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Profiles in Courage: Mitt Romney


Impeachment rally.

Impeachment rally. Photo by Phil Roeder, published under Creative Commons License.

Adam Schiff, in closing speech to Senate: “Every single vote, even a single vote, by a single member, can change the course of history. is said that a single man or woman of courage makes a majority. Is there one among you who will say, ‘Enough’?”

Senator Mitt Romney was the only one: the lone, courageous Republican vote to convict the president. Since his vote, Romney has endured the vehement denunciation that he knew would follow his vote of conscience. He has been denounced by people in his own party and by the President of the United States. His principled stand gets praise mainly from people whose politics remain far different from his own—people like Stephen Colbert. In his monologue, Colbert referred to his own faith, and then went on: Continue reading

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Trillions of Dollars and Little Sense in 2021 Budget Document

money bags

Photo by, published under Creative Commons license

“The president is either brazenly lying about his 2021 budget or doesn’t know what’s in it,” writes Aaron Rupar at Vox.

Budgets are moral documents, meaning that where we put our money reflects what we believe and value. This record $4.8 trillion budget plan is a fairly immoral document. Luckily, it is a wish list and political platform, not a serious proposal with a chance of becoming law. If you want to know what’s in it, read on for a short and not-so-sweet summary, distilled from half a dozen news sources.

“The budget does not mention climate change. It also states misleadingly that air pollutant emissions dropped between 2016 and 2018, and credited the Trump administration with overseeing “some of the cleanest air and water in the world” while eliminating clean air and water regulations.

“After a decade of improvement in air quality nationally, federal data last year showed that fine particulate pollution has increased in the last two years.”

The deficit is the measure of how much spending exceeds income in each year. The national debt is the cumulative consequence of borrowing year after year to make up deficits. This budget projects a $3.4 trillion increase in the national debt by 2024.

While it will take up Congressional time and political space, this remains a fantasy budget, with zero chance of being passed by Congress. For that, at least, we can be thankful.

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Profiles in Courage: Marie Yovanovitch

Marie Yovanovitch taking her oath before testifying to the House impeachment committee.

Marie Yovanovitch taking her oath before testifying to the House impeachment committee.

Marie Yovanovitch: “I have seen dictatorships around the world, where blind obedience is the norm and truth-tellers are threatened with punishment or death. We must not allow the United States to become a country where standing up to our government is a dangerous act.”

Marie Yovanovitch worked for the State Department for 34 years, ending her career as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. She refused to go along with the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into becoming an arm of the Trump re-election smear campaign, so she was forced out of her post. Then she refused to be silenced, instead testifying under oath in the House impeachment hearings. She showed the highest kind of courage in refusing to give in to intense, high-level political pressure. Continue reading

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Profiles in Courage: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman

purple heart

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed while serving with the U.S. military.  

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman: “The uniform I wear today is that of the United States Army. We do not serve any particular political party; we serve the nation.”

On February 7, President Trump ordered the firing of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (and his twin brother Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman.) Despite Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s plan to leave his National Security Council at the end of the month, Trump ordered him marched out of the White House by security guards. Vindman is an Iraq War veteran who earned a Purple Heart, among other decorations. He was fired from the National Security Council for the now-unpardonable crime of testifying truthfully under oath when called by the House impeachment committee. Continue reading


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Democracy Fatigue

Tired of fighting? Feel like voting / marching / calling Congress / all of it is pointless? Maybe you are suffering from democracy fatigue, which threatens to become both epidemic and chronic in the United States.

The causes are not hard to find: just turn to your Twitter feed, open your newspaper, or turn on the television and watch U.S. Senators waiting for their seemingly inevitable vote to continue the most corrupt and incompetent presidency of the past century. This president is not only a disgrace to office, but also holds that office despite receiving nearly three million votes less than his opponent. Has the Constitution failed to protect the country, or have we failed to honor the Constitution? Either way, we’re screwed.

This failure is not the end of the story. This is no time to give up. Now, more than ever, we must fight harder. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, of our country, of our world, we must take this country back from the minority who claim it now. And yes—they are a minority. They are far less than 50 percent, less even that the minority that voted this president into office. Never forget that he lost the election by three million votes. A majority said no to him, but the Electoral College said yes. Continue reading


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Reclaiming the Dream

Martin Luther King Day

I find it hard to read about Martin Luther King, Jr. on his day, much less to write about him. My heart is too full, still, of memories of him, and of the years of struggle following his assassination. This year, though, it seems especially important to reflect and to reclaim the dream of an America-that-could-be, a dream he preached so clearly, a dream still so far from realization in our America-that-is. I read three reflections that moved and inspired me today, and want to share them with you.

The first comes from Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at Boston College who writes a daily blog called Letters from an American. She writes about heroes, and quotes a passage from the speech Dr. King gave on the night before he was assassinated, which seems especially appropriate today:

“Dr. King told the audience that, if God had let him choose any era in which to live, he would have chosen the one in which he had landed. ‘Now that’s a strange statement to make,’ King went on, ‘because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around…. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.’ Dr. King said that he felt blessed to live in an era when people had finally woken up and were working together for freedom and economic justice….

Continue reading

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Sorting News From Nonsense


Joe Friday – Just the facts, ma’am

Did Poland ban mosques? Did Obama release Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from custody in 2004? Did 55 percent of conservative Christians tell pollsters they would disown children who were homo sapiens? Did the KKK march behind a Trump-Pence banner? Did  Pelosi use $15,000 worth of pens to sign the impeachment document?

No. No. No. No. No.

Every single one of these “news” items is completely false—like hundreds, maybe thousands, of others circulating wildly on social media.

Some of these lies are aimed at outraging progressive/left-leaning people, and some target the concerns of conservative/right-leaning folks. What they have in common is the damage they do, both by worsening divisions and distrust between us and by undermining belief in our news media and our democratic institutions. Continue reading

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Twitter as Foreign Policy

Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 11.07.41 PM.pngLast night was bad enough, with Trump tweeting threats of bombing Iranian cultural sites. Iran has 24 cultural sites listed as world cultural heritage sites. Today is even worse. Continue reading

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Assassinations: Sarajevo to Baghdad


Assassinating a foreign government official is an act of war. That’s what we just did in Baghdad. In 1914, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo sparked World War I. Now the only thing that can prevent the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad from sparking war is Iran’s restraint. Irony, any one?

Declaration of War

The Constitution says only Congress can declare war. Article I, Section 8 enumerates many powers reserved to Congress including the power “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water…” Despite that clear reservation of war powers to Congress, presidents have waged undeclared wars, including the “police action” in Korea and the war in Vietnam.

The undeclared war in Vietnam lasted for more than a decade and cost more than three million Vietnamese lives, two-thirds of whom were civilians, as well as the lives of some 57,000+ U.S. soldiers. After the secret U.S. bombing of Cambodia was revealed, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution to place explicit limits on presidential war-mongering. Then-president Richard Nixon vetoed the War Powers Resolution. Congress overrode that veto, re-passing the War Powers Resolution with a two-thirds majority.

Trump’s order for the assassination of a foreign government official—Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani —is the latest in a parade of illegal presidential acts of war. As Oren Hathaway, professor of international law at Yale, wrote:

“Any significant military action requires legal authority under both domestic and international law. Normally, domestic law would require the president to seek the approval of Congress, usually through a law authorizing the use of military force (after all, the Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power to “declare war”). International law would also require him to seek the approval of the United Nations Security Council before resorting to force, unless the host state consents (which it did not) or the action qualifies for the express, but narrow, self-defense exception. Trump did not seek approval in either forum.”

The president may, under the Constitution, defend the nation against imminent attacks. The administration has presented absolutely no evidence of such a threat from Soleimani.

Assassination Forbidden by U.S. Law

Not only is assassination of a foreign leader an act of war, it is an act forbidden by U.S. law. Jeremy Scahill summarizes the succession of executive orders forbidding assassination:

“In 1976, following Church Committee recommendations regarding allegations of assassination plots carried out by U.S. intelligence agencies, Ford signed an executive order banning ‘political assassination.’ Jimmy Carter subsequently issued a new order strengthening the prohibition by dropping the word “political” and extending it to include persons ’employed by or acting on behalf of the United States.’ In 1981, Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12333, which remains in effect today. The language seems clear enough: ‘No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.’”

Trump is not the first president to flout the limits set by the War Powers Resolution. President George H.W. Bush may have been authorized to conduct war on Iraq by the October 16, 2002, joint resolution authorizing the use of U.S. armed forces against Iraq (House Joint Resolution 114), but Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all conducted extensive military operations in foreign countries without declarations of war. Congress repeatedly refused to exert its authority under the War Powers Resolution or to rein in military operations. We remain at war, a war undeclared and unauthorized and unending, escalating daily in multiple countries around the world.

Assassination is prohibited by U.S. law. Still our presidents do it. “Targeted drone strikes” are assassinations, whether carried out by Bush or by Obama or by Trump.

And so we have come to the present moment. The assassination of an Iranian general is an act of war. The bomb strike at a Baghdad airport is a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. The president has ordered thousands of U.S. troops to the Middle East. He threatens, via Twitter, to strike

“52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!”

It is time to call the president to account. Some in Congress are trying to do so:

“Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, introduced a resolution on Friday invoking the War Powers Act that would a force a debate and vote in Congress to prevent further escalation of hostilities with Iran.

“Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, and Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, said in a statement that they would resurrect legislation to prohibit any funding for offensive military force in or against Iran without prior congressional authorization.”

In 2007, Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote “Pity the Nation,” which includes these lines:

Pity the nation that raises not its voice
          Except  to praise conquerers
       And acclaim the bully as hero
          And aims to rule the world
              By force and by torture

Our task is to change the nation. In whatever ways we can, we must speak and act to stop the travesty that continues to escalate into every-widening, ever more deadly war.

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2019: Year of the Turkey

IMG_5398.jpeg2019 was a good year for turkeys. Actual wild turkeys, living in our neighborhood’s small patch of prairie, strutting our streets, grazing on our commons. (And occasionally, as above, raiding a neighbor’s bird feeder.)

I love wild turkeys. Near extinction fifty years ago, they have roared back with a vengeance. Sometimes a literal vengeance, attacking cars and people. I don’t actually approve of that, but I understand the sentiment. Continue reading

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