Dear Congressman Kevin McCarthy

The Times of Israel and other press report that you “would remove Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota Democrat, from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in part because of her criticism of Israel.” We should all speak out against antisemitism or any other hateful characterizations of other religious and ethnic groups. However, when you criticize the Biden administration, we would be wrong to call you unamerican. Similarly, you are wrong to conflate criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism. 

In fact, the U.S. government has been embarrassingly negligent in criticizing the Israeli government’s illegal and abusive treatment of the Palestinian residents of the Palestinian territories.  Amnesty International has declared Israel an apartheid state. “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory is unlawful under international law due to its permanence and the Israeli government’s de facto annexation policies, a UN-appointed Commission of Inquiry said in its first report, published on Oct 20, 2022.” It is reassuring that the US is undertaking an investigation of the recent shooting death of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh by an Israeli soldier.  “FBI investigation—killing of Shireen Abu Akleh by Israel military”

I was born and raised in Bakersfield and now live in the Washington, DC area, and I have worked extensively in Israel and the WBGS for the International Monetary Fund. I hope for more from you.   “Israel and Palestine”   My travels to Jerusalem”  

Sincerely,

Warren Coats

Should you get vaccinated for Covid-19?

“A CBS/YouGov poll released this weekend found 33 percent of GOP voters say they will not get the vaccine when it’s available to them. Another 20 percent say they aren’t sure.” “The-daily-202”  After being thoroughly satisfied that Moderna was safe and effective, I have received both of my jabs. But I sympathize with those who are skeptical and/or distrusting of the information they have been fed over the last year. The messaging from the Trump administration was inconsistent and the CDC has now removed some earlier postings that had been more influenced by politics than by science (which, by the way, is far from having all of the answers yet).

In addition to poor messaging from the government, some badly misguided, if not deliberately evil, groups have spread false information.  So, I find it very encouraging that many of those refusing to get the vaccine say that they “want to be educated not indoctrinated.  The responses of focus group participants suggest they can be persuaded — but perhaps not by politicians, including the former president…. Be honest that scientists don’t have all the answers. Tout the number of people who got the vaccines in trials. And don’t show pro-vaccine ads with politicians — not even ones with Donald Trump.  That’s what a focus group of vaccine-hesitant Trump voters insisted to politicians and pollsters this weekend….

 “’These people represent 30 million Americans. And without these people, you’re not getting herd immunity,’ said Frank Luntz, the longtime GOPpollster who convened Saturday’s focus group over Zoom.” Unfortunately Mr. Luntz is speaking nonsense as well. We would still get herd immunity even without a vaccine as people would acquire immunity as a result of being infected. The process would be slower with more deaths, but we would get there. I am sure that Mr. Luntz meant well.

Participants in these focus groups “all believed the coronavirus threat was real, with many having contracted it themselves or aware of critically ill friends and family, and they didn’t want to be condemned as “anti-vaxxers” who opposed all vaccines. Instead, they blamed their hesitation on factors like the unknown long-term effects of new vaccines, even though scientists have stressed their confidence in the products. They also accused politicians and government scientists of repeatedly misleading them this past year….

“For instance, [House Minority Leader Kevin] McCarthy said he understood the Trump voters’ hesitation because pharmaceutical companies waited until after Trump lost the election to announce their promising vaccine results — a comment that sparked participants to share their own resentments.

‘It was political stunts like that that leave doubt in our minds,’ said a man identified as David from Texas.”

In another session “a man called Chad from Minnesota,… praised [former head of the CDC Dr.] Frieden for acknowledging that the long-term risks of the vaccines aren’t yet known. “He’s just honest with us and telling us, nothing is 100 percent here, people.”

The lessons are clear. The best results are obtained by treating the public like adults. The government needs to honestly present the best information available, acknowledging what is known and what is uncertain.

“’I’ve been thinking the messaging was going to be very different for communities of color, for Democrats, for Republicans,’ said Natalie Davis, co-founder of United States of Care, a public health advocacy group working on vaccine outreach with organizations like the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Family Foundation. ‘But it feels like it comes down to the basics that are shared across populations. People want full, accurate information so they can decide if this is the right thing for them and their loved ones….’

“‘The vaccines were approved quickly in part because red tape was cut, not corners,’ [Dr. Frieden said. ‘And almost all the doctors who are offered the vaccine get it.’”   “Vaccine hesitant republicans focus group”

More on Trump “acquittal”

Following the Senate’s failure to convict Donald Trump of inciting the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capital as part of his “Stop the Steal” campaign to overturn Biden’s election, Senator Mitch McConnell proclaimed that “There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day….” Nonetheless, he voted against conviction on the grounds that according to some legal scholars the impeachment provisions of the U.S. Constitution applied only to a President still in office.  Since Trump was no longer the President, impeachment did not apply.  However, if that were so he should have voted to convict Trump and left it to the Supreme Court to sort out this issue if Trump challenged the conviction on these constitutional grounds.

In retrospect (for those of us who were eager to get all of this behind us and move on), it would have been wiser and more convincing to the doubters to have delayed the Senate trial by several months of evidence gathering and to provide for each side to bring and cross exam witnesses. The 9/11 type commission suggested by Rep. Pelosi might correct that mistake. But as Sen. McConnell pointed out in his post Senate vote speech that Trump will now be tried, and no doubt convicted, of many crimes in the courts. I am confident that justice will ultimately prevail.

“Out of office and without the protections that the presidency afforded him, Trump is now facing multiple criminal investigations, civil state inquiries and defamation lawsuits by two women accusing him of sexual assault.”  “Trump legal problems post impeachment”   

Georgia has launched investigations into calls Trump made to election officials in an attempt to overturn that state’s election results. We all heard Trump’s threats to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger if he could not find 11,780 votes for Trump in order to flip the election outcome.  I found the call truly shocking, even from Trump.

“In New York… the Manhattan District Attorney’s office is looking into whether the Trump Organization violated state laws, such as insurance fraud, tax fraud or other schemes to defraud….  Prosecutors are awaiting a decision from the US Supreme Court on whether it will continue to delay the enforcement of a subpoena for eight years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns and related records from his accounting firm.” Op. cit.

A potentially large number of people could charge Trump with various damages in connection with the January 6 attack of the Capitol.  For example, Mississippi Democratic congressman Bennie Thompson has accused Trump and others “of conspiring to disenfranchise millions of black voters by preventing Congress from certifying election results on January 6th.  A lawsuit, brought by the NAACP on behalf of Mr. Thompson, argues that they violated the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.” “NAACP Rep Bennie Thompson sue Trump Giuliani over capitol riot”

As more and more of his supporters encounter the fact that Trump was unable to produce any credible evidence of significant voter fraud, they will hopefully increasingly give up believing it.  The multi billion-dollar defamation suits by Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News, former Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, and Sidney Powell, and others who claimed that their voting systems switched votes from Trump to Biden should also help change some minds. Most of those making such claims publicly retracted them and apologized for them “Fox Business host Lou Dobbs and Fox News hosts Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro aired [multiple segments debunking false election claims made on their shows for weeks] that Smartmatic was involved in schemes to switch votes from President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden….” “Fox news suddenly worried about a defamation suit-forced to debunk its own false election claims”  and Fox News fired them. Most people who believe fake claims eventually give them up when confronted with credible counter evidence (I hope).

But what if they don’t? “Some of the senators may have little sympathy for the former president, yet made the partisan choice to appease an increasingly extremist Republican base. A recent poll conducted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute found that nearly 4 out of 10 Republicans believe that political violence is justifiable and could be necessary in a troubled domestic future. Another poll found that three-quarters of Republican voters want Trump to play a prominent role in the party’s future.”  “Trump acquittal questions multiparty system” Most of the rest, presumably, will not remain in a party that includes Trump.

Is the Republican Party thus doomed to minority status for many years to come?  My hope is that multiple court convictions of at least a few of Trump’s many (presumed) crimes will significantly shrink his support and eliminate his role in the party. His refusal to help Rep. Kevin McCarty on January 6 (much less Vice President Pence) was one of the more damning pieces of evidence of Trump’s complicity with the Capital attackers. Yet, “Wary of inflaming tensions within his own party, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) is staying silent about his frantic Jan. 6 call to then-President Trump as rioters raided the Capitol.” “Riot probe to likely focus on McCarthy-Trump call” In my opinion, Republican leadership should push Trump out of the party as quickly as possible. An internet poll on February 17 found 75% of the responding Republicans thought that Republicans who voted to convict Donald Trump should be censured. This is not promising. The country needs two strong political parties.

The Party should start by squeezing out its radical loony extremists like Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene.  https://wcoats.blog/2021/02/04/cancer-in-the-republican-party/  The reactions by Republican Party leaders in states whose Republican senators voted against Trump raise concerns that hard core Trump supporters would rather destroy the Republican Party than abandon their Stable Genius. “The Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) was sent a scathing letter from eleven members of his own family just two days after he called for former President Donald Trump to be removed from office.” “GOP rep Kinzinger is blasted by his own family after calling for trumps removal” The Central Committee of the North Carolina Republican Party unanimously censured Sen. Richard Burr for voting to convict Trump. They said that the party “agrees with the strong majority of Republicans in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate that the Democrat-led attempt to impeach a former President lies outside the United States Constitution.” Maybe, maybe not, but there was a proper way to find out while still confirming Trump’s guilt.

I do not wish to see the Republican Party destroyed. In my opinion, its survival and viability will depend on how quickly Trump fades from the picture and how successfully the Party marginalizes its lunatic fringe.  Reducing gerrymandering of congressional districts on the basis of the latest ten-year census would also help reduce the election of the most radical candidate from each party in primary elections.

Cancer in the Republican party

Does Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene really believe that “a plane did not hit the Pentagon on 9/11, the Clintons crashed JFK Jr’s plane and that the 2018 California wildfires were started by a space laser controlled by Jews”? “Karl Rove blasts GOP rep Marjorie Taylor Greene”  Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, stated Monday (belatedly) that her “loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party.” “Has Mitch McConnell been struck by Jewish space laser”

An even more disturbing question is why do so many people believe her and other obviously (to most people) false claims? QAnon is sadly not the only group espousing claims that even my grandmother (or maybe especially my grandmother) would find transparently laughable. QAnon “followers believe that a cabal of Satan-worshipping Democrats, Hollywood celebrities and billionaires runs the world while engaging in pedophilia, human trafficking and the harvesting of a supposedly life-extending chemical from the blood of abused children.”  “QAnon conspiracy theory explained” 

We live in a time in which sorting fact from fiction has become more challenging than usual. As a young man I had Walter Cronkite, who I could check against Huntley and Brinkley. If they reported it, we believed it. If they got it wrong (rarely) they corrected it the next day. The pronouncements of QAnon are so ridiculous that most of us don’t need a fact checker to reject them. Common sense is enough. But when the previous President of the United States lied to us more or less every time he tweeted, and claims to this day that his reelection was stolen without producing any credible evidence, sorting fact from fiction becomes more challenging.

Sometimes we are lucky enough to encounter contrary evidence directly, in which case we discard the lie and downgrade our trust in its source. This seems to be happening to some QAnon supporters–but unfortunately not to Congresswoman Greene. But this also raises the question of why those inventing and perpetrating lies do so. The specific example of Rep. Greene’s claim that 9/11 was a hoax and that no plane crashed into the Pentagon presents an interesting case.

Of course, the conspiracy theorists do not claim that planes didn’t crash into the World Trade towers, too many of us saw it in real time on TV (I watched in horror from my hotel room in Bratislava, Slovakia). They claim that the U.S. Government was complicit and that the buildings were brought down by planted explosives, etc. In short, they developed clever, even plausible but highly improbable arguments for not believing what the press reported.  https://www.serendipity.li/wot/911_a_hoax.htm

Some years ago, probably sometime in 2002 or 3, one of my children sent me a video claiming that the 9/11 crash into the Pentagon was a hoax. I no longer remember the details of the lengthy arguments it made to convince us that American Airlines flight 77 never crashed into the Pentagon that day and did not kill the 184 people the press reported, but it was well done and convincing. If I had not had directly contradictory information, I might have wondered whether these claims of hoaxes might be true.

First of all, I knew from an acquaintance (Lawyer Ted Olson) that his wife Barbara had died in that crash. Secondly, at the time, I lived next to the Pentagon in Crystal City and could view firsthand the crash site after returning home from Slovakia (the hole in the west side of the building and the plane wreckage laid out in the Pentagon parking lot). The impressive and potentially convincing story in the video was totally made up. But why? The video was expensive to make. Perhaps psychologists can shed light on why gullible people fall for these lies, but what motivates those who put up the money to propagate what they know full well are lies?

Who has an incentive to undermine the American public’s confidence in its government and institutions? Who has an incentive to weaken the United States via a distrusting public turning on itself? The devil himself, of course, but who else? Q? Followers of QAnon “believe that “Q” is a high-ranking government insider, presumably with a military or intelligence background, committed to exposing the hidden truth of what they see as an international bureaucracy scheming against Mr. Trump and his supporters.” “What is QAnon-what we know about the conspiracy theory” Russia? Russia has been playing both sides against the middle in the U.S. for years.

And what about Rep Greene, herself? Is she one of the gullible followers or knowing perpetrators?  In a private meeting of Republicans in the Capital Wednesday evening she apparently expressed “contrition for some of her most outrageous comments made on social media — including questioning the 9/11 attacks, blaming a space ray directed by a Jewish cabal for a deadly wildfire and doubting school shootings. She also, according to Republicans in the room, apologized for putting her colleagues in a difficult spot.” But she has not repudiated any of her outrageous claims publicly.  “’I won’t back down. I’ll never apologize. And I’ll always keep fighting for the people,’ she tweeted Saturday.” “Amid GOP paralysis democrats vow to force vote on rep Greene’s extremism”

“While McCarthy on Wednesday condemned Greene’s comments questioning the veracity of school shootings, encouraging political violence and promulgating anti-Semitic falsehoods, he said he would not bow to demands that she be removed from her committees.” [op. cit.] I have sympathy for McCarthy’s position but a tent big enough to include people like Greene is not one I am willing to reenter. Vladimir Putin must be smiling.

We will never be able to prevent the devil in one guise or another from manufacturing lies in efforts to keep us divided and at each other’s throats. But we can and should better educate our public to critically assess wild claims and more carefully choose more reliable sources of information.