Thursday, April 27, 2017

Immutable Values


My upcoming newspaper column:
Donald Trump used to love polls. There’s a recent one he might have liked, though it received little attention. Comparing views of Democrats and Republicans on Trump bombing Syria, and how they differed from four years ago under President Obama, it found that in 2013, 38% of Democrats supported the idea. Now the number is 37%. In 2013 22% of Republicans favored it. This time around, it’s 86%. That’s as revelatory as it is unsurprising. One party had consistent values, another didn’t. For Trump, that’s good news, and affirming.  
There’s nothing Trump can do or do not that will diminish support among those who see wonderfulness in him. Failures? He tried. Michele Bachmann (among others) still believes Jesus put him in the White House. Jesus, who bade us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, who warned about rich men, camels, and needles, and had a thing about healing the sick, gave us a president who’d ignore the needy while taking away their health care and enriching the wealthy. Jesus was silent on coal sludge in our streams and lead in our pipes, but I’m guessing He’d have been against them. Also, praising despots. Trump’s His boy? Not buying it.  
I send my columns in before Saturday, but I’ll predict that today, Trump’s hundredth in office -- a benchmark he repeatedly touted and by which time he promised big things during the campaign but has, like most of his assertions, recently disavowed -- Obamacare hasn’t been repealed and replaced, ISIS hasn’t been defeated, a budget agreement hasn’t been reached, tax overhaul hasn’t happened, and the wall isn’t under construction. Or funded.  
You’d think these reversals would be of concern to his supporters. They aren’t. You’d think there’d be second thoughts among those who voted for a naïf who only now discovered health care is complicated, relations between China and North Korea are fraught, NATO is indispensable, the Import-Export Bank does good, China stopped being a currency manipulator (Trump claims they stopped when he got elected. It ended at least two years earlier.) That each of these represents a one-hundred-eighty-degree flop ought to give Trumpists pause. Likewise, that Angela Merkel had to tell him eleven times how the EU works.  
It hasn’t. To them, it means he’s flexible. Their votes for a person who opines on subjects about which he knows nothing, makes up facts, lies repeatedly about impossible plans, changes his tune after talking to China’s Xi for a mere ten minutes, are of no concern. No worry about who he’ll spend the next ten minutes with, to arrive at what epiphany. “No one knew flying was hard,” said the pilot. “No prahhhhblemmmmmm,” said the passengers, all the way down.  
Recently, a letter here complained about jokes at Trump’s expense. What if it were Obama, the writer asked. Fair enough: who can explain humor? But could that writer or any Trump apologists say they’d have had no problem were it Barack Obama whose people had shady Russia connections, lied about them, and the lies were covered up? What if he’d promised not to golf and then did, at record-breaking pace? Would they have been okay with blatant conflicts of interest, lining his pockets with taxpayer money at various businesses? They hated President Obama’s use of executive orders. Not Trump’s. Or his projected trillions in budget deficits. Aren’t core values sort of immutable?  
With rare exceptions, Trumpophiles email me with linguistically colorful avoidance of issues. I offer to engage, curious why they’re okay with reversing pollution regulations, auto emission standards, workplace protections, cutting medical research, and childcare for working moms. I ask which of Trump’s actions have helped anyone but corporatists. No replies. It’s puzzling.  
In Donald Trump I see a man who blames others for his failures, a perpetual liar who’s admitted he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, hasn’t fulfilled any important promises, whose idea of foreign policy is dropping explosives, literal and vocal. I see someone unable to form intelligible sentences, stick to a topic or avoid gasconade from capital letter to period; who has no appreciation of the Constitution; who’s more interested in ratings than reality, who wastes valuable time holding pretentious rallies for himself. 
His people love it.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Fair Is Fair


Don't know what quids were quoed, but this is a good thing that Trump has done:

An Egyptian American charity worker who was imprisoned in Cairo for three years and became the global face of Egypt’s brutal crackdown on civil society returned home to the United States late Thursday after the Trump administration quietly negotiated her release.
President Trump and his aides worked for several weeks with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi to secure the freedom of Aya Hijazi, 30, a U.S. citizen, as well as her husband, Mohamed Hassanein, who is Egyptian, and four other humanitarian workers. Trump dispatched a U.S. government aircraft to Cairo to bring Hijazi and her family to Washington...
Obama tried. Sissi seems less than a good guy, and I assume Obama wasn't willing to kiss his ass the way Trump did when he visited Washington recently. So who knows what deals were made or implied?

We can expect Trump to tout this like crazy, and I guess he deserves it. It's not as if he has much else to point to, other than getting a predictable hard case on the Supreme Court.

[Update: Yup. All about himself. Still an asshole.]

[Image source]

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Greater Of Two Evils


My upcoming newspaper column:
Fox and Friends, Donald Trump’s favorite source of fair and fawning news, recently featured interviews of Harvard students. Asked who is more dangerous, ISIS or Trump, to the smug derision and faux shock of the studio-bound, their answer was Trump. After showing the video, the gaggle interviewed the interviewer, who produced random unsubstantiated claims and conclusions. The thing is, notwithstanding the condescension of the couched, those students were apodictically correct. 
Which is not to say that ISIS or wannabes in their thrall are incapable of doing considerable harm in the US. They have. They will again. But destroying the institutions of our democracy? That, only Trump is doing. Killing Americans by the tens of thousands? Not ISIS, not on our soil. We don’t yet know whether Trump’s impulsive, uninformed, and discohesive foreign policy will lead to American deaths. Let’s hope not. With certainty, though, we know his domestic policies will.   
For example: each year, between twelve and fifteen thousand Americans die from asbestos-related causes. Yet Donald Trump -- who’s referred to asbestos as “100% safe” -- and his EPA head would deregulate it. In the same phlebitic vein, their removal of environmental protections, clean air regulations, water quality rules, allowing the use of clearly dangerous pesticides, reversing climate change mitigation, coal plant cleanup, and too much more to stomach, will lead to countless more death and disability than ISIS ever dreamed. So will his rejection of science research. Trumpists’ denials won’t change the truth. If they’ve somehow rationalized approval of those destructive actions, they need to explain why. 
Threatening our free press, attacking the exercise of rights to assemble and protest, granting clandestine ethics waivers to his swamp-born appointees, Trump erodes both trust in government, and the ways by which we hold it to account. His steady stream of lies big and small, and reneging on most of the promises on which he campaigned (golf being the least of it!) make it obligatory to question everything coming from him or his government. Same with his tweets. Is this more damaging than ISIS? In terms of what makes America great, absolutely. 
This isn’t speculation; it’s happening. And if lying about releasing tax records doesn’t rise to the level of life-threatening, it does, along with the aforementioned throwing ethics overboard, raise legitimate concerns about having turned our government over to thieves and swindlers, who’d enrich themselves at the expense of the health and well-being of average Americans. As witness, the tens of thousands of deaths predicted by repealing Obamacare to provide tax breaks for their pals; or the effects on women’s health of defunding Planned Parenthood (which Trump signed in private), or the heartless results of cutting nutrition programs for children. Pointing to ISIS is distraction from all this. 
The greater threat is obvious. The only way America can be brought down is from within, by lying autocratic politicians, deceivers, and by the lazy voters (and non-voters) and complicit press who enable and excuse them. Trumpism is the Cascadia fault line. ISIS is a tremor.  
And now, having praised those Harvardites for their grasp of the obvious, let me acknowledge college students can also be idiots. When I was one, I was one. But I never shouted anyone down, demanded a speaker be disinvited, or felt “unsafe” in the face of contrary ideas. Nor did my classmates, some of whom turned their backs, or walked out, or refused diplomas when Robert McNamara was given an honorary degree at our graduation. (That was early enough among Vietnam war protests that it made national headlines.)  
No more than “alt-right” threats and violence against minorities define true conservatism do those safe-space-seeking, micro-aggression-claiming, speech-drowning students define liberalism. They’re the opposite. They anger and embarrass me, as do administrators who coddle them. There are words and actions, especially directed against minorities, that are inexcusable and shouldn’t be tolerated, on campus or anywhere. But if colleges and universities aren’t places where uncomfortable and unfamiliar ideas can be aired and challenged by direct discourse, what are?  
As to those who turn peaceful protests violent, I abhor them even more: effectively, they may as well be working for Trump. For that matter, since it’s always a handful of goons in disguise, who can say they aren’t?  
[Image source]

Friday, April 14, 2017

Onward Christian Coppers...


So this is happening:
An Alabama Presbyterian church may soon become the first in the nation to form its own police force, invested by the state with the rights of “regular” police. 
Officials at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, which belongs to the smaller and more conservative of the nation’s two major branches of the denomination, say their church, with 4,100 congregants and a 2,000-student school, needs the protection of a church-run police force...
I'm gonna assume that everyone who's okay with this would be similarly okay if a nearby mosque were to do the same thing. And if not, why?

Don't get me started on Gurkhas. Or those Shaolin guys.

[Image source]

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Syriously Unserious?


My upcoming newspaper column:
Who could see images of dead children after a gas attack and do nothing? Not even people who demand keeping those same kids away from our shores. Nearly with one voice, Congress extolled Trump’s flip of the back of his tiny hand in the general direction of Assad’s face, while liberal commentators on cable television rhapsodized that the missile strike conferred upon him the pallium of presidency. 
Because that’s what defines “presidential.” Not taking care of citizens in need, not protecting the environment or addressing the obvious threat of climate change; not supporting programs that help people find their way out of poverty, or producing a coherent healthcare plan. Calling in from luxury golf resorts, what presidents do is let fly ninety million dollars’ worth of cruise missiles. It makes up for everything. 
Unless it’s Barack Obama asking Congress for authorization. To him, they said “no.” Had President Obama gone ahead anyway, according to then-citizen Trump, it’d have been to distract from lousy poll numbers. But that was when Trump was tweetvocating the opposite of what he just did, and when the Russia thing wasn’t a thing. 
There are no good answers in the Middle East, any more than there was a secret Trumpic plan to defeat ISIS, so, assuming the facts are as he claims, it’s hard to fault his choice. In his position, though, I might not have fired off meaningless missiles, having first alerted Russia (before informing Congress or the State Department), who told Syria, who moved personnel and armaments out of the way. But it was definitely “something.” Assad resumed sorties from the airfield within hours, back to where the gassing occurred. If “something” was called for, was that it? To what end? Of which dog? And what’s next?  
It sent a message, gushed the gushers: “We’re back! Don’t mess with us because there’s more where that came from!” Or was it, “If you do certain sorts of badness we’ll symbolic gesture the heck out of you”? Either way, its most undeniable accomplishment was changing the domestic conversation.  
Is it coincidental that Assad’s attack came right after Trump signaled it’s no longer our concern who’s in charge of Syria? Trump blamed President Obama’s previous decision not to act. Maybe he’s right. Maybe Congress should have granted authority when asked. Maybe, like Trump, President Obama shouldn’t have bothered following the Constitution when committing an act of war. I don’t know. Really, I don’t.  
But I do know some things. I know there’s no lasting US-dominated military solution over there, with or without ground forces. I know if it’s possible to influence history in our favor it’s more likely to occur by providing aid to refugees than by creating more of them. I know the situation is so complicated that the adage “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” doesn’t apply and never has. More like, “My enemy is my enemy and so is my friend.” 
Of course it’s hard to ignore images of dead children; they’re horrifying. Yet, for Trump et al., it remains easy to spurn living children who, fleeing the devastation, arrive on our doorstep. Spent on them, that ninety million might have done more good, for Syrians and America. Like professing love for the unborn while cutting programs that help impoverished babies after birth, something doesn’t add up. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians have died in their war. Why did only the gassing educe a Trump response? Why so showily military yet strangely sanitized, and why now? Optics, maybe. Deception, even? How can we know? When our president is a proven recidivist liar, every claim he makes, every step he takes becomes suspect. 
Sigh. 
Here we are, possibly uniquely gifted with life in the Universe, and the opportunity – had people more grace and less arrogance – to enjoy and share it. And yet, both by action and neglect, we’re not. Humans are ever more unworthy of their cosmic fortune. As proof, in America, the only thing people from all sides can agree upon is that when Trump authorized a missile strike, it was “presidential.” That’s horrifying, too, and means as a nation, species, and planet, we’re in worse trouble than I thought.
 [Image source]

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lying Liars


The retraction from the Gold House occupant and apologies to Susan Rice from all the RWS™ should be coming any moment now.
Washington (CNN) After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, multiple sources in both parties tell CNN... 
... One congressional intelligence source described the requests made by Rice as "normal and appropriate" for officials who serve in that role to the president. And another source said there's "absolutely" no smoking gun in the reports, urging the White House to declassify them to make clear there was nothing alarming in the documents...
We have a president who lies constantly, to whom the truth is, at best, immaterial. When can we ever believe him? Speaking of which, on a smaller scale I suppose:


The only thing Trump got right in his tweet, however, is the outcome of the race. Estes did not “easily” win on Tuesday, as the president said. In an ultra-conservative district that Trump won by 27 points in November, Estes won by only 7 points. ...Democrats did not spend heavily on the race. In fact, they barely spent anything at all. 
...They did not aid Thompson with funds for advertising. Republicans, on the other hand, poured significant money into the race. They dispatched Sen.Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to stump on behalf of Estes and ran robo-calls from both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Finally, no Democrat “predicted victory” there...
It's obvious by now that Trumpists prefer being lied to. Enjoy it. Find it refreshing, evidently. You know, "sticking it to the establishment."

[Image source]

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Shit Sandwich


This is a perfect example of how Trump, et. al -- in this case, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Attorney General-like Person -- sling bullshit and call it prime rib.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers.
... “The availability of prompt and accurate forensic science analysis to our law enforcement officers and prosecutors is critical to integrity in law enforcement, reducing violent crime, and increasing public safety,” Sessions said in the statement... (My emphasis)
In other words, from now on we'll be the ones deciding what constitutes factual forensic science. Because, you know, that review stuff just slows down the process, especially by scientists who know what they're doing. Quick and crappy science is better than resolute and reviewable. Get those perpetrators in (private) prisons, guilty or not.

Sessions is also rolling back any efforts to make the "war on drugs" more rational because mass incarcerations have done so well to win the battle. And he's backing off the Justice Department's role in looking at troubled police departments around the country. By "troubled," I mean ones currently under scrutiny for bad policing. By "bad policing" I mean racism.

Kind of a trifecta, really: go after weed again, lock up the coloreds, and we'll decide what evidence is.

Hard to say which of Trump's appointees will do the most damage, but Sessions and Pruitt are strong candidates for the top slot.

[Image source]

Friday, April 7, 2017

Words Don't Matter, Is The Implication.


A week ago, Rexit suggested that the US will no longer have the goal of removing Assad from power. A few days later he, Assad, used sarin gas. Again. Naturally, Trump blamed it on Obama. Because the words coming from him and his administration don't matter.

Couple years ago, Trump "warned" President Obama not to engage in Syria without Congressional approval. He also, when Obama's poll numbers were low, predicted Obama would strike Syria to improve them. Words, is all.

I have no idea what the right thing to do is, though.

Also, I have no idea what the guy in the picture is talking about.

[Image source]

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Midnight Save


My upcoming newspaper column, a respite from the current reality:
Offering a break from Kremlin on the Potomac, here’s a story modified from my Surgeonsblog days.
If I hadn't just finished a midnight appendectomy, Opal would have died. Not entirely canceling the bad luck in her life, she began her exsanguination when a surgeon and staff were immediately available. Vomiting all that blood, she was close to death when the ambulance arrived. 
Niceties like passing a scope to find the source go out the window when someone is bleeding to death from her stomach. I'd gotten the urgent call about a patient in extremis as I was writing post-op orders for the previous patient. After telling the team to expect more business immediately, I flew down the stairs to the ER to meet Opal, who wasn't in a position to be sociable. In shock, confused, retching blood, she also showed physical side-effects of high-dose steroids, which she was taking for some mysterious disease. Whatever I might do, those drugs would surely limit healing. And you can't stop them abruptly after surgery: it might cause physiological collapse. 
One thing about operating on the hypercritically ill: when you start from zero, there's no downside. She's going to die unless I can do something. No decision there, and, in a perverse way, no pressure: it’d be hard to make things worse. Which is not to say I'm cavalier. I know I'm the only hope she has. 
Based on the odds, I expected a bleeding duodenal ulcer, the surgical approach to which is generally quick and comparatively easy. Not Opal: likely due to her steroids, she presented me with two enormous ulcers encompassing most of her stomach, one of which had eaten through the back wall of it and into the splenic artery. No wonder she was bleeding so massively: that's a big one. One of my surgical teachers used to say, jokingly, not to worry about bleeding unless you can hear it. This I could hear. In order to stanch the flow, giving the anesthesia team a chance to fill her tank back up, the first step was to press my finger to the hole in the artery; and then I stood there, a warm-blooded cork. Several bags of blood and saline later, I placed sutures on either side of my finger, around the vessel. Dryness: silent and welcome dryness. Now what? 
Even when unavoidable, operating on someone in shock is not a good thing: it necessarily adds to the trauma, even as it seeks to reverse it. The least you can do is the best you can do. But Opal was in a fix. Having eroded nearly to the point of perforation, those ulcers were too treacherous to leave; plus, I might have just killed her spleen. So, having no lesser options, I chose to remove her entire stomach and her spleen, fashioning a sort of stomach-substitute reservoir out of intestine and connecting it to the end of her esophagus. Too much surgery, really, for such a sick and medically depleted lady, and I went fast as possible to minimize her anesthesia time. Despite my having told the family to expect a challenging stay in intensive care, with death a real possibility, Opal recovered without complications, thanks in no small part to great care from excellent nurses. 
Her life was tough: she lived in a half-hovel, to which I made many visits over the next several years, as she'd call with some concern or another and I'd go see her to do what I could. Every Christmas there’d be a card from her, thanking me for another year of life she'd have missed, had we not met. 
Several years later Opal underwent a major operation by a different specialist, and once again nearly died. Not directly involved, but feeling somehow responsible, I visited her daily in the ICU and painted an appropriately grim picture to her family. Yeah yeah, they seemed to say. Heard it all before. And darned if she didn't make it again. This time around, though, she had major healing problems, and I became a pro-bono de-facto visiting nurse, debriding her wound for weeks at her sad little home. I guess I didn't want those Christmas cards to stop. They did, eventually, but not for a few more years.  
[Image source]

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Pulling Toilet Paper Over Our Eyes



In what world is this a repeal of North Carolina's "bathroom bill?" And why is their governor, who won his election by running against that bill, planning to sign it:
... Thursday’s “compromise” bill actually maintains many aspects of HB2. The law prohibited municipalities from establishing LGBT protections at the local level and mandated that in all public facilities, transgender people could only use facilities that match the sex on their birth certificate. The proposed “compromise” repeals HB2, but then immediately reinstates much of it:
  • Only the state legislature would be able to pass any legislation related to the use of multiple-occupancy bathrooms. Thus, no city or public school could assure trans people that they can use facilities that actually match their gender identity.
  • Municipalities would still be banned from passing any LGBT nondiscrimination protections until December 1, 2020...

Did they think the NCAA, which withdrew all tournament games from N.C., would be fooled? Do they think everyone else is that stupid, too? (And how is it that the NCAA, of all institutions, is now a moral force?) Well, turns out they were right about the NCAA. Moral force indeed. "Reluctantly."

We need new terminology. Cynicism is too mild, assholery not broad enough. Assholicism? Sleazophilia? Inhumanearrogantignorantselfrighteousdickheads?

[Image source

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Pessimists


My upcoming newspaper column:
I heard a talk this week by Bryan Stevenson, who grew up amidst the worst sort of racism, became a Harvard-trained lawyer, and dedicated his life to representing people on death row, and to his Equal Justice Initiative. Everyone, especially those who think our system is fair, should read his book, “Just Mercy.” (We treat a guilty wealthy person better than an innocent poor person, he said.) What struck me is how optimistic he is, despite the horrors he’s seen. He still believes in people. 
I had coffee this week with a friend, a hardcore right-winger, who’s my friend because he’s more than just a hardcore right-winger. He loves seeing how upset Donald Trump has made liberals, though. He loved seeing liberals cry on election night, he said. 
The contrast made me realize what’s so depressing about Trump and his supporters and their agenda. It’s so pessimistic. They see no commonality among human beings. They see little worth saving, no value in investing except for themselves. That’s why liberals wept. It’s why I write, even knowing it makes no difference. To give in to their view of the world is to give up on the future, our planet, and, most especially, our children. 
Everything Trump and our Republican Congress have done so far, and what they plan to do, reveals a view of humanity that’s dark and despairing. It’s as if they think we’re so far gone there’s no point in doing anything but enriching themselves, plundering what’s left while they can. Cut school funding, food programs, early childhood education. Ignore climate change, allow companies to exploit workers. Spend more on war. Increase pollution, mine coal in national parks. Curtail research, deny science. Bomb the Middle East with no planning for the consequences. It’s a strange list of priorities, the politics of ignoring and of ignorance, of misanthropy and greed. It’s punitive. It’s a fist, not a hand. These are not the goals of people with hope. In these times caring for others is caring for oneself. Godly folks that they are, they can’t see it. 
Every day, children are born into poverty. Many come to school ill-fed, ill-prepared, facing a world that cares little about them, and, if they’re black and male, a one-in-three chance they’ll end up in prison. The optimist says they’re worth saving, and that in doing so we save ourselves. Ones like Mr. Stevenson say that if they have teachers and counselors and community members who care, who instill in them a sense of their own value, those children can avoid their fate, and our society can avoid the burden it places on us all. The pessimist sees it, at least, but decides there’s nothing that can be done. The Trumpist, though, treats those children as if they don’t exist, because their world includes only people exactly like them. Trumpists see no connection between the fate of those children and their own. Which means they see no future. (Note: I differentiate between Trumpists and true conservatives.) 
This is why people with empathy, who consider their own future bound up with that of the least of us are so saddened by what they see. Because none of this makes sense unless you have no hope. It doesn’t even make sense in the world Trumpists claim to see: they’d love to end Planned Parenthood, for example, in the name of ending abortion (and to anger liberals). Doing so increases the number of unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and children starting out with two strikes. Their professed love for the unborn ends at birth, at which point they turn their backs. This is the opposite of government of and for the people. It’s self-defeating. And because it makes no sense, it’s hard to avoid the original proposition: theirs is the politics of darkness and pessimism. (And, in the case of Donald Trump, vengeance for a lifetime of perceived slights.) 
Bryan Stevenson says there are things anyone can do. “Be present.” Take risks by going places you’d rather not be. Face our past and future honestly, because acknowledgement is the first step toward reconciliation. 
For the sake of our children we have to resist the darkness. I know writing isn’t enough. Somehow, I have to do more.
[Image source]

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Worst Among Us


What have we become?
The world’s largest humanitarian crisis in 70 years has been declared in three African countries on the brink of famine, just as President Donald Trump’s proposed foreign aid cuts threaten to pull the United States from its historic role as the world’s top emergency donor.
Is this why Donald Trump was elected? Do those who voted for him find this appealing? Well, it's Africa, after all, so probably they do. Me, it makes feel sick.

So does thinking about the prospect of our planetary future, as Trump, surrounded by willingly deceived coal miners, signs away all of President Obama's climate change leadership. Literally, it makes me feel sick. And sad. And helpless.

Sure, letting other people starve so we can give our wealthiest citizens tax breaks doesn't really hurt Trump voters. But climate change, sooner or later, will. Does Trump really believe it's a hoax? Do he and his puppetmasters think their progeny will be fine, or don't they care as long as they're able to enrich themselves, now?

The best one can say about them is that they're delusional or stupid. The evidence suggests, though, that they're simply awful human beings. The worst of humanity. Greedy, selfish, pathological.

And, in many cases, elected.

[Image source]

Friday, March 24, 2017

Courtship


Having been through it a few times, we've all come to understand that Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominees reveal exactly nothing. Neil Gorsuch, it turns out, believes in following the law. He thinks no one, not even a president, is above the law. These attestations are the equivalent of a surgeon promising to wash her hands and put on gloves before poking around in your entrails.

And we know senators of the nominee's party will try to get at how much they love their mother, and those of the other side will try to get him or her to commit to certain judicial views or to comment on various Court decisions from the past. The nominee will, of course, not. When, like Gorsuch did, the last few Republican nominees stated one thing or another is "settled law," it has turned out to mean, "look out!"

Given the powerlessness of Democrats, it's a foregone conclusion that he'll be approved. (Unless a couple of R Senators take to heart the concept of waiting to see if Trump is going down.) Still, I think there have been some points made that, in a rational world which might or might not exist in some parallel universe, would cause a nominee (and American citizens) to stop and think.

In particular, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's disquisition on the countless 5-4 decisions in favor of corporations and against individuals, and his comments on the combined $17 million spent by shadow groups to prevent a hearing on Merrick Garland and to promote Neil Gorsuch, are worthy of notice. What, he wondered, did those unknown (thanks to "Citizens United") corporatists expect to get for the money spent? It's worth a viewing. So is Al Franken's time in the barrel.

Pretenses from both sides notwithstanding, nominations to the Supreme Court are anything but apolitical. They're as political as it gets. Thus, Mitch "Hypocrisy is Us" McConnell's blocking of even a hearing for Garland. Thus John Roberts' lie about "calling balls and strikes."

It's indisputable, as demonstrated by those 5-4 decisions and the predictable sides taken, that most cases making it to the Supreme Court have legitimate legal arguments on both sides. Which means decisions are based not on strict interpretation of the law but on political prejudices; or, more generously, colored by life experiences. "Original intent" is a shibboleth.

So whereas my inclination, having grown up in the home of a state Supreme Court judge, is to look only at whether a person is qualified (which Gorsuch is), the reality is that it's not unreasonable for senators to consider a nominee's political persuasion and vote accordingly. It is, after all, what motivates their decisions and it's the reason they were nominated in the first place. And there's a lot at stake.

[Image source]

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Budget Goodness


My upcoming newspaper column:
Reading their budget and health care solutions has changed my mind about Donald Trump and the people in charge of him. Finally, we have a presidency with the right priorities. 
Climate change research has been a huge waste of money. Trump’s people noticed exactly what I did: the more we spend on research, the worse the climate changes. You could draw a graph. And those Earth-watching satellites haven’t cooled us one single degree. 
Environmental protection? The environment is supposed to protect US, not the other way around. If God wanted cleanliness next to Himliness, He wouldn’t have invented dinosaurs and turned them into coal. It’s right there in the Bible. 
And since Donald Trump is going to revive coal, why shouldn’t he eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission? Once coal sludge is streaming again, those people won’t need help, because they’ll have all the jobs they ever could want. That’s also why it makes sense to cut the Chemical Safety Board, which just gets in the way. 
Some losers are unhappy that the cuts are to pay for more aircraft carriers and the border wall. Not me. If there’d been a carrier parked outside Orlando, that bombing never would have happened. And with a wall, there’ll be no more Timothy McVeighs. Also, having the nukes to exterminate humanity sounds great on paper, but can we really ever have enough? No way North Korea will toss one of theirs over here when they know they’ll die five extra times. If SecRex wants war with them, I want to be ready, which makes us a lot safer than educating a bunch of children. 
Mass transit? You can fit seven people in a minivan. That center for virus threats? Who can even see those things? Planned Parenthood? Cancer screening belongs in emergency rooms, where they’re free. 
I totally agree coal miners and single moms shouldn’t have to pay for public broadcasting. Trump’s Mar-a-lago trips and Melania’s NYC bivouac are different, though. Big Bird is fake and Ken Burns is a liberal. 
Other liberals are whining about cuts that might affect Meals on Wheels. Sorry: Trump’s America is about dignity. Old people should earn their meals. It’s a kindness, because self-reliance makes food taste better. They say a half-million veterans depend on the program, too, but what were they fighting for if not to help society instead of take from it? I won’t miss the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, either. If poor people can’t huddle together when it’s cold, who can? Same with hungry kids when school meals are cut: maybe they’ll get hungry to learn. Creationism. 
As an eighth-grader I was warned about hazing in high school. I remember walking past some upperclassmen, who wondered if I was a freshman. “I don’t know, but he looks too big to mess with,” was the conclusion. (Back then I was six-foot-four.) That’s when I learned about “hard power” like Trump’s budget guy mentioned. We’ve been walking around the planet like a bunch of five-foot do-gooders, offering food and medicine and agricultural assistance to poor countries. Time to drive through with a few of those Abrams tanks the Pentagon said they didn’t need. Now they will. Diesel fumes and tread tracks: that’s where respect comes from, and it doesn’t require a bunch of State Department lifers to earn it. So good riddance to them. 
Good riddance, too, to legal services for the poor. The last thing we need is more lawsuits clogging up our courts. Which are being cut. 
Here’s another smart thing Trump did. My brain got totally filled in medical school and surgery training. People have no idea how hard it is to assimilate all the new stuff coming from research centers. That nightmare is about to end. We doctors will be able to stick with what we already know, which often works. And if money for cancer investigators is so great, why do people still catch it? Same with any research. If you need to know something, google it. 
People say Trump’s budget and healthcare plans won’t pass, and his Muslim bans were a mess. Well, he warned we’d get tired of winning. To prevent that, he produced a string of losses. That’s what real caring looks like.
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

If You Can't Persuade Them, Threaten Them


Well, of course he was kidding. I mean, after all, it's not like his entire career was one of bullying, suing, threatening, and lying.

President Trump went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning to sell the House GOP leadership’s plan to overhaul the health-care system ...
... “I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,’ ” Trump said, according to several Republican lawmakers who attended the meeting. “Honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks.”...
... Meadows added that he didn’t take Trump’s comments too seriously: “I didn’t take anything he said as threatening anybody’s political future.”
“Oh, he was kidding around,” said Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), a supporter of the bill. “I think.”
It seems, though, having always relied on threats and bullying, his powers of persuasion are a little rusty:
“I’m still a ‘no,’ ” he [Meadows] said. “I’ve had no indication that any of my Freedom Caucus colleagues have switched their votes.”
Deals. He'll make great deals. Winning. We'll get tired of winning.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

IOTUS


Really, it's un-fking-believable. We have a president, reportedly the most powerful person on the planet and surrounds, who listens to "Fox and Friends" as they trot out the latest conspiracy from their latest conspiracy monger, believes it, tweets it out as gospel, and lets the chips fall where they may.

It's hard to talk about it without sputtering, to think about it without developing what feels like temporal arteritis. Donald J. Trump is such a fucking idiot, so stupid, so gullible, credulous, lazy, and just plain nuts that that's where he gets his intelligence info. He watches a klatch of people whose combined IQ appears to be equal to the body temperature of someone pulled out of an avalanche too late; hears words being formed and believes them unquestioningly. And, when the falsity is confirmed, digs in deeper. Foreign policy!

This is the "president" of the United States. The guy, as they say, with the nuclear codes. (By rule, if he orders a launch it's illegal to refuse or question it. They fly.) He gets his information from a TV show. But, you know, everything else is fake.

I can't even.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Wasteland


My next newspaper column:
JFK famously said, “When power corrupts, poetry cleanses,” and he said it right to me. He’d come to my college to break ground for the Robert Frost Library, and spoke to a small crowd (because ours was a small college) of us students and faculty. To honor Frost, who’d graced his inauguration with a poem, President Kennedy traveled to Western Massachusetts, and it was one of his last public appearances. It wasn’t televised or publicized beyond our campus. As a college sophomore, I felt proud that America had elected such a man, a deep thinker, a moving speaker; an advocate for the higher achievements of humanity, who spoke to us as his intellectual equals, in post-graduate-level words. Three weeks later, when the news came from Dallas, I was horrified. 
The fuller context of Kennedy’s statement was, “When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.” 
William Carlos Williams, poet and physician (!) wrote, “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” What a profound idea, prescient and relevant to these times. Men die for lack of truths that can be found in poetry. The same can be said of great fiction, art, and cinema. A society that stops valuing – or worse, suppresses -- words of truth, words that challenge or defy or change perspective, is in danger of losing its history and its soul. It becomes the depleted soil in which despotism takes root. 
This is not to say that the arts are the foremost bulwark against the sort of authoritarianism we see emerging from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. That would be a free and adversarial press, and education. But writers and artists have, in times ancient and modern, had the effect of prying minds and hearts open. In America, Sandburg, Whitman, Frost, Lowell. Dickenson, Eliot, cautioning us to remember what America is, what humanity is. Whether from poets or press, we need to hear those words. 
To understand this is to understand why Donald Trump and his fellow autocrats intend to defund the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Representing 0.02 percent of the budget, it’s not about saving money. As it is with his attacks on the press, efforts to make Fox “news” the only accepted broadcast source (Fox “news” was the “intelligence” source for his insane accusation of crime by President Obama), his labeling unpleasant facts “fake,” and his hiring of an enemy of public education to dismantle public education, it’s about a deliberate effort to discredit the means to recognize, understand, and challenge his subversions of American values. 
If his planned extermination of government sources succeeds, poets, writers, and artists might become the only remaining begetters of truth. And they’re being stopped at our borders. Even Americans are questioned about why they’d been invited to exhibits out of country. 
Were Donald Trump less immature and less unstable, he might already have pulled off his coup against the Constitution. Happily, he trips nearly every step of the way, and Congressional Republicans are discovering legislating is harder than blocking. But they’ll keep trying. “Lack of truths found in poetry” could be the motto of this administration. 
As a language student I toured the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Ugly, propagandistic “Soviet Realism” was the only artwork allowed. As I watched, an abstract artist I met in Leningrad got hauled off by the police; I’m no longer certain it can’t happen here, as Trump’s supporters excuse his attacks, or look the other way. 
There’s worse happening than defunding the arts, but they’re a disproportionately important part of the institutional memory and protections being systematically destroyed. Bannon/Trump aren’t stopping with the small stuff. To pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and for even more defense spending, their budget includes massive shrinking of the EPA and State Department, science research, even legal services for the poor, effectively ending America’s moral primacy in the world. We’re on our way to becoming an intellectual, cultural, and literal wasteland.
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Friday, March 10, 2017

It's Happening


It took comparatively little time, although more than I thought: we're now seeing, italicized and bolded, the problem with electing a president who's incurious, ill-informed, and doesn't care to make the effort to change it; who possesses the vocabulary of a toddler; who's always gotten away with lies instead of explanations; who appears to believe that words become true as they exit his larynx and approach his lips. Who believes his own bullshit about how brilliant and knowledgeable he is. And who's clearly mentally unstable.

They're shutting him down: no appearances where he might be called upon to address complicated stuff, like the stillborn healthcare plan, or his dissociative accusations about our last actual president, or leaks of alleged CIA spy techniques, among other things that aren't easily lied away, or for which "beautiful" and "disaster" and "sad" don't really suffice as descriptions, much less explanations.

Donald Trump isn't equipped to deal with such things, nor was he ever; and his staff knows it. He hasn't the vocabulary, the intellect, or, maybe most important, the desire to spend time learning. For his entire career he's been able to bullshit and bully his way through. Do whatever he wanted, let the lawyers and accountants deal with the damage. Come out scot-free from the economic carnage left in his wake.

It's inconceivable that the people around him didn't know it well before the election: it's characterized his entire life. Maybe they assumed he could fake it, as usual, or that Steve Bannon could handle it. Or that sticking to friendly news sources and sycophantic "reporters" would save him from himself. Maybe they believed, because there's a hard core of people who'll never turn away from him (roughly the same number who believe Earth is flat, the moon landing was faked, and chemtrails are part of a plot), that even if some supporters began to see through him and begin to worry, to regret their votes, it wouldn't matter.

What's been obvious from before the start, to anyone willing to look, is now becoming undeniable to many of his former apologists: Donald Trump is mentally unstable and temperamentally and intellectually ill-equipped to handle the requirements of the presidency. He strikes out at perceived enemies, sees plots behind his back, produces word salads that make Sarah Palin seem almost literate. (Okay, no.) He lies about all things great and small.

If it ever was, this is no longer cause for amusement or schadenfreude; it's too important, too scary. If people near to him, or people of his party in Congress, don't care enough for our country to figure out how to get him to resign, they should put him out of his misery and impeach him. What do they have to lose, except the public trust for having excused him for so long? They'll get Mike Pence.

Because a guy like Trump, when his faux sense of control is lost, when his fragile ego takes too many hits for him to handle, when he begins to recognize that tweets and lies and puffery don't solve problems as big as these, well, he's headed for a meltdown of which there are no prior examples. Not in the White House, anyway.

For his sake and ours, "they" (meaning people with the power and influence) need to step in damn soon. Maybe he'll listen to Ivanka. Or maybe Steve Doocey can take his tongue out of Trump's ass and speak truth to power. (Okay, not him.) There must be someone on that side of the fence with a remnant of integrity. Can't think of any, but surely...

Oh, but The Donald still plans to hold another campaign rally next week, in Tennessee. Because he'll only have to strut and bask. And maybe that's the best his people can do: let him hold rallies every week and keep him the fuck out of the Oval Office. It'd be nice to know who'd become de facto president, of course. None of the possibilities is very reassuring.

But if they're evil and despicable, they're not, far as I can tell, so dangerous that they might do something sudden and irreversible. Except Bannon, maybe. And Pence. And Sessions.

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Too Many Outrages, Too Little Space


My upcoming newspaper column:
This is hard. Try winnowing topics, when every day brings another outrage against truth, justice, and the American way. So much to say, so little space and time. Today’s column is catch-up and other condiments. 
Brazenly gifting the wealthy while leaving the needy behind, the health plan coughed up by our Republican Houseguests is as hypocritical and heartless as predicted. (Definitely not a bribe, health insurance execs get the greatest tax breaks of all. Not lottery winners, though, to whom nearly ten percent of its pages are devoted.) Assembled in secret, pieced from decades of desiccated Republican healthcare ideas, it’s been pitchforked from all sides. Viable or not, it demonstrates to whom that party is beholden, for whom they have the least concern, and over whose eyes they pulled the wool. Ryan wants a fast vote, before it’s scored by the CBO. Years in the making, still hiding from the light. 
Yet again, Ben Carson proved cognition isn’t required to separate brains, and not just by referring to slaves as immigrants. There’s his frontal-lobe-slapping claim about brain stimulation and memory. He definitely didn’t learn it in med school. Breitbart, maybe. He’ll be a fabulous leader at HUD. 
Trump was furious that J. Beauregard Sessions, straight-up liar to Congress about meeting with Russians, recused himself from hypothetical Justice Department investigations of the Trump/Russia nexus. No doubt he’d been counting on J-Bo to steer snoopage away from the crux. Were his tweets about Obama wiretaps manifestations of his paranoid and increasingly worrisome dissociative disorder, or a ploy to keep the media off the Sessions/perjury Trump/Russia scent? Either way, demanding an investigation seems capricious at best, especially if Congressional Republicans were to allow (unlikely) a deep dive by independent investigators. If they do, it might 1) discover there were indeed wiretaps of people near to Trump, b) confirm they were legally authorized by a FISA judge, not Obama, based on compelling evidence of illegal activities, and iii) help us understand Trump’s connections and deference to Putin. Bring it! 
Why so little concern among Trumpophiles over the network enmeshing Trump, his family, his henchmob, and Russians within or near to their government? Is it statistical happenstance that the number of Russian functionaries found dead since Election Day, including several directly connected to Gang Trump, is up to eight? Among them is a person involved in the allegation of a micturative video involving Donald in Russia. Nothing, Trump defenders? No worry that the Gold House has been sublet to the Kremlin? How would you be treating this if Obama were president? Ben Carson is wrong about the brain’s memory functions, but it sure has the power to rationalize. 
Reversing an Obama order, Republicans made it easier for companies to cheat and endanger employees.  
Do Trumpists still think Obama golfed too much? 
Trump lies with abandon. How do we know when he’s not? 
For Trump’s infrastructure plan, we’ll pay tolls. 
To finance its immigration crackdown, Chez Bannon is considering cutting FEMA, the Coast Guard, and airport and rail security. Only in Trumpworld is that rational. 
Trump deceived us about requiring American steel for pipelines, and Russia wins the gold. Rubles to a Putin pal.  
Speaking of corruption, here’s a fascinating exploration of Trump’s connection to Azerbaijani deplorables and Iranian terrorists. 
Are local Trump apologists okay with defunding Puget Sound cleanup? Great Lakes, too? Waste of money, was it? What’s more important, clean waters to support marine life (and, therefore, us) and to drink, or another aircraft carrier for Trump to strut around on, flight-jacketed? Might national security be better maintained by attending to our own neighborhood, especially since we already have the most powerful and sophisticated military in the solar system? It’s not enough, spending more than the next fourteen nations combined? They’re also cutting NOAA’s and NASA’s ability to study our home planet. That’s even worse for security. Madness is what it is. 
Squeezing those agencies, of course, and others, fits with Trump’s and Congress’ fear of inconvenient research that produces facts they’d rather ignore. Expect more suppression. 
And now, leaving the surface nearly unscratched, I’ve used up my space. This is impossible. 
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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Repeal, Replace, Regress


My upcoming newspaper column:
Freedom’s just another word for no health left to lose. So says Doctor Republican Congressman Michael Burgess of Texas, regarding numbers of people with healthcare coverage: If the numbers drop, I would say that’s a good thing, because we’ve restored personal liberty in this country.” Wow. And lest you think the Republican plan for replacing The Affordable Care Act is right around the corner, Trump has had an epiphany: “Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated,” quoth he. 
The statements provide clarity regarding Congress and our occupant of the Gold House, the latter of whom has repeatedly, if without specifics, called the ACA a “disaster,” falsely promising to end it on “day one”; and the former of which spent the last seven years voting fifty-five times to repeal it. That they’re only now discovering Obamacare is the opposite of a disaster for many millions of Americans, and replacing is harder than repealing, reveals much about our Congressional majority and their ability to govern. Legislating, evidently, isn’t like riding a bicycle: when you spend eight years blocking instead of producing, you stop knowing how. 
“Nobody knew.” Well, it’s undeniably true of Trump and those with whom he’s surrounded himself, and of the legislative bodies over which he holds apparently unlimited sway. Applied to those who wrote the original bill, though, and to the president who oversaw the process, it’s demonstrably false. Seven years ago, in fact, President Obama said, “The truth of the matter is that health care is very complicated.” That unstartling insight is shared by most people capable of thoughts of more than one-hundred-forty characters, and by anyone who’s addressed the subject seriously. 
Trump once promised, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” Everybody, it turns out, but those most dependent upon it, assuming the plans now being bandied by the band of bandits in Congress see the light of day. Tax credits and health savings accounts, the bedrock of Republican healthcare reform ideas, are a welcome tax dodge for the prosperous but of no use to people of modest means or less. Surely they recognize something so obvious. Don’t they care? Why their urgency to repeal? 
Simple: unlike Bush’s Medicare Part D, which, being unpaid-for, added to the budget deficit, the Affordable Care Act had built-in funding mechanisms, and has, in fact, lowered the deficit. But it did so by raising taxes on those most able to afford them; namely, Republican donors. Depending on income, the wealthiest stand to save tens (or, in some cases, hundreds) of thousand dollars with repeal. So let’s not concern ourselves with the millions who’ve gained coverage; or people saved from bankruptcy by lifted lifetime limits; or those having pre-existing conditions. (Or, as Rick Santorum calls such people, cheaters.) And forget about young people who had no access to coverage until allowed, under the ACA, to stay on parents’ plans till age twenty-six. There are donors to tend to. 
But let’s NOT forget reality. President Obama disappointed liberals by going with conservative-born health care reform. Naively thinking he’d get some Republican votes by doing so, he rejected the single-payer “public option” desired by the many people to his left. Predictable to everyone but Obama, that reaching out garnered exactly zero votes. Nevertheless, the reportedly liberty-crushing ACA has improved the lot of millions of Americans. 
And, yes, it’s far from perfect, because, as we’ve been reminded, healthcare is complicated. Compared to that of other Western countries, the American system is an expensive, unmanageable mess on many levels, the worst of which is keeping insurance companies between patients and providers of care, sucking money out like a failed Trump casino. (After promising otherwise, the tough dealmaker caved to drug companies on negotiating drug prices, another part of the mess.)  
Having done it for decades, I know stuff about health care. I know that insurance companies, given their business plan of collecting your money and trying not to give it back, are worse than unnecessary. I’m pretty sure any Republican ACA replacement, if they ever produce one, will leave the neediest worse off and won’t lower costs. And I know for certain that unless we get around to “Medicare for all” pretty darn soon, the system will fail.
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