Am I the only one beginning to get the sense that this train is about to derail?

Señor Presidente:

Am I the only one beginning to get the sense that this train is about to derail? This speed is not sustainable. You are playing with fire. And we will get burnt.

You cannot piss off your diplomatic friends, enrage your enemies, and disorient the biggest corporations in the land and expect for there to be no consequences.

Words have consequences. Presidential Executive Actions even more so.

Bureaucrats matter. Bureaucrats care. You cannot expect your orders to be followed without enlisting your troops to believe and embrace them.

Other countries and governments are not your foot soldiers. They will fight back. Figuratively – and literally.

While your approach to ‘making the deal’ of starting with ballistic language and bullying your ‘opponent’ into submission might have worked wonders in the real-estate development world, the world of governance is vastly different.

While your insults may have gotten you elected, governing by insults and decrees is going to get you nowhere.

You have demonstrated zilch – as in zero – capacity to deescalate the volatile situations you have created. Instead you choose to hunker down, double down, and fight fight fight – even if it means perpetuating a lie or further demeaning others.

Well, Señor Presidente, as others have much eloquently than I have said: See you in court!

You may be conducting the train, but we – the people – are its fuel… And, we are not about to let you derail America.

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Trump’s Troops: Some are our family and friends

It is easy to vilify those who think different from us. It is easy to lump them all together as ‘they’ against ‘us’. It is easy to de-friend them on Facebook; stop crossing path with them; stay away from them.

But. But these are our family and friends! The fact that we do not understand, cannot fathom, will never agree with them should not – cannot – mean we disown them.

… and maybe – just maybe – as we engage them in dialogue (and listening) we will gain a sense of why they think like they do. Not that we’ll ‘agree’. (Not likely.) Rather, that we will hold our own pride in check and humbly – and genuinely – listen to their stories, frustrations, anxieties, angst, and aspirations.

(… and, yes: Do it without expecting they do the same.)

One step in that direction might be to stay away from charged language. Don’t use the words you know are laden with pre-conceived negativism. Rather, dialogue from the position of love, showing empathy, care, and authenticity.

(… and, yes: Do it without expecting they do the same. If they do, great! If they don’t that’s ok too.)

It occurs to me that I have always advocated dialogue and diplomacy with enemies and dictators – including the Castros. (And, I’ve always advocated the positive results of ‘people-to-people’ exchanges with those with who we disagree.) So, it would be rather hypocritical of me not to reach out and try to find where my agenda intersects with the Trump supporters.

I do find that humanizing your opposition does help in establishing this dialogue and diplomacy. We do not need to tear them down to make ourselves big. They do not need to be ‘wrong’ for us to be ‘right’. Acknowledging equality of humanity does not have to excuse bad behavior… But, ultimately, we are indeed all humans.

I have real life examples of family and friends with which I am trying – albeit probably unsuccessfully – taking this approach. These are real people with amazing capacity to love. Thus, I am hopeful and prayful they will do the right thing… I am NOT trying to ‘convert’ them. That would be disingenuous. I am trying to have them see the opposition – us dissidents – as real people too. As their family and friends.

[] One is a niece who is totally committed to the cause Trump spouses and clearly sees him as the champion of those causes – and capable of causing change. She is a wonderful mother and wife and seeks nothing more than what she believes is best for family and country.

[] A second is a couple that are God fearing, committed Catholics and see in a Republican Congress (with a marginal Republican President) their best hope to reverse certain social agenda initiatives – and Roe v. Wade. They are wonderful parents and a beautiful family.

[] A third is a local businessman who has strong conservative economic views and sees over-regulation and the like as hurting his bottom line. He sees Trump as a businessman who will understand his plight. He is a wonderful community activist and a great addition to our community.

My hope is that as they – being in ‘power’ – affirm their positions, contact their congressperson, and write letters to Mr. Trump, they will know more, they will have been exposed to other perspectives, they will approach their actions with a tad broader grasp – and a more expansive perspective of their action.

(… and, yes: That is my hope.)

p.s.: This approach in no way shape or form condones or normalizes the extremists (on either side) who insult and demean… (And that – of course – includes President Trump.)

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On Abortion: The Inauguration, the Women’s March, and the Pro-Life Movement

I am a proud Democrat. And I believe we need to work at making abortion unnecessary.

I will not become a Republican because of the single issue of abortion. I will not leave the Democratic Party because of the single issue of abortion. The Republicans want to restrict access to abortion. The Democrats want to increase access to abortion.

Many of my pro-life friends want to make abortion illegal. Many of my pro-choice friends want to make it unrestricted.

I want neither. There is a common ground: Let’s make it unnecessary.

At the Inauguration, surely there will be plenty of platitudes about the Supreme Court appointee that will reverse Roe vs Wade… (Too narrow a focus for me.)

At the Women’s March, surely there will be plenty of platitudes about the need to support Planned Parenthood… (There are so many women’s issue beyond this one that I hope the March highlights.)

At the Right-to-Life March there will be little talk of anything beyond abortion… (For years this March has become an anti-abortion march much more so than a ‘pro-life’ march.)

Too bad. Too bad… There is really little ‘space’ for those of us who simply do not feel comfortable in any of these ‘tight boxes’… (Though I will be participating in the Women’s March, passionately supporting all but one of their unity principles.)

Below is a piece I co-authored* back in the days when Obama was running for President for the first time. It has been updated to reflect some more recent developments, but it is still quite potent.

(*My co-author was a ‘sister in the struggle’. As I man I feel inadequate in addressing this issue, though I understand that no group has sole ownership of any issue.)

Disclaimer One: For the person that is vehemently anti-abortion and for which abortion is the only issue they care about regardless of any other discussion or rationale, then this thesis is worthless and this article meaningless… I commend your commitment and would never try to dissuade you.  However, don’t bother reading any further, this is not for you.  But, for the person that is pro-life in the broadest sense of the word, including being anti-abortion – and yes, within the Catholic Church’s teaching – please read on.

Disclaimer Two: This article is not the place where you will find the definitive theological argument for/against abortion… Many other people that know much more than I do have developed the theological argument much more deeply than I ever could.  Let it suffice to say that I am confident the position set forth below is within the Catholic Faith.

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Being Democrat will unequivocally support the broader “life” issues…

AND: The path to less abortions is not to criminalize it further, but rather to create a culture of love, compassion, and understanding where abortions would no longer be an ethical option for the vast majority of the population.

Being “For-Life” goes well beyond the anti-abortion rhetoric of the pro-life movement.

Being “For-Life” includes saying NO to:

ABORTION

LATE TERM ABORTION

INFANTICIDE

ASSISTED SUICIDE

EUTHANASIA

UNREGULATED STEM CELL RESEARCH

DEATH PENALTY

 

However, being “For-Life” is also saying YES to:

PRE NATAL CARE

ADOPTION

SEX EDUCATION

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

CHILDCARE

SENIOR SERVICES

UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

 

In today’s political climate, the pro-life movement (mostly Republicans) is focused pretty exclusively on being anti-abortion.  They have had very little patience – and are simply not welcoming – of any attempt to broaden the spectrum from “anti-abortion” to “For-Life”.  (To the credit of a few, some segment of the pro-life movement are engaged in regulating stem research advocacy; some have been instrumental end-of-life debate; and others are aggressively active in the pro-adoption movement.)

The pro-life movement is also perceived to be dogmatic, condemning of different views, and generally antagonistic to any discussion with those that differ with them.  They have opted for a course that abortions must be eliminated by criminalizing the act.  They have shown very little patience for the approach to ‘change hearts, not laws’.

The Republicans – the party that wants ‘less government’ – has chosen to concentrate their strategy on issues where government must act forcefully to enforce laws against those things many want to say “NO” to (except – for some inexplicable reason – capital punishment.)  It is the Democrats – as might be expected – that generally support government programs that promote – and indeed, codify entitlement benefits for – those things many want to say “YES” to.  It is also the Democrats, however, that have less than a stellar record on support for the issues in the “NO” list.  It seems to be a matter of emphasis: Though obviously not absolute, the Republicans emphasize the legal path to the “NO” list; the Democrats emphasize the programmatic path to the “YES” list.

This artificial division of the full “For-Life” issues into ‘Republican’ or ‘Democratic’ camps has made it very difficult for someone committed to ALL “For-Life” issues to totally agree with one or the other political party… So, compromise is in order… By “compromise” I mean the acknowledgement of the political reality we live in and choosing a path for maximum impact.  I fully know that to some no ‘compromise’ in the abortion issue is possible – and I respect that…  I also recognize that abortion is “first among equals” in many people’s list.

Life is sparked at conception.  Any other position is neither scientifically, ethically, or philosophically defensible. Some may wish it to be different, but it simply is not.  Abortion terminates a life a life in the making – not a ‘potential’ life.  I am a practicing Catholic and that is what I believe.

Women that choose to have an abortion are – more often than not – very thoughtful, prayerful, and totally torn by the decision.  Most women that choose abortion do not do so lightly.  Rather, it is a wrenching, difficult decision.  A decision that oftentimes leaves the woman scarred for life.  Women that choose abortion should not be demonized.  They need our compassion, empathy, love, and prayers.  That too is what I believe.

No one “likes” to have an abortion.  For most women that have an abortion, the act is perceived less of a choice and more of the ‘least worst’ of all alternatives.  Many people may firmly believe that the act of an abortion destroys a life and condemns another.  Most women that have an abortion believe neither.

We can not legislate beliefs.  We can certainly legislate norms and we can certainly legislate cultural consensus – we do that all the time.  An adult killing another adult without provocation is called murder; it is wrong; and we as a society see this as heinous act and punish the culprit.

However, for a variety of complex reasons, in 21st Century America, there is simply no cultural consensus that abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy is ethically unacceptable, that it is ‘wrong’.  While many wish that the cultural norm would be ‘abortion is wrong always’, that consensus simply does not exist in any culture in the world…

It is this “cultural consensus” – not laws – that we need to work to change.

Some will point to slavery as the fallacy of this argument.  After all, slavery was declared illegal while there was still a cultural consensus – at least in part of the country – that it was ethically acceptable.  But slavery is an act visible to society; i.e.: “I know if you have slaves”.  Thus, we were able to make it illegal, fight to enforce the law, and eventually change the cultural consensus.  Abortion, however, is relatively a private act; i.e.: it can be performed by a willing woman and a willing abortionist (be it a doctor or a coat-hanger.)  No one else needs to know it happened.  The parallels between slavery and abortion have serious limitations.

Abortion does have a critical economic component that is seldom discussed – and important to the debate.  In the harshest of terms, abortion is an economic ‘plus’ for the woman having the abortion – and arguably for society as well.  One less mouth to feed; one less child to raise.  Indeed, China has led the way in institutionalizing abortions to support its one-child policy.  In the USA, few are so against abortion that they have offered to pay for the cost of the pregnancy, the cost of rearing the child, and compensation to the mother for carrying the child to term.  If these offers were widespread, abortions would be drastically reduced.

While the above sounds crass, it is a cultural reality.  We have not come far from the days that the first child were sacrificed by the Mayans to ensure longevity and economic wellbeing… Abortion is all too often an expedient solution to meet a personal rationale; or the decision is oftentimes disguised in the illogical argument that “it is best for the child not to be brought into this earth” – a common argument to abort down-syndrome babies. These arguments cannot be reversed by simply changing laws.  We have to create a cultural consensus that abortion makes no economic sense.  We have to create a culture where having child is seen as an investment in the human race… We cannot put a cost on human life. 

Yet, in today’s America, not everyone is on board with this rationale; with this line of thinking…. The cultural consensus is that it is simply not the place of government to legislate against an act that is seen by many as a deplorable, but not deviant; illogical, but not illegal.  We seem to have gotten to the point that there is an uneasy consensus regarding the current law: During the first trimester, abortion is acceptable and legal.  Beyond that, it is not.

Additionally, there also seems to be a growing consensus that many actions to lower the number of abortions are universally supported.  While there remains real differences of opinions – and beliefs – regarding contraceptives, there is definitively a sense that ‘the less abortions the better’.

None of this makes abortion any less wrong or any more palatable.  Yet, there just does not seem to be the cultural will – or the economic incentive – to change the status quo….  And, no legal shift, no new law, not even the reversal of Roe vs. Wade is going to change this cultural consensus… Indeed, the legal path to less abortion may very well lead to increasing the guilt, the de-humanization, of those choosing abortion – and it is even questionable whether it would truly lead to less abortions.

Let there be no doubt, though, that a Republican administration will make abortions increasingly difficult to get through restrictive regulatory means; and a Democratic push back will do the opposite… It remains debatable however, that either path will lead to less abortions.

It could very well be that the fight to have less abortions stands a much better chance to succeed if we concentrate on changing hearts rather than changing laws or criminalizing it.  It might be good also if we sweeten the heart by providing a real economic incentive not to have an abortion.

We can’t just tell a woman: “Don’t get an abortion! It is murder! Just don’t do it!”

We must provide alternatives to abortion.  There are charities that successfully do this… But, a few token private charities is not sufficient; it will take cultural will matched by corresponding government support.

Let’s share with the woman – and her companion – considering an abortion:

We’ll be with you and support you during your pregnancy.  You’ll have health insurance that will cover pre-natal care and once you give birth, if you decide to keep the baby, know that we’ll be there with you as well.  We’ll provide support for food, shelter, childcare, and medical attention…. And, if you choose to give your baby up for adoption, rest assured that the baby will go to a safe, loving home where he or she will have access to quality education.”

Which political party will most likely speak this language?  Which political party will go beyond the simple, harsh, unattainable legal slap: “Just don’t have an abortion!”?  Which political party will promote a culture where woman choosing to give birth can feel they have society’s support?

The Democratic Party is the political party that promotes programs we can say “YES” to… And, it is the political party that is open to continued conversations regarding what we must legislate to say “NO” to.

The Republican Party, in the other hand, remains dogmatic about one key “NO”: abortion… But, the Republican Party is sorely lacking in the support for the programs we must say “YES” to; and is not willing to even talk about possible broader support for women choosing life.

Let’s work on changing hearts, not just changing laws… Let’s support a true “For-Life” agenda…

And thus in the meantime, I proudly remain in the Democratic Party.

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On Cuban pride and Trump’s pickle

Pride is a powerful thing. We instill it in our offsprings as a must – as a must we need to have. “Be proud of yourself; be proud of your family; be proud of your country; we are a proud people”, we are taught.

And thus proud we are. Some peoples more than others.

Certainly we Cubans are proud – very proud. We are disproportionately influential. We’ve impacted history more than nations ten times our size. Our numbers in entertainment and sports are impressive indeed.

We are – in our eyes – the center of the universe. We – those of us in exile – are a unique subset of the Cuban people.

And, the Miami-NJ Cubans are generally a subset – and a majority – of the exile subset.  The prominent Miami-NJ Cuban exile politically correct, self censored line is: “We are the best. The ones that have seen the light. The ones that risked it all. The ones that have become more Americans than Americans. The descendents of the Havana socialite ladies that paid for Martha Washington’s Inaugural Ball dress (look it up!) The ones that made Baseball great. The ones that saved Coca Cola from bankruptcy (look it up!) The ones that one day will return to Cuba to right a very long wrong…” And so think so many exiles. (And, if you think different you are a rabid Communist not to be welcomed anywhere near Versailles!)

Thus, this proud logic continues: “It is justifiable and commonsensical we Cubans are given special immigration status. After all, we have our own version of Manifest Destiny and Cuban Exceptionalism. We are the Jews of Latin America!” … Until now.

Now we have a President of the U.S. on his way out who is telling us, in essence, we Cubans are no different from Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, or Mexicans. The exile’s response seems to be: “Gasp! How can you say that?!? We ARE different! We made you in 2012 and we broke you in 2016 with our votes in Florida! We are powerful! Don’t mess with us – you will regret it!”

(Never mind that most exiled Cubans have been saying that the Cubans coming over in recent decades are all economic migrants, no different from others from any other country. But hey, WE can say that. But, don’t you non-Cuban dare tell us!)

Our pride has been shaken. Our dirty little family secret in being aired in public.

Maybe our pride needs shaking. Maybe it is our pride that has gotten in the way of resolving this decades long mess we are in. Maybe it is our pride we need to check to move forward and make Cuba not great again, but simply a place where dignity, self-determination, respect, civility, and personal choices are embedded in the cultural norm.

I know the hurt is deep. I know the personal and family irreparable damage that has been done. I know forgiving is too much to ask.

Yet, maybe a strong dash of humility will change the course of the discourse. Maybe if we put our pride aside and accept not only that we are no better than Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, or Mexicans, accept – indeed – that we are not even better than the Cubans in the island!

Maybe we exiles feel we have been enlightened by our six decades of exposure to commercialization, consumerism and too infinite information… But maybe – just maybe – the people in the island have been enlightened by the inventiveness required to survive in poverty, deprivation and the absence of information.

Equality is a tough virtue to embrace. But maybe – just maybe – dealing with others as equals rather than from a warped sense of superiority and a false sense of pride will lead to authentic mutually beneficial future… Maybe – just maybe – justice will come through a diplomatic, engaging process rather than from a ‘you-are-all-evil-we-are-all-good’ intractable position.

Maybe, just maybe, Obama is on to something… Let’s see what Trump says – and does.

Mr. Obama has put Mr. Trump in quite a pickle. How will Trump justify reinstating a policy (the wet-foot-dry-foot policy) that in essence gives Cubans a distinct clear advantage over all other immigrants?  How will Trump be able to talk of building a wall in the Mexican border while espousing opening the dam in the Florida Straits?!?… Quite a pickle indeed.

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The Missing 5 C’s in Mr. Trump’s Vocabulary: Community, Consensus, Collaboration, Cooperation, Collective.

The missing 5 C’s in Mr. Trump’s Vocabulary: Community, Consensus, Collaboration, Cooperation, Collective.

Language is a strange thing. It is symbolic. Language is never the thing itself. When you say “car”, it is up to your imagination to conjure up the image as the word is not the car.

Philosophical b.s.? No. Words matter. The words you choose – and those you don’t – matter. The old adage of ‘say what you mean and mean what you say’ matters… (Or so we thought.)

It is possible to speak to someone is good, perfect English and simply because of the words chosen end up literally speaking past each other… and so it is with Mr. Trump. He may claim to speak the language of the common folks; and, he may claim to rebuke ‘political correctness’. But, the words he chooses – and those he doesn’t – say so much.

These 5 C’s are examples of words he seems to avoid with a passion, never uttering them.

  • Community. The idea that the whole is more than the sum of its part.
  • Consensus. The idea that while ‘majority rules’, it is important to positively engage those that disagree with the majority.
  • Collaboration. The idea that co-laboring is effective, if not always efficient.
  • Cooperation. The idea that helping each other succeed is a good thing.
  • Collective. The idea that equity in laboring is important; that we ultimately work for the common good.

Interesting that the antonyms of these 5 C’s are the 5 D’s that seem to guide the language of Mr. Trump:

  • Instead of highlighting Community, he seems to highlight Dissimilarity.
  • Instead of seeking Consensus, he seems to seek Disagreement.
  • Instead of pursuing Collaboration, he seems to pursue Disunion.
  • Instead of wanting Cooperation, he seems to want Discord.
  • Instead of praising the Collective, he seems to praise Division.

Of course, there is a thread going through these words that is – seemingly in his view – their antithesis: the absence of the “I”, as in Individual. This warped sense of individualism as a dogmatic stance is the root of rampant selfishness, win at all costs, and the “it is all about me” attitude.

To those of us who grew up in a faith and family where togetherness matters, where taking care of each other matters, and where helping others matters, this dogmatic individualism does not sit well.

Mind you, we get that we have to “look out for ourselves”; but, we also get that “no person is an island”, and we as human beings have an embedded sense of wishing others – and working for others to be – well.

To us, the 5 C’s matter. The absence of these words in the lexicon of Mr. Trump and his incoming team is a values difference that we can not dismiss. We will bring these words to our interactions with Mr. Trump’s team. We will seek to incorporate them in the messages to the public and in policies that guide government action.

The absence of these words from the public realm would be yet another unfortunate, unhealthy – and yes, unamerican – reality of the next four years.

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