SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits and Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday February 02, 2019 - 10:07:00 PM

Arrest That Border-crossing Messiah! 

Joseph and Mary were refugees, too. They were forced to flee King Herod and his Massacre of the Innocents. But while it was an angle who tipped Joseph to the danger and suggested an escape to Egypt, it turns out that King Herod's homicidal tantrum was triggered by . . . the Three Wise Men. 

Yup, it was the Magi who made the mistake of knocking on Herod's door and blew Jesus' cover by asking the despot where they could find the newly born "King of the Jews." (Not so wise, guys.) Herod freaked! 

While the Magi went back to looking for the right star to follow, Herod's terror squads got busy killing innocent children while the Joseph, Mary and Jesus safely escaped to Egypt along the ancient Via Maris road. 

So would Donald Trump have stopped the Holy Family at the border and ordered the baby Jesus separated from his parents? Of course, he would. Like Herod of old, Trump is a big fan of "zero tolerance." FYI: "zero tolerance" is a euphemism for "cruelty." Tolerance requires treating others with respect and accommodation and that's not Trump's style. 

Make Trump Pay 

On December 11, Donald Trump famously declared: "I am proud to shut down the government for border security . . . . I will take the mantle." (Maybe he meant to say, "dismantle.") 

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the 35-day federal shutdown cost the nation $11 billion and left the Treasury with an unrecoverable economic loss of $3 billion. 

Perhaps the new Congress could pass a bill requiring self-styled-billionaire Trump to reimburse the US Treasury for that $3 billion loss. After all, in calling for the shutdown, Trump said he was proud to own it. So now he owes us

No to NATO 

As Popular Resistance co-founder Kevin Zeese has written: "NATO is no longer a defensive force against the non-existent Soviet Union but has become a military aggressor working with the US in illegal wars . . . . NATO has become a front for Western aggression. Far from keeping the peace and serving as an agent of stability, NATO's interventions have resulted in destruction around the world, causing mass deaths and mass migration as people are forced from their NATO-destroyed homes, cities, and villages." 

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's targets have included Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo and Yugoslavia. None of these countries were guilty of threatening to invade or attack another NATO member—the official raison d'etre for this Cold War anachronism. 

And now, NATO's newest member, Colombia (located a long way from the North Atlantic), may soon become host to the 5,000 American troops (carelessly/cynically) mentioned on John Bolton's notepad. 

NATO Yes, Healthcare No? 

Ironically, at the same time Congressional Democrats were rejecting Trump's Wall, House members were voting 357-22 in favor of H.R.676—a $1 trillion gift to the 28 members of NATO. 

Ironically, $4.6 million of this amount is headed to Denmark to finance construction of a 43-mile wall to protect the country from (I kid you not) an invasion of wild pigs. 

Adding insult to injury, 124 members of congress agreed to designate its "Support NATO Act" as H.R.676. 

Why was this a major political slight? Because, for the past 16 years, H.R.676 was the title of "gold standard bill" calling a single-payer, Medicare For All healthcare system. So it's yes to NATO; no to MFA. 

Another Political Divide: The BDS Vote 

On January 28, with very little mention in the media, the US Senate passed a bill that the American Civil Liberties Union characterized as an attack of free speech. The bill, among other things, called for a ban on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to punish the current Israeli government of its unlawful mistreatment of the Palestinian people. 

The Washington-based Just Foreign Policy group has assembled a list of which senators voted for and against the legislation—along with a list of donations received from pro-Israel lobbyists. 

Here is a "Heroes List" of the nay-saying senators who voted to protect the right to freely criticize foreign leaders and their policies (followed by their lifetime accumulations of pro-Israel money). 

Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) 0
Sherrod Brown (D-OH) $230,342
Thomas Carper (D-DE) $13,670
Dick Durbin (D-IL) $18,310
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) $53,550
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) $30,165
Martin Heinrich (D-NM) $37,017
Mazie Hirono (D-HI) $9,500
Tim Kaine (D-VA) $168,023
Patrick Leahy (D-VT) 0
Jeff Merkley (D-OR) $21,039
Chris Murphy (D-CT) $97,675
Gary Peters (D-MI) 0
Jack Reed (D-RI) 0
Bernie Sanders (I-VT) 0
Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) $1,750
Tom Udall (D-NM) 0
Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) 0
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) 0 

What is notable about this list is the number of senators who are indebted to pro-Israel donations but still voted against the BDS-ban and in favor of free speech and untrammeled political protest. Outstanding among this list: Senator Dianne Feinstein. Also outstanding, but for the wrong reason: Sen. Kamala Harris, who abstained from voting. 

As one activist noted: "Profiles in courage Cory Booker and [Kamala] Harris skipped the vote. Jack Reed voted no, but Sheldon Whitehouse voted yes. [Dick] Durbin voted no, but [Tammy] Duckworth voted yes." 

Why Not Just Ban Bullets? 

Congress has finally reinstituted the ban on assault rifles. But only for potential mass killers under the age of 21. This wouldn't have stopped 64-year-old Stephen Paddock who killed 58 people and wounded nearly 900 Las Vegas concertgoers in 2017. [Lingering question: What was Paddock's motive? Has no one been able to find one? Or is the motive known but just too inflammatory to divulge?] 

Still, the partial ban on hand-carried weapons of mass destruction is a step in the right direction. Expect further similar laws to protect public safety—beginning with legislation to ban the possession of pistols by anyone under the age of 12. [Note: Satire alert.] 

Let the War Powers Act Apply to Sanctions 

US presidents like to imply that economic sanctions are simply a diplomatic tool—an alternative to sending in the Marines. But, as any honest diplomat will tell you, sanctions are tools of economic aggression whose use can constitute "an act of war." 

It's bad enough that the US routinely imposes sanctions to topple foreign governments—Libya, Iran, and now Venezuela—but Washington also demands that other nations recognize its geopolitical spats and impose their own sanctions against any and all countries targeted by the US. And any allies that fail to follow in lock-step will face US threats and sanctions themselves. 

What gives the US—or any country—the right to tell another foreign government who they can do and can't business with? 

Perhaps the Congress should consider an extension of the War Powers Act to require that any president must first go to Congress to gain permission to impose economic sanctions on another country. History has shown that sanctions are often a prelude—and a stimulus—to war. Trump has used the sanctions weapon widely and repeatedly. It's a weapon and it's an act of war. Ergo, if the Constitution is to be honored, only Congress should be empowered to impose sanctions against another nation. 

A Fellow Senator Schools Ted Cruz

On January 24, Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), in a rebuttal to Senate colleague Ted Cruz (D-TX), gave an emotional speech on Trump's federal shutdown and the state of American democracy. It's a performance worthy of Tom Hanks. If you've got the time, here is a link to the full 35-minute speech. And here's a quick taste: 


Holiday Memories from the Caribbean 

In Trinidad, over the holidays, we discovered a new addition to the Christmas celebrations. The local media was reporting enthusiastically about appearances by a group called the Ded Moruz. These turned out to be teams of daredevils dressed in Santa Claus outfits who rappel down the sides of hospitals to appear outside the windows of sick and recovering children. (One hopes the children are given fair warning before these creepy Santas do their Spiderman thing.) 

Weird aside: Ded Moruz, a Slavic incarnation of Santa Claus, is a popular folk-figure in Russia. How this tradition made the leap to the Caribbean is a mystery. 

Less of a mystery: Trinidad's towns and cities are host to a growing number of urban gangs. Some have more flair than others. One that was in the news during our stay had christened itself with a memorable name: "The Heartless Felons." 

Earth Anthems: National Anthems that Celebrate Peace and Not War 


In the long folk tradition of adding new verses to old songs, visionary singer and songwriter Stephen Longfellow Fiske (a descendant of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) has transformed the militaristic "Star Spangled Banner" into the "Earth Anthem"—with new lyrics that reflect the global perspectives of the 21st century, blending democratic ideals, peace, and environmental harmony. 

And here is a">link to six additional Earth Anthems—including Michael Jackson's incredibly powerful "Earth Song."