Thursday, August 25, 2016

To paraphrase Elvis Costello, what’s so funny about liberty, equality & fraternity?

By Marc Jampole

Since the revolution of 1789, the national motto of France has been “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” which translated into English and updated to remove any sexism translates to “Liberty, equality, solidarity.”

French beach towns are making a mockery of all three concepts by passing laws that forbid the wearing of burkinis.

The New York Times reports that more than 20 French towns, mostly along the Mediterranean, have banned the burkini, which is a head-to-toes beach garment worn by devout Muslim women. The municipalities’ reasons for passing these bans sound as if they come directly from the America right-wing dictionary of racial code: the garments are not “appropriate,” not “respectful of good morals and of secularism” and not “respectful of the rules of hygiene and security of bathers on public beaches.”  

Just reading these odious racist excuses gives me the same yucky, skin-crawling feeling I get from rolling around in sand immediately after applying greasy sunscreen. The reference to hygiene was especially nauseating, because it reminded me of the ugly things well-bred white Americans used to say—and sometimes still do—about African-Americans during the days of legal segregation.

A few comparisons demonstrate the absurdity of banning a modest garment that shows nothing of a sexual nature.

First, let’s compare the burkini to the standard swimwear in France in the late 19th century. They look practically the same, except for the head covering on the burkini. 150 years ago, French women would likely wear wide brimmed hats on the beach. Back then, if a woman dared to show up in a bikini or topless, the authorities would haul her to jail for public lewdness and immorality. By the way, every French Mediterranean beach I’ve ever visited has allowed women to walk around topless.

Now let’s compare the burkini to a wetsuit, which is still allowed to be worn on the beaches banning burkinis. Again, there seems to be nothing to distinguish the two from each other. A few days back on Facebook, I saw side-by-side photos of a burkini and wetsuit in the same sleek green and black color-combination and I really couldn’t tell much of a difference, even in the way the material covered the head.

Evidently the police of these towns are patrolling the beaches and asking any woman wearing a burkini to leave. By the way, if a man or woman wearing a wetsuit on one of these French beaches also sported a very large cross around her/his neck, the local constabulary would ignore it. Evidently a Christian cross in not a religious symbol, whereas wearing clothes that cover your body and a head covering is. I’ve seen 2016 photos of nuns wearing their habits on Italian beaches. Although the habit resembles the burkini in many ways, I doubt the police will be hassling nuns on French beaches this summer.

These bans make a mockery of the French ideals of liberty, equality and the solidarity between human beings encompassed in the word “fraternity.” The French towns are denying the Muslim women the liberty to wear what they choose. They are making the women and their religion less equal than other religions and cultures. And instead of embracing this group as part of the family of man, they are differentiating them from the mass of humanity and creating laws specifically meant to impede their actions. In the United States, we call that Jim Crow.

One rational for these laws is to ensure the security of bathers on the beach. Really? How does wearing a long garment threaten other bathers? Are the authorities concerned that every burkini could hide a machine guns and grenades?

Far from making bathers safer, these bans make all of French society less safe for two reasons: The banning of burkinis inflames the more radical among France’s Muslims and gives them an additional shred of evidence that the West hates Islam. The banning also encourages the French alt-right because it communicates to them that the authorities, at least in these localities, agrees with them that there is something wrong with Islam and that France should control and mistreat their Muslim citizens and immigrants.

As Elvis Costello pointed out in his 1974 song, there’s nothing funny about peace, love and understanding. If the French are serious about domestic peace, they should show a little love to its Muslim population and some understanding that the overwhelming majority of them are law-abiding citizens who only want to express their liberty and live in equality in a community that shows solidarity to all its members.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Emails reveal no conflicts of interest between Clinton State Department & Foundation. Controversy reveals double standard

As an owner of a small business I have been on both sides of requests for access similar to those at the center of the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State.  Anytime my company needs to make contact with a company or highly placed individual, the first thing we do is ask ourselves who might know someone we could reference. It’s called “six degrees of separation” marketing, based on the John Guare play. People who want to work for my agency or sell it goods or services often invoke the name of a business friend to get in the door.

The success of using contacts to gain access doesn’t always work. When I needed to reach out to the Justice Department on a sensitive matter for a client about 10 years ago, I called the former campaign manager for a former Pennsylvania governor and a former prosecutor because I thought they would know whom at DOJ I really needed to contact. Didn’t help me one bit.

I’ve been on the other side of the conversation, too. To get a job interview at my firm, one of my very best employees of all time used the name of someone whom she had gotten through another contact—that’s three degrees of separation. 

Virtually every month, someone on my staff gets requests from business friends to interview someone or consider contributing our time or money to a charity. I don’t have much to do with these matters any more, but occasionally I get an email asking me about a request or letting me know we said “no.”

So if I wanted to contact someone at the State Department and I knew someone at the Clinton Foundation, damn right I would call the Clinton Foundation. And if I’m at the State Department, damn right I’m going to turn down all these requests. Except maybe sometimes, I might propose a short meeting if it seemed appropriate, just as I would if it were the chair of General Motors or the executive director of the NAACP.

And if I were the person responsible for fielding requests, damn right, I would occasionally write a memo to my boss. It sure would be embarrassing if HRC met Bono at a party and didn’t know the State Department had turned down his request for high-level help to arrange a live link to the International Space Station for his concerts.

Thus, the key fact in the controversy over whether Clinton Foundation donors got access to and favors from the Clinton State Department is buried in the fifteenth paragraph of the Washington Post’s expose:

State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Monday that there is ‘no clear sign’ donors received access for their contributions.

The Washington Post article gives three examples of requests for access. In two cases, the answer was “no.” The third case was the Crown Prince of Bahrain, a country with which the United States has friendly relations. The Crown Prince also applied directly to the State Department. He participated in one Clinton Foundation event in 2005. In what way is setting up a meeting with the head of a foreign country that’s an ally corruption? Should a State Department turn down all requests for meetings from any organization in which a key executive has gone to college with the Secretary and Undersecretary? Worked for the same law firm? Served on the same board? Lived in the same town?

Corruption comes not in fielding these requests, but in approving a request for any reason other than its merits.

If there were any evidence—any slip of paper or veiled reference—of someone calling the Clinton Foundation and then winning a competitive contract with the State Department or getting their nephew a cushy job, the Washington Post would have published it. If a majority or even close to a majority of requests were granted, the Washington Post would have noted it and not had a “no” as the result of two out of the three case histories it detailed. That The New York Times article used the same Bahrain case history strongly suggests that there was nothing really problematic in the emails.

In other words, what the emails show incontrovertibly is that the system worked. Influential people tried to gain access to the Clinton State Department through the Clinton Foundation and none did, except in those instances that the Clinton State Department was going to say “yes” in any case to a meeting request.

As usual, the Clintons are under a much more careful scrutiny that has not been applied to others. No one has scrutinized the emails of the Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell State Departments. We swept the illegalities of the torture gulag the Bush-Cheney Administration created under the rug.  No one wonders about the millions of emails the Bush-Cheney Administration destroyed.

Let’s compare. A few people may have been able to meet with State Department personnel because they had a contact with a nonprofit organization that does wonderful work around the world. High-level officers in an Administration concocted a series of lies to convince the United States to begin a war that turned into a quagmire and then engaged in barbaric acts that were illegal under U.S. and international law. Who do we go after?

Or how about this double standard: Do we investigate Benghazi or do we investigate the 13 separate attacks of U.S. embassies during the Bush-Cheney years in which 60 diplomatic officers died?

The most recent of these comparisons comes this week. The right-wing media is putting out false and scurrilous rumors that one candidate has serious health problems and the mainstream news media is correctly telling us that the rumors are baseless—using the experts and facts that right-wing enthusiasts always doubt because it goes against what they know in their hearts must be true. This candidate released a letter from her physician that gives her a clean bill of health, while discussing past medical problems; the letter takes the form and uses the language that virtually every other letter about a candidate’s health has ever employed. The one exception to this standard format for medical letters is the other candidate in this year’s race, who released a letter that sounded as if it were written by an ignoramus, not a physician. The letter said all tests were positive, which is generally a bad thing and asserted that the candidate would be the healthiest president ever, which a physician would never say unless he had personally examined all the others. And yet except for Rachel Maddow and a few other journalists, no one is questioning the authenticity or veracity of this letter. And no one has wondered about the true state of health of this overweight 70-year-old who professes to love unhealthy food and whose primary exercise is riding a golf cart. 

A double standard for Hillary? I would say so. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Instead of doing push-ups, supporters of veterans should organize against war or staff suicide prevention lines

By Marc Jampole

I first learned about the 22 push-up challenge on Facebook. Several of my 2,300+ Facebook friends are doing 22 push-ups a day for 22 days to commemorate the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. The idea is to complete the 22 days and then challenge someone you know to do the same, all in memory of the 22 veterans added to our suicide rolls every day.

This morning I began seeing news stories on the 22 push-up challenge, about 127,000 in all in a Google News search, which is a relatively small number. The most prominent of the mostly minor media to cover the fad are Fox News and Inc. Most of the coverage focuses on the celebrities who have decided to drop and give 22.  They include Kevin Hart, Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, Kevin Bacon, Ludacris, John Krasinski and Dwayne Johnson. 

The 22 push-up challenge was devised by 22kill.com, which looks like it’s a for-profit group with the lofty goal of raising awareness about the high rate of suicide among veterans. The website mostly sells a variety of rings, clothing and headgear with 22kill.com branding. Unlike the typical awareness-raising event such as a walkathon or last summer’s ice bucket challenge, the 22kill.com people aren’t trying to use the challenge to raise money, although I’m fairly certain they would be delighted if the campaign led to an uptick in the purchase of their merchandise. 22kill.com does try to raise money on its website, which it says will be allocated to a wide range of nonprofit organizations helping veterans. Donate a minimum of $22 for four months and you get a free honor ring. Two questions remain unanswered: 1. How much of your donation does 22kill.com keep and how much gets funneled to the real nonprofits? 2. Why can’t you cut out the middle man and give directly to these other organizations?

While many things about 22kill.com sound fishy, I am not going to condemn or accuse the group, as I don’t know enough about it. Besides, whether or not the group is legitimate does not affect the viability and potential impact of the campaign, which I view as a complete waste of time.

Over the next few days and weeks it is possible that the 22 push-up challenge will blaze across the Internet and the mainstream media, much like the ice bucket challenge did last year and twerking did in 2013. But so what? How does that greater awareness help veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder?

Only two things will reduce the incidence of veteran suicides:
1.      Spending more money to provide services that help soldiers adjust to the aftermath of war.
2.      Not sending soldiers to war.

In that context, doing 22 push-ups a day for 22 days with no donation is pretty meaningless. At 10 minutes a day, the total time spent doing the push-ups works out to more than 3.5 hours. The same time could be spent staffing a suicide line or at a table outside Walmart soliciting contributions for one of the many organizations that help veterans in trouble. Perhaps the best use of the 3.5 hours would be to send letters to our elected officials exhorting them to spend more on veteran’s mental health and psychological counseling. The 3.5 hours could also be converted into a contribution:  For example one person I know who is doing the challenge makes in excess of a half million a year; instead of doing push-ups, this person could contribute $875, which represents 3.5 hours of a $500,000 salary for a 2,000-hour work year. 

While the 22 push-ups does nothing for veterans, it helps the participants in several ways. Obviously doing 22 push-ups a day improves the fitness of most healthy people. But doing the push-ups also makes the participants feel good inside in three ways: 1) They think they have helped an important cause; 2) They get to bond with other participants; 3) They enjoy the approval of the circle of their friends and associates who know about the challenge.

In short, doing something makes people feel good because they feel they are doing something. The premise is that people who participate in challenges, walkathons, marathons or dinners will give more money and be more committed to the cause than if they just wrote a check. People also like getting the various pins, water bottles, hats, tee shirt, mugs and other paraphernalia they typically receive when participating in nonprofit events. Many of my readers may not know that at the most expensive of these fundraising activities—formal dinners and cocktail parties for which the price of admission can be $150, $350 or even $1,000 a ticket—the gifts can be quite expensive and include vacation trips and spa memberships as door prizes. Like participants in the 22 push-ups campaign, those who walk, run or dance and those who sponsor them could give the money and donate their time directly to the nonprofit. But it wouldn’t feel as good.

In short, most fund-raising events and challenges appeal not just to our altruism, but to our inherent self-centeredness. In America, it can’t be good for someone else unless it’s also good for me.

Besides the typical self-centeredness I find in all of these challenges and events, I object to the 22 push-ups challenge for another reason. It does nothing to address the broader question of how we can help prevent veteran suicides. The answer, of course, is very simple: Don’t go to war.

War has always victimized a goodly number of soldiers. Anyone who has read any battlefield literature knows why: Seeing people wounded and die. Having to kill and wound others. Sleep deprivation. Living in ditches or other uncomfortable quarters. The regimentation of your life. The sound of bullets. The smell of blood and rotting corpses. The fear of bombs. Questions about the justness and fairness of the war. The guilt that you survived when comrades didn’t. The frustration of dealing with injuries. No wonder every war destabilizes the mental health of many soldiers.

At this point, we could broach a philosophical question: Is any war ever necessary or just? But in the United States, the issue of a just war has become moot. We have fought at least five wars in my lifetime that were absolutely unnecessary: Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Iraq I and Iraq II; we could also make the case that our incursion into Afghanistan has also been a complete waste. From the standpoint of the home front, churning out PTSD-affected soldiers seems to be an American growth industry. (And let’s not forget the millions of people we killed or injured in the countries we invaded.)

Thus, the best way to reduce veteran suicides—which is the sole goal of the 22 push-ups campaign—is to not fight wars. Those who are doing push-ups would be better off working for and giving money to peace and disarmament organizations. And all of us should make sure that the next time a president or Congress wants to go to war and our territory has not suffered attack by an armed force that we send emails and letters against the war to elected officials and the news media and participate in anti-war demonstrations.