swept away by the news torrent

I try to keep up with important national (US) and international news. When I was away at my residency week at MASS MoCA earlier this month, I read/heard very little news, which was nice for a bit of a mental break, but it has been a challenge to catch up and keep up.

The pace of news here in the United States has been a particular challenge. Important news stories are breaking all the time – and I’m not talking about the news channels that call almost everything “breaking news.” The investigation into the relationship among Ukraine, the Trump administration, and Rudy Giuliani and his associates is especially concerning. The Congressional investigation is ongoing, but is in its early stages. Any depositions taking place right now are confidential, as grand jury investigations would be in the court system. There have been contradictory public statements from the president, his chief of staff, and Giuliani, sometimes even within the same interview, statement, or tweet-day. (Is there such a thing as a tweet-day? I’m not sure of the proper nomenclature.)

I am appalled by Trump’s withdrawal of support for the Kurds in Syria, who did most of the fighting and lost over 11,000 in the international battle against ISIS (ISIL). That he decided to do this without consulting his Cabinet, national security advisors, and the military leadership is stunning. The deaths, injuries, and loss of homes and livelihoods of the Kurds of northern Syria is his personal responsibility, as he withdrew the United States troops that had been protecting against an invasion by Turkey.

It will be incumbent upon the next US president, whomever it will be, to begin repairing the damage that has been done to our standing among nations. It will be a decades-long process and our reputation will never be fully restored. I hope that Congress will pass new laws to explicitly prevent some of the corrupt and unethical conduct that we have seen from this president, laws that had never been written down as it was assumed that ethical constraints and thoughtful, collaborative decision-making practices would hold. We also need to re-balance the powers of the various branches of the government. The executive branch has become much too powerful. It is no longer co-equal with the legislative and judicial branches; indeed, it has defied both Congress and the courts on multiple issues.

The United States also needs to acknowledge and develop better defenses against cyber war, which can be more wide-ranging and dangerous to civilian populations than armed conflict. Foreign governments have infiltrated or attacked government, corporate, and private systems. We need to better protect our financial, utility, business, and government computer systems to avoid the chaos of election tampering, blackouts, transportation disruptions, business shutdowns, and more.

It would also be helpful to reinforce that the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press does not give license to lie, slander, threaten, exploit, or incite violence.

The list of tasks could go on, but that seems to be enough for one post.

I am very sad to write this about my country that I love so much. I am trying to gain comfort from this quote from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

It is sobering, though, to think about how terrible things became and how long it took for “the better angels of our nature” to re-assert themselves.

We need those “better angels” now, not in some distant future.

 

evidence

Since I wrote this post, more and more evidence has become public about how President Trump tried to enlist foreign leaders in discrediting rival politicians and then to restrict access to the reports and hide the evidence in a super-secret computer. In the coming weeks, it is likely that more information will be forthcoming as the House Intelligence Committee holds hearings and as more investigative reporting appears in national newspapers. Among the other people already implicated are Attorney General Barr, Secretary of State Pompeo, and the president’s personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani. Besides Ukraine, it appears contacts were made with Australia, Italy, and Great Britain in attempts to undermine the work of the US intelligence organizations. All of these actions are related in some way or another to Russia, who we know interfered in the US elections in 2016. It also appears that United States pressure has resulted in Ukraine agreeing to have elections in the eastern part of the country where insurgents backed by Russia have been fighting for several years. Ostensibly, this could lead to that region being given special status and would then officially ally itself with Russia, who would ask to have the international sanctions against them lifted, which is what they have been trying to do since Trump’s election.

If the current public information is corroborated with testimony, documents, and other evidence, it would be very grave. To make matters worse, the administration is continuing to say that its employees may not testify or turn over documents. This seems to also be obstructive behavior.

Now, the Inspector General of the State Department has asked for an urgent meeting with several Congressional committees on October 2nd, tomorrow as I write this. I am filled with trepidation, but grateful that the Inspector General is independent of the State Department and can’t be blocked from bringing information to Congress.

Stay tuned.

uncharted territory

I can’t even count how many times during the Trump campaign and presidency I have heard historians, policy experts, and commentators say that we are in “uncharted territory.” It’s bewildering as each new scandal breaks, only to be swallowed up by the next one.

The story that has been breaking over the last few days is that a whistleblower from the intelligence community went to the inspector general with an issue of concern. The inspector general found the issue credible and urgent and, as statute dictates, told the (acting) Secretary of Homeland Security who was supposed to send the information on to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, who have oversight duties. Instead, he brought the concern to the executive branch, in this case to the White House and the Department of Justice. He is now refusing to pass the information on to the committees because the person under question is not part of the intelligence community, even though the  statute is clear that the information must be handed over regardless of who is the subject.

Partial information about the case has been sussed out by the press. Apparently, the whistleblower was alarmed by a pattern of behavior by the president toward Ukraine. Part of the problem seems to be that Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation of former vice-president Joe Biden and his son; Joe Biden is one of the top tier Democratic contenders vying to run against Trump for the presidency in 2020. Trump now admits discussing the matter with the president of Ukraine, although he says he didn’t “pressure” him. If, however, the allegation is true that DT did pressure the Ukrainian president, he could be investigated for extortion, campaign finance violations, and courting foreign influence in a US election. He could also be charged with obstruction for not turning over evidence in a Congressional investigation.

And this new issue is on top of the possible obstruction of justice acts described in the second half of the Mueller report.

And the emoluments case wending its way through the courts and under investigation by the House.

And keeping members of his cabinet and staff, present and former, from cooperating with document requests and testimony, which is also obstruction.

And he hasn’t turned over tax returns for himself and his businesses, despite valid Congressional requests and New York state court subpoenas.

This is not a complete list.

The level of corruption is staggering.

What is needed at this point is for Congressional Republicans to step up and hold the president accountable for his actions. It is their duty to uphold the laws of the United States. So far, almost no Republicans have supported Congressional investigation which could lead to impeachment and removal from office. You can be sure that if a Democratic president had engaged in any of the actions that Trump appears to have taken, the Republicans would have investigated and impeached him/her long ago. During the 2016 campaign, there were Republicans saying that they would file articles of impeachment immediately after Hillary Clinton was sworn in as president, although it isn’t clear what grounds they thought they had. That Congressional Republicans are failing to hold Trump accountable only because he is a Republican is unconscionable and un-American.

What happens next? Who knows?

We are in uncharted territory.

numb

There is too much death and sadness today. The Malaysian airliner shot down in Ukraine. The collapse of the ceasefire in Gaza and the rockets and groundforce invasion following.  Even my writing activities have been difficult. Submitting this poem for possible inclusion in an anthology whose purpose is to raise money for cancer research. A writing prompt in poetry workshop set in a pediatric hospital unit and the sad poems that poets wrote and shared in response.

I am too numb to have any insight to share. All I can do is pray for those who have died or been injured and their families and pray for healing and for peace.

If we really want to help Ukraine…

I have heard several things today through various media, including this blog post:  http://www.nofrackingway.us/2014/04/22/kerrys-shale-gas-bluff/  about the situation with Ukraine in regards to the dangers of losing access to Russian methane.

If the US really wants to help Ukraine and other European countries get out from under the thumb of Russian fossil fuel threats, it should help them quickly implement alternate energy sources, especially renewable ones. Help fund a transition to geothermal heat pumps for heating and cooling. Find appropriate sites for solar and wind electrical production. Local, distributed energy systems will increase economic well-being and alleviate the fear of Russia cutting off Ukraine and, by extension, much of the rest of Europe from methane for heating during the winter.

Earth Day bonus:  It would be a huge help to the climate as we urgently need to stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible.

What I wish would happen in Ukraine

I, along with others in the US and around the world, have been anxiously watching the situation in Ukraine. It’s disturbing to see people in Crimea raising the Russian flag over Ukrainian government buildings and to see masked Russian troops controlling the airports and streets. The Ukrainian transitional government can’t fight the huge Russian army.

It seems strange to me that so many Russian-speaking Ukrainians consider themselves Russian. Putin apparently considers them Russian, too. Violating Ukraine’s sovereignty is not a good way to deal with this problem. I wish they would institute a peaceful way to resolve this without violence and without dividing the country. Perhaps Russian can set up a mechanism to re-settle ethnic Russians who do not consider themselves citizens of Ukraine in Russia. During a ninety day transition period, Russians and Ukrainians could patrol together to keep peace and those who choose to leave could settle affairs in Ukraine before leaving for Russia. Russia could still retain its military base in Crimea. If the US can have a military base in Cuba, Russia should be able to retain a military base in Ukraine.

I don’t know what will happen, but hope and pray that the situation can be resolved peacefully without dividing Ukraine.