On the 2018 Midterms (A short essay)

[Brief note: This brief essay, which was completed around December of 2018, and is a reflection of thoughts and feelings I was having around the time of the 2018 midterm elections, is mildly experimental in nature, and is perhaps somewhat “lyrical” as it is part of a series originally intended to be categorized as a so called “prose poem.”

Since that time however, my views on aesthetics have evolved significantly. The exact definition of a “prose poem” will make for an interesting essay in the future but at this point in time I can tell you that at the time in my life when I was writing a number of so called “prose poems” I was in fact writing short, highly compressed, highly personal essays. That is to say, I was writing straight forward, matter of fact thoughts on particular subjects of interest. Now in a frame of mind where I believe this piece is properly categorized and understood with respect to its intentions I am happy to share it with you here for your contemplations]

Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped

What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good

-Bob Dylan, “Idiot Wind”

“‘Can one be well while suffering morally? Can one be calm in times like these if one has any feeling?’”

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

This election feels like a spaceship heading for a black hole.

Please don’t explode…please don’t explode…please don’t explode, and shatter like the German democracy did in 1933…

Last Sunday night at 9 p.m.– the Sunday before the election–instead of “Headliners,” which is usually on at that time on MSNBC, there was special coverage discussing the “big day”– the anticipation, a spectacle like fireworks on New Years’ Eve… or Christmas trees decorated with bright red, green, orange, pink, and blue lights, and a diversity of ornaments…like steaming, spicy mulled wine still in the pot.

Just two weeks ago, pipe bombs were mailed to prominent liberals, and what the Washington Post called “the deadliest [attack] on Jews in U.S. history,” took place at Tree of Life Synagogue.

Voter suppression…reported in Texas, North Dakota and Georgia… targeting… Native Americans and African Americans…in particular.

America these days is like a toilet, filled with excrement, and vomit, that just won’t flush.

I say this categorically, and in pain.

I apologize with fervor, writing such nauseating words, but…at least the Democrats won the House of Representatives.

Though I strain, I do see the light of one, glittering star dancing on the horizon.

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THE FIRST AMENDMENT IS UNDER ATTACK; AN ATTEMPT TO STIFLE FREE SPEECH

Yesterday twelve former senior intelligence officials issued a joint statement saying that President Trump’s removal of former Director of the CIA John Brennan’s security clearances has “everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

The officials added, “We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case.” They described the president’s actions as “inappropriate and deeply regrettable.”

What did the President say in his defense? 

In a statement released last Wednesday President Trump justified his actions by saying

any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior [which] has tested and far exceeded the limits of any professional courtesy that may have been due to him.

The president added that “Mr. Brennan has a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility.” (Coming from a president who, according to the Washington Post, “has made 3,001 false or misleading claims” as of last May, it is quite ironic that he should question any one else’s “objectivity and credibility.”)

One example the president gives of Brennan’s questionable actions is the occasion when Brennan

denied to congress that CIA officials under his supervision had improperly accessed the computer files of congressional staffers [when in fact] The CIA’s Inspector General [IG], however, contradicted Mr. Brennan directly, concluding unequivocally that agency officials had indeed improperly accessed staffer’s files.

Trump’s claim however is misleading. A subsequent report by a CIA Accountability Review Board concluded that the CIA actions were not illegal and did not breech any agreement made between the Senate and the CIA. Is President Trump familiar with that report? Or is he true to form and simply lying?

[Read the Huffington Post analysis of the report]

It is also worth noting that Brennan apologized for his contribution to adding confusion over the matter. As McClatchy reported: “[Senator] Feinstein called Brennan’s apology and his decision to submit [to the IG] findings to the accountability board “positive first steps.”

In any event, if President Trump thought Brennan’s supposed shortcomings with respect to the C.I.A.’s access of Senate computer files merited removing Brennan’s security clearance one has to wonder why it is only in the midst of recent criticism from Brennan that Trump has suddenly expressed this judgement.

President Trump also said in his statement statement

Mr. Brennan told congress that the intelligence community did not make use of the so-called Steele Dossier in an assessment regarding the 2016 election, an assertion contradicted by at least two other senior officials in the intelligence community and all of the facts.

This is misleading at best. As the New York Times has said

The New York Times has reported — and Republicans who hold the majority vote on the House Intelligence Committee have concluded — that the [Russia] investigation began in July 2016 and was prompted by the actions of George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.

Mr. Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat in May 2016 that Russia had political ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate. Australian officials then alerted their American counterparts of the conversation with Mr. Papadopoulos.

The information provided by Mr. Steele did not reach F.B.I. officials who were investigating Mr. Trump’s campaign until mid-September of 2016, The Times reported in May. 

Next, President Trump claims:

Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations- wild outburst on the internet and television- about this Administration.

He has made no reference to which “highly sensitive information” Mr. Brennan revealed to the public.

President Trump’s statement furthermore describes Brennan’s public statements as  “increasingly frenzied commentary,” attacking Brennan’s state of mind.

What does appear indeed frenzied is the approach president Trump has taken to remove Brennan’s security clearance.

As the New York Times reported:

The standard revocation process includes memos that outline why a clearance is being withdrawn, and would allow the former official to offer a defense or a rebuttal. In Mr. Brennan’s case, the C.I.A. did no such review of his behavior or comments.

Not only is the president contradicting security clearance removal precedent, but he made it even more emphatic in a Wall Street Journal interview that he was essentially punishing Brennan for his involvement in the Russia investigation, implying that anyone having anything to do with the investigation could theoretically be victim of Trump’s vindictive actions. 

President Trump reflected on Brennan and the Russia investigation, saying to the Wall Street Journal, “I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham. And these people led it! So I think it’s something that had to be done.”

According to the President then, because he thinks the Russia investigation is a “rigged witch hunt” and “a sham” that Brennan participated in, Brennan should have his security clearances removed. 

Considering only Brennan’s loss of security clearance, this might seem only to be an obstruction of justice and an abuse of power, but in light of there events of this week, it is clear that this is a piece of a broader attack on the first amendment- freedom of speech and of the press, specifically.

Recall the fact that Trump described Brennan’s public statements as “increasingly frenzied commentary”- referring most likely to Brennan’s claim that Trump’s deference to autocratic Russian President Vladimir Putin, and refusal to acknowledge the unanimous findings of the U.S. intelligence community, is treasonous.

Trump cited this as part of his rationale for stripping Brennan of his security clearance but Brennan is permitted by the First Amendment to say whatever he wants about the president (so long as he does not reveal confidential information).

The Chicago Tribune reported today that former Trump aid Omarosa Manigault Newman is being attacked for her criticism of the President. Omarosa has released tapes embarassing to the president, such as a conversation between Omarosa and Lara Trump where Trump tries to silence Omarosa with hush money upon being fired by President Trump’s chief of Staff, John Kelley. She’s also written a tell-all book “Unhinged” making claims that there is a tape of the President saying the N word, among other claims.

It has also just been reported by the Associated Press that

Omarosa Manigault Newman has a stash of video, emails, text messages and other documentation supporting the claims in her tell-all book about her time in the Trump White House, a person with direct knowledge of the records told The Associated Press Friday.

President Trump this week embarrassed himself and incited tremendous outcry when earlier this week he referred to Omarosa as a “dog,” giving the public one more example of how Trump deals not in reason or evidence based criticism of his own critics, but rather, resorts to dehumanizing insults.

The Chicago Tribune adds:

Trump campaign litigation counsel Charles Harder…sent a letter to Simon & Schuster executives threatening that the book’s publication would subject the company to liability for ‘substantial monetary damages and punitive damages.’

In the letter, according to the Chicago Tribune:

Harder said that excerpts of the book ‘contain confidential information and disparaging statements’ and that the Trump campaign’s potential claims against the publisher include tortious interference and inducement of Manigault Newman to breach her NDA [Nondisclosure agreement] with the campaign.

‘Now that you are aware of these contractual provisions, and Ms. Manigault-Newman’s breaches thereof, the Company will have claims against you, and all persons working in concert with you, should you proceed with publishing and selling the Book,’ Harder said, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The [Washington] Post.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Simon & Schuster outside counsel Elizabeth McNamara said Harder [the Trump campaign lawyer]

did not identify any particular excerpts as false, and the Trump campaign ‘does not have a viable legal claim merely because unspecified truthful statements in the Book may embarrass the President or his associates.’

In other words, Omarosa is being harassed- in fact, Trump reportedly wants Omarosa arrested – and he is attempting to prevent her from speaking, because her book makes the President look bad to the public.

While Simon & Schuster has said it will not stop publishing the book, the fact is the President of the United States swears an oath to uphold the constitution and by attempting to prevent Omarosa for exercising her first amendment right he is in direct violation of the constitution. He is not doing what he has sworn to do.

Washington Post Columnist Jennifer Rubin explains what she thinks ought to happen:

In a perfect world with lawmakers on both sides committed to upholding the Constitution, there would be bipartisan agreement on the need to begin impeachment hearings. there are more than enough grounds to commence hearings based on what we know to date and on Trump’s public conduct, including abuse of his authority over security clearances, his other assaults on the First Amendment, his blatant attempts to interfere with the Russia investigation….his drafting of a phony cover story for the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, his false public denial about payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels, etc.

It need not be “a perfect world” however, for Congress to do what it ought to do. It just needs to be a slightly more honest world- a world with a touch more integrity.

Further, perhaps if enough Americans make it blatantly clear to congress that they will not win re-election if they fail to impeach, congress will act. Trump’s base may be hard to crack but it’s not invincible and not immune to a tripping point that sways supporters from his hypnotic grasp.

People are speaking out in increasing numbers.

These recent first amendment attacks are happening the same week that hundreds of newspaper editorial boards condemn the president’s constant attack on the press,- calling the press “the enemy of the people” for example- after the Boston Globe suggested they all do so.

Showing how visceral the President’s attacks on the press are,  Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell reminds us:

When unhappy with Post coverage in particular, Trump has threatened government action against Amazon in an apparent attempt to financially punish its chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, who independently owns the paper.

Rampell adds:

Journalists and media owners are hardly the only ones whose job or financial security Trump has targeted from his bully pulpit. He called for the firing of National Football League players who kneel in protests during the national anthem. NFL owners, in a secretly recorded meeting in October, expressed concern about the president’s impact on their bottom line.

The president has been so reckless in his attacks that his removal of Brennan’s security clearances has awakened the anger of a retired Navy Admiral who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden,  William H. McRaven. McRaven wrote: I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearances as well, so I can add my name to the men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.”

McRaven says of Trump: “Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”

It is interesting that McRaven notes Trump’s “McCarthy-era tactics” because when McCarthy enraged people in the military during his “witch hunt” for attacking the first amendment it ended his political career and was met with a historical response. McCarthy was told: 

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

When will congress tell Trump “You have done enough” and impeach him? Or, are there too many among us willing to sacrifice our First Amendment rights? 

Help Democrat Josh Welle Unseat GOP Rep. Chris Smith; Americans Throughout the Country Should Donate to His Campaign

Fire and replace the “absentee congressman” and anti-women, anti-LGBT Republican Chris Smith! Democratic candidate Josh Welle deserves the privilege of serving New Jersey’s fourth congressional district instead. The district’s voters should vote for him, and Americans throughout the country should donate to his campaign.

(“Absentee congressman”: by the way, that’s Welle’s words for the record, not mine.).

Welle is not afraid to condemn President Donald Trump for his treasonous, criminal, unethical,  behavior.

At the U.S.- Russia Summit Press Conference in Helsinki Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire asked President Trump: “would you denounce what happened in 2016 [i.e., the Russian interference in the election] and would you warn [Russian president Vladimir Putin] to never do it again?”

Trump would not denounce it, would not warn Putin never to do it again, and in fact said that Putin’s denials were “strong and powerful” while the U.S. intelligence community’s findings were not “strong and powerful.”

Trump also said he didn’t “see any reason why” Russia would interfere in our elections. (The fact that we have been sanctioning them for things like violating international law when they annexed Crimea, et cetera, seems to escape the consciousness of the president)

In response to Trump’s open treason and groveling before Putin, Welle said:

 

“As a post-9/11 veteran and an everyday citizen, I was appalled by the President’s actions in the press conference with Russian President Putin in Helsinki. For a sitting U.S. President to side with an authoritarian Russian leader while undermining the integrity of America’s intelligence community is a threat to national security and an insult to the men and women who serve and protect this country.”

 

Responding also to Trump’s claim that the European Union is “a foe, ” Welle said:

 

“In choosing to support Putin over our NATO allies, Trump failed in his duties as Commander-in-Chief and reinforces to the American electorate that he lacks the diplomatic skills necessary to lead during times of great uncertainty.”

 

In contrast, Representative Chris Smith refused to criticize the president in the least. (Anyone who is dogmatically uncritical in the name of being “a team player” for their political party proves they lack basic ethical standards and the intellectual capacity necessary for the kind of judgement a lawmaker should have).

Smith did not utter a single word acknowledging President Trump’s deference to Putin (or his sycophancy towards him) nor did he demonstrate an awareness of Trump’s blatantly obvious undermining of U.S. intelligence. In fact, Chris Smith acted as if President Trump was not even at the summit, saying:

 

“Today’s summit broached crucial issues affecting human rights in many countries, election meddling, the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, and terrorism, among other serious concerns.”

 

After it took a day for President Trump to try and play the American people for idiots, and tell us all that actually, he misspoke, Chris Smith took part in Trump’s deceit, saying

 

“Today, President Trump stated the obvious—we know that Russia meddled in the election. He said further that he has ‘full faith and support’ in the conclusion reached by the intelligence agencies in their investigation. This clarification is welcomed and, frankly, expected.”

 

Smith says this despite the president’s numerous walk-backs calling the entire Russia investigation “a witch-hunt” and “a hoax.” Smith has no comment on that, proving he is either incompetent or unethical.

But there is more at stake than a treasonous president doing the bidding of an anti-Democratic Russian President and flouting the law. The preservation of basic civil rights are under constant attack so long as Chris Smith remains in congress.

Thankfully, Josh Welle won’t have it.

Welle believes women should not be slaves to theocrats and fetuses- he believes women have the right to choose if they want an abortion or not. Welle says: “A woman should be able to make her own healthcare choices” and that he “Support[s] women’s reproductive rights and their access to safe and affordable care including contraception, preventive care and funding for Planned Parenthood.”

Chris Smith does not believe that. He believes that  rape victims should not be allowed to have abortions.

Consider Smith’s attempt to actually change the legal definition of rape as part of his Pro-Choice agenda.

As Mother Jones reported back in 2011:

“For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman.)”

 

Chris Smith took issue to that and introduced legislation that would redefine “rape” and thereby limit the number of rape victims who can receive government funded abortions.

Mother Jones reported:

 

“types of rapes that would no longer be covered by the exemption include rapes in which the woman was drugged or given excessive amounts of alcohol, rapes of women with limited mental capacity, and many date rapes.”

 

Mother Jones added: “As for the incest exception, the bill would only allow federally funded abortions if the woman is under 18.”

Chris Smith’s attacks on reproductive rights spans decades, with relentless attempts to pass a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 11.47.15 AM

[See the bill on Congress’ Website]

 

Chris Smith has also spent his career trying to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage.

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 11.53.34 AM

[See the Bill on Congress’ Website]

 

He also infamously denigrated the LGBT community when he said “I am a strong believer in traditional marriage and do not construe homosexual rights as human rights.” It’s clear that Chris Smith is divisive- that he thinks the 14th amendment of the constitution, which declares all Americans equal under the law- is null and void. Smith wants utterly unconstitutional control our sex lives.

Welle, on the other hand,  supports LGBT rights. He says “No American should be treated differently because of who they love. I support full federal equality for LGBT Americans because gay rights are human rights.”

A number of Smith’s constituents are disgusted by his bigoted policies and rhetoric but Smith doesn’t have the nerve to listen to their appeals to change his mind.

He hasn’t granted his constituents a town hall in a quarter of a century. He is terrified of facing their criticism. He doesn’t even have the courage to face his opponent, Welle, in a debate. He doesn’t even live in the state he is supposed to “represent.” As is widely reported, he lives in Virginia, not New Jersey.

Chris Smith is an absolute coward, afraid of the outrage his decades of bigotry have incited.

Josh Welle, a Veteran who has served in Afghanistan and Iraq has proven he does have courage.

Residents of New Jersey’s fourth congressional district deserve a Representative who is not afraid to condemn the president’s treasonous, criminal, unethical behavior, not afraid to face the people he wants to serve, and not afraid to stand up for them, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. And if Americans throughout the country donate to this campaign it will also help in the Democratic effort to reclaim the House of Representatives.