Secretary, by the way; he sends his best wishes.”

“Yeah, tell him I said ‘Hi.'”

“Of course. The stock market has crashed, and the American dollar is nearly worthless – so it was very painless to have your debts marked ‘paid’… not that anyone is about to send collection agents after you!”

The two men shared a hearty laugh. Trump realized it had been a while since he had laughed. Quite a while.

“So,” said Putin, slapping the former President on the knee, “you must be very tired. I don’t believe you’ve been able to sleep, for what, forty-eight hours now?”

“Fifty-two,” said Trump. It occurred to him that in all the chaos, he may have forgotten some of his meds.

“Of course,” said Putin. He gestured to someone standing in the aisle a few meters away. Within moments, a well-dressed flight attendant – Trump noted with pleasure the way the woman’s uniform presented her decolletage – appeared with a mug and a small carafe.

“Here,” said Putin, “have some tea. My favorite blend. It will… relax you.”

A few minutes later, the doctor confirmed that there was no pulse.

“Чертов предатель идиот,” said Putin. He regarded the surprised expression on the dead man’s face. “Get him out of here. Get them all out of here.”

The plane flew low, very low, over the Greenland tundra. Like a bird relieving itself in flight, it released a series of dark bundles from its tail end, tumbling end-over-end to the not-so-frigid waters below.

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: OSAMA’S REVENGE

“Let’s face it,” I wrote in this space back in January 2006, “every once in a while, an entire country can go, well, crazy.”

At the time, I was counting my blessings that some kind of post-9/11 psychosis – “a kind of deeply rooted, widespread mental malfunction that would manifest itself on the street level, in the eyes and actions of all citizens, resulting in witch hunts, pogroms, and lynchings” – had not yet taken over the mind of the American body politic. “There are no Neighborhood Committees on the Present Danger checking up on everyone and maintaining ideological purity,” I noted with relief – “no squadrons of brownshirts marching through town, no mysterious disappearances of dissidents in the middle of the night.”

Now, almost 15 years later, I think it may be time to reassess my optimism.

The recent fatal clashes in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin and Portland, Oregon, have upped the ante. 

Demonstrators protesting racism and police violence have been attacked by right-wing gangs, including pseudo-militias like the “Proud Boys,” and some have begun to respond in kind. Donald Trump has seized the opportunity to smash the glass “Emergency Only” case holding the fasces, and with dubious authorization sent “federal officers” into hotspots to maintain (as his favorite Twitter mantra puts it) “LAW AND ORDER!” 

Meanwhile, an increasing portion of Trump’s fanbase is being swept up into a bona fide psychotic delusion, the “QAnon” conspiracy theory, and another overlapping portion seems to have been convinced that Trump is, if not a Messiah himself, at least a divinely appointed and supported agent of imminent heavenly retribution.

And somewhere, in his watery grave beneath the Indian Ocean, Osama bin Laden is smirking.

Osama may not have planned it this way, exactly, but Donald Trump has become the final embodiment of his revenge.

You may recall how, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, practically the entire world reached out to us with heartfelt support and sympathy – only to have George W. Bush sour the moment with his bellicose “you’re either with us or against us” rhetoric, and his administration’s insane insistence on the unjustified invasion of Iraq. Drumming up support for that little misadventure required the systematic demonization of its opponents, and the creation of alternative narratives that cast suspicion on the news media, rationality, and the evidence of one’s own senses.

Do you see the direct line from “We will be greeted as liberators” to “Soon this virus will just disappear”?

The 9/11 attacks struck a fatal blow to the very heart of our inflated self-image. We could have used the moment, and the years afterwards, to engage in some soul-searching, to seek some humility. But instead, to protect that image of ourselves, we collectively doubled down on our sense of exceptionalism and entitlement. 

In 2016, we opted for bluster and bombast. We chose to follow a charlatan, a carnival barker who promised to make us “great again.” 

If he is allowed to remain in the White House, Donald Trump will finish the job bin Laden began.

Open Letter to Trump re Election Day


Okay, Donald, I’ll make you a deal:

We can delay the election… under the following conditions:

1. You RETIRE FROM POLITICS immediately – resigning from your office AND from your re-election campaign. All adult members of your family pledge to withdraw from government participation.

2. Mike Pence, after being sworn in, nominates a Democrat for VP., and names a Cabinet of National Unity drawing from all sectors and parties.

3. All existing GOP & Dem leadership in the House and Senate resign their leadership positions, stepping aside for new leaders to emerge.

4. National Governors Association convenes a transpartisan panel, including independents and members of third parties, to examine election procedures nationwide and devise verifiable national standards, methodologies, etc. that enable all citizens to vote.easily, safely, and securely.

5. We amend the Constitution to put these procedures in place, and ditch the Electoral College.

How’s that for a start?

The Undoing of the Deal

Once upon a time there was a Prince.

Actually, he was not born a prince – he was born the son of a rich and dishonest merchant, who was himself the son of a common thief. But he had greater ambitions.

So, having been born into wealth, and lacking any scruples whatsoever, he soon learned the trades of his forebears, and became richer yet.

And he set his eyes upon the throne of the kingdom.

He soon found a mage, an evil but shrewd man, who taught him the ways of grasping men’s souls, and twisting women’s hearts. The mage taught him how to feed off the life force of others – how to provoke their most primal fears and desires, and derive sustenance from both their praise and their panic.

And when he was ready, the mage introduced him to the Lord of Darkness…and a deal was struck.

He would gain the throne, and all its power. But not only that, he would have free rein to say and do whatever he wished; he would never be held to responsiblity or account. He could have his way with any woman – indeed, any female he desired. (And he desired many.) No criticism would ever touch him; no misstep, however foolhardy, would ever disillusion his followers. Also, he would be invulnerable to assassination or intrigue – his skin would resist even the sharpest steel, and reject even the craftiest poison. He could look into the sun and not go blind. Nothing would ever be his fault.

And in return, this Prince did not even have to offer his own soul. He simply had to ensure the delivery of a million souls to the Dark Lord by a certain date, about four years into his reign.

This had been done before, of course – many times – but usually by war. This Prince, who found warfare distasteful, asked if he could find another way – and the Dark Lord agreed to help him in this. “Be watchful,” he told the Prince. “It will be clear how you will accomplish your goal. I will provide everything you will need.”

So the Prince succeeded even beyond his own great dreams. He ascended to the throne, and enjoyed its many benefits and perquisites. And it came to pass that a great plague came upon the land. “Ah!” said the Prince. “This is the opportunity I was promised.” And so he did everything in his power to ensure that the plague was successful. “Don’t worry!” he told his people. “We shall live our lives, and enjoy our freedoms as no one has ever before.” And the people rejoiced… even as they began to die, first by the dozen, then by the score, then by the hundred.

The Prince kept careful track. He had only a few weeks in which to reach his promised quota, but he was confident that he would meet it.

Then one morning, he woke up not feeling well at all. His personal doctor, who knew the Prince’s secrets, examined him. “It is indeed the plague, My Lord,” he said. “But do not worry, we have found a cure.” And they brought in a syringe to inject him with an elixir that would kill the plague and save his life… but the needle broke when they tried to insert it.

“No problem,” said the doctor. “You can just take it orally.” But whenever they fed it to him, he threw it up immediately. It was, after all, a poison of sorts – and by the terms of his agreement, no poison could affect him, even if it was for his own good.

He called his people to gather in front of his castle. Perhaps he could draw enough energy from them to defeat the disease. But those few who were well enough to travel arrived drained and exhausted. There was nothing left for him to feed upon. Cursing the people, his servants, his forebears, and indeed the entire world – for after all, nothing could ever be his fault – he soon collapsed upon the highest parapet.

And that is where the Dark Lord found him… and with the agreement abrogated, he carried the hapless Prince home to his eternal fate.

The moral is: Do not let ambition blind you to the small print… for the Devil always collects.

The devil’s in his kitchen

The devil’s in his kitchen
Tending to his stewpot
He loves the aroma
Of simmering resentment
Watches carefully, adjusts the heat
Can’t let it boil over too soon
(Spoils the flavor, you know)
Mmm, a pinch of suspicion
Half a cup of others-fear
A dash of righteous outrage
And stir…. slowly stir….
Until the dish is ready to serve
War, steamy and bloody
Come, my children, he says:
Time to feast.

COVID Limerick #1

It might seem a real simple task:
Wash your hands, keep things clean, wear a mask –
But fears of conspiracies
And other dark theories
Have made that too big of an ask.

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: GO TEAM

The first contests of the 2020 Presidential election season, in Iowa and New Hampshire, have come and gone. What had been a crowded and remarkably diverse field of candidates has been sharply winnowed, with only a handful of folks remaining – all of them Caucasian.
The irony is almost painful, seeing that the Democrats generally present themselves as a “big tent” party, concerned with inclusion, in sharp contrast to the largely older-white-male composition of the Republicans. This contrast was well-displayed during the impeachment proceedings, but now seems to have been lost.
This may seem inevitable, as after all only one person can survive through the coming slog and gain the nomination. All the others will fall by the wayside, like failed chefs on a Food Network competition, folding up their utensils in their aprons and gamely walking to the exit… leaving the victor alone to somehow carry the hopes of all their various groups of supporters into the general election.
It’s also ironic to see all these individuals each trying to convince us that they alone can defeat Donald “I Alone Can Fix It” Trump. In one sense, they might all be correct – if the Democrats can put aside their internal differences, overcome Republican voter suppression, disinformation, and discouragement tactics, and get enough people to turn out the polls, any one of them could win.
But in another sense, I think none of them can win alone. They each carry some kind of baggage (real or contrived), or have vulnerabilities and soft spots that Trump and his campaign will repeatedly and mercilessly inflate, exploit, and attack.
Furthermore, the level of rancor and mistrust that has developed between the camps, so early in the process, does not bode well for the Democrats’ ability to wage a unified general election campaign. The way things are going, there will be enough disaffected voters from one side or other to depress turnout and hand the election – and the fate of our democracy – over to Trump.
I think that there is a way out of the problem for the Democrats – but it requires a severe case of “thinking out of the box.”

Somehow, they – we – have to get past the notion of “winner take all.” The model that the primary process is based on is predicated on the notion that the person who can eradicate his or her opponents will be the best candidate in the general election, and will make the best President. Maybe that has worked in the past, maybe not, I’ll let historians argue about that. But in our present situation, I don’t think that’s useful anymore.
If the country is to hold together, in the face of the coming demographic, environmental, and socioeconomic changes, we don’t have to fall into some lockstep “unity” – we have to get better at being different together.
I would like to see the Democrats find a way to model cooperation and coexistence. I want to see a team.
They should figure out how to distribute power among their various factions – corporatist to socialist and everything inbetween – in such a way that everyone feels that their concerns are taken seriously, and that they have a stake in the success of the entire enterprise. In short, they should embrace, rather than try to deny, their diversity.

World War Which?

It’s January 29, 2020. Donald the Impeached recently tweeted something about his bellicose former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, to wit:

For a guy who couldn’t get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for anything since, “begged” me for a non Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying “Don’t do it, sir,” takes the job, mistakenly says “Libyan Model” on T.V., and... many more mistakes of judgement, gets fired because frankly, if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now, and goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?

This tweet has garnered Trump a little bit of ridicule, since most folks think we’re only had two World Wars so far. But this might be one of the VERY few tmes when I kinda agree with the guy… at least as far as his numbering goes.

Let me explain.

I would like to suggest that WWIII has come and gone, though we didn’t call it that at the time. We called it the “Cold War.” It started after the end of WWII, and ended when the Soviet Union ended. It didn’t go nuclear, it didn’t bring the Apocalypse as predicted – but still, millions died, were injured, or suffered displacement and hardship. It was fought largely by proxies, but there was damage on practically every continent, from Nicaragua to Angola to Vietnam. Untold zillions of dollars were squandered or lost.

WWIV, the fight to cement what George H. W. Bush called a “New World Order” under American hegemony, began IMMEDIATELY afterwards. This included the Persian Gulf War, and the deposition of a certain number of petty dictators – but it brought some unexpected blowback. Let’s say that effort ended – or rather, changed – on 9/11/01.

WWV would then be the “Global War On Terror,” including the Afghan War and the invasion of Iraq. The military parts of it are still ongoing, as its neocon instigators (who thought that a state of permanent war would be a Good Thing) intended, and we’re still sorting out the effects on our civil liberties and international relations.

Can you have more than one world war at once? Sure, why not?

WWVI is the present struggle against resurgent nationalistic/ethnic/religious fascism, which is being pushed in defense of global capital. It has its military aspects, but is more of a political/cultural/economic/social conflict. (So far, at least.) It is also an information war, being fought explicitly to gain control of a different kind of territory: inside the heads of the people, including yours. (Check and see if you’re been conquered yet.)

To make things even more complicated, this is all taking place against the backdrop of climate change. It’s clear that fundamental changes will have to be made in our political and economic systems (viz. “Green New Deal”), but it is also clear that those who profit the most from these systems have no intention whatsoever of accepting those changes willingly.

So it may be a quibble over numbers – but it can remind us that we are still a long, long way from the first World Peace.

Open Letter to the Democratic Presidential Candidates (and Others)

Dear Bernie, Elizabeth, Joe, Pete, Amy, Mike, Tom, et al.,

The debates so far seem to have hinged on one basic question above all: “Who can beat Trump?” Not who has the best ideas, policies, or plans – not who has the best vision for the future – not who could best manage the transitions we have to make as a society – but just who can command enough votes in the right places to squeak through the Electoral College and get elected.

Let’s face it: as things stand now, not one of you could defeat Trump… as an individual, that is. He has too much cash, too many brainwashed followers, too many lackeys in important positions… and too much ability to use media to confuse, obfuscate and deceive. And each of you has weaknesses that Trump and his armies of pundits and commentators are just waiting to jump on, embellish, and blow out of proportion.

Together, though, all of you might have a chance… but only if you can campaign as a team… and get your various followers to do the same.

At this point, it doesn’t matter all that much who is at the “head” of this team. Any of you could competently fill that role. But it can’t be about just you. All factions of the Democratic Party – progressives, socialists, centrists, and corporatists alike – have to come together and find a way, not to show some false “unity,” not to paper over very real differences, not to squelch dissent, but rather find a way to leverage your vaunted diversity and use it as a real STRENGTH. Otherwise, the Trump propaganda machine will find it way too easy to set us all at each other’s throats. It’s doing so already, in fact. The time has come to abandon the “rugged individualist” idea that some single magical individual can somehow be sufficient to save us. That kind of thinking, after all, is what brought us Trump.

The primary process, as laid out before us, could be destructive and divisive. It could waste precious resources and cause widespread damage, if you just tear each other down in the hope of coming out on top at the end. Instead, you could be using this time, energy, and money to determine policies and approaches that will counter Trump’s appeal, use and develop the strengths that each of you have, and come out at the end with not just one bruised and limping survivor, but with an entire Cabinet’s worth of competent and inspiring individuals, committed to working together for the betterment of the country.

To do otherwise is to risk alienating and disenfranchising one group or another, when we will need all hands on deck to counter Trumpism’s threat to our democracy. Can you together craft a campaign that truly includes everyone “from billionaires to baristas”? That addresses the needs of financiers and families? Doctors and dockworkers?

Not an easy task, I’m sure. But if you can’t accomplish this within your own party, how will you keep America from tearing itself apart?

Sincerely,