Friday, June 15, 2018


My next newspaper column:
Item: Putin says he and Trump talk “regularly.” Your columnist has obtained a transcript, dated 6/10/18:  
Putin: Donald, is President Putin. I must congratulating you how G7.  
Trump: Thank you, Mr. President. Sergey made pictures of your instructions. I almost forgot to call Justin “weak,” though. His drawing of it wasn’t very good, I hate to tell you. But when I climbed up to my plane I got tired and it reminded me.  
Putin: Please to not forgetting again, Donald. I am not joke. But is okay. You did job it is please me. Make vorth it my vork Bookface and Tveeter make Americans say Trudeau and Macron and Merkel voman is bad guys and you smart for do it. You finish break G7 and NATO, people is cheering you in Russia like is me also.  
Trump: It’s tremendous you’re happy, Mr. President. Speaking of which, since I did so terrific, the best terrific, I didn’t even want to go to Canada till you gave me your plan which was an incredible plan, can we talk about that, what is it, kompromat now? Everyone is saying I’m getting Europe to hate America bigly and letting you do Libya your way, like we ... it’s happening really fast, because I alone could fast it. And I’m making Americans hate each other, the press, the FBI, even starting to hate democracy. Isn’t it time we …  
P: Donald, ve haff too much talking already dis. Ven I making promise I keeping, like you replace Obamacare, tax plan hurting you, release tax forms, balance budget (muffled background laughter). Don’t afraid, Donald, I making nobody care. But for sure I keeping promise. Also I giffing Kim video he show you your meeting. For now just copy, he keeps it. You not talk him murders, feed uncle dogs, politics prisoner. If reporter ask, say he talent, he great guy, people love, only do bad vhat he see his father. You stop wargame, you put someday hotel.  
T: Fantastic. I trust you big-time, Mr. President. Get me reelected, I’ll have every American trusting you, too. I love what you’re doing for the mid-terms, by the way, and the Mueller investigation. People are saying it’s totally corrupt, so whatever he’s figured out, my voters won’t believe him. Your guys are great. And it’s fantastic how you got Hannity to help. He’s yuge, the best, let me tell you.  
Unidentified voice: I’m just a patriot, glad to help. So is Rupert. And, Vlad, shall I stay on the line after Donald hangs up?  
P: Is better you calling back use red phone.  
T: Sean’s on the line? … Wait, you two have a…  
P: Not concern, Donald. Ve telling you everytink is right time, yes Sean?  
Voice: Uh … huh.  
T: Of course, yes, sorry, President Putin. We’re a fabulous team. You and me and Rocket Man (I wish I could still call him that). Speaking of which, have you decided about his nukes? It’ll be hard to make it look like I won if it looks like he keeps them. I really hate being a loser, so ....  
P: Donald, it is not matter me much. Ve know he never using nuke, all it is game. But you earning to make choice. You talk him, you say he haff, not haff, you make look inspect, is okay. Yes, no, Sean is say you genius, people believe, Russia strong no matter. For sure Kim not play you fool. You can trusting him like me. 
T: Perfect. Now, sir, before you go. Rudy is starting to be a problem…  
P: You keep. Is make me laugh. Also Pruitt, make American sick, Devos make stupid, is good, you keep also. And I keeping Meetch and Devin.  
T: Your call, Mr. President, always. You’re so strong, it’s an honor to help you. You and me, we’re …  
P: Yes, Donald, is for sure I make you strong like me. Not need vorry. I happy sharing power no problem. I am like Russia history.  
T: Hist…  
P: Donald, you relaxing. All is vorking like is charm, you big power. Now listen me, Fredovich. I watching you much snore, maybe too fat? Not good for health. Get real doctor not idiot. Ve still having vork. 
T: Okay, Mr. President Putin, I’ll … Hey, how do you know…  
P: (unintelligible)

Friday, June 8, 2018

Why They Love Him

Saturday's newspaper column, today:
Before it became obvious, I wondered how the Republican Party and Trump got so many people to vote against their own interests. Turns out, it’s not against their interests at all: Trumpism is the fulfillment of their darkest dreams. After eight misguided years of complaining US President Barack Obama was authoritarian, deliberately divisive, abusing presidential powers, they’ve given themselves over to Trump, a man who’s all that and more, and they’re enraptured. It’s not that they didn’t want a dictator: they just didn’t want it to be a highly intelligent black guy who spoke of equality for all. 
Right-wing media convinced Trumpists that US President Barack Obama was readying an unaccountable paramilitary force to take them from their homes. Trump is doing it. ICE has become that force, but, confident of exemption, they’ve gone mum. Their forbearance is rewarded with pleasing images of undocumented immigrants, here for decades, respected members of society, paying taxes, putting kids through college, as ICE agents wrench them from their families. That pleasure completely cancels calamities Trump creates for his cultists, including unsustainable budget deficits and soaring debt about which, it seems only yesterday, they were once apoplectic. 
Foxolimjonesified, they believed Operation Jade Helm was US President Barack Obama’s plan to incarcerate them under Texan Walmarts. Other than being above ground, that’s precisely where, with Trump’s approval, children seized from their parents are currently imprisoned, out of sight even of a US Senator concerned about their condition.   
In their silence, Trumpists speak loudly: they’re atingle over those children being taken from their families while they await rulings on asylum. It’s a thrilling message: asylum is history, and so is immigration. And empathy. The gratification more than makes up for rising costs of health insurance. And gas. Increased pollution, ending consumer protections as the price of vicarious vengeance? Totally worth it.   
Hearing Trump claim Democrats hate America and want open borders, Nancy Pelosi loves criminal gangs, inquisitive journalists are enemies of the people, is all they need to disregard the coming pocketbook effects of irrational tariffs. In their minds, Trump is right that Canada represents a security threat. After all, they burned the White House in 1812. Didn’t they? And if Putin, the existential enemy toward whom President Obama was “weak,” chose Trump, he’s totally their guy.   
Evidently, feeling free to call the cops on black people picnicking or entering their own homes produces contagious bliss. How liberating, knowing your “president” won’t criticize you for intimidating women wearing hijabs, refusing to serve gays, bullying people speaking foreign languages in your country. What spiritual elation must derive from turning self-doubts into self-affirmation by diminishing others! Especially when it’s because of skin color, religion, sexual preference, or where they came from. How affirming to see Trump impugn richer-than-us black athletes. 
These pleasures are all they ever wanted from him, and he’s shown that despite breaking promises and lying daily, including about his tax plan about which who cares, they can count on their bitterness being validated, prejudices mirrored, scapegoating perceived victimhood reinforced. It’s this, not his “policies,” that they love about him.  
What other explanation is there? Nothing about Trump’s tax or trade actions are conservative; already squeezing Medicare, among many other adverse effects, they’ll hurt average, non-wealthy Americans. So will his donor-enriching climate-change denial. Hiring crooks and incompetents ought to appall all Americans, regardless of party; yet Trump’s worshippers and Congressional Republicans pretend it away. 
For Congress-dwellers, selling souls for wealth-enhancement is a fair trade. For every other supporter, who’ll receive no enrichment and who’ll be the ones suffering the consequences of an ego-driven trade war started by a narcissist seeking revenge against allies who don’t kiss his … ring, it must be about ratifying their animus. There’s nothing else in it for them; going forward, even less. Tellingly, it’s enough.   
Trump didn’t create these people; he empowered them. Grateful, they excuse an imperious “president” who claims the right to pardon himself and says he’s above the law because he IS the law. Seeing the cataclysm to which this leads, thoughtful believers in democracy, including true conservatives, recoil. Unreachable, Trumpists neither recognize nor care about the implications; the sources of America’s greatness are lost on them. It falls on the rest of us, then, to save it. For them, too, even though they haven’t yet grasped the need.   
[The image came from twitter via Facebook. Best I can do for sourcing.]

Friday, June 1, 2018

Truth About Lies

Tomorrow's newspaper column, today:
This week we learned Donald Trump is capable of telling the truth. Well, sure, it was about why he lies. Still, it could come in handy: unlikely as it is, were his supporters ever to prefer truth from him, familiarity with the concept would be advantageous. 
Lesley Stahl, who’s married to a college classmate of mine but that’s not important right now, just revealed her conversation with Trump in which he admitted his constant attacks on the honest (i.e., non-Fox) press are intended to delegitimize them in the eyes of his supporters. It’s almost as if he knew his malfeasance and criminality would eventually come out. And he figured, rightly as it turns out, it’d be easy preemptively to pull the sheep over the wool. While he has no idea what it is that makes America great, he does understand the minds of his disciples.   
“Winning,” gloated America’s second most oleaginous politician, whose name rhymes with “dense.” This he said on the news of the NFL caving to Trump’s cynical and dishonest efforts against their players’ peaceful demonstrations of hope for lost American ideals. Winning, he called it, in what one must assume refers to another example of successfully using people’s basest prejudices and pre-programmed misunderstandings to the benefit of his and his boss’s selfish, destructive agenda. Winning, he announced, because the list has one entry. To those theretofore too blind to see, Jerry Jones’ feline out-bagging gave away the game and, along the way, exposed illegal abuse of presidential power. Ban the kneeling, Trump demanded: it gets me votes 
How effective are Trump’s efforts at confusing his abettors? Well, almost half of Republicans believe millions voted illegally in the last election. A little more than half consider journalists enemies of the American people. With predictable regularity, bending themselves backwards more skillfully than the most limber gymnast, they reject actual news as fake while accepting Trump’s lies as if they were the word of God (which, claim many white Evangelicals, they are). Provided with proof of his lies, they dismiss the sources out of hand. I see it daily in communications I attempt with detractors. Equal parts amazing and frightening, it’s enantiodromia taken to otherworldly dimensions.  
On this planet, meanwhile, Trump continues to supercharge his mendacity. Having called a news conference on the status of talks with North Korea, insisting the speaker remain anonymous, he then denounced a report about it as made up by the “failing” New York Times, claiming the official with whom the White House had arranged the briefing “doesn’t exist.” “This is not normal,” say people with more than two brain cells to rub together. “Not normal” isn’t even close: it’s either insane or a level of lying inexplicable other than that he’s certain his listeners are stupid. Either way, there’s no unbamming the boozled. 
At his latest Applaud Ye The Greatness of Me rally in Tennessee, the audience, as if implanted with chips that lock brains in a mindless loop, shouted “lock her up” and “build the wall,” while Trump grinned like the pussy who grabbed the canary. And, yet again, he promised the cheering zombified eaters of Hannity’s brain, Mexico will pay for the wall. And “enjoy it.” Really, how can anyone find the words to describe this level of free-flowing, self-replicating delusion? President Nieto had a few, but they don’t begin to cover it.   
And now there’s “Spygate,” a word Bostonians know was misappropriated. Trump admitted preferring “branding” an FBI informant a “spy” because the term would “resonate” better than the truth with his tribe. As that latest rally demonstrated, he is, of course, right again. Over and over he repeated it, while the cultists whooped and hollered their unquestioning acceptance. Rudy loves it, too. 
But when a lie is so blatant even Fox “news” talking heads, including Trey “Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi” Gowdy, and Judge “Obama Wiretapped Trump” Napolitano shoot it down, surely Trumpists will come to recognize how they’re being seen and played as pliable, distractible fools, treated by Trump with a level of disrespect and condescension always obvious to everyone but them. Finally, they’ll shrug the bonds of deceit and recognize the amoral, authoritarian liar they’ve enabled.  
Right. Now who sounds crazy? 
For people who call for acknowledging the good Trump’s done, okay, here: He finally met with Kim 
[Image source]

Friday, May 25, 2018

Corruption On Trump, Like Down On A Duck

Here's my next newspaper column:
If it walks like corruption, quacks like corruption, and has feathers like corruption, Congressional Republicans and Trump’s worshippers will duck the implications. So obvious is the stink that a sort of religious devotion is required to excuse it. Which they do.  
Remember those tough-guy tariffs on China? Have Trumpophiles dismissed how cleverly Xi upstaged him? Cancelled billions in orders from US farmers, replaced them with sales from Russia. How quickly Trump caved! Do Trump’s supplicants rationalize the relation between his sanctions on ZTE, a Chinese telecom company about whose products security experts had warned our government against purchasing, and the fact that hours after Trump properties in Indonesia got a half-billion-dollar loan from China, he reversed them? 
How about Elliott Broidy, billionaire bigwig in the RNC before resigning over paying over a million in hush-money to a Playboy “model” he’d reportedly impregnated and pressured into an abortion? He also slid two-hundred-grand into Michael Cohen’s hush fund. Am I the only person suspicious about who actually impregnated the lady? (Okay, wild speculation based on nothing more than, you know, clear-eyed character assessment and past history.) 
Either way, Broidy and his company profited handsomely after the election, raking in nearly a billion bucks from Saudi Arabia and the UAE for his lobbying against Qatar, and around eight-hundred-million in defense contracts. A company that, before the election, had done only a few thousand dollars’ worth of defense work. Nice return for (agreeing to?) brief embarrassment. 
Speaking of the Qatar business: Trump’s sudden policy switch against them, despite their being an ally in whose country our biggest military base in the region resides, followed (mere coincidence, all praise to Trump) their refusal to bail out Jared Kushner’s white elephant, money-sucking, sign-of-the-devil mistake in Manhattan. Then, and please be sitting down, Trump’s policy toward Qatar turned favorable again, right after they rethought their refusal and agreed to pony up.  
So what, say the devotees, between sips of Kool-Aid. It’s exactly the shrewd businessman we found so holy wholly vote-worthy in the first place. Except back then, when he got sued thousands of times, went bankrupt repeatedly, and stiffed the people he hired, it was between him and those he cheated. Now, it’s the foreign policy and reputation of our country he’s bleeding for self-enrichment. Written with feathers on parchment, for obvious reasons, there are laws against that sort of thing, currently ignored by those constitutionally empowered to prevent such peculation (among other patriotic obligations in which they’re derelict). Ho hum, remark the idolaters, while ingesting the Trumpal bull on FBI “spies.” The FBI, which studiously avoided announcing their investigation of Trump during the campaign. The FBI, another protection against tyranny.  
Then there’s Trump’s overweening neediness in shoving his way into the limelight when those hostages (about whom he lied) returned home. US President Barack Obama, not wishing to be the focus of attention on the return of ten North Korean hostages during his presidency, skipped homecomings. Contrasting Trump, President Obama also understood gloating would signal the manipulative usefulness of taking more hostages. Let’s give Trump a pass in this case, though: long range thinking isn’t his forte. You can’t get a turnip out of the barn.  
But Trumpists revere his brilliance at handling our enemies. Like Kim Jong-un, who, it turns out, played him like a two-dollar geomungo. Stop war games with South Korea or the summit is off, Kim demanded. Broadcasting to the world how his narcissism creates vulnerability to manipulation, Trump buckled, while calling Kim “very honorable.” (Imagine if President Obama had said that!) Finally, after Kim demanded even more, Trump, realizing his unwitting exposure, canceled before Kim could. 
This is what happens when cultists empower a man so incapable of learning or taking advice from people who know their job. Which excludes John Bolton, who made the dumbest possible analogy between Trump’s Korean policy and Libya. 
The only characteristic as widespread among Trump’s team as corruption is incompetence. And hypocrisy. And enriching the rich while punishing the poor. As long as he feeds their prejudices and stokes their self-pity, Trumpists will excuse anything. That’s their deal with the devil.  
I’m not the first to address the cult-like behavior of those still genuflecting at the altar of Trump. There’s a difference, though. Unlike Jim Jones’ Kool-Aid, Trump’s kills slowly, almost imperceptibly, afflicting even those who refuse to imbibe.  
[Image source]

Friday, May 18, 2018

Brain Farts

My next newspaper column:
Here's a heavily reworked piece from a past life. That it’s a mishmash reflects how thoroughly recent Trumptivity has smacked my gob:  
America is losing its collective mind, so it shouldn't be surprising that med schools and even vaunted hospitals are offering "alternative medicine.” Some call it “complementary.” Give ‘em what they want, I guess. It’s as cynical as hiring Scott Pruitt to run the EPA.  
It’s hard to figure how otherwise intelligent people become convinced of the efficacy of whatever “medical” woo they wish, even when studies have shown it doesn’t work. Why is truth so unattractive? Why isn't inquisitiveness universal? Doesn't realism confer survival benefit? Or would we all be jumping off cliffs if we didn't have mythology? Maybe that's it. Maybe too many skeptical realists have already jumped.  
The neediness of the human brain, stacked against its obvious power -- the ability to create, to invent, to inquire, to love -- is a paradox. If it’s a stretch to write my way from frustration about “alternative” medicine to the destruction of democracy and the planet at the hands of Trump and Trumpists, they’re of a piece with climate change denial and the need to impose one’s religious views on others via legislation which flies in the face of separation. Because, I guess, when others don’t share one’s views, it threatens one’s ability to stave off dubiety.  
As there are billions of people on the planet with vastly differing religious beliefs yet equally certain in their singular truth, it’s obviously a fundamental human need. Amazingly, for some, the cult of Trump is replacing their religion. Trump, of all people: a faker whose only religion is self-aggrandizement. He’s brilliant, though, at deceiving others to accomplish it. Happy was he to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, helping his enablers to feel ever closer to rapturing, while figuring they’ll remain Earth-bound, sending money even as he fleeces their flock. 
At one time, believing the unprovable had survival benefits: when dangers were mostly natural and the advantages of grouping together were obvious, belief in all-powerful protectors were civilizing. But as society has gotten impossibly complex and the dangers we face are mostly human-generated, they’re becoming detrimental. Rather than encouraging people to cleave together and feel their common humanity as they once did, the increasingly hardened beliefs of a few are causing us to fall upon one another in hate and fear. Lies (Trump’s about the Iran agreement being among his latest) have, for half of us, become preferred over truth. 
Magical thinking is who we are, I guess. If, in the medical world, it only served to enrich some at the expense of others, so what? But it’s hurting people; and it's pretty clear, with anti-vaccination for example, that it can hurt us all, not just the gullible or desperate. 
When I see this mainstreaming of bogosity, I can't keep help thinking of the other side of the same coin: people murdering in the name of their gods, blaming natural disasters on gays, demonizing the educated, undoing environmental protections and human rights, ignoring climate change. They arise, seemingly, from the same shortcomings of the human brain.  
In less than a lifetime, we've gone from Model T to Tesla, from Kitty Hawk to Mare Tranquilitatis, crystal sets to satellite radio. The power of science is obvious. Yet despite -- or is it because of? -- the amazing progress we've seen at the hands of science, people willfully and in increasing numbers simply ignore it; reject it in order to maintain their prejudices. Or, in the case of today’s Republican Party, by legislating their falsehoods into law, their cash flow. The draw of delusion is great; if straws they be, grasp at them we must.  
But one shouldn’t get to pick and choose. Don't believe in evolution? Okay. Then don't get on an airplane. Earth is six thousand years old? Your call to make. But return your smartphone. Homeopathy makes sense? Drink it down. But put away that laptop, never avail yourself of GPS. Because if man and dinosaurs lived at the same time, if carbon-dating is bogus, atomic clocks don't work and organ transplants are impossible. If vaccines cause autism, and no-touch Reiki heals, Rovers aren't on Mars, Trump’s a truth-teller, climate change is a hoax, and nothing will happen when I click the button to send this in.
[Image source]

Friday, May 11, 2018

First Things First

My next newspaper column:
“By their attorneys shalt thou know them.” (Judges 22:13)  
Roy Cohn, Michael Cohen, Rudy G. The first two, Trump hired years ago, not in spite of but because of their talents for law-skirting, “fixing” scandals, and willingness to do shady deals. Rudy, who knows? Before he lost his mind, he had an occasionally positive reputation. Until his post 9/11 self-promotion and his enigmatic “security” firm, he was often considered effective; nowadays a disqualifying characteristic for a Trump job. But his unhinged scream-fest at the RNC upped his cred. It’s the demented Rudy that Trump unleashes on TV studios.  
Roy Cohn became notorious as Joe McCarthy’s Rasputin, glowering beside him at Senate hearings of a seriousness absent today. Returning from subsequent exile, he became Trump’s mentor, teaching him the ins and outs of cheating and bribing one’s way to success. Cohn had other clients, too, including the Catholic Archdiocese, Mafia boss Carmine Galante, and Newhouse Publishing; and he managed to curry favor with politicians of both parties. By “curry favor,” one means “buy off,” a skill he taught his willing pupil. Interestingly, Cohn was also tight with Ronnie and Nancy, who managed to get him to the head of the line for the then-experimental AIDS drug, AZT. For more, read this. 
Diehard Trumpists, as they do about his entire career of cheating, will say it’s just good business. Who, other than honest people, wouldn’t want a mob lawyer in a city known for corruption? Trump’s Mafia connections might be more widely known and believed, had exposure not been quashed by the Wall Street Journal’s management in the run-up to the election. 
Other than a vowel, the difference between Cohn and Cohen is lawyerly competence. Roy, they say, was brilliant. Poor Michael can’t seem to do or say anything smart or exculpatory about the devious dealings he had with his boss. Now he’s outed for clandestinely receiving tons of Russian money for presidential access. What sort of man serially hires attorneys known for ignoring the law, threats, bribes, and deals done under the table? What sort of people consider such a man presidential material? How much corruption is too much, finally?  
If you think Mueller looking into those business dealings goes beyond his mandate, how about this: after a career of boasting of being “the king of debt,” Trump suddenly switched to cash, by the hundreds of millions. The smell of rumored money-laundering for Russian oligarchs rises like methane from a swamp. Let’s assume Mueller knows more than we do.   
Now, catching up on the latest news avalanche:  
So desperate was Trump to discredit the Iran deal, it appears his people hired Israeli spies to dig dirt on members of the Obama administration who worked on it. To those who’ll “whatabout” the Steele Dossier: if you can’t see the difference, explaining won’t help. The mendacious, dangerous, reckless idiocy of backing out demands a separate column. After the ash settles.   
To offset injurious tax cuts for the rich, Trump would remove billions from CHIP and other programs for the needy. Family values.  
Ollie North is the perfect choice for NRA president.   
Scott Pruitt’s ethical cloud should be made into a logo, put on a flag, and flown over the Gold House.  
Ben Carson believes tripling rent for subsidized housing will incentivize residents to work harder. Or become homeless. I forget which.  
At record lows, Bering Sea ice recently diminished by a third in eight days. Nice hoax you’ve got there, Don.  
Suckering Texas’ governor and all of right-wing screamerdom, the JadeHelm/Obama/Walmart/incarceration conspiracy was the product of a Russian troll-farm  
Paul Ryan fired the House chaplain because, like some crazy liberal featured in the New Testament, he prayed for poor people. Good that taxes provide spiritual care for Congressfolk, though, as they coax camels through the eyes of needles.  
Trump’s goons stole his medical records from his former doctor. Illegal. And intriguing.  
Blaming GOP sabotage of Obamacare, health insurers in Virginia want 64% rate increases. The uninsured rate is rising, too. As predicted.  
Torture is back in the news. Reminder: except to elicit false confessions, it doesn’t work. Also, it’s immoral.  
Good for Trump that three American prisoners were released by North Korea. Because he’s Trump, he lied about it  
Last, hardly least, another liberal hero falls to a sex scandal. Sigh. 
[Image source]

Friday, May 4, 2018

Less Alfred, More William

I’m on record, around my house anyway, saying President Obama should have refused his Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe that confers credibility when I say to those, including South Korean President Moon, suggesting the next one ought to go to Trump, “Not so fast.” 
The question is to what extent Trump had anything positive to do with potential Korean peace, and the answer is, who knows? Was his uninformed bellicosity instrumental? If so, was it deliberate strategy? If the answers to both are yes, then, okay, give him a slice. So far, though, pledges to end the Korean War and denuclearize the peninsula seem to have happened absent the US.  
Which leads me think the two Korean leaders decided to do it on their own; because, based on Trump’s desire to renege on the Iran agreement, TPP, and Paris, they figure they couldn’t trust any accord to which the US was signatory. Is there a Nobel Prize for untrustworthiness? 
Other factors: the literal collapse of NoKo’s nuclear facility; Kim’s secret meeting with Xi; Kim’s existing nukes, about which, after his meeting with Pompeo, there was no mention of removing. That, it seems, is between the two Koreas. Aware Trump’s promises are worth less than a reverse Stormy denial, Kim cleverly asked for assurance we wouldn’t invade. It’s meaningless, but it gives cover for both of them. Moon knows Nobly flattering Trump accrues points for later. For that matter, Binyamin Netanyahu knows deceptions about the Iran agreement will impress Trump and the Foxified. 
But, sure: if sustainable peace and verifiable denuking happens, if Trump avoids harshing the mellow, and if the Swedes want to include him in their prize, they should. (My fantasy: it goes to Kim, Moon, and Pompeo.)  
More praise for Trump: I agree the White House Correspondents’ Dinner should go away. It’s become an embarrassment, especially to the White House press. Their job is not to make nice with any administration, it’s to keep skeptical distance while calling them to account. Given a chance to affirm those truths last week, they blew it. Ironically, at the bizarre, grandiose rally Trump held during the dinner, he passed the three-thousand official untruths mark. 
Yes, Michelle Wolf was crude and nasty, though not compared to Trump’s most rabid – if easily offended – base. (NSFW proof.) But, more than many in her audience whose job it is, she spoke truth to power. She owes Sarah Sanders and Kellyanne Conway apologies? No. They owe us. They accept money to tell lies, about Trump, about the press, furthering Americans’ disregard for truth. Sordid lies from the White House vs. vulgar humor from a comedian: which damages our country more? Yet leadership of the press corps and several of its members condemned the speech. 
Brooking unprecedented attacks on journalists and their profession, nonstop attempts to diminish their indispensable role in the preservation of freedom, an administration lying its way past multiple offences, even threatening blackmail of a US Senator, they hadn’t the courage to stand up. If there’s a problem with mainstream media, it isn’t liberal bias; it’s forgetting what they’re called to do, and by whom. 
Right-wing screamerdom was outraged. Silent over the vulgarities of their president, fresh from eight years of slinging vile insults at the prior one and his family, countenancing misogyny, racism, homo- and xenophobia, torrents of dishonesty and threats, they melted like snowflakes at hearing someone respond in kind. Donald Trump, the very embodiment of the word, called Ms. Wolf “filthy.” From our unfair and unbalanced media such hypocrisy is expected. From those who consider themselves serious reporters, the sort empowered and protected by the Constitution, it’s discouraging.  
So it’s a good time to recall the words of William Lloyd Garrison, journalist, abolitionist, suffragist, written before the Civil War (I do, when people tell me to tone it down): “I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation… Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm … but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present… I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch..." 
So, good for Ms. Wolf. Her audience, present and absent, needed calling out for their malfeasance. Sadly, she gave them more credit for understanding their role than they deserved. 
[Image source]

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Problem With Governing Humans

Comes now my next newspaper column:
Unprecedented stock market volatility. Poorer than expected jobs reports. Layoffs. Businesses still sending jobs out of country, working people still struggling to get by, an extra ten bucks a week notwithstanding. The only difference between Trump’s and Bush’s tax cuts, and the other Bush’s, and Reagan’s, is that its economic shortcomings are becoming evident sooner than usual. Maybe because the others figured on two terms.  
Readers seem to like calling me a communist when I point out the obvious about what’s needed to make capitalism work. In addition to showing how unaware they are of the meaning of the term, they refuse to provide examples of my alleged affinity. Which is understandable: there aren’t any. Capitalism has been good to me. In turn, unlike Trump, I’ve been good to capitalism: pay my taxes, follow the law, don’t cheat people or go bankrupt. Invest in good companies. Recycle. Minimize polluting. 
Communism and unfettered capitalism do have something in common, though: they both assume a level of goodness inherent in humankind that doesn’t exist. Self-designations to the contrary, there’s never been a communist country. Purely socialist, yes; and they’ve failed. Other than a few collective farms, the USSR was never communist. It wasn’t even in its name. Same with China. It’s an unworkable, borscht in the sky system.  
Over here, a few hippies and transcendentalists tried to live “from each according to ability, to each according to need,” (communism’s essential definition) but they dispersed after acrimonious collapse. As a whole, notwithstanding examples of individual selflessness, humanity simply isn't good enough to manage it.  
Since the point is philosophical rather than economical, this isn’t the place to discuss how upside-down and ill-timed Trump’s tax cuts were, other than to point out that with a humming economy after President Obama rescued it from Bush, with corporate profits at record highs, with crumbling infrastructure and escalating economic inequality, money extracted from revenues and handed to corporations and, therefore, to their investors but mostly no one else, while causing untenable increases in budget deficits and national debt, could have been much better spent to guarantee the survival of our system, by creating jobs and raising wages for real rather than a couple of impermanent boni. (There. I devoted only one sentence to it.)  
Communism doesn’t work because humans are inherently greedy and jealous. Pure socialism doesn’t work because most people need incentives to be excellent, and when the government controls all production, there aren’t any. (That, plus the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, not Reagan, is why the Soviet Union ultimately failed.) Capitalism works, but does so to the extent it’s mated with regulations providing reasonable restraint on the worst human tendencies. 
America has experienced unregulated capitalism. It led to abuse of workers (including children), disregard for the environment, the Great Depression, and, as is happening yet again, sequestration of too much money in the hands of too few. It’s the opposite of what drives successful capitalism: average people having the means to buy stuff, and rules mitigating corporate greed. And it’s where Trump and his invertebrate congress are taking us, yet again. 
For Trump’s part, maybe the wrongness of his tax cuts derives from his ingrained disinterest in educating himself. Republican Congressfolk had to have known though, from experience; they just don’t care. By action and inaction they’ve signaled their intent to take the money and run; and since they don’t see preserving our planet as remunerative, they figure they may as well take it with them, too. What they’ve done, while being decidedly pro particular donor capitalists, is demonstrably anti capitalism. Proof is everywhere. 
There’s one thriving system of governance that’s designed to improve the lot of its citizens, giving them a voice in the process while confronting the strengths and weaknesses of humanity: “democratic socialism,” a better name for which might be “democratic kinda socialistic capitalism.” Countries demonstrating it regularly top lists of health and happiness. Also, they invented telephone handsets, implantable pacemakers, medical ultrasound, three-point seatbelts, zippers, and dynamite.  
“Godless” liberals, foolishly counting on human decency, call for shared sacrifices to help all Americans, while the party claiming an inside track to Jesus Himself gives itself over to human nature’s darkest side, legislating every man for himself. (Woman, not so much.) Liberals get called communists by people who think Trump loves America. And Mick Mulvaney admits it’s all about bribery.
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Friday, April 20, 2018

The Ping Pong Presidency

My next newspaper column:
They say the best contract is one in which both parties think they got screwed. (They also say, “Ruby you’re like a dream,” which I quoted in the introduction to my college biology research thesis, but that’s not important right now.) The point is that James Comey has managed to anger both political parties, which, by the aforementioned standard, suggests he did something right.  
My feelings are mixed. Unintended outcome it may be, but his actions in the months leading up to the 2016 election, by not revealing that Russia was helping Trump get elected, yet making a last-minute disclosure of what turned out to be nothing new in the Clinton email scandalette, thumbed the scales. Even Kelleyanne Conway accidentally admitted Comey swung the election to Trump. That email announcement was a momentum changer, by the accounts of many informed observers and pollsters.  
But I have sympathy: like President Obama when Bush left him with only bad choices in Iraq, all the options Director Comey faced were lose-lose. Had the “discovered” emails contained damning material, it’d have been a blot on the FBI’s and, sure, the election’s integrity, assuming Secretary Senator Clinton had won. Still, having withheld the Russia information, the standards look a little doublish. 
In that sense, it’s odd that popular-vote-loser Trump, and Trumpists, see Comey as a villain. Almost as much as they do Putin, voter ID laws, and the Electoral College, the creation of which was intended to prevent the seating of an amoral reprobate like Trump, they owe him for their win. And he has retrospectively admitted concern for rightwing chatter might have influenced his decision publically to criticize Hillary Clinton back in July.  
Mr. Comey might come off as self-serving, but it’s unmistakable that, unlike Trump, he’s not an inveterate liar. In a he-said/he-said competition, who’s more credible: a person recognized, throughout decades of government service, as one of integrity, selected for high office by presidents of both parties, approved all but unanimously more than once by the world’s formerly greatest deliberative body; or one whose business career and personal life consisted of shady deals, lying, cheating, adultery, serial bankruptcies, being sued thousands of times, suing hundreds, and who, since taking office, has disgorged falsehoods at a documented average rate of six per day? It’s not a close call. 
In matters large and small, critical or not to our security, it’s untenable to have an American “president” about whom the default assumption, at home and abroad, based on repeated observation, is that he’s lying. 
Which brings us to Syria.  
When you’ve lost Alex Jones… (Warning: decidedly, emphatically, hilariously NSFW) Unlike Jones, and Russia, I’m no conspiracist. But right after Trump proclaimed he wanted out of Syria immediately, (remember when he and the rest of the rightwing screamers castigated Obama for announcing withdrawal plans?) Assad used chemical weapons. Then Trump announced missiles would be coming sometime soon, giving Putin and Assad time to hide their ass…ets.  
Ignoring SecDef Mattis’ appeal to get Congressional approval, Trump loosed the missiles. And then… what, exactly? No after-action reports, no cool damage-assessment videos. Was anything there? What was accomplished, and in whose interest? It was done to protect the Syrian people, Trump assured us. After which, confirming his definitely not-fake Christianity, he announced plans to welcome refugees. (Kidding. I kid. But he did proclaim, without irony, “Mission Accomplished.”)  
Later, Nikki Haley declared tougher sanctions on Russia were coming. But wait, there’s less! Donald's mouthpieces said she was confused (back on which she pushed, angrily), and he assured the Russians they’re not. This is nuts: it’s presidency as omnishambles, with North Korea talks coming next.  
Narcissistic above all, Trump has no coherent policy. Impetuously, he pulls out of the TPP. Realizing he gifted economic supremacy to China, he wants back in. Then, like plans to fire McMaster, denies it. His treasury department reported last week that China and Russia aren’t unlawfully manipulating currency, after which he says they are. This isn’t, as my friend Mike the Trumpist says, crazy like a fox. It’s crazy like crazy.  
By what criteria can anyone -- friend or foe, edified or Foxified – believe anything Trump says? Rejecting expertise, preferring sycophancy, he basks in the company of toadying crooks, incompetents, and Fox talking heads. This diminishes us all. It diminishes America. It’s Ping-Pong policy by a Ping-Pong president.
[Update: Russia claims it dictated what targets in Syria were acceptable. Unsurprising, isn't it?] 

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Bombs Away

Interesting sequence: 
  • Trump announces he wants troops out of Syria, ASAP.
  • Assad uses chemical weapons.
  • Trump warns Putin missiles are coming.
  • Congresspeople demand prior congressional approval.
  • Trump fires off missiles.
Interesting prequel:
  • Trump is in deep shit domestically.
Now, I'm the furthest thing there is from a conspiracist, but it's hard not to wonder how the Foxolimjonesians would be characterizing events were "Trump" replaced with "President Barack Hussein Obama." Because there are several separate but equal issues, all of which have been brought up in the past, when roles were reversed:

First, announcing intended pullout. There were screams, including from the person currently staging an occupation of the White House, when Obama said he'd be leaving Iraq (as negotiated by the previous administration.) Don't let the enemy know your plans, they wisdomed. Haven't heard any on the right suggesting, as they did previously, that there's any connection to Assad's move.

Then there's the warning. Intent may be a subject of speculation, but there's no doubt it gave Putin time to shelter his ass. Ets. Same with Ass-ad's. 

Wisely or not, President Obama said the use of chemical weapons was a "red line," and he's been roundly criticized, including by popular-vote-loser Trump, for not following up. The thing is, wiselier or nottier, Obama went to Congress for approval and, as with all things Obama after Republicans took control, it was refused. That particular fact gets mentioned infrequently if at all on right-wing "news" sources.

And whereas we're hearing some dog-wagging from the left, I haven't seen or heard it, as there was incessantly in times not long past, from the right. In fact, if I were Alex Jones (speaking of whom, yikes!), I'd be saying the whole thing has been a "false flag" from the beginning: Trump got his pal Putin to get his pal Assad to use chemical weapons so Trump could respond, to get the news off the actual shit in which he finds himself, wherever he looks.

But that's not who I am. 

Russia, though: that's another story.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

An Offer He Can't Refuse?

My next newspaper column:
Dang. I had a nice medical school memory all teed up for publication, and then the feds raided Trump’s consigliere, Michael Cohen. Following which, Donald weighed in, affirming, yet again, how dangerously little he understands or cares about how our constitutional democracy works. Immediately thereafter, Fox “news,” Trump’s policy fountainhead, waved its reciprocal ignorance like a pirate flag. 
“Attorney-client privilege is dead,” Trump said. “It’s an attack on everything we stand for,” he whined. (Like “lock her up,” Donald?) Well, depending on what he meant by “we,” he could be right. There’s “we” America, and there’s “we” his collection of arrant liars and grifters. In Trump’s mind, apparently, anything but deference constitutes an attack on America.  
Attorney-client privilege has never been a shield for criminal activity by an attorney. Nevertheless, the relationship is highly protected, as it ought to be. To have done what the FBI did would have required scrupulous documentation of probable cause, enough to win the approval of a federal judge and the responsible US Attorney. The law was followed. If early reports are true that Cohen had made recordings of conversations and that they were among the items seized, it’s not hard to understand why the Trump gang’s dudgeon is turned up to eleven. 
If there’s a god – and if it’s true He put Trump in the White House, there probably isn’t – you’d think at some point Trump’s words would melt his tongue. “It’s an attack on our country in a true sense,” he declared. No, it’s not. It’s the opposite. It’s the epitome of the founding values of America, of what it has, until recently, always stood for: the rule of law. The idea that no one, not even those in the tallest towers of power, is above it. What it is, is DEFENSE of our country in the truest sense; a reflection that America was established by people who abhorred autocracy, who put in place enduring (so far) mechanisms to prevent it. (Devin Nunes just announced his intention further to tear them down.)   
Trump claims, and Trumpists believe, it’s a witch hunt. (With Trump, the distinction between claims and beliefs is squishy. He still claims, for example, there were millions of illegal votes in his historically immense popular vote loss; who knows whether he believes it, or just figures his excusers will?) It wouldn’t be unprecedented, after all: other than Monica Lewinsky and Clinton’s lies about her, Ken Starr’s $80 million investigation, about which I don’t recall Republicans upping themselves into comparable arms, turned out to be one. 
But none of us yet knows. There looks to be more smoke than was recently pouring out of Trump Tower, and for a guy who claims innocence, Trump is acting pretty nervous lately. If, in his heart or the space typically containing one in primates, he’s certain there’s nothing to fear, and had he found himself a competent capo, one might think he’d quiesce and let the process unfold. Eventually, it will, and at the witching hour we’ll all be there to see.  
If America isn’t about the rule of law, it’s about nothing. Claiming a constitutionally empowered investigation into possible governmental malfeasance is an attack on America, after more than a year of literally attacking America by claiming our free press is an enemy of the people, by attempts to discredit our electoral system, and by facilitating the gutting of public education – that might be Trump’s most blatant gaslighting yet. To the extent Trumpists buy it, they endanger us all, especially themselves.  
In the meantime, here’s some advice for liberals who excitedly comment on various online fora: stop with the prematurely gleeful ejaculations. Stop predicting impeachment if Democrats regain control of Congress. Let facts play out first. Even if there are theres there, impeachment is a long shot, and not something any of us on either side ought to want to see become a purely political process. Besides which, behind Trump is dangerously theocratic, failed governor Mike Pence. 
The electoral objective in November is restraining a Party bent on undemocratic entrenchment, no matter the damage to our institutions, while enriching itself and its bankrollers at the expense of the general welfare. If enlightened voters achieve that, dayenu. I’m unaware of any Democratic candidates running on ex-ante promises of impeachment. The truth is out there. We can wait.
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Friday, April 6, 2018

Our Gullibility Crisis

Tomorrow's newspaper column, today:
We’ve just survived another April Fools’ Day, when people question what they see online and on TV. 
Once a year isn’t enough. Skepticism ought to be Point A for everyone, always. Having a president who lies constantly is a serious problem; worse is the fact that his supporters don’t care. But even after Trump’s hopefully brief time in office, his and his party’s threatening legacy will remain: our crisis of gullibility. 
It’s plausible the Republic will survive Trump and his weak-kneed, bought-off Congress; especially if this year’s election reflects an awakening to the danger we face. In question, however, is long-term sustainability with a significant portion of the electorate increasingly unable, unwilling, or uninterested in separating truth from fiction. Not by accident, the answer begins to sound like “no.”  
Born in the brain of Steve Bannon, bankrolled by the right-wing billionaire Mercer family, Cambridge Analytica is the final horseman of the information apocalypse, joining Fox “news,” right-wing radio screamers, and Russian troll farms. Trumpets are sounding, to ears that are deaf.  
Cambridge Analytica, as everyone but Fox viewers knows by now, is an offshoot of the shady SCL group, a British outfit engaged by various autocrats and militaries around the world to produce psychological warfare against enemies and to bend elections. Having started technologically early in the game, their methods were variably effective. By the time Bannon saw the potential of mining social media, though, things had changed dramatically. 
C.A. set up a shell corporation in Delaware, continuing to work overseas, digging up information on tens of millions of people via Facebook loopholes, computing their hot-buttons and vulnerabilities, and targeting them with massive amounts of specifically-curated disinformation. Their management is on record gloating that it didn’t matter whether their offal was true; just that it was believed. Sexual blackmail was a tool, too. 
It’s worth knowing they were hired in the U.S. only by right-wing players, including Trump’s campaign and his newly-announced, Fox-featured National Security Adviser. “Crooked Hillary” was their invention. Made people forget who the real crook was, didn’t it?  
The effectiveness of such efforts is undeniable: bogus stories spread like oil-slicks, about Obama, the Clintons, their foundations; belief by the befuddled that Trump has never lied, has fulfilled each of his campaign promises; that he turned around a wrecked economy; that millions voted illegally for Hillary Clinton. The legality of Cambridge Analytica’s methods is in dispute, as is its impact on the election. (A just-published study suggested fake news influenced enough voting behavior to have changed the outcome.) To be determined is the connection, if any, between Bannon’s baby and Russia; it’s noteworthy, meanwhile, that Russia seems to have had the same targeting information and tools as C.A., and that C.A. has offices in Russia.  
There’s a psychological phenomenon known as “the backfire effect”: the tendency of some people, when shown data disproving a preferred belief, to believe it even more strongly. Though not confined to a single demographic, studies show prominence among self-identified conservatives, a convenient fact for exploitation by “truth doesn’t matter” political purveyors. (Liberals’ information-processing deficits seem mostly to revolve around “alternative” medicine, anti-vaccination, and anti-GMO nonsense. Bad enough; but at least it doesn’t elect autocrats, kakistocrats, and theocrats.)  
When I respond to false memes by providing a reputable source and indisputable facts, liberal senders acknowledge and rescind it, embarrassed. Unfailingly, Trumpists reject the source as fake, out of hand, never addressing the information provided. That’s an ominous difference. Given enough people behaving this way, democracy fails.  
The counter to the gullibility crisis is to maintain skepticism, to retain and protect the means for separating truth from falsehood. Everywhere -- in the White House, Congress, on the air, online -- we see coordinated efforts against doing so. 
Surpassing Russia and right-wing media, Trump has become the alpha purveyor of fake news. (Recent example: his attack on Amazon was lies piled on falsehoods.) His definition, though, is news he doesn’t like, and he’s made that the touchstone for his acolytes. The notion that CNN, NBC, The New York Times and Washington Post are fakery while Fox and Sinclair are sooth is laughable. And deeply dangerous.  
Recognizing their disadvantage on the issues, Trump-likes have, for years, created in their base a penchant for fake news and a disdain for accurate reporting. Democracy’s last line of defense is education. 
Enter Betsy Devos.
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