Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

September 25, 2018

He Said, They Said

By David K. Shipler

                We Americans are swimming in lies—lies from an entire advertising industry, lies from the top of our government on down, lies from the grassroots of hateful partisans, lies from such august institutions as the Catholic Church, lies from Fox News and other purveyors of propaganda. And on, and on, and on.
This Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will treat us to another gargantuan lie: the deception that we are seeing a truth-seeking process because Professor Christine Blasey Ford will be heard accusing Judge Brett Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her when she was 15. In reality, however, virtually all the members of the committee, both Republicans and Democrats, have already decided the case. The minority Democrats will credit her account, and the majority Republicans will not. She is on trial, as are most women who finally gather the courage and self-esteem to speak out about their abuse at the hands of prominent men.
And this will be something of a show trial, with a Republican-hired lawyer—a woman, of course, for the sake of “optics”—appointed to question her, to poke holes in her story, perhaps to rattle her enough to make her come across on national television as incoherent, confused, and unreliable. There is no hint in the Republican-led committee of any interest in getting to the bottom of the allegation. If there were, the FBI or a committee-organized, impartial investigatory staff armed with subpoenas would have been assigned to the matter. And the one alleged witness, Mark Judge, would be forced to testify under oath.
The Republicans’ refusal to call Judge pulls back the curtain on the farcical charade. They are obviously afraid that Judge, who Ford says was present when Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, ground his body against her, covered her mouth when she screamed, and tried to remove her clothes, might suddenly remember the incident in sworn testimony. There’s nothing like the threat of a perjury charge to focus your mind.
But this is political theater, practically devoid of due process. A methodical and intellectually honest effort to muster the facts and arrive at a conclusion is not legally required in the Senate as it is in criminal court. And so it will not be pursued, because it might interfere with Republicans’ steamrolling campaign to politicize the Supreme Court in their image.

September 18, 2018

Trump vs. the Palestinians

By David K. Shipler

Making America Cruel Again: Part 3 of an Occasional Series

            The more militant end of the Palestinian spectrum, which has grown in recent years, will surely be delighted by the Trump Administration’s latest deletion of aid. It cuts off $10 million  for peacebuilding programs that have brought together Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem for professional workshops, school visits, and joint projects designed to disarm the arsenal of suspicion and fear.
            These get-togethers have been denounced by Palestinian activists as efforts to “normalize” Israel’s dominance over the West Bank by “showing that everything is okay,” according to Nava Sonnenschein, an Israeli who runs such programs. The “anti-normalization movement” argues that cooperative projects acquiesce to Israeli control of the area and thereby subvert the goal of independent Palestinian statehood.
Some Palestinian participants have been threatened. Several years ago, women journalists on the West Bank were warned that if they joined a workshop for Jewish and Arab female journalists from Israel, they would be expelled from the Palestinian journalists’ union. “Some of them came nevertheless,” Sonnenschein said. “So they risked themselves because they believed it was a way to change the other side.”
Indeed, creating “change agents” is a goal of Sonnenschein’s School for Peace at Neve Shalom, a mixed Arab-Jewish village in the hills between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. When professionals—architects, land-use planners, engineers, environmentalists, physicians, and other influential adults from across the lines—are thrown together on the common ground of their skills and interests, she believes, they return to their own sides with a more open appreciation of the humanity and mutual concerns that can bridge the divide. Some change agents have maintained contacts with those in the other camp.
But in the latest episode of wizardry, Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, want to punish Palestinians’ failure to negotiate for some nebulous notion of peace by cutting off programs that promote peaceful connections. The School for Peace and other private organizations have thrived on grants from the United States Agency for International Development, as well as from the European Union. The American funds will now support only projects that exclude Palestinians from the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, although Arab citizens of Israel may participate.

September 1, 2018

McCain: Mourning Decency

By David K. Shipler

                Not since the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 has a senator’s death inspired such an outpouring of affectionate eulogy as the loss of John McCain. It takes nothing from McCain to observe that this week of mourning has been mostly a celebration of contrast—the stark contrast between a decent man who traveled a noble road and a corrupt president who wallows in the gutters of vindictiveness.
Had McCain died three years ago, before the advent of Trumpism, he would probably have been accorded due respect but hardly the effusive tributes and live funeral broadcasts that have been conveyed by “the enemy of the people,” as Trump enjoys calling America’s free press. McCain’s stature has been enhanced, ironically, by the misdeeds of his own party: Trump, who effectively dodged the draft, denigrated McCain’s ordeal as a POW in North Vietnam; McCain, as a victim of Vietnamese torture, denounced American torture under president George W. Bush; McCain stood up against Trump’s divisive incivility toward Americans and his obsequious flirtation with Russia; McCain gave his famous thumbs down on the Senate floor to his Republican colleagues’ witless attempt to strip Americans of the health benefits of Obamacare. So the late senator has now been immortalized as a principled, independent thinker and a creative maverick.
That is an exaggeration. Mostly he went along with his party on key conservative issues. And he certainly exercised poor judgment from time to time: He and four other senators intervened unethically with regulators on behalf of Charles Keating Jr., a bank executive who gave his campaign $112,000 and later went to prison for fraud against elderly investors. McCain later confessed to having learned a couple of lessons, including a sensitivity to the mere appearance of conflict and a willingness to address accusations openly in the press, rather than trying to hide. (“Flashing his quick temper, he insulted, cursed and hung up on reporters questioning him about his ties to Keating,” CBS reported.) He went on to team up with former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold to champion limits on campaign financing.