Friday, March 24, 2017
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.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
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.[Image source]
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
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.
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.
Friday, March 17, 2017
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.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
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.[Image source]
Monday, March 13, 2017
Friday, March 10, 2017
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.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
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.[Image source]
Thursday, March 2, 2017
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.[Image source]
Boy, that there's some righteous moral outrage and legislative fortitude, amirite? J. Beauregard Sessions perjured himself before Congress about Russia conversations, and those hard-case former blowjob-chasing Republicans in Congress are calling for him to
Ethics shmethics. We got the power.
And how many of Trump's people need to be found in bed with Russians before it's a trend? And serious. And, who knows, treasonous?
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
I can't stand to see his face as words are coming out of it, so I didn't watch. Read about it. His writers seem to have provided words which, if not in his personal lexicon, were pronounceable, and it appears he stuck to them. So the networks are giving him props for that. A speech that was very like a speech people give when they give speeches. The bar was low, on the ground actually, and he stepped over it without turning his ankle.
I assume we all agree it'll be great when he ends crime, and when, following his example of inclusion and grace, all the factions in this country, including the ones desecrating mosques and Jewish cemeteries, cum together.
I did see video of the wife of the Navy Seal who died for Trump's ego, sobbing uncontrollably. Had she been among Democrats, someone would have tried to comfort her. But that would have ruined the optics, I guess.
I await his beautiful plans. Give peace a chance. After making more nukes.
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