My email pen pal, Vladimir Putin

Vlad, I hope you can take time away from trying to elect your fanboy Donald Trump to answer my letter.

Vlad, I hope you can take time away from trying to elect your fanboy Donald Trump to answer my letter.

Dear Vlad,

Do you mind if I call you Vlad? Ever since I learned that an email I sent to the Democratic National Committee was one of the thousands released after DNC emails were hacked by Russian intelligence, I figured you wanted to become buddies. It made me feel special, knowing that you and accused rapist Julian Assange of WikiLeaks had taken a personal interest in me. So here we go.

First, let’s get to know each other a little better. What are your hobbies? Do you like to spend most of your day with your shirt off on a horse, just to prove your manliness? Do you like to do things other than have dissidents jailed, like the feminist punk group Pussy Riot, or have your critics assassinated, such as journalist Anna Politkovskaya, shot in Moscow, or Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with radioactive tea in London? (There are so many more, too — you sure keep busy!)

It’s good to see that you’re taking such an interest in our presidential election. We’ve known for a while that you and Russian state-run media are heavily favoring your BFF, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Now we know why, since Trump has been financed by Russian oligarchs for a while. If U.S. banks don’t want to lend him any money, why shouldn’t he borrow from his Russian buds? I say Da! (Bet you didn’t know I knew some Russian, did you?)

It’s funny to me that the U.S. media doesn’t seem very much interested in the story of Russians propping up Donald Trump. I guess they’re too interested in the latest anti-Clinton “scandal” of the day, and they don’t seem smart enough to pay attention to more than one story at a time. But that’s your whole idea, isn’t it, since you dumped these emails right before the Democratic National Convention, just to try to ruin Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

Do you spend a lot of time plotting which Eastern European country to invade next? Now that Trump has said he’ll ignore promises the United States made in our treaty under NATO and let some countries hang out to dry, you can take your pick! If he wins in November, don’t worry about any interference from us (wink, wink).

So back to our email pen pal relationship. I figure I don’t need to tell you much about myself, since your hackers don’t have any compunction into breaking into anyone’s email. You won’t find anything as interesting in my account as the DNC emails, just shared jokes and news about family and church committees and the like. You’ll find that an awful lot of political groups ask for money all the time, but you knew that already from breaking into the DNC.

Anyhoo, hope you’re having a great summer and that you can take a break by spending some time at your dacha (heh — there’s my Russian again!). I figure you won’t be heading to the Rio Olympics since so many Russian athletes have been banned, but at least it wasn’t the whole team. Hard to say if they’ll pass drug tests elsewhere, though, with the Russian state-run doping program and all. Too bad Russia will come up short in the medal count. Oh, well!

Your email pen pal,


GOP convention descended into deception, delusion, and detesting

If Trump addressing GOP delegates from a giant screen reminds you of Big Brother, that's not an accident. He's all about TV presence, not policy.

If Trump addressing GOP delegates from a giant screen reminds you of Big Brother, that’s not an accident. He’s all about TV presence, not policy.

The party of Lincoln has become the party of lying.

We’ve now heard all of the speeches and hateful rhetoric from the Republican National Convention, including the acceptance speech from Hair Hitler himself. The Orange Menace is trying to establish himself as a national savior. We heard enough over four days to solidify the image of a political party bereft of ideas and bent on nothing but fear and hate.

The purpose of the four-day Trump-a-ganza was not to win over independent voters. It was to drive the red-meat stalwarts into a frenzy and try to further lower the approval ratings for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton—the 2016 equivalent of Swift-boating. On the first count, it succeeded, at least among the faithful Trumpeters—on the second, well, we’ll have to wait for new polls. On the purpose of gaining new support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump? Probably not so much.

But hate? Hate against Hillary spewed forth like vomit at a fraternity kegger. No lie was too brazen, no insult too demeaning. No doubt fact checkers across America fainted from exhaustion (the Clinton campaign compiled a list of 67 lies debunked by independent fact checkers in just the first two days of the Trump-fest).


  • America was treated to a three-fer spreading often-disproven lies about the 2012 Benghazi terror attack that killed four Americans. The first example came in milking the grief of a mother who lost a son; the other two were trying to boost books sales, so it’s not even worth listing their names. And they weren’t the only ones.
  • Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, reminding at least some in the TV audience of Fearless Leader from Rocky and Bullwinkle, hit hard against his usual suspects, those committing “Islamic extremist terrorism,” and it’s all Hillary Clinton’s fault. Mr. Noun-Verb-9/11 once said Clinton could be considered a “founding member of ISIS.” With a raised voice, fists pumping in the air, and sometimes with arms flailing, he had the crowd roaring with his repeated attacks. He ended his speech with “You know who you are, and we are coming to get you.” He’s only going back to Fox News.
  • New Jersey governor and Trump errand boy Chris Christie relished his dual roles as prosecutor and judge during his speech, delivering a fire-and-brimstone call and response to delegates in which every screamed answer to Hillary Clinton’s supposed misdeeds was “GUILTY!” or “LOCK HER UP!” (Enjoy your moment now, governor—you’ll be unemployed soon enough because of term limits, and you face your own possible indictment over the ongoing Bridgegate scandal.) Of course, now we know the real reason for Christie’s subserviance: With Trump’s fundraising help, New Jersey Republicans are now paying Christie’s legal fees for Bridgegate.
  • New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, an adviser to Trump on veterans affairs, says that Hillary Clinton deserves to be “shot for treason” over Benghazi. (He didn’t offer any opinions on the need for executions of members of past administrations, all of which have overseen terrorist deaths of hundreds of U.S. officials and citizens on their watch.) The Trump campaign was finally forced to admit that they didn’t agree with the call for Clinton’s execution, although I’m sure that statement was given with a wink. Oh, and Bardasaro is now being investigated by the Secret Service.

This barely scratches the surface of hate week. And it comes on top of the GOP passage of what The New York Times called the most extreme platform in the party’s history. That Neanderthal-like document includes:

  • No exceptions for rape or women’s health in cases of abortion.
  • Requirements that the Bible be taught in public high schools.
  • The “fact” that coal is a “clean” energy source.
  • The return of federal lands to the states, including national parks and wildlife areas.
  • The call for legislators to use religion as a guide in lawmaking. But only Christianity, of course.
  • The appointment of “family values” judges.
  • The barring of female soldiers from combat.
  • Rejections of the need for stronger gun controls.
  • The denial of basic civil rights to LGBTQ people.

Speaker after speaker at the GOP convention ignored their own nominee and focused on bashing Clinton. What were they going to say about Trump? With the exception of Trump family members, they don’t like him. They have few policies from Trump to tout beyond the generic “Make America (blank) again.” The Trump website has sparsely worded and poorly explained positions on only seven issues, versus detailed plans on 37 issues on Clinton’s website.

Of course, speeches by Trump’s former rivals for the GOP nomination also barely mentioned him, as those speakers were setting themselves up for a possible 2020 presidential bid against an incumbent President Clinton. And the Trump people themselves were too wrapped up in an amateur-hour plagiarism scandal involving Melania Trump that ate up two days of the news cycle. By the third day, instead of headlines about vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, headlines focused on the non-endorsement of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and the Trump campaign’s childish response.

The hate-Hillary messages have reached new heights, or, should we say, lows. Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake (who pointedly has refused to endorse Trump) says the over-the-top calls for Clinton to go to prison “jumped the shark.” While Republicans have trumpeted messages of hate for decades, this election season, the violent rhetoric has become abhorrent.

All the talk of sending the opponent to prison “seemed like a new crossing of a line and an ugly degradation of a norm in American politics,” said a piece on Vox.

Having this sentiment bubble up from the base, or from a shady hit group, is quite different from spotlighting it on the stage of a party’s national convention.

It’s the latest sign that in the age of Donald Trump, the GOP’s elite gatekeepers are gone. The Republican grassroots strongly believes Hillary Clinton is an evil lying criminal who should be locked up.

And with Trump in charge — a man who has no shame whatsoever and is willing to viciously insult anyone who gets in his way — that’s essentially become the official position of the Republican Party.

So how is the message of hate being received outside the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland? Considering that TV ratings for this convention are lower than they were for the 2012 GOP convention (perhaps an empty chair is needed?) and for earlier GOP debates, maybe the average American has gotten tired of all of the vitriol. Instead, higher TV ratings went to America’s Got Talent—unlike the speakers addressing delegates, who don’t.

And speaking of a lack of talent, how about Mike Pence, who accepted the offer from The Donald instead of facing a probable losing re-election bid as Indiana governor? Remember, the Trumpster and his surrogates have said that Trump would be in charge of “making America great again” while leaving all foreign and domestic policy to the vice president, according to a report in The New York Times. Who thinks Mike Pence is up to that job? Who’s willing to give him that responsibility? Before Pence dropped out of the Indiana governor’s race, it didn’t even seem like the people of Indiana were willing to give him another term. Remember, this is the guy who wrote an op-ed that said “Smoking doesn’t kill” and who cited the Disney movie Mulan as proof that women don’t belong in military combat. He gave a competent boilerplate conservative speech, but a towering intellect he is not.

So the Trump vanity project known as the GOP National Convention is over. We can now look forward to four days in Philadelphia where we’ll hear some actual facts and proposals from Democrats on how to fix the country’s problems, instead of turning it over to an Orange Menace.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 24, 2016.

Why Kaine as Clinton’s VP will work for Democrats

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 1.43.29 PM

When Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton chose Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate, there was immediate pushback from some (emphasize some) voters who voted for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primaries.

Some were looking for liberal lion Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Some were hoping for a person of color, such as New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker or Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Whatever Clinton’s reasons for her choice or the pushback, it’s a done deal. So the questions instead should be — does this help the Clinton campaign, might it hurt her chances, or will it affect the presidential race very much one way or another?

First, let’s look at Tim Kaine. He has served as a senator and a governor, where he expanded early childhood education and fought the National Rifle Association. He started in politics as a city councilman and then a mayor, where he built a new public school in Richmond, named in part for his father-in-law, a Republican governor of Virginia who fought to integrate schools. As a lawyer, he worked on issues of civil rights and fair housing. He learned to speak fluent Spanish while working as a missionary for a year in Honduras on a break from Harvard Law School. While he is against abortion as a Catholic (also against the death penalty), he has supported pro-choice laws and has a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood.

Critics are hitting this choice as a “safe” pick; they say they wanted someone as vice president who would excite the liberal base. Kaine has received criticism for some positions, such as being not tough enough on Wall Street.

But people don’t make their presidential picks on the basis of who will be vice president. They vote for the top of the ticket. The traditional considerations of geographical balance don’t make much difference anymore, although the choice of Kaine likely will boost the ticket’s chances in swing-state Virginia. Virginians reportedly popped champagne corks when they learned of the choice.

As Clinton said during the Miami campaign appearance when she introduced Kaine, with his experience, he’s more than ready to step up to the job of president if needed. Ever since Sen. John McCain picked half-term Gov. $arah Palin as a running mate in 2008, America saw how dangerous it would have been to have such a loose cannon one heartbeat away from the presidency. With all due respect to Warren, Booker, and HUD Secretary Julián Castro, I just don’t think any of them are there yet. (Besides, will anything be more awesome than having Elizabeth Warren as head of the Banking Committee in a Democratic-led Senate?)

Listen to Tim Kaine talk and look at his resume. It’s hard to find more progressive credentials, even if some quibble with parts of his record. An “F” rating from the NRA and a strong record on gun safety as Virginia governor. Ratings of 100 percent from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Human Rights Campaign. Ratings of 96 percent from the AFL-CIO and the NAACP.

The choice of Tim Kaine also shows us that gun safety will continue to be a major focus of the fall campaign. While GOP nominee Donald Trump bragged during his acceptance speech about his NRA endorsement — and repeated the lie that Clinton and other Democrats will “repeal the Second Amendment” — be assured that Clinton-Kaine will put gun safety front and center. During the campaign rollout event in Miami, Kaine said “we will not rest” until the U.S. has gun control.

As governor during the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, Kaine knows firsthand the horrors of mass shootings. This is his position on gun safety from his Senate webpage.

I strongly support Americans’ right to bear arms. As a lawyer I fought to constitutionally protect the right of all Virginians to hunt and fish and I respect the rights of responsible gun owners, like myself, in Virginia and across the nation. But I also believe we must take concrete steps to reduce gun violence.

I support a comprehensive approach to curb gun violence which includes expanding mental health services, background record checks prior to gun purchases and responsible limits on combat combat-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

There also was criticism of the VP pick being another white guy. Like it or not (and believe me, I don’t) America might not have been ready for an all-female ticket. Give the country a few years, after we have our first female president. Plus, Clinton already has vowed to have plenty of women in her cabinet.

And we’ll also have another strong woman as the wife of a vice president, just like Dr. Jill Biden. Kaine’s wife, Anne Holton, is Virginia’s secretary of education and has an extensive record of advocating for children.

Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine seem to genuinely get along well — a bigger necessity than most people realize. That’s crucial in any presidency, and the country is better off when the two are in sync. Look how well it worked with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

America will learn more about Tim Kaine in the next week as he delivers his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. But given his speech at his first appearance as the presumptive vice presidential nominee, America — and Democrats — will find a lot to like.

One last thing — I thoroughly approve of the use of the song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by the Clinton campaign. Such a marked difference from the Trump campaign’s using (against artists’ wishes) songs like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”


Disqualifying Trump rhetoric: He won’t back NATO

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin: Best buds to be?

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin: Best buds to be?

In the latest frightening entry in the myriad reasons why America should not and must not elect Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee now says he refuses to commit to fulfilling U.S. promises to support its NATO allies.

In an interview on foreign policy with The New York Times, Trump admits to sharing his disdain for NATO with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He repeatedly made the point that the United States should not be bound to its NATO pledges if an ally is attacked and that country has means.

In Trump’s own words:

We’re talking about countries that are doing very well. Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”

On several occasions, Trump has said he would “get along very well” with Putin. His campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has held paid positions with the Putin-backed former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.

Trump’s intemperate statements gave foreign policy journalists much to mull over — in fear. As Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in The Atlantic:

The Republican nominee for president, Donald J. Trump, has chosen this week to unmask himself as a de facto agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a KGB-trained dictator who seeks to rebuild the Soviet empire by undermining the free nations of Europe, marginalizing NATO, and ending America’s reign as the world’s sole superpower. … Trump is making it clear that, as president, he would allow Russia to advance its hegemonic interests across Europe and the Middle East. His election would immediately trigger a wave of global instability—much worse than anything we are seeing today—because America’s allies understand that Trump would likely dismantle the post-World War II U.S.-created international order. Many of these countries, feeling abandoned, would likely pursue nuclear weapons programs on their own, leading to a nightmare of proliferation.

Needless to say, Trump’s Putin-loving statements also caused shock waves throughout NATO countries and within NATO itself. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, NATO Secretary General‎ Jens Stoltenberg warned that “European security is tied to the safety of the United States.”

“Solidarity among allies is a key value for NATO. This is good for European security and good for US security. We defend one another.” … Stoltenberg noted that although he did not wish to “interfere” in the U.S. election, “what I can do is say what matters for NATO.” He added, “Two world wars have shown that peace in Europe is also important for the security of the United States.”

Leaders in Estonia and Lithuania, two countries that fear Russian incursion, were quick to react to Trump’s words. According to the BuzzFeed story, the Estonian president tweeted after Trump’s remarks “that Estonia was one of just five countries to meet NATO’s defense spending requirements, and had committed troops to the invasion of Afghanistan.” The Lithuanian minister of foreign affairs told BuzzFeed, “There is no ground to doubt Lithuania‘s commitments, and we do not doubt [our] allies’ commitments.”

The Times interview paints a man running for president who doesn’t understand the basic tenets of a 70-year treaty with other Western nations. He repeats the conspiracy theory that the recent military coup attempt in Turkey was staged. His idea is to “bring Turkey and Kurdish forces together,” despite decades of unrest there. His diplomatic plan is to have “meetings.” And he still has his “secret plan” to fight ISIS. The whole interview is frightening.

This is also the candidate whose surrogates say he would outsource all foreign and domestic policy to his vice president, and that Trump himself would concentrate on “making America great again,” according to another report in The New York Times.

Americans have a major choice to make in November. Says Goldberg in The Atlantic:

Donald Trump, should he be elected president, would bring an end to the postwar international order, and liberate dictators, first and foremost his ally Vladimir Putin, to advance their own interests. The moral arc of the universe is long, and, if Trump is elected, it will bend in the direction of despotism and darkness.

Melania Trump’s plagiarism: Let us count the excuses


In what is turning out to be the weirdest political convention in modern history, much of the attention so far has centered on Melania Trump’s prime time oration, which lifted freely from a speech given by first lady Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

Once the similarities were caught, they went viral on social media. The excuses given by the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have been, shall we say, creative.

At first, there was a staunch denial that there had been any plagiarism. Then New Jersey Gov. and Trump water carrier Chris Christie insisted that “93 percent of the speech wasn’t plagiarized.” Because what’s seven percent of thievery among friends?

Huffington Post rounded up the changing stories from the Trump campaign, or “Every Excuse In The Book,” as its headline read.

Campaign Manager Paul Manafort had the most brazen lie, blaming the entire episode on Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton (???). He told CNN that “when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, she seeks to demean her and take her down.” OK, then. Even though all of the instances of plagiarism were caught by the public, made the rounds on social media, and were reported by the regular media. The Clinton campaign had nothing to do with it. Just ask Politifact, which rated Manafort’s continued lies on this issue “False.”

My personal favorite is the “My Little Pony” defense, as explained by Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer. Spicer claimed that the words and ideas in Melania Trump’s speech were universal and could be found anywhere, even on that kids’ TV show. Here’s some of what he told MSNBC’s Craig Melvin:

“Melania Trump said, ‘The strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.’ Twilight Sparkle from ‘My Little Pony’ said, ‘This is your dream, anything you can do in your dreams.”

“So the RNC isn’t taking this seriously?” Melvin interjected.

“A simple Google search of three phrases comes up with everything from Sparkle Pony to John Legend to Akon,” Spicer said.

Unlike the phrases Trump lifted from Obama, none of Spicer’s examples are word-for-word matches.

Side-by-side comparisons of the two speeches were run throughout the day. You’d have to be the most wild-eyed Trump loyalist to not admit the obvious. Either that, or you were Paul Manafort.

I was ready to give Melania Trump the benefit of the doubt. Melania has stayed out of the campaign limelight, leaving that role to Trump’s older children, who are scheduled convention speakers. Even though she flatly told NBC’s Matt Lauer that she “wrote it herself, with a little help,” I figured that various Trump campaign staffers did most of the writing, steering her in several likely directions for ideas. It’s possible that they looked together at past speeches of would-be first ladies for inspiration, including the 2008 speech from FLOTUS. Maybe those words and those passages just filtered into Melania’s brain and onto the teleprompter.

Yeah, I’m not buying that, either. All we know for sure is that no one from the Trump campaign is due to be fired.

Look, plagiarism is something that journalists and the public understand. You use someone else’s words without attribution and try to pass them off on your own. You look bad. When you (and the Trump campaign) lie about it, everyone looks worse. There’s no nuance here. The cribbed passages can be explained simply, and it makes the Trump campaign — and by extension, the candidate — look even more dishonest than it (and he) already is.

It’s worth taking a look at what happened in 2008 as the FLOTUS-to-be put together a speech that would be heard by the whole world. As this Washington Post story tells it, she spent hours with veteran speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz, honing words and ideas until they came up with what would be Michelle Obama’s debut in prime time. She got rave reviews.

How’d it go for Melania? By midday, even her claims of earning a college degree had been debunked.

But it’s not fair to dump on Melania. After all, the plagiarized speech wasn’t the worst part of the first day of the RNC. We also had lies about Benghazi, fear-mongering from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, calls for Clinton to be thrown in jail, and white supremacy claims from Iowa Rep. Steve King. We could go on an on, but let’s not — once was enough for that crew.

No, Donald Trump — not Melania Trump — is the real threat. Let’s concentrate on beating him in November.

UPDATE: OK, now a Trump staffer is taking one for the team. Meredith McIver, described by CNN as a staff writer and “family friend,” says she’s the one who lifted passages from Michelle Obama’s speech. So after a series of laughable excuses as to why the cribbed speech wasn’t plagiarism, now the campaign admits that, oops, it was plagiarism after all. But all is well in Trumpland, and McIver gets to keep her job.

And people are supposed to trust this outfit to lead the country?

Why Black Lives Matter is going global

 Members of Black Lives Matter London marched to the U.S. Embassy to protest recent police killings in the United States.

Members of Black Lives Matter London marched to the U.S. Embassy to protest recent police killings in the United States.

The three-year-old Black Lives Matter movement has always been considered an American phenomenon. After all, no other country has the number of deaths by gun violence or the number of police shootings that we do in the United States.

But the movement has resonated in several countries across the world, both in solidarity with those who have been killed in the U.S. and as a force against anti-black racism worldwide.

The deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Minnesota sparked protests across the United States. But those protests were echoed days later in demonstrations in London, Berlin, and Amsterdam. Multiracial crowds of protesters held signs printed with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and chanted, “No justice, no peace.” Black Lives Matter also has chapters in Canada, South Africa, and Ghana, although the official Black Lives Matter website lists only the Canadian chapter.

As explained in a story in the online magazine The Root by Janaya Khan, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto:

The reach of anti-black racism is not confined to the borders of North America. Black Lives Matter has become a transformative outlet for all black people from different historical, cultural, socioeconomic, and political identities. It is a source of solidarity for the survivors of colonization, exploitation, capitalism, and police brutality.

Days after the deaths of Sterling, Castile, and five police officers in Dallas, protesters in peaceful demonstrations in public squares in the three European capitals took a variety of actions to honor victims, according to a story on CNN.

In London, some 1,000 people held rallies throughout the city. In Berlin, crowds listened as the names of people killed by police in the U.S. were read aloud. In Amsterdam, people wore signs on their backs with the words, “Don’t Shoot. I’m Trayvon Martin” or held signs saying, “Don’t Shoot. I Matter.”

A BBC story quoted Maryam Ali, an 18-year-old student from west London who helped found that city’s chapter. “Part of it is solidarity with the U.S.,” she said. “I have family in America, and I fear for their lives. They could just be walking down the street and their lives could be be taken away.” British police have killed only two people in the United Kingdom this year, compared with the 512 killed by police in the U.S. so far this year.

“By these people coming here to stand and unite, they are showing that they are against police brutality, and that’s the most important thing,” Ali told the Voice newspaper in London, according to a story in the Washington Post. She added: “I think people forget that racism is a worldwide thing. It’s still very prevalent. This is ultimately a cry for help.” She said it’s “more than a moment—it’s a worldwide movement.”

As Ali told the BBC:

“There is internalized racism everywhere. There is a system that targets young black people because of a stereotype that they are dangerous, without actually looking at who they are. It’s a terrifying cycle.”

Breaking that cycle is about raising awareness everywhere, she says, whether there are police killings or not. “We are trying to build an awareness of black lives worldwide, not just for those in close proximity with racist law enforcement.”

The story in The Root also described actions by protesters in Israel after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

Around the time that military forces were being withdrawn in Baltimore and the curfew lifted, Ethiopians in Israel began protesting after an Ethiopian member of the Israeli army was attacked by Israeli police while in full uniform. The systemic anti-black racist discrimination against Ethiopians living in Israel became connected to the larger Black Lives Matter movement, with Ethiopian Jews demanding that their black lives mattered, too. Much as in Ferguson and Baltimore, they demanded an end to discrimination and police brutality in Israel.

In Canada, Black Lives Matter Toronto has two areas of focus: expressing solidarity with the actions in the U.S. and applying the cause to Canadian issues, according to the BBC story.

To that end, the Toronto chapter is branching out into policy and education. This year it is running a pilot summer school in an attempt to reduce the numbers of young black people getting caught up in crime and to “teach a history that is more balanced.”

Toronto chapter co-founder Janaya Khan is an educator and activist. She told the BBC, “Black Lives Matter is not just about black lives, it is about the quality of black lives.” Although Canada has few police killings, Khan said racial bias affects the country’s criminal justice system.

I can offer some personal anecdotal evidence that the movement is spreading worldwide. About a year ago, I wrote a post about Campaign Zero’s 10-point plan to curb police killing, a proposal tied to the Black Lives Matter movement. It always gets some hits whenever Black Lives Matter is in the news.

Recently, though, traffic for that post has spiked. It’s been my most-read post every day, with readership coming from at least eight countries daily, from Europe to Asia to Africa. Even if that’s nothing more than curiosity, it shows that people around the world are taking the movement seriously.

As Khan said in her story in The Root:

Anti-black racism continues to thrive on a global scale, from the mass deportation of Haitians out of the Dominican Republic—rendering them not just homeless but stateless—to the international abandonment of African migrants who risk drowning on overcrowded fishing boats while fleeing war-ravaged countries. All are the concern of #BlackLivesMatter.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 17, 2016.

Rio Olympics: Faster, higher, stronger? How about tardier, broker, sicker?

The Rio Olympics mascot, left, and the Paralympics mascot in happier times when they were presented in 2014—and before a live version of the yellow jaguar mascot was shot and killed.

The Rio Olympics mascot, left, and the Paralympics mascot in happier times when they were presented in 2014—and before a live version of the yellow jaguar mascot was shot and killed.

The Summer Olympic Games are scheduled to start in Rio de Janeiro in a matter of weeks on Aug. 5, and by all accounts, Brazil has an Olympic-size mess on its hands.

The country has been hit hard by Zika, a mosquito-borne virus linked to neurological diseases such as Guillain-Barré syndrome and birth defects such as microcephaly, an abnormal smallness of the brain. Because of Zika, some top-name athletes, such as seven of the world’s top golfers (including No 1-ranked Jason Day), have chosen to skip the Olympics. Other athletes are staying home, claiming “scheduling” or “injury” conflicts, but the reasons may be more Zika-related. Here’s a partial list of other top athletes who will be no-shows in Rio. Some male athletes say they will attend but are considering freezing sperm ahead of time. Some countries are issuing athletes official full-coverage uniforms treated with mosquito repellent.

Zika’s not the only health concern. The raw sewage that flows into Rio’s Guanabara Bay, where open-water swimmers, sailors, and windsurfers are scheduled to compete, is rife with superbacteria. The drug-resistant bacteria can cause skin, urinary, gastrointestinal, and pulmonary infections. These bacteria, usually found in hospital waste, produce an enzyme, KPC, which is resistant to antibiotics.

Brazil’s economy was riding high when the country was awarded the games in 2009—remember when the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russian, India, and China) were the envy of the world? Now, “Brazil is mired in its worst recession since the 1930s,” according to a USA Today story. “Unemployment has reached 10 percent, as has the yearly rate of inflation.”

What else could go wrong? Plenty. The sign at the Rio airport that says “Welcome to Hell” isn’t kidding.

Let’s not forget the political scandals. Petrobras, the state-run oil company, is embroiled in a corruption probe involving charges of lining investors’ pockets, a scandal that reaches all the way to the top levels of government. The country’s president, Dilma Rousseff, faces an impeachment trial (on issues other than the Petrobras scandal, for allegedly manipulating the federal budget to hide a deficit). While she is suspended from office pending the trial, her replacement, Michel Temer, has his own corruption troubles—he is implicated in the Petrobras scandal.

Organizers claim to have sold 67 percent of tickets, but most remain skeptical of that number. Work on the city’s transportation system, which is adding an extension to its Metro line to carry people to the games’ different venues, is not scheduled to be finished until four days before the games start.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has suspended the credentials of a testing facility in Rio that was supposed to handle doping claims, saying the laboratory “didn’t conform with international standards.” Doping is of particular concern after the entire Russian track and field team was banned from competing in the Olympics over doping allegations.

Apparently, there also are under-the-radar threats from ISIS, although it’s impossible to say how serious those are. Brazil’s national intelligence agency reported that an ISIS official had tweeted, “Brazil, you are our next target.” But whether the threats are from terrorists or ordinary criminals, police in Rio are warning that they might not able to protect tourists. And Brazil is experiencing an epidemic of anti-LGBT violence.

The state government of Rio de Janeiro has declared “a state of public calamity” because of the city’s financial crisis. The cash crisis could cause a “total collapse in public security, health, education, mobility, and environmental management,” the government warned. While the state waits for a federal cash injection, at least one hospital has closed its doors. Police have not been paid in months for overtime work. The acting governor, Francisco Dornelles, admitted that the games could be “a big failure.”

Human body parts washed up on the beach near where the beach volleyball games will by played. According to officials, the original owner of a dismembered foot and other unnamed parts has not been identified.

To top it all off, the Olympic mascot got killed. Actually, the official mascot is a cute cartoon yellow jaguar (really a blending of different animals) named Vinicius after a Brazilian musician. Yet at an Olympic torch relay ceremony, which featured a real chained jaguar next to the Olympic flame, the animal bolted as it was being returned to its cage and charged a soldier, who shot and killed it in self-defense. Talk about a bad omen.

A USA Today story lists “5 signs Rio’s not ready for the Games,” including the fact that a section of a bike path built as a legacy project for the Olympic Games collapsed in April, killing two people.

Many media outlets have declared that these myriad woes constitute a “perfect storm” for Rio. You’re tempted to say Blame it on Rio, but even given how bad that movie was, it doesn’t encompass all of the Rio Olympics’ problems.

Rio isn’t alone in hoping for an Olympic bonanza that often doesn’t come true. Olympic host cities and countries usually lose money. The Montreal Olympics of 1976 didn’t pay off its $2 billion debt until 2006. “The only Olympics in modern times that officially didn’t lose money were the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles,” according to a story in Outside magazine.

Every Olympics, from 1960 through 2012—and that doesn’t even count the massive Sochi boondoggle of 2014—has run over budget. And not by just a little. … As then Utah Senator Bob Bennett said at the time of the [2004] Salt Lake Games, without U.S. taxpayer money, “no American city will ever host the Olympic Games again, because no American city can ever afford the kinds of things that are required.”

Maybe the Olympics have just gotten too big and too expensive. Maybe it’s not realistic to hold them anymore. Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune wrote a column pleading, “Let Rio Olympics be the last.”

Host countries such as Brazil may find themselves diverting resources to make a statement to the global community, that can — though not always — come at the expense of real needs and their vulnerable citizens. This happens reliably enough some have fairly argued the IOC encouraging cities to compete to be host is in itself an irresponsible act.

Cash-strapped Chicago can be grateful its 2016 Olympics bid failed, Rio’s victory sparing this city the indignity of going further into hock trying to deliver on its own grandiose promises.

“There must be a better way to determine who appears on a box of cornflakes,” Rosenthal wrote.

The doom-and-gloom prognosticators could have it all wrong. Rio might pull off the extravaganza and offer thrilling athletic competitions, even if it takes a miracle of Olympian proportions. The Olympic Games still draw a huge TV audience worldwide—4.7 billion people watched the opening ceremony in Beijing in 2008, and 3.64 billion tuned in to the 2012 Olympics in London.

Here’s another bright spot about the Olympics: For the first time, the games will feature a refugee team of athletes without a country. The 10 athletes are originally from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo and will march into the opening ceremony just ahead of the Brazilian team under the banner of the Olympic flag.

Olympics highlights, such as the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” victory of the U.S. hockey team over the Russians, have become part of the national U.S. lore. Olympic records, such as Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci’s first-ever perfect 10 in 1976 in Montreal, British ice dancers Torvill and Dean’s perfect score in 1984 in Sarajevo, and American Michael Phelps’ record eight gold medals in 2008 in Beijing are the stuff of legend.

Besides, the Olympics will go on because there are huge money stakes involved. NBC Universal paid $1.23 billion for U.S. broadcast rights to the 2016 games, and $7.75 billion for Olympic broadcast right—Summer and Winter Games—through 2032. Even though the monetary scandals of the International Olympic Committee have never reached FIFA proportions, they’re bad enough on their own. In the latest example, a May 2016 report in the Guardian alleged of irregularities and charges of bribery tied to people backing Tokyo’s successful bid for the 2020 Olympics.

So “perfect storm” or no, the games are going to Rio. Back in 2009, the city of Chicago was one of four finalists for the 2016 Olympics. Many Chicagoans were excited at the prospect. Its rivals were Rio; Madrid, Spain; and Tokyo, Japan.

Personally, I always believed that the enormous hassle of hosting an Olympics, which would mean unmanageable crowds, an overstuffed transit system, and jacked-up prices, would outweigh any benefits of construction jobs and civic pride. Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley seemed to think the 2016 Olympics would jump-start Chicago’s economy, which was reeling from the Great Recession just like the rest of America.

Once the IOC started voting on which site to choose, though, most people (including yours truly) got swept up in Olympic fever. The Chicago contingent, led by the mayor, made its presentation. Even President Obama and Michelle Obama flew to Copenhagen, Denmark, to add to the pitch, and were said to be the most persuasive of the bunch.

in the end, it didn’t matter. Chicago was the first city dropped, drawing chortles from blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, who screeched on radio and TV that the failed bid showed how ineffectual Obama was on the world stage. A gathering of conservatives at an Americans For Prosperity meeting erupted in applause when the loss was announced. Other Republicans were quick to join the derision, according to a CNN story at the time.

“Other than people who like to cheer, ‘We’re No. 4! We’re No. 4!’ I don’t know how this is anything but really embarrassing,” Republican strategist Rich Galen said, adding that Obama’s failed pitch will probably be the joke on Capitol Hill for weeks to come.

So the Games went to Rio, which made sense. No country in South America had ever hosted an Olympic Games, and it seemed fair for the Southern Hemisphere to have its turn. Brazil was basking in a good economy at the time because of high oil prices and went on to host a successful FIFA World Cup in 2014.

Of course, that was then. This is now.

Boy, did Chicago dodge a major bullet. Who’s the joke on now?

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 10, 2016.


Dallas aftermath: How can police and community learn to trust each other?

What will it take for healing to begin?

What will it take for healing to begin?

Sorrow, pain, anger, fear. I don’t even know what to feel anymore.

Communities across America—not just Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas—are reeling from days of viral videos showing the unjustified shooting deaths of two African-American men by police officers, peaceful protests, then the shooting deaths of five police officers in Dallas.

Some obvious points stand out for me.

It’s time to rewrite the book on police training. The Dallas Police Department instituted a new approach with an emphasis on reality-based training and a focus on de-escalation techniques. They’re taught to slow down, instead of rush in, when it comes to responding to emergencies.

In 2009, before the new training approaches were implemented, there were 149 complaints about excessive use of force by police. Since then, according to a story in The Dallas Morning News, the number of complaints has dropped precipitously. In 2015, there were only 13 such complaints by November of that year, “on pace to be the lowest number in at least two decades.”

Dallas Police Chief David Brown, the man many of us saw on TV after the Dallas shooting and who has called for unity, cooperation, and peace , said the new approach had led to “a 30 percent decline in assaults on officers this year, and a 40 percent drop in shootings by police,” according to the Dallas paper.

“This is the most dramatic development in policing anywhere in the country,” Brown said in an interview. “We’ve had this kind of impact basically through training, community policing, and holding officers accountable.”

Brown says his commanders have improved the quality of so-called reality-based training and increased required training hours for street cops over the past year. Trainers model the scenarios on real-life events recorded by officers’ body cams, dash-cams, and the media.

“We can learn from what Dallas is doing,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C. “That’s what police departments need — they don’t need training in silos: one day about the law, one day about firearms, one day about crisis intervention.” …

Department leaders acknowledge that other factors also probably contributed to the decline in complaints, such as community engagement efforts. Also, the complaint decline coincides with street officers being outfitted with body microphones and dash-cam videos.

Dallas was where they were doing it right. Dallas was supposed to be a model. Dallas was a place where police and community made efforts to work together, and it was paying off. You could see that in footage of the Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in Dallas, where residents and police intermingled.

And yet it was in Dallas where five officers died.

Police can’t be afraid to cross the blue line. I’m going to use Chicago as an example. In Chicago, IPRA, the Independent Police Review Authority, has a miserable record when it comes to disciplining cops. Even though the word “independent” is in the title, the authority is made up of mostly former police officers. It has such a poor record that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has vowed to replace it with a more responsive system, especially after a damning report this spring about Chicago police and the department’s racist past.

Good luck with that. IPRA replaced the internal Office of Professional Standards within the Chicago Police Department in 2007. It’s still not working.

Chicago has more than 13,000 police officers for its 2.8 million citizens. According to data from the Citizens Police Data Project, a database compiled by the University of Chicago and the journalism nonprofit Invisible Institute, allegations of police misconduct fall by the wayside. Few of those complaints go anywhere, and most of the complaints go against a small group of officers.

“Repeat officers — those with 10 or more complaints — make up about 10 percent of the force but receive 30 percent of all complaints,” a summary of the database shows. “They average 3.7 times as many complaints per officer as the rest of the force.” According to the database records:

28,567 allegations of misconduct were filed against Chicago Police Department officers between March 2011 and September 2015. Less than 2% of those complaints resulted in any discipline.

A few bad apples? Ten percent is more than a few, but it’s a concentrated group. Why aren’t fellow officers willing to call out and get rid of those bad apples?

You might have seen this video posted by Nakia Jones, a black police officer near Cleveland, in which she expresses anger and frustration with police shootings. She has served for 20 years, and she has had enough, both of bad police and of those committing violence in her own community.

“It bothers me when I hear people say, ‘Y’all police officers this, y’all police officers that. They put us in this negative category when I’m saying to myself, ‘I’m not that type of police officer.’ I know officers that are like me that would give their life for other people.”

We need more officers like Nakia Jones, who is serving the public but not afraid to call out fellow officers when needed. And she’s also not afraid to call out violent offenders who look like her.

It’s past time to talk about gun safety. The Dallas shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, was in the U.S. Army Reserves, had served in Afghanistan, and had no criminal record. By all accounts, he would qualify as what the National Rifle Association would call a “good guy with a gun.” Instead, he used an assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine to spray bullets into a crowded area, aiming at police and killing five police officers, wounding seven, and wounding two civilians. Even armed responding police officers couldn’t take the guy out; Johnson was killed by a bomb-carrying robot. Before he died, he told police he was angry about the police shootings and wanted to “kill white police officers.”

I have seen no information on the kind of bullets Johnson used (police might not have released that yet), but since the officers would have been wearing bullet-proof vests, it stands to reason that he was using armor-piercing bullets often referred to as “cop-killer” bullets. They are, unfortunately, legal, given a decision by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to drop its opposition to banning such ammunition.

Thirty years ago, the federal Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act banned the manufacture and sale of cop-killer bullets that could be fired from handguns. But it still allowed exemptions for ammunition “primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes,” in other words, in assault weapons, for hunting and target shooting. The number of exemptions and those applying for exemptions shot up. When the ATF tried to regulate the exemptions, as manufacturers made new cop-killer bullets that could be used in handguns, it received blowback from the NRA. The NRA screamed about the ATF in effect trying to ban the AR-15, even though there were some 160 other cartridges available for that weapon. Members of Congress started threatening to strip the ATF of its regulatory power. So the ATF gave up.

This is from a 2015 editorial in the Los Angeles Times:

The ATF caved and announced that it was mothballing the new framework. That’s a deplorable decision, but not just because it means “cop-killer” ammunition that should be banned under the 1986 law will remain available. The government has allowed itself to be bullied by the gun lobby, which with its defense of these armor-piercing bullets has in effect aligned itself with violent criminals and against public safety.

It’s time to tone down the rhetoric — on all sides. Blaming police, blaming President Obama, blaming black protestors or the black community in general isn’t getting us anywhere. (Except the NRA — it’s OK to blame the NRA.) It’s time to start talking and listening to each other.

Better police training. Better police discipline. Better gun safety. More civil discussion. At least it’s a start.


Clinton email coverage: Media as polarized as electorate

Who else is bored with all of the email coverage?

Who else is bored with all of the email stories?

What you choose to believe about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state depends on your politics. And the same goes, it seems, for the nation’s media, especially those in the Beltway.

FBI Director James Comey delivered a definitive message that there was no evidence on which to charge Clinton with any crime for using a private server, even though he said she was “extremely careless.” Comey said Clinton had not done the kinds of things that had led people to be charged in the past. “We cannot find a case that would support bringing charges,” he said. Comey’s boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, offered the final word, saying the email investigation was now closed, with no charges.

So case closed? Not on your life.

If you’re a die-hard Clinton supporter carrying a #WomanCard and ready to say, “Hill, yeah!” then you believe she’s been cleared of any wrongdoing and you’re ready to “move on,” as Clinton herself said after Comey’s announcement. If you’re a Republican (and not necessarily even a Donald Trump supporter), you probably think that justice definitely was NOT served, and you want to use Comey’s words to wring every drop of political blood out of Clinton that you can.

By itself, Comey’s announcement was certainly a political act, delivering as much ammunition as he could to Republicans without recommending an indictment. Don’t forget that the last two secretaries of state under Bush, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, also used private email servers. They, too, received emails that were later classified as “secret” or “confidential,” according to a story in The New York Times, just as some of the emails sent to Clinton were. Were Powell and Rice “extremely careless”?

Comey is a Republican serving a Democratic president. He was appointed in the George W. Bush administration and donated money to Mitt Romney in 2012. He’s testifying before the House, even as he tries to be as careful as possible in his answers. Even while Republicans are doing their best to dig a little deeper against the presumptive Democratic nominee.

There has been an avalanche of bad, inaccurate, and overblown reporting about the Clinton email story. Both The New York Times and the Washington Post did all they could to keep the story on their front pages, even when there was no new information other than some Republican talking points, and their stories had to be corrected after publication.

Consider some of the recent headlines about Clinton and her emails:

Washington Post: Hillary Clinton’s email problems might be even worse than we thought.

CNN: Hillary Clinton email use slammed in State Dept. report.

WQAD-TV: From Benghazi to her emails, two of Clinton’s biggest scandals are back.

Remember, these are from outlets that Republicans usually call the “liberal” media (or “lamestream” media, if you’re a certain half-brain, half-term governor of Alaska).

Some in the media just can’t let the story go. Media Matters reported “50 Headlines That Reveal Wash. Post Reporter Chris Cillizza’s Obsession With The Clinton Email Story.”

Of course, some in the media saw the entire issue as a big nothing:

Slate: The Hillary Clinton Email Scandal Was Totally Overblown.

Political Wire: Will Republicans Overreach Again?

A term like “overreach” is putting it mildly. As many as five House committees are threatening to hold hearings on email-gate, hearings on a year-long investigation that’s just been declared closed by the Justice Dept. Hey, if Benghazi rated eight committees, why stop at five to investigate a practice done by several former secretaries of state? GOP Rep. Darrell Issa is threatening to shut down the government if Clinton is not eventually indicted. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who raved about Comey a month ago, now is demanding to know why Comey didn’t indict and is ready to lead his own probe.

The most likely scenario can be seen in a headline from CNN: How GOP hopes to keep Clinton email scandal alive.

In the meantime, the BBC asks, “Did the FBI just sink Clinton over emails?” Not likely.

Did Clinton make a mistake in using a private server? Yep. Did she give some conflicting accounts of how she used it? Yep. Will Republicans milk this until the election? Yep. Will it change any voters’ minds? Nope.

As a friend posted on Facebook: “Gee, I think I’ll change my vote from Clinton to Trump because of her emails.” Said no voter EVER.

As Benghazi probe fizzles, recall when GOP ignored security

This image of a wounded Marine being rescued became a symbol of the 1983 bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut.

This image of the rescue of a wounded Marine became a symbol of the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, where 241 Marines died.

The latest House Benghazi committee, which Republicans hoped would sink Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes, released its final report early—because there was nothing in it worth saving for an election eve scandal.

Rep. Trey Gowdy and his fellow Republicans stretched out the probe (the eighth such committee to investigate the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans) to two years and spent $7 million to try to dig up new dirt on former Secretary of State Clinton. They failed.

Most of the media, which had been the committee’s biggest ally in publishing scary headlines and tidbits (only to have to walk them back when the facts didn’t reach the level of the rhetoric) pretty much put the final GOP report in perspective. “House Republicans capped a partisan, two-year investigation of the Benghazi terror attacks Tuesday with a report that faults the Obama administration for security lapses that led to the deaths of four Americans but contains no revelations likely to further damage Hillary Clinton,” from a CNN story, was typical of the yawns with which most media reacted to what the GOP hoped would be a blockbuster. Reaction to the partisan report fell along party lines, with Democrats calling it a nothingburger and Republicans and right-wing media blasting Clinton anew. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called it an “in-kind contribution” to the Republican National Committee.

The teeny, tiny bit of information that Gowdy and his fellow committee members hoped to hang around the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s neck was the charge “that intelligence was available suggesting an attack was possible and she and a top aide, Patrick Kennedy, should have realized the risks posed to the Benghazi mission by extremist groups.” (As an aside, let’s remember that previous House committees delving into Benghazi-gate specifically found “no intelligence failure” before the attack.)

At last fall’s 11-hour marathon of a hearing, Clinton testified that there was “no actionable intelligence” for her to act on before the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Clinton herself commissioned an independent Accountability Review Board and implemented its recommendations.

But let’s take a step back. “Intelligence was available,” but Clinton didn’t act on it. Do Republicans really want to go there? Not if you look at the history of the times Republican administrations have ignored intelligence warnings.

The biggest intelligence failure on a GOP watch, of course, was the infamous presidential daily briefing delivered to President George W. Bush on Aug. 6, 2001, with the title, “Bin Laden determined to strike in US.” That was 36 days before Sept. 11.

The 9/11 attack and the intelligence failure that preceded it were in a class of their own. But it wasn’t the only terrorist attack against a U.S. target in which intelligence had been ignored.

How about the attack on a U.S. Marine compound in Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 23, 1983? More than 300 people were killed, including 241 U.S. servicemen, mostly Marines. A truck carrying explosives drove into Marine barracks; a second truck followed and hit a building housing French troops. The explosives in the two vehicles were later estimated to be the equivalent of 21,000 pounds of dynamite. Fifty-eight French servicemen also died, and more than 25 Lebanese civilians were killed. It was the biggest single-day death toll for U.S. Marines since World War II in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

The trucks were driven by members of Islamic Jihad with ties to Iran, a group that eventually evolved into Hezbollah.

The U.S. and French troops were there as part of an international peacekeeping force. At the time, Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war. Israel invaded Lebanon, trying to create a buffer zone between Israel and the fighting forces within Lebanon, which included Syrian and Palestine Liberation Organization forces. U.S. forces, backing Israel, launched a missile attack on Sept. 19 that hit and killed innocent bystanders, creating ill will among the Muslim population. The attack on the Marines was payback.

Who was president at the time? St. Ronnie Reagan. The New Yorker called this attack on Marines “Ronald Reagan’s Benghazi.”

But unlike today’s Congress, congressmen did not talk of impeaching Ronald Reagan, who was then President, nor were any subpoenas sent to cabinet members. This was true even though then, as now, the opposition party controlled the majority in the House. Tip O’Neill, the Democratic Speaker of the House, was no pushover. He, like today’s opposition leaders in the House, demanded an investigation—but a real one, and only one. Instead of playing it for political points, a House committee undertook a serious investigation into what went wrong at the barracks in Beirut. Two months later, it issued a report finding “very serious errors in judgment” by officers on the ground, as well as responsibility up through the military chain of command, and called for better security measures against terrorism in U.S. government installations throughout the world.

In other words, Congress actually undertook a useful investigation and made helpful recommendations. The report’s findings, by the way, were bipartisan.

Reagan and his advisers were able to quickly change the subject and invade Grenada two days after the truck bomb hit the Marine barracks. But there was more to come in Lebanon. As the New Yorker story put it:

The story in Beirut wasn’t over. In September of 1984, for the third time in eighteen months, jihadists bombed a U.S. government outpost in Beirut yet again. President Reagan acknowledged that the new security precautions that had been advocated by Congress hadn’t yet been implemented at the U.S. embassy annex that had been hit. The problem, the President admitted, was that the repairs hadn’t quite been completed on time. As he put it, “Anyone who’s ever had their kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would.” Imagine how Congressman [Darrell] Issa and Fox News would react to a similar explanation from President Obama today.

Peacekeepers at War: Beirut 1983—The Marine Commander Tells His Story, was written by retired Col. Timothy J. Geraghty, who commanded the multinational peacekeeping troops in Beirut in 1983 and who was criticized in the official report on the bombing. In his book, he states that there is evidence that on Sept. 26, the National Security Administration intercepted a message from Iranian intelligence directing the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon to “take spectacular action against the American Marines.” This account by Geraghty is from Proceedings Magazine at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Unknown to us at the time, the National Security Agency had made a diplomatic communications intercept on 26 September (the same date as the cease-fire ending the September War) in which the Iranian Intelligence Service provided explicit instructions to the Iranian ambassador in Damascus (a known terrorist) to attack the Marines at Beirut International Airport. The suicide attackers struck us 28 days later, with word of the intercept stuck in the intelligence pipeline until days after the attack.

Sounds pretty specific, doesn’t it? The NSA didn’t even deliver the intercepted message to the Marine unit in Lebanon until Oct. 26, three days after the attack. And the Reagan administration was never held accountable for this egregious intelligence failure.

The 2012 attack that killed Stevens wasn’t the first time a U.S. ambassador has been assassinated in the line of duty. A total of seven U.S. ambassadors have been killed under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

The sister of Chris Stevens made a special point of speaking out after the final House GOP report was released, saying that she didn’t blame Clinton or former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for the Benghazi attack. If anything, she said, Congress had under-budgeted for State Department security.

Hillary Clinton was not responsible for Chris Stevens’ death—the terrorists who attacked the consulate were. (Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, tweeted that she had “murdered” Stevens and got called out on CNN for doing so.) By the same token, Ronald Reagan was not responsible for the death of 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon. Nor were Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, or Jimmy Carter responsible for the deaths of the ambassadors they appointed, nor was Bill Clinton responsible for the bombing of U.S. embassies when he was president. And the Bush administration certainly blew it when it comes to not paying enough attention to a daily briefing warning about an attack from Osama bin Laden, but the blame for 9/11 goes to al-Qaida.

The best security measures in the world won’t prevent every terrorist attack, whether it’s at a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, a nightclub in Paris, or an airport in Istanbul. The lessons to be studied are how to increase security around the world and how to better gather and use intelligence while still living in that world. And sorry, Republicans in Congress, but all of that doesn’t come for free.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 3, 2016.


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