From “preponderance of evidence” to “clear-and-convincing”—and the assault victim suffers.

I’ve arrived at that age (and not recently either) where many of my former students already have granddaughters in college; others have daughters there. Since I’m still coaching a girls tennis team I guess technically I have “students” today who will enter college next fall or shortly thereafter. And I have a niece who just began her freshman year.

None of these facts makes me an expert, but I feel as though I have a stake in this (we all should!), and that stake makes it more difficult to ignore Betsy DeVos’s campaign to make the reporting of campus sexual assaults more onerous, as if the act itself were not traumatic enough. On Friday DeVos officially rescinded the Obama administration’s guidance on dealing with the issue. I wrote about this earlier in the month and won’t go into more detail now.

I talked above about daughters and granddaughters, but yesterday’s Times opinion piece by Jamil Smith lays everything out clearly for men as well. In brief Smith points out that many college males can’t even define rape, and that a formalized instruction on campus may offer a better solution than more lax enforcement. Read it.

We all know that Betsy DeVos is just another hack bent on removing Obama-era regulations, part of the Trump desire to remove his predecessor from our collective memory. Of course he’s too vacuous to realize he’s doing the opposite, and that dilettantes like DeVos are helping. But when Trump is forgotten, the traumatized victims of campus assaults—the ones whose reporting DeVos has made more difficult—will still be suffering.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kaepernick, Kobe, and Kraft—but no Kershaw?

I am gratified to hear American athletes like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant speaking in strong opposition to Trump’s racism, or denial of racism, or endless dog-whistling to pit white and black Americans against each other.

I’m gratified but not convinced of its efficacy. Here’s why.

At the beginning of the 2016-17 NBA season, the league comprised 43 white American players. Other white players were European. In total that’s about 10% of the NBA.

At present about 70% of the NFL is black, including of course Colin Kaepernick who began the current protest movement about a year ago and has since been blackballed by the league.

The other major sports have a different composition: hockey is primarily white. Baseball is an unbalanced mixture, roughly 8% black, 27% Latino, 3% Asian, and the rest white American.

We’ll leave out baseball, hockey, and a few other sports for the moment, since this weekend’s tweeting battle between our amateur president and professional athletes centered primarily on the NBA and NFL players and, to his credit, on Roger Goodell who is white but openly confronted Trump’s divisiveness and “lack of respect.” (Of course his comments must be measured against the NFL owners—many of whom are ardent Trump supporters who seem unwilling to end their vendetta against Kaepernick.)

So we have two leagues composed primarily of black players and claiming, in essence, that black lives matter. Black Americans already know that—it’s the white Americans, specifically the racists and bigots newly empowered by their new führer, that need to be educated; and for that we need white athletes to step up en masse.

I’m not saying the NBA cannot effect change, and there are some black baseball players with enough cachet to help. Some of the best of them currently play in Boston, but even if you count the retired David Ortiz, they play on the East Coast: the coasts are not the problem. So yes, I’m gratified by the NFL and NBA reactions to Trump, by their willingness to use their celebrity to call him out and expose him for what he is, but I want to see more effort from white players—maybe witness entire teams taking a stand not necessarily against the president, but against a pervasive racism that we can no longer countenance or deny. I want to hear from Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, etc. So far baseball seems to have been represented by Curt Schilling, and nobody seems willing to stick a sock, bloody or otherwise, into his mouth.

And now that Patriots owner Robert Kraft, an ardent Trump supporter, has shockingly spoken out, how about Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning? Would one of these team leaders be willing to take a knee other than at the end of the game?

If I’m not asking too much, can the PGA and the LPGA promise to boycott Trump golf courses forever? And can the USTA and WTA decry the racist antics of the president and keep away from resorts that sponsor any tennis activities. (Would this image convince you?) The current U.S. Open champion is a woman of color, while at the same time former USTA mainstay James Blake, a black man, wages a suit against the NYPD and a plainclothes cop who tackled him outside a hotel a year ago.

Sports has seldom inoculated its participants against bias and bigotry, but it may serve as a conduit to better awareness and greater understanding, this despite the president’s blatant efforts to foment racial discord. But the involvement must cross racial lines and become an American protest. Only then will people like Trump, Jeff Sessions, and Stephen Miller be relegated to their rightful place on the ash heap of our country’s racial history.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If laughter is the best medicine, it’ll come in handy when health care disappears

When Sean Spicer made a somewhat self-deprecating appearance on last Sunday’s Emmy Awards, I had a sickening thought that all the lines we’d crossed and concessions we’d made in the past eight months were mere preludes to the final capitulation: there was nothing we could do to stop Trump, so we might as well just laugh along until the end comes. (If it’s difficult for us to do so, just insert a laugh track: it’ll lift your spirits.)

This week’s comedy is coming almost faster than we can assimilate. One of the first instances was the “president’s” vow to destroy North Korea. That kind of bon mot is not what one usually hears at the United Nations which, though it may be toothless at times, is supposed to bring nations together in peaceful accord. Of course there’s no way Trump could have known that because he doesn’t know anything, a situation that allowed his speechwriters to make him appear an even bigger buffoon than he is…and that’s no small feat.

It’s hard to follow one humorous foray into the world of nuclear destruction with something even more amusing, but reneging on the Iran deal is a step in the right comedic direction. Iran has complied with the terms of the agreement, and in so doing has won at least begrudging respect from the other signers: the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, Germany, and the European Union. For the U.S. to go its own way risks alienating those countries, but worse, opens us up to a renewal of Iran’s nuclear project and an enhanced risk of nuclear conflicts. Funny stuff.

Then there’s all the comedy that our weather is providing. Unprecedented used to have some meaning in meteorological circles, but now we hear that adjective once a week. Houston, Florida, Antigua, Barbuda, Cuba, Puerto Rico—all have been pummeled by unprecedented storms since the end of August. We really need a new word, one that serves the same purpose but includes the fact that man is directly responsible for the violence of these storms and for the impact they have had. It should be a word that encompasses our fear to admit that this is not normal and touches upon our blithe acceptance of an administration that refuses to lift a finger to deal with one cataclysmic event after the next. Visiting a disaster and playing aid worker is one way for a president to react; firing fossil-fuel lackeys like Scott Pruitt and embracing scientific facts would be another. Or maybe that isn’t funny enough, though I promise I would laugh.

And while all this is happening and we’re sufficiently distracted, the same comedy troupe that brought us Neil Gorsuch is hard at work removing health care from millions of Americans, punishing the states who have done the most for its residents’ health and well-being, and rewarding those (red states, of course) whose only “achievement” has been to vote Republican. (Here’s Jimmie Kimmel’s take on the new health care proposal.)

A half-century ago in a complicated and abstruse song called “Surf’s Up,” the equally enigmatic Brian Wilson lamented “the laughs come hard in Auld Lang Syne.” Those lyrics—it’s taken a while, but I think I finally get them. These days the laughs keep coming harder and harder: ask Mr. Spicer.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Nation of Laws—sometimes, for some

On September 5, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of DACA, he said, “As the Attorney General, it is my duty to ensure that the laws of the United States are enforced and that the Constitutional order is upheld.”

No, it’s true, really, he said that. And I think in his heart he means it, but only as those laws extend to people of color, to immigrants, to the poor, and to any other marginalized groups whose ethnicity, race, or sexual identity keeps them out of the mainstream. Rich white people have been given a pass, and I know that’s true because Donald Trump is rich white people, he’s breaking the law daily, and Sessions doesn’t seem to care.

I don’t think I ever realized, until the Trump presidency, how much we as citizens depend on our president to do the right thing because he’s president. To wit there’s probably no specific ban against the president encouraging police brutality as Trump did in a speech a few months back, but presidents don’t do that. There’s probably no specific ban against the president tweeting mildly threatening comments about his former opponent, but presidents don’t do that. There’s probably no specific ban against the president abasing and humiliating his own cabinet and staff, but presidents don’t do that. There’s probably no specific ban against the president filling his pockets with the rewards of being president, but…oh wait, there is.

The Emolument Clause from Article I of the Constitution reads as follows: [No] Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

On July 17, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to release logs of visitors to Mar-a-Lago for presidential business by Sept. 8, ten days ago. On that date Trump released 22 names out of the several hundreds who have stayed there, many of them from foreign countries. In other words, the president refused to comply. (Incidentally, not that it matters, but a two-night stay there will set you back slightly under $1,100. I doubt if meals are included.)

Still, this is about more than foreign dignitaries filling Trump’s pockets . If we don’t know who the guests are, we can’t tell the lobbyists from the Trump Corporation employees from the legitimate visitors on “presidential business.” In the end the American taxpayer winds up paying millions for a Trump weekend in Florida where he uses the time to increase the earnings of his own company: meanwhile the resort itself rakes in huge profits.

Federal law exempts the White House from the Freedom of Information Act, but the request to release those names has not been abandoned. But even if on some cloudless and perfect day Trump is forced to give in, the Republican Congress could vote to allow their president to receive gifts from anyone anywhere. It’s hard to imagine they would be so sycophantic, but their past record leaves me with very little optimism.

It remains, however, a fight worth waging, quixotic as it may be. Of course the nation’s policeman, Jeff Sessions, will undoubtedly steer clear of this imbroglio: he relishes his position as Trump’s lawyer and will continue to abrogate his role as our protector.

America may be, as Sessions likes to say, a nation of laws, but anonymous oligarchs in our newly minted plutocracy seem to be exempt.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

No regrets, no apologies. Let the others be fired or ejected.

Tim Scott, the lone black Republican in the Senate, met in the Oval Office with Donald Trump on Wednesday as part of the president’s commitment to “positive race relations.” The meeting came about primarily as a reaction to Trump’s shameful analysis of the events in Charlottesville last month.

When asked afterwards if the president had expressed regret, Mr. Scott flashed a rueful smile and said, “He certainly tried to explain what he was trying to convey.”

Translation: No.

Trump cannot express regret: to do so would involve an admission of wrongdoing or miscalculation, neither of which he considers even a remote possibility.

Senator Scott made a point of agreeing that there was antagonism on both sides during that August demonstration, but underscored the fact that one side comprised groups of avowed white supremacists, white nationalists, the KKK, and other assorted hate groups whose only raison d’être is to suppress and/or eradicate minorities and create social upheaval. To the senator’s reminder Trump announced, “That makes sense.” Later he suggested that he and the senator keep talking.

About what? This is not a debate in which both sides bring cogent arguments and an impartial referee decides the outcome. It’s the abridgment of rights vs. the Constitution: any president has decided the winner the minute he takes the oath of office.

Trump was, apparently, a good audience, and according to the senator, did very little talking himself. Maybe that’s a positive, but it’s also an indication that Trump doesn’t know anything about the racial divide or about what it means to a black American who hears his president defend white supremacists.

Which brings me to another black American, Jemele Hill. I’m not an ESPN geek, and I tend to watch the network’s live sports more than their endless list of “talk” shows. But I do watch “Around the Horn” and have some familiarity with Ms. Hill from when she appeared as a panelist.

I liked her well enough. She always seemed prepared and knowledgeable, and steered clear of rash or unsupportable statements. On Wednesday, though, she let her Twitter account get the best of her, tweeting “Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period.”

ESPN spokespersons declared that Ms. Hill’s personal opinions do not reflect those of the network. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said the comments were a “fireable offense.” If they are, then perhaps the person for whom she speaks should be fired also, since Trump’s misogynistic and racist beliefs are well documented. Ms. Hill may have used poor judgment, but her assessment was spot on—little different from what most of us have been saying for the past two years.

Which brings me to Boston’s Fenway Park where last night some fans hung a banner over the “green monster,” reading “Racism is as American as Baseball.” At first some considered the sign racist, but the opposite was intended. A statement issued by the ejected fan read as follows:

White people need to wake up to this reality before white supremacy can truly be dismantled. We urge anyone who is interested in learning more or taking action to contact their local racial justice organization.

Remember how the Republicans refused to talk about racism during the last elections, how they kept saying it was a dead issue, that all the problems had been solved? Now it’s time to deal with two factors: the racial divide, and their leader’s unfathomable ignorance.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trump may damage America; Scott Pruitt has loftier goals.

Satirizing, belittling, and demeaning Donald Trump have become cottage industries. There are T-shirts, bumper stickers, and hats; and of course Facebook floggings and Twitter tirades. We’ve learned to show our disgust in a myriad of ways, and we think we’re winning because his utter ineptitude prevents him from accomplishing anything.

Let me disabuse of the belief that we’re winning with two words: Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has but one goal: to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency, which he famously spent years suing when he was Attorney General for Oklahoma. Trump may flounder through everything from health care to infrastructure, but Pruitt cannot be accused of the same incompetence.

In March he rejected the ban on chlorpyrifos, an insecticide linked to several health issues, especially in young children. He said more study was needed.

He opposes the 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, one with which most U.S. power plants already comply. But coal (what else?) is the worst polluter in that area, and the Trump administration loves coal; therefore, Pruitt loves it too.

He lobbied the White House to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and has lobbied the coal industry to support the withdrawal.

With Pruitt in charge the EPA has removed key pollution and climate data from its web site, a not-unexpected situation since he knows nothing about the “E” and the “P” in the organization he represents. Remember, it was Scott Pruitt who claimed on CNBC that carbon dioxide is not “a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” As ridiculous as the climate change debate has become (and it’s not debatable!), debating actual science is nonsense.

Pruitt has reduced the staff of the EPA, thereby making enforcement of rules already in place virtually impossible. Without that enforcement, violations will grow unchecked, and strides we’ve made over the past fifty years will vanish.

Yesterday, with a half dozen states reeling in the wake of two unprecedented hurricanes, Pruitt claimed that it was insensitive to be talking about climate change at this time. Apparently he doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of the twelve million Floridians without power or the thousands in Houston still beset by toxic floodwaters in the aftermath of Harvey. How anyone can be that tone-deaf is baffling, until we remember who appointed him.

Maybe recovering from the damage that Donald Trump has done to the American psyche—the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the worship of ignorance—maybe that can be undone by education and generational change; but the damage that a hidebound reactionary like Scott Pruitt can inflict not only on America but on the planet, in all likelihood will never be reversed.

Look what he’s done in merely seven months.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Remembering 9/11 is not enough if we forget where we’ve gone since.

A few days after 9/11 a photo circulated on the Internet. In it an unwary tourist posed on the observation deck of one of the twin towers while, behind him, a plane hurtled toward him. According to the story, the camera was found in the rubble and the memory card survived. But the photograph frames the wrong plane coming from the wrong direction at a time when the observation deck would not have been open. Still, I remember seeing it for the first time and feeling sorry for this poor guy who was about to perish.

Sixteen years later the story we like to tell as Americans is that we rallied together as a country and overcame the attacks that day. I’m afraid the truth is a little fuzzier. That attack and the willingness with which we accepted the fake photo, and the accusation that it was all a government plot, and the opinion that the planes carried bombs, that no plane ever struck the Pentagon, that Muslims in New Jersey cheered the collapse of the towers—all this was the beginning of fake news. It grew through the birther movement, the “hoax” of Newtown, and the lies of Benghazi. And when we got to the point where we were too lazy to discern the difference between a sexual predator and a public servant, we elected Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton.

The terrorists won that day, not because they ruthlessly murdered 3000 people, but because we never allowed ourselves to recover. We didn’t have to: George W. Bush told us to go shopping, and we did. In the absence of sacrifice, conspiracy theories and paranoia, once the province of late-night radio and the insomniacs who listened, became mainstream; and personalities like Rush Limbaugh were able to parlay the new idiocy into a skepticism so profound, that not even the most logical scientific findings could be accepted any longer. Do you really wonder why climate change, a given in the scientific community, is rejected by an entire political party?

It’s 2017. New York City has been rebuilt, as has the Pentagon. In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a memorial stands honoring the passengers on Flight 93 whose actions probably saved the White House or the Capitol. Every year the names of the 9/11 deceased are read aloud and “Never Forget” posts adorn Facebook.

Not forgetting will be easy. I remember Pearl Harbor even though it happened before I was born. It led to a horrific war in the 1940s, but afterwards America became a better country: people who had sacrificed together now worked together to build a middle class, to get their kids to college, to better integrate the races, to offer opportunities to women, to eliminate diseases and make scientific advancements that had been unheard of. Salaries rose. Polio was gone. Satellites were launched. Colleges were filled with kids whose parents had never had the same opportunity. We bought homes. We built the Corvette. We traveled in 707s. We watched movies in CinemaScope. We listened in stereo! The sacrifices of the greatest generation led to something better not only for the wealthy but for everyone. No, it was not a perfect country, but one with clear, recognizable, and commendable goals.

The real tragedy of 9/11 is that it marked the beginning of a decline, a divisiveness that began with attacks on Muslim-Americans, continued with the trumped-up Iraq War, found its most strident voice in the advent of the Tea Party, then finally installed a hapless and vengeful incompetent in the White House. Today we must trust in the wisdom of people like Scott Pruitt, Jeff Sessions, and Kellyanne Conway, because the truth has been silenced. They want us to move backwards and we’re following along.

We’ll remember 9/11 and honor the memory of those who died in the events of that dark day, but we also have to remember the years that came after it, and that may not elicit quite the same reverence.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment