Defend & Unite 7/17/19

The immoral silence to the destructive xenophobia of “Just Leave” by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

Donald Trump tweets “why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” and doubles-down by then accusing four sitting members of Congress of hating America (referring to Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, NY; Ilhan Omar, MN; Rashida Tlaib, MI; and Ayanna S. Pressley, MA). Only one of the four, Omar, was born outside the US, and was a refugee fleeing war in Somalia.

“Just leave” is a dog-whistle for white nationalism. Research shows that supporters and opponents of Donald Trump respond differently to racial cues. Simply put: Trump intentionally and incessantly works to make white people angry at minorities, his divisiveness is working. Hate crimes in the U.S. are up, especially in pro-Trump areas and places where he held rallies. His divisive rhetoric was a motivating force for mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand and other hate crimes here and abroad, as cited by the attackers themselves in most cases. A bigoted bully his entire career, openly and unapologetically racist for decades, it is dishonest to pretend there is a debate; then there is the dishonesty of silence.

The breadth of silence of silence from the Republican party (and his rise in Republican voter support shown in subsequent polls) showcases the tacit support of the insinuation that people of color are foreigners. Either Trump speaks for American conservatives or their cowardice is too great to mount any opposition. Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy stands by Trump’s side and nods approvingly with Trump’s messages that minorities are a threat to American safety, values, and people of color do not belong. Majority Senate leader Mitch McConnell, a descendant of slave owners (census records show two of his great-great-grandfathers owned more than a dozen slaves) pretends to be the statesman and tells everyone to calm down, as if Trump should be permitted to engage in all the cruelty and bullying that suits him.

Since the 1780’s the great American Melting-Pot has been an important metaphor. It was used to articulate the blending of different cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities into a single American identity. The logical extension of a true support for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness combined with the acknowledgement of “created equal” that is perhaps best expressed E pluribus Unum—out of many, one—our national motto.

These time-honored values are not defended by those who truly need to model them, as history shows. In Rwanda, leading to the 1994 genocide, the Hutus failed to defend Tutsis when bigoted leadership called them “cockroaches.” German non-Jews failed to stand up to Hitler as he ramped up in the early 1930s with actions not dissimilar to Trump right now. This is comparable to McCarthy and McConnell failing to correct Trump’s anti-brown bigotry.

It is not easy to push back against bigotry. In McCarthy’s Bakersfield, CA, where I’m from, I remember the lesson well. In high school in the 90’s “just joking” racism bought me acceptance, and speaking out against pejorative slurs earned me the recognition of “race traitor.” I can tell you every time I spoke out it made a difference, and I slept at night. Even if you didn’t speak out about the “very fine people” neo-Nazis in Charlottesville (Trump’s approving words), you can say something about the concentration camps at the Mexican border; you can defend the Americans being told to leave, we need to be united on this.

Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution. 

Conditions Themselves 6/26/19

Revisiting morality in the Age of Dishonesty   by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

If Donald Trump actually follows through on his recently tweeted promise that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “will begin deporting the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States … as fast as they come in,” what will you do?

According to the faith I was raised with I hope I would act according to the lessons found in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told of a traveler who was beaten, stripped, and left naked waiting for death. People who claimed to be great believers avoided this victim, but it was the Samaritan who stopped and freely rendered aid—selfless altruism. Charity, compassion, and forgiveness are the highest values I was raised with. I do my best to dedicate myself to their service, and I’m sure I’m not the only one left in a bind: what will I do?

Recent stories tell of modern day Samaritans rendering aid to travelers (some seeking asylum, some trying to immigrate legally, some illegally…) at great risk. The case of Scott Warren in Arizona presents offering humanitarian aid as a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison; but there is no verdict, the jury is hung. His specific crimes are putting out food and water, and pointing directions (actions consistent with No More Deaths, a part of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson), which appears reflect values just like I was raised with. Do I have the strength to follow my religious convictions, even in the face of criminal prosecution like Warren has?

Our current context should make us struggle no matter how much we think we’ve figured out. The case against Food Not Bombs taught us–after some alarming incidents to the contrary–that feeding the homeless is an act of protected expression, but with migrants the acts of feeding and pointing direction could invoke serious punishment. Do you love your Mexican or Central American neighbor enough to risk prosecution?

I’m imagining in decades schoolkids will read narrative accounts from this period. Much like we learn about the great lengths Harriet Tubman went to in order to free 300 slaves, or the reflections of a teenager who wrote: How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. Anne Frank did not survive, but her diary did. The Frank family went into hiding and they received aid from people who risked their lives to help provide them shelter. The purpose here is not to compare the current crimes against humanity against the events which have caused us to promise “never again.” The purpose is to genuinely acknowledge “I can do more to help these people.”

The people seeking a better life in this country are not criminals for wanting to secure safety for their families, but they are cruelly punished nonetheless. They risk death in this effort. If captured they are placed in camps where their families are separated, and they lack in the service of basic needs–like soap and toothbrushes. These overcrowded internment camps fail the values of people taught to do good in this world.

Many  Americans are inspired by the same teachings I learned from Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Trump has told more than 10,000 lies, and I am sure he has no means to follow through on his declarations of deportations. I believe it is unlikely those housing needy migrants have much to fear, but I must also acknowledge the risk associated with doing the right thing. Shockingly, 24 detainees have died in ICE custody during the Trump administration;how many more lives have to be lost before we as society force a commitment to honor the traveler? How many of us will rise to occasion of helping in the meantime? How many of us will make excuses for ignoring the children in need?

What I see today from the self-professed Americans of faith, however, is supremely disappointing. Instead of considering the children being separated from families and listening to their terror-filed-screams, some prefer to ask: “why didn’t they try to come legally?” I realize not everyone was taught to build bigger tables instead of bigger walls, but I don’t understand the ignorance—people literally see no other option. “A place where large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities” is the definition of a concentration camp. There are people more offended by the correct use of the term “concentration camps” to describe these conditions than the conditions themselves.

There are concrete steps we can all take. The first is to insist that we stop tolerating dishonesty in all of its political forms. Next we can demand accountability from those in power whose monumental failures have produced this calamity. It is our responsibility to vote in replacements who will not further these crimes against humanity. We can also remember the supreme value of acts of love and kindness and look for ways to offer simple hospitality, human empathy. It is not necessary that anyone take on more risk than they feel safe with, but we all should speak out for those who do. Anne Frank was right; we can start making a better world right now. Lastly, we must not give up; the people have the power and we can make the government work for us if we collectively use our voices. Apathy or resignation is the death knell for democracy.

Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution. 

Don’t Be Sorry 6/19/19

We need evidence-based decision making  by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

Imagine for a moment that political discussions can assume the same evidence-based knowledge as active components in decision making as treatment pathways do when responding to illness and disease. The impact of care is studied out of a need for protecting and preserving quality of life. Politics should also serve these same ends, but, indeed, politics carries a burden healthcare does not: different values. Forgetting that there are legitimate differences in values—like I prioritize equality over security or others prioritize fiscal responsibility over freedom–let’s briefly return to the idea of truth as a foundation for politics and policy.

Ignorance presents a challenge to truth. After all, there is no way to accommodate good decision making when there are serious gaps in information. Medical professionals make diagnostic tests in order to figure out what’s wrong, the same as mechanics do when the check engine light comes on in your car. Drinking water, for example, will help alleviate a headache caused by dehydration but is unlikely to help much for a headache caused by meningitis.

The (then) War Department, published Training Manual No. 2000-25, inWashington, D.C., November 30, 1928. It provides instruction on being a citizen, and describes and defines key terms. “These precise and scholarly definitions of a Democracy and a Republic were carefully considered as a proper guide for U.S. soldiers and U.S. citizens by the Chief of Staff of the United States Army.” What people should, or should not do, has always been a source of conflict, but “a well informed public” is enumerated in most democratic proscriptions. After all, the power is in the hands of the people and information is prerequisite to good decision making. The current political crisis in the United States could actually be resolved with evidence-based decision making.

Do not take my word for it, read the “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election” (in short: “Mueller Report”) yourself. Once you have read it you will likely have the same conclusion that everyone (except William Barr, but virtually literally everyone else) has. An abbreviated list of the evidence:

1)   The Russians, on order from Russian President Vladimir Putin, attempted to help Trump and hurt Clinton, (vol. 1, pp. 4-5, 35).

2) The Trump campaign was quite willing to accept their help (vol. 1, pp. 5-7).

3) Numerous suspicious connections between Russians and the Trump campaign (vol. 1, pp. 8-10).

4) Russia hacked the accounts of multiple people involved in the Clinton campaign and illegally dumped that material, to the Trump campaign’s benefit (vol. 1, pp. 36-50).

5) Russia also made cyber attacks on U.S. state and local entities, state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and county governments including their employees (vol. 1, pp. 50-51).

6) Mueller decided not to charge the president for obstruction, because of a Justice Department policy (vol. 2, pp. 1-2, 8).

7) Obstruction of justice can be charged when there is no underlying crime. (vol. 2, pp. 9-12, 157).

8) The president, as head of the Executive Branch, is not above obstruction laws (vol. 2, pp. 168-169, 180).

9) The evidence for several instances of potential obstruction (there were 11 total) were strong enough to bring charges, but refer to point 4 (vol. 2, pp. 87-90, 97-98, 111-113, 118-120).

10) President Trump was not exonerated regarding obstruction of justice (vol. 2, pp. 8, 182).

Or, read the executive summaries provided with the report, volume 1 (pp. 4-10) and volume 2 (pp. 1-8) provide the reader with the important conclusions from an assessment of the evidence.

If, as a country, we do not seriously push back against dishonest politicians and the politics of corruption, then we are responsible for the ugly outcomes. Walter Cronkite said, “Freedom is a package deal… with it comes responsibilities and consequences.” I believe we have moved past the point of debate; the facts are crystal clear as is the next step. But we have not moved at all; we are living in the gross injustice of dishonesty—we are failed by citizens ignoring their patriotic responsibilities to inform themselves and respond to the undeniable corruption and we are more supremely punished by the death of democracy. Political thieves are getting away with their immoral and illegitimate inaction by claiming all the power, even though the numb and fatigued public could seize it legitimately. Reclaim the urgency and higher ground by addressing the ignorance and dishonesty of our times—read and react to the Mueller Report—or you will be sorry.

Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution. 

Real Life Heroes 6/12/19

Where is a “tank man” for 2019?   by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

On June 4th, 30 years on, I ruminated to myself about the “tank man” from Tiananmen Square. I often reflect on the sacrifices that are made in pursuit of peace and justice. I have wondered if I could stay committed to the Poor People’s Movement, like Martin Luther King Jr. did, in the face of death threats. King’s words were prophetic, “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land,” before he was killed the next day. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was also undeterred by threats from extremists; ultimately he was assassinated, but he never backed down from his stance for nonviolence and justice. We have many examples of those we know by name who refuse to step aside. “Tank man,” however, remains a mystery.

His courage was likely fueled by grief and anger. It was, after all, the day after a massacre that shocked the world—live ammunition was used on the protestors. The anonymous figure is a symbol for freedom and peace everywhere, courage in the face of injustice and brutal violence. I wonder where is a tank man for 2019?

It is probably a mistake to look for the hero; none of these heroes wanted the recognition, it detracts from the purpose. But heroes are out there.

Malala Yousafzai, was 17 years old when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, for her part in the “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” In 2019 she is not resting on her laurels, she amplifies the voices of refugee girls with her work in “We Are Displaced.” She has refused to quit, and though the Taliban told her not to return to Pakistan, she persists.

Greta Thunberg, age 16, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of her environmental activism. The Norwegian lawmakers who nominated her said, “We have nominated Greta because the climate threat may be one of the most important causes of war and conflict.” Her movement—Friday for Future—is reflected in more than 100 countries now. Her tenacity in speaking truth to power, “We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people,” is a source of hope and inspiration.

Part of the challenge is the scope of our global problems. Too many people are conveniently ignoring the messages of these heroes and so many more because they feel overwhelmed and/or numb. Either Global Warming is fake or hopeless we say from the sidelines. Nothing we can do about about displaced persons, human rights violations, or misogyny because… there are too many excuses to count them.

In China some democratic reforms were won and I think we focus on heroes like tank man because he provides us with a vicarious victory. We can imagine being courageous enough to sacrifice ourselves for noble causes, “I would have …” has started many stories in my lifetime. Imagination about what people would do in times of disaster; Donald Trump, after the shooting in Parkland, said: “I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.” It’s like my friends who would have stopped the terrorists on 9-11 if they’d been on the plane… But when we lose ourselves in the fantasy of making the difference, I think we tend to overlook the movements, and, ultimately, the sacrifice. Many seem to feel as though they personally are a Marvel comic superhero, and unconsciously discount the real life stars of humankind. Please, let’s not.

When I teach about social justice most of my students know who some of the heroes are. It is rare to find an American University student who does not know who Rosa Parks is, but in 10 years of classes I’ve never had a student who knew that when the Montgomery Bus Boycotts ended on Dec. 20th1956 that they had gone on for 381 days. I bring it up because the sacrifice is crucial and persistence is fully as important as courage. What can you imagine giving up for a year? What would you do to create real durable change?

It is time that people, myself included, really appreciated what young people like these strong women are doing. They’re going to clean up the mess they’ve inherited or die trying—the least we can do is get out of the way and I hope we work to bring in much better leadership who will listen to these real life heroes and back them up.

Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution. 

On Behalf Of 6/5/19

Russia wins, but it isn’t over yet  – by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

On May 29th, Robert Mueller, Special Counsel of the Department of Justice told us: “If we had confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” 

It was a truth we already knew.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) expressed it in concrete terms: “I think it’s really important that we do our job as a Congress, that we not allow misconduct to go undeterred. That we not just say, someone can violate the public trust and that there are no consequences to it…”

Amash notes that reaching the conclusion that Trump needs to be impeached only required two things: taking his oath of office seriously and reading the Mueller Report. He is “confident that if you read Volume II, you’ll be appalled at much of the conduct,” and I agree. There is no means by which one can take their oath seriously and reach any other conclusion. There is no doubt about the findings in the report.

To Mueller and Amash I owe a debt of gratitude. I hope that they do not carry the weight of regret in the future—it is the citizens who must own the irresponsibility that we—as a whole—needed to do more. But it is not necessary to give up; as clear as it is that Trump has committed crimes, and that he is unlikely to face consequences from spineless elected officials, there is power in the hands of the people.

Mueller and Amash have reminded the public and placed emphasis on the truth: Russia attacked American democracy on behalf of Donald J. “I love Wikileaks” Trump.

Since Mueller noted that the Department of Justice cannot indict a sitting president, there is only one option if we don’t believe any president should be above the law: impeachment proceedings.

Sadly, Republican cowardice is so great that Amash will face reprisals for an insistence on doing the right thing. The Republican Senate has promised to fail the public on articles of impeachment, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) vows“it would be disposed of very quickly.” But his concession to Russia, and the threats to those willing to stand up for what is right should not cause us to lose hope.

The praise Amash deserves, and he is receiving standing ovations, for proclaiming the importance of serving the public trust is because it comes at personal cost. Toeing the Republican line is easy and comes with rewards, there is incentive for supporting the Russian attack. Lindsey Graham, for example, used to defend the US in the face of Trump’s lunacy, but he became a traitor when he saw opposing Trump was hurting his numbers. The praise comes from a willingness to make sacrifice.

Russia has won, but it is not a permanent defeat of American democracy unless we forfeit. There are still a handful of representatives presenting moral fiber and the courage to act, but, more importantly, there are millions of outraged citizens. Believe it or not, this is a formula for success!

Russia’s victory in installing its preferred candidate is but a single victory in a much larger struggle. The US can win through organized resistance.

The truth is that real positive change can be produced through strong moral commitments from small minorities. Evidence provides robust proof of this point, Erica Chenoweth, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, has found the 3.5% rule—“the notion that no government can withstand a challenge of 3.5% of its population without either accommodating the movement or (in extreme cases) disintegrating.”

The track record of nonviolent struggle scares the right. This is why violence is so frequently promoted. Hate crimes are up under the Trump administration, etc… Extremist chatrooms are full of discussions of another civil war… But, We the Peoplewield power through the practice of nonviolence, and there are too many examples to list them all: Civil Rights in the US; the People Power Movement in the Philippines led to Marcos’ resignation; the Protest on Rosenstrasse opposing Nazi Germany; the Rose Revolutionousted Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia; the Velvet or Gentle Revolution in what was then Czechoslovakia; this year the presidents of Sudan and Algeria stepped down because of nonviolent resistance…

Citizens, it is time to fight back. We must look to the wisdom of our heroes—Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King Jr., and more—and commit ourselves to the causes of justice. We must unite in our demands that Donald Trump is not above the law despite the refusal of our elected officials to live up to our oaths. We must support each other. The cost for inaction is clear, complete defeat at the hands of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, all of our freedoms hang in the balance—we cannot give up!

Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution. 

Trumps Lip 5/29/19

Day of bad memory   -by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

The frustration I experience with dishonest politics reached a peak with Memorial Day this year. I saw protest signs and memes to the effect of: “Some gave all. All gave something. Trump gave nothing.” While it perfectly captured my frustration, it was oversimplified and failed to articulate the real failures.

Donald Trump, who dodged the draft with alleged bone-spurs, simultaneously gets it right and wrong. War is ugly and Vietnam was Kissinger’s and Nixon’s crime against humanity. I will not condemn anyone for refusing to carry out misdeeds. The problem is that he refused for the wrong reasons—cowardice and selfishness. A moral being does not say, as Trump has, that dodging STDs was his own personal Vietnam. A moral being might more closely resemble Anthony Bourdain who said, “Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands.” Not that I condone violence, I just understand that witnessing the aftermath and trauma from violence and war—even decades later—present existential challenges that shake a person to the core.

For more than a decade I have taught students receiving post 9-11 GI Bill access to higher education. Many of these students have shared sentiments: “You’re the first civilian I’ve ever felt comfortable sharing these stories with” or “I wish everyone was as open minded about these things as you are.” By the end of the term they let me know, “I fought in the war, but now I understand why,” which I consider the highest praise.

I think it is collective bad memory that makes it possible for Bush, then Obama, then Trump to ignore the consequences of waging war, and for society as whole to do so too.

Lip service is paid to the fallen on Memorial Day, but any correction to the mythology being presented is almost immediately condemned. Why is that? Why do we allow politicians to use sacrifice for political stunts but cower the moment that the politics responsible for the sacrifice are exposed?

Trump himself challenged that Obama would start a war with Iran to boost his ratings. He now beats the drums of war—with Iran. I think we can safely guess that he believes it would provide a boost to his ongoing failures. Great diplomatic efforts have been sabotaged and undermined in literally every global arena he has entered. But while blowing up the Iran Deal was sheer lunacy, nothing shows his shortsightedness more than his trade war with China; China did not become a powerhouse by brokering good deals, they did so by using their peace dividend to invest on development and infrastructure. Imagine if the US had spent trillions of dollars on education, infrastructure, and technology instead of war?

The empty ceremonies for the lives cut short could actually mean something; when people actually care, the ceremonies matter. The surest sign of sincerity—good memory—is evidenced by how a person treats the living. People who care about those who sacrifice might care more about my veteran students with PTSD and permanent disabilities. Maybethe VA is adequately funded, but Medicaid and Medicare (sources of healthcare for more than half of veterans) are not. Over a million veterans’ households receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), programs that have been cut by the current President’s budget.

Politicians who really care about honor and commitment are taking steps to combat homelessness. More than 40,000 veterans were homeless in 2017.

The bottom line is this: Memorial Day serves as another mechanism for avoiding the true costs of war. By keeping the “perceived” costs down politicians are able to garner more support for their violent campaigns. Truly honoring the fallen requires being the kind of person worth fighting for, and that kind of person does not send children to die when it can be avoided. I refuse to accept that moral amnesia honors anyone who died as a sacrifice for the freedoms of others; we can do much better than this.

Wim Laven, Ph.D., is syndicated by PeaceVoice, and is an instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Kennesaw State University. 

Presidential Smack Talk 5/15/19


Tired of the Smack Talk –   by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

         I’m angry, our system is supposed to work for us, but it doesn’t! I’m tired of being told that elected officials are supposed to represent their constituents, and watching their persistent inaction and failure. One of the interesting features of English language is the labels that are provided for groups of animals; perhaps the pride of lions or murder of crows are familiar to you. Few know that a group of jellyfish are called a smack. Sadly, so many American politicians are spineless, my comparison is the best I can do to capture my moral outrage at their immoral inaction.

         Donald Trump’s 10,000th lie or misstatement as President or candidate is now official and his base is still with him. He is the Pied Piper of all variety of cowards and manifestly willfully ignorant blind-to-truth followers.

The ugly truth, since his base is quite large, is that we did this to ourselves. Too lazy to factcheck, too sloppy to discern truth, and too arrogant to find ways to work together, the U.S. was ripe for the invasion of the Russian troll army, and supremacist chatrooms celebrate discussions of civil wars and other Trump-approved disgusting plots.

         But it gets worse. Every year I’m reminded of these ugly failures. Those who survived the Columbine shooting 20 years ago apologized to those who survived the Parkland shooting, they were sorry that they were unable to prevent the massacre. So much violence, the last time the U.S. went a week without a mass-shooting was Jan. 5, 2014, we’re the only nation on Earth with the problem, and the only place that insists it is unavoidable.

         When my brother died on April 25th, 2013, there had been 57 separate votes to repeal Obamacare and zero votes to improve it. Deep down I wonder if quality health care, like most developed nations have, would have changed the outcome; how many lives have been cut short by inferior health care? Maybe his treatment pathways could not be improved upon, but 33 was just too young. Sad fact—six years later—still nothing has been done to improve healthcare coverage for millions who need it—some needing basic coverage and some requiring but denied specialty help. And there have been more unsuccessful votes to repeal, but nothing to improve. The smack, as a whole, is doing nothing to prevent the efforts to sabotage and undermine American survival and quality of life.

         Our President is unrelentingly dishonest and where is the challenge to him amongst federal elected officials, apart from a handful of newly elected young activist representatives and a few determined House committee chairs?

The President has sworn he “will to the best of his ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Add that to the 10,000. Moral representatives should have impeached this liar-in-chief 8,000 falsehoods ago. The talk of the day—high crimes and misdemeanors—focuses on the documented attack on U.S. democracy; all of our bodies of intelligence services have said Russia attacked us, from day one, but instead of honoring his oath Trump has done nothing but lie about it. The abdication of his oath of office has inspired little response. Lip service—smack talk—has delivered nothing—it’s time for backbone and heart.

Wim Laven, Ph.D., is syndicated by PeaceVoice, and is an instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Kennesaw State University. 

Bait & Switch 2/13/19

American dream: Bait and switch?  -by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

American mythology posits a narrative for our foundation which rests upon an ideology of values and self-evident truths which separate the United States from the rest of the world. When I teach this I try to sell the “all are created equal” as hard as I can. Including “the pursuit of happiness” with life and liberty is actually an important and unique American value, at least in our affirmative expression of it.

I’ll challenge any student or reader to talk with an immigrant about the American Dream before giving up on it. The so-called Caravan of people walking across Mexico to flee violence in search of the opportunity echoed on our Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…”

There is an American Dream, and I wish we still hoped to share it.

When the American Dream is used as bait and lures victims into slavery—sometimes manual labor, sometimes sex work—that is when the dream becomes a nightmare; as of 2005 the U.S. State Dept. reported between 14,500 and 17,500 human beings trafficked into the U.S. annually, and many come willingly, believing the lies of the traffickers. The Global Slavery Index 2018 “estimates that on any given day in 2016 there were 403,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in the United States.” Human trafficking of women and children is the fastest growing crimeon the planet, sex trafficking makes $99 billion a year.

What can you do? The State Department offers some advice, including: “If you are in the United States and believe someone may be a victim of human trafficking, report your suspicions to law enforcement by calling 911 or the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline line at 1-888-373-7888.”

While Trump signed the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act last month—a Good Thing—he also falsely conflates trafficking with his wall. He says: “This really is an invasion of our country by human traffickers,” but it is just another lie (the Washington Post, as of Jan. 21, 2019, has tracked 8,158 untruths in the first two years of Trump’s Presidency). No amount of expertise on human trafficking will sway him, he will peddle the myths and actually make combatting the problem more difficult.

A more constructive partial solution would be to truly offer the American Dream to victims of trafficking, who are often kept in slavery by their traffickers threats that, if they are caught they will be deported. There is a seldom-used and nearly obscure provision in the Victims Protection Act for a special T-visa that would give such victims four years of residence in the US and on year three they could apply for a green card, but the law doesn’t require prosecutors to help or even notify arrested victims of this hope. That should change.

I almost wish we could prove the American Dream was dead, at least then it wouldn’t be the con used to lure so many into captivity, it ought to be called the American Tragedy instead.

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Kennesaw State University, and on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association. 

Unarmed Truth 1/23/19

What Makes America Great?  by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

On Saturday January 18th, 2019 during the Indigenous People’s March in Washington D.C. Nathan Phillips showed what makes America great. The videos of his experience show the Native American elder singing a healing song to defuse a conflict brewing between four young African Americans and a much larger group of white youth from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky. The Covington students then began taunting and ridiculing Phillips with “build the wall” chants. Grotesque behavior like this is a choice.

One choice is to see the Make America Great Again hats, the defamation of decency, and make a decision to hate these haters. We see them everywhere—sometimes in large groups, sometimes just a few. These types called me a race traitor while I was in high school, they got angry when I didn’t participate in the racist jokes, it was just joking after all (or so they said). Under this social pressure, I did tell such jokes at times, shamefully.

Watching this growing intolerance is a nauseating manifestation of Trump’s campaign of racism. They trample the boundaries of morality, and their chanting is proof that “the Wall” has always been a racist symbol.

The other choice is to see the love. Nathan Phillips models that for us all. First, he must love himself and his cause. Curious people probably want to know more about how the American Indian Movement and being an Omaha has cultivated such peace and love in him, I know I do. Drawing on the divine has been a source for so many of my heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. to Mohandas Gandhi, who find something bigger—this is their source for principled nonviolence.

This is not the first time Phillips has had to keep his cool. He’s had to face harassment at previous events, Eastern Michigan University students put on stereotypical costume and taunted him, and upon returning home from Vietnam this veteran reported: “People called me a baby killer and a hippie girl spit on me.”

If we choose love, like these heroes do, then we provide hope for the future. These young boys probably don’t love themselves, I know I didn’t. That is why I said and did horrible things in efforts to fit in. I was vulnerable to my toxic environment because I was empty and afraid. I’ll bet Phillips understands that, as former director of the Native Youth Alliance he certainly has guided many young people through confusing times and helped them find meaning in life. In this case he proposes: “I wish these young men could put their energy to really make this country great, like feed the hungry.”

Hate is a socialized and learned behavior. Shame and guilt are only likely to reinforce it. Love, on the other hand, creates an opening for change. Like another friend of mine, Tom Hastings, asked of current social movements in the Washington Post, “Why shut that sympathy gap?” Street brawls, violent responses, threats, or even blocking freeways have all demonstrated negative impacts on movements for positive social change. Haters are expected to hate, but hating back doesn’t work. I can testify to this personally and practically.

In high school, I was in a bad place. My hometown taught me racism, sexism, and homophobia (to name a few), but I never meant to be a hater. I was educated through love—not shame—and I am still a work in progress. It wasn’t my wonderful parents; it was my desire to fit in to a toxic culture of mindless disrespect.

These Covington boys didn’t decide to hate on their own, they’ve been shown it over and over. Rage and hate can take white men to fantastic places in the U.S., it can help you to build tremendous fortunes, or, if you play your cards right, it might even get you into the Supreme Court or the Whitehouse.

What are we showing our youth? Our leader is who they see to emulate. “Lock her up! Lock her up!” Mocking a man with a disability. Belittling a Gold Star family because their US Army Captain son, killed in combat in Iraq, was a Muslim. The list goes on of hate outrages initiated and fanned by Trump, who encouraged violence at his campaign rallies and seemed satisfied to have it devolve into street brawls ever since. These expressions all have developmental impact on these kids.

Even in the best of times, young men misunderstand many things like consent and accountability. They are just falling on the side of the racist border wall this time, and they can’t argue it (nobody can, it is patently absurd), but they’re just doing the cool thing—sticking up for their racist leader—it’s what they know because it’s what Trump shows. It is the product of ignorance, and we shouldn’t blame the victims. Division has been fueled by the right, troll farms have even been employed to spread misinformation, and grown adults even debate or hope for another second civil war—this is the behavior that is expected!

There are answers and we can heal. The country is now generally doing the right thing in opposing Trump’s racist and classist border stunt, that is a good starting point, but we can do more than oppose the barrier, we can build bigger tables, raise bigger tents of inclusivity. We need to open dialogue; we could model the behavior of transparency and altruism. Youth must see value in honesty, it is the foundation of respect, and disrespect and dishonesty should never be seen as normal. Critical thinking and education also play an important role; I’ll wager nobody sat with these kids and asked “what do you think makes America great?” or “what purpose does mocking others serve?” There is no longer room for “boys will be boys” or “just joking.”

People who live with emotional pain tend to inflict emotional pain. If we can love these teens we can show them a different way. Their hate is an effort to heal themselves; they do not know any better. We can show them a better way. By eschewing our resentment over the disrespect we can give peace and justice a chance—Nathan Phillips has shown us how to make America great. America is great when it does not waver in its moral commitment to human rights; Martin Luther King Jr. said: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, worked on reconstruction in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, is an instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Kennesaw State University, and on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association. 

Annual Whitewash 1/23/19

The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr. – by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

Every year I ask myself questions about the shameful exploitation of Martin Luther King Jr.–why do Americans love to disgrace his message so much? Why is it so popular that we see it year after year? Remember last year? Trump was talking about “s@!#hole countries” while tweeting “I encourage all Americans to observe this day with appropriate civic, community, and service activities in honor of Dr. King’s life and legacy.” What is to stop longtime racists like Rep. Steve King from copying and pasting a quick quote into their twitter feeds? Last year he posted: “Ive been to the mountain top. And I’ve seen the promised land. …we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” And yet his long list of racially offensive comments and associations with avowed white nationalists, recently published in the New York Times, reveal his use of Dr. King’s words to be a snide mockery.

Of course the GOP has recently (finally) taken a moment to be critical of Steve King’s flagrant white supremacy in 2019, but they still refuse to comment on the same racist behavior from President Trump.  Minority leader Kevin McCarthy said about King’s outlandish comments defending white nationalism, “That is not the party of Lincoln and it’s definitely not American.” Great. Now how about Trump’s longtime racism? Trump’s “My Kevin” (Trump’s nickname for him when McCarthy was House Majority Leader) doesn’t get this, hence more MLK Day whitewashing.

Sadly, Trump’s Kevin is wrong; racism has never been beneath the “dignity of the party.” Nothing is more Republican than racism—a wall serves as a modern day burning cross and the rallying point of contemporary bigotry; Nothing is more American than racism—the country’s vast fortunes were built on slave labor and theft of land from indigenous people. Nothing could be further from the message so many in the GOP copy, paste, and ignore: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” It is the kitsch of far-right Rep. Barry Loudermilk and politicians across the country, cynically misappropriating words they neither earned nor deserve. A firm commitment to Trump’s racist promises isn’t just cowardly; it is antithetical to the love that Martin Luther King Jr. preached. Teen Vogue, in a great piece on MLK one year ago, gets it better than these jellyfish do, MLK was radical in his support the love supreme Jesus preached: “Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.”

His message was his life, and justice was not an accessory. Trying to score some easy political points by pretending to condemn racism for a second fails the larger picture. “It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.” In a country with too many warmongers, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Leaders who’ve sacrificed are rare, the pronouncements we hear are for expedience, and we see those making empty declarations simply don’t measure up. The failures are not just at the level of leadership. As citizens MLK provided us with clear guidance: “what are you doing for others?”  “Change,” he told us, “comes from continuous struggle.” Are we living up to these instructions?

“The Dream” is not a feel-good story. It is the story of resistance and struggle. This is why few things could be more offensive than sanitizing his words and using them with the intention of pacifying the oppressed. MLK spoke to defend those who demanded equal pay and equal access—people were tired of being pushed around. Forget the “our party freed the slaves” and think about the ongoing need for dignity and equality. MLK died in solidarity with sanitation workers–maybe you can stick up for those furloughed or out of work in a racist and classist political stunt. We’ve got to get past the sentimentality.

When MLK spoke to us he pressured us to look deeper and bigger. “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” The gap between the rich and the poor is only growing, and trillion-dollar tax giveaways to the rich are not helping. “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit,” and his observance of our ubiquitous engagement in violent conflict continued that it would not end until “there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.” So, finding quotes is easy, but this last one is key: “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.” The cowards cannot get behind the radical message, and they will not get there on their own; “there is a promised land” but don’t forget it was envisioned by Martin Luther King working for the Poor People’s Campaign, uniting poor Whites, Blacks, Natives, Latinx and many others. That’s the Martin Luther King Jr. coalition, not the Rep. Steven King segregated fan group.

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, worked on reconstruction in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, is an instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Kennesaw State University, and on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association. 

Adversion to Killing 12/19/18

Lasting Lessons from the Christmas Truce – by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

In 1914 violent conflict was raging. There was global suffering of a scale previously unknown, and it was known as the Great War (until 21+ years later it became simply World War I). WWI was a different time—19 out of 20 war deaths were combatants. In 2018 we see 19 out of 20 war deaths are civilians.

In December of 1914 something magical took place in trenches in several places along the Western Front; opposing forces were able to stop killing each other in a Christmas Truce. Shooting was halted so that the bodies of the fallen could be collected, enemy combatants sang carols together and even enjoyed friendly soccer matches. Soldiers from opposing forces actively engaged in violent struggle took advantage of an opportunity to lay down their arms in the celebration of Christmas, which is at its core a celebration of love. No man’s land briefly turned into a place of peace.

The earliest lessons of the Christmas Truce reflected a natural aversion to killing identifiable people who had done nothing in particular to harm one or one’s people. Military command on both sides–especially German v French and British–gave strict orders forbidding such fraternization. But it was the inevitable atrocities of war that would doom such natural overtures of peace from the ranks.

By WWII specific efforts to combat “friendliness” were made in many forms, the dehumanization and emnification of enemies were central to this charge. This was all a reflection of a belligerent nation’s need to overcome a core human value: reverence for life. In order to degrade human rights governments and leaders have gone to great lengths to quash this fundamental desire for peace, our psychologies of survival and our innate revulsion of killing.

Indeed, truces and ceasefires provide reminders of the tremendous capacity of humans to do good. In my Christian tradition I cannot think of any better reflection of Jesus’s teachings in compassion, charity, and forgiveness. Can we make truces in 2018, domestic and international? Is it possible to return to common values in peace and reverence for life? I think so, and I would like to encourage everyone to reflect on these lessons. I teach conflict resolution, and one of the fundamental truths of conflict is that there are no guarantees, no one-size-fits-all approach, and no universal answer.It depends is where the thinking and examination starts, but if people can stop shooting at each other both literally and metaphorically we all ought to be able to engage with North Korea, with Mexico, or simply sit through a family dinner, even with people who voted for “the wrong person.”

Efforts have been made to undermine our innate desires for peace, this is part of the challenge. Politics, for example, mislead and obfuscate. Trump has told thousands of lies as President, he is willing to lie about anything, and he uses his lies to divide people—he draws his power through division. He attacks truth, but we can see past his subterfuge. In conflict, I teach, trust is built when we make and keep agreements and when we are advocates for the rights of all. The lies of our political leaders may make our lives more difficult but they don’t stop us from honoring our own word to each other and insisting that our governments do the same.

In 2018 it is clear that cyber warfare has weaponized fake news and ignorance. Putin’s agents, in particular, attack the U.S. by manipulating Americans into fighting with each other. It is a much more sophisticated process of what I recall from grade school. I remember fights could be manufactured through illegitimate gossip, and Russian agent trolls have promoted misinformation campaigns for extremely nefarious consequences. The Russians are wonderful people but are ruled by an autocrat who wants us to destroy ourselves—and we’re doing it one lie at a time. Putin’s operatives are trolling Americans to manufacture as much chaos, political upheaval, and violence as possible. Trump is their boy. We are their targets.

If you see “Make America Great Again” or “Black Lives Matter” and your blood boils that means division is winning. If you see it as an opportunity toward dialog, then you beat Putin and his puppet Trump. Like the soldiers who made the Christmas Truce of 1914, we can begin to dissolve the forces that mandate our positional status as enemy. If we could hold to that, we could succeed in what they tried to start.

Connecting to each other–first as Americans who reject Trump and the politics of division and then to the efforts to stop the geopolitical hatreds that produced both the Cold War and now the Russian, American, and Chinese efforts to gain dominance over all–we might have a chance to create a worldwide, permanent Christmas Truce. Nothing less than the future of humankind is in the balance.

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a doctoral candidate in International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association. 

All Lies Matter 11/7/18

No More Whitewashing Hate  by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

Pro-Trump extremist Cesar Sayoc was arrested and charged last Friday (10/26) for mailing multiple pipe bombs. The apparent motive for the crime: politics.

Saturday (10/27), Robert Bowers was arrested for murdering 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg PA, he gunned them down yelling “All Jews must die!” during Sabbath. Among his more misguided beliefs were claims that “[Jews] were committing genocide on his people,” and that “illegals” should be called “invaders.”

Sunday (10/28), Gregory “Whites don’t shoot whites” Bush gunned down two people after trying to break into a predominantly African American church in a suburb of Louisville KY.

The three hate crimes in three days, inspired by racial and religious bigotry, are not isolated; the SPLC (tracking over 1600 extremist groups across the U.S. since 1971) has presented increasing incidence of hate crimes for four consecutive years.Curiously these acts of terrorism (violence inspired by political ideology) have almost immediately been whitewashed by some powerful people.

Covering up the political roots of this violence is a real problem. It is literal and metaphorical. When House Majority Leader—Kevin McCarthy—tweets “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to buy this election! Get out and vote Republican…” it is a clear reference to the tropes promoted by right-wing extremists. The so-called MAGA-Bomber sent a pipe bomb to George Soros, McCarthy is blaming Jews, and Trump has famously respondedto hate crimes with “some very fine people on both sides.” He loves to lie“paid for by Soros—or somebody else.”

When McCarthy deletes his anti-Semitic tweet, that simply is not good enough, more must be expected from the Representative who wants to take over for Paul Ryan. These campaigns of prejudicial stereotypes are a problem. When Republicans refuse to condemn Trump’s sinister lies they tacitly support all the bias bigotry he promotes.

The lies delivered by Trump and supported by the whole of the GOP are specifically mentioned as motivation for the attack on the Synagogue. The shooter claimed he wanted to stop Jews, because he believed they were responsible for orchestrating an invasion. This is the dishonesty Trump is pedaling in order to fire up his base. These hate crimes are political terrorism, and the problem will not be addressed until it is properly identified and placed in context.

It is time to make a more accurate comparison: The Republican Party Trump champions is a modern wave of the Ku Klux Klan. The first and the third waves of the KKK focused on limiting the political participation, rights, and social advancement of African-Americans. First during Reconstruction after the civil war and then again in response to the civil rights movement. The second, 1920’s, wave of the KKK focused on nationalism—which Trump has recently labeled himself—xenophobia over immigration, even now including Trump’s blatantly unconstitutional threat to stop the practice of babies born in the US being citizens even if their parents are not yet. These are a collection of fear-based policies of exclusion and supremacy.

Glossing over Trump’s lies, anti-Semitic tropes like McCarthy’s (and others present), or even the “Make America Great Again” slogan is as big a problem as the ability of homegrown terrorists to arm themselves. Whitewashing hate is what allows discussion on migrant caravans to ignore laws protecting asylum seekers while extremists sling violent rhetoric. MAGA is an echo of a time when redlining minority groups didn’t cost the Trump family any money. It remembers when a person could wear white robes and burn crosses at a Klan rally and go to work the next day. The truth stays the same: many of these racists are not violent, but it is time that we truly acknowledged that supporting the prejudice is more than tacit endorsement of the carnage.

The tactic is simple. Trump started by manufacturing a crisis. He called out the caravan—the threat to our borders—in an effort to get an easy victory. He already knew that only a small fraction of the thousands of women and children fleeing violence in Honduras were likely to make it to the U.S., but 5,200 troops sent to the border and illegally denying asylum are a great show of force. Short term he whips up the nationalist base, just like the 1920’s Klan, appeal to ideas of purity; long term he says that he kept everyone safe. The truth: there is no threat, is irrelevant.

It has always been clear that Trump only cares about himself. This is the reason he ignores even the most reasonable requests. In a city suffering from the shock of a hate crime, Trump wasn’t even willing to honor the requests that he wait to visit. Instead of providing security for a funeral, where fear of copycats exists, Pittsburg is forced to use their resources to guard the President whose jingoism catalyzed the violence. Hate is not a problem solved by erasing history.

There are many strategies for combating prejudice. Know your roots and take pride in your heritage. Invite people from different backgrounds to join in on your traditions, and, when invited, join in on theirs. Celebrate holidays, traditions, and difference—embrace it—and do not let it be a source of division. Avoid stereotypes, and speak out against jokes and slurs that disparage other groups. Educate yourself; accurate information is a great defense against prejudice. This can include reading, watching documentaries, traveling, or taking trips to museums.

Remember that ignorance has been weaponized, the lies are not harmless, and that this is all serious. Today’s Republican Party forces us to acknowledge that all lies matter, we must take care of each other, and we must pressure our leaders to restore our true American values in equality and honesty. It is clear what happens when we fail at this task.

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, worked on reconstruction in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, is an instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Kennesaw State University, and on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association. 

Incompetent Intent 10/17/18

Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live  – by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

On October 15th, 2018 early voting in Georgia started. I arrived at my polling place at 1:56 p.m. and completed voting at 4:19 p.m. It is reportedthat county officials were not prepared for the turnout. That’s what I observed and experienced. There were not enough barriers to queue the long line, we broiled and steamed in the humid outdoor heat while waiting, and there weren’t enough parking spots either. I counted more than a dozen cars parked illegally while looking for a spot before, I confess, I went to a nearby McDonalds.

I’m in pretty good health, but I left dehydrated. I watched two people treated for symptoms of heat exhaustion. The first older gentleman collapsed while standing up. He was scary pale, and rescue workers were called to assist him. I cheered for him when they let him into the building to vote, it took about 20 minutes of supervised recovery, and I was worried he’d need to be hospitalized.

First responders also assisted a woman suffering from the heat. Her blood pressure of 74/48 brought several of my line neighbors to tears. We talked about how crazy it was that only people over 75 were being let into the air conditioning early, that the conditions were just not suitable for so many different medical conditions. Umbrellas were brought out to protect people from the sun. There was no water available until another line neighbor retrieved a case of water bottles from her car. They were consumed in a matter of minutes, and I saw the look of disappointment on the faces of people who missed out.

I reflected on the reports of waiting 6-8 hours in Florida in 2000. We imagined taking turns to fetch food, I fantasized ordering pizza to a polling line. It was broadly understood that if all the people who’d wanted to vote for Al Gore had been able to vote for him, that he’d have won the election. Along with many other irregularities, this means George W. Bush won the office of the President because of voter suppression. Election thieves must feel emboldened.

Once we were finally inside we were reminded of Georgia voting laws prohibiting the use of cell phones. We also saw the law requiring that people over 75 or with disabilities be advanced ahead of the line. One of my neighbors who identified her disability to a polling staffer asked, “How come it says that people with disabilities shouldn’t have to wait in line, but I was told I had to wait in line?” The worker’s response was that the person who told her that probably hadn’t had the training. I personally observed at least three individuals identify that they had disabilities told they could only receive accommodation if they were over 75 years old.

You might stop at questioning the degree to which the right to vote is protected when you hear stories about long wait times and medical hardships incurred in exercising the right to vote. But in Georgia, in 2018, Brian Kemp is the Republican candidate for Governor, and he also has official oversight over Georgia’s elections in his role of Secretary of State. He did not acknowledge any conflict of interest, but I find it hard to see it as anything but corrupt opportunism. Cobb county, where we were, voted for Hillary Clinton.Any reduction in voter turnout at my polling place would be good for his chances. If it is intentional, then it is criminal, he is directly responsible for protecting equal voting access, and he hasn’t. If it is accidental, then is demonstrative proof of his rote incompetence.

In 2018 we see many clear efforts to suppress voting demographics. In North Dakota P.O. boxes do not work as addresses for the purposes of voting. This is an effort to hand a Senate seat to a Republican candidate, because the population whose votes will be taken away—Native Americans living on reservations—favors the Democrat candidate. In Georgia we’d already watched Brian Kemp freeze 53,000 vote registrations, which were predominantly African American voters—who favor the Democrat candidate, and his political machine tried to slash black voter participation in a rural countybut was foiled this summer. In Florida the website for online registrations was down (and not repaired) for the last two days of signing up. Online registration favors those who have poor mobility, like disabilities or those who don’t own cars, which end up being predominately Democrats. Black students in Texaswere cut out and eventually only some allowed to vote because their struggle became a national story.

These are numbers games, this is dirty business, and it is figuratively and literally heart attack serious. Votes are regularly being decided by small margins; small manipulations have huge consequences. The vote is the most sacred feature of a democracy, but more and more it seems that winning by any means is everything. People are standing in long lines to get their voices heard, and I watched the scene turn into a potential matter of life and death for the most vulnerable—democracy is not only for the most physically fit. We must hold those responsible for these maleficent tactics accountable, and it is all clearly intentional. I waited in line for two hours today, I waited because someone didn’t want it to be easy for me to vote, and I told them “No!

Now it’s your turn.

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Kennesaw State University, and on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association. 

His Own Facts 10/10/18

Dangerous White Lies  – by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

When I started teaching at the university level, about 1,500 students ago, I had no idea that I’d ever have to dedicate class time to address honesty. Some brief reminders on plagiarism was all that I was used to. That Melania Trump could use some help, her “Be Best” speech was stolen from Michelle Obama, is good for a couple laughs. Over time truth has become quite an issue. What sense should my students make of a president who’d told 4,229 lies in the first 558 days of his presidency? What about his claims about “fake news?” Over and over Donald Trump cries out “FAKE NEWS” only for the story to be confirmed as true. My job is not to be an oracle of truth, I don’t lie, but that only encourages the return to authority as truth; I try to give the tools for navigating the terrain of dishonesty, but I’ll admit it is getting harder.

         All politicians lie.”

          Statements of universal political dishonesty are ubiquitous, but are they accurate? In class students are expected to learn about ad hominem arguments, this is the fallacy of attacking a source instead of the claim, which is intended to inspire a false equivalence. That Trump has lied at a pace without any comparison is not in and of itself proof that any particular statement is a lie, it is just good evidence for claiming him to be untrustworthy. Barack Obama lost some trust when he won the lie of the year distinction in 2013 for saying, “if you like your health care plan you can keep it.” Claims must be judged on their merits, period. Not all lies are the same, and a university education is expected to provide students with the ability to evaluate claims. Clearly some politicians are more honest than others.

          “It is just he said, she said…”

            Trump’s recent nomination to the Supreme Court is a controversy, like many (maybe even most) of his decisions so it is not surprising that people have chosen sides. But many popular memes are simple not true. “He said, she said” is an effort to make an equivalence in testimony, and it is used to argue towards the point that if you’re going to believe testimony, then you must trust both testimonies equally. The point could not be further from the truth. Testimony is evidence, and evidence is used to support or deny claims. Witness testimony is one of the most common types of evidence used, and there are many mitigating factors used in judging the veracity of its value as evidence. Evidence must always be weighed against a standard of judgment.

“Supporting Kavanaugh means you believe in innocent until proven guilty.

Students are very confused about standards of judgment. Despite the factual basis for standards of judgment—let me be clear here, class, the presumption of innocence relates to criminal law—the hearing for a Supreme Court Justice is not a criminal matter, it is a job interview. The elevated standard—beyond reasonable doubt—is used in criminal cases because a person’s freedom or life is at stake. Other cases use different standards, like “preponderance of the evidence” or “clear and convincing.” The burden of proof is different out of utility, an employer does not need to “prove” you were smoking marijuana outside before the interview, they may pass on your application just for smelling the weed on you, even in a state where it has been legalized.

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” ― Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Senator Jeff Flake used this quote when he called out Trump’s dishonesty. He noted “alternative facts” and the assault on the free press among his criticisms. He was troubled by Trump’s naming of the press as “the enemy of the people.” Flake is credited with getting the Senate to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct in the Kavanaugh nomination, which may have been prompted by two women confronting him with their “my assault does matter” in an elevator. But the fact here is that the investigation was limited. The Whitehouse has been allowed complete control over “facts,” they determined some allegations were not credible enough to be investigated. Fact: checks and balances were put in place on purpose. Opinion: we should be scared that Trump has too much influence over appointing a judge who could possibly have a deciding vote in a case on his impeachment; the lies are destroying the country, and the US has become a complete laughing stock; the Russian troll farms were able to weaponize American ignorance and susceptibility to dishonesty—the lies have real consequences. When will Americans become lifelong learners and begin to sift truth from lies competently?

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a doctoral candidate in International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.

Prez Head in Sand 9/19/18

Wim Laven

Hurricane Trump, Season 2 – by Wim Laven

A year ago I wrote about the problems in Houston, I wrote with great frustration about political expedience, poor planning, and supreme errors in judgment coupled with selfishness, but things have gotten so much worse.

In Houston Trump knew that he should wait, the lesson was clear, and he pledged to stay away until he could visit without disrupting relief efforts, but he couldn’t wait to get his pictures and applaud himself, calling the response “a wonderful thing.” Then he did the same thing in Puerto Rico, 10 out of 10he said… a year later he still gives an “A plus” to the disaster, actually claiming the Democrats jiggered the figures to make him look bad. He naturally continues to say his people kept the death toll to fewer than 20 when all the scientists put the tragic number at 2,975 people.Trump has shown significant racist hatred toward Hispanic and Latin populations, unfortunately it is difficult to determine if or when a poor response to a disaster is intentional or a result of incompetence since he shows incompetence in so many aspects of his Presidency.

A year later, and like clockwork, “a disaster is at the doorstep.” Hurricane Florence has hit the Carolinas and the lessons are still being ignored. Expertise on disaster management is very clear. The four most important,and controllable, detailsare the availability and mobilization of resources, the robustness of system strength, the redundancy of alternatives, and the rapidity of responses. Failure in any of these areas can have significant consequences. Spoiler alert: the racist-in-chief has overseen $9.8 million diverted from FEMA to ICE detention centers, he has prioritized family detention and separation over Emergency Management, he will give himself credit for a great job (again) but nothing in the response will be an improvement unless it’s pure innovation by an underfunded but highly skilled FEMA.

To call it shameful is to give too much credit and to ignore the willful wrongdoing of this disaster-in-chief. George W. Bush and Barack Obamaboth showcased the ability to delay trips, and learn from mistakes. Flyovers, for example, allow the President to visit without disrupting relief efforts. But, Trump will make sure he gets more feet-on-the-ground photo-ops, his undeniable narcissism, his awkward paper towel tossing photosare just too irresistible… Trump has shown an absolute unwillingness to be honest, his 7.6 lies a dayare only increasing, and his inability to admit to mistakes presents him with no room for growth. So Americans are left in the position of having their lives placed in mortal risk in order for the President to protect his ego despite utter and abject failure.

To blame Trump as the sole problem is also a mistake. Despite his unprecedented and un-presidential thousands of lies, 32% of American voters believe Trump is honestand 84% of Republicans approve of the job he is doing. So it really isn’t a surprise that chances to address continued and increasing risks and threats from natural disasters and global climate change are avoided and ignored. I do not wish hardship on anyone, but it is hard to ignore the irony in North Carolina’s intentional near-sightedness and climate change denial, in 2012 North Carolina legislators banned “the state from basing coastal policies on the latest scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise.” Stephen Colbert’s mockery back then was well deserved, “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved…” but, in the coming days reminders of this willful ignorance will feel like salt in the wounds.

There are clear democratic solutions to the human-caused parts of these disasters. First, people need to vote. The 43 percent of Americans (about 100 million people) who didn’t vote in 2016, for example, could make huge differences. Those numbers could keep incompetence out of elected office and could force politicians to stop ignoring science. Currently big businesses are able to push forward climate denial agendas, because it is good for their short-term profits, but the vote is a chance to put people ahead of dollar signs. Second, people can exercise their right to petition their leaders; you do not have to silently sit back and wait for change, if you are tired of the threat these elected officials pose to you, your families and communities, and the whole planet—say something, tell Trump to resign! Third, recognize human caused global warming. There is virtually unanimous scientific consensus, and the conclusions are clear. The frequency and intensity of these weather events will continue to increase. There is no ambiguity in the science: an increase in temperature causes an increase in water in the atmosphere, an increase in the sea surface temperature combined with increased atmospheric water equals stronger tropical storms. We can all examine our footprints, work to be more conscientious in our daily living, and prepared for future disasters.

Like I wrote last year, and will again next year: Hurricanes are as predictable as presidential photo ops, and they both have warnings;Trump knows that he should stay at home, and we know that we are causing climate change. If we don’t take responsibility things will only get worse, and Trump has completely shoved his head in the sand, so it is up to everyone else now.

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, worked on reconstruction in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, is an instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Kennesaw State University, and on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association. 

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