Nostalgic for Last Week’s America?

oathSo much of the America I had taken for granted as recently as last week has disappeared.

President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” feels increasingly appropriate, leading many Americans wonder if Trump will really remain President for four years of will one of the many scandals swirling around him lead to his impeachment, or if Trump’s erratic behavior and plummeting popularity will lead his cabinet to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment.
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Day 1 of Hell

170120195839-03-trump-signs-exec-orders-super-teaseTwo executive orders were issued tonight. The first basically prohibits all government agencies from implementing any rules. They can send nothing to the Office of the Federal Register. Remember, while Congress passes laws, it’s the agencies that implement them, and they do so via regulations sent to OFR for public review and comment and then implementation. (Full memo after the jump.)

The second order basically allows Ben Carson to do anything possible to prevent the ACA from functioning. Again, full text after the jump. Welcome to North Korea — they are dismantling the Federal government, just like they said they would. And in answer to the question: why are you publishing this? I say: so that there is a record.
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Congressman John Lewis Protests Trump Election

If you missed the opportunity to hear Georgia Congressman John Lewis, my hero, speak out at a Senate confirmation hearing last week, explaining why he cannot vote “yes” in favor of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General of the nation, and why he will not participate in Donald Trump’s inauguration — well, you owe it to yourself to watch his remarkable speech in its entirety.

There is never an ounce of bitterness when John Lewis speaks, even when he talks about the vicious beating he received while peacefully marching from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, some 50 years ago, asking for voting rights. The right to participate in the democratic election process of the country he calls “home.”

But he knows all about suppression of voting rights, and he almost paid with his life when he marched peacefully in 1965 to try to gain the right to vote in Alabama. Several times I have had the privilege of being in Congressman Lewis’ company and I asked him how he could possibly avoid even a trace of bitterness when he recites his horrendous experiences in the segregated South.

His answer is always the same: He believes in non-violence.

Senator Cory Booker was also impressive on that second day of Senate hearings into the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Booker made history as the first sitting Senator to speak out against the confirmation of a colleague of his in the Senate.

But his concern, like Lewis’ concern, was for having an Attorney General who would speak up and speak out for the rights of minorities, of poor people of those without a voice.

And then there was also on the panel Congressman Cedric Richmond, of Louisiana, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, respectfully but sadly pointed out that having an icon like John Lewis testify at the very end of the hearings was like consigning “to the back of the bus” the six African Americans who testified.

And even though Senator Sessions was not required to sit through the many hours of testimony, it was a glaring omission that he absented himself from the hearing room when John Lewis et al were testifying.

My mother could not understand why three of the people who testified were in favor of Sessions, until I explained that those three had once worked for Senator Sessions and been on his payroll when he served as Attorney General of Alabama.

Neither Booker nor Redmond nor Lewis was the slightest bit vitriolic. They were just heartbroken that the highest legal officer in the land should be someone who had never spoken up for civil rights in the decades of his service in various positions. The three of them had no expectation that Sessions would suddenly turn into a champion for civil rights, especially since Donald Trump does not seem to be interested in the rights of people of color.

Lewis announced that he would not, could not participate in the Inauguration on Friday, as he did not consider Donald Trump the “legitimate President,” with everything that has been unearthed by the Intelligence community about the role played by Russian hackers. The tension between Trump and the various intelligence agencies has both Republicans and Democrats concerned, especially in these challenging times.

Lewis is like the conscience of the Congress, and some two dozen colleagues have followed his lead and bowed out of attendance on Friday at the White House ceremony. If they follow Congressman Lewis’ lead, they are doing this not out of spite, or vengeance, but because they are saddened by the prospect of someone’s assuming the Presidency who has not shown either respect or concern for people who are heroes in American history.

Perhaps you were as fortunate as I was to have seen Congressman Lewis in person most recently at the National Constitution Center a few months ago, when he was awarded the Liberty Medal. His voice is always gentle, but he always speaks passionately about his search for justice, for equality. He does respect the Office of the President, but he just believes that illegitimate means were employed either by Donald Trump or on Trumps’ behalf in order to secure the office.

Some day we will know the extent to which Russian hacking and Vladimir Putin meddled in our democratic process. In the meantime, though, I hope that President Trump will cease vilifying heroes like Congressman John Lewis simply because they disagree with him.

And because I, too, love America and value our democracy, I am praying that Donald Trump turns into a good President and respects the rights of all Americans. If Senator Jeff Sessions does become the Attorney General, I pray that he, too, will fight for the rights of all Americans.

Upset About Trump? Public Corruption? Boycott Asher’s Chocolate!

ashers-chocolate-2-750xx600-338-0-81Adapted from remarks given Monday in the rotunda of the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

This Hanukkah you may want to think twice before selecting Asher’s Chocolate as a gift. Instead of Hanukkah gelt, you may be sharing Hanukkah guilt because of the company’s owner and his history of public corruption.

However, let’s start by talking about the presidential election. On November 8, Americans may have thought that they were voting for the Clinton/Kaine ticket or the Trump/Pence ticket. However, in fact, they were voting for a slate of anonymous “electors” whose names do not even appear on the ballot in most states. [Read more…]

My Conversation With A Trump Elector

12th Amendment to the United States Constitution: "... if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President...."

12th Amendment: “… if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President….”

After an unprecedented campaign, the Electoral College will meet in the 50 state capitols and the District of Columbia to choose the next President. While three million more people voted for Clinton than Trump, 306 of the electors are from states won by Trump. Now, the National Security Agency and the CIA report intelligence showing that Putin directly intervened in the election on the behalf of Trump, and over 70 electors have requested intelligence briefing to see the evidence and understand the extent of Trump’s involvement. If 12% of the Republican delegates abstain or vote for anyone other than Trump, then Trump will lack the 270 electoral votes necessary to be immediately elected President.

At that point, the House of Representatives will choose between the three candidates with the most electoral votes. These three would presumably be Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and whoever else has the most electoral votes.

Last week I had the idea to order DVDs of the 2004 film Manchurian Candidate – a fictional story of a candidate who is the puppet of a foreign country – and mail it to various Republican electors in the hopes of spurring a conversation about the allegations regarding Trump’s ties to Putin.

I sent the DVDs with the following brief message
msg1

Republican elector Charles Buckels of Lafayette, Louisiana responded by email as follows:

From: Charlie Buckels
Date: Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 1:26 PM
Subject: Thanks for the DVD
Good movie. Have you seen Hillary’s America? It’s a better movie and it’s not fiction.
As BHO said, “elections have consequences”. We won, you lost. Get over it. If it would make you feel better I’d be happy to send you a participation trophy.
Even you will benefit from the opportunities that will be available TO ALL during the next 8 years of the Trump administration followed by 8 years of the Pence administration.
Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas
I’ll be proudly voting for Donald J Trump of New York

I responded:

Thanks for writing. I agree that elections have consequences: Hillary ran a mediocre campaign and lost . I for one am not asking you to vote for her, and I doubt she’ll run for elected office again.
However, if Trump was involved with any of the Russian hacking then he should not step one foot into the White House.
I have no way to tell if the rumors about Trump are true, but you do.
You and your fellow electors should ask for an intelligence briefing and find out if there is credible secret evidence that Trump is involved in high crimes or misdemeanors.
Please see if you can get the kind of briefing that convinced so many Senators on the foreign intelligence committee then decide for yourself. I don’t know what the secret evidence shows since I am just a citizen.
Afterwards, if you are not convinced, then you should vote for Trump and Pence as Louisiana has urged you to do in great numbers.
If on the other hand it no longer appears to you that Trump can be trusted to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” then please vote your conscience and write-in the candidate of your choice. Perhaps you could write-in Pence for President (as well as Vice-President). Alternatively, you could keep your ears open and see what Republicans are getting chosen in the various states that vote before Louisiana. (I have the schedule.) You might want to support one of them in order to ensure that he ends up among the top three finishers who the House of Representatives will chose among.
Never having been in Indiana I don’t know too much about Pence, but if you are looking forward to a Pence administration, then in the event you find the classified evidence about Trump convincing, why not start 8 years of Pence right away!
I am available if you want to discuss this further. I would be glad to talk to you by phone or come out to see you in Lafayette or meet you in Baton Rouge.
Thanks again for devoting your time and energy to our democratic process.

Charlie Buckels, a Republican elector for Louisiana.

Charlie Buckels, a Republican elector for Louisiana.

After Shabbat, I found the following note from Buckels in my inbox:

I wonder if you were this concerned when BHO told the Russian official on an open mic to let Putin know that he, BHO, will have more flexibility after his reelection.
The Russians didn’t create her emails. Even you said she lost due to a bad campaign..
Donald J. trump will be sworn in on Jan 20th. I’m really happy about that. We have a good chance now to recover from the damage that BHO did to our country.

Twitter and the Evil Tongue

For those of us immersed in social media, there is an endless assault on our senses by happenings large and small.

The president-elect sends a Twitter message criticizing the leader of a local union of the United Steelworkers for doing a “terrible job” and sending American jobs abroad. The tweet goes viral, and the union leader receives random threats from people on the basis of no known facts whatsoever.

A baseless charge linking Hillary Clinton to sex crimes is tweeted by a retired army officer, now in line to be the national security adviser in the new administration. The tweet is part of a deluge of fake news that reaches a particularly susceptible reader in North Carolina, who goes out and shoots up a pizza parlor to “investigate” the charge.

Comet Ping Pong is the pizza place in Washington where the shooting took place. Photo by Elizabeth Murphy from Alexandria, VA.

Comet Ping Pong is the pizza place in Washington where the shooting took place. Photo by Elizabeth Murphy from Alexandria, VA.

Being lampooned on social media is particularly harmful because there is no effective redress. Even if you find the source, there is no way to reverse the damage. The hundreds or thousands of viewers are beyond reach. Social media also offers an enticing immediacy and anonymity. Retweeting takes just a few keystrokes. One need not know the original author nor have any independent opinion of the worth of the message.

However, it would be wrong to single out Twitter in this regard. Moving at a slightly slower pace, but still beating out all news media, is Facebook. And not far behind is talk radio, a continuing stream of facts, fiction and innuendo.

We can’t help but respect movie stars, politicians and even friends and neighbors who achieve high numbers of “followers.” But we know that the path to achieving those inordinately large numbers is often just flavored or off-flavor gossip.

In Jewish law, gossip is a serious sin. Lashon ha-ra, the evil tongue, is a temptation we must resist. Yet in an age of social media, gossip is always too easy, too nearby and seemingly too impersonal.

Devout Jews perceive the injunction of lashon ha-ra to include two obligations: First, not to speak evil or gossip about others. And second, not to listen to gossip, because it is understood that the listener is an enabler and hence an inextricable part of the sin. So upon hearing gossip, a Jew should cover his ears, at one time a familiar motion.

Is there a similar defense while tapping on a cell phone, clicking at a computer or listening to your car radio? If not, we need to invent one. Perhaps there should be a special button on our electronics to mute evil gossip. Until that button is invented, however, we need to observe the mitzvah of “lashon ha-ra” and strike an electronic pose comparable to covering our ears.

Obama’s Unity Speech After the Election

Good afternoon, everybody. Yesterday, before votes were tallied, I shot a video that some of you may have seen in which I said to the American people: Regardless of which side you were on in the election, regardless of whether your candidate won or lost, the sun would come up in the morning.

And that is one bit of prognosticating that actually came true. The sun is up. And I know everybody had a long night. I did, as well. I had a chance to talk to President-elect Trump last night — about 3:30 in the morning, I think it was — to congratulate him on winning the election. And I had a chance to invite him to come to the White House tomorrow to talk about making sure that there is a successful transition between our presidencies.

Now, it is no secret that the President-elect and I have some pretty significant differences. But remember, eight years ago, President Bush and I had some pretty significant differences. But President Bush’s team could not have been more professional or more gracious in making sure we had a smooth transition so that we could hit the ground running. And one thing you realize quickly in this job is that the presidency, and the vice presidency, is bigger than any of us.

So I have instructed my team to follow the example that President Bush’s team set eight years ago, and work as hard as we can to make sure that this is a successful transition for the President-elect — because we are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country. The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. And over the next few months, we are going to show that to the world.

I also had a chance last night to speak with Secretary Clinton, and I just had a chance to hear her remarks. I could not be prouder of her. She has lived an extraordinary life of public service. She was a great First Lady. She was an outstanding senator for the state of New York. And she could not have been a better Secretary of State. I’m proud of her. A lot of Americans look up to her. Her candidacy and nomination was historic and sends a message to our daughters all across the country that they can achieve at the highest levels of politics. And I am absolutely confident that she and President Clinton will continue to do great work for people here in the United States and all around the world.

Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country. That’s what I heard in Mr. Trump’s remarks last night. That’s what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that. That’s what the country needs — a sense of unity; a sense of inclusion; a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law; and a respect for each other. I hope that he maintains that spirit throughout this transition, and I certainly hope that’s how his presidency has a chance to begin.

I also told my team today to keep their heads up, because the remarkable work that they have done day in, day out — often without a lot of fanfare, often without a lot of attention — work in agencies, work in obscure areas of policy that make government run better and make it more responsive, and make it more efficient, and make it more service-friendly so that it’s actually helping more people — that remarkable work has left the next President with a stronger, better country than the one that existed eight years ago.

So win or lose in this election, that was always our mission. That was our mission from day one. And everyone on my team should be extraordinarily proud of everything that they have done, and so should all the Americans that I’ve had a chance to meet all across this country who do the hard work of building on that progress every single day. Teachers in schools, doctors in the ER clinic, small businesses putting their all into starting something up, making sure they’re treating their employees well. All the important work that’s done by moms and dads and families and congregations in every state. The work of perfecting this union.

So this was a long and hard-fought campaign. A lot of our fellow Americans are exultant today. A lot of Americans are less so. But that’s the nature of campaigns. That’s the nature of democracy. It is hard, and sometimes contentious and noisy, and it’s not always inspiring.

But to the young people who got into politics for the first time, and may be disappointed by the results, I just want you to know, you have to stay encouraged. Don’t get cynical. Don’t ever think you can’t make a difference. As Secretary Clinton said this morning, fighting for what is right is worth it.

Sometimes you lose an argument. Sometimes you lose an election. The path that this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag, and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forward and others think is moving back. And that’s okay. I’ve lost elections before. Joe hasn’t. (Laughter.) But you know.

(The Vice President blesses himself.) (Laughter.)

So I’ve been sort of —

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Remember, you beat me badly. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: That’s the way politics works sometimes. We try really hard to persuade people that we’re right. And then people vote. And then if we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we do some reflection, we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off, we get back in the arena. We go at it. We try even harder the next time.

The point, though, is, is that we all go forward, with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens — because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy. That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years. It’s how we’ve pushed boundaries and promoted freedom around the world. That’s how we’ve expanded the rights of our founding to reach all of our citizens. It’s how we have come this far.

And that’s why I’m confident that this incredible journey that we’re on as Americans will go on. And I am looking forward to doing everything that I can to make sure that the next President is successful in that. I have said before, I think of this job as being a relay runner — you take the baton, you run your best race, and hopefully, by the time you hand it off you’re a little further ahead, you’ve made a little progress. And I can say that we’ve done that, and I want to make sure that hand off is well-executed, because ultimately we’re all on the same team.

All right? Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)

Vote Wisely

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)

Hillary Clinton is the only choice for president.

It’s easy to say both sides do it and they’re all the same because often those clichés are true — that’s how they became clichés. But have we become so cynical, so intellectually lazy, so unable to tell right from wrong that we really believe that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are equivalent?

Hillary is not perfect — no candidate is perfect. But Trump is more corrupt and dishonest than any major party presidential candidate in our lifetime. The media likes to tell a story, and the story of a qualified candidate with mainstream ideas running against an utterly unqualified, bigoted, hateful candidate is not much of a story. So now we’re seeing a false equivalence, as if both candidates are equally flawed. That’s just wrong.

Jay Michaelson explains that while there is good reason not to trust Trump, on the Clinton side, the evidence against her is “mostly smoke and mirrors.”

Jonathan Chait writes that “Trump is the figure whose corruption stands out on a historic scale.”

Seth Meyers framed the dilemma:

Do you pick someone who’s under federal investigation for using a private email server?

Or do you pick someone who called Mexicans rapists, claimed the president was born in Kenya, proposed banning an entire religion from entering the US, mocked a disabled reporter, said John McCain wasn’t a war hero because he was captured, attacked the parents of a fallen soldier, bragged about committing sexual assault, was accused by 12 women of committing sexual assault, said some of those women weren’t attractive for him to sexually assault, said more countries should get nukes, said that he would force the military to commit war crimes, said a judge was biased because his parents were Mexicans, said women should be punished for having abortions, incited violence at his rallies, called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, called for his opponent to be jailed, declared bankruptcy six times, bragged about not paying income taxes, stiffed his contractors and employees, lost a billion dollars in one year, scammed customers at his fake university, bought a six-foot-tall painting of himself with money from his fake foundation, has a trial for fraud coming up in November, insulted an opponent’s looks, insulted an opponent’s wife’s looks, and bragged about grabbing women by the…?

In a similar vein, Slate goes into even more detail.

David Frum makes the conservative case for Hillary, writing that

To vote for Trump as a protest against Clinton’s faults would be like amputating a leg because of a sliver in the toe; cutting one’s throat to lower one’s blood pressure.

Yitzhak Rabin’s daughter, Yuval Rabin, writes that she is convinced that Hillary Clinton has “more than proved [her] loyalty to not only to Rabin and his memory but even more so to Israel’s security and well-being,” and she asks that we watch a short video on the right.

David Horovitz, the founding editor of the Times of Israel, writes that

If Donald Trump wins next week’s elections, which he might, America will have chosen as its leader a self-centered, misogynistic rabble-rouser, whose nasty bluster should have doomed his candidacy in its infancy. It will have confused the skills required to succeed in reality television with the skills required to succeed in reality.

The Economist endorsement of Hillary mentioned that Trump “would be a terrible president” and that “his ideas on revenue and spending are an affront to statistics.”

No Jew should vote for Trump. And whether you’re Jewish or not, listen to James Franco: Vote wisely.

Trump’s Secret Server Connected to Russia

 the Trump Organization has a secret server registered to Trump Tower that has been covertly communicating with Russia,

Trump Tower Server connected to Russia.

In response to a new report from Slate showing that the Trump Organization has a secret server registered to Trump Tower that has been covertly communicating with Russia, Hillary for America Senior Policy Adviser Jake Sullivan released the following statement Monday:

This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow. Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.

This secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia. It certainly seems the Trump Organization felt it had something to hide, given that it apparently took steps to conceal the link when it was discovered by journalists.

This line of communication may help explain Trump’s bizarre adoration of Vladimir Putin and endorsement of so many pro-Kremlin positions throughout this campaign. It raises even more troubling questions in light of Russia’s masterminding of hacking efforts that are clearly intended to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign. We can only assume that federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia as part of their existing probe into Russia’s meddling in our elections.

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