Trump's Conviction and Our Nation's Future
 
As the world now knows, days ago Donald Trump became a felon when he was convicted of 34 counts of falsifying business records by a New York court. He immediately, and predictably, denounced the outcome as "rigged," presumably by the Biden Administration, in spite of the fact that his conviction was by a jury of twelve of his fellow New Yorkers in a state, not a federal, court, where the White House plays no role, and the judge and the trial's proceedings were demonstrably correct and fair. Trump of course will appeal the decision, so the public is promised a continuation of this drama that will last for many months, if not years. And this is merely the first--and least consequential--of four cases in which the former president has been indicted, the others of which will not likely come to trial before the November election.
 
A visitor from another planet, but one acquainted with our Constitution, might suppose that what we just outlined would instantly end Mr. Trump's campaign to become president again in November. He or she would be stunned to learn that, instead, the candidate's MAGA base and Republican  "leaders" have rallied around him, even showering his campaign with nearly $30 million in contributions in the 24 hours immediately following the verdict. We face a real prospect that Trump could win the election in November and become our president again next January.  
 
That could mean, not simply a deepening of the partisan divide that has characterized our nation since the first Trump presidency. but the overthrow of our Consitution and our republic. Trump has pretty much spelled out what he intends if he's given a second administration. He would be a dictator on day one, which of course means it would be his goal to maintain such powers indefinitely through exeutive orders, declaring a state of emergency or whatever. He would then attack what he labels the deep state by firing or making life intolerable for the many thousands of career bureaucrats who keep the machinery running to make funds available for everything from providing the Pentagon with its hardware to ensuring that citizens' benefits through Medicare and Social Security keep flowing. Without attempting to anticipate exactly how he would work to make himself the indispensable leader, it is clear that he would do everything he could to undermine or co-opt both Congress and the courts, those co-equal branches of government. He has made clear that he would appoint only those willing to  help him carry out his effort to undermine our constitutional system.
 
Yes, there would surely be blowback, both from Democrats and even some Republican officials, as well as from much of the public at large. But there  could well be substantial support for this kind of subversion of the Constitution from the large segments of the public that elected him. Trump would not be the presumptive Republican nominee for president if he did not continue to win and maintain the support of a large MAGA base and the acquiescence, at least, of increasingly compliant Republican officials. So the danger to our republic stems not simply from the antics and the agenda of one highly visible scoundrel, but from the way he has seduced millions of our fellow-countrymen. The evidence that so very many of our citizens are disenchanted with what our political system has to offer them is more than disheartening. Their concerns very much need to be addressed by the rest of us. 
 
I still have confidence that our 225-year-old republic can overcome this most grievous threat to the nation since the Civil War. But it will take an electorate that understands how great are the stakes here to assure that the next presidential election simply adds one more positive chapter to our history rather than a tragic endiing.
 
                                                               June 2024

 

 

 

War's Outcome: A Neutral Ukraine?

 

Now that the United States has agreed to send another $61 billion in military and financial assistance to Ukraine, that victim of Russia's all-out aggression has been thrown a life-line, however belatedly. Congress's months-long delay in approving that appropriation allowed Russia to seize more territory while Ukrainian forces were made to ration their dwindling supplies of artillery and suffer continuing attacks on their cities. Even though the new assistance will help to level the playing field, it is insufficient to give Ukraine the ability to start to take back land that Russia has already occupied, which amounts to some 18% of its total territory. 

 

Since the war began more than two years ago, it has been widely assumed that the goal in supporting Ukraine was to make it possible, once Putin's forces were defeated, for Ukraine to join the European Union and, perhaps, NATO as well. Ukraine has been pointed in that direction starting with its Maidan Revolution in 2013-114, when its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovich, refused to sign a comprehensive trade deal with the  EU, and fled to Russia in the turmoil that followed. Russia then illegally annexed Crimea, the prescursor for further aggressions to follow. With the election in 2019 of the current president, Volodomyr Zelensky, it was clear that the dominant political forces in Ukraine sought closer ties with the West. That prospect led Putin to argue that Nazis had taken over in Kiev, making it his responsibilitiy to return Ukraine to Russia's orbit. His full-scale attack on his neighbor followed early in 2022.

 

Given the fact that Russia's population is nearly five times that of Ukraine, it is remarkable that Ukraine has resisted and even held off the enemy for as long as it has. Still, that same imbalance makes clear which side has the long-term advantage, especially if those democracies that support Ukraine should tire of the battle and walk away. That was clearly forehadowed in the Republican reluctance to renew America's assistance this fall. An even longer shadow grows from the prospect of Donald Trump's return to the presidency, since it is very doubtful that he would continue genuine support to Ukraine.

 

Make no mistake, if Putin's blatant cross-border act of aggression is allowed to succeed, that most fundamental norm upholding world order for which two world wars were fought in the last century will have been profoundly, even fatally, wounded. But, given the fact that it seems increasingly unrealistic to suppose that support for Ukraine will remain sufficient to ensure Russia's defeat and complete withdrawal, what outcome should we find acceptable? I suggest that it should be possible for Ukraine--with continuing support from its friends--to keep Russian forces at bay to the point that Putin and those surrounding him will increasingly ask if the game is worth it. That effort could, and should, be supported by also reassuring Putin that Ukraine will not become a treaty member with the West in opposition to his nation. That might not preclude closer ties with the European Union. But militarily, Kiev would remain conspicuously neutral for the foreseeable future. That kind of political neutrality, after all, suited Sweden and Finland for some seventy years after World War II, the two of them only joining NATO this year when their standing within the democracies of the world cound not be questioned and Russia viewed neither country as a military threat.

 

What I propose is meant to allow Putin to end his war without undue loss of face. It does not address the matter of how plausible it will be to secure Russia's complete withdrawal from all the UKrainian territory it has taken. That will surely be a knotty problem. Given the bellicose environment today, it may be difficult to seek the long-term goal of reconciliation--without conquest--between these two adversaries that, after all, have been close relatives since their origins as Kievan Rus and Muscovy during the Middle Ages. Only with the creation of the Russian Empire was Ukraine forced to subordinate its independence to its more powerful neighbor. Today the goal must be to encourage them to live in peace as sovereign equals--with each other and their neighbors--as the only way to cultivate greater mutual understanding. 

 

                                                                  (May 2024)

 

 

 

 

 

The War in Gaza, Still

 

In this sixth month of the war in Gaza, Israel is now facing increasing criticism from around the world for the ever-growing death toll of innocent civilians in that territory. In recent days, President Biden and other administration officials have said that the United States will reconsider supplying arms to its ally unless the Netanyahu government acts both to move the million-plus Palestinians now crowded together at the southern end of the strip out of harm's way, and opens more routes for food and other essential supplies to reach starving Gazans. This follows an order from the International Court of Justice that Israel must do more to protect civilians in the territory. Days after that order, the deaths from Israeli fire of seven workers attempting to deliver food to the enclave brought worldwide condemnation. Their deaths brought to more than 200 the number of aid workers that have died in Israel's ongoing campaign against Hamas.

 

Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to insist that the war will not end until Hamas is "destroyed," never mind the ongoing destricution and loss of life throughout Gaza (at the moment, more than 33,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed by the IDF). It is also the view of most observers that Hamas cannot be destroyed on the battlefield, but will remain a source of opposition to Israel. That is an especially fraught possibility. A former Israeli lawmaker recently argued that a battlefield success for Israel would be "almost meaningless" as long as Israel refused to advance a vision for how Gaza should be governed following an end to the fighting. 

 

On March 25, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. Significantly, the United States abstained rather than vetoing the resolution, which allowed it to pass. It seems clear that the approximately 130 hostages still held by Hamas will not be released until all parties agree to a cease-fire. Even though talks to that end continue, I write when no such agreement is yet within reach.

 

Meanwhile, the prospect rises that the current conflict may escalate. Israel recently killed several Iranian officials, including two generals, at Iran's consulate in Damascus. The Iranian government has promised to retaliate. And  Hezbollah, sponosred by Iran, continues rocket attacks on Israel from southern Lebanon. The way back from the brink surely lies in a clear de-escalation of Israel's military campaign. That conceivably will only come if an early election in Israel should replace Natanyahu's government with one committed to arriving at a diplomatic solution. Such a prospect looks distant at the moment. 

 

Even more distant is real movement toward the long-delayed effort to create a Palestinian state to live side by side in peace with Israel. That goal has receded ever further from view throughout the time that Benyamin Netanyahu has served as Israel's prime minister, for he continues to reject a two-state solution. The best that might come out of the current situation would be for all parties, which must include world leaders as well as those throughout the Middle East, to agree to such a goal and then begin to work to turn it into reality. The road there will no doubt continue to be long and difficult. But, as many have noted, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

 

                                                          (April 2024)

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Our Gang" and the World's Future

 

Russia's war against Ukraine recently entered its third year, this at a time when the United States is failing to extend its vital military aid to the embattled government in Kiev. The Ukrainians have fought valiantly against their larger and more powerful enemy, but have had to expend so much of their available fire power that they now must ration what they can send to the battlefield. Ammunition is in especially short supply. In Washington, meanwhile, a substantial bill for more aid passed the Senate weeks ago, but, as of this writing, the Speaker of the House refuses to introduce it in his chamber out of fear that, if he does so, the most extreme members of his Republican caucus will vote to remove him from office. 

 

But consider the world beyond our borders. America's European allies have made substantial contributions to Ukraine's war effort. Eleven of them in addition to the U.S. have been partners in NATO since its creation in 1949. Most of the rest have become alliance members over the years since, bringing the NATO total, with about-to-be member Sweden, to 32. Add in the European Union to account for most of what, during the Cold War, were called the Western democracies. Today, of course, thriving democracies are to be found in Asia, Oceania, and elsewhere as well. The U.S. has formal alliances with some, but not all, of them. They are in varying degrees opposed to Putin's aggression in Ukraine. I'll use the shorthand "Our Gang" here to refer to all those democratic states at odds with his effot to re-create a Russian empire through force of arms.

 

It should be obvious to those who love self-rule and freedom from oppression that it is in the interest of all members of Our Gang to oppose Putin's war. If he wins in Ukraine, will Poland or the Baltic states be next? And how long after that before the bear is breathing down the neck of more distant free societies? That much, as I said, should be obvious, but unfortunately it is not. The presumptive Republican candidate in November's presidential election in the U.S. said to Putin not long ago "do whatever the hell you like" to those NATO states that are not paying their full share for their own protection within the alliance. At least as strange and outrageous, he has also questioned whether NATO is worth maintaining. It all demonstrates a kind of knee-jerk America First impulse that evidently reflects the man's inability to imagine such a thing as common interests among like-minded, democratic nations.

 

When the Soviet Union imploded at the end of the 1980s, we entered a brief period when hope grew that future conflicts between the former adversaries might be resolved without undue fist-waving, let alone  fisticuffs. Yet, Western leaders never undertook a real effort to make their former adversaries truly equal partners in the creation of a more just, peaceful, and equitable future for all. No doubt it was largely because of the hold-over of suspicions from the past on both sides that Putin eventually came to power in Moscow, bringing with him a retrograde agenda. The most barbarous piece of it was his unprovoked, full-scale attack on Ukraine, which brought us the largest war in Europe since the end of World War II.

 

It is now our responsibility--that of the citizens of Our Gang acting through their elected leaders--to ensure that the war's outcome restores Ukraine. That will demonstrate once more that aggression is unacceptable in a well-ordered world. It would set the stage as well for improvements to our political life around the globe.

 

                                                        (March 2024)

 

 

 

 

 

Fascism Comes to America

 

Ever since Donald Trump (barely) won the presidency in 2016, I have occasionally expressed my bewilderment at how millions of my fellow-Americans could find the man so appealing as to support him. His repellant personality is such that, were I to meet him at a party, I would distance myself from him as fast as possible and vow to maintain that separation. Wouldn't any non-sociopathic adult feel the same as I did and keep away from him?

 

But then I remember why that's the wrong way to view the Trumpian phenomenon. His MAGA base supports him because he is not an establishment politician but a man who shares their grievances against the establishment. That makes him one of them. But at the same time, what makes Trump unlike them is what also binds them to him. That is his self-proclaimed ability to provide them with the retribution they are sure they deserve. Trump's promise is that of the strong man to the masses eager to take orders that will save them. Their devotion has nothing to do with welcoming him as a neighbor.

 

This is the very model of how fascism works. Almost exactly a century ago, Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy on virtually identical premises. A few years later, Adolph Hitler followed in Germany, as did Generalissimo Franco in Spain. None were men you'd want to share a beer with on your front porch. No, it was their very hardness that turned millions into followers, convinced that these guys would deal ruthlessly with their mutual enemies. And they did.

 

In America today, the foes of Trump and MAGA are the globalists who have let far too many immigrants into the country, people who, Trump tells them, channeling Hitler, "are poisoning the blood of our nation." These are the same alien forces who are taking the jobs many in the base have lost while contributing as well to a rise in crime. Meanwhile, the globalists in charge of things have been shipping the money of honest citizens overseas instead of fixing the border and restoring the nation's industry. To sum up how this globalist elite is their enemy, Trump assures his base that these people "aren't just out to get me. They're coming after you as well."

 

So, how will our nation fare in the event of a Trump victory next November? He has pretty much told us. Although he plans to be a dictator "only on day one," those twenty-four hours are time enough to launch a putsch against our Constitution. I make no predictions as to how that might unfold, although it shouldn't be hard for him to find an excuse for declaring a state of emergency. That would militarize at least some of what has been within the realm of our civil society, all in the name of rendering the nation safe from its enemies. Given the likelihood that Trump would take coercive action against those he perceives to be his enemies, that would no doubt bring resistance, more coercion, and an escalation in the use of force. Given the power he would have at his disposal, it is  hard to see how the republic as we've known it could long survive.

 

So, the U.S.A. now appears to be on the doorstep of its greatest crisis since the Civil War. It will soon be up to the voters to decide whether to step over that threshold or move back away from it.

 

                                                    (February 2024)

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons Not Yet Learned from the War in Gaza

 

I continue my consideration from last month of the current state of affairs in the Gaza war. Nearly three months have passed since Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel provoked the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to strike back by invading Gaza. His goal was to "eliminate" Hamas, which has governed that tiny territory of some 2.3 milliion people since 2016. In short order, Israel's invasion made Gaza the site of the most destructive war of several that have erupted between the Jewish state and its Palestinian neighbors since Israel was created 75 years ago.

 

Start with the October 7 attack by Hamas: an unprepared Israel saw roughly 1,200 of its citizens and other residents killed, with 240 taken as hostages. These were unquestionably atrocities, as most of the world agreed, justifying Israel's response as the legitimate effort to punish those responsible. Initially, the Israel Defense Force focused its airstrikes on the northern part of the strip, and warned the million or more souls living there to evacuate to the south for their own safety. But in short order, the destruction was directed to the south as well. Within a matter of weeks, refugees were on the road for a second and third time in the effort to remain alive. The death toll mounted quickly. After one month of warfare, the Palestinian death toll surpassed 10,000; by the time 2023 was coming to a close less than two months later, that figure had more than doubled to nearly 22,000, a huge percentage of whom were women and children.

 

Meanwhile, Israel claimed to have killed large numbers of Hamas fighters, in addition to having discovered--and in some cases destroyed--a number of Hamas-constructed tunnels from which its officials directed the fighting. Much of northern Gaza is now leveled and some 85% of the population has been driven from its homes. Still, at year's end, Israel insisted it must keep the war going for many more weeks or months to eliminate Hamas as a viable force. At the same time, with only very limited aid entering Gaza, a U.N. report stated that more than half a million people in Gaza--a quarter of its population--were starving. The territory evidently was undergoing the worst famine anywhere in the world in recent times.

 

As the tragedies mounted, the prospects for peace grew ever more distant. The Israeli government evidently had no end game in mind, even though crushing Hamas, even if that were feasible, could be little more than a first step toward a better future for the region. Netanyahu had long since backed away from the goal of an independent Palestine as Israel's sovereign neighbor. That rightly added to the growing criticism of the war Israel continued to wage in Gaza. The terrible ordeal Palestinians in that strip of land are undergoing currently has made plainer than ever before how the long denial to Palestinians throughout the region of their rights as a free people perpetuates a grave injustice. It is an injustice that even previous Israeli governments have acknowledged as a condition that should be overcome. 

 

It seems clear to this observer that the United States, which has long been Israel's staunchest supporter, must take the lead in pointing the Israelis--and the world--back toward a two-state prospect as the only ethical way forward. No, achieving that will not be possible in the immediate future, given the history of grievance that must be overcome, including the goal of the most militant Palestinians to wipe Israel from the map. But it must be embraced as the goal of all the key players because it is the only eventual outcome that can bring peace and dignity to all who live in the region. The tropes of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia can only be brought to heel once a two-state solution takes root in the minds of millions. Getting to that point will be difficult. But the journey of a thousand miles begins with an initial step.

 

                                                           (January 2024)

   

 

 

 

Whither Israel and Palestine after the War in Gaza?

 

 

It is now seventy-five years since the state of Israel was created along a coastal strip of land that had been home to Palestinians for some two thousand years. True, the  Jews who became citizens of the new state starting in 1948 traced the birth of their religion, and hence, their identity, to that same territory long before they began to be dispersed to distant territories across the globe starting with the Christian era. But in returning to the place of Judaism's origin, some 700,000 of that land's Arab-speaking population were made to emigrate from what had long been their homeland.

 

The  hope of the global leaders at the time who supported the creation of this new state was that a Palestinian state would also be established as Israel's neighbor. But from the beginning, Israel claimed territory beyond what had been agreed to by the U.N.; at the time of its birth, it added some 60% more land following its military successes against its Arab neighbors. Twenty years later came its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and Golan. Since then, Israel has put down many settlements in the West Bank. So, in spite of lip service to the two-state idea, such a reality has slipped ever further out of reach.

 

When the current war began after Hamas's brutal attacks on Israel on October 7, Israel stood on the moral high ground in returning fire against the attackers. Now, however, some two months after Israel began its effort to root out Hamas terrorists, upwards of 15,000 Gazans have been killed and more than half of Gaza's 2.6 milllion residents are homeless. Their cities and infrastructure now resemble a moonscape. As a result, what was initially widespread support for Israel's mission is crumbling, with increasing numbers of officials and citizens of countries friendly to Israel supporting a cease-fire. Still, the Netanyahu government continues to insist that it will not end the war until it has "eliminated" Hamas.

 

Therein lies the rub. Even if all those identified as Hamas officials are brought down, others are sure to rise in their place for, whatever their brutality, the Hamas movement will coninue to attract those who view it as a weapon to advance the Palestinian cause, and Israel be damned. The Netanyahu coalition, after all, has not so much as hinted at a goal of a two-state solution at the end of the current cycle of destruction. There are sure to be more such cycles and more death and devastation unless, and until, some viable prospect arises that a free and independent Palestine can be helped to thrive in peace beside its thriving neighbor. Getting there will be arduous, but first steps in that direction are demanded now.

 

The moment should be apt to remind ourselves that among the nations that are most successful in the world today are those that are welcoming and have become beacons of diversity. The goal of marrying nationhood to a single tribe or ethnic group was largely the agenda of the 19th century. The USA led the way from early in its existence to welcoming people, originally from all over Europe, and later, from the rest of the world as well. Yes, I know that immigration is a fraught subject both here and elsewhere today, as it often has been in the past. But liberty's beacon never was extinguished, and has been raised high repeatedly to welcome the displaced to our shores. May it burn brightly in the years to come!

 

Meanwhile, it behooves all those who support genuine peace in the Middle East to work for the creation of a second free and independent state to stand beside Israel. The road there will not be easy, but it's past time to take the next steps. Once that comes to pass, we can hope that, over time, the tribalism that has defined both communities can recede to the point that those who have been regarded as "the other" will be welcomed in as equals. 

 

                                                          (December 2023)

 

 

 

 

 

Our Shoot 'Em Up Nation

 

Last month, a mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, made the news. Eighteen people were mowed down and thirteen others were injured by a deranged citizen with an AR-15 in a bowling alley, then a bar. It was the 36th mass murder in the U.S. to that point in 2023. Since the year still has two months to play out, it's pretty clear that it won't be the last such event before a new year dawns. In my own city of Philadelphia, by the date when the Maine shooter had been found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, this year had already brought us 1,113 nonfatal and 320 fatal shootings. Nearly 150 of these were children, for whom gun violence is now the leading cause of death nationwide.

 

Once more, I guess we just shrug and say yes, we know, but that's how it is. Ho hum. Every time we try to pass legislation to curb some of these deaths, we meet with defeat from the gun lobby and their supporters. In 2008, the Supreme Court, after all, ruled for the first time in its history that our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms meant that lawmakers could not ban handguns from being kept and used for the protection of one's home and family. Last year, the Court went even further, ruling that citizens had the right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home. Sorry, distinguished justices, but these look like mad-house decisions to me, designed to make the mad-house wrought by our gun culture crazier still! What's more, at least 27 states now permit carrying of a handgun without a permit, and allow teachers and staff to carry such weapons on school property.

 

We Americans constitute only about 5% of the world's population, but we have 40% of civilian-owned guns on the planet. There are now some 393 million firearms in the hands of our citizens, which comes to about 120 weapons for every 100 persons. In Yemen, the country that ranks a distant second when it comes to citizen ownership of guns, there are approximately 53 such instruments of death for every 100 persons.

 

I know, the gun folks want us to understand that it isn't guns that kill, people do. The newly elected Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, put that concept almost poetically in reference to the Lewiston massacre; "the problem," he said, "is the human heart." Could be, but the murderer in this case, as in so many others, owned a long-gun to do what his heart bid him do. In this nation, the death rate from guns in one recent year was roughly five times the rate in Canada, ten times that in Australia, and nearly twenty times the rate in Spain. Does the Speaker believe that American "hearts" are simply that much more blood-thirsty than those of Canadians, Australians, and Spaniards?

 

Unlike us, a number of rich-world countries have enacted legislation that actually reduces the number of guns their citizens possess. In 1996, a massacre in Port Arthur, Australia, led that government to buy back some 650,000 firearms; the result was that the number of murders and suicides in Australia plummeted. In New Zealand, less than a month after a massacre in Christchurch in 2019, the government passed a buy-back scheme and restricted the sale of AR-15s. In 2020, Canada banned military-stye assault weapons two weeks after a mass shooting in Nova Scotia. These nations, which never came close to matching ours in gun deaths, nonetheless all took action that reduced them further.

 

Meanwhile, here in America, we continue to wring our hands and act as if we think that shooting 'em up is ordained in nature. It's way past time for us to lead the world by following the example of other nations and enacting legislation that would begin to reverse our epidemic of gun violence.

 

                                                                 (November 2023)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ukraine War and the Future World Order

 

The nearly two-year-old war waged by Russia against Ukraine is the most serious conflict in Europe since World War II. From the start, it drew the United States and other NATO countries to provide substantial military support to Ukraine while taking pains not to become belligerents themselves. After close to twenty months of warfare, two opposing assessments are clear: first, Ukrainian forces have done an amazing job of holding off the Russians thus far but, second, at the same time, they've made little progress in their spring and summer offensive in retaking land occupied by the enemy early in the war. Because the size of Russia's population is more than three times that of Ukraine, a war prolonged indefinitely seems certain to favor the invader.

 

The stakes are huge--for Ukraine, of course, but also for the world. This confict presents the most clear-cut case of right and wrong in international politics that we've seen since the Nazi and Japanese aggressors were soundly defeated in 1945. That outcome led to the democratization of nations that had suffered under dictatorships, and the advent of the most peaceable era in Europe that the continent has ever known. Should Putin's war succeed, forcing Ukraine back into the Russian fold, not only will aggression have won the day, so will the prospects for wannabe dictators to try to rearrange the political map of the world to suit themselves.

 

President Biden, fearful of provoking a Russian attack on the U.S. or other NATO member, has so far refused to give Ukraine the kinds of military hardware that it needs to win. Meanwhile, the situation for Ukraine has become increasingly urgent. We are now at a point where bolder action is needed from the West. Rather than letting the situation on the battlefield become a stalemate, Ukraine now needs to inflict as much damage as possible on the Russian army, pushing through Putin's lines in the nation's southeast to retake lost territory. Putin needs to be convinced, and sooner rather than later, that he is fighting a lost cause.

 

This means that both NATO and the EU now must change their tune. They need to make it clear to the world that their end-game in the war is to be able to welcome Ukraine into their company. NATO's Article 5 could be used to provide a security guarantee to Ukraine without it becoming a member. That, or an equivalent announcement, would make clear that the war must end on terms favorable to Ukraine. Then NATO membership might follow. Now is also the time for the European Union to offer Ukraine a road-map for EU accession. That could set out clear milestones for Ukraine to meet over the course of several years, thereby fostering hope and goodwill as well as economic reforms in Kyiv.

 

Yes, I know that there is growing opposition among MAGA Republicans to a continuation of America's financial support for Ukraine. But that is all the more reason for Biden to take the lead in the Western alliance now to increase our stake in the outcome of this conflict. We need to make clear that this is too close to being an existential threat to democracy. 

 

If both NATO and the EU take these steps now, they don't so much risk armed attacks on any of them from Russia as they make clear to Putin the futility of such action on his part when he is up against as many as several dozen governments who have now made clear that Ukraine is one of them. Not only must the West's policy change, all the world must see it change. It is far less risky to make those goals clear than to leave one's adversaries--as well as one's friends--wondering just how far Western assistance may go.

 

                                                             (October 2023)

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from a Pathetic Grammarian

 

Calll this an old man's rant, but I feel the need to sound off on some of what disturbs me about what's happening to American English. Yes, I know, if language is to live and thrive, it must change. I doubt that many of us now bemoan the loss of the second person singlar in our speech. Apart from its hold-over in some usage relevant to religion, it's been centuries since we have addressed individual family members and close friends as "thou" and "thee." Instead, we are perfectly accustomed to use of the plural "you" whether speaking to a crowd or no one but our spouse.

 

The first of my beefs is with our greetings when we meet. The response to "how are you?" these days is frequently "I'm good" rather than "I'm well" (or "fine" or "so-so"), "thank you." I remember a colleague whose reply to "I'm good" in response to his polite query was to say "I don't doubt your moral character. I was inquiring after your health." That no doubt puzzles whole generations of younger Americans who have no idea that those two adjectives--well and good--once applied to two different conditions of our existence, and were not to be used interchangeably. Even now, I think we all understand that to say "he's a good man" does not suggest that he's in ruddy health.

 

Then there's the matter of the split infinitive. In the not-so-distant past, it was anathema in circles where good grammar was respected to say or write "to almost win" or "to nearly lose." No, the adverb went either in front of "to"("never to do," "eagerly to go") or after the verb ("to eat heartily," "to sleep soundly.") There never was an acceptable grammatical excuse for separating the particle from the action verb the "to" introduced. Copy editors at the nation's leading journals corrected every split infinitive that came their way.
 

But, lo and behold, I've now begun to see split infinitives in perfectly respectable publications! Granted, real live copy editors may have given way to editing by artificial intelligence, but such programs surely could be taught to catch those split verbs if whoever is in charge of such things thinks that's essential. I fear that we really are entering a time when the old anathema is crumbling. (OK, maybe it's silly to fear that development, but at least I can bemoan it.)

 

Here's a sampling of other normalized usages today that I at least semi-deplore:

 

Start with how we now treat that simple little word "like." Traditionally, it has two distinct meanings. The first, a verb, is to have affection for someone or something, as in "I like her" or "I like this ice cream." The second, an adverb, is to resemble something else: "She looks like her mother," or "This photo is a lot like that one." But increasingly we find "like" replacing "such as." Here is an example: "Educated women often join organizations like the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women, and the Junior League." Now, I'm almost sure the speaker doesn't mean to say that women join organizations that resemble those listed. "Such as" makes clear that the list that follows contains examples of the genre; now we are told to use "like" in the same way. I guess it follows that if we want to show things that resemble other things, we now much say "young girls often join organizations like the Girl Scouts or the Girl Guides, the latter being somewhat like the Girl Scouts." 

 

But the truly ubiquitous use of "like" today is simply as conversational filler, replacing the "uh" in hesitant speech. "I had, like, a really bad dream last night," "She's gotten a bit, like, fat," or "What am I, like, going to do?" Although I've set these "likes" off with commas, they are usually spoken without being set aside vocally from the phrase they interrupt, so maybe you should skip the punctuation.

 

"Kind of" now serves much the same purpose as the filler "like," though it is also a sort of clunky synonym for "almost" or "nearly." I recently saw this phrase in print: "It's now kind of virtually impossible to do that." It seems to me that it's either virtually impossible to do the thing or it's not; "kind of" simply muddies those waters.

 

But the filler to top all the fillers of hesitant speech is "you know," which now tends to spill out of what would otherwise be every pause in a speaker's effort to make a point. When it first saw the light of day as a neologism, the phrase may have been meant as a tiny compliment to me, the listener, suggesting that of course I know what you're talking about. Yet far more often than not, it's precisely because you're not making yourself clear that I don't know what the hell you are trying to say.

 

Here's another frequent screw-up. The rule requires that when you introduce an independent clause with the phrase beginning "as far as," both noun and verb follow within the phrase. So, it is correct to say, "As far as Miss Muffet (noun) knew (verb), there was no spider near her tuffet." But the ungrammatical variant in  today's speech drops the verb in the introductory phrase and says "As far as Miss Muffet, there was no spider near her tuffet." There has long been an alternative opening phrase where no verb is needed. Make it "As for Miss Muffet, there was no spider near her tuffet," and all is well--grammatically as well as factually since, with no spider lurking, we need have no concern for Miss Muffet once she sits.

 

When I was considerably younger, the correct, if informal, way to refer to members of both sexes was to call them "guys and gals." Without question, a guy was male, a gal female. But today, both (all) sexes seem to be "guys." "How are you guys doin' tonight?" is the hearty question tosssed off by an M.C. when he comes onstage to greet the men and women in his audience. Did this change come about because "gal" was deemed a demeaning or offensive term in the age of women's liberation? If so, it's an odd evolution, given the fact that women's lib has meant that we no longer refer to humanity in general as "men," but take pains to name both genders.

 

I remember when the latest slang suggested that youngsters getting together socially might "hang out" in their favorite pub. Now, I hear the suggestion "let's hang" and hope that what's being called for is not as dire as it sounds. Gone also are the days when, if you waited on someone else, you were serving them their meal. To wait for that person meant you were checking your watch in the hope they would show up soon. Today, either preposition seems to suggest you're in the latter state.

 

Using correct grammar is what allows us to express ourselves precisely and clearly. But I guess that doesn't matter much today.

 

As far as my health, I'm good, so now I'll, like, go to probably hang in the park with, you know, those guys while I wait on you. That's kind of exactly what I mean. Sort of.

 

                                         (September 2023)

 

 

 

 

Gun Violence--As American as Apple Pie

 

There is a considerable literature on the idea of American exceptionalism. I'm sorry to say that I know we're exceptional in at least one very depressing respect. Americans shoot, wound, and kill each other with firearms at a rate that leaves comparable shootings in every other advanced country far behind. Some 390 million guns are sloshing about the nation, which means there are far more of these instruments of death than there are individual citizens to use them. If you're keeping score, more than 45,000 people in the U.S. died from gun injuries in 2021. The total number was down slightly last year; this year has seen more than 25,000 gun deaths by August 1. Even if 2023 should end without having matched the shocking toll of 2021, gun violence remains an epidemic throughout our land.

 

I know, I know, we are made to believe that the Second Amendment to our Constitution makes sacrosanct our right to bear arms. Yet, that amendment reads in full "a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Any sensible reading of that text assumes that what is protected here is the right to raise militias to provide for a state's security. When the amendment was ratified in 1791, the kind of militia referred to would have been composed of male volunteers from the community who were expected to bring their own muskets to the fight. That is hardly the same as supposing that we as citizens are encouraged to go about our daily affairs while armed to the teeth.

 

Our recent orgy of increased gun ownership was kicked off with the 2008 Supreme Court decision which, in a five/four ruling, invalidated a federal law in the District of Columbia forbidding most of those living in the nation's capital from owning handguns. Since then, we have seen state and local efforts to create what proponents see as "common-sense" gun legislation. But, however modest, these have mostly been shot down by the N.R.A. and its disciples as infringements on our Second Amendment rights. They argue that it is mental health issues that instead need to be addressed since, their argument goes, it isn't guns that kill people, it's other people who do.

 

Even if you grant that those who engage in gun violence are showing signs of mental illness, does it also suggest that the overall mental health of Americans is somehow far worse than that of, say, Germans, Brits, Japanese, or Canadians? Those and many others are nations with far fewer shootings than we have grown accustomed to in our piece of the planet. At least some of the explanation for that must flow from the far greater likelihood that our citizens will own and have easy access to one or more guns.

 

In my own city of Philadelphia, there were 288 homicides by the beginning of August as well as 960 non-fatal shootings. Although that marks a decrease from the same point in 2022, it nonetheless means that, on average, more than one person died by gunfire every day and between four and five others were wounded. During the last school year, 199 public school students were shot, of whom 33 were killed. Some of the shooters were themselves children who obtained unsecured guns from their own homes. That trend is little changed in 2023.

 

If those who become shooters are often troubled by mental health, just think how the mental health of our society as a whole would be improved if all the weapons now at loose in the nation were suddenly, magically to disappear. I know, waving a wand will not do it. But until we find the means to rid ourselves of vast quantities of these instruments of death, we shall continue to see our differences and disagreements turn to fatalities, with survivors who are crippled, whether physically because they've been shot themselves, or emotionally, from having been made to survive the shooting of loved ones. America deserves much better than this.

 

                                                            (September 2023)

 

 

 

 

 

From Hot to Broiling

 

2023 is likely to be the hottest year globally not just since record-keeping began, but in millions of years--from a time before humans first populated the earth. The July just ended brought record-setting wildfires and deadly heat waves around the world. As the month neared its close, nearly 200 million Americans, or 60% of the U.S. population, were under a heat advisory or flood watch. Waters off the coast of Florida rose to a temperature comparable to that in a hot tub.

 

These developments are forcing even many skeptics to admit that climate change is real and happening now. Even so, as a new month dawns, our politicians on the right have shown no sign that they have concluded they have an obigation to help curb the burning of fossil fuels, which are mainly responsible for the continuing release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Not a single Republican voted for President Biden's important climate law, which provided an unprecedented $370 billion in subsidies for clean energy. Republicans are now advancing policies that would repeal large parts of that law, beholden as they are to the extractive industries that support them. They also seek to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating pollution from power plants and vehicles.

 

Last spring, a Democratic polling group conducted a survey which concluded that some 74% of voters now believe that climate change is a major issue, a 5% increase from a similar poll two years earlier. Now it is conceivable that because millions more Americans than usual have since been impacted by this summer's extreme weather events, public sentiment is growing in support of policies to curb global warming.

 

Yet, even if the electorate increasingly does turn away from the head-in-the-sand folks, it is far from clear that we will actually adopt the kinds of unprecedented policies the moment demands to stop, then begin to reverse, global warming. Such policies of course would include bold steps to halt the production of fossil fuels and replace them with renewables, which must become the norm for providing us with power. It would mean building--or rebuilding--our nation's public transportation system to wean us away from the internal combustion mode of travel that now largely defines how we move about. In 25 years, China built a 26,000-mile high-speed rail network that serves well over a billion riders annually, and the goal is to nearly double that over the next dozen years. A comparable effort in the U.S. could reduce our reliance on highly polluting air travel while decongesting our highways.

 

Bold steps such as these also require bold changes in how we live. Some of what that would mean is implied in the previous paragraph. It could require a decision to avoid flying even when the comparable trip by electrification would take considerably longer. It might mean that the package you ordered from Amazon would arrive not overnight but in about a week. If there are still millions among us who would find such alteration in their lives "unacceptable," they should know that far worse reversals in their accustomed ways of life will no doubt land upon them as the warming of the planet worsens.

 

So, no one is an alarmist today who hears the alarm bells ringing loudly regarding the need for unprecedented measures if generations that might follow are to inherit a livable planet. We still have time to prevent such a catastrophe if we move more boldly than we ever have before. But those of us alive today may be the last human beings who will have that capability.

 

                                                             (August 2023)

 

 

 

 

 

Race (No Longer) Matters?

 

Days ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that colleges and universities could no longer consider an applicant's race in determining whom to admit as students. That put an end to decades in which affirmative action policies sought to promote greater diversity in higher education by allowing race to be one of the factors admissions officers might consider in assessing which applicants to choose. The six-to-three decision grouped all of the Court's conservatives in the majority with the three liberals in dissent.

 

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that giving black and Latino applicants an edge over white and Asian ones in the name of diversity violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That post-Civil War amendment, granting full citizenship and equal protection of the law to all those born or naturalized in the United States, was written specifically to make equal citizens of recently emancipated slaves and their descendants. Today, it seems that, in Roberts' view, the tables have been turned, with whites and others historically regarded as privileged now the targets of discrimination through the workings of affirmative action. In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas asserted that "racialism simply cannot be undone by different or more racialism," which seems to mean that any  consideration of race in the quest for equality is inherently racist.

 

But what I find compelling here are the dissenting views. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson saw an unfortunate connection in the majority's reasoning to that of Marie Antoinette: "With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces 'colorblindness for all' by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life." Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that the majority ruling "cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter."

 

There is understandable dismay across the land at the Court's decision, for, without question, affirmative action policies have helped to increase--if only incrementally--the minority populations attending leading colleges and universities in recent years. Such an outcome is an unmitigated good for a society that strives to be a democracy in which all citizens have an equal opportunity to succeed. Indeed, such an outcome is a necessity for the future health of the republic. The Court's majority now either willfully ignores that shining need or fails to see it as such. The six justices have thrown down the gauntlet.

 

Therefore, instead of wringing our hands at the Court's decision, now is the moment for us to find alternative avenues to expand our democracy and make all our citizens thrive. Fortunately, colleges are already exploring other ways in which to diversify their student bodies. These include looking at zip codes to determine where they might recruit more economically disadvantaged students, which would very likely include areas where they have not recruited in the past. Not only are poor neighborhoods very often where minority populations live, they may also include the offspring of a white working class that has been shut out of higher education as well. Several years ago, the University of California system of higher education ended affirmative action when a public referendum voted in favor of doing so. They then adopted a number of policies aimed at determining how to reach disadvantaged populations. Evidence shows an increase since in the number of black and Hispanic students who have matriculated.

 

The California experience points to a tantalizing road ahead. To the extent it is copied and expanded upon, we should continue to achieve greater diversity in higher education, and then in business and the professions. Only when the day comes that we can confidently say that ours is a true meritocracy--one reflective of the diversity that constitutes our nation--can we rest assured that the health of our nation and our democratic future are secure.

 

                                                              (July 2023)

 

 

 

 

The Threats to Our Democracy

 

The United States may be approaching a tipping point in its ability to continue as a healthy democracy. Today, it is not implausible to foresee widespread conflict throughout our body politic at a time when a sizable portion of our population is evidently entirely persuaded by the politics of grievance that the "establishment" (also known as the woke mob)--which evidently includes everyone not in their camp--is the enemy and needs to be, not simply voted out of office, but utterly defeated.

 

Donald Trump, still the clear favorite of Republicans to be their nominee again for president in 2024, tells his MAGA followers that he is their retribution. He has promised that, if elected, he would purge the FBI and Justice Department of all those officials who have been involved in investigating him. That, obviously, would constitute a brazen assault on the rule of law. His opponent (also his near alter-ego as a proto-autocrat), Ron de Santis, paints a dark picture of America today, decrying what he sees as a "malignant ideology," presumably that held by devilish Democrats, taking hold across the nation. He told his Iowa audience at the end of May that "it is time we impose our will on Washington, D.C." Such a call to action ordinarily entails the use of force.

 

Yes, there are other announced candidates who sound more like traditional Republicans, but none of them has earned more than single digits in opinion polls; as of now, none has the slightest hope of leading the party as its next presidential nominee. To summarize, neither of the most likely prospects to win the Republican nomination for president seems committed to playing by the rules that have made our republic survive and mostly thrive since George Washington was elected our first president. Election deniers and those who seek retribution or to impose their will on the public are not playing by those rules.

 

What is most concerning here is, of course, the evidence all this provides of the authoritarian sentiment that evidently has settled over a sizable segment of the American electorate. Whether an actual majority of voters no longer wants our elected officials to protect minorities, counter racism and other kinds of bigotry, protect free speech and freedom of religion, the sizable minority that already falls into this camp is sufficient to cause irreparable damage to the life of our republic. They've already denied the validity of one presidential election, so surely would be fearsome, and fearsomely dangerous, deniers of a second loss.

 

It's when we contemplate that prospect that we call to mind how the nation was ripped asunder once in civil war. Our union eventually was made whole again at an enormous cost in lives lost and livelihoods destroyed. Are we again approaching such an Armageddon?

 

To put the matter before us too flippantly, now is the time for all good (Republican-leaning) men (and women) to come to the aid of their party. In doing so, they just might save the nation from another civil war.

 

                                                             (June 2023)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump under Indictment: Standard-Bearer for the GOP?

 

I write less than forty-eight hours after a Manhattan grand jury indicted Donald Trump, making him the first former president in our nation's history to be charged with a crime. The specifics of the charges brought against him won't be known until April 4, days after I've posted this essay. It is assumed they wil relate to his alleged extra-marital encounter with porn star Stormy Daniels, for which he paid her hush money in violation of campaign finance laws while campaigning for the presidency in 2016. This wait-and-see moment is as good a time as any, however, to consider how Trump continues to threaten our nation's political health.

 

In the weeks leading up to his indictment, Trump's support among Republican voters actually increased. A clear majority of those polled said they expected him to be their party's nominee in 2024, while half said they intended to vote for him. Political observers have long assumed that indicting Trump would shore up his support with his base, while MAGA extremists might take to the street in violent demonstrations. Yet, opposition to Trump will also likely grow and deepen, turning the current political divide into a chasm. Whether or not we move toward civil war once the charges against him are unsealed will have much to do with Trump's own behavior. If he refuses to go voluntarily and peacefully to New York from Mar a Lago, law-breaking no doubt will surge across the country. Florida's governor, Ron de Santis, made it clear minutes after the indictment was announced that he would not assist in extraditing Trump to Manhattan, thereby telling us that he would be among those breaking the law.  

 

There is no law prohibiting a citizen under indictment--or one convicted of a crime, for that matter--from being elected to office. Once indicted, Donald Trump, like every other citizen, is presumed innocent unless and until he is convicted by a jury of his peers. Trials typically follow many months after an indictment is served, which means that Trump can continue to campaign for the foreseeable future. He would be given a boost should a jury acquit him. It's not even certain that a guilty verdict would keep him from the nomination of his party; he conceivably might convince multitudes of Republicans that he has been the innocent victim of a witch-hunt, one which has also targeted them. As he put it not long ago at his huge rally in Waco, Texas,"they're not coming after me, they're coming after you."

 

It was also in Waco that Trump assured his followers, "I am your retribution," reminding us (unintentionally?) that this is the essential message of fascism: we, who comprise the pure nation that has been kept in subservience by radical elites and the deep state, are coming for you and will use whatever means are necessary to defeat you. We will then reconstitute the state to serve our pure and patriotic interests. Democracy be damned!

 

What our Trumpian future holds still depends upon the outcome of criminal investigations into the man's activities in other jurisdictions, both state and federal, where likely charges appear to be more grave than those out of New York. Whether any of them succeed in helping to restore America's faith in its Constitutional system remains, at the moment, an open question. As an opinion writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer noted recently, "today we stand on the banks of the Rubicon, and all of us treading water in a faith in democracy and the rule of law have no choice but to cross it." 

 

                                                          (April 2023)

 

 

 

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