Tuesday, February 28, 2017

An Open Letter to Our President

Dear President Trump,
Yesterday, February 27, 2017, another rash of bomb threats were called into Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) and other Jewish organizations around the country.  These calls that have been going on for weeks are targeting mainly the JCCs and often in communities with small Jewish populations. While many of these organizations are the heart of their Jewish communities, and the reason that they are a chosen target, you should know that JCCs also are the heart of the diverse neighborhoods they tend to be in.  JCCs house preschool programs who have a wide diversity of faiths and cultures represented among their children.  Children who are learning to get along with others who are different have had to go out, sometimes in the cold, snow and rain, to seek a safe place to wait until law enforcement could clear the building of any danger.  JCCs also have programs during the day for elderly people, looking to keep active, people in retirement have a place to go to continue to learn and explore new things, teach each other from their own expertise and and just social in a space designed to welcome all.  JCCs provide adult education classes, giving many people to expand their knowledge base on topics as far ranging as Understanding Talmud, to needlepoint.  JCCs house Jewish agencies, some of which provide housing and food security for people in their cities and neighbors without regard to race, religion and culture.  JCCs are gathering spaces for all kinds of community activities from Earth Day celebrations in conjunction with local government and utilities, to hosting local artists' work and political forums.  All this a membership provides a place to work out, get a personal trainer, play pick up games, and swim.  JCCs reflect the diversity you would find in the country as a whole as membership ranging in diversity across many factors, race, religion, culture and socio-economic.  At a JCC you would expect to run into a kippah wearing Orthodox Jew but you can also run into a woman with a Hijab, a priest playing racket ball and hear atheists arguing philosophy in a classroom.  Yes, as a Jew, the Jewish Community Center is a place that I connect with, but I have visited several of the centers that have been called recently and I can tell you that you don't have to be Jewish to be feel at home at a JCC.  It is America in the best sense of the ideal.  But let's be clear, the calls are coming in because of antisemitism.  The calls are happening because hate seems to be in fashion again.  I ask that you help make it less so.

There is a lot I could say right now, and many people I know will have ideas of what you can do but I ask you to do something fairly simple.  Mr. President, come visit some of these places.  Visit the JCCs in Springfield, MA, Tucson, AZ, Nashville, TN and my own in Indianapolis, IN.  It would be a great photo op for you and you can talk to the people who work their every day, meet with the families who see the JCC as a place of community where they work out, where their kids have a place to go after-school, where they may learn to paint from a local artist and hear a speaker that might not ever put these cities on their itineraries.   Walk through and shake the hands of the people who now have a visceral reaction when the phone rings with an unknown number.  Let them know you are there for them.  Then get the FBI to make these acts of terror a priority.  Imagine if these calls were coming to banks, do you think we wouldn't have a suspect by now?  You have the power to help stamp down this rise in terrorizing phone calls and perhaps prevent this from becoming worse.  I know the Jewish community didn't vote for you in large numbers, but now you are our President and you have the responsibility.  You say you love the Jewish people and want to continue our strong relationship with Israel and that is great.  We applaud anything that will help Israel be safe.  (We can talk later about how best to that,)  But American Jews are being targeted and the terror being evoked is effecting a much larger cross section of the the people you have sworn to protect.  This should not be partisan.  This is your job.  While I applaud the JCCs of the country for being efficient and organized about dealing with these kinds of threats, I wish they didn't have to be.  I wish I never had to see an email telling me what is happening.  I wish that people would see all cultures as a valuable part of the tapestry that is our great nation.  But alas people don't.  I am one voice, who might reach a few hundred people, but you sir you have the biggest megaphone in the world.  Help us be safe, help continue to provide communities around the country with a place to expanded knowledge and understanding, enjoy art and culture and get a little healthier at the same time.  I ask you this as a Jew, as a father, and as a American,  I know if you call the JCCs will respond.  They will welcome you as they do so many and  you will shine a light on why they are valuable to us all.

Thank you for considering this request.

George Kelley

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Terror in Melbourne, Florida

Last night there was a terrorist attack in Melbourne, Florida, at the airport.  The victims were decorum and truth.  The United States integrity around the world and the first amendment to the US Constitution were severely injured.  There were about 9000 witnesses who cheered on as the perpetrator stood on podium and lobbed attack after attack on reality.

Last night Donald Trump, the President of the United States held a campaign rally one month into a four year term.  The rally, an attempt to feed his need for adulation after a week of chaos and losses at the White House, seemed to be designed to attack the media and any one who has been critical of President.  In the process he continues to set up the attempt to destroy the free press.  He basically said that people shouldn't believe the press but only him.  Senator John McCain, former Republican Presidential nominee in an interview said that this is how dictators get started.

During part of the rally, President Trump referenced a terrorist attack that happened in Sweden on Friday night.  Here is the problem, there wasn't one.  The Swedish government is now asking for the White House and the US government to clarify what he was talking about.  In fact a former prime minister of Sweden asked what the US President was smoking.  This is troubling because it appears that the reason for this falsehood was that Friday night the President watched Fox News and saw a segment about a man who is documenting violence in Sweden that is blamed on some immigrants.  It appears the segment had images from the propaganda film and President Trump thought it was live.  It wasn't cleared up almost 24 hours later.  That means the President of the United States believed for an entire day that a major terror attack occurred in major ally in Western Europe and didn't have the curiosity to explore facts about it, including what the US might do to help.  Think about that, he believed that there was a terror attack on the west and he didn't even call the country to simply say "hey what can we do to help".  But he brings it up at a rally to rile up the crowd to support his ban on Muslims coming to the country.  By the way, President Trump has not said anything about one of his admirers who actually committed a terror attack about 1 hour from the US border in Canada, and the only thing that might be stopping him is that he doesn't care because the victims were Muslims.

But if this was the only one of its kind we could say something about it being a simple mistake but members of his communication team have referenced at least two non-existent terror attacks.  This President has also lied, yes lied, about the size of his crowd at inauguration, voter fraud in the election, his electoral numbers and the very notion of how his White House is operating.  He doesn't seem to care if what he says is true because most of his lies are easily checked.  But he also doesn't seem to understand is the voice of the White House is a powerful thing, that it alters the way the world operates.  It causes militaries around the world to go on alert, changes markets and can change the environment of a place, an alliance or a conflict. But it also instills a sense of distrust in reality among his supporters.  Often facts are ignored by them if their dear leader tells them to believe him and not their lying eyes.   Trump's words were not bombs, but it can inflict terror on many.  When the White House and the President are simply going to make up lies and then just blurt them out they can cause far reaching damage.  No humans died in Melbourne, but we are seeing the mass killing of reality, values and the institutions that make our country for the people, all of them.  And that is terrifying.  

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Radical Christian Trumpism

Earlier this week, Representative Sean Duffy of Wisconsin was asked about why in the list of terrorist attacks around the world from the Trump administration left off the attack on the mosque in Quebec, killing six men as they prayed.  Duffy said "there is a difference" between the type of terrorist attack at the mosque and those motivated by support for the militant group Islamic State, or ISIS.  "You don't have a group like ISIS or Al-Qaeda that's inspiring people around the world to take up arms and kill innocents," Duffy said.  I disagree.  There is a militant ideology that has been inspiring both terror attacks and actions in the United States.  It is Radical Christian Trumpism (RCT).  RTC inspired the attack on the mosque that Duffy simply brushes off as no big deal, because those influenced by RCT do not see Muslim lives as equal to who they see as real Americans.  RCT also has inspired various violent acts against individuals around the country.  There has been a rise in other forms of RCT inspired acts, almost 100 Jewish Community Centers in the US have received bomb scares, forcing little children out into the winter weather in some cases.  We also have seen people on video treating people of color, women wearing hijab, and others with vocal disrespect citing Trump's election as some kind of immunity from acceptable social behavior.  These are just a few of the signs of RCT infecting our nation.  The leader of this ideology is using the power he has to block fully vetted people from coming to the United States, because he sees them as not worthy of our great nation.  And he is being praised by leaders of the White Supremacist movements like David Duke.  RCT is an insidious ideology that is finding its way into many places.  One thing that it has done is make reality distorted.  From the number of people at the inauguration,  to claiming terror attacks that never happened, to suggesting that people said things they never have.  It also empowers weak leaders to attack a woman trying to drop knowledge on the Senate and question the existence and independence of the courts.  One very large (both in size and scope) radio host even suggested that the judiciary has no place in interpreting law if not mentioned in the law.  Seriously, that you can write judicial review out of the law.

RCT is an ideology that can infect many, but it should not be confused with Christianity.  We must stand with our Christian neighbors who are fighting alongside us as they fight the influence of this ideology on others.  It is a small but vocal minority.  They only use Christianity as a shield to bloc criticism, claiming victimization as Christians when they don't get their way.  This can be seen in how they react to decorated coffee cups, the words Happy Holidays and the existence of people who can be sexually and emotional aroused by someone of the same sex.  You need be aware that this is not most people who call themselves Christians, so be careful not to generalize.

To beat back this ideology we must use a few simple tactics.  Call out those who promote what are the sacraments of RCT, alternative facts.  Always bring reality, and document it.  They may be allergens to those with RCT influence, but over time reality will prevail.  Do not succumb to hate.  It is easy to hate people who look at humans and see something less than human.  It is an appropriate response.  But do it private and then fight the good fight.  Think of those civil rights leaders like John Lewis and MLK who acted putting love first.  Call your representatives and Senators and tell them how you feel about the role of RCT in policy.  Go to town hall meetings and other events.  Hold the media responsible for calling it out.  You should also inoculate your friends, children, and peers by making sure you don't go down the rabbit hole of social media, passing along untrue, rude and angry notes will only empower those infected with RCT.

It won't be easy to deal with people who can see reality that is right in front of them.  You will be tired.  But there are ways to find strength.  Think of Elizabeth Warren, "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted". Think of 20 rabbis arrested to show support for the American value of taking in refugees. Think of the world-wide Women's March on January 21st. Think of airport protests that popped up so quickly.  Think of those Democrats in office who are standing up to the ideology.  And think of the Republicans who stand against it, Senators McCain and Graham who have been vocal for over a year. Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine who voted against Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary, and the growing number of Republican pundits who are fighting back.  There are more of us.  We will win in the long run.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Why the Bowling Green Massacre is So Important.

In an interview with Chris Matthews, KellyAnne Conway, speaking on behalf of the  White House mentioned that the new immigration/Muslim ban was essential, because two refugees who turned out to be terrorists planned the Bowling Green Massacre.  Why Chris Matthews didn't ask her to clarify is beyond me and worth an entire post in and of itself, but there it was, a representative of the President of the United States, justifying a highly questionable and likely illegal ban with a fictional terror attack.  This would be mind numbing if we weren't already numbed by the fact that earlier in the week she had coined the Orwellian phrase "alternative facts".  At least the NBC News employee in that case called her out.  But this is a problem with this White House.  They traffic in what some call alternative facts and we simply call them lies.

Now the idea of a lying politician is a tried and true stereotype.  No one expects them to be fully honest.  But the idea is that they lie to you to get elected.  They say things like how much they will cut taxes, create jobs, etc.  But when in office and they fall short, their supporters often let it pass and their detractors make hay out of it and the pundits try to explain it away.  It is often difficult to catch a politician in a real lie because of that.  Some however do carry weight.  When George H.W. Bush said, "Read my lips, No New Taxes" and later raised taxes it was not a statement he didn't mean to keep, he just couldn't.  Same with Barrack Obama's "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor".  In both cases they truly did not expect the roll out of their policies to take such a different turn.  Maybe they should have, but that is for another story.  However with the current administration the lies are not about what they will accomplish.  (In fact the President has worked hard to try and keep a lot of the promises he made) It is lies about objective facts that are easily checked.  This is what is dangerous about what they are doing.

On the day after the inauguration, Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, gave a statement to the press and took no questions.  That statement was that President Trump had the largest inauguration crowd ever and punctuated with the final PERIOD.  This is simply not true regardless of how you count the numbers.  But there he was saying it after the President said it and news outlets pointed out the difference between 2009 and 2017.  (2009 was much bigger).  It should be noted that around the country, when Spicer was saying this, millions of mostly women were marching in opposition to the the new President's policies and attitude toward woman.  It was a deflection of sorts but it also showed the pettiness of the man who sits in what until last week was the most respected and powerful office in the world.  We knew President Trump was obsessed with his crowds leading up to the event when he tweeted about dress shops running out of dresses in DC (also not true) and other indications.  What was amazing was that right after taking over the @POTUS twitter account he posted an inaugural picture of the crowds.  They happen to be Obama's.  

While we can certain laugh at a man who is overly concerned about how big things related to him are there are certainly policy implications that we must be careful of, beyond simply not being able to trust him.  It was clear from the beginning that Trump had lost the popular vote by a stunning margin of almost 3 million votes.  The President, because of a right wing lunatic blogger, thinks that there were 3 million votes cast illegally.  There is zero evidence of this.  Again Sean Spicer tried to quote a study, did it badly, and the author had to correct him.  But now the President wants to spend millions to hunt down these dreaded 3 million voters who he says didn't vote for him.  This is insanity and could lead to legal voters being taken off voter rolls.  (It is time to note that some of the President's closest advisors and family are registered in two states which was one of the issues the President raised).  It is also fair to note that the only person who got caught voting illegally by voting more than once was a Trump voter.

These lies set a tone of distrust and sends us all scrambling for fact checkers every time the President speaks.  From the mundane to the serious he has told lie after lie of things that are not only easily checked but are so outrageous when you see them in print you can't believe what you are reading.

But here is the thing, the President has now demonized the referees of truth in our culture that they lack trust too.  The media has been a favorite foil for the President and he points out every time they get something wrong.  And the media does, sometimes to scoop the other or sometimes based on personal bias.  For example, many outlets first reported the recent attack on the mosque in Quebec was done by a man who had an Arabic name.  Turned out to be false.  So for the President that shows they are never right and Trump's supporters believe him.  They also believe websites that Trump has embraced.  Websites like the one formerly led by his chief strategist which is a comfort zone for While Supremacy and the work of Alex Jones, a man who believes that the Sandy Hook attack (a real massacre)  was faked and the children involved are still alive.  He also posted stories of a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton and John Podesta being run out of a Pizza place in DC, which led to a man coming and throwing shots there.

Bowling Green should be the last straw, it was a lie of either ignorance and repeating a story heard from a crazy blogger.  Conway has said that it was covered up.  Or it was the willful act of a deranged White House trying to justify a horrible policy with a fake crisis.  Either way Conway should have forfeited her job as a spokeperson for the President.  I am glad that CNN has said "no thanks" when she was offered to be on their air this weekend.

I don't expect my President to be always truthful with me.  Politics would require him or her to bend the truth on how successful a policy is or will be.  National security keeps a leader from revealing everything and cover stories have a place in explaining to the public parts of things when the whole is not ready for everyone to hear.  I get that.  But I expect a White House to speak in a voice of reality.  This one has not done so.  It is truly frightening because if the President of the United States is so easily rendered into the persona of someone having to tell everyone how great he is and that any set backs are the result of sabotage or conspiracy then he is not fit to govern.  Which is truly a problem, but if he is surrounded by people who buy into his little cult and encourage this behavior, we are at the brink of some serious problems.  Bowling Green is a massacre, it may be the end of reality.    

The Current Has Been Torn Away

Anyone who has paid attention to Donald Trump over the last three decades has been aware that he has the empathy of Joseph Stalin and the n...