Friday, February 17, 2017

The abdication of all honor

“National honor is the national property of the highest value.” — James Monroe, American statesman and fifth President of the United States

HOW DID we get to be a country that is this corrupt? I apologize for not being able to say more than that. Honestly, words fail. 

David Fitzsimmons for the Arizona Star

Below, from The New York Times

Bring On the Special Prosecutor

By The Editorial Board
February 17, 2017

In light of the stunning events of the past week, the question is not whether the Trump administration’s ties to the Russian government need to be investigated immediately and fully — clearly they do. It’s who will be in charge of that investigation?

The Republicans in Congress can’t decide whether they would rather act like a responsible, independent branch or just the friendly legislative arm of the White House. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House oversight committee, would sooner investigate a cartoon character named Sid the Science Kid than any allegations relating to President Trump.

The prize for partisan candor goes to Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who said on Tuesday, “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans.”

James Comey, the embattled F.B.I. director, can’t be trusted to be a neutral investigator, either — not after his one-sided interference in the 2016 election compromised the bureau’s integrity and damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign in its final days. Anyway, Mr. Comey reports directly to the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who was not only Mr. Trump’s first and most ardent supporter in the Senate, but the chairman of the Trump campaign’s national security advisory committee.

Despite his closeness to Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions has said he sees no reason to recuse himself from any inquiry into the relationship between the president’s top aides and Russia. Mr. Trump’s unexplained allegiance to that country and its thug of a president, Vladimir Putin, has been a major concern from the start of his candidacy. But the scope of a potential investigation expanded sharply in the last four days, with the firing of Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for lying to the White House about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, and the news that members of the Trump campaign’s inner circle were in repeated contact with Russian intelligence agents last year, at the same time that Russia was actively attempting to swing the election to Mr. Trump.

There is, in fact, only one person who could conduct such a high-profile, politically sensitive investigation fairly and completely — a special prosecutor.

Some Republican senators have recognized the need for an investigation, and it would be right for the Senate to move ahead in its role as a check on the executive.

But the need for an independent actor who can both investigate and prosecute criminal wrongdoing in the executive branch is clear, because the attorney general and the Justice Department cannot be reliably impartial about their own bosses. Of course, what’s simple in theory has been politically fraught in practice. In scandals from Watergate to Iran-contra to Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky, special prosecutors have butted heads with presidents and their staffs, sometimes with calamitous results.

A 1978 law, the Independent Counsel Act, created a mechanism for appointing special prosecutors who were empowered to investigate broadly and protected from presidential meddling. But the law expired in 1999 amid partisan dispute; today only the attorney general has the power to appoint a special prosecutor.

In this case, the need couldn’t be more obvious. For starters, did Mr. Trump order Mr. Flynn, directly or indirectly, to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador? If not, why did he not fire Mr. Flynn weeks earlier, when he apparently first learned of his lies? Were Mr. Trump’s aides colluding with Russian agents during the campaign? Perhaps most important are Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which could tell us whether he is beholden to, and thus compromised by, the Russians? House Republicans, assuming their standard supine stance toward Mr. Trump, voted on Tuesday against requesting the returns from the Internal Revenue Service; a special prosecutor would not feel so politically constrained.

It’s never easy to conduct robust, independent investigations of the most powerful people in the world, but it is one of the foundations of a functioning democracy. The concern is particularly great in the case of the Trump administration, which seems uninterested in telling the truth in matters large and small.

Mr. Sessions must appoint a special prosecutor, and he knows why. As an article published on Fox News’s website days before the election said, “The appropriate response when the subject matter is public and it arises in a highly charged political atmosphere is for the attorney general to appoint a special counsel of great public stature and indisputable independence to assure the public the matter will be handled without partisanship.”

The article, which called for an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and pay-to-play allegations surrounding the Clinton Foundation, argued that Loretta Lynch, then the attorney general, could not serve as a neutral arbiter, given her impromptu meeting with Bill Clinton on her airplane earlier in the year. One of the article’s co-authors was Jeff Sessions.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ordinary, extraordinary inhumanity

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke, Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist, philosopher and parliamentarian

THE BELOW sobering op-ed piece, which appeared in The Baltimore Sun, came to me by way of Galen Brooks. The hypocrisy of SCROTUS (So-called Ruler of the United States) banning immigrants — he who not only is the son of an immigrant, but is currently and previously married to immigrants — is jaw-dropping. 

Ordinary Americans carried out inhumane acts for Trump

By Chris Edelson

February 6, 2017

A week ago, men and women went to work at airports around the United States as they always do. They showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, perhaps dropped off their kids at school. Then they reported to their jobs as federal government employees, where, according to news reports, one of them handcuffed a 5-year-old child, separated him from his mother and detained him alone for several hours at Dulles airport.

At least one other federal employee at Dulles reportedly detained a woman who was traveling with her two children, both U.S. citizens, for 20 hours without food. A relative says the mother was handcuffed (even when she went to the bathroom) and threatened with deportation to Somalia.

The Baltimore Sun

At Kennedy Airport, still other federal employees detained and handcuffed a 65-year-old woman traveling from Qatar to visit her son, who is a U.S. citizen and serviceman stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. The woman was held for more than 33 hours, according to the New York Times, and denied use of a wheelchair.

The men and women who work for the federal government completed these and other tasks and then returned to their families, where perhaps they had dinner and read stories to their children before bedtime.

When we worry and wonder about authoritarian regimes that inflict cruelty on civilians, we often imagine tyrannical despots unilaterally advancing their sinister agendas. But no would-be autocrat can act alone. As a practical matter, he needs subordinates willing to carry out orders. Of course, neither Donald Trump nor Steve Bannon personally detained any of the more than 100 people held at airports over the weekend pursuant to the administration's executive order on immigration, visitation and travel to the United States. They relied on assistance.

The men and women who reportedly handcuffed small children and the elderly, separated a child from his mother and held others without food for 20 hours, are undoubtedly "ordinary" people. What I mean by that, is that these are, in normal circumstances, people who likely treat their neighbors and co-workers with kindness and do not intentionally seek to harm others. That is chilling, as it is a reminder that authoritarians have no trouble finding the people they need to carry out their acts of cruelty. They do not need special monsters; they can issue orders to otherwise unexceptional people who will carry them out dutifully.

This should not be a surprise. The famous Milgram experiment and subsequent studies suggest that many people will obey instructions from an authority figure, even if it means harming another person. It is also perfectly understandable (which does not mean it is justifiable). How many of us would refuse to follow an instruction from a superior at work? It is natural to want to keep one's job, even if at the price of inflicting cruelty on another human being, even perhaps a child.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: What will we do? This is not a hypothetical question. Most of us will not face the stark choice employees at airports faced over the weekend. But we are all democratic citizens. Ultimately, our government can only act if we allow it to act. Under our Constitution, the people rule. Our elected officials, including the president, are accountable to us. We possess the power to reject actions we see as out of bounds. We are used to doing this in elections, but democratic tools go further. Even once an election is over, we can exercise our First Amendment rights to contact elected officials, speak, write and protest.

It is far easier to do nothing, to trust that, somehow, America's dangerous course will be set right. But this is a dangerous gamble, and in fact an abdication of our responsibility as Americans and indeed as human beings. If we do nothing, that is a choice. It means we accept a government that has demonstrated it is capable of inflicting cruelty on the innocent and defenseless.

What will we do?

Chris Edelson ( is an assistant professor of government in American University's School of Public Affairs. His latest book, "Power Without Constraint: The Post 9/11 Presidency and National Security," was published in May 2016 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Two CMA concerts

“I consider myself very fortunate.” — Aaron Diehl

PAUL is busy enough as a musician that he not infrequently ends up having a gig on a night I'd like for us to be able to go somewhere together. And so it was that I attended two Des Moines Civic Music Association concerts without him: Manhattan Transfer with Take 6 on November 5 and Aaron Diehl with Warren Wolf February 10.

At least for the first one, I knew in advance that he had a musical conflict so I only bought one ticket. Paul had purchased two tickets and planned to take me to the Aaron Diehl/Warren Wolf concert until about a week before the performance when he recollected that he was playing two shows in Davenport that same night. Ah well.

The two concerts yielded two widely varying experiences for me.

I don't know what I was thinking in wanting to hear Manhattan Transfer. We have a Take 6 CD that we play from time to time, and I remembered that I like it, but apparently I forgot that I really don't like Manhattan Transfer very much at all. My opinion wasn't changed hearing them in person. I squirmed and was bored when Transfer performed; when Take 6 joined them it was better, but the only time I relaxed and enjoyed any part of the evening was when Take 6 performed alone.

Paul said, "Yeah, I kinda wondered about you wanting to go to that one. Manhattan Transfer is too square for you." I was thankful Paul was spared.

Take 6

Manhattan didn't transfer for me.

Oh but the Friday, February 10 concert was a different experience all together! I loved jazz pianist Aaron Diehl and vibes player Warren Wolf's performance. They're both phenoms. The New York Times has described Aaron's playing as “melodic precision, harmonic erudition, and elegant restraint.”

Aaron, who is a graduate of Juilliard, began studying classical piano when he was seven. His appetite for jazz emerged at Interlochen Summer Camp in Michigan where pianist Eldar Djangirov’s avidity for Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum made a lasting impression.

Aaron Diehl

Aaron's virtuosity has not gone unrecognized. In 2002 he was a finalist in Jazz at Lincoln Center's Essentially Ellington competition where he was chosen as Outstanding Soloist, and the next year he was invited to tour with the Wynton Marsalis Septet in Europe. In 2011 he was the winner of the Cole Porter Fellowship from the American Pianists Association. He received the Jazz Journalists Association Award for Up-And-Coming Artist in 2013, and in 2014 he was chosen as the Monterey Jazz Festival Commission Artist, one of the youngest musicians ever named.

For it he composed Three Streams of Expression, dedicated to pianist and composer John Lewis, and I was lucky to get to hear it played live Friday night. A fusion of classical music and jazz, it's beautiful!

Baltimore native, Warren Wolf, began classical musical training, studying vibraphone, marimba, drums and piano under the tutelage of his father, when he was just three years old. Warren is a graduate of Peabody Preparatory, Baltimore School for the Arts and Berklee College of Music, where he was asked to join the faculty soon after graduation. He's now a full-time touring musician, composer and recording artist.

Warren Wolf

Aaron and Warren were backed up by bassist Peter Washington and drummer Pete Van Nostrand. Peter is the best bassist I've ever heard. Paul says that Christian McBride often plays bass with Aaron, and Paul really likes Christian, but not having heard him myself, I'll take Peter any day.

My two favorite pieces were Aaron's Three Streams of Expressions and the encore, an original composition of Warren's 
called Wolfgang, played by just the two of them, which is the title song of his sophomore album. Listening to it felt like floating.

For those of you might want to catch either one of these virtuosos, their upcoming schedules are below. To purchase CDs go to Mack Avenue.

Aaron Diehl

February 16 — University of Massachusetts | Amherst, MA

February 17 — Berklee Performance Center | Boston, MA

February 19 — University of Michigan | Ann Arbor, MI

February 21-22 — The Dakota | Minneapolis, MN

February 23 — Koerner Hall | Toronto, ON

February 24 — Centre Pierre Péladeau | Montreal, QB

March 3 — Center Theater | Skokie, IL

March 5 — Holland Performing Arts Center | Omaha, NE

March 7 — Campbell Hall | Santa Barbara, CA

March 10 — Walt Disney Hall | Los Angeles, CA

March 11 — Bing Concert Hall | Stanford, CA

March 13 — Kuumbwa Jazz Center | Santa Cruz, CA

March 14 — Jackson Hall | Davis, CA

March 16-19 — SF Jazz | San Francisco, CA

Warren Wolf

February 2 — Dizzy's Club Coca Cola | New York City, NY

February 18 — West End Cultural Centre | Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

February 22 — Northwestern State University | Natchitoches, LA

March 1 — WBGO-FM radio show | Newark, NJ

March 4 — Folly Theatre | Kansas City, MO

March 7 — Howard University | Washington, D.C.

March 7 — Towson State University (5:30pm) | Towson, MD

March 9 — National Gallery of Art | Washington, D.C.

March 10-12 — Dizzy's Club Coca Cola | New York City, NY

March 13-19 — Columbus Jazz Orchestra | Columbus, OH

March 24-25 — Spring Festival of Percussion | Phoenix, AZ

March 28 — Brooks Center for the Arts | Clemson, SC

March 30 — Shalin Liu Performance Center | Rockport, MA

March 31 — The Egg | Albany, NY

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

NO on DeVos

"I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies." — Betsy DeVos, January 17, 2017, during her Senate confirmation hearings

BETSY DEVOS, who has never attended, worked in or sent her children to any public school, may be the most spectacularly unqualified cabinet post nominee we've ever seen, not just of those chosen by he-who-shall-not-be-named, but E-V-E-R.

Fabulously wealthy, her husband Dick DeVos was a CEO of the multi-level marketing giant Amway and her brother Erik Prince is the founder of the private security company Blackwater, they've used their money in part to pillage the Michigan public school system through their multi-million dollar financing of unregulated charter school development.

A year-long investigation by the Detroit Free Press in 2014 found that:

Michigan's charter schools rake in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spend it

– Charter school employees and board members were steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders

– More charter schools were ranking below the 25th percentile than public schools

Even a charter advocate, former Michigan state schools superintendent Tom Watkins said, "People are making a boatload of money, and the kids aren't getting educated."

Her performance at her confirmation hearing was abysmal. Below is part of what the editorial board at the New York Daily News had to say about her alarming lack of basic information about the department she seeks to run.

Below that is the majority of a Detroit Free Press article from two months ago with much more specific details.

Reject Betsy DeVos: Trump's unqualified education pick

It’s not just a caricature to paint DeVos as clueless. In confirmation hearings, she revealed herself to be actually addled on some of the most important questions facing the agency she seeks to head.

Thrown a softball — asked to affirm basic responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a law on the books since the 1970s that is Washington’s duty to enforce — she whiffed, delivering a meaningless mantra about leaving things to states.

Pressed on whether she was “unaware that it was federal law,” DeVos then admitted, “I may have confused it.”

The astonishing display of ignorance was rivaled by a brief exchange on measuring student achievement.

For well over a decade, just about anyone who follows reform has been schooled on the difference between judging students, teachers and schools on the basis of proficiency (meaning, overall achievement scores on standardized tests) and judging them on growth (meaning, improvements or lack thereof from year to year).

The distinction has been at the center of fever-pitch battles on how best to rate teachers, and on how to determine whether long-struggling schools are failing or making progress.

DeVos was asked to explain the difference. She couldn’t do it.

Betsy DeVos and the twilight of public education

By Stephen Henderson 
December 6, 2016

In Detroit, parents of school-age children have plenty of choices, thanks to the nation's largest urban network of charter schools.

What remains in short supply is quality.

In Brightmoor, the only high school left is Detroit Community Schools, a charter boasting more than a decade of abysmal test scores and, until recently, a superintendent who earned $130,000 a year despite a dearth of educational experience or credentials.

On the west side, another charter school, Hope Academy, has been serving the community around Grand River and Livernois for 20 years. Its test scores have been among the lowest in the state throughout those two decades; in 2013 the school ranked in the first percentile, the absolute bottom for academic performance. Two years later, its charter was renewed.

Or if you live downtown, you could try Woodward Academy, a charter that has limped along near the bottom of school achievement since 1998, while its operator has been allowed to expand into other communities.

For students enrolled in schools of choice — that is, schools in nearby districts who have opened their doors to children who live outside district boundaries — it's not much better. Kids who depend on Detroit's problematic public transit are too far away from the state's top-performing school districts — and most of those districts don't participate in the schools of choice program, anyway.

This deeply dysfunctional educational landscape — where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and "choice" means the opposite for tens of thousands of children — is no accident. It was created by an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades, with little regard for the outcome.

And at the center of that lobby is Betsy DeVos, the west Michigan advocate whose family has contributed millions of dollars to the cause of school choice and unregulated charter expansion throughout Michigan.


President-elect Donald Trump has made a number of controversial cabinet nominations already. But none seems more inappropriate, or more contrary to reason, than his choice of DeVos to lead the Department of Education.

DeVos isn’t an educator, or an education leader. She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance. In fact, she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards and guiding dollars for the nation’s public schools.

She is, in essence, a lobbyist — someone who has used her extraordinary wealth to influence the conversation about education reform, and to bend that conversation to her ideological convictions despite the dearth of evidence supporting them.

For 20 years, the lobby her family bankrolls has propped up the billion-dollar charter school industry and insulated it from commonsense oversight, even as charter schools repeatedly failed to deliver on their promises to parents and children.

The conflicts

Betsy DeVos and other family members have given more than $2 million to the PAC since 2001. GLEP has spent that money essentially buying policy outcomes that have helped Michigan's charter industry grow while shielding it from accountability.

This summer, the DeVos family contributed $1.45 million over two months — an astounding average of $25,000 a day — to Michigan GOP lawmakers and the state party after the Republican-led Legislature derailed a bipartisan provision that would have provided more charter school oversight in Detroit.

GLEP also pushed hard — and successfully — to lift the cap on charter schools a few years ago, even though Michigan already had among the highest number of charters in the nation despite statistics suggesting charters weren't substantively outperforming traditional public schools.

And in 2000, the DeVos extended family spent $5.6 million on an unsuccessful campaign to amend Michigan's constitution to allow school vouchers — the only choice tool not currently in play in Michigan.

Even if Betsy DeVos ceased her substantial contributions to pro-school choice lawmakers, or to GLEP’s PAC, what credibility would she have in a policy job that requires her to be an advocate for all schools? Would her family divest from the PAC if she were Secretary of Education? Rein in campaign spending? And even if it did, how could she credibly distance herself from her history as a lobbyist?

About those outcomes

Beyond the conflicts, there are also deep questions about Betsy DeVos' substantive understanding of education policy.

As Secretary of Education, DeVos would be expected to help set standards, guide accountability and oversee research in a way that benefits children, through outcomes, not one particular interest or industry. And more important, the U.S. Secretary of Education must understand the value of both high-performing charters and traditional public schools.

She has no track record of working along those lines, and no experience that suggests she’s even interested in it.

Largely as a result of the DeVos’ lobbying, Michigan tolerates more low-performing charter schools than just about any other state. And it lacks any effective mechanism for shutting down, or even improving, failing charters.

We're a laughingstock in national education circles, and a pariah among reputable charter school operators, who have not opened schools in Detroit because of the wild West nature of the educational landscape here.

In Michigan, just about anyone can open a charter school if they can raise the money. That's not so in most other states, where proven track records are required.

Once a school opens in Michigan, it's free to operate for as long as it wants, and is seldom held accountable by state officials for its performance. 

And in Michigan, you can operate a charter for profit, so even schools that fail academically are worth keeping open because they can make money.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Be afraid, be very afraid

“Throughout the campaign, Sessions has been the fiercest, most dedicated, and most loyal promoter in Congress of Trump’s agenda, and has played a critical role as the clearinghouse for policy and philosophy to undergird the implementation of that agenda. What we are witnessing now is the birth of a new political order." — Stephen Bannon, Chief Strategist in the Donald Trump administration

THIS MORNING I tiptoed upstairs, so as to not awaken Paul, to sit with Anaya, and the likelihood that the Senate will confirm a racist, isolationist xenophobe, Jeff Sessions, as Attorney General and the blazingly unqualified Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education brought me to actual tears. 

Below is a profile of Sessions from The Washington Post.

Anaya, who is not destroying democracy

Jeff Sessions, who is

Trump’s hard-line actions have an intellectual godfather: Jeff Sessions

By Philip Rucker and Robert Costa 

January 30, 2017

In jagged black strokes, President Trump’s signature was scribbled onto a catalogue of executive orders over the past 10 days that translated the hard-line promises of his campaign into the policies of his government.

The directives bore Trump’s name, but another man’s fingerprints were also on nearly all of them: Jeff Sessions.

The early days of the Trump presidency have rushed a nationalist agenda long on the fringes of American life into action — and Sessions, the quiet Alabam­ian who long cultivated those ideas as a Senate backbencher, has become a singular power in this new Washington.

Sessions’s ideology is driven by a visceral aversion to what he calls “soulless globalism,” a term used on the extreme right to convey a perceived threat to the United States from free trade, international alliances and the immigration of nonwhites.

And despite many reservations among Republicans about that worldview, Sessions — whose 1986 nomination for a federal judgeship was doomed by accusations of racism that he denied — is finding little resistance in Congress to his proposed role as Trump’s attorney general.

Sessions’s nomination is scheduled to be voted on Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but his influence in the administration stretches far beyond the Justice Department. From immigration and health care to national security and trade, Sessions is the intellectual godfather of the president’s policies. His reach extends throughout the White House, with his aides and allies accelerating the president’s most dramatic moves, including the ban on refugees and citizens from seven mostly Muslim nations that has triggered fear around the globe.

The author of many of Trump’s executive orders is senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, a Sessions confidant who was mentored by him and who spent the weekend overseeing the government’s implementation of the refu­gee ban. The tactician turning Trump’s agenda into law is deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn, Sessions’s longtime chief of staff in the Senate. The mastermind behind Trump’s incendiary brand of populism is chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who, as chairman of the Breitbart website, promoted Sessions for years.

Then there is Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who considers Sessions a savant and forged a bond with the senator while orchestrating Trump’s trip last summer to Mexico City and during the darkest days of the campaign.

In an email in response to a request from The Washington Post, Bannon described Sessions as “the clearinghouse for policy and philosophy” in Trump’s administration, saying he and the senator are at the center of Trump’s “pro-America movement” and the global nationalist phenomenon.

“In America and Europe, working people are reasserting their right to control their own destinies,” Bannon wrote. “Jeff Sessions has been at the forefront of this movement for years, developing populist nation-state policies that are supported by the vast and overwhelming majority of Americans, but are poorly understood by cosmopolitan elites in the media that live in a handful of our larger cities.”

He continued: “Throughout the campaign, Sessions has been the fiercest, most dedicated, and most loyal promoter in Congress of Trump’s agenda, and has played a critical role as the clearinghouse for policy and philosophy to undergird the implementation of that agenda. What we are witnessing now is the birth of a new political order, and the more frantic a handful of media elites become, the more powerful that new political order becomes itself.”

Trump, who is never shy about showering praise on his loyalists, speaks of Sessions with reverence. At a luncheon the day before his inauguration, Trump singled out someone in the audience: “the legendary Jeff Sessions.”

Trump said in an email to The Post that Sessions is “a truly fine person.”

“Jeff was one of my earliest supporters and the fact that he is so highly respected by everyone in both Washington, D.C., and around the country was a tremendous asset to me throughout the campaign,” Trump wrote.

Sessions helped devise the president’s first-week strategy, in which Trump signed a blizzard of executive orders that begin to fulfill his signature campaign promises — although Sessions had advocated going even faster.

The senator lobbied for a “shock-and-awe” period of executive action that would rattle Congress, impress Trump’s base and catch his critics unaware, according to two officials involved in the transition planning. Trump opted for a slightly slower pace, these officials said, because he wanted to maximize news coverage by spreading out his directives over several weeks.

Trump makes his own decisions, but Sessions was one of the rare lawmakers who shared his impulses.

“Sessions brings heft to the president’s gut instincts,” said Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser. He compared Sessions to John Mitchell, who was attorney general under Richard M. Nixon but served a more intimate role as a counselor to the president on just about everything. “Nixon is not a guy given to taking advice, but Mitchell was probably Nixon’s closest adviser,” Stone said.

There are limits to Sessions’s influence, however. He has not persuaded Trump — so far, at least — to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, under which children brought to the United States illegally are allowed to stay in the country.

Sessions has also been leading the internal push for Trump to nominate William H. Pryor Jr., his deputy when Sessions was Alabama’s attorney general and now a federal appeals court judge, for the Supreme Court. While Pryor is on Trump’s list of three finalists, it is unclear whether he will get the nod.

In his senior staff meetings, Trump talks about Sessions as someone who “gets things done,” calmly and without fanfare, said Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor.

“He does it in a very courtly, deliberative manner,” she said. “There’s never a cloud of dust or dramatic flourish.”

Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House and informal Trump adviser, said, “Sessions is the person who is comfortable being an outsider to the establishment but able to explain the establishment to Trump. There is this New York-Los ­Angeles bias that if you sound like Alabama, you can’t be all that bright, but that’s totally wrong, and Trump recognized how genuinely smart Sessions is.”

Sessions was especially instrumental in the early days of the transition, which was taken over by Dearborn after a purge of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s associates. Sessions became a daily presence at Trump Tower in New York, mapping out the policy agenda and making personnel decisions.

Once former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was out of consideration for secretary of state, Trump considered nominating Sessions because he was so trusted by the inner circle, including Kushner, although Sessions’s preference was to be attorney general, according to people familiar with the talks.

Since his nomination, Sessions has been careful to not be formally involved even as his ideas animate the White House. In a statement Sunday, he denied that he has had “communications” with his former advisers or reviewed the executive orders.

Sessions has installed close allies throughout the administration. He persuaded Cliff Sims, a friend and adviser, to sell his Alabama media outlet and take a job directing message strategy at the White House. Sessions also influenced the selection of Peter Navarro, an economist and friend with whom he co-authored an op-ed last fall warning against the “rabbit hole of globalism,” as director of the National Trade Council.

Sessions’s connections extend into the White House media briefing room, where press secretary Sean Spicer took the first question at his Jan. 24 briefing from a journalist at LifeZette, a conservative website run by Laura Ingraham, a Trump supporter and populist in the Sessions mold. The website’s senior editor is Garrett Murch, a former communications adviser to Sessions.

Another link: Julia Hahn, a Breitbart writer who favorably chronicled Sessions’s immigration crusades over the past two years, was hired by Bannon to be one of his White House aides.

More mainstream Republicans have been alarmed by Sessions’s ascent. John Weaver, a veteran GOP strategist who was a consultant on Sessions’s first Senate campaign and is now a Trump critic, said Sessions is at the pinnacle of power because he shares Trump’s “1940s view of fortress America.”

“That’s something you would find in an Allen Drury novel,” Weaver said. “Unfortunately, there are real consequences to this, which are draconian views on immigration and a view of America that is insular and not an active member of the global community.”

Inside the White House and within Sessions’s alumni network, people have taken to calling the senator “Joseph,” referring to the Old Testament patriarch who was shunned by his family and sold into slavery as a boy, only to rise through unusual circumstances to become right hand to the pharaoh and oversee the lands of Egypt.

In a 20-year Senate career, Sessions has been isolated in his own party, a dynamic crystallized a decade ago when he split with President George W. Bush and the business community over comprehensive immigration changes.

In lonely and somewhat conspiratorial speeches on the Senate floor, Sessions would chastise the “masters of the universe.” He hung on his office wall a picture of He-Man from the popular 1980s comic book series.

As he weighed a presidential run, Trump liked what he saw in Sessions, who was tight with the constituencies Trump was eager to rouse on the right. So he cultivated a relationship, giving Sessions $2,000 for his 2014 reelection even though the senator had no Democratic opponent.

“Sessions was always somebody that we had targeted,” said Sam Nunberg, Trump’s political adviser at the time.

In May 2015, Nunberg said, he reached out to Miller, then an adviser to Sessions, to arrange a phone call between Trump and the senator. The two hit it off, with Trump telling Nunberg, “That guy is tough.”

The next month, Trump declared his candidacy. In August of that year, Sessions joined Trump at a mega-rally in the senator’s home town of Mobile and donned a “Make America Great Again” cap. By January 2016, Miller had formally joined the campaign and was traveling daily with the candidate, writing speeches and crafting policies.

“Senator Sessions laid a bit of groundwork . . . on matters like trade and illegal immigration,” Conway said. “It was candidate Trump then who was able to elevate those twin pillars in a way that cast it through the lens of what’s good for the American worker.”

As Trump kept rising, so did Sessions.

“It’s like being a guerrilla in the hinterlands preparing for the next hopeless assault on the government,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative research institute. “Then you get a message that the capital has fallen.”

Sunday, February 5, 2017

In recognition of Black History Month

“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books — books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, 'What is history, but a fable agreed upon?’” — Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code

YOU CAN tell that a group is defeated, oppressed and discriminated against when there has to be a month designated in order for their history to receive any notice whatsoever. Instead of just being part of the history that everyone learns, we have to have a Women's History Month and a Black History Month, and we don't even have a Native People's History Month

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history,” and I believe that's true. Whoever writes the history books writes the narrative of who we are, who we've been and who we will become. We've allowed that to be white men, usually of Western European decent, for far too long.

In recognition of Black History Month, I'm sharing with you this piece from The New York Times.

Harriet Tubman: nurse, spy and scout

The History the Slaveholders Wanted Us to Forget

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.
February 4, 2017

Writing in 1965, the distinguished British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper argued against the idea that black people in Africa had their own history: “There is only the history of the Europeans in Africa,” he declared. “The rest is largely darkness.” History, he continued, “is essentially a form of movement, and purposive movement too,” which in his view Africans lacked.

Trevor-Roper was echoing an idea that goes back at least to the early 19th century. But it wasn’t always this way. When the young Prince Cosimo de Medici (1590-1621) was being tutored to become the Duke of Tuscany — about the time that Shakespeare was writing “Hamlet” — he was asked to memorize a “summary of world leaders” that included Álvaro II, the King of Kongo, along with the Mutapa Empire and the mythical “Prester John” of Ethiopia. Soon, however, even that level of knowledge about African history would be rare.

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that ideas about Africans and their supposed lack of history and culture were used to justify the enslavement of millions of Africans throughout the New World, especially during the 19th century when sugar production was reaching a zenith in Cuba and cotton was making growers and manufacturers rich. What is surprising is that these ideas persisted well into the 20th century, among white and black Americans alike.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, Africa was the shadow that both framed and stalked the existence of every African-American. For some of us, such as Paul Cuffee and Marcus Garvey, it was a place to venerate, a place to escape the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow. 

For so many others of us, however, it was a place to run away from. After all, scholars such as the sociologist E. Franklin Frazier insisted that the horrors of bondage and the trans-Atlantic crossing had severed any meaningful cultural or religious links between black folks on either side of the ocean, when in fact enslaved Africans brought with them their religious beliefs, music and ways of seeing the world.

When I was a child, one of few insults between black people more devastating than the “n-word” was to be called “a black African.” Far too many of us had been brainwashed into believing that the darkness of the skin of the stereotypical African on stage and screen reflected the darkness of the cultural and intellectual soul of an entire continent of people, the continent of our ancestors.

Almost all African-Americans descend from black people who managed, somehow, to survive the Middle Passage and the soul-crushing ordeal of slavery, America’s “peculiar institution,” as it was called in the 19th century. My oldest ancestor in the Gates line is a woman named Jane Gates, who was born in 1819. She was a shadow, too. I first saw her portrait in 1960, when I was 10 years old. Unlike her mixed-race descendants, she looked “African,” we thought, so that’s how we referred to her: Jane Gates, the African.

I used to wonder where she had come from, and who her people were; what language her mother spoke; what was her mother tongue. Later I would learn that Jane couldn’t have been born in Africa, since the slave trade to America ended in 1808. But her grandparents could have been Africans, and quite probably left the continent from the Gambia River or just north of Congo, “almost certainly on a British ship,” the historian of the slave trade David Eltis tells me. Only DNA can tell me more. Her tightly wound hair and those high cheekbones and that glassy stare were all of Africa that had been left behind for her great-great-grandchildren to ponder. Where were your people born, Jane Gates, the African? Could we ever bring your people’s culture and history out of the shadows?

It was hard enough in the 1950s to wrap one’s head around the slave experience, outside of shaping signifiers such as “Gone With the Wind” and Disney’s “Song of the South.” But Africa and its Africans? Who could imagine more about Africa than “Tarzan” and “Ramar of the Jungle”? Except for the relatively few African-Americans who saw through such racist fictions of Africa, drawn upon to devalue their humanity and justify their relegation to second-class citizenship — people such as Garvey, Henry Highland Garnet, Martin R. Delany, W.E.B. Du Bois (who would die a citizen of Ghana), Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou — far too many of us felt that “Africa” was something of an embarrassment. Richard Wright, the great novelist, published a book titled “Black Power” in 1954 about feeling that way.

That began to change for me sometime around 1960, the year that 17 European colonies became independent African countries, following Sudan in 1956 and Ghana in 1957. I was in the fifth grade by the time these countries were born, with arresting names such as Togo, Madagascar and Somalia, and more familiar ones such as Senegal, Nigeria, Gabon and the Congo. Our geography teacher, Mr. McHenry (our only male teacher), hung a map of the world listing recent events in front of the blackboard every Monday. Our task was to master the details of nine or 10 newsworthy events. Africa was all over this map.

A generation of African leaders who inspired an American schoolboy: from left, Patrice Lumumba and Moïse Tshombe of the Congo; Léopold Senghor of Senegal; and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. Credit From left, photographs by Terence Spencer/The Life Images Collection, via Getty Images (both), Agency France-Presse/Getty Images, and Bettmann Archive
That’s how my love affair with Africa began. I memorized the names of the new countries and the names of their leaders — Patrice Lumumba and Moïse Tshombe, Léopold Senghor and Kwame Nkrumah — and exotic-sounding city names: Dar es Salaam and Mogadishu, Dakar and Kinshasa. Then we read an incredible story, perhaps from Reader’s Digest, about a boy who walked across the Equator. I wanted to cross the Equator, too.

So many of the students of my generation at Yale were introduced to African art and culture through a wildly popular course taught by the eminent art historian Robert Farris Thompson. Studying these things within the womb of the black cultural nationalism of the late ’60s and early ’70s made the appeal — the lure — of Africa irresistible, as Du Bois might say. So, when opportunity knocked, I answered the door.

The door that opened Africa to me was an exceptionally imaginative gap-year program at Yale. It sent 12 students to work (not study) in a developing country between sophomore and junior years. I ended up working in an Anglican mission hospital in a village called Kilimatinde, in the middle of Tanzania, about 340 miles from Dar es Salaam, with a population of about 6,000 today — far smaller than when I arrived there in August 1970. Several months later, I would hitchhike across the Equator with a recent Harvard graduate named Lawrence Biddle Weeks, ending up in Kinshasa before flying to Lagos, then on to Accra, to visit Du Bois’s grave. Two years later, I would find myself in the Cambridge University classroom of the great Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka, slowly but inevitably falling in love with the idea that I might become a professor of African studies.

African history is replete with riveting stories that refute centuries of stereotypes about black people and that show our shared humanity: Our common ancestor, Mitochondrial Eve, 200,000 years ago; the out-migration of our anatomically modern Homo sapien great-grandparents 50,000 to 80,000 years ago; the still-magical Nile River kingdom of Egypt and its rival Kush around 3,000 B.C.; and Emperor Menelik II’s heroic stand on the plains of Adwa on March 1, 1896, when, blessed by a replica of the ark of the covenant, he soundly defeated an Italian army.

African history is an encounter with “kings and queens and bishops, too,” as the song says, including a black queen of Meroe who defeated the Romans in 24 B.C., then confiscated and buried a statue of Augustus Caesar before her throne so that her subjects could gleefully walk on his head. The third nation in the world to convert to Christianity was Ethiopia, in A.D. 350. How many of us know that the Sahara was a trading highway or that the ruler of Great Zimbabwe, in the late Middle Ages, dined off porcelain plates made in China?

Africa — contrary to myths of isolation and stagnation — has been embedded in the world and the world embedded in Africa. There was nothing empty or blank about it except the willful forgetting by the Western world, after the onset of the slave trade, of Africa’s long and fascinating history.

Though not very likely, I like to think that Jane Gates’s grandmother would have passed down even one of these many riveting stories, and eventually it would have been passed down to me. Our challenge today is to ensure that more and more stories like these become a central part of the school curriculum, as well as the stuff of documentaries and the mythologies of Hollywood, so that they will never be lost again.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fascism: Welcome to America

“Fascism is a religion. The twentieth century will be known in history as the century of Fascism.” — Benito Mussolini

AND APPARENTLY the 21st century as well — at least in America.

In 2003 political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt wrote an article about fascism for Free Inquiry Magazine. Studying the fascist regimes of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain, Suharto in Indonesia and Pinochet in Chile, Dr. Britt found they all had 14 elements in common. He calls these the identifying characteristics of fascism. 

The 14 Characteristics of Fascism

By Lawrence Britt

1) Powerful and Continuing Nationalism 

Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays. 

2) Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights 

Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc. 

3) Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause 

The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc. 

4) Supremacy of the Military 

Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized. 

5) Rampant Sexism 

The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy. 

6) Controlled Mass Media 

Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common. 

7) Obsession with National Security 

Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses. 

8) Religion and Government are Intertwined 

Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions. 

9) Corporate Power is Protected 

The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite. 

10) Labor Power is Suppressed 

Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed . 

11) Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts 

Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts. 

12) Obsession with Crime and Punishment 

Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations. 

13) Rampant Cronyism and Corruption 

Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders. 

14) Fraudulent Elections 

Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.