Tuesday, September 20, 2022
To the dismay of many religious and political leaders, increasing numbers of Americans, especially Christians, are becoming unchurched. Which is ironic: it’s the actions of those worried leaders, their attacks on people who don’t believe or love like them, forcing their zealotry into legislation, that younger generations find off-putting. Plus the hypocrisy, as political proclaimers of Christian faith, and their voters, treat people in need in the most un-Christlike ways.
Children born into religion follow suit. Eventually, some will raise questions; for example, given the misery so evident everywhere, the Biblical descriptions of God. Of course, opinions about the literal truth of the Book vary from absolute to not at all.
At birth, we’re atheist. Humans aren’t born believing, any more than they’re born racist. They have to be taught. Awareness of mortality preceded religion and still does. “Am I going to die,” children ask before wondering about gods. “What happens when we die?” The answers they receive depend on accidents of where, when, and to whom they’re born.
To relieve that existential angst, immutable – if untestable -- credenda are a human longing. And, since no truths are manifest, the need produces them. “If you’re good, you go to heaven. If you’re bad, hell.” “We’re reincarnated till we get it right.” “We were, and rejoin star dust.” “We get our own planet.” “Your thetan forgets your past life and starts you over.” “We live on in the hearts of those who cherish our memory.” “We needn’t fear death, because we experienced it before we were born, and it’s that to which we return.” Each offers comfort to some.
Polytheism was a logical first invention: forest gods, specialist gods, enough to explain the fearsome: volcanoes, earthquakes, thunder and lightning, disease. Good things, too: love, food, intoxicants. No god fully in control, lesser ones tormenting each other and us, creating havoc because they can. But, at the end, a promise of life beyond death.
To many millions, that celestial chaos comports better with life’s vicissitudes than one all-powerful, all-knowing, loving god who allows, or causes, boundless pain and suffering, even in innocent children; born in sin, eons removed from a disobedient apple-eater, doomed unless forgiven. Meting out, to the unforgiven, eternal roasting on the coals of hellfire seems unloving, too. Not everyone agrees.
For every person accepting religious doctrine with unquestioning certitude, there’s a billion others who believe completely differently and with equal certainty. Since they can’t all be correct, absent objective criteria of rightness, there’s little reason to assume all but one are wrong.
The same applies to holy books and texts, multiply translated and revised; one at the behest of a seventeenth-century king; others appearing only a few decades past. Contradicting each other, unquestioningly accepted, summarily dismissed. Which speaks less of truth or falsehood than of the inescapable urge, across all cultures, to make peace with life and death. That’s the origin and purpose of every religion. For most people, their choice satisfies. Which is good.
Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman said, “I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.” Me, too. But I don’t consider it superior to certainty: it’s a state of mind. My skepticism, however, harms no one, except, some insist, me; whereas, as America moves ever closer to punitive, far-right (un)Christian theocracy, its lawmakers and judges are intentionally harming different-believers.
Ron “Full armor of God” DeSantis got stick-it-to-the-libs laughs for treating desperate asylum-seekers, including children, told they were following the rules, in the most dehumanizing, unchristian way imaginable. Tucker Carlson was tickled red. He, DeSantis, and the MAGAwful who loved it, make one wish hell is real. And, for the stuck-it-to libs who gathered, lovingly, to provide, heaven.
The point isn’t whose religion is right or wrong, for, in this life, we’ll never know. In our corner of a vast, unknowable universe, we Earthlings have produced widely divergent responses to mortality; each of which, objectively, has as much claim on truth as any other. Therefore, one ought to be humble about one’s personal choice, accepting that others settled upon theirs for reasons that deserve the same respect as yours. Which means public policy should be kept separate from all religions: yours, mine, theirs. THAT is the point.
Those who need to legislate their beliefs into secular law must be so insecure in their truth that knowing others disagree frightens them unto death. Pour souls: they have it backwards.
Wednesday, September 14, 2022
There’s no foreseeable end to the formerly respectable Republican Party’s disappointing descent. Here’s some of the latest evidence:
Louis Gohmert, R-TX, who’d lose a debate with a box of rocks, just greeted Dr. Simone Gold with a ceremonial American flag upon her release from prison. She’d been incarcerated after pleading guilty to charges related to participating in the Trumpist defiling of our nation’s capitol.
Prior to that, she’d acquired infamy for vaccine lies and touting useless, debunked cures. In addition to the flag, Gohmert graced her with the designations “American hero” and “political prisoner.” Decried the fact that her “cures” had been called out for their ineffectiveness. Glossed over the fact that when one confesses to a crime, punishment is apolitical, except to the extent that our laws derive from the politics of democracy, as they should. Ted Bundy: not a political prisoner. Nor would be someone convicted of stealing government secrets, keeping them unguarded in a basement, and lying about it.
Gohmert’s stunt preceded the anniversary of 9/11 by only a couple of days. The day, we might remember, when several brave and actually patriotic Americans, one of whom was MAGA-reviled gay, sacrificed their lives by downing their Flight 93 before it crashed into the capitol. Louie thought it quite appropriate to make a hero of a person who’d done pretty much the opposite. In his party, he’s no outlier.
The Congressman decided to retire to run for Texas Attorney General, but he’d have been reelected as long as he chose to stay on the dole. He is, after all, the archetypal MAGA Republican. That he came in last for AG shows the power of gerrymandering Congressional districts: the state rejected him, but his district loved him and will, no doubt, produce a comparably clueless clone.
Fully MAGAfied, Mr. Gohmert pushes the big election lie. And, until he got the Covid-19 virus, made a show of not wearing a mask. Then, required to wear one on the floor of Congress after testing positive, blamed the mask for giving him the disease. Evidently a time-traveling mask. A favorite Fox “news” guest, his appearances were marked by insane conspiracies (terrorist babies) and other lies. His role as America’s dumbest congressman will soon be up for grabs. MAGAuspiciously, there are plenty of others ready, willful, and able to step into the void.
If Gohmert’s buffoonery has provided occasional comic relief for our over-slapped foreheads, there’s nothing funny about Chief Justice Roberts’ disingenuous attempt to defend the integrity of his hyper-partisan court. Echoing Justice Thomas’ prior comments, but, considering the latter’s spousal activities, less ironic, Roberts suggested that people are questioning the Court’s legitimacy because they dislike decisions that don’t go their way. “Simply because people disagree with an opinion is not a basis for criticizing the legitimacy of the court,” he declared.
Astoundingly, he also posited, “You don’t want the political branches telling you what the law is.” Really? Isn’t that exactly the Constitutional purpose of the legislative branch? What he said, as they say across the pond, is “all bollocks.” Smart enough to know better, he said it anyway, thus lowering people’s estimation even further.
To the extent that people characterize the court’s current lack of legitimacy, an activity as old as the Constitution, it’s because of the court's current lack of legitimacy. All of its Sanctimonious Six, for instance, were hand-picked by the far-right Federalist Society, specifically to overturn the Civil Rights Act, Roe, and environment-protecting regulations. Which they have. Its two most recent occupants warm the bench because of Mitch McConnell’s spectacular, even for him, hypocrisy about appointments in election years.
And, contrary to Roberts’ insistence that the Justices are impartially interpreting the law, we were treated to Mr. Justice Alito’s smug braying, in Rome, about his brilliance in overturning Roe. Sneering at the reaction to it from world leaders. Particularly proud, was he, of the snark in his majority opinion. If that’s legitimacy, so’s this.
SCOTUS’ illegitimacy is mirrored in the judge who approved Trump’s request for a special master to review his pilfered papers. Appointed after Trump had lost the election, raising McConnell’s hypocrisy to stratospheric heights, she’s a lifelong member of the Federalist Society and now a lifetime MAGA on the bench. Judge Cannon found herself criticized from all sides for a clearly ridiculous decision. Bending the law to conform to the wishes of the guy who appointed her after being resoundingly voted out of office. Legitimacy? By no measure.
Republican judges have been hired to approve a hard-right, antidemocratic agenda: nationwide abortion ban, discriminatory voting laws, reversing marriage rights, degrading public education, promoting pollution. They’re exceeding expectations. Illegitimately.
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
Though everything President Joe Biden said last week in “The Speech” was true, he could have put it better. “Fascists. They are fascists. Not all of them… but we are getting closer. We have to win this election.”
Oops, sorry. That was Trump, two years ago.
So let’s not feel sorry for MAGA Republicans. They threaten democracy exactly as President Biden described. Their hurt comes from hearing truth from a presidential podium, rather than the lies they’ve lapped for years. What Trump campaigned and “governed” on was purposefully divisive. He’s still at it.
Oh, but Joe said he wouldn’t. Right. Before seeing MAGA Republicans dismantle, brick by brick, the walls protecting voting rights, Constitutional rights, public education, elections; while they build one around their lawless leader.
But President Biden could have made it less of a campaign speech. Knowing his words would send MAGA Republicans into elephantine dudgeon, he reached beyond them, positing (questionably) that most Republicans aren’t so extreme and anti-democracy. If his intent was to convince those people -- enough of them to defeat candidates who promote Trumpism, such as refusal to say Biden won fairly, which includes one from our state -- he could have left out the list of accomplishments, impressive though they are. Made it exclusively about real, not-Trumpic patriotism, democracy, and the now-or-never need to rise above partisanship.
As MAGA Republicans continue to nominate election-denying, regressive candidates, real conservatives must recognize the need to stand against the party. For America. For now. Even if only this once. Send the message that Trumpism is poisonous to conservatism.
President Biden’s speech was divisive only to those who don’t share his commitment to preserving American democracy. Will not-oxymoronic “reasonable Republicans” do what’s needed? We’ll see. Not if right-wing media and current R leaders hold sway. Their tears insult crocodiles everywhere.
Which, in a non-sequitur sort of way, brings us to the historically consequential question our country, our democracy, and our Constitution will soon face: to indict or not, the Fifth-pleading (like his family and lawyers), undeniably law-breaking and, as facts are revealed, not-impossibly treasonous former “president.”
Ominously, documents seized by the FBI included details about another country’s (Israel?) defenses and nuclear capabilities. Wouldn't Trump's Saudi pals love that?
Ominously, documents seized by the FBI included details about another country’s (Israel?) defenses and nuclear capabilities. Wouldn't Trump's Saudi pals love that?
Any other public employee would already be in jail. Misappropriated sensitive documents. Lied about it. Kept them unsecured. Obstructed a legally-warranted investigation.
And now it appears Trump still has more, somewhere. Shared – could it be? -- with our adversaries? He does have a history. And what about those empty folders, marked as having contained classified material? Coincidence or not, since Trump departed D.C., a record number of US overseas operatives have been compromised, arrested, or killed.
Recognizable to anyone not employed or deceived by rightwing media, or not an elected Republican, Trump engaged in criminal behavior. Guilt isn’t’ the question; what to do about it is. Like movie mobsters, Trump, Lindsey Graham, et sycophanti, warn of riots in the streets. Rioters who'd include Trumpists who called BLM a terrorist movement and decried the violence that accompanied some of their rallies; much of which, according to the FBI, was instigated by rightwing infiltrators.
Compared to what Trump’s well-armed, flak-jacketed, lawbreaker-lovers would attempt to deliver, BLM was nothing.
Even without rioting, indicting Trump would stir righteous but wrongeous anger; the viewer-attracting outrage from Tucker and his similars would be red-hot. “How dare liberals enforce our laws? We, not they, decide which ones are breakable, and by whom. Because we’re the law and order party. Like that Special Master ruling: Trump’s judges work for us.”
For any non-MAGA, historically conservative Republican, it’s a brainer. If anyone commits crimes that put at risk or actually compromise national security and isn’t indicted, our laws mean nothing. This especially applies to a “president,” because presidents are above the law only in the dictatorships Trump loves. Prosecution would be like chemotherapy for America: a challenging, worrisome, unpleasant, but necessary process to rid the body politic of a cancer. There’s too much at stake not to.
If riots there be, and painful disruptions, no matter how transiently destructive, when the blood dries there will have been cleansing. “But no president has ever been indicted,” say the adulators. “It’s deep-state overreach.” Well, unprecedented begets unprecedented.
Indict him. If a jury agrees, convict him. Then, in deference to his brief, rejected “presidency,” slap on an ankle monitor and confine him to Mar-a-Lago. Golf course excluded.
For the moment, though, as he’s demanding immediate reinstatement as “president” and pushing Qanon conspiracies on his “Truth (anti-)Social” platform, the more pressing question is whether he ought to be restrained and medicated, for his own good.
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
I hate to keep pointing out the proto-totalitarian mendacity of today’s Republican Party. After all, who wouldn’t want to see them become helpful? Well, as it turns out, they.
Take inflation (please). People are hurting. Yet here’s what Florida Senator Rick Scott, notorious for paying the highest fine ever for Medicare fraud but elected anyway, Trumpishly, said about it: “This is a goldmine for us.”
Which explains the Republican response as inflation has begun declining: accusing Biden of lying. Insisting, against CBO economic analysis, that the Inflation Reduction Act, won’t. Casting full blame on President Biden when inflation has many causes and is higher in several other countries. Asked what their anti-inflation plans are, Republicans change the subject: immigration, walls, crime (but not Trump's). Because they have none and don’t want one. Why look a “goldmine” in the mouth?
Or consider President Biden’s plan to cancel a portion of student loans, mainly for those making an average of $70 thousand/year. Controversial, for sure. If, as in better-educated countries, post-high school education were included in government funding, it wouldn’t be an issue. While Rs eruct outrage, morality being their strong suit, they ignore their own who had PPP loans forgiven, including some of the loudest screamers. But it’s unfair to students who paid, is what they say.
Being fair-minded, I won’t bring up the many hardworking contractors Trump stiffed, or his six bankruptcies, which allowed him to skate on millions he owed. Curiously, this lifelong history of absconding on debt wasn’t disqualifying for Republican voters; the same ones, no doubt, extruding red-hot offense over President Biden’s action.
Nor would I even think of mentioning that “Forgive us our debts” thing in The Lord’s Prayer. I will, however, point out that as progress happens, pre-progress people may not benefit. That’s how it works: progress progresses past the past. Social Security, medical breakthroughs. Automobiles. Indoor plumbing. Unfair to the previously born.
But there’s something that reveals even more clearly to whom Republican leaders are indentured, what their political priorities are, and in what low regard they hold the voters they consider their gullible base. Namely, the reactions to funding 87,000 IRS agents, as contained in the Inflation Reduction Act. Contemptuous lies: impenitent, confidently cynical, too many to recount here. 87,000 agents, they shriek, armed with AR 15s, will be busting down doors of ordinary people, taking their hard-earned money and their children’s lemonade stands. At gunpoint.
The lies aren’t coming only from execrable media conspiracists like Jones and Carlson. It’s the head of the RNC, Cruz, Scott, Graham, McConnell, McCarthy, Rubio, Grassley, and more, plus the usual House crazies. Repeated hundreds of times, by actual count, by R Congresspeople and their “news” dispensers, the lies persist despite thorough debunking.
And, of course, they’ve led to Trumpism’s favorite activity: death threats. Which, it should be noted, are also happening to employees of the National Archives and FBI after Trump attacked them for doing their jobs. Trumpists believe anything and stop at nothing. Leaders count on it.
Here’s the truth: new hires will occur over a period of ten years. Due to normal attrition, the net result will be an increase of 40 thousand employees, bringing the IRS back to the number it had in 1990; most will be customer service representatives and analysts, not agents.
The number of new agents added over that decade will be fewer than 7,000. Less than one percent of IRS agents are armed, and that won’t change. Their targets are super bad guys, like drug cartels and Russian oligarchs, among which, we assume, typical Americans – even Trumpists -- aren’t.
The IRS has made clear its intent to use the increased resources to go after very wealthy cheaters, who bilk the government out of billions. Which exposes the reason for those Republicans’ shameless lies: frightening people who don’t cheat into voting for them, at the behest of and to protect those who do.
Bending truth may be a bipartisan political activity, but this level of incandescent Republican lying about everything bespeaks a party committed to nothing but its own power and its paymasters’ demands. Aware that their policies don’t attract average voters, they’ve made disinformation their electoral strategy. The violent, scapegoating rhetoric of their next great blight hope, Ron DeSantis, against LGBT citizens, Anthony Fauci, public education, and more, shows there’s no bottom for Trumpublicanism to hit. Encouraging civil war if laws are enforced and Trump is charged for his crimes, they echo the worst of human history.
MAGA Republicans, who recently feted Hungary’s fascistic Viktor Orban, are indignant that President Biden called them “semi-fascist.” Agreed: he was wrong to say it. There’s nothing “semi” about them.
Wednesday, August 24, 2022
Edward Luce, reporter for the Financial Times, tweeted this: “I’ve covered extremism and violent ideologies around the world over my career. Have never come across a political force more nihilistic, dangerous and contemptible than today’s Republicans...” To which General Michael Hayden responded: “I agree. And I was the CIA director.” Which he was, serving presidents GWB and BHO, left and right.
Not even Republicans, especially Trump’s diehards, can dispute it. In fact, the more nihilistic and dangerous their leaders and candidates are, the more inflammatory and dishonest rhetoric they dispense, the more enthusiastically Trumpublicans, still in control of that party, endorse them. They WANT nihilistic and destructive candidates, fawn over them, no matter what their fellow citizens, including themselves, stand to lose. Exactly what Luce and Hayden were talking about.
Over the top, you say? Blinded by unwarranted, commie, “woke,” CRT-pushing, Soros-funded, baby-eating, infanticide-promoting, climate-hoaxing, (education-promoting, library-liking, science-understanding, diversity-not-fearing, empathy-endorsing, sexuality-comprehending) baseless Trump hatred? Hardly. Just look around.
Starting, again, with the obvious: Trump illegally removed highly-classified documents from the White House and took them to America’s leading toxic waste repository known as Florida. Recent reporting states he personally inspected all of them last year: he knew what was in them; knew some were higher than top-secret. And not planted. He refused to return them when requested. Why? What did he plan for them? And why would any law-loving American defend it? The facts are undisputed. His “only-the-best-people” lawyers are making it clearer every day.
Central to the American system of justice are checks and balances. The FBI can’t “raid” homes without a warrant; including former “presidents.” Their lawful retrieval of documents, which Trump had no right to keep, followed months of investigation, ignored requests, and lies; coming only after authorization by a Biden-appointed US Attorney General, Trump-appointed CIA director, and a Trump-era federal magistrate, all of whom found probable cause. Their suspicions have been confirmed. Never one to pass up a good grift, Trump is, reportedly, sucking $1M per day from those suckered into contrived outrage.
From the right, there’s been virtually no support of constitutional rule of law. “If the home of a ‘president’ (who illegally removed highly sensitive documents and left them virtually unprotected) can be raided, so can anyone’s (who similarly broke the law and put national security at risk)” scream the screamers. This is anti-democracy nihilism at its close-to worst.
Closer is the lineup of unqualified, cynically-chosen, anyone-who-can-win-the-MAGA-vote candidates, top to bottom. Hershel “too many trees” Walker. Snake-oil pusher, TV creation, Mehmet Oz, who had to know he was peddling fake cures and did it anyway. To the tune of millions of dollars and countless deceived people. A skinny Trump. Also, JD Vance: former never-Trumper who five-fingered the wind.
Unmoscowed, Mitch McConnell is worried that, because of such terrible candidates (“candidate quality” is how he bemoaned it), he won’t regain senatorial majority leadership. And we’d miss his signature hypocrisy: doing what he accuses Democrats of doing, while decrying Democrats if they do what he’s been doing.
Bad as that is, it’s in the states where theocratic intolerance is spreading like Carlsonian conspiracies. Governors, state legislators, secretaries of state, city councils, school boards, are being packed with election-denying, book-banning, Foxotrumpified Christian nationalists claiming to protect us from their latest, focus-group-tested MAGA manipulator: “Woke.”
But what’s more agenda-forward than banning history books, novels, any pages and words that might cause white Superchristian children or their parents to feel discomfort? Of the kind that stems from being asked to recognize equality under the law, of people other than those they see in the mirror.
In Florida, Texas, and elsewhere, they’re busily ensuring that people who respect religion enough to believe in keeping it separate from government have no voice. “Woke,” if it has any meaning at all, is, in fact, shorthand for Jesus’ most fundamental teachings: empathy, generosity, open-mindedness. Pushers of the opposite, like DeSantis and his holier-than-everyone-else followers, think it’s their ticket to Heaven. This is ironic.
Running a close second to the preceding descriptor of Florida, Texas has passed a law limiting ballot drop-off locations to one per county. Henceforth, Loving County, with fifty-seven residents, will have the same number as Harris County, which includes Houston and has 4.7 million people. It’s not mysterious where most Democratic voters live.
In red states, the march to America’s unique, anti-Christian “Christian nationalism,” with its censorship, white supremacy, and enforced ignorance, appears unstoppable. And, since the Constitution unwisely embedded minority rule federally, nationwide takeover is well on its way.
Lacking easy solutions to self-created problems, humankind is turning to scapegoating and authoritarianism, demanding only thought-free obedience and certitude in one’s unique, unassailable rightness. Which explains it all.
Wednesday, August 17, 2022
“The truth shall set you free.” John 8:32
“The only reason to plead the Fifth is if you’re guilty.” Trump 0:yes.
440 times, did Trump so plead. Though contradicting himself mid-sentence has been a signature move since he first deescalated into politics, he decided to defend this particular flop of a flip, unfurling the familiar witch hunt metonymy. Funny: armed with truth, witch hunts should be the perfect forum for fighting injustice with it. But his truth wouldn’t have been freeing. No mystery there.
There is mystery surrounding those documents lounging at Mar-a-Lago. Why did he take them? Why had his lawyer sworn they’d been returned? Did Trump bleat that the FBI would plant evidence because he knew they’d find incriminating stuff? It’s reported he watched on the same CCTV on which the DOJ had previously observed people carrying boxes into and out of the unsecured room; which is why they’re fingerprinting the documents. Lacking standable legs, Foxotrumpists attacked the FBI and lied about the judge who approved the warrant. Leading, Trumpistly, to death threats.
Contradicting his planted documents claim, Trump announced he’d sprinkled magic declassification dust on them. It doesn’t work that way, but okay. Let’s see them. How do you spell FOIA?
Lying with no consequences to adoring millions who never question or demand accountability makes a person careless. As craven cohorts contrive to condone it, there’s no denying Trump broke a law he’d signed, lied about President Obama doing the same, flung excuses like a misaligned pitching machine, hoping for a strikeout. But documents were there, labeled top secret. Spin on it.
The preposterous pretext prize goes to “He takes work home.” The guy who, per multiple sources, was disinterested in security briefings unless they were reduced to pictures, who watched TV past midnight, did homework. (Brooklyn Bridge.) Less amusing possibilities: passing secrets to Putin and MBS as payment for electoral help and billions in cash. Blackmailing the French government. Showing it to his paramours? We may never know, but nothing in Trump’s past takes anything off the table; in fact, his lifetime of multiply-investigated business practices, lawsuits, and purported associations with Russian mobsters put it snugly in the credible column. Russian TV implied secrets are already in Putin’s hands.
Impossible? Recall that, even as the half-Obama’s-size crowd was demobilizing from his inauguration, Trump shared secrets with Russia’s foreign minister, in the Oval Office, causing the CIA to extract a deep-cover agent from Russia.
Darker in its implications for our country than Trump’s potential harm is how the right (or, more properly, the wrong) slavishly defends it. The crazies calling for killing FBI agents on sight; one giving it a prehumous try. The no less bedumbed, in and out of Congress, demanding to defund the agency. (Oh, Irony, you crafty jokester!) Government overreach, they call it; political tyranny, despite the fact that, prior to executing the warrant, they’d requested the documents, been lied to about them, even subpoenaed them, to no avail. Possible crimes against America require investigation. Surely even America-loving Trumpists can agree.
Imagine an employee found to have removed secrets from the Pentagon and taken them home. Of course law enforcement would investigate. Yet, while leaders remain silent or join in, Trumpublicans are calling for civil war over it. “The party of law and order” needs an update. How about “The party of lies, death threats, and encouraged violence”? (Insert BLM whataboutism here.)
Trumpists will never waver. But do no Republican leaders, other than Liz Cheney, who just lost her seat for the unforgivable sin of speaking truth to Republicans, have the courage to say enough is enough? Even at the risk of becoming yet another lie-rejector purged from the party, Stalinist Politburo-style? In the Trump era, to remain an elected Republican in good standing, one must accept and defend lies and crimes, no matter how debasing. How troubling for those who have remnants of conscience. If any there be.
Eric Trump is sure President Biden was behind the FBI search because when he was allowed off-leash in the White House he saw daddy ordering his Attorneys General around. By contrast, understanding and defending American democracy and the Constitution in ways Trump never has, nor ever will, here’s President Biden, swearing in Attorney General Merrick Garland: “... You aren’t the President or the Vice President’s lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me. It’s to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation to guarantee justice.” Trumpublicans find that impossible to comprehend.
Meanwhile, as they scream, prevaricate, and eschew policy, President Biden and Democrats have been enacting legislation that benefits us all. Come November, don't forget to remember.
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
Rarely are we provided an exemplar that perfectly captures a complex subject, requiring only simple observation to understand everything: what’s become of the Republican Party, for example. Improbably, at last week’s CPAC convention, there were two.
Least surprising was the featuring of Europe’s most dictatorial right-wing leader, Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Fresh off a speech in which he’d unequivocally staked his claim to white supremacy (“… we do not want to become peoples of mixed race”), he was showered with standing ovations; thus were eliminated any doubts of Trumpublicanism standing for authoritarianism, xenophobia, and white grievance. CPAC is Trumpublicanism emblazoned: all of its wannabes and neverbes, its liars and demagogues, flock there as if to the Holy Land, to strut the stage, aglow with received adulation.
But the most mind-blowing proof was off-stage. Representing incarcerated January 6 insurrectionist law-breakers, on display, in a cage, was an orange-outfitted “prisoner” actor, weeping performatively. Oh, the heart-rending injustice: criminals, properly found guilty in courts of law, paying for their crimes. Gathered tear-eyed as if before a creche, bearing witness, the formerly law-and-order-crowing crowds raised their hands to heaven in prayer. If the scene doesn’t confirm the mindless cult that’s become of a once-useful party, nothing does.
Insinuating herself into the cage, Marjorie Taylor Greene, idolized not in spite of but for her insanity, knelt before the man – A PAID ACTOR!! – camera-ready praying and holding his hand. And yet (hold tight your head, lest it snap on the swivel) she says no one will ever convince her the insurrectionists weren’t Antifa. In which case, for whom tf was she praying?
Proof of their descent into irrationality is undeniable, the Bill of Particulars long. Lauren Boebert got Orbanish applause for demanding, smug-faced and self-satisfied, that Dr. Fauci be prosecuted.
Away from the convention hall, there was worse; though some was amusing. As Fox “news” reported President Biden’s record-breaking, prediction-busting jobs numbers, they ran a chyron stating “WH misses forecast on lower July jobs growth.”
Not a single Republican senator voted for the Inflation Reduction Act, which will benefit all Americans, even those who don’t care. For the first time, it’ll address climate change seriously. It beefs up the Affordable Care Act, takes important steps to lower prescription drug costs, and fights inflation. Having failed to block President Biden’s pro-America package, Republicans got back on their cruelty feet to kill a bill capping the cost of insulin, which is around ten times higher in the US than anywhere else. The cap would have still been three times higher.
Many of them said no to the CHIPS act, aimed at making the US more competitive with China in manufacturing computer chips. Indiana’s strict anti-abortion laws are driving corporations away and causing Ob/Gyn doctors to look and go elsewhere.
We learned that, during Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings, as dozens of tips about his bad behavior came in, the FBI chose not to investigate. As despicable liar Alex Jones finally got his due, we’re reminded that Trump appeared on his show and Fox’s super-spreader Tucker Carlson called him “one of America’s most important truth-tellers.” And we read of the ongoing struggle of generals to keep Trump from using the military as his private police force.
Which brings us to the FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago, in which the party of law and order sees Q-anon levels of abuse of power by President Biden. Right. With nothing but good news lately about Joe’s succession of successes, he’d raid Trump to get the news off the front pages? News like unemployment at a fifty-year low; gas prices at three-month low; inflation down; Zawahiri eliminated; the CHIPS, PACT, and IRA acts passed. What it says, in fact, is that, unlike Trump’s control of the FBI and attempts on the Pentagon, President Biden had nothing to do with the DOJ decision.
For Attorney General Garland and a federal judge (appointed during Trump’s “presidency”) to sign off, there had to be compelling reasons to suspect criminal behavior, concluding, as reported, months of investigative lead-up. But law-loving Trumpworld took time off from chanting “lock her up” to express outrage that laws apply to everyone. Evidently, it's crime only when liberals and minorities do it.
Raiding Trump's rule-skirting home is no more unprecedented than the crimes of which he’s suspected. It had to have been justified extra-convincingly, which Trumpublicans will never believe. Trump has a copy of the search warrant. To prove he's being wronged, he should release it. Paradoxically, rational analysis was available only to Fox “news” viewers.
Alternatively, take it from me: Anyone being investigated by the FBI is not qualified to be president of the United States.
Oops. Sorry. That’s what Trump said about Hillary Clinton, incessantly, during the campaign of 2016.
Wednesday, August 3, 2022
From a recent letter to the editor: “… Biden and his cabal of leftists are crushing American energy with their America Last policies, focusing on climate change, proposing massive new taxes, and denying we are in a recession...”
From another: “… This country is better and deserves better than people like Schwab who really do nothing more than sling insults aimed at degrading and discounting large groups of people simply because they have a different view ...”
Apocalyptic times call for apocalyptic writing; mine, too. I wonder, though, how writer #2 would characterize #1. He also implied, if cheek-tongued, that my opinions make me a domestic terrorist. When it comes to hyperbole, it seems, we’re in it together. It’s nice, as Americans, to share.
Except that in the latter case, the writer, whose Facebook page contains warnings by fact-checkers that his posts are false, misstates and repeats a claim about calling decent conservative citizens “domestic terrorists” because they disagree with “liberal” positions. That assertion, we don’t share.
Characterizations of domestic terrorism have been applied by proper definition; such as to Proud Boys, who invaded the US capitol on January 6, and to citizens screaming their way into school board meetings, aflame with the false notion that Critical Race Theory is being taught, and/or overblown LGBT lies, threatening violence to board members, their families and homes. It’s not about disagreement, #2: it’s about violence, real or threatened. Disagreement is good for democracies. Tell that to Donald Trump.
Not that writer #1 was better informed. President Biden has, in fact and to the dismay of climate activists, okayed more drilling on federal lands. This he did with rising gas prices in mind. As to “crushing American energy,” he and Democrats, seeing the climate on the wall, are pushing, wisely, for alternative energy innovation, in which America could and should become the world leader.
Massive new taxes? Only on billion-dollar corporations making record profits even as they jack their prices. The money raised by and the programs in the Inflation Reduction Act will benefit all Americans. And, yes, reduce inflation. Not all of us see that as a bad thing. Same with “focusing on climate change.” Dangerous as they are, though, I don’t consider her opinions akin to domestic terrorism, as #2 might, if other-shoe-footed.
Those two letters are but a tiny sample of the disinformation, deliberate or due to unwitting Trumpofoxification, in rightwing apocalyptic claims. Supporters of Trump, listeners to Tucker, buy their lies about Democrats wanting to “destroy you.” Or quash dissent. On the rare occasions they specify, it’s about “grooming your children” to become gay, transgender, or dinner. Or wide-open borders, bringing in illegals to vote Democratic. None of which are remotely true. Otherwise, it’s just inchoate fear-mongering. And wishing our problems away, which, unlike Trump, President Obama and President Biden didn’t.
Would the “liberal agenda” destroy America? Depends on which America. If it’s the longed-for one where gays were closeted, women had little control over their reproductive decisions, climate change could be ignored, minorities found it extra-difficult to vote and “knew their place,” then yes. Liberalism is about equality, economic fairness, addressing climate change, fair election laws, protecting humanity and the environment from industrial poisons, ensuring quality public education and more widely-available, less-expensive healthcare. And science.
It’s an agenda aimed at making life better for all Americans, including Trumpists. Other than those who’d make America an evangelical Christian theocracy, lacking public education, accessible healthcare, and unrestricted access to voting. And those who believe Trump’s obvious lies. Those lies aren’t the apocalypse: believing them is.
The Trumpublican agenda favors only the very wealthy, and corporate CEOs who prefer to be unregulated. They no longer pretend otherwise. We’ll all suffer, Trumpists included, from ignoring climate change. And forced birth. They may think they’ll “stick it to the libs” forever by preventing fair voting and promoting Christian Nationalism, but forever lasts a long time. So does history.
What about blocking funds for veterans suffering from burn-pit poisons, then fist-bumping their joy, for no legitimate reason but the aforementioned lib-sticking? (After the deserved uproar, it passed, but their first instinct is illuminating. Eleven R senators still voted no.) Twenty House Republicans voted against a child-trafficking bill. Eight abstained. Refusing to stand against pedophilia. Why, for God’s sake?
If some far-lefties propose defunding police, for example, they’re not mainstream. Election lies, by contrast, and anti-democratic laws that follow, are central to Trumpublicanism. So is nominating unqualified crackpots to office. If both sides claim their opposite will destroy America, only one seeks progress for Americans of all kinds, while the other seeks to block it. Come November, vote accordingly.
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
By the time I retired from my surgical practice, there was no operation I did exactly as taught during training. New studies are done. New technology happens. Because science is, by definition, skeptical, and because modern healthcare is science-based, it would be shocking if doctors weren’t always questioning their knowledge and open to change. (This is characteristic of no practitioners of homeopathy, by the way, or acupuncture, reiki, et woo, to whose followers the attraction is, evidently, that they’re unchanged over generations; no testing desired.)
I was taught by surgical innovators and pioneers. But time keeps happening; even their wisdom, it turned out, could be found wanting. I mention this because the sentinel characteristic of Trumpism and most of today’s Republican Party is the opposite. Once inculcated, Foxotrumpian lies are inlaid like a parquet floor. Nearly two years later, Trump still tells his adoring crowds he won by a landslide, making him either the most outrageous liar or the most delusional person ever placed in office by the Electoral College. Following suit, R candidates are calling fraud in their upcoming elections, even before the vote.
In marginally more enlightened Washington State, thirty percent of Republicans believe Trump’s indisputably debunked Big Lie. Nationwide, the percentage is much higher. You know what, by electoral standards, WAS a landslide? The 57-43 vote to remove him from office in the second impeachment. Yet, at Trump rallies, his three-monkeyed drones still brandish signs saying he won, while chanting “lock her up.”
Remember Arizona legislator Rusty Bowers, who famously refused Trump’s demands to break the law, later said he’d still vote for him, but more recently expressed reluctance? Confirming everything I’ve ever written about Trump’s no-longer conservative party, they expelled him; a leader in their legislature, a lifelong actual conservative. “Rusty has failed in his specific actions,” they said, “including co-sponsoring Democrat-led bills.” And declared him, “… no longer a Republican in good standing,”. Following the law, speaking truth, cooperating for the common good: unacceptable, in the eyes of the GOP.
I’ve had “conversations” with Trumpists who refused to watch the January 6 hearings. Not interested. Pre-dismissed. It was a peaceful protest, totally overblown. Right: we heard, and they didn’t, that Pence’s security detail were calling their loved ones to say goodbye. One-sided, they claim. Yet, as Vice-chair Cheney said and they’ll never see, “The case against Donald Trump is not made by his political enemies. It is instead by Donald Trump's own appointees, his own friends, his own campaign officials, people who worked for him for years, and his own family.” Like Rusty Bowers’, Ms. Cheney’s political career is likely over. A truth-telling, lie-rejecting, brave and ethical Republican. Oxymoron.
As a doctor, always aware I could be wrong and making sure as possible I wasn’t, I find Trumpists’ refusal to learn incomprehensible. And worrisome for our country. If my mind was similarly closed, I’d have still removed gallbladders through eight-inch incisions and kept victims hospitalized for a week. If I’d clung to the received wisdom that bowel surgery patients require a tube down their nose for days, ignoring later studies showing they retard recovery, I’d have had lots of miserable patients and, deservedly, lost my surgical privileges.
Among the reasons Trump didn’t want to call off the rioters, as we learned and the ignorers won’t, is that it would “give the media a win.” So much for duty to the Constitution and the rule of law. So much for thinking outside his own troubled head, a dereliction of duty and failure of leadership the hearings made clear as our air once was. After his “team normal” insisted, he gave a speech acknowledging Congress had certified the electoral votes. But refused to say the election was over.
A person who did watch is Rupert Murdoch, creator of the propaganda network dba Fox “news.” His New York Post editorialized, “Trump has proven himself unworthy to be this country’s chief executive again,” and his Wall Street Journal wrote, “Character is revealed in a crisis, and Mr. Pence passed his Jan. 6 trial. Mr. Trump utterly failed his.” No wonder Trumpists refused to watch.
Cynical as it gets, they’ve nominated, to be among only one-hundred senators, carpetbagging Dr. Oz, famous for selling phony cures and housing Turkish nationalists in a secret condo, and Hershel Walker, talented only in football and domestic abuse. They’ve invited Hungary’s dictatorial leader, whose top advisor just resigned over a disgusting, neo-Nazi speech, to speak at CPAC. When a “major” political party idolizes authoritarians, purges its few honest leaders, and keeps its members deliberately ignorant, there are consequences for us all. Until we no longer have it, voting remains our only means to resist.
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
Someone is spending big money on nasty ads against Washington’s Democratic state senators. Someone, or some group, really, really wants to flip the majority in that body. Making the same out-of-context and misleading claims about the members’ votes, the ads are nearly word for word, but with differing targets.
What’s their agenda? Ending mail-in voting? Outlawing drop boxes? They’re already “surveilling” them, despite proof they’re completely safe, everywhere. Criminalizing abortion? Deputizing citizens, thought police, to report people considering it? Maybe it’s banning sex education or teaching America’s full history. CRT, nonexistent in our schools, for sure. How about restricting access to birth control? Not here? In Republican-controlled states, it’s all on the table. Because it’s who they are.
Last week, the US House of Representatives voted on a bill addressing neo-Nazis in our military and police. Every Republican voted no. Nearly all of them voted against implementing an active shooter warning system. Why? To offset tax cuts for donors? It’s also who they are. Because Democrats still have a majority in the House, both bills passed, but there can be no more stark demonstration of why America needs that majority to remain.
Those bills, which would have benefitted all Americans save for Nazis and murderers, plus one protecting abortion rights, also receiving zero R votes, will probably be blocked by Republican senators. To them, politics are zero-sum. If Republicans become the majority there, neo-Nazis, corporate polluters, the ultra-wealthy, and religious extremists will have cause to rejoice. No one else. It’s who they are.
They’re also people who claimed the story of a ten-year-old fourth-grader, pregnant by rape, forced to travel to another state for an abortion, was a lie. Or said she should be forced to give birth, despite being too small to do so “naturally.” On another bill, protecting the right to cross state lines for abortion care, all Rs voted no. Small government. Isn’t that who they are?
Picture a ten-year-old girl’s body at full term. Bullied in school. Think of her being wheeled into an OR, awake, crying, frightened, surrounded by masked strangers, put to sleep. Awakening scarred, literally and figuratively, forever. Can you imagine what her life would be like afterward? Forced-birth Republicans can’t. It’s not who they are.
When the rapist was arrested, Republican idols like Jim Jordan, Tucker Carlson, et awful, refused to apologize. Others went with the fact that the man is an illegal immigrant, as if that’s the story. D-list Foxer Jesse Waters claimed credit for the arrest, fantasizing that by calling the story a hoax he pressured law enforcement to do their job. Then he said the doctor who cared for the child, LEGALLY, should be charged as a criminal, siccing Indiana’s Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita on her.
Rokita obliged. With his party’s characteristic lack of empathy, he preached the Gospel according to Trump: “This is a horrible, horrible scene caused by Marxists and socialists and those in the White House who want lawlessness at the border… This girl was politicized—politicized for the gain of killing more babies.” “Politicized,” he said, politicizing. And lying. Mendacious hypocrisy is who they are.
What’s at stake if Republicans control the federal government is no mystery, as their just-released document makes clear. The “Blueprint to Save America,” 122 pages of heartlessness, summarized in Mother Jones, “…calls for significantly reducing the size of America’s social safety net, drastically limiting or outlawing abortion access nationwide, effectively throwing in the towel on combatting climate change, raising the age to receive full Social Security benefits, cracking down on transgender rights, and making it easier for Americans to carry concealed weapons.”
There’s more. The EPA would be gutted, funds for Medicaid and food stamps would be cut drastically; the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Labor Relations Board, entities that protect everyone but rich Republicans: gone. Corporations would be virtually unregulated. It’s who they are.
Famed economist J.K. Galbraith once wrote, “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” Anyone who doubts Professor Galbraith’s words need only read that radical document. The entire manifesto is here.
And now, this: it’s an unworkable system that allows a single senator, a participant in and funded by the fossil fuel industry, to block desperately-needed climate legislation, and to prevent raising taxes on his owners to pay for it and other needed spending. Manchin. It’s who he is. Rendering him powerless is another reason to elect more Democrats to the Senate. Democratic voters must turn out like never before. For my grandchildren, I donate money to Democratic candidates around the county. Maybe it helps.
Wednesday, July 13, 2022
It’s impossible fully to grasp the images coming from the James Webb Space Telescope. Countless clusters of light: galaxies. Millions of them, each containing billions of stars. A Milky Way’s worth of Milky Ways. And it’s but a slice of the out-there, seeing branches on a single tree in a rain forest miles away and bigger than (what’s left of) Brazil’s. Only more.
No analogy captures it. Our Earth, in the vastness of the Universe, is a single grain of sand among the grains of all the beaches and deserts on our planet. Our brains are unequipped to make sense of it. Black holes and nebulae. Light years. Parsecs. Numbers so enormous, they shatter into meaninglessness.
The tidy nebula in Tuesday’s gorgeous image covers an unimaginably vast region of space and contains countless stars coming into and going out of existence. What hope do non-scientists have of wrapping around it; we can barely understand atoms.
After traveling for billions of years, the light in those images arrived, nearly from the beginning of the space-time in a tiny corner of which we happen to exist. It’s a wondrous scientific achievement, by people far smarter than anyone reading (or writing) this. People committed to learning about and understanding our universe, in ways that most of us never will. For the thrill of it, the wonder, expanding the mind. Curiosity and thirst for knowledge remain human characteristics, at least in people as yet unaffected by a political party’s attempts to erase them. And it’s still only a superficial scratch on the surface of the unknown.
Here we are, improbably alive on nothing more than a molecule, insignificant within the cosmos, while the birth and death of stars and galaxies continue as they have from before this time began. Through the Webb telescope, we see what happened billions of years ago. Happening still.
In such an unmeasurable expanse, how can our Earth be the only bearer of life, with billions and billions of places for a one in a billion-billion chance to occur? In whichever creation story one chooses to believe, it can’t be that everything out there, so far beyond what we can see or Bronze and Iron Age religious scribes could imagine, is only about us? That it’s for us, alone, that a creator, selected from among the planet’s cafeteria of religions and hundreds of gods, cares? Is suppressed insignificance the reason we’re carelessly destroying the home we’ve been gifted? Denying, as so many do, that it’s happening?
If we can’t grok the enormity, we ought at least be able to see how foolish, how petty and ungrateful we are to waste the flickering light of life we’re living, in a tiny speck of universal existence. Even if there’s another life awaiting (it can’t be comparable to earthly consciousness, because, you know, ATP and glycolysis), there’s no excuse to behave as selfishly and uncompassionately toward one another as we are in this one. To, using the scientific term, blow it.
State Senator and, I’m happy to say, friend, John Lovick recently shared a maxim he holds close: “You stand for what you tolerate.” Profound in its simplicity, it’s even more so in light of the lights shining light on the outermost reaches brought nearer by the Webb telescope. Paradoxically, life’s insignificance and brevity thus reflected demands we not waste the moment we’ve been given. We oughtn't misuse the opportunity to stand for something while we’re here, by tolerating the intolerable. If the immensity of the universe we’re seeing means what we do here matters little, in scale, the onus of significance is, therefore, on each of us.
Unwillingness to tolerate the destructiveness of Trumpism is part of what I’ll stand for in my remaining time. We applauded Arizona’s Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers, whose faith and belief in the Constitution compelled him to refuse Trump’s criminal demands. Then we learned he’d vote for him again. Trump’s irrationality and lies, tolerated, presumably, to preserve tax cuts and deregulation are what he actually stands for. Unlike what we first thought, it’s dishonorable.
The same for anyone who manages, for whatever self-serving excuses, to rationalize continued support for Trump, despite his perpetuating a democracy-destroying lie, trying to regain power by inciting hate, caring nothing for the impact. They stand for what they tolerate. What some see as hateful in my writing reflects, in fact, my unwillingness to tolerate, in silence, Trump’s dragging down of America. After seeing those magnificent images and contemplating their meaning, even less could I tolerate being seen to stand for it. There’s the meaning: we make our own. Christ-like acceptance of “otherness” would be a good start.
Wednesday, July 6, 2022
In the same way that Trump discovered he could ignore the Constitution at will, the Federalist Society’s hand-picked, McConnell-stolen Supreme Court has come to realize they can rule however they wish, precedent and consistency be damned. On parchment anyway, there are restrictions on executive power; but there are practically none on them. Trump et mob ignored the quilled rules and did so with impunity; because there are few that apply to them, the Six Injustices realized that, in practice, they have nothing to ignore.
They’re the dog who caught the car. Except they know exactly what to do with it: chew it up, leaving a smoking (coal smoke) ruin. Why, for example, isn’t same-sex marriage covered under the Fourteenth Amendment? Because Clarence Thomas says so. There are five others.
The Constitution isn’t silent on SCOTUS overreach. Per Article III, Section 2: “[T]he Supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.” In other words, if it had the will, which it doesn't, Congress could limit what sort of cases the Court can hear; starting, perhaps, with obvious conflicts of interest, like Thomas protecting his insurrectionist wife, Barrett favoring “Americans for Prosperity,” which spent $1 million on her candidacy, Gorsuch siding with Penguin Random House, who’d published his book. The liberal justices aren’t squeaky clean, either.
It’d be a start. And the rules should be unambiguous, unlike the meaning of separation in the First and militias in the Second Amendment, both of which the current Court seems bent on re-writing. Though impossible in the current climate (was that a pun?), what’s needed is reigning in such destructive decisions as removing EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases. Their rationale was made of thin, if polluted, air: Congress, they said, couldn’t possibly have meant to give it the authority it gave. It will apply to other agencies, too. The Justi are there because of money from polluters. Why else would they take the case?
Equally ominous, because democracy is dying as fast as the planet, is their choice to hear a case, next session, involving state legislatures’ right to make their own rules for voting in national elections, not subject even to state judicial review. Who doubts the outcome? Equal voting access? One person, one vote? Not anymore. Meanwhile, honest election workers are quitting, under ugly threats from Trumpists, replaced with big-lie believers. Death’s door is wide open.
That our democratic republic is now incapable of effective governance has become undeniable; what comes next, also undeniable, is frightening to contemplate. For the first two-hundred years, most Americans and their chosen representatives maintained some version of good faith, so the founding flaws hadn’t been fatal.
In particular, the minority-power-tilted Senate, where, because of Mitch McConnell and a couple of spineless Democrats, the non-constitutional filibuster has tilted that power even further; the Electoral College, which allows losers of the popular vote to become “president” and then to appoint judges hand-picked for their anti-democratic views. Compromises, the impact of which wasn’t foreseen. Our founders couldn’t have predicted millions of Foxotrumpified voters. Or modern weapons of war doled out to civilians like Mardi Gras beads.
Those now-outdated constructs had the potential, from conception, for abuse by politicians of ill will. Good fortune, if that’s what it was, kept it at bay till the era of Ronald Reagan. His grinning “government is the problem” and the people that followed -- Lee Atwater, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, Tom Delay – began the beginning of the end, hastened now by the current congressional crew of conspiratorial con-artists, too numerous to mention. And capo de tutti capo, Mitch McConnell. Trump is merely the final beneficiary of the fall; inevitable at the founding, irreversible since the 1970s.
Whether majority or minority leader after November’s midterms, Mitch McConnell will never allow constraints on the far-right, ideological court; his proudest achievement. To him and his party, the Constitution is an arcane museum piece, whose relevance is purely situational. When it comes to a national ban on abortion, if he’s in charge, the non-constitutional filibuster will evaporate like Donmikerudy’s proof of election fraud. And the Court will approve.
On his censorious, weirdly-named “Truth Social” website, Trump wrote, “We are truly a nation in decline;” the only truth he’s ever told. The reasons are his unending election lies and the unreachable people who continue to believe him, representatives of whom leave (fair warning) vile, obscene, NSFW messages on Republican January 6 committee-member Adam Kinzinger’s office phone, calling from the basket.
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