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Day 40 – The Buck Stops With You, Mr. President. Own It or Get Out.

Day 40 – The Buck Stops With You, Mr. President. Own It or Get Out.

Photograph by Donna Cleveland

Dear Mr. President,

Within a week after you assumed office, you ordered a raid in Yemen that went, by almost all accounts, horribly wrong.  According to news sources, it ended up in the death of Ryan Owens, a U.S. Navy Seal, while six other U.S. service members were wounded. At least 25 civilians were also killed — including nine children under the age of 13, one of them an 8-year old American girl.  NBC news has reported that no significant intelligence was recovered from the raid, and Republican Senator John McCain labeled it a failure.

The raid had been initially drawn up under the Obama administration, but had been shelved because officials had decided executing it would only increase tensions in the region.  And yet, within five days of your inauguration, you gave the mission the green light.

For a month, you and your mouthpieces have colored the raid a success and disputed that no actionable intelligence was gotten.  Your administration has browbeat critics, shaming them as anti-patriots who besmirch the memory of Chief Petty Officer Owens by criticizing the operation or calling it a waste, regardless of the death and injury for little, if any, tactical benefit.

But then, this weekend, Ryan Owen’s father began to vocalize his own views on the raid that killed his son.  He revealed he was too upset to meet you at the airport for the return of his boy’s remains. He is now demanding an investigation into the mission.  And today, in the face of those demands, you did what you do best, it seems.

You shifted responsibility elsewhere.

“This was a mission that was started before I got here,” you began, the “they” being the Obama officials who had scrapped the raid.  “This was something they wanted to do,” you said, lying. “They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do ― the generals ― who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”

That last “they” in your comment is not the Obama officials. It is the military. You, the Commander-in-Chief of the entire armed forces, blamed your “respected generals” for a mission you recklessly green-lighted, then claimed was an overwhelming success, and now disown as you turn tail, again, and run.

No one who has followed you even a little is surprised by any of this, Mr. President.  It is, sadly, your M.O.  You act thoughtlessly, brashly claim unqualified success, foment nationalistic forces in doing so, and then, when the veil is removed and the whole thing is seen to be a flimsy mess, you point the finger someplace else and scream, “You’re fired.”

The problem is that the stakes here are higher than ratings for your cheesy TV show.  The stakes here were the deaths of 26 human beings, many of them children, and another six people wounded.

Mr. President, you are showing yourself to be a coward and a fool.  Presidents across history have lived up to Harry Truman’s little desk-top sign: “The Buck Stops Here.”  You are failing miserably at following in that mold.  The time has passed where casting blame will suffice.  Be an adult.  Be a leader.  Be a president to this nation.




Day 39 – States’ Rights Do Not Trump Human Rights

Day 39 – States’ Rights Do Not Trump Human Rights

Photograph by Geoff Livingston

Dear Mr. President,

You like to be right. You had a chance to be on the right side of history.

You like to build things. You had the chance to be on the foundational end of building a more inclusive and safer world for our children.

You consider yourself an enforcer, a powerful man. You could have enforced a basic human rights issue: that of the right to be able to pee.

You like to be compared to famous people. You could have been the Abraham Lincoln of the right for all students to safely urinate without needless obsession about their genitalia or birth certificates.

And yet, you caved. You backed down from your statements about bathroom laws, and you caved to the fetishization of trans people. “There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate,” you said. “There has been so little trouble.” And yet, you couched your beliefs about the need to “protect all people, even though it’s a tiny percentage of 1 percent” with the hopes that “most states would ‘make the right decisions.’” You caved to the fetishization of “States’ Rights” over “Human Rights,” knowing full well that states often willingly trample on human rights until they are forced to recognize human rights for all.

You caved to the right to discriminate.

The federal government has a duty to uphold and protect and even establish rights that pockets of our union might not be ready to accept. But just because they are not yet ready to end their discrimination does not mean that the discrimination is okay. Sometimes the federal government needs to lead the way.

States were wrong about slavery.

States were wrong about secession.

States were wrong about the definition of marriage.

States were wrong about separate but equal facilities.

States are often wrong.

You had a chance to be right.

I beg you to look into your own soul, and consider what protections you would want for your own family members. You cannot deny those protections to others. And you cannot hide under the banner of States’ Rights.

I beg you to meet with  Jackie Evancho and her sister, and truly understand what transgender people deal with every day.

I beg you to educate yourself, by reading the Transgender Lives stories hosted at the New York Times website, and by visiting the National Center for Transgender Equality website.  Read the Human Rights Campaign resources. And while you’re at it, educate yourself on Transgender Law. Step outside of your bubble of fear and fearmongering and talk to the people you were elected to lead. Talk to all of them.

I beg you to put an end to this ridiculous obsession to control where people pee by reinstating the federal guidelines that provided protections to transgender students.

You have a chance to do the right thing, and to be on the right side of history. Because, eventually, this issue will be resolved nationally. The right to discriminate based on gender will be eliminated within your lifetime by the enforcement of Title IX…much like the right to own people was eliminated in 1865 by the 13th Amendment (except, of course, when it comes to prisons, but that is another letter).And you have a chance to be a strong leader, and tell those States who wish to discriminate that they are wrong. Tell all of them.

Do not push down to the States those issues that must be handled nationally. Because eventually your inability to take a national stand will be revealed to be what it actually is: your inability to stand up for what is right.

You have a chance to be on the right side of history on this one.

Do the right thing, Mr. President. After all, you pride yourself on being very smart. Make a decision that you can be proud of. Protect our children. Protect all of them.

We are waiting.





Day 38 – Remember What You Said About Flint?

Day 38 – Remember What You Said About Flint?

Photograph by Rob Stites

Dear Mr. President,

I’ve got to give you credit: you’re actually doing what you said you would.

At first, I thought you might not. On December 1, 2016, when you were reminded of your promises to the workers at the Carrier plant in Indiana, you said, “I’ll never forget, about a week ago I was watching the nightly news, and they were doing a story on Carrier. And they had a gentleman, a worker, great guy, handsome guy, and it was like he didn’t even know they were leaving. He said something to the effect, ‘No, we’re not leaving because Donald Trump promised us that we’re not leaving.’ And I never thought I made that promise. And then they played my statement, and I said, ‘Carrier will never leave,’ but that was a euphemism.”

Then, when you came to my city of Grand Rapids, Michigan on December 9, 2016, your response to those who wanted you to lock Hilary Clinton up was, “That plays great before the election – now we don’t care, right?”

But you did cut a deal with Carrier, and you’ve been making plans for a wall, shutting down immigration and refugees, installing cabinet secretaries who have contempt for the departments they’re overseeing, and creating a hostile environment for Muslims trying to enter the United States. You’re doing what you said you would. I wish you were doing none of them, but I have to give you credit for being a man of your word.

So I’d like to remind you of something else you said on the campaign trail, in hopes that you’ll follow through on it.

On September 14, 2016, you came to Flint, Michigan, and you said this: “We will get it fixed and it will be fixed and effectively and Flint will come back. Most importantly, we’ll bring jobs back.” Later, at a rally in Canton, Ohio, you said, “I’m running to bring hope to Flint.”

Well, Flint still needs hope.

This week, the state announced that, because 96 percent of the water tested was within federal guidelines for lead (when tested with water filters in place), they would no longer provide subsidies for residents’ water bills—water that still doesn’t seem like a safe bet. Residents still have to use filters to make their water even 96% safe. They have been warned that underground construction work has the potential to shake loose or stir up lead in certain service lines, leaving them insecure about what to do. They feel at risk if they do use their water, but if they don’t use it, lead won’t be flushed from the system, so they’ll have to continue to open the taps and because the state is cutting off assistance for the dangerous situation it created, they’ll have to pay for water they aren’t using. They’re stuck.

I know our governor did nothing to help your campaign in Michigan, but you won the state anyway. Wouldn’t it be great to stick it to Snyder by being the champion of the people of Flint? At the very least, please let the federal funds promised to Flint by the Environmental Protection Agency stand.

Flint is a historically blue-collar worker town that has been devastated by manufacturing jobs leaving the country. They are the forgotten people you call your own. Yes, many of them are African American forgotten people. And your administration doesn’t have a great reputation when it comes to issues surrounding race. Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to address that by coming to the aid of a struggling, majority-African-American city? By actually bringing hope to Flint?




Day 37 – Private Prisons Foster the Continued Mass Incarceration of Minorities. And That is Bad.

Day 37 – Private Prisons Foster the Continued Mass Incarceration of Minorities. And That is Bad.

Photograph by Thomas Hawk

Dear Mr. President,

Today I call on you to take action and reform the criminal justice system in the United States.

Here are a couple of things to consider:

Both parties have recognized the disproportions and biases of the system towards people of color and low socioeconomic status. Mike Pence said, “We have to do a better job recognizing and correcting the errors in the system that reflect an institutional bias in criminal justice.” Why are you not doing anything about it?

There are 2.2 million prisoners in this country, one of the largest numbers in the world per capita, and research, including a study by the New York University School of Law, has proven that the current criminal justice system has no impact on the crime rate. Why don’t you do something about it?

Sustaining jails and prisons is exorbitantly expensive. Federal and private prisons both receive tax payer money. Why?

The private system is unfairly profiting on slave labor, and those ill-gained profits are not being used to benefit our communities. They are used for private gain.

The Correctional Corporation of America, now CoreCivic, and the GEO Group own and manage private prisons and detention centers, and operate others on a concession basis. These corporations sell products and services provided by inmates earning ten cents an hour, and in exchange make killer profits for their investors. This money, funded by federal aid and taxpayer money, does not trickle down; it stays in that elite circle. It is very convenient and profitable to have those jails full. More inmates mean more federal funds and more profit due to increased “production.“

Instead of reforming this system, why has your administration expanded private prison use? Why did Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdraw an Obama administration order that set a goal of reducing and ending the Justice Department’s use of private prisons?

Could it be because private prisons, mass incarceration and you, Donald Trump, are linked?

According to various publications, CoreCivic and GEO Group poured millions of dollars into your campaign or supported it somehow. Is this how you pay back their favor, justifying it with the amount of immigrants that your broadened executive order is sending to prison – which is why private prisons will be needed? I don’t think so. I don’t believe what you said this week about all the drug lords that have been caught in these raids either. If they were drug lords, we would know their names and you would be bragging about how you caught them. You would be praising your administration and staff for catching such drug lords. El Chapo Guzman and Pablo Escobar: those are or were drug lords. I don’t think you or your administration understand or want to understand that drug lords have visas to come into the USA and do so for vacation or business meetings with those who run their operations here. These people include legal residents and American-born individuals, which also include caucasian non-hispanics. I can understand how hard this must be for you to admit.

It seems like it all ties into one big conspiracy theory of power, money and hate. Prison stocks are rebounding. And the people you promised would not be ignored or forgotten any longer are not going to benefit from any of this.

You are in a position to fix this broken and corrupt system – even if it doesn’t improve your bottom line.



Day 36 – Protect ALL of Our Children, Mr. President. All of Them.

Day 36 – Protect ALL of Our Children, Mr. President. All of Them.

Photograph by Victoria Pickering

Dear Mr. President,

For the past month, I’ve been closely following the accusations and rants of bad hombres, fake news, the leaks, and your non relationship with Russia. Frankly, I am exhausted, but I continue to listen and I was recently struck at your callousness, disrespect, and disregard for the welfare of those who are different from your family and friends. To wit: transgender students.

According to the New York Times, last April you supported the right of transgender people to “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate.”  Why the change of heart? Are you so easily swayed by the religious right to take away the civil rights of a group of people? Is your intention to make this country more polarized than it is at the moment?

Did you know, sir, that according to the 2015 National School Climate Survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), 57.6 percent of transgender youth feel unsafe at school, and those who are able to persevere had significantly lower GPAs? Furthermore, 85.2 percent experienced verbal harassment. Transgender students are more likely to miss school out of concern for their safety, and are less likely to plan on continuing their education.

Many students struggle to go to school and be themselves without being ridiculed or punished for wearing clothes or using facilities consistent with who they are. In addition, opportunities to go on field trips or take part in sports have been denied to them.  Even more heartbreaking is that almost 50 percent of transgender teens have thought about suicide, and 25 percent reported they have made a suicide attempt.

By rescinding this rule on bathrooms for transgender teens, sir, you have put their lives in danger. They will be ridiculed and humiliated, bullied and terrorized, and shunned by those who falsely believe they are standing on a higher moral ground. This is nothing but psychological torture.

I beseech you, sir, do the right thing and go back to what you said last April. Don’t be known as the president who contributed to the deaths of transgender teens because of hatred, ignorance and fear just to appease his conservative supporters.

This isn’t about politics, it’s about the rights of individuals to use a restroom.




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