Progress: The Appointment of Special Counsel.

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has appointed Robert S. Mueller III, the former F.B.I. director, to serve as a special counsel to oversee its investigation into Russian meddling in the election, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced on Wednesday.

The appointment of Mr. Mueller dramatically raises the stakes for President Trump in the multiple investigations into his campaign’s ties to the Russians. It follows a swiftly moving series of developments that have roiled Washington, including Mr. Trump’s abrupt dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the disclosure that the president urged Mr. Comey to drop the bureau’s investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

“I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authorities and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,” Mr. Rosenstein said in a statement. “My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination.”

Robert Mueller, Former F.B.I. Director, Named Special Counsel for Russia Investigation, The New York Times (May 17, 2017).

I stand with the Deputy Attorney General.  Appointing special counsel is an important step to being able to determine whether Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  Were I POTUS, assured that there was no meddling in the election by Russia, I would welcome this–as well as any other non-partisan investigation–into the 2016 election.  Good investigators are trained to separate the wheat from the chaff, unearthing relevant facts and revealing the narrative that remains.


Remembering America’s Values.

WASHINGTON — In dramatically casting aside James B. Comey, President Trump fired the man who may have helped make him president — and the man who potentially most threatened the future of his presidency.

Not since Watergate has a president dismissed the person leading an investigation bearing on him, and Mr. Trump’s decision late Tuesday afternoon drew instant comparisons to the “Saturday Night Massacre” in October 1973, when President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor looking into the so-called third-rate burglary that would eventually bring Nixon down.

In his letter firing Mr. Comey, the F.B.I. director, Mr. Trump made a point of noting that Mr. Comey had three times told the president that he was not under investigation, Mr. Trump’s way of pre-emptively denying that his action was self-interested. But in fact, he had plenty at stake, given that Mr. Comey had said publicly that the bureau was investigating Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election and whether any associates of Mr. Trump’s campaign were coordinating with Moscow.

The decision stunned members of both parties, who saw it as a brazen act sure to inflame an already politically explosive investigation. For all his unconventional actions in his nearly four months as president, Mr. Trump still has the capacity to shock, and the notion of firing an F.B.I. director in the middle of such an investigation crossed all the normal lines.

In Trump’s Firing of James Comey, Echoes of Watergate, The New York Times (May 9, 2017).

I’ve been concerned about many, many issues impacting our government.  My concerns relate directly to our sitting president and his administration.  Most concerning, to me, are ethical issues.  After all, if one cannot trust POTUS to do the right thing, who will?  You know, lead by example, and all that.  Personally profiting from his current role as President; purposefully misstating facts; and shielding his financial interests from disclosure, are deeply troubling–just to name a few. 

Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise that POTUS summarily dismissed Mr. Comey from his position.  He did so without informing Mr. Comey.  And, likely, without following proper protocol.  Indeed, it is unlikely Mr. Comey was debriefed considering he learned of his termination of employment by way of breaking news.

But how Mr. Comey was dismissed is not the issue that should make Americans shake with anger and shudder with fear.  Those emotions should be reserved for the question, why was he fired?  To be expected, the stated reason for Mr. Comey’s termination appears facially neutral (and, even, lawful).  But, based upon the facts known, it would not be a reach (of any measure) to assume that it was a pretext for the real reason he was fired–to disrupt, delay, and/or derail current FBI investigations into the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

For those who consider themselves patriots, this is the moment to question, “What can I do?” and, then, act accordingly.

What side are you on?  Me, I’m fighting for the integrity of our country.

Post-Election: A Week In Review

It is almost a week since Americans cast their election ballots and voted in President-Elect Donald J. Trump.  Personally, I cannot shake the feeling of dread that first consumed me while watching the returns.  I take comfort in knowing that Hillary Clinton won our country’s popular vote, but only a little.  Today, I realized that my feelings of impending gloom and doom were not without reason.  In a recent interview with 60 Minutes, Mr. Trump demonstrated his lack of understanding of the rule of law.  He stated his intention to appoint pro-life judges to overturn the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.  Minutes later he stated that his opinion regarding same-sex marriage is irrelevant because it is already law, already decided by the Supreme Court.  His incoherent inconsistency should be of no surprise by now.  Let the rule of law stand, that is, unless I don’t agree with it.

Mr. Trump’s people have indicated he would like to unwind America’s obligations to reduce carbon emissions under the Paris accord.  This, too, should be of little surprise.  He does not believe that global warming is occurring and/or its effects are damaging our environment.  This, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.

Regardless, I believe Mr. Trump’s largest post-election leadership failure has come with his resistance to issuing a statement denouncing hatred.  He has not taken the forward-looking step to begin his post-election transition by rejecting the incendiary rhetoric of hate.  As a result, U.S. citizens feel free to tell other U.S. citizens that they will be deported because of their religion or race.  As a result, pro-Trump “whites only” graffiti has been written on church property.  As a result, people are wondering what will become of our nation.

The biggest indication of what is to become can be seen by Mr. Trump’s appointments of Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff and Steve Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor.  The future does not look bright–at least not for me.  Since the election results, I have given serious consideration as to whether returning to the United States is in the best interest of our family.  Today, I do not believe it is.  Our family is of mixed race.  Our family believes in the value of education and science.  Our family, through travel, understands our responsibility to the environment as global citizens.  Our family understands the rule of law.  And our family is not fearful of world cultures, religions, or people.

Of course, I understand that Mr. Trump is our president-elect.  No amount of protesting will change that outcome, nor should it.  But that doesn’t mean one must normalize Mr. Trump’s presidency or embrace him as our leader.  Indeed, thus far I have managed to ignore the news in large measure.  And I may just continue to do so for the next four years.

The Day Bitterness and Anger Won

Today, I wept for America.

I wept for a county that elected a president who insults, demeans and belittles women.

I wept for a country that elected a president who loathes American values and virtues.

I wept for a country that fears change, refugees, and differences.

I wept for a country that believes rumors and innuendo over facts and figures.

I wept for a country that values hateful rhetoric over demonstrated experience.

I wept for a country that elected a president ignorant of world politics and domestic policy.

I wept for my daughter.

I wept for my husband.

I wept for our future.

Finding Inspiration.

Earlier today, I heard someone describe the 2016 U.S. election season as interesting.  I’m not certain why.  To me, this election season has been anything but interesting.  It’s been insulting to the intelligence of Americans as meaningful issues were neither discussed nor debated, but rather dismissed in favor of the newest sensational headline.  Donald Trump failed to articulate any one solution to the hundreds of dire problems facing our country and, yet, certain Americans still believe he has what it takes to President of the United States.  How can this be?

I voted for HRC and am proud to say that I did.  No, she’s not perfect.  No one is.  But she understands how government works.  She understands why she alone could not change the tax code.  She understands the complexities in the Middle East and Asia.  She knows that she is seeking a job where her actions will have significant consequences and speaking off cuff may be damaging if not dangerous.  Donald Trump has no such bona fides.  To the contrary, he has confirmed his ignorance on important matters repeatedly throughout this debate.  This, aside from his comments regarding women.

This election season has schooled me that cyber security is a threat that must be combated now.  If we cannot control the security of our written communications, how does that bode for our financial markets, innovation, and businesses?  Imagine the headlines were the Republican National Committee’s e-mail hacked?  What if Kellyanne Conway’s e-mail accounts were hacked?

Enough.  Since I voted by way of absentee ballot, I have had the privilege of ignoring the recent election news.  I have turned my time and attention to thought provoking articles that fill me with inspiration and awe.  It’s been a welcome break from the so-called election news.  And it reminds that our humanity is a driving force for social justice and economic progress.

I am hopeful that we will be able to spend time in Cambodia before leaving Asia next year.  If so, I feel righteous about leaving a partially used bar of soap by the sink.

* * *

RE:PRINT (BBC NEWS): The American student who gave Cambodian children a chance to get clean

bars of eco soap

When an American student saw a Cambodian woman washing her child with detergent, he was horrified. But then he thought of a place he could get large quantities of soap free of charge. Two years later, he’s already supplying villagers with a safe way to keep clean, and also with jobs.

Samir Lakhani was spending the summer building fish ponds in a Cambodian village when he saw the mother scrubbing the young child with laundry washing powder.

He was devastated, he says. Detergent can harm the skin, and contains toxic chemicals that can cause itchy eyes and vomiting. Hygiene is important to prevent disease, but this was not the way to clean a human being.

“Immediately, to any Westerner, it was like – this process and practice needs to be rectified – we need to do something about that,” he says.

Samir Lakhani

Then something clicked. The NGO he was working for, while taking a break from his environmental studies course at Pittsburgh University, was based in Siem Reap – a thriving tourist hub a stone’s throw from the magnificent, 800-year-old temples of Angkor, which draw more than two million visitors a year.

With over 500 hotels and guesthouses to service them, Siem Reap produces a lot of leftover soap.

“There is probably no better place on Earth to start soap recycling than Siem Reap,” says Lakhani.

He returned immediately to his hotel room, determined to find a way to do it.

Making eco-soap

“I purchased meat cleavers and meat grinders and cheese graters. I turned the hotel room into a laboratory. We had bubbling cauldrons. I was probably put on the watch list,” he says.

He mugged up on chemistry, reached out to scientist friends, and soon emerged with a technique for combining discarded bars of soap into a new composite bar of “eco-soap”.

From there things grew rapidly.

First he went to hotel to hotel, asking for leftover soap. The NGO he was volunteering with – Trailblazer Cambodia Organization (TCO) – put him in touch with local students to help with soap production, and provided space for them to work.

Once back in Pittsburgh for his final year of studies, he started crowdfunding. Then he succeeded in obtaining sponsorship from major hotel chains, to enable him to train and pay soap makers.

“I didn’t study at all, as you can imagine. I was focused on this,” he says.

Lakhani nonetheless graduated last year and now divides his time between Cambodia and the US.

Two years after his eureka moment, his Eco-Soap Bank organisation employs 30 staff in three hubs across Cambodia, collects soap from 170 hotels, and has supplied 650,000 people with a safe way of getting clean.

soap-making workshop

Women sell eco-soap in villages, a “couple of hundred” schools are given it free of charge, and “hygiene ambassadors” from partner NGOs train the schoolchildren to wash their hands properly.

In many rural communities in Cambodia soap is seen as a luxury. While some people use detergent, others may only rub their skin with ash or soil. Handwashing is rarely more than pouring water over one hand, then the other.

This leads to a slew of illnesses, including parasites, lung infections, typhoid and diarrhoea.

“Diarrhoea is the number three killer of children in Cambodia,” says Dr Nget Pises, a paediatrician with Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap. Children miss school and infections pass through the family, preventing parents from working.

Soap can kill about 70% of bacteria, he says. Studies have shown that proper handwashing can reduce the instance of diarrhoea by 40-60%.

For the soap makers, Eco-Soap Bank also provides a way of making a living.

Channy, a 40-year-old mother, joined a few months ago. She had previously worked in a garment factory and a laundry, but finds recycling soap much less physically demanding.

She takes leftover hotel soap, slices away the outer layer of scum and cuts the bars into chunks. These are dunked into a chlorine solution for two minutes, then placed into a mould and pressed into a new bar of soap.

It’s multi-coloured, heralding the fact it’s made up of many different bars. It smells clean, a bit like a swimming pool, and with a note of jasmine tea. That’s because she stirs in tea leaves, and occasionally flowers from the roadside by the workshop.

Some soap is also sold by village women.

“From a wasted product that was going to be thrown in the trash – we get it into the hands of a soap vendor in the community, that’s going to be economically stimulating the village and creating income for themselves,” says Lakhani.

Whatever else may change in the country, Lakhani remains confident that the future is bright for soap recycling in Siem Reap.

“If anything has held consistent in Cambodia, it’s Angkor Wat tourism industry,” he says. “People will come and they will generate the soap.”

* * *

Donald Trump’s Vulgarity and Values

“Enough! Donald Trump should not be President.  He should withdraw. As a Republican, I hope to support someone who has the dignity and stature to run for the highest office in the greatest democracy on earth.”

— Condoleezza Rice on Donald Trump, Facebook.

The 2005 conversation between presidential candidate Donald Trump and Billy Bush, revealed by the recently released hot-mic video, is not surprising.  Having spent time in the company of wealthy and well-known men, I know first-hand that vulgar conversation is anything but rare in certain elite circles.  Call it entitlement.  Call it ego.  Call it power.  I believe such conduct and conversation to be part and parcel of the emperor’s new clothes phenomenon–no one surrounding the speaker has the strength of character to say just how offensive, inappropriate and crass his statements are.

But this post is not about that.  This post is about women.  Mr. Trump’s actions–and words–clearly state his opinion of women.  They are to be objectified based on their appearance.  (Rating Heidi Klum as no longer a 10; co-owning the Miss Universe pageant.)  They are to be ridiculed for not being thin.  (Comments regarding Alicia Machado, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, etc.)  Beautiful women are there for his pleasure–and for his taking.  (Hot mic transcript.)  He has joked about dating his daughter, Ivanka, and entertained Howard Stern referring to her as “a piece of ass.”  For all of his words, Mr. Trump’s actions towards women are deafening.  He’s been married three times.  He had an affair while married to his first wife.  And he has knowingly attempted to have sex with at least one married women.

Given such demeaning comments about–and actions towards–women, how can any woman support Mr. Trump’s candidacy?  There’s a saying that a woman who votes for Mr. Trump is like a chicken supporting Colonel Sanders.  It is simplistic and pithy, but accurate.  Indeed, women supporting Mr. Trump aren’t embracing women at all. Women are more valuable than the number on a scale.  They are more than their appearance.  They are more than sex-partners with an expiration date of 35 years of age.  Given the recent polls, perhaps a better question is how can any man who is a father of a daughter, a husband of a wife, or a son of a mother, support a candidate who espouses such views of women?


RE:PRINT (NYT): Can Women Be Trusted on Abortion? Two Men Weigh In

I didn’t watch the Vice Presidential debate last night.  Chalk it up to a combination of a lack of interest and an inherent dislike of both candidates.  I did, however, read analysis of the debate, which provided no new news.  Senator Tim Kaine is an extension of Secretary Clinton, supporting women’s rights; Governor Mike Pence is an ultra-conservative Christian, attempting to substantially limit women’s rights.


* * *

Can Women Be Trusted on Abortion? Two Men Weigh In

Well, that was painful. What with the cross talk, interruptions, insults, sneers and overly rehearsed zingers, the vice-presidential debate on Tuesday surely bewildered more voters than it enlightened. There was one area, though, in which both Senator Tim Kaine and Gov. Mike Pence were crystal-clear and decidedly different: abortion rights.

Granted, it took long enough. An hour and 22 frustrating minutes dragged by before anyone seemed to remember women. And when abortion came up, it was not because the moderator, Elaine Quijano, posed a direct question but because she invited the candidates to talk about their faith. Still, now we know: Mr. Kaine, despite his Catholicism, and his personal identification as “pro-life,” supports abortion rights, as does Hillary Clinton. Mr. Pence, who calls himself an “evangelical Catholic,” wants to ban abortion, as does Donald J. Trump.

The way each man framed his position was different, too — and telling.

The Republican Party often describes itself as a big tent with room for a range of views on abortion rights, same-sex marriage and other gender-related issues, unlike those rigid, narrow-minded, politically correct Democrats. Indeed, once upon a time there were pro-choice Republican politicians — think of Nelson Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe — but that was before the party became a subsidiary of the Christian right. Last year only three Republicans in Congress voted against defunding Planned Parenthood.

By choosing Mr. Pence, an energetic and enthusiastic leader of the movement to make abortion a crime, Mr. Trump aligned himself with the dominant views of his party, whose platform has long called for banning abortion, and reassured the Christian conservative base that, whatever his past views, he is 100 percent with them today.

Now, as we saw Tuesday, it’s the Democrats who permit a broader range of views. Mr. Kaine has a mixed record on choice: As a candidate for governor in Virginia, his support for some abortion restrictions cost him the endorsement of the Virginia chapter of Naral Pro-Choice America. Unlike Mrs. Clinton and the Democratic Party platform, he is in favor of the Hyde amendment, which bans federal Medicaid dollars for abortions, although, as vice-presidential candidates must, he has said he will go along with his running mate’s position.

How did we get here, where two powerful men argue about whether abortion should be legal while both agree that it’s wrong and against God’s will?

Mr. Kaine talked about the distinction between his personal religious beliefs and public policy, about Roe v. Wade as settled law. Mr. Pence quoted a Bible verse that abortion opponents like to cite as proof of fetal personhood. (The word abortion appears nowhere in Scripture.)

Mr. Kaine talked about trusting women as decision-makers. Mr. Pence talked about the beauty of adoption — in the context of criminalizing abortion, that really means forcing women to bear children for other people — and “health care counseling” for women. When he says that, he is surely referring to so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which try to dissuade women from ending a pregnancy, often through deception, scare tactics and Christian proselytizing, and to which Governor Pence has funneled millions of Indiana taxpayers’ dollars.

Mr. Pence’s demeanor on Tuesday may have been calm and friendly, but his record on reproductive rights is horrendous, and voters need to be aware of that. A few highlights: As Indiana governor, he promoted a law, stayed by a federal judge, which would have banned abortion for fetal disability. The law also mandated the cremation or burial of aborted — or miscarried — embryos and fetuses, no matter how early. He slashed Planned Parenthood’s budget, which led to the closing of five clinics that provided testing for sexually transmitted diseases and coincided with a rise in H.I.V. infection in his state. And as a congressman, he led the fight to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding in 2011.

When Mr. Kaine mentioned that Mr. Trump had called for punishing women who had abortions, Mr. Pence brushed it aside. His running mate, the Republican nominee for president, talked like that only because he’s “not a polished politician.”

Mr. Pence would much rather talk about so-called partial birth abortions, and those mythical day-before-birth procedures anti-abortion groups want to portray as the norm. Surely he knows, though, that a woman has already been punished in his own state. In 2015 in Indiana, a woman named Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison for what the prosecutor said was a late self-abortion. (Last month a judge overturned her feticide conviction.) Twenty years for taking a pill you can buy over the internet? That sure sounds like punishment to me.

I wish we didn’t so often discuss abortion rights in the context of religion. We’re not a Christian nation, much less a Catholic or evangelical one. Why should women’s rights have to pass through the eye of a theological needle? Given that the next president will nominate at least one and probably two or three more justices to the Supreme Court, it’s discouraging that we are still talking about abortion as a matter for biblical exegesis.

Tuesday night Mr. Kaine showed that he is able to differentiate between church and state and respect the judgment, convictions and consciences, as strong as his own, of the roughly one million American women a year who end unwanted or catastrophic pregnancies. Mr. Pence, by contrast, made plain his determination to force his personal religious beliefs on every woman in America.

At least on this issue, sound and fury gave way to clarity.

* * *

Life Imitating Art?

One of the best television series I’ve watched in the recent past was The Good Wife.  The show embraced the all too familiar wife of a politician caught in a sex-scandal a la President Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, and Jim McGreevey.  When the creators of The Good Wife moved on to create BrainDead, a science fiction political satire series, I felt compelled to watch the first episode.  Now, I’ve completed watching the 10th.  The show’s protagonist suspects that Capitol Hill politicians and staffers have been infected by brain-eating bugs, leading to extreme political views, legislative gridlock, and politicians who no longer work for the people.

This week, I was taken aback to learn that both the House of Representatives and the Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of S. 2040, Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, overriding President Obama’s veto of the bill.  Some may be more familiar with S. 2040 as the bill that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for involvement of the attacks.

Upon his veto of the bill, President Obama sent the Senate a written explanation for his veto, writing, in part,

JASTA departs from longstanding standards and practice under our Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and threatens to strip all foreign governments of immunity from judicial process in the United States based solely upon allegations by private litigants that a foreign government’s overseas conduct had some role or connection to a group or person that carried out a terrorist attack inside the United States. This would invite consequential decisions to be made based upon incomplete information and risk having different courts reaching different conclusions about the culpability of individual foreign governments and their role in terrorist activities directed against the United States — which is neither an effective nor a coordinated way for us to respond to indications that a foreign government might have been behind a terrorist attack.

Second, JASTA would upset longstanding international principles regarding sovereign immunity, putting in place rules that, if applied globally, could have serious implications for U.S. national interests. The United States has a larger international presence, by far, than any other country, and sovereign immunity principles protect our Nation and its Armed Forces, officials, and assistance professionals, from foreign court proceedings. These principles also protect U.S. Government assets from attempted seizure by private litigants abroad. Removing sovereign immunity in U.S. courts from foreign governments that are not designated as state sponsors of terrorism, based solely on allegations that such foreign governments’ actions abroad had a connection to terrorism-related injuries on U.S. soil, threatens to undermine these longstanding principles that protect the United States, our forces, and our personnel.

Clearly, there are troubling aspects about the potential consequences of S. 2040 and President Obama was not the only world leader concerned with such ramifications.  Apparently, while the world watched the status of S. 2040, U.S. legislators in both the House and Senate, knew little about the bill they voted for–twice.

Post Wednesday’s vote to override the President’s veto, the backtracking began.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday condemned Congress’ decision to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill that will allow 9/11 victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia for any role it may have played in the attacks.

He pinned much of the blame for the override on Obama himself, however, saying that the White House was too slow to warn about the “potential consequences” of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, known as the 9/11 victims bill.

“Everybody was aware of who the potential beneficiaries were, but nobody really had focused on the downside in terms of our international relationships,” McConnell said, claiming that the White House failed to “communicate early about the potential consequences of a piece of legislation that was obviously very popular.”

—  McConnell claimed Obama did not warn of the ‘potential consequences’ of 9/11 bill — here’s proof he did

It appears that Senator McConnell has not routinely been reading, analyzing, or considering bills voted on by the Senate.  Worse, it seems as if legislation is being passed based on sound bites, lobbying efforts, and popularity.

The good news?  It’s an election year.

Get Out the Vote.

Yesterday, I received several e-mails regarding voting absentee.  Our office ensured access to envelopes and instructions to servicemembers on how to print online absentee ballots.  The on-base post office has placed notices on all mailboxes that free tracking on absentee ballots is available at the counter.  The efforts to ensure that all who are eligible to vote, do vote, are significant.  Given the history of our country and the struggle to secure voting rights for all, voting is more than a privilege, it is a civic duty.