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Day 254 – Put Your Giant, Infantile Ego Away and Focus On Helping Puerto Rico, Mr. President.

Day 254 – Put Your Giant, Infantile Ego Away and Focus On Helping Puerto Rico, Mr. President.

Photograph from CNN

Mr. President,

Well, it’s been a hell of a week. Actually, it’s been a hell of a month. Hell, it’s been a hell of an administration.  No doubt you have had many a bad day since January 20th, so I want to extend to you a bit of empathy.  It must be hard to be the leader of such a diverse country, everyone wants you to consider their agenda, everyone wants you to carve out a space for their plans, everyone needs something from you: attention, funding, a platform…the list goes on and on.  And you, sir are just one man.  I get it, I feel for you.

Do you see how that works?  I, a black woman, a teacher, living in the suburbs of the District of Columbia with only a tiny bit of experience in management, can feel for you, a white man, who has never known a day of true discomfort, had to apply for a job, catch a bus or cook dinner. I haven’t walked in your shoes, but I can empathize with your situation, and it doesn’t cost me anything to do so.  It doesn’t really help you either, except to possibly give you comfort that someone else is cognizant of your suffering.

Unlike me however, your empathy has the strength of a nation behind it. As you sit at your desk and watch millions of people struggle to obtain basic needs, food, shelter, water, and even oxygen, you could sign executive orders that would bring instant comfort to those people, American citizens dying on a tiny island surrounded as you say, by ocean water. Come to think of it, you could have sent literal Comfort to your citizens, the USNS Comfort, which you might remember deployed to NYC to help after 9/11, to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and more recently to Haiti to aid after the devastating earthquakes there. Your empathy has the innovation of the Army Corps of Engineers behind it.  They can help with that crumbling infrastructure you mentioned before offering or outlining any help to that island in the “big water.”  Your empathy has ability to rescind laws behind it like the Jones Act.  It was great to see you extend that empathy to the shippers before you revoked it (temporarily, we all note) but perhaps that was misplaced. The shippers, you see have access to clean water, food, and shelter.  I’d venture to say they have great air conditioning systems on their ships.

Within the past few days, you have moved to do some of these things, and although it has been 11 days since this tiny island surrounded by ocean water was hit by one of the most devastating storms ever to land on U.S. soil (that tiny island, remember, is a part of the United States), I am sure that they are glad to know that in about 5 days, a hospital with roughly 800 beds will be there to help them deal with the approximately 59 hospitals that are closed due to the storm. Hindsight being twenty/twenty and all, I do not envy you when the actual numbers of deaths caused by the storm and the subsequent slow federal response (that’s you) are accurately reported.  You see, Mr. President, people have been forced to bury their dead loved ones on their own since the storm hit.  The morgues of those hospitals that have closed, and there are 51 of them, report that bodies have been piling up.  Your celebration of the low death toll most certainly will come back to haunt you, and I’m loath to point out that your positive spin was not empathetic to those that lost loved ones there, on that tiny, tiny island.

Again, I realize that you are a busy man, always “working with a lot of time on your hands,” so your attention is split.  You had to support your GOP candidate in AL although you wondered aloud if that might have been a mistake.  That had to have been tough.  And you decided to show NFL owners empathy as they deal with those pesky professional athletes protesting…what was it again, oh yes, the deaths of unarmed black men, women and children at the hands of law enforcement officers; you certainly gave those multi-millionaires the moral support they needed, I think.  But, and forgive me if this has been brought to your attention before, I think the loved ones of those killed, and those, like me, who have black and brown children or who are indeed black and brown ourselves, might appreciate a little empathy.

Hey, you are in charge, and as you have said, you have a pretty good brain.  Maybe calling the mayor of a storm-destroyed city, surrounded by pallets of supplies that can’t be moved to the people who need them “nasty” was the best move you could make.  Perhaps declaring that the people of this tiny island out in the Atlantic, “want everything given to them” especially considering they have nothing, might goad them into building their home back up again.  I’ve heard that they can register online with FEMA to start the process for themselves.  But if your words and lack of deed come back to bite you in your political posterior, I’m here for you.  Maybe.




Day 253 – Liberty and Justice For All, Mr. President. A Second Grade Lesson On What It Means To Be Patriotic.

Day 253 – Liberty and Justice For All, Mr. President. A Second Grade Lesson On What It Means To Be Patriotic.

Photograph from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Mr. President,

You have once again overtaken the general public’s newsfeed and social media with hubbub unrelated to your elected position. But (either ignorantly or brilliantly) you have once again distracted the general public from what is occurring elsewhere within our country.

It is in question as to whether or not North Korea believes you have incited war.

Puerto Rico is suffering the devastating consequences of Hurricane Maria and faces a long and arduous road to recovery. Florida and Texas are also working toward their own recovery and rebuilding after the storms that ravaged their communities.

Your final (maybe?) attempt at an Affordable Care Act replacement has failed.

Facebook is turning over to Congress more than 3,000 Russia-leaked ads that may have aided in your election.

But people are still focusing on your NFL mania. It boggles my mind that I too am still following this. I don’t even watch football, yet somehow just how clueless you are about the symbolism of kneeling during ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ frustrates me. Yet I was determined in this letter not to once again berate you on your stance (standing, of course) about the correct actions when the National Anthem is played.

So, instead, I decided I would focus on how you brought attention to the importance of what these patriotic moments offer. You made me rethink what patriotism means to me and this country. It once again solidified my love of the First Amendment, but also made me focus so much on those with whom I disagree. I am by nature a lover, not a fighter, but hearing and seeing evidence of your bullheaded temperament about what it means to be a patriot infuriated me and I don’t like when I am brewing anger. But then yesterday I was brought back to what I actually believe is the basis of our country.

My kindergartener came home from school so proud that she had nearly all of the Pledge of Allegiance memorized. Her second grade sister, not to be out done, had to one up her. She reminded us that she has known the Pledge for two years now, and that her class had actually started learning what the Pledge means.

“So, what does the Pledge of Allegiance mean?”

“Well, we learned the meaning of the big words. Like that ‘pledge’ means to promise. And ‘liberty’ means freedom. And ‘indivisible’ means you can’t break it apart.”

“What do you think that means: to not break apart?”

“It means that states won’t become their own countries. That everybody works together. That we can’t get all divided up.”

She is right; she is absolutely right. That is what indivisible means. Yet here is where you continuously take us: to a nation divided.

You have managed to polarize everything, even Monday Night Football. So, here is an idea. Bring the country back to what thousands of people, mainly children, pledge to every day for this nation: liberty and justice for all.

Instead of continuing to push for a healthcare repeal that leaves millions more uninsured, push for inclusive healthcare, to ensure liberty and justice for all.

Instead of cutting federal dollars from food stamp and other anti-poverty necessities, push to guarantee everyone three healthy meals a day, to ensure liberty and justice for all.

Instead of believing that marriage depends solely on gender, push to legalize all relationships based on love and support, to ensure liberty and justice for all.

Instead of defunding schools providing public education, push for allowing them to benefit and serve neighborhoods and children, to ensure liberty and justice for all.

Instead of masking your racially charged remarks as patriotic, push to actually understand the divisions haunting our country and move to heal these wounds, to ensure liberty and justice for all.

Perhaps you need to go back into the second grade classroom and take part in this lesson. Look at the power of language. Look at what the words children recite each and every day truly mean. They pledge to an indivisible country that promises liberty and justice for all. And while I fear you are unwilling to ever truly work to provide this for them, I have faith that they will someday see it.







Day 252 – Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Mr. President.

Day 252 – Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Mr. President.

Photograph from NY Daily News

Mr. President,

Puerto Rico is Spanish for “rich port,” as in, the port of big money, baby! $$$

Now that I have your attention, Puerto Ricans are Americans. Puerto Ricans are Americans. Puerto Ricans are Americans. Puerto Ricans are Americans. Puerto Ricans are Americans. Puerto Ricans are Americans. Puerto Ricans are Americans.

Aside from the fact that Puerto Rico should be a state (alongside Washington, D.C., Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), its citizens are us. Americans. They aren’t even the immigrants that terrorize your toddleresque view of tribalism. They are us. Americans.

Citizenship aside, they are humans. That should be all you need to know.

But let me return to language you understand. Imagine a golf course, just a beautiful golf course. Gorgeous. Just unbelievable greens. Rolling fairways. Tee boxes from your dreams. Imagine that golf course gets destroyed. I don’t even care by what. Doesn’t matter for this story. It gets completely wiped out. You can’t tell a tee box from the clubhouse. Now, for a loose analogy, imagine that this course is maintained by the wealthiest golf course developer in the history of the game of golf. The richest one ever. EVER. In history! How would you, a regular at this course, feel if that guy refused to help the golf course? It takes him a week to respond. The greens haven’t been mowed in a week. A week! You’d probably be pretty upset, right?

It’s already painfully apparent that you lack any form of empathy that’s empty of dollars, so I can’t imagine you will make the conceptual leap from golf course to human beings. But Mr. Trump, people are going to die if they don’t get more medicine, food, and water as soon as humanly possible. I’ll continue trying to speak your language (though it feels inhumane—I just tried to help you feel empathy by relating people to a golf course for God’s sake): These aren’t just people that will die; these are Americans that will die.


It is, frankly, hard to make a place great “again” if its people are dead.

These are citizens of the richest country in the history of the human race, and in the six days following the devastation, the U.S. federal government deployed a total of three Navy ships to help. Three. Americans will die without potable water and food. The agriculture on the island was destroyed. Puerto Ricans need all food shipped in now. We can do that. You can make it happen.

But to do that you will have to understand that brown people are Americans too, even when they lack representation in Congress.

No, it’s not easy to transport and distribute goods to a destroyed land, but waiting a week to react is simply inhumane. Good lord, Mr. Trump, even Doctor Doom has more complicated motivations than you. Even the most straightforward villain in comics would have helped these people more quickly if for no other reason than to play the hero role merely for the adulation that comes with it. Yes, the island is in the middle of a “very big ocean.” The rest of us did our fifth-grade homework and already knew that, but most of us also know that brown skin does not make someone less than human.

I’m done trying to appeal to the scared toddler inside you. Send more medicine, food, and water. Pretend they’re members of Mar-a-Lago if you have to. Just get it done.




A Primer For You, Mr. President, on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and the Consequences of Showing Iran and the World that We Cannot Be Trusted.

A Primer For You, Mr. President, on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and the Consequences of Showing Iran and the World that We Cannot Be Trusted.

Photograph from ABCNews

Dear Mr. President,

I have read with concern your recent comments about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s supposed perfidy in its implementation. Your formal remarks and tweets strongly suggest that you don’t have a clear understanding of what the deal covered, and don’t appreciate its full implications. Permit me to help.

The Iran nuclear deal concerned Islamic Republic’s production of plutonium and enriched uranium. It limited the construction of centrifuges, which are used for enrichment. It reduced the amount of uranium that Iran is allowed to possess by 98%, with the remainder being shipped to other countries, as per the agreement. It forced Iran to modify the design of its Arak nuclear reactor in such a way that it couldn’t be used to produce plutonium for bomb purposes, and further insisted that Iran must ship the reactor’s heavy water (deuterium oxide) to the USA. Activities related to nuclear research and development are limited for the next eight years. Finally, the treaty authorized intrusive inspections, including round-the-clock monitoring equipment and the right to visit any facility involved in Iranian nuclear activity. In exchange, nuclear-activity-related sanctions on Iran were lifted, and Iranian funds, which belonged to Iran in the first place, that had been frozen in offshore accounts, were returned to their owners. That’s the full deal.

The agreement isn’t perfect, because the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have to give advance notice on inspections. That means that activities could be hidden, but our other surveillance techniques would undoubtedly catch such duplicity. All in all, though, the comprehensive deal is far, far better than what was happening before, when Iran’s activities were subject to no constraints. We had already implemented harsh, biting sanctions on Iran, but that wasn’t stopping them from pursuing nuclear activities. Now, their activities have been almost entirely halted, thanks to this plan.

Nothing in this deal addresses Iran’s ballistic missile program or funding of extremist groups. Those are separate issues, with separate sanctions attached to them that remain in place. This deal was only meant to stop Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb, and nothing else. It has done that, by freezing in time Iran’s ability to develop a bomb for the next decade, at which point we can always negotiate anew. One can say that Iran remains in violation on these other matters, but linking them to the nuclear deal is a deliberate lie; the agreement does not address them.

Mr. Trump, the United States has always made deals with people we dislike. We negotiated the Washington Naval Treaty with world powers, friend and foe alike, in 1921 to limit warship construction, and it worked for more than a decade; it saved us an enormous amount of money, and prevented an arms race in the 1920s and most of the 1930s. We negotiated treaty after treaty with the Soviet Union to limit nuclear arsenals: the Partial Test Ban Treaty, the ABM Treaty, SALT I, SALT II, the INF Treaty, and START I. Signing them didn’t mean that we liked the USSR. Negotiating with the Soviets on these issues didn’t stop us from vigorously opposing communism around the world. It just meant that we took steps to limit the threat of nuclear weapons, because that was in our national interest.

The same is true here. It is in our national interest to prevent an Iranian bomb; that much is beyond dispute. If we don’t limit Iran’s nuclear program through a treaty, then there are no limits preventing Iran from developing a bomb, unless we resort to armed conflict. A war, Mr. Trump, must be a last resort, because the consequences would be unimaginably complicated and devastating. A U.S. war with Iran would invite more state-backed terrorism against us, and destabilize governments throughout the Middle East, while complicating our efforts to defeat ISIS.

The treaty has other benefits, too. Allowing Iran some measure of participation in the world will doubtless bring benefits to the Iranian economy. That will strengthen the country, true, but it especially strengthens the hand of President Rouhani and his allies, who just won re-election. Supreme Leader Khamanei still holds most of the power in the Islamic Republic, and he opposes Rouhani’s reformist views. However, the presidency remains a powerful force, and Rouhani’s is the loudest moderate voice in Iran. Our best hope of changing Iran’s behavior lies through cooperation with him. The more we encourage good behavior by Iran, and reward them for cooperation, the stronger he becomes as Iran fares better. That’s a good outcome. If Rouhani can claim credit for an improvement in Iran’s position, then he proves that engagement with the West is a good thing for Iran, and that changing Iran’s behavior leads to a better world. That is our best hope for reducing Iranian support for extremists, and encouraging positive Iranian engagement on a host of other regional issues.

If we end this deal, when the Iranians are in compliance with its parameters, then the United States will have proven to Iran – and to the world – that it cannot be trusted to negotiate in good faith. More to the point, we will strengthen the hand of Iranian hard-line conservatives who oppose any deal with America. We will undercut the reformist faction, with whom we can negotiate, and advance the cause of the reactionaries who are our real enemies. The result will be a more belligerent Iran, more determined than ever to get a bomb in order to strengthen itself, and then our only recourse will be a ruinous war that will harm American interests and cause even more misery in the Middle East, while exposing us to a greater terrorist threat.

Our choice should be clear.



Day 250 – True Patriotism Is Standing Up (or Kneeling Down) For What One Believes Our Country Should Be, Mr. President.

Day 250 – True Patriotism Is Standing Up (or Kneeling Down) For What One Believes Our Country Should Be, Mr. President.

Image – “American flag 2017 aluminum, fasteners, latex paint, duct tape and glitter stars” by Matt Swanson

Dear Mr. President,

There’s been a lot of talk (and tweets) lately about standing for the national anthem, respecting the American flag and otherwise properly exhibiting patriotism.  You have claimed that the actions of some sports figures to draw attention to vital social issues are disloyal and unpatriotic. That’s a fair charge if your definition consists of turning a blind eye to the faults in our system and the people who administer it.  That is not my definition.

On Sunday afternoon, you tweeted: “Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable.”  Newsflash: You don’t get to decide how the rest of us demonstrate our patriotism.

For starters, I disagree that this form of protest is disrespectful. The players kneel during the anthem, rather than shouting over or otherwise disrupting it, turning their backs on the flag or simply remaining seated. To me, this is a deliberately respectful form of protest.

More importantly, I’ve long felt that patriotism fundamentally encompasses a belief and faith in the ability of our country to evolve.  I would argue, then, that those people who advocate most vigorously for change are the people most loyal to the United States because they want to see us become the best we can be, and they believe in this vision enough to talk about the necessity for change.  The people we should worry about are not the people who raise (and, yes, even speak out against) the hard issues we face as a nation. Rather, we should be concerned about those who have been silenced or succumbed to quietism because they are either afraid or no longer feel it will make a difference.  In the Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry, Elizabeth Cary (a contemporary of Shakespeare) wrote “Move thy tongue, / For silence is a sign of discontent.”  It is when silence reigns, when we lack dialogue and a diversity of voices, that we can be most sure something is fundamentally wrong.

As highlighted in another letter, your opinion doesn’t encompass the viewpoint of all American service members and veterans.  Military personnel are committed to defending the freedoms guaranteed to all citizens under our Constitution and also recognize the history of athletes with a significant public platform using their fame to call attention to social issues. Noting that Jackie Robinson demonstrated against racism in a similar fashion, an open letter signed by numerous veterans from many walks of life states: “[W]e write to express our support for the tradition of advocacy by athletes that is embodied by Jackie Robinson and carried on by Colin Kaepernick…. [M]any veterans do not condemn the protest of activists like Jackie Robinson, Colin Kaepernick and everyday Americans seeking justice. Indeed, we see no higher form of patriotism.

Speaking up and calling out injustice has undoubtedly made our country greater. I hate to think where we might still be without people brave enough to do that.  If they didn’t care so much or believe we could improve, they would simply stay silent and permit wrongs to go unaddressed. Athletes who engage in these respectful protests are putting their livelihoods on the line.  Colin Kaepernick was not signed to a team this year and owners could take up your asinine challenge to fire any players who do not stand during the anthem.

Interestingly, your twitter ravings have spurred far more people to take action than before. And now they are kneeling with the specific purpose of opposing what you stand for.  Miami Dolphins player Julius Thomas knelt during the anthem for the first time on Sunday “to send a message that I don’t condone … the president trying to intimidate people.”  Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics became the first player to take a knee during the anthem at a major league baseball game for similar reasons.  “This now has gone from just a Black Lives Matter topic to just complete inequality of any man or woman that wants to stand for their rights!

Citizenship is a relationship that each of us has with our country, and like all important relationships, it takes effort to sustain. The work doesn’t always feel good, but it’s worth it.

Likewise, our democracy isn’t shiny and brand new anymore; the glitter is wearing off our stars. It’s our responsibility as citizens to maintain it, even if the only way we can hold it together is with duct tape and the hope that we as a country really do stand (or kneel) for the beliefs on which this country was founded.

Since you abandon in some fashion almost every ship you steer, I think we both know you’re not long for the Oval Office. The true patriots among us will rebuild our democracy from the dismantled scraps you leave behind when you go.





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