Friday, January 18, 2019

Stalemate


My next newspaper column:
FBI worried. Turkey threats. Secret meetings, missing transcripts. Racism gestures. Removing sanctions. William Barr. A weekly columnist must cull the heard. So here’s but unum e pluribus: 
If that meeting between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, and Trump was as described, one wishes the Speaker had replied differently to Individual-1. It’s reported he asked whether, if he reopened the government, Speaker Pelosi would fund his wall. No, was her answer. If she’d said, “Donald, I haven’t read Art of the Deal, because I don’t have time for fiction. But I doubt it recommends laying down your cards at the start of negotiations,” would he have still made a show of walking out? Probably.  
Ever unreliable, Trump had agreed, only days earlier, to sign funding legislation without the wall. Then came marching orders from Fox “news” and that was, and still is, that. Did Putin pipe a tune, too?  Our chaos is his fortune. Also, Trump had promised to accept “the mantle” and not blame Democrats. Trump’s promises: good as fools’ gold. By a margin of nearly two to one, though, Americans blame Trump and Republicans for the shutdown.  
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is Trump’s perfect antagonist: a smart, savvy, tough woman, unfazed by his fact-free bullying. Neither wants to cave to the other: Trump, because he knows it’d reveal his tough-guy fakery; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi because she knows she can expose his tough-guy fakery. She’s playing chess to his tic-tac-toe, leaving him only one way to avoid humiliation: declaring a national emergency. Checkmate.  
Consider the implications: egged on by such mental masterpieces as Sean Hannity and righteous lip-quiverer Lindsey Graham, Individual-1 would execute exactly the sort of power-grab haters of President Barack Obama claimed would happen tomorrow, every day of his presidency. If Republicans excuse it, when there’s clearly no emergency, on what basis could they complain when a Democratic president declares an entirely justifiable national emergency due to climate change? (They would, of course.) If the number of violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants triggers a national emergency, why not the tens of thousands of Americans killed yearly by guns? 
Giving any president unlimited rights to declare a national emergency is a prelude to dictatorship. Or is it only when a president is of the other party?  
If presidents should have the authority to declare a national emergency, mustn’t it be limited to when circumventing normal legislative processes is necessitated by the need for immediate action? For reasons obvious to everyone but the contentedly deluded, building a wall, or a sawable series of slats, to address a situation ongoing for decades, steadily becoming less of a problem, which will take years, and which, notwithstanding Bill Barr’s lie, won’t impede illegal drug importation at all, falls outside that category. And taking the Jade Helm of our military to accomplish it? Would our patriotic militiamen, so vocally virile not long ago, rush to oppose the tyrant?  
Among the kinds of Trump supporters from whom I hear regularly, his declaring an emergency would be welcomed with cheers and chants of “Lock (we’re-not-sure-who-anymore) up.” But maybe Speaker Pelosi figures it’d be the catalyst that causes a handful of Republican lawmakers at last to find their missing integrity. It’s a gamble. But if assuming unrestrained power by deception wouldn’t do it, the Constitution, and governance by and for the people, become moot; so let’s get it over with and take to the barricades. Are you with us, Sovereign Citizens?  
After three years of telling his crowds Mexico would pay for his beautiful concrete wall, Invididual-1 denied ever saying so. Then he clarified: he never said they’d write a check. But he did. Both. Google it. Imagine: a liar of that magnitude essentially declaring martial law. There’s no way in hell Trumpists would stand for it in a Democrat, yet they’re all but drooling over it now. 
At this point, besides wondering what Putin has on Trump, one must consider what Trump has on servile Mitch McConnell and fawning Lindsey Graham that explains such dereliction. Incriminating tapes? Horse head in their beds? Lindsey has flipped like a flounder, and Mitch knows the original funding bill passed unanimously. The votes are there for overriding a veto; if was right then, why not now? It’s how checks and balances are supposed to work. 
In the dimness of receding time, they once did.
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Friday, January 11, 2019

We Live In Fascinating Times



Hoo boy.

Dear Leader held his first cabinet meeting of the year, featuring a ha-inspiring poster of himself, suitable for hanging in the Kremlin and Pyongyang. None of the Secretaries goose-stepped around the room, but his acting Attorney General came close, setting a record for supra-sphincteric osculation, lipping well past the Valves of Houston. In doing so, he bared the role his Department of Justice will play in enforcing laws and protecting Americans from executive overreach: None.

As if reading a manifesto supplied by Vladimir Putin, Trump proceeded to rewrite the history of the USSR’s past invasion of Afghanistan, lauding their adventurism. It was a bridge to Red Square too far even for the editorial staff of The Wall Street Journal, not typically purveyors of news Trump and his ilk and ilkettes like to call fake. “Right to be there?” they exclaimed. “We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with three divisions in December 1979 to prop up a fellow communist government.”

Delved they not into what’s behind Trump’s cravenness toward Mr. Putin, though. That, one supposes, they’re leaving to Robert Mueller, as are we all. In a rational world, such slavish defense of a global adversary, coincidentally being enriched by Trump’s tariffs on China, would give pause to Republicans fighting hard to maintain excuses for a lying, uninformed, capricious “president.” Who appeases dictators.

Speaking of lying, even Fox “news” had enough of Sarah “Remember-me-as-transparent-and-truthful” Sanders’ whopper about four thousand terrorists crossing our southern border. That’s the number detained across the entire planet, mostly at airports. There’ve been six apprehensions of non-citizen watch-listers on that border, stopped, as it happens, at legal crossing points; far fewer than at the Canadian border. Then came Trump, claiming support for his wall from former presidents, followed swiftly by denials from all of them. Now he’s hearing voices?

And he never said Mexico would pay for it!

Tuesday’s speech, reprising every lie from every Trump rally ever, plus one new one about steel, was a made-for-TV fundraiser, complete with deceptive emails to supporters before, and creepily threatening ones after. But it fogged the day’s revelation of actual collusion with Russia, of which more will surely follow. It’s no longer speculative.

Trump’s fabulist fence was never about security, for which a wall is all but useless. Speaker Pelosi is right: it’s an erection between Trump supporters and reality. For example, illegal drugs arriving from Mexico do so through established checkpoints, hidden inside vehicles or the fusty hollows of humanity’s bowels.

Illegal crossings continue the decline begun during Barack Obama’s presidency. The true emergency is gullibility. Trump’s wall-talk is intended to distract Trumpists from his pollution of their air and water, his planned damage to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and to future generations. The humanitarian crisis is real, though, and entirely of his making.  

Meanwhile, as our right-wing brethren and sistern worried over a possible contender for Trump’s world-championship vulgarity belt, tried to forget Reagan’s tax rates, argued the dancing chops of the youngest-ever member of Congress, and waved Foxified ignorance of Democratic Socialism like a Confederate flag, new-majority House Democrats introduced HR1, a sweeping voting-rights and anti-corruption bill. Were true conservatives to read it, unaware of its origin, they’d enthuse. As should everyone favoring honesty among politicians and a meaningful, listened-to voice in electing them.

The bill has less than an Inhofian snowball’s chance in Senate Hell, as Mitch “It’s-not-about-you-it’s-about-me” McConnell egested that it’s “not going anywhere.” But it draws an indelible blue line across the ethical gap between Democrats and Republicans, affirming the intensifying importance of electing Democratic majorities in both Houses, and a Democratic president, if ever we’re to reclaim governance by and for the people. Polling shows eighty-percent of Americans favor reforms in the bill, which makes precisely zero difference to Senate Republicans. (One recalls a recent column about that.)

Included in HR1: serious campaign finance reform; tough ethical standards for all government officials; ending “dark money;” increased oversight of foreign agents; making available more poll workers and places; ending partisan gerrymandering; requiring disclosure of ten-years-worth of tax returns by presidential and vice-presidential candidates; even, get this: prohibiting the use of taxpayer money to settle Congressional sexual harassment claims!

There’s a great deal more, discoverable by searching “HR1.” It’s hard to imagine any Constitution-loving American finding fault.

Which is to say, given our current politics, it’s not hard at all.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

Democracy, Nearing The End


Saturday's newspaper column:
If current trends continue, it’s predicted that by 2050, seventy-percent of Americans will live in just fifteen states. Which means they’ll be represented by thirty members in the Senate, while the remaining thirty-percent of Americans will have seventy. Not insignificantly, the thirty-five states in which that thirty-percent will reside are mostly Red. 
The implication is obvious: minority rule becomes permanent. Rule by those who think climate change is a hoax, who’d rather get rid of immigrants than see their schools improve, who’ll settle for limited access to health care as long as those schools don’t let trans people use the “wrong” bathroom. People who think Trump is God’s prelude to sending Jesus back; who consider freedom of the press their enemy and liars their friends. Who’ve been convinced those warning how widening wealth disparity threatens America are communists. It’s the opposite of original intent. People who'd rather have a wall than clean air and water.
We’re about there. Our twenty smallest states have fewer combined inhabitants than California’s forty-million. Californians have two senators; those others have forty.

Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, et. al., were brilliant, but theirs was a country of thirteen states and four-million people. If their compromise on a bicameral Congress was largely to protect smaller states, they can’t have foreseen the enormous imbalance that would ensue. If they envisioned a Constitution that would allow their democratic republic to function forever, they failed. When the views of a distinct minority wholly supplant those of the majority, democracy is no longer.

Nor is the scale-tilting limited to the Senate. In the House of Representatives, legislators from small (again, mostly Red) states speak for far fewer citizens than those in larger states, giving the former voters proportionately more influence over laws that are made. 
Then there’s the Electoral College, whose creation, it’s claimed today, was to keep larger states from having too much clout in the choice of president. But historians know it was less about size than slavery. And it worked as designed: for thirty-two of the nation’s first thirty-six years a white Virginian slave-holder held the presidency.

In those Made-America-Great days, there were no political parties, no presidential campaigns. Each state selected electors who, unconstrained by voter preference, chose the president and, separately, vice-president. In large part, this was because, in the age when information traveled slowly and not everyone was as literate as they, those dazzling dads of democracy didn’t think the masses could know enough to be entrusted with direct voting. How ironic: information, such as it is, now speeds across the land, embedding like brain-eating amoebae, before thought depolarizes a single neuron. 
With the Twelfth Amendment, allowing political parties to choose their candidates and to hold national elections, those founding concepts became moot. Logically, ending the Electoral College should have been included; instead it’s become even more counterproductive, now a mishmash of rules among the states for how electors’ votes are distributed.

Given the outsize grip minority views have on each house of Congress, the concept that large states must be kept from undue influence on the presidency is indefensible. The president and vice-president are the only federal officers chosen by everyone who exercises their vote. Why should the preferences of, say, Washingtonians, have less impact on the process than those of North Dakotans? How does it make sense that the only officer beholden to and representing all citizens can win with a minority of votes, an outcome impossible for all other elections? 
The train of American-style democracy is heading off the rails, and our Constitution, designed to preserve liberty, is pouring coal into the hopper. To restore a semblance of equality, the Senate, whose Republican members have, for the last ten years, been purposefully (and successfully) destroying normal political processes to maintain their personal power, would have to vote for its own elimination. Would a Mitch McConnell (who, amazingly, just announced his legislative irrelevance) ever place the interests of most Americans above his own?

Inevitably, there’s a breaking point. Democracy is meaningless when a majority of people have no power to affect their future, when they see opinions held by a distinct minority holding sway. We’re already there, of course, as polls show far more Americans agree with liberal ideas than those of today’s Republican (non-conservative) Party. 
Thus we understand what’s really behind Trumpism’s attacks on immigrants, minorities, and their voting rights: the only Constitutional means for restoring majority rule is by Red states turning Blue. It wouldn’t be White Christian Americans who’d make it happen.
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Friday, December 28, 2018

Insanity Talks. Integrity Walks.


My next newspaper column:
Did everyone have a merry Christmas? Swaddled in the psychic ataraxia born of rationalization and, let it be said, from ignoring the teachings of the One whose birth they just celebrated, no doubt Trump’s remaining supporters did.  
Last week, though, rationalization must have been especially enervating. For years, they’ve attributed Middle East chaos to President Barack Obama following the timetable for Iraq withdrawal agreed to by Bush and the Iraqi government. Not de-facto president and oil-man Cheney convincing figurehead president and oil-man Bush that March, 2003 was the perfect time to abandon Afghanistan and invade Iraq in the first place. For (wink-wink) democracy.  
And it was President Obama’s pre-negotiated pull-out that birthed ISIS, not Bush disbanding Saddam’s army, which led its officers to join the resistance. So Trump’s abrupt announcement of withdrawal from Syria and precipitous drawdown of forces in Afghanistan must be a mind-bender. But wait: the DOD says it’s only seen Trump’s tweets, has yet to receive orders. And Bolton vowed we’re not leaving Syria before Iran does. Is anyone in charge? It’s insanity.  
After Trump trumpeted vanquishing ISIS and lied that Russia is “very unhappy” with his decision to leave, ISIS killed 700 people, the Taliban crowed they’d “defeated the world’s only superpower,” and Putin said he agreed with “Donald.” Rationalize that! 
The upshot is to have handed Putin a double-overtime win of the Cold War, evoking withering words of resignation by the last of Trump’s “my generals.” In effect, Mattis said he found it impossible both to share American values and serve Trump. Then anti-ISIS Special Envoy Brett McGurk quit; originally a Bush appointee, elevated by President Obama, ignored by Trump. Integrity walks.  
Since US meddling in that part of the world has produced only bad outcomes, Trump’s decision to leave, assuming it’s real, isn’t indefensible. Other than timing. And giving Putin, Assad, and Erdogan everything they want, and abandoning the Kurds, a people who’ve been valiant in fighting ISIS, to the slaughter they fear at the hands of Turkey. 
Gratifying for Trumpists, though, was his eagerness to lay off eight-hundred-thousand government workers right before Christmas, showing those supporters his commitment to a wall his acting Chief of Staff once called “absurd and almost childish.” Imagine the chants at Trump’s next “Adore Me” rally: “Build The Artistically Designed Steel Slats!! We Will Pay For Them!!” 
After it accomplishes a great deal of not-much, Trumpists still won’t question his fabrication that see-through slats on far less than half of a two-thousand-mile land border, ignoring sixteen-hundred miles of beach along the Gulf, was indispensable to border security. Bone spurs a-jingling, Trump marches to the tunes of Fox “news,” Rush, and Vlad, keeping supporters distracted from his self-enriching, economically unsound, planet-degrading agenda. Which, as they demonstrate, works like a person not laid off. 
Speaking of bone spurs, was his last-minute bolt to Iraq, where he hallucinated bizarrely about military pay raises and outed a covert Seal Team, related to the unsurprising “never-had-‘em, daddy-bought-‘em” revelation?  
More dissonance for Trumpophiles: after gifting him with Syria, Trump eliminated sanctions on Putin’s oligarch pals. And who benefits from the government closure that followed, more than America’s rivals? Presidents are responsible for a shutdown, Trump once declared, referring to Obama. I won’t blame Democrats, he just said, right before blaming them. “Donald’s” kowtowing to our enemies is at pyrexia pitch, as if he’s been warned to wrap up his to-do list before he goes down. 
And now the year might end with investors in worse shape than when it began. Wall Street, where profit is paramount, has taken notice. Predictably, Trump and Trumpists, who demand credit for not killing President Obama’s recovery, are contorting away from any accountability Trump, his egotistical trade wars and diaphanous deals, massive deficits, and increasingly irrational pronouncements might bear for the reversal. Unlike Trump’s acolytes, stock markets prefer stability. (One day doth not a recovery make.)  
Claiming to know more about everything than anyone, Trump trusts his “gut” over advice from people who do know things; is given to paranoid rants, threatening critics, off-loading ill-considered announcements, contradicting himself, daily affirming his untrustworthiness; is unable to comprehend complex policy, and genuflects to foreign adversaries. That this is frightening, dangerous madness is obvious to all but the gratefully pacified. Soon, the moneyed donors who spent big to own Republican Senators, expressly to protect their interests, could well come to demand their purchases join those willing to stand up. We’ll see.  
Either way, Happy New Year.  
[Image source]

Friday, December 21, 2018

Rats, All The Way Down


My next newspaper column:
Everybody loves somebody someday. Domestic abusers get bailed out by the abused, escaped felons find shelter on the outside. Human nature being what it is, even serial killers get fan mail and marriage proposals. Let’s assume, however, that few saw attempts to bring such people to justice as nothing more than politically motivated hit-jobs. Or, even as the bodies piled up, witch hunts. (American Wiccans are protesting current usage of the term.) In societies that value the rule of law, it’s accepted that criminals should be punished, and people about whom there’s reason to suspect outlaw behavior should be subject to scrutiny.  
In the US, not long ago considered the world’s greatest democracy, on whose constitution other countries based their own, thirty-eight-percent of the population still believes any suggestion that the current “president” is the common denominator in a conflagration of crimes is merely the stuff of sore losers. How comforting to consider such criticism to be born of irrational hate, rather than reckoning with the implications for our country and the world in having a “president” who’s a constant, and possibly criminal, liar. 
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If a well-worn cliché, Californians can testify to the truth of it. By now, the smog of scandal in the center of which Trump lies requires medical-grade respirators. Yet hardcore Trumpists frolic outside, breathing deep, claiming, eyes tearing, that coughing is good for us all. 
Leaving much of our public lands ready for ruin, trailing the fumes of fifteen separate ethics investigations, Ryan Zinke is the latest of Trump’s “best people” to work the revolving door. Courts just smocked the EPA, ordering reversal of the damage Scott “Also the Best” Pruitt would have done to our environment and children by lifting restrictions on a poison banned by President Obama. 
There are plenty more liars, incompetents, and thieves Trump has gathered close, but they’re not even the prime evidence of his flagitious conduct. He, his family, and businesses, his campaign, inaugural committee, transition team, and his fake “foundation” (which he just agreed to shutter under court supervision) have attracted investigations; seventeen so far. That’s a lot of boil, boil, toil, and trouble to have been cooked up from nothing. 
There’s also smoke signaling Trump’s dalliances with crime networks, home-grown and foreign, for his whole career. It was, at least in part, because of his connections with criminals, laundering money, and phony, failed business deals, that when he was on the verge of personal bankruptcy, no US bank would bail him out. Forced to turn to Russians, Saudis, and Deutsch Bank, he left himself, and now us, vulnerable. Don’t believe it? Plug “Trump mafia ties” into your favorite search engine. And ask yourself: is a temporary tax break, or the deportation of immigrants, fourteen-thousand kids incarcerated at the border, or however else Trump is floating your boat, a fair return for de-facto complicity? 
Even a Fox “news” commentator suggested to Trump that he stop calling Michael Cohen a “rat,” because that’s what mobsters call a guy who sings to the cops. You can’t “rat” with lies, but rats do leave a sinking ship of state. Trump’s rodents see the rising water.  
Trumpists would have us believe it’s “entrapment” by Mueller, et al., that’s causing the exodus from S.S. Trump. Hardly. Even Mike Flynn’s lawyers admitted he wasn’t entrapped. It’s the writing on the walls: prison walls. Grifters and crooks who, seeing Trump’s own malfeasance and greed as protection, once believed themselves untouchable, are reading between the bars. This includes Trump’s ironically-named pal and fake-news-purveyor. Could it be a Pecker that brings down the p---- grabber?  
From a new report to the Senate, we’ve learned Russia’s 2016 disinformation efforts were even more extensive, sophisticated, and purposeful than was known. Also revealed is that a letter of Russian intent (cf: Steele dossier) which didn’t exist, actually did. But wasn’t signed. Was. Trump’s lies about Russian connections may be the least of his legal problems, but colluding with a foreign adversary is still kinda serious. If confirmed (smoke/fire), there’s a word for it. 
Even conservative news outlets like WSJ and Forbes are making his corruption undeniable. So Trump suggests criticizing him should be illegal. Baseless hate? Well, admittedly, it’s hard to love.  
As the winds of investigations blow the smokescreen from the rubble, Trumpists may have to look for their missing conscience and reconsider where they stand. Blaming messengers isn’t a forever firewall.
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Friday, December 14, 2018

The Racists Among Us


My next newspaper column:
Racists, anti-Semites, xenophobes, homophobes: they’ve always been with us. When I lived in Salem, forty years ago, anti-Semitic leaflets were placed in my mailbox. Back then, though, such people would sneak around at night. Now they feel empowered – encouraged! -- to express their hatred in the open, confident that leaders who ought to condemn them in the strongest possible terms, and with the strongest possible actions, will look the other way, even suggesting that among them are “some very fine people.” No longer must they seethe, full of resentment, in the dark.  
Last week eight such America-loving patriots were arrested right here in Snohomish County, after assaulting a black DJ in a bar, shouting the expected racial slurs. Recently discovered, a Monroe white-supremacist had killing Jews in mind, and the weapons to carry it out. Local schools are reporting a significant upsurge in racist incidents. Across our state, hate crimes increased by 42% in 2017, much faster than the already-shocking national average.  
As with the force of a particular hurricane and climate change, it’s not possible to point to a specific hate-crime and blame it on the climate of white nationalism Trump has brought to his “presidency.” But the trend is obvious, one more thing on the list of outrages about which Trump’s thirty-nine-percenters are either happy, or against which they’re unwilling to speak out. Trump’s empathetic first response to the recent murders in a synagogue was to blame the victims for not having armed guards.  
Even white women are getting in on it. Nearly daily we see video of one shouting down a black or brown person for existing, or wearing a hijab, or not speaking English. One expects such behavior from a certain stratum of white men, like those pictured in the story about the beating. The sort who’d rather not get to know people who don’t look or think like them, except eight to one in a bar fight.  
But those women enjoy their white privilege as much as their menfolk do, and must feel equally threatened as they see American demographics running away from them. It’s an answer to why any woman would vote for a grossly misogynistic “president” or anyone in his party, as it seeks to relegate women to mere vessels for the seed and service of men, as God intended. 
Not all of the minority of Americans who continue to support Trump, even as his crimes and those of his “only the best people” become clear, are openly racist. Many are merely suffering from self-inflicted blindness; or, one supposes, have enough remaining humanity to keep themselves from acting out. If they’re appalled, they need to say so.  
Those others, though. They’re consumed by the rage born of self-scorn; the kind that can be mitigated only by hating those in whom they don’t see themselves reflected. The liberal in me should be sympathetic, I guess, think of ways to help them with their self-esteem issues. Establish workshops to undo the damage their parents did. Show them Mister Rogers re-runs, offer ice cream. Public schools teaching tolerance is, after all, somebody’s duplicitous “agenda.” Probably George Soros’.  
Ages two and four, my grandchildren play with any kid of any color willing to play with them, laugh and do silly things, at the park, at preschool, seeking only fun with people their size. It’s both heartwarming and, knowing what’s coming, heartbreaking. Those children, also growing up in our Pacific Northwest, have nurturing parents teaching them that race, religion, attire don’t matter: only being kind to each other does. 
To embrace the hate of which we’re seeing more and more, one has to be taught, with intention. Because the last thing haters want to see, given their own insecurities, is their spawn rejecting their family values. So teach them they will, birthing an endless source of damaged, dangerous people.   
There’s little reason to expect change. Even if future presidents have a moral compass, absent in our current one, if they love America for what it is instead of what so many embittered Trump supporters wish it were, people longing for the not-great old days will remain, finding ever more targets for their self-pitying anger. And, as they love to remind us, they’ll be armed. 
So, sadly, it falls upon local law enforcement and brave activists to protect decency, for we can expect no help from the self-described “… nationalist” in the White House.  
[Image source]

Friday, December 7, 2018

Getting Harder To Deny


My upcoming newspaper column:
If you haven’t seen video of Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greeting each other at the G-20 summit, take a moment to do so. I'll wait.  
There. If you weren’t disgusted, you might be a Trumpist. Because only the fully Trumpified can watch those bros slapping hands, grinning like a couple of guys who’ve gotten away with murder, which they have, without recognizing what’s going on. Two crime lords who know they’ve pocketed the “President” of the United States like a used handkerchief. “Nice one,” Putin says. “And Donald stick up.” MBS chortles, “He has always been for sale cheap.”  
One comes to feel sorry for Trump’s diehards. With the latest revelations, his corruption is so obvious that it has to be painful to maintain the pretense. Surely, cracks are forming in their wall of denial, and the light making its way in must be blinding to those who’ve craved darkness for so long. Trump can’t even keep his lies straight. Almost within the same breath, he’s said he has no financial ties to Saudi Arabia and boasted that they’ve given him millions. Not mentioned, so far, is that on at least two occasions a certain Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bailed him out from imminent personal bankruptcy. But he knows we know.  
For those to whom Trump’s profligate lying hadn’t been clear, the last couple of weeks should have been eye-opening. Having assured us for years that he had no dealings with Russia, a claim belied by the bragging of his own sons, he’s finally admitted – had no choice – that he’d been trying to erect a signature phallus in Moscow as recently as during the campaign. It’s cool, he said. No big deal. Other than lying to us all. And the planned gifting to Putin a $50 million penthouse.   
But it IS a big deal. To complete the arrangement, he’d have had to win the presidency and lift American sanctions on Russia, including those on the bank from whom financing was, illegally, being arranged: foreign policy in service of personal enrichment. It’s a big deal that Russia worked to accomplish exactly that; and that Trump immediately tried to get the sanctions lifted. It’s a big deal that, knowing the truth, Putin had Trump by the shorts. Saudis, the same. They could expose his lies at any time, and who can doubt there’s much more? Will his ties to the Russian mafia be exposed? Even his “incredible” deal with China was a lie. Wall Street fell for it, but only for a day. Wreckage ensued.  
While Trumpists pretend he never lies, or excuse the constant effluent as Just-Trumpness or Not-Obamaness, the rest of us understand the implications for national security when a “president” lies about relations with, and is in hock to, hostile actors. Trump’s steadfast refusal to criticize Putin or Prince for their crimes becomes more understandable; and more inexcusable. As his former conspirators form a chorus line, unfamiliar sounds of truth are being heard. State TV, dba Fox “news,” along with all Trump enablers, pretends the lies and liars mean nothing. “Process crimes” they scoff, in unison, as if handed a script. “Who cares?” 
We all should, including honorable Republicans, of which, one assumes, there remain some; and it shouldn’t require the work of a Special Prosecutor to open their eyes to the obvious. 
As currently constituted, today’s Republican Party threatens America’s foundational values more than any terrorist organization, and it’s time for true conservatives – I know a few – to admit it and withhold their support. 
The rot is everywhere: from election fraud in North Carolina (by the GOP, not voters), to legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Ohio, following NC’s lead, aborting election results they don’t like; from silence on Trump’s lies; deference to polluters; acquiescence to grifters and deceivers in Trump’s cabinet (Zinke, Carson, DeVos, Ross, Pompeo, to name a few, more links on request); electing and empowering overt racists. Today’s Republican Party has come to stand for lying, science illiteracy, electoral cheating, voodoo economics, greedy oligarchy, crony-capitalism, white nationalism, hypocritical theocracy, and zero-sum politics.   
This un-American activity began when Reagan and GHWB, progenitors of Trump but putatively nicer, hired Lee Atwater. There followed Ailes, Gingrich, DeLay, Rove, McConnell, leading, inevitably, to Trump and Trumpism. To save our democracy, authentic conservatives need to join the fight, as once they would have. We liberals can’t do it alone.  
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Friday, November 30, 2018

What A Dick



Saturday's newspaper column:
In this, the season of giving thanks, let’s be grateful to Donald Trump. Confirming the failings of his version of capitalism, he and his excusers are proving, before it's too late, that unchecked melding of today’s Republican Party and Trumpism will render the world all but uninhabitable. Two recent publications make it clear.  
Our government – Trump’s, ironically – just released a devastating report on current and future effects of climate change. Undeniably, increasingly, the US and the world are in trouble. Security. Infrastructure. Water resources. Food. Public health. Coastal cities. Peace. Counting on Americans’ preference for sale prices over considering not-fake threats to humankind, Trump tried to hide the report by releasing it on Black Friday. Like the CIA’s conclusion about who murdered Jamal Khashoggi, he says he doesn’t believe it. Middle-fingering the planet, he plans to promote fossil fuels at the upcoming UN climate conference. What embarrassing stupidity.  
But he cares about average Americans, is making America great, his supporters insist, plugging their ears and shouting “La la la la la.” In part because Trump’s ill-considered tariffs cost them billions, Ford and GM have announced plant closings and laying off tens of thousands of workers. Trump’s predictable, accountability-deflecting response: attack and threaten GM’s (female) CEO. Meanwhile, farmers are burying unsellable soy beans or letting them rot in silos. Less than a tenth of the promised corporate welfare necessitated by Trump’s ego-driven trade wars has been sent their way.  
Until President Obama, there’d been few rules requiring the testing of irrigation water for bacteria and other contaminants. Placing private profit above public need, Trump reversed the regulations. And there went the lettuce, along with the health of consumers. 
Observing corporate donors to Republicans, demanding and getting deregulation at the expense of the public weal, offers a clear-eyed view of America’s trajectory. Unsustainable, unforgivable, Trump has uncoupled our economy from social conscience. Corporate greed, combined with his government’s disinterest in wise stewardship, have pushed us to a precipice. Members of his party don’t care.  
Commissioned by the UN, an international group of scientists and economists just released a sobering report on the future of capitalism. The challenges of climate change, diminishing resources, rising population, failing infrastructure, and exponentially-increasing energy demands are exceeding the capabilities of traditional capitalism. A new economic model is necessary, the report concludes, one which places the survival of humanity and our planet higher than endless consumption and misdirected profit. 
As America heads in the opposite direction, facilitated by dismissive rightwing and timorous mainstream media, Republicans turning to scapegoating and denialism, abandoning conservatism, offering ignorance and scorn (Santorum: scientists are in it for the money), but no utile solutions, optimism becomes a fantasy. Europe, less so 
Trumpic capitalism prizes short-term profit above all. Eschewing social conscience, it disregards the interest of average citizens, produces gargantuan budget deficits, is concerned only about maximizing income for CEOs and shareholders. It pollutes the land, poisons our water and crops, worsens climate change, consumes finite resources with no thought to the future. It institutionalizes destructive selfishness. 
The fault is not with capitalism, per se. After all, it’s just a system managed by humans. The fault lies with those humans who sell, and those happy to buy, the idea that we needn’t think beyond ourselves. The ones who believe, or pretend, climate change is a hoax; or if it isn’t, it’s not worth addressing. Who approve farm and other corporate subsidies but consider recipients of social services freeloaders. The ones grateful to have a “leader” who makes ignorance and inaction acceptable. 
Some corporations in our country have a conscience (unsurprisingly, they tend to have liberal ownership). Some countries on our planet have merged capitalism and moral sensibility, benefitting all citizens. Countries which also sit atop measures of health and happiness; which, understanding science, are switching to sustainable energy sources, a value derided and dismissed by Trump et ilk. 
Ronald Reagan embedded in the Republican Party the idea that America is better off when it ignores the needs of the many in favor of the wealth of the few. Trump is his inevitable, if more heartless, successor.  
Neither our Constitution nor economic theories accounted for or anticipated such rapid devolution, and too many Americans have been convinced it’s okay. In today’s political environment, it’s hard to imagine meaningful debate about these important, challenging topics, much less finding solutions. I can’t. 
And I expect to hear from Trumpophiles who’ll prove me right.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Midterminations


Putting my Saturday column (yes, I guess I'm back) up early. Might be too engorged later in the week.
After Washington went to mail-in ballots, I mourned going to my car, changing clothes, and voting again, just as Trump said. Those poll-ladies were suckers for my Groucho glasses. I forget how I signed in, and under whose names, but it must have been easy. Donald Trump doesn’t lie. 
Probably I saw illegal immigrants voting, too. Lou Dobbs says millions did this time, and had a “huge impact;” so I must have seen a few back then. Had I known, I’d have signed them up for Social Security.  
I was cavorting around Italy on Election Day, but news travels fast. Maybe it was delicious Italian coffee buzzing my brain, but Trump’s behavior after the election has seemed even more detached from reality than before. I laughed when Mitch McConnell warned against abandoning bipartisanship, though. Far as I could tell, he was serious. Spending hours in enormous churches containing the best of human artistry, much of it depicting the Final Judgement, one could almost believe such outrageous hypocrisy won’t go unpunished.  
Which ought also to apply to Trump, who’d melt like the wicked witch were he ever to set foot inside an honest church, and whose two-a-day rallies leading up to the election impossibly topped his customary level of deranged, desperate lying. Democrats want open borders, will kill Medicare, won’t protect preexisting conditions: that sort of ungrounded madness. One of his ads was so dishonest and racist, even Fox “news” wouldn’t run it. But Trumpists loved his lies like I loved gelato. 
About half the candidates to whom I gave money won. Looks like it’ll take another cycle or two, and more recognition of the damage being done by the party of Trump, for Texas to turn blue; it’ll get there, maybe even before it’s too late. Republican governors who remade their states into showcases of Republican economics, driving them into the sort of debt and failed governance Trump is creating, lost.  
As sanity searches for a way back into American politics, I chose to return home, rather than seek asylum. Included in their broad representation of our nation’s diversity were eight scientists elected by Democrats, which holds hope for addressing climate change. Republicans elected three people currently under indictment and one dead pimp. Like refugees in the caravan, sanity has a ways to go, and could drop out before arriving. 
Speaking of which, we haven’t heard much about the existential threat posed by that caravan lately, have we? Trump’s hate- and fear-mongering suckered his base, per usual. Now he’s lying about Finns and rakes, again showcasing his cluelessness about how things work. 
Republicans have long realized that, given the widespread unpopularity and oft-demonstrated unworkability of their ideas, the ultimate threat to their power is a fair electoral system. They can attack education and expertise, lie without remorse, threaten the very idea of an adversarial, inquisitive press; but if all citizens have the same opportunity to vote, they know they can’t sustain such a top-heavy, self-serving agenda. 
The midterms provided evidence both of the power of their suppression tactics, and evidence that it can be overcome. Many states flipped to Democratic legislatures. Undoing the sort of gerrymandering that gave North Carolina ten of thirteen US Representatives despite getting only half the votes becomes possible, even as their lame-duck legislators get quacking to prevent it.  
Forced by the courts to redraw Republican-created districts, Pennsylvania voted about equally for Ds and Rs, resulting in equal numbers of winners. (North Carolina was similarly ordered, but ignored it!) Young people voted in record numbers, still appallingly low. When they see the forest for the burning trees, everything changes.  
Over 300-million tickets were purchased in the recent national mega-lottery. Winners were known within minutes, including where tickets were sold. By contrast, vote totals and outcomes remained unknown in some localities after a week. Rolls purged of legal voters, long lines, mysteriously broken or absent machines, especially in minority districts: elections in the US are, to use Trump’s perennially misused phrase, a disgrace. That it’s deliberate becomes obvious. This, the literal stealing of elections by Republicans, not fake news about Democrats in disguise and illegals voting, is America’s true shame. 
It won’t change under Republicans, and everyone who believes in democracy should care. Sadly, that doesn’t include Trump and his lie-preferring excusers, who, no doubt, also loved his third-grade-level insult of Adam Schiff.  
Dang, I miss gelato.

Friday, October 26, 2018

If His Lips Are Moving



A brief columnar interlude. Couldn't stand being silent.
My recent leave-taking resumes after today. There’s only so much…  
Nevertheless, the latest torrent of atrocities by the person squatting atop our government ought not pass uncommented. Nor should the continued obeisance of his adoring mob. Though Trump’s lies and insults to decency have been unrelenting for years, what pricketh me just now is his insane claim, at a recent “I’ll-speak-of-my-greatness-while-you-shout-your-affirmation” rally, that the just-passed opioid bill received “hardly any votes from Democrats.” The actual vote was 98 -1 in the Senate, with the only no vote coming from a Republican. In the House, it was 393 – 8. That’s sickness.  
And, of course, there’s the calculus – to which some well-known preachers unashamedly have subscribed – that murdering a reporter, cutting him into pieces while still alive, lying about it, providing a series of increasingly bizarre explanations, must be overlooked so we can sell $110 billions worth of weapons to the perpetrators. 
Which is also a lie. $110 billion is fantasy, consisting of promises extending for decades, deals done by the previous administration, and about $4 billion actually in the pipeline. Plus, every time Trump mentions it, he up-puffs the numbers of potential jobs created. Four-hundred thousand, then five, then six. Most recently, a million. Says the Pentagon: maybe forty-thousand. 
Claiming unspecified Russian cheating, Trump would end Reagan’s nuclear treaty, to build short-range nukes. Coincidentally, wanting to deploy them around his borders, Putin proposed the same, ten years ago. Puppetry?  
Trump said his people were working “around the clock” on a middle-class tax cut before the election. White House staff hadn’t heard of it, so they’re scrambling to pretend it’s real. 
What do such ridiculous lies tell us, about the “president” and about those who excuse them? Is there an explanation that doesn’t foretell the end of our Republic? We’re in a dystopian world, arguing whether a “president” of the formerly exceptional United States isn’t really lying because he’s too stupid or uniformed to know truth; or whether he lies deliberately, dismissing his supporters as too dumb or Foxified to awaken to it; or whether he’s a diagnosable pathological liar. Which explanation is the least disturbing? Which suggests there’s room for moral awakening among his enablers?  
Oh, but Democrats want mob rule! If Lindsey “ignore-what-I-used-to-say” Graham buys it, so should you. Democrats want open borders, oppose the rule of law, would end Medicare by improving it, turning the US into Venezuela; are paying caravans of criminals to come to America to vote in November. The more preposterous, the more evidence-free, the more it’s repeated by Trump and rightwing TV propagandists and air-jockeys. And swallowed whole by Trumpists. 
Whose rallies are actual mobs spewing hate at reporters, demanding locking up former opponents, ignoring the law? For that matter, who benefits from refugees heading this way? George Soros, or those fear-mongering and demonizing them right before the election? A “national emergency,” says Trump. They’re walking. A thousand miles.  
Across the country, Republicans are purging voter rolls, refusing legitimate voters (assisted by Brett Kavanaugh’s first SCOTUS decision), distributing falsehoods about polling places and closing them in Democratic districts. When you can’t win the battle of ideas, you block the doors to the arena. It’s what the “party of Lincoln” has become. 
I know intelligent, thoughtful conservatives who claim to dislike Trump but who’ll vote for his party anyway, who pretend it’ll miraculously cleanse itself, requiring no action on their part. Who, one concludes, dislike Trump’s transgressions much less than they profess.  
Beyond his ludicrous lying, we’ve just learned Trump is considering going after transgender people, because… well, because he can. Because the same national “Christian” leaders who place money above morality – it’s their own business model, after all -- will praise his “defense of Christianity.” It would harm more than a million Americans, helping none. Other than Trump, that is, who’s made a career of hurting others to his own benefit.  
Trumpists don’t like being told they love him because he hates who they hate, nor having it pointed out that their acquiescence to Trump’s malignant mendacity can be explained only as preference for lies. By now, though, it’s undeniable. If his lips are moving…  
And this, just in: Trump doesn’t encourage violence or praise people who body-slam journalists. So those bombs sent to everyone he targets at his rallies? False flag 
November approaches, America. It’s now or never.
   [Image source]

Friday, October 5, 2018

Surgery: The Flip Side (And Trump)


This is gonna be my last newspaper column for a while, but I'll still post stuff on my blog. Sorta tired of pissing into the wind.
Implicit in the ability of a surgeon to do good is the potential for harm. If dwelling on it can be paralyzing, ignoring it is dangerous...  
Imagine being parents of a perfect newborn. The joys and worries of pregnancy have resulted in a beautiful boy. He coos, wraps his hand around your finger as you feed him. You’ve never felt such love.

Then, at six weeks old, your baby begins vomiting, keeping almost nothing down, not gaining weight. Hypertrophic pyloric stenosis, the surgeon calls it, speaking Greek, or Martian, telling you an operation is needed. Like a raw doughnut tossed into a fryer, the circular muscle at the bottom of the stomach has grown, too fast, preventing the stomach from proper emptying. Pyloromyotomy is the curative operation. 
Think of a tight ring over a gloved finger. The aim is to cut and open the ring, but not the glove; to see the glove fabric bulge up through the ring, indicating it's free. But if the fabric itself is pierced, it’s a bad thing. The glove is the inner lining of the stomach, so a hole in it causes leaking stomach contents. 
It’s necessary to divide the entire muscle or the operation won't be effective; too deep, there’s the hole. The local anatomy is tricky, increasing the chance of damage, and everything is tiny. If recognized, a hole is sewn up. The danger is not noticing. That can be deadly. And it’s up to me. 
In a fog of fear, the parents listen. I tell them about the possible problem and what’s done to avoid it. I caution that their child might still vomit for a few hours, but in all likelihood, he'll be home in a day or two, doing fine. They agree, of course. 
There's something outlandishly disproportionate about a little baby on a big table in a huge OR. I could cover the entire person with my two hands. All the machinery, the tools, the drapes, the surrounding team seem grotesquely outsized. It's like a joke, except it's real and the stakes are high. Ignore the reality and focus on the job at hand. Tiny incision, toy-like instruments, fine little sutures at the end. It goes perfectly. 
"S#!t," I say, as the phone jars me awake at two a.m. It’s my usual response, whatever the call. Now a nurse informs me the baby has a fever of 103º and his abdomen is rigid, an ominous sign. "I'll be right there," I tell her, forcing words through my suddenly constricted throat. 
It's easy to describe how I felt, because it happens again whenever I think about it. Had my wife awakened, I’m certain she'd have seen me appear ghost-white. My stomach was acid; my hands were ice. I could barely tie my shoes, those cold hands shaking, not following commands. An algid force gripped my neck; I could hardly swallow. 
After splashing water on my face, I ran to my car. As I drove, hands so tightly on the wheel that they were getting numb, I told myself I'd do whatever was in my power to save the child, whatever it takes. Stay by his side till it was over. And then never, never, ever, ever do a pyloromyotomy again. And if he did poorly, I'd never operate again. This was a baby. Someone's precious baby. 
Not waiting for the elevator, I took stairs two at a time to the pediatric floor, saw the nurses standing by, felt as if a million eyes were on me, accusing and angry. (They weren't. But that's how it seemed.) And there he was. Fussy face flushed with fever, but moving around actively, looking otherwise okay. His belly was soft as, well, a baby's belly. An X-ray appeared normal. Whatever that fever was, it was gone by morning. 
Nearly limp, still shaking, I drove home barely able to control the car, wrung out like a wet sock. Exhausted, I crumpled onto the bed, relieved, but absolutely spent. An hour or so later, I dragged myself to work. And next time a pediatrician called me about a kid with pyloric stenosis, I took a deep breath, recalling that night, and said... "I'll be right there."  
And now, for a sad return to current events, read this eulogy for America. Vote for decency and against Trumpic cruelty in November, or it’s lost. There’s nothing more to say. 
 


Friday, September 28, 2018

Easy Choice



Saturday's newspaper column, today.
Let’s ignore whether Brett Kavanaugh’s behavior as a teenager predicts future character. After all, who among us didn’t attempt a rape or two in high school? What parents didn’t raise their children, boys and girls, to understand it’s just how things work? And what evangelical preacher son of an evangelical preacher hasn’t taught us that attempted rapists “respect” their victims when they “walk away” after the girls lock themselves in bathrooms? 
That aside, assume, for a moment, Professor Ford is being truthful. Is it hard to imagine how traumatized she’d have been? Might one understand her sense of injustice at seeing her attacker ascending to our nation’s highest court? Is it impossible to believe she’d feel compelled to speak out, for her own sake, if not for the country’s? 
Consider other possible responses. What if Kavanaugh had the human decency to say, “I don’t remember the events, but I got so drunk in those days I can’t say they didn’t happen. If so, I’m deeply sorry, and I understand the anger and hurt. I hope people can believe I’m no longer that boy.” What if, instead of attacking Professor Ford, Republicans had expressed a modicum of empathy and understanding? Might it make approval more palatable?  
None of that happened, of course; empathy and understanding aren’t who they are. Leaders and, evidently, most members of today’s Republican Party, including, amazingly enough, many women, don’t regard women that highly. Their responses to Kavanaugh’s accusers include only “she’s lying” and “what’s the big deal.” Comments coming from the Republican men on the Judiciary Committee (most of whom voted against the Violence Against Women Act) ought to appall all women and at least that subset of men who have wives, daughters, sisters, or mothers.  
Having elected a “president” who bragged about sexual predation, the reaction from the right is consistent. Trump’s amorality was well-enough known before the election that it must have been thought a positive by his voters, making their current attitude explainable. 
To characterize Professor Ford as anything but brave is to be willfully blind. She knew what she was in for, including now-routine death threats, yet decided sharing her story was important enough to risk ruining her life. Will it ruin Kavanaugh’s? Hardly. He’ll likely be approved anyway; if not, he still has a lifetime job with cushy hours and enviable pay.  
That she didn’t report the crime when it happened is no mystery. Girls have always known what to expect: insinuations and accusations, word against word; especially privileged word. Who can doubt the fear and shame, the blame and repercussions certain to follow? Republican leaders, and Trumpists, is who. 
So the question isn’t just whether Brett Kavanaugh belongs on the Court. It includes the much larger issue of how women are treated, especially by our respective political parties. Whether women who accuse men of sexual crimes should be considered truthful unless proven otherwise, or only the accused? Someone is lying. Why should that presumption apply only to the claimant? Yes, false accusations can happen; as can false declarations of innocence. Which is why not rushing to Judge-ment is called for. 
Accordingly, one might ponder the significance of Ms. Ford requesting an FBI investigation, while Kavanaugh and his backers stand against it. Maybe they’re worried about his fishy finances being addressed, too.  
But, okay. She’s lying, as are the others who’ve since come forward, because what woman wouldn’t? Besides, assaulting women is simply what guys do. As it happens, though, there remain compelling reasons to reject Kavanaugh, beginning with the gnathonic, non-independent-judiciary-ish words he spoke at his nomination ceremony, and ending with lying to Congress, at least twice, under oath. Not that Republicans ever considered the latter an impeachable offense.  
Dodging questions, claiming memory loss, offering self-righteous refusals, Kavanaugh made Neil Gorsuch seem like Moses on Sinai. Running to Fox “news” was glaringly unjudicial in itself, and pathetic as he repeated rehearsed talking points, again and again. But, having chosen him not for integrity, but for his views on presidential indictments, regulations, workers’ rights, plus his irrefragable future approval of their voter-suppression tactics, Republicans are determined to seat him, regardless.  
Whatever else is true, his performance at Thursday’s hearing, unhinged, making crazy claims about the Clintons, hyper-partisan shouting, emotional instability, says he’ll never be an impartial jurist. And that was when he was sober! His unsuitability for the Court couldn’t be more evident
[Image source]

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