Friday, May 26, 2017

Trump: The Inscrutable, Promotional President

With rare exceptions most people have public and private faces, revealing the latter only to their closest confidants or under extreme duress. Countries and political movements operate similarly.

Saudi Arabia, for example, professes to oppose radical Islam but through its funding of madrasas throughout the world it is the number one propagator of extreme Wahhabi Islam that is anti-Semitic, dismissive of any infidels and behind much of the carnage by radical Islamic terrorists.

It is useful and instructive to assess a politician’s, a government’s, a movement’s true intentions by monitoring their words and deeds expressed to and understood by their primary audiences. Take the PLO, for example. Even as some of its leaders say they accept Israel’s existence, it continues to teach children hatred of Jews while lauding terrorists who kill Israelis, even rewarding their families with payments if they die in their efforts. 

It’s a two-sided street. Over the years Bibi Netanyahu has expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but almost everything his government has done in the West Bank territories has undermined the prospect of that ideal becoming a reality.

Which brings us to Donald Trump. Casting himself as the great dealmaker Trump envisions being a peace broker between the Palestinians and Israel as well as a coalition builder of “moderate” Arab states to defeat ISIS.

With an oversized Santa Claus bag of military goodies, Trump curried favor with the Saudi royal family and the dictators of other Sunni lands, but how credible is he in their eyes? Did the rhetoric their ears heard in Riyadh erase what they witnessed and heard for nearly two years, months upon months of attacks on Islam, including in March 2016, “I think Islam hates us”?

Which are his baseline beliefs—his diplomatic use in Riyadh of the phrase “the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires,” or the catchphrase “radical Islamic terrorism” featured in all his rallies and in his attacks on President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for their failure to similarly identify Muslim attackers?

One wonders if the Arab Sunni world will be as discriminating as U.S. courts have been concerning Trump’s candor on the campaign trail. In restraining implementation of Trump’s travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries, courts have determined candidate Trump’s words are a more realistic reflection of his inner beliefs than his post-election public posturing.

Trump shows his true, unfiltered face when he tweets or departs from prepared remarks. 

Apparently under duress from the probe of alleged Russian influence on his campaign during the election, Trump seemingly revealed his lack of understanding of constitutional restrictions on the powers of the presidency. If James Comey is telling the truth, Trump asked the then-FBI director to stop investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia. It has also been reported that Trump asked the director of national intelligence and the director of the National Security Agency to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion with Russia during the 2016 election. 

Under duress to score political wins, Trump has turned his back on campaign promises never to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid funding. His proposed fiscal 2018 federal budget might not get passed as is, but it is instructive as to Trump’s true feelings. 

His budget calls for an $880 billion cut in Medicaid, a $191 billion cut in food stamps, a $72.5 billion cut in aid to the disabled, and a $21.6 billion cut in welfare over the next 10 years. Many of those reductions would impact the very voters who propelled Trump into the White House. 

Trump also promised to repeal and replace Obamacare with a better, less expensive health care program that would cover more people. But the bill he supported that passed in the House of Representatives would reduce coverage by 23 million over a decade, be more costly and provide less coverage, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (

Again, Trump’s core voters would be deeply affected by Trumpcare, if passed as is. 

So how to gauge the true Trump? Might I suggest this measuring stick—consider him the “promotional president” not bound to any rigid doctrine or philosophy. He cares only about the optics of winning, of promoting himself, without regard to those who may be adversely affected by his waffling positions and advocacy for legislation or executive orders that are detrimental to millions of Americans, many of whom voted for him in the expectation he would improve their lives.

We have always had wheeling and dealing presidents, perhaps none better at closing the deal than Lyndon Baines Johnson. Trump, however, does not seem to be rooted in any political principle other than his personal aggrandizement. Perhaps that’s why he reacts so quickly and violently to any slight, real or perceived. Perhaps that’s why he is eager to share the perqs of his office with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, why he is willing to bow down, even curtsy, before the Saudi king, why he could not help himself but risk a constitutional crisis by firing Comey, the man responsible for leading the investigation of his administration. 

Trump is a man of limited vocabulary, limited attention span, limited fealty to the truth, limited appreciation of historical context, limited loyalty to principle. It is not a compliment to say he is inscrutable. One would hope a president of the United States stands for values long forged in the American experience, not someone who favorably compares our values with those of Saudi Arabia where, among many repressive actions, public dissent is illegal, women are considered chattel with few rights, slavery still exists, religions other than Sunni Islam are not tolerated and where the press is restricted. 

Saudi Arabia practices Sharia Law. But that’s okay with Donald Trump. After all, they extended to him a welcome fit for a king, complete with a gold medal, showering him with praise. To get a $110 billion package of military hardware, the Saudis knew just how to appeal to his ego. 


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tired of Too Much Trump? Fatigue Factor Sets In

The fatigue factor is setting in. Donald Trump and his gang that couldn’t shoot straight is overwhelming me. There’s too much to write. If I miss a day the accumulated copy weighs me down. So here’s a “in case you missed it”  blog including random thoughts on news of the days of jaw-dropping, head shaking awe …

Did you see Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wax ecstatic about the lack of protesters and dissenters in Saudi Arabia during Trump’s transactional relationship building trip to the desert kingdom?

“[The] thing that was fascinating to me was there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there,” Ross told a global audience on CNBC. “Not one guy with a bad placard…”

Even after the CNBC newswoman suggested Saudis do not have the freedom to protest, Ross maintained his devotion to the repressive regime. 

Bibi’s Slip of the Tongue: After Trump’s visit to the Western Wall, Israeli prime minister Bib Netanyahu lauded him for being the “first acting president” to stand before Judaism’s holiest site. 

Bibi had it right. Though he meant to say “sitting president,” Trump’s presidency is an act, an act of arrogance, idiocy, cruelty, meanness and braggado. 

Trump’s buffoonery was on display during their press conference when he volunteered that he didn’t mention Israel during his meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office, thus providing tacit recognition that he spilled confidential information to our adversaries. 

Compare Notes: After visiting Yad Vashem, the memorial to six million Jews slain during the Holocaust, in Jerusalem Tuesday, Trump left the following note signed by him and his wife, Melania: 

“It is a great Honor To Be Here With All of My Friends.

So Amazing & will Never Forget!”

After his July 23, 2008, visit to Yad Vashem, candidate Barack Obama wrote:

“I am grateful to Yad Vashem and all of those responsible for this remarkable institution. At a time of great peril and promise, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man’s potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world. Let our children come here, and know this history, so that they can add their voices to proclaim “never again.” And may we remember those who perished, not only as victims but as individuals who hoped and loved and dreamed like us, and who have become symbols of the human spirit.” provided more context: “Then-president George W. Bush inscribed a brief message-- ‘God bless Israel’-- a few months earlier, in January 2008.

“Bill Clinton, who visited the memorial in his first term, was optimistic about the prospects for Middle East peace when wrote this in the book:

‘Today we have come one step closer to the time when the people of Israel will live in peace with all of their neighbors, when the awful events of death and destruction memorialized here will be banished to the past.’ 
“During her time as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump’s Democratic presidential opponent in the 2016 election, left the following note in March 2009:

“‘Yad Vashem is a testament to the power of truth in the face of denial, the resilience of the human spirit in the face of despair, the triumph of the Jewish people over murder and destruction and a reminder to all people that the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten,’ Clinton's note said. ‘God bless Israel and its future.’”

Okay, our current White House occupant is not a wordsmith. You’d think, however, that someone, someone in the administration would know better, would know the proper way to convey a message that is more than just “amazing.” 

Apparently not.

Killer Eyes: Last month Arkansas, with the approval of the U.S. Supreme Court, rushed to execute as many death row inmates as it could before its lethal chemical cocktail mix could no longer be used. 

I’ll forego commenting on the appropriateness of capital punishment, but I would suggest one change to the execution protocol. I would like any district attorney, governor and judge who favors an execution to have to witness the administration of said death penalty. It might not cut down on the number of executions but it would remove any shield they may have in meting out the ultimate punishment.

Comp Time Blues: There was a time several years back when human resources consultants advised that employees wanted more free time than more wages for overtime work. That idea is being incorporated in the Trump Administration’s proposals that comp time replace overtime pay.

Back when I worked for The New Haven Register chalking up comp time was the norm. There was, however, one flaw, a big flaw, in that practice—I was still required to file all the stories I would normally have to submit. 

Channeling Presidents: Unless I missed it, I must admit I was surprised Trump did not channel President Harry S. Truman when it came to defending his daughter’s creative talent. 

Truman’s daughter Margaret received less than flattering reviews for her singing from The Washington Post, prompting the plucky president to write the music critic, “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”

We should also hope Trump does not channel one of his presidential heroes, Andrew Jackson, who defied a Supreme Court ruling, famously stating, “(Chief Justice) John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.” 

Given all his judicial involvements Trump may well have to confront judgments not to his liking. 

He might find comfort in conjuring up the image of Woodrow Wilson, often considered a great president for “making the world safe for democracy,” but who discriminated against Afro-Americans and immigrants he thought were a threat to national security.

“I am sure the country is honeycombed with German intrigue and infested with German spies,” Wilson wrote in 1915 to one of his advisors. 

Once America entered the war against Germany, Wilson signed the Sedition Act of 1918 which restricted speech and the expression of opinion that criticized the government or the war effort. Convicted offenders could be imprisoned for five to 20 years.

Perhaps it is a good thing Trump is not a student of history.

Friday, May 19, 2017

To Make America Great Again, Understand What Made It Great

As the Trumpster hurried out of Dodge Friday on his first global journey to Make America Great Again and to escape his administration’s mounting scandals, perhaps it would be instructive to review and agree upon a time when America was great in the first place.

Does the would-be-bomber-in-chief want to go back to a time when schoolchildren hid under their desks during nuclear attack drills while fathers built bomb shelters in the back yard? Well, we now know hiding under oak desks won’t shield young lives, but underground vaults are in vogue again as Trump has ratcheted up fears of a nuclear conflagration with North Korea.

Does the six-time-bankruptcy-petitioner-in-chief want to go back to a time when American industry ruled the world? A worthy objective, but that was when unions provided safeguards for workers and assured them middle-class incomes and company paid medical benefits. It was a time when the individual tax rate was as high as 90%, when the differential between average compensation for Fortune 500 chief executives and their average workers was 20-to-1 in 1950, just 42-to-1 in 1980, but is now a whopping 204-to-1, according to Bloomberg.

Does the fence-builder-in-chief want to take us go back to a time when our borders were mostly sealed to Eastern European Jews, resulting in their inability to find refuge from Nazi Germany? It was a time when racist, anti-Semitic bigotry flowed over the airwaves through Father Coughlin’s radio diatribes and was disseminated in print by Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent newspaper. Sadly, Trump’s candidacy and victory have unleashed parallel restraints on immigration of oppressed people while opening the microphone to alt-right extremists whose mantra resembles the worst tenets of the Third Reich.

Does the climate-change-denier-in-chief want to go back to a time when America’s rivers were too polluted to swim in, when the air from coal plants and car exhausts made breathing difficult?

Does the would-be-autocrat-in-chief long for the days when America supported every despot who promised to fight Communism regardless of his repression of human rights? Substitute ISIS or Radical Islamic Terrorism or Drug Traffickers for Communism and Trump’s foreign policy doctrine (in places like Turkey, Syria and The Philippines) becomes clearer. 

Does the discriminator-in-chief want to return to the time when housing could be denied based on the color of one’s skin or one’s religion? Should we return to a time when every day but Sunday meant shopping in small town, Main Street America at manufacturers suggested retail prices?

Does the self-proclaimed healthcare-expert-in-chief want to go back to a time when medical bills could bankrupt a family, when pre-existing conditions allowed insurers to deny insurance coverage or to charge exorbitant fees, when women’s health issues were not covered? 

Does the vote-counter-in-chief want to go back in time to when Afro-Americans were denied the right or ability to vote? 

Does the fear-monger-in-chief want to return America to a time when citizenship offered no protection of constitutional rights, to a time when Mexican-Americans were deported, the loyalty of citizens with German or Japanese heritage was suspect, when they were attacked and placed in internment camps?  

Okay, enough with the sarcasm. Let’s agree on what made America great. 

The United States was a land of opportunity, especially when compared to the rest of the world. Still is, as evidenced by the desire of people the world over to emigrate to our shores rather than anywhere else.

We are a nation of immigrants, save for Native Americans. Immigrants enriched our culture imbuing us with a desire to get better. We absorbed the men, women and children of other nationalities who had the courage to start life anew in a country where customs, language and laws were different than their native lands, where they knew scant few, where they shed Old World hatreds and feuds to forge a pluralistic society based on the rule of law, not bound or restricted by a state religion. 

Our country encouraged education plus development of the arts and sciences. After a fitful start, unions harbored the working class, affording its members the opportunity to live a middle-class life. Capitalism was encouraged, but when poverty and unemployment overwhelmed the economy’s ability to support vast numbers, the government stepped in with progressive programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Head Start, as well as infrastructure projects that transformed America, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, the interstate highway system, a series of dams and the Internet. 

Above all else, America amalgamated all the above to become a beacon not burdened by discrimination (though, in reality, it exists even to this day), a land where, yes, the sons of millionaires become president but so do the offspring of hardscrapple or broken homes. 

What made America great is our diversity—diversity of ethnicities, diversity of opinions, diversity of languages, of religions, of culinary tastes, of histories, of cultures that thrown together accepted the rights of others and, at its best, practiced a creed of tolerance and understanding. 

Our nation became great through a cult of optimism. Under Donald Trump, too many have replaced optimism with fear, with envy, with bigotry. We are already a great country. We can improve, but only if our leaders, especially our president, preaches hope not despair, unity not division, equality not discrimination. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Fear Factor: A Partial List of Worries Inspired by A Mean-Spirited, Cruel, Vindictive President

Shortly after winning the presidency, after receiving an intelligence brief on threats facing America, Donald Trump cautioned the public there were “lots to fear.” Hardly a reassuring tone from the person whose word can launch a thousand nuclear-tipped missiles.

Well, are you feeling relief now that Russia has denied that the blabbermouth-in-chief revealed classified information to its foreign minister and ambassador to the United States during an unprecedented visit to the Oval Office last week? Do you feel safer, less anxious?

Give The Donald his due. He has elevated the art of instilling fear to an extreme.

Of course, the fear-monger-in-chief might have chosen to calm the public’s nerves since taking office. But that’s not his style. Instead, through his rhetoric and executive actions he has unleashed a Pandora’s box of fears: 

Fear of foreigners
Fear of immigrants
Fear of political retribution
Fear of Twitter shame
Fear of Twitter bullying
Fear of mass deportations
Fear of mass incarcerations
Fear of mass prosecutions
Fear of mass persecutions
Fear of a police state
Fear of the world coming to an end
Fear of nuclear conflagration
Fear of unchecked climate change
Fear of unsafe air and water
Fear of a religious state
Fear of censorship
Fear of loss of health care coverage 
Fear of insurmountable health care bills
Fear of widening racial divide
Fear of widening income disparity
Fear of loss of faith in government
Fear of loss of belief in media objectivity and veracity
Fear that elected officials will blindly follow rather than act on their conscience
Fear of politicization of the FBI
Fear of authoritarianism
Fear of flying (United or any U.S. airline)
Fear of government by Twitter
Fear we have an idiot as president and not just any idiot  Fear we have a mean-spirited, cruel, vindictive idiot as president
Fear the Constitution will be subordinated for political gain

Feel free to add your own fears to this list, if you’re not already cowed into the fetal position.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Hof Ashkelon Is Their Home in the Shadow of Mortars from Gaza

The question comes up every year: Why do you stay in arguably the most dangerous corner of Israel, the settlements adjacent to the Gaza Strip?

It was the turn of eight women, social workers and trauma care first responders from the Hof Ashkelon region, to respond this year to the heart-rending, oft-repeated question that over a two-week period came from students of Westchester Hebrew High School, staff of Westchester Jewish Community Services, Congresswoman Nita Lowey and members of the Westchester families that hosted them for a fortnight.

Fourteen days of touring, eating and shopping their way through New York and Washington, DC, ended Sunday. But that’s not why Shalom Yisrael of Westchester brought them to America. The goal was to help the helpers maintain and refresh their balance in a turbulent part of the world, at perhaps its most hazardous, impulsive and unpredictable point.

The women are no different than the 16,000 other residents of Hof Ashkelon, a region along the Mediterranean coast south of Ashkelon and north of the Gaza Strip. They are mothers of three or four children. One is a grandmother. Social workers and office workers. Their children go to school. Some are in the military. A few are married. No different than any group of women from the 19 communities of Hof Ashkelon (or the 56 previous first responder women of the prior seven years hosted by Shalom Yisrael from the Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol districts that also border the Gaza Strip).

Except, when conflict arises others have the freedom to scoop up their families to leave for safer quarters. These women have made a commitment to stay on sacred ground and help others cope with the consequences of terror.

They are not right wing zealots. They want to live in peace with their neighbors. But they will not cede an inch more of territory. Two of them—Esti and Corinne—already had homes taken from them when Israel abandoned their settlements in the Sinai and Gaza in the hope that peace would ensue. Ceding land won’t happen again, not after Hamas turned their former communities into rocket and mortar launch pads.

Hof Ashkelon is a beautiful part of Israel. Its inhabitants are more than just neighbors. They are united in determination to work together to secure a stable environment for their families. Yet, they know when—not really if, just when—the random mortar attack escalates to full scale hostilities their homes and settlements will be uninhabitable because Hamas has inventoried rockets more powerful than before.

They stay for a simple, primal reason. It is their home.

If they give it up, the border region will become the next district down the road, subject to the same intermittent bombardments they sustain, they say. No. The border stays as is.

Everyday life in Hof Ashkelon is different than in the rest of Israel. Showers are shorter—nobody wants to get caught full of suds should an alarm be sounded. Long past the age when they shouldn’t, children wet their beds. While traveling inside cars, seat belts are not worn, windows are left open, radios are turned off—with seven to 15 seconds warning before a mortar can land, one doesn’t want to have to tussle with undoing a seat belt to exit a car and lie down by the roadside with hands wrapped around one’s head, or worry about reverberations from an explosion shattering glass, or miss an alarm because the radio drowned out its warning.

On the other hand, life in Hof Ashkelon is by choice, as is service as a first responder. Before joining the first responder team Inbal had to commit that while other residents might leave during a conflict she would stay. Shalhevet and her family moved from the city of Ashkelon to Zikim, a kibbutz on the coastline less than two miles from the northern border of the Gaza Strip. When her daughter clings to her leg and pleads with her to stay home, Idit must overcome a normal, motherly response. She must leave her home to help others deal with trauma.

It is difficult not to think of these women and their colleagues, Tsipi, Mali and Ronit, as heroes, but that is the last descriptor they would attach to themselves. They are, simply, part of a people trying to live in peace. Their job is but one performed in defense of their homeland.

They arrived back in Israel Monday afternoon. The Shalom Yisrael 2017 program has concluded but funding needs for this year and future programs remain. Please consider making a donation. 

Send your tax deductible donation to:

Shalom Yisrael
c/o Murray Forseter
11 Brad Lane
White Plains, NY 10605

The links below are to previous posts about visits sponsored by Shalom Yisrael and Gilda’s and my visit in 2011 to the Sha’ar Hanegev region along the northeastern edge of the Gaza Strip: