Friday, April 20, 2018

The Ping Pong Presidency

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

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Bombs Away

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

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

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

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

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

But that's not who I am. 

Russia, though: that's another story.

[Image source]

Friday, April 13, 2018

An Offer He Can't Refuse?

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

Friday, April 6, 2018

Our Gullibility Crisis

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

Friday, March 30, 2018

End Times

My next newspaper column:
That reactions from Ammo-Americans to the March for Our Lives would be fast and furious was predictable. Less so was how dumb, distasteful, and desperate they were. 
The guerdon for dumbness goes to Rick “Don’t google me surname, bro” Santorum, who, after sneering that the kids were asking “others” to solve their problems (it’d take more than one column to unpack that lunacy), suggested learning CPR would be a better use of their time. As an experienced trauma surgeon, let me point out that CPR is for cardiac arrest. If your heart stops after being shot, it’s because you’ve bled out or because your brain died. Attempting to revive an empty heart or a dead brain with chest compression is useless. (Somewhere in there is a metaphor for our times.) It’d have been more fitting had he suggested embalming.  
An NRA spokesdunce dismissed the children by pointing out that no one would even know their names if their classmates hadn’t died. Right. And a firefighter who rescued a family from a burning building wouldn’t be considered a hero if it hadn’t been on fire. 
Aptly dubbed a stupid person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like, Newt Gingrich declared the most salient takeaway from the march is to learn who paid for it. The left can’t govern, he said, but they sure can organize marches. (The simpering “can’t govern” would need a five-column response.) He chose not to mention that the Tea Party movement was birthed on Wall Street, disguised as grass roots, and underwritten by anti-tax billionaires. Of course people gave money to the marchers and to their cause! In what way is that inconsistent with democracy? How does it devalue the message, which, in contrast to the Tea Party, began at the bottom and worked its way up?  
As expected, there were those who called the students Nazis. Or Communists (C’mon, people, read some political science. Make a decision.) Blameless pundits denounced “politicization.” Well, yes, demanding legislative action is “political.” So is demanding no action. 
Stop badmouthing the NRA, they were warned. Then, because it’s become the preferred method of discourse by a certain stratum of Trumpists, there were death threats. And we heard condescending assertions that the students need to read the Constitution. But, in fact, it seems they have. Which brings us to the heart of it. 
First, some facts:  
Barely over twenty-percent of Americans own guns. Nearly half are in the hands of only three percent of us. The vast majority of Americans (including NRA members) favor the regulations advocated by the March for Our Lives students. There’s approximately unanimous approval for stronger background checks, with almost as much support for preventing dangerous people from acquiring guns, and for raising the age of purchase. By electoral standards, it’s even a landslide for banning military-style weapons. 
Here’s another fact, one that our friends of Foxotrumpian persuasion have come strenuously to renounce: we live in a democracy. Those poll numbers speak loudly of a failed one. Ignoring the incontestable will of the people it represents, Congress kowtows to the payola provided by the NRA and gun manufacturers, and to their gerrymandered, rabid, minority base. 
It’s worth recalling that until recently it was settled law that the Second Amendment didn’t confer absolute rights of gun ownership to private citizens. Ignored by Cammo-Americans and NRA spokeshorribles is that Scalia’s ruling allowed for regulation, including concealed carry, safe-zones, and military-style weapons. What’s being demanded is already constitutional.   
The kids understand our Constitution. They know it’s within our power to restore truly representative democracy by electing a new, responsive Congress. Behind the heated, dishonest, dangerous rhetoric of right-wing derogation of the marchers is the same realization, and they’re desperately resisting. But demographics don’t care. They ain’t going back.  
End times are approaching for Regressive, White, Male, Theocratic, political dominion. Among right-wing shibboleths destined for eventual rejection is the fetishizing of guns; understanding the Constitution means recognizing the possibility of repealing or revising the Second Amendment. The marchers do. RWMT politicians do, too. If they’re unable to legislate away fair elections before change arrives, they, like Saddam burning his oil fields when he knew he’d lost, seem intent on trashing the place on their way out. 
Which also explains their eagerness to boost pollution, reduce healthcare access, and crush the dreams of the poor. 
[Image source]

Friday, March 23, 2018

Time To Stop Fiddling While It Burns

My upcoming newspaper column:
“It’s a great day for democracy,” proclaimed Donald Trump after pressuring Jeff Sessions to fire Deputy FBI Director McCabe (who, coincidentally, had authorized an FBI investigation into Sessions’ possible perjury). Autocracy, yes. Authoritarianism, sure. But democracy died a little more that day, its agonal moan inaudible only to people sharing Trump’s disdain for constitutional governance and the institutions that protect it. 
Knowing of his lying, cheating, business failures, threats, lawsuits, vulgarity, and aggressive ignorance, millions voted for him anyway. That millions of those see his current behavior and still rationalize support is incomprehensible. Surely the remarkable last two weeks have been dispositive even for the most calcified of the Foxified. Right?  
In time, we’ll see the DOJ report, and perhaps we’ll be able to judge its significance. For now, I’m with McCabe. (He is, after all, like Comey, Mueller, and Rosenstein, a Republican.) Either way, Trump’s vainglorious, lie-filled gloating afterward confirms the firing wasn’t about the report, but about discrediting the investigations.  
And what of “the best people” Trump promised? We’ve just learned Ben “Gifted Hands” Carson, whose home features a portrait of himself with Jesus, lied about his expensive office furniture. Plenty of Trump’s other cabinet officers have been lying and/or misusing our tax dollars, too; but Ben drips with smug self-righteousness. Also disclosed: his information officer, along with another HUD liar, appears to have a side-business scamming Christians
Then there was the coincident Betsy Devos interview, in which she confirmed her qualification for being Secretary of Education consists of having donated $200 million to Republicans.  
Within the same span, Trump’s trusted “body man” was escorted out of the White House so fast he could take nothing with him, on charges of “serious financial crimes.” Before the taint was dry, Trump hired him as senior reelection campaign adviser. From criminal expulsion to inner Trumpworld. Thoughts, “values” voters?  
After announcing plans to meet with North Korea’s Kim, Trump bragged about lying to Canada’s Trudeau. Flat made stuff up, he preened. Presented with truth, he proudly pronounced it pabulum, which explains his devotion from Trumpists. But what must Kim think of negotiating nukes with a man who boasts of lying to national leaders, and of not knowing what he’s talking about? Spider. Fly.  
Speaking of which, we were shown Trump State TV’s reactions to his plans, juxtaposed with their fair and balanced reactions when Obama said he’d do the same. Hypocrisy? Business model. If Trump manages meaningful, verifiable agreements with NoKo, I’ll praise him. Until then, though, count me among those who, seeing with whom he surrounds himself, find it unlikely. But he’s sending Ivanka, so... 
Meanwhile, it’s just been revealed her husband, trusted adviser Jared, repeatedly falsified paperwork with NYC housing authority when he bought buildings, greasing millions in profit. America’s freshest face.  
In the same timespan came the firing of Tillerson, after he agreed Russia was behind the London poisoning. After that, Russian state TV announced “Trump is still ours.” And after that, Trump obsequiously congratulated their murderous dictator for winning a fake election. Lap, meet dog.  
Within the past two weeks, we also learned what a sham the oxymoronic “House Intelligence” Committee investigation was: if you don’t look, you don’t find. Another: if you deny a relationship with a porn star but threaten suing for $20 million for breaking an agreement not to talk about it, does a bear? More: the RNC spent north of $120K at Trump properties in February alone. And: rule-of-law-loving Pennsylvania Republicans moved to impeach judges who rejected unconstitutional redistricting.  
Topping it off, if you’re aware of Cambridge Analytica and aren’t concerned, you’re their victim whether you recognize it or not. 
It’s been a boggling, enlightening two weeks. Those who insist it’s fake news are beyond salvation; but despite representing a minority of voters, people just like them are in charge. Not knowing what else to do, I give money, near and far. All liberals who can, and all self-respecting conservatives ought to, also. Kim Schrier. Randy Bryce. Conor Lamb. Beto O’Rourke. Find others. Trumpism threatens our democracy, demanding that truly patriotic Republicans stand up to him by crossing party lines. 
Preserving democracy requires advocating for those who value it, and acting against those who don’t. Unsurprisingly, the latter are largely Trumpists. Choose America over party, conservatives, in this critical, defining time. You won’t be alone.
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Friday, March 16, 2018

Nooger. A Word.

My next newspaper column:

Like coal ash, Trumpic horrors keep fouling the waters; but here’s a note from my surgery days anyway:
It’s said medical students learn over twelve thousand new words. Some I enjoyed just for the saying: Inspissated. Radiculopathy. Tachyarrhythmia. Intussusception. Pancreaticoduodenectomy. Bezoar.
Bee-zore. For fun, say it like "air-ball" at a basketball game. (Digression: It's been shown that the chant is always in the same pitch, the same notes on the scale. F - D, matter of fact.) 
There’s also a more esoteric lexicon: words or terms that bubbled into the vernacular unofficially but have become universally understood within various medical sub-cultures: gomer, Q-sign, lipstick sign, chandelier sign (definitions on request). One of my favorites has it all: nice sound, excellent meaning, and, in my case, a connection to a beloved mentor. The word is “nooger.” 
In “Cutting Remarks,” my book about surgical training, I described learning to dissect through distorted, inflamed tissues, calling the method "delicate brutality." (Too late, I realized that would have been a better title for the book.) Central to the technique is the ability to nooger; namely, judiciously insinuating a finger into a scary space, wiggling, pinching, until you find a way through without poking a hole into something important. 
Noogering can be done with other blunt instruments: a sucker, closed scissors, a blunt clamp, often along with the finger. Indeed, it requires a combination of delicacy and brutality, plus some sort of either learned or innate sense of touch; of tissue turgor (there's another good word: turgor) and confidence of anatomy. If you can't tell where a thing is, you need to be fairly confident in where it isn't.  
Not all surgeons need to nooger. Orthopods and neurosurgeons don't. Bone isn't noogerable, and brain, well... But a general surgeon incapable of noogering is bound for trouble. In a situation demanding it -- precarious as it usually is -- I'd rather do it myself than try to tell someone else how. Bad noogering can lead to death, or something a lot like it. 
Among my favorite characters from training was the chief cardiac surgery resident, a gangly, good-humored, soft-spoken, slow-walking but fast-thinking southern boy, Joe (full name: Joe) Utley. In stark contrast to the other men populating that department -- who were volatile, egomaniacal, crazy, nasty, or pretty much any combination of those characteristics -- Joe was laid-back, engaging, and highly talented. He told dumb jokes, quoted lines from movies, played the flugelhorn while wearing a sombrero, and treated me -- his over-worked intern -- with respect and caring; although, it could be argued, having an intern and his girlfriend (now wife) over and subjecting them to the horn and the hat was anything but respectful. 
I loved the guy. (Joe died not long ago. I sent a copy of my book, in which he played a prominent role, to his wife; she wrote back that she knew he'd have loved it, and she could imagine him laughing out loud while reading it. That made me feel good.) 
In connecting a person to a heart-lung machine, it's necessary to control blood returning to the heart via the venae cavae. That requires (did then, anyway) slinging the veins in a sort of noose around the tubes inside. That necessitates dissecting within the pericardium, behind those delicate structures, completely encircling them. Joe had a favorite instrument for the job, a very large clamp with a curved and bluntly-rounded tip. This he referred to as a "Giant Noogerer." 
Open heart surgery has a certain drama, and, in those relatively early days on the time-line, tension compounded by lengthiness. But as an intern on the service, because there was always lots to do, stretching into sleeplessness, time in the cardiac room was -- depending on who was in charge -- often unpleasant. With no opportunity to do anything but stand there and answer gotcha-questions from the chief of service, the hours dragged the day's work further into the night.  
Except with Joe. I found myself looking forward each time, as the moment approached, to hearing him ask for the tool. "Giant noogerer," he'd say, hand out, and it always arrived with no need for clarification. With his Carolina accent, it sounded like "jahnt nurgrer." In his hands, it was a delicate instrument; on his lips, though, it sounded like something you’d find deep in the Everglades, at night. 
[Image source]

Friday, March 9, 2018

Trying To Catch Up

My next newspaper column:

Allocated only around 700 words once a week, I’m always playing catch-up. So here’s a time- and space-limited selection of mentionables from an endlessly accruing heap of Trumpworld items that should concern all Americans. Confirmatory links provided on request.

1.  In the White House, Jared Kushner negotiated around $500 million in personal loans from American banks. Shortly after Qatar denied a similar request, Kushner enabled a Saudi Arabia/UAE blockade against that anti-ISIS partner. 
2.  An indispensable article by Jane Mayer, providing revelatory, non-Foxolimjonesified background on Chris Steele and his “dossier,” and what the FBI did and didn’t do, almost parenthetically includes a claim that Russia vetoed Mitt Romney as Secretary of State, preferring someone more likely to end Obama’s sanctions. (Okay, hereIf Trump isn’t fully in Putin’s pocket, he’s half-asset. 
3. Of $120 million budgeted to fight Russian election interference, our State Department has spent none. Of the assigned analysts, none speaks Russian. 
4. Whatever one thinks about tariffs, it’s consumers who pay for a trade war. Reports say Trump’s half-baked plan followed a fit of (stable genius) rage.
5. Shortly before Trump’s announcement, his pal, billionaire Carl Icahn, unloaded $30 million of stock in steel-dependent companies. 
6. Trump took, and, from the Foxified, received credit for the economy since inauguration day. Now, having added $1.5 trillion to this year’s deficit and more trillions to future debt, he’s earned it. His simple-minded tariff misconceptions will cost jobs in addition to money. Even cowardly Paul Ryan was appalled by Trump’s impulsive plans. Chief economic adviser Gary “Tax-cuts-for-the-rich” Cohn resigned over them. Trump’s support of Nazis didn’t do it for him. This did.
7.  Devin Nunes, who pushed a pile of prevarication in his “memo,” evidently leaked classified information to Fox “news.” Then he called Stephen Colbert a danger to America.
8. First-Amendment-loving, small-government-pushing, free-market Republicans in Georgia would use public law to punish Delta Airlines, a private corporation, for charging NRA members what they charge everyone else.
9. Reversing Obama rules on coal ash, Trump has greenlighted pollution of America’s drinking water.
10. Ben Carson, after approving massive cuts in HUD’s budget and saying public housing shouldn’t be “too cozy,” got caught buying a $31K table for his office, and giving no-bid contracts to family members. Ryan Zinke’s and Scott Pruitt’s personal use of tax money makes Carson look cheap, though. So does Pruitt’s graft. Nearly the whole cabinet’s, in fact. Only the best people.
11. Contrary to Zinke’s lies, emails show shrinking Bear’s Ears Monument was about oil and coal.
12. Speaking of falsehoods, after promising the opposite, Trump cut Medicare and Medicaid significantly. Social Security looks to be next. And elephants. People actually believed his lies. Mysteriously, many still do. 
13. Trump joked Fox “news” is the “fourth branch of government.” Later, praised China’s Xi for becoming leader for life. Said he might try it. It was a joke, too. They were, right? Jokes?
14. There are laws against appointing relatives to positions of power by federal government officials. Same with using one’s position for self-enrichment. Now we know why. What we don’t know is why Congress no longer cares.
15. People still apoplectic over Hillary Clinton’s carelessness with emails are silent about Trump’s with security clearances for his White House enablers. (Irony: I needed top-secret clearance for some of what I did in Vietnam. It was delayed because I’d studied Russian and traveled the USSR in college.) 
16. Putin displays an animation of Russia’s “unstoppable” new missiles hitting Florida. Trump’s response: silence. Maybe he expects a Mar-a-Lago tax write-off. He did attack Alec Baldwin right after, though, so there’s that. 
17. Benefitting his admired dictators, Trump is undoing Ronald Reagan’s “Infrastructure of Democracy” around the world.
18. NRA made a deeply disgusting ad against critics.
19. Red states don’t like liberals voting.
20. Drip, drop, tick, tock.

For these things, concern ought to be universal. Mistaking cri de coeur for partisanship, people email me criticizing my tone, claiming they’re “reasonable” NRA members, or “thoughtful” conservatives, so I should be nicer. Time for those good folks to act on their professed moderation. Relieved as I am to learn of their unhappiness with Trump and/or NRA leadership, when I ask if they’ve sent complaints their way, too, none have. Maybe they’re planning to show their displeasure by their votes.

A guy can dream.

(Not in the column, but to be emailed to anyone who requests them, here's the list of links promised above, which I'm too tired to have hot-linked for the blog. Impressive work on my part, though, eh?) 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Nasty. Mean. Brutish.

David Brooks, conservative pundit for the New York Times, whose singular brilliance came to his own attention with his support of the Iraq invasion, has unholstered more wisdom: “… if you want to stop school shootings it’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points…” And then Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch spewed poisonous slander at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). And after Baghdad fell and all hell broke loose, Donald Rumsfeld said “Stuff happens.” 
Brooks wasn’t talking about my NRA friends, with whom I’ve gone target-shooting and hunting. He was referring to those cheering Dana and Wayne. So, no. I’ll respect them when they speak out against the kind of vile, paranoid, fear-mongering and hate-fostering speech of their association’s spokesprimates. And when they don’t leap to their feet cheering and making threatening gestures to members of the press. 
When responsible members of the NRA demand better of their organization, I’ll be happy to let them lead the way. It’s way past time for them to do so. If it once was an advocate for its members and for safety, it’s become little more than a shill for gun manufacturers. Even without the 1,688,442,000 rubles they laundered for Russia to help Trump, NRA gets all the money it needs from big gunnery.
[Item: The NRA, CPAC, and RNC ban guns at their events.]  
The latest mass murder at an American school highlighted the best and the worst of us. It remains to be seen which preponderates, but right-wing fabulists immediately began spreading fake news that those impressive, committed, eloquent high school kids, now receiving death threats, are hired actors; that Jewy George is behind it; that the attack was a “false flag” organized by Democrats. There’s nothing new about any of that, except for the impression those teenagers have been making. 
[Item: Most homegrown fake news comes from Fox and other rightwing sources. Also, surprising as darkness before dawn, studies show Russian fakery on social media was swallowed and shared by “conservatives” thirty-one times more often than by liberals.] 
There’s a flicker of hope that those high-schoolers have started an awakening which could lead to legislation more sensible than arming teachers and calling it a day. The dumbness of that idea is self-evident to all but NRA ammosexuals. Imagine: An overweight, orange-haired draft-dodger who bragged he’d do so, lumbers into a school where there’s an active shooter, bone spurs a-jingle-jangle-jingling. Newly-armed, an “adept” teacher, trained over the weekend, suddenly responsible for split-second life-saving decisions, sees a weirdly-coiffed stranger moving toward her…  
Close as those students are to voting age, maybe historically weak-kneed legislators will consider listening. On the other hand, the usual insane malevolence from the “coming for our guns” and “defend yourself from Obama” crowd has been cranked up to eleven, so who knows? Money, the ultimate instrument of power, will be piled high against the kids.  
Until Antonin Scalia originalisted his way into the debate, federal courts had all but laughed at the idea that the Second Amendment intended unregulated access to all manner of arms by all citizens. It was, in fact, a Constitution-sweetener for slave states worried if there were only a federal army they’d be unable to put down slave rebellions. “Militias. People. State. Well-regulated. Not infringed.” Our founders were brilliant, but could they have been more obscure or internally contradictory? 
So how about this: everyone keeps and bears a non-infringed, bolt-action, single-shot .22 rifle. Excepted, hunting armaments are stored at police stations. Everything else gets beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks. Nothing in the Second says all weapons to all people. 
CPAC couldn’t have come at a better time for contrasting today’s Republicans with those fired-up students. A couple of actual conservatives tried to talk sense and were shouted down, literally escorted out of the room. Otherwise it was the usual Fox-speak, bashing of otherness, paranoid claims, and Trumpic lies. With its purulent intolerance, conspiracies, theocracy, NRA talking points, and persecution complexes, CPAC is no fringe group. Trump, Pence, Ryan, Cruz, et ilk, all showed up. Preachers, too. 
If they once did, today’s Republicans no longer recognize the unique benefits of America, rejecting the very idea of society and its obligations. Social contract? They prefer a return to man’s “natural state.” But armed.    
[Image source]

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