Thursday, July 2, 2020

Barr, The Door

"Trump is the most purely evil human being I've ever met..." — Tony Schwartz, actual author of “Art of the Deal.”

Maybe he never met Bill Barr.

If Trump is the lesser evil, it’s because he’s so damaged that he can’t help being amoral, any more than the proverbial scorpion could help killing the frog. Barr, on the other hand, made a conscious choice to be Trump’s handmaiden, purposefully subverting the Department of Justice. Not just evil: he could be the most dangerous man in D.C., though between Trump, Barr, and Mitch McConnell, it’s a tough choice. That treacherous triumvirate has so damaged democracy it’ll be tough for Joe Biden and a Democratic Congress to make it right. If, by now, it’s even possible.

Attorney General William Barr wasted no time in weaponizing our DOJ as projector and protector of presidential power, rather than a guardian of justice for all citizens. His opening act, mischaracterizing the Mueller report, was as cynical as it gets. He knew truth would out, but figured if his lies got there first, he could count on Fox “news” and other rightwing media to bury Mueller’s real findings. Calling the investigation “… a grave injustice… unprecedented in American history” (maybe he never met Hillary Clinton), he expected Trump’s supporters to accept his version, facts be damned. They did, and still do. The truth is, Robert Mueller was too soft.

It’s gotten worse. Here, in cronylogical order, are some of Barr’s lesser-known offenses, presaging his recent explosion of two-handed digital salutes to democracy: he undertook a spurious anti-trust action against a few small cannabis producers; he went after automakers for rejecting Trump’s deregulation by agreeing to California’s clean-air rules (like the Constitution, federalism is important to Republicans only when it suits them); asked how history would judge his actions, he said, “History is written by the winners.”

But it’s the recent, blatant attacks on separation of powers, on elections, and on peaceful protests that confirm his true nature and purely Trumpophilic agenda. If “evil” is too inflammatory, what else shall we call turning the DOJ into an attack-dog for an all-powerful “president,” accountable to no one, not even the electorate? This is America, after all; not Trump’s idolized Russia.

Barr’s effort to end the case against Michael Flynn, who’d pleaded guilty to two counts of perjury, is the least of it. Where shall we place his approval, around which he danced like Sean Spicer on DWTS, of the brutal removal of peaceful protestors so Trump could perform his Bible-walk desecration? As threatening as it was to the First Amendment, it’s still not his worst. The soviet-style purging the Southern District of New York of its US Attorney, mid-investigation of Trump’s shady businesses and henchmen, ranks higher, even as he fumbled so clumsily in his desperation to get it done.

The man he fired, Republican Geoffrey Berman, garners bipartisan respect as a man of integrity. For a replacement, Barr chose a golf-buddy of Trump who’s never prosecuted a case of any sort. He has, however, lawyered for Deutsche Bank, fined for laundering billions in Russian mob money, provider of millions in loans to Trump. Suspicious? Not to Senate Rs and incorrigible Trumpists. If it were Eric Holder similarly protecting President Barack Obama, would we hear such high-decibel silence?

As egregious as that full-frontal attack on constitutional democracy is, there’s something still worse: namely, his transparently craven lie about voting by mail. Ignoring his role as defender of free and fair elections, he simply made up warnings about the most powerful way to circumvent Republicans’ undemocratic vote-suppression tactics. It “opens the floodgates for widespread fraud,” he conjured. Foreign governments could create a deluge of fake ballots, he prophesied. Right. Tailored to each of thousands of precincts and parishes? Then what? Bring bulging bags to post offices around the country? “Pleez to be taking for mail. Eez okay no problem.”

We expect perpetual prevarication from our perfidious “president,” but Barr is the putative chief law-enforcer of our country, lying between his jowls, not caring how preposterous; protecting his boss, scorning the American people.

A word about Trump’s inaction over Russia paying Taliban fighters $100,000 per killed US and coalition soldier. While Congress is briefed on the mounting evidence and other countries share theirs, only three entities deny it: Russia, the Taliban, and Trump, the boy who cried hoax. Res, as they say on the streets, ipsa loquitur 
Finally, on this Independence Day, consider the obvious consequences of having a “president” who ignores intelligence, whether it’s about a pandemic or the actions of his “friend” and our enemy, Putin, and so much more; who, while our country is torn asunder by fear and hate of fellow citizens, chooses to make it worse. As campaign strategy. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

It's Satanic

Last week’s rally in Tulsa was microcosmic Trump; a preview of the contagion through which he’ll be dragging us till November. Lacking a single positive idea, presenting no vision to take us beyond the coronavirus crisis except to pretend it away, making no effort to heal the division wracking our country since the killing of George Floyd, it was Trump at his lowest. 
His one-sided message, aimed only at people like those who attended unmasked, confirmed the needs of a nation are irrelevant to him. The role of “leader” of a diverse nation was ignored as if it were a virus. “Elected” with no experience in governance, four years later he’s learned nothing.

It was a festival of grievance aimed at the embittered; not just downplaying, but mocking the disease that’s taken one-hundred-twenty-five-thousand American lives; the disease that, because of his incompetence and inattentiveness, is rising faster in the US than anywhere except Brazil.

That the rally even took place confirms Trump’s pathological indifference to all but himself. Facing an enormous challenge for the first time in his life, with no one to bail him out, requiring tough and untiring leadership, he’s waving the white flag, running down-ramp as fast as his bone spurs can carry him. Rather than working harder, calling upon the best of our nation, championing the need for short-term suffering for the greater good, he chose to lie and blame and move on.

The two-thirds-empty arena was filled with Trump’s signature race-baiting, fear-mongering, and outright lies. Protestors kept thousands from entering the arena, he explained, which Tulsa police denied. If Joe Biden wins, he warned, “bad hombres” will rape your women; he’ll take your guns (Really? Still?) and murder newborns. Never comfortable around strong women, he attacked Latina and Muslim Congresswomen. They hate your way of life, he prompted, to boos on que. But they cheered when he held a glass of water with one hand. The bar, it is low.

It was boilerplate stuff, his go-to demagoguery. Downplaying the virus, on the other hand, is something far worse. Trump’s pretense is killing people and he doesn’t care, which makes it satanic. Ironically, his future victims will disproportionately be his most loyal and indoctrinated supporters, as it’s they who accept the lie. We praise the sacrifices of our brave troops, they weep, but don’t ask us to wear masks.

Who could have imagined a “president” of the United States, a job formerly considered leadership of the free world, facing the ravages of a deadly pandemic, would tell people to ignore it, ridiculing the only activities known to slow it down? Implying wearing masks signifies disloyalty? Demanding, overtly, that his devotees disregard their and their loved-ones’ health in order to prove their love, and seeing them do it? But there it is: not-so-great-again America.

Testing should slow down, said Trump, because it makes him look bad. Never mind that it’s indispensable to getting back to normal. (If we stop checking documents, will illegal immigration end? What about pregnancy tests?) After his mouthpieces pretended he was kidding, he said he doesn’t kid. 
Either way, he’s curtailing funding for testing in several states, including Texas, where cases are exploding upward almost as fast as his disapproval rating. Senators have uncovered fourteen-billion unspent dollars intended by Congress to pay for testing. Trump has even ordered cutbacks on coronavirus research. And, like everything else Covid, we’ve just learned he lied about ventilators, too. 

It’s as if he WANTS his supporters to die. Seeing them obediently packing themselves together, submissively accepting his mockery of those who wish to protect themselves and others, is astonishing. It’s Jonestown, from sea-to-shining-sea. Are Trumpists really willing to die for a lie from the most damaged man ever to occupy the Oval Office, or are they so Foxotrumpified they can’t recognize what they’re being told to do, and why? It’s dystopia. It’s unimaginable: sardined believers, cheering their own ignorance. Ave Trumpum, morituri te salutant.

Because of Trump, America leads the world in failure to control the virus, which, given his obvious unsuitability for the job, was inevitable. The work was too hard for him, doing right too unfamiliar. Best to declare victory and go rallying.

As the EU considers banning travel from here, Trump’s America has become an international pariah. Mystified and worried by our rapid fall from respectability, the world now sees us as undesirables. Trump’s scarlet hat is our nation’s scarlet letter.

Friday, June 19, 2020


“If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country…” Donald Trump, interview in People Magazine, 1998.  
Credulity. It wouldn’t be credible to argue it only infects Trumpofoxians. Nevertheless, one sees far fewer obvious falsehoods coming from the online left than from the right. Cultivated credulity has created such a hermetic barrier between left and right that it looks impossible ever to find a way back. And whether or not it’s equally distributed (it’s not), the deliberate nurturing and propagation of it comes mainly from one side. 
Among liberal cable news partisans, there aren’t intentional liars like the stars of Fox “news” and the screamers of Limbaughland. Or Trump. Or foreign-based, online efforts to divide Americans and bring down our democracy by reelecting Trump; or, if it fails, to discredit the election.  
Last week’s column addressing Trump’s and Fox’s lies about antifa fell on deaf eyes, as usual. One Trumpist responded with pictures of so-called antifa members arrested in recent riots. He declined to supply the source, but I found it, and, surprise, it was a compendium of people charged in a Portland uprising a couple years ago, not a single one of whom was identified as antifa.  
Next came a link to an end-times website, posting about Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, CHAZ. Complete with mischaracterized pictures, it claimed “Antifa soldiers” had beat up a sidewalk preacher there, choked him as he cried out “I can’t breathe,” while onlookers jeered. Amazingly, it included video which showed he was being hugged, not choked or beaten. 
How credulous must one be to believe, despite evidence of the opposite? How mushy is the mind that accepts the horrifying but fabricated descriptions of CHAZ Fox “news” offloads, and not actual live feeds from local sources?  
Then, as darkness follows night, came assertions about George Soros funding antifa, and the tired claim that he collaborated with Nazis in WWII, and is now working to destroy democracy. Which, as one can learn from a moment’s searching of responsible sources, makes Trump’s coronavirus lies seem positively Socratic. 
Why and how Soros became bogeyman #1 for Trumpists isn’t mysterious, but given who he is and what he actually does to support democracy around the world, it’s credulity to the ninety-ninth power.  
In Trump’s greatened America, fifty-three Qanon believers are running for Congress: paranoid people who accept the stupefying conspiracy that Satan-worshipping pedophiles rule the world, possibly from pizza parlors.  
There’s more, like video of people screaming at city council meetings, convinced that wearing masks dangerously raises blood CO2 levels. Masked for hours almost daily, as a surgeon for decades, I … disagree. While cases surge, mask-eschewing Trump just announced the virus is “fading away.” What does it say if he believes that? What does it say if he doesn’t?  
“The breakup of the United States of America is already under way,” brayed a member of the Russian Duma recently, thus illuminating the real significance of America’s credulity problem: it serves the enemies of democracy, including Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and Trump. When Americans are unable to separate fact from fiction, those foes win and our republic loses. (  
Spreading disinformation to the credulous isn’t new, but Republicans like Newt Gingrich, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove, Lee Atwater, and now, Trump, weaponized it, flooding the zone with so many lies that people gave up calling them out. So successful is it that those adversaries recognized its potential to further their aims. Not only have they exploited widespread credulity to influence our elections, aided by Trump and his Congressional co-conspirators, they’ve convinced millions they haven’t. That’s meta-credulity. (  
Education, to which Republicans refer as brainwashing, is a powerful antidote to credulity. Equally potent are the workings of a free and skeptical press, which is why Trump calls it “fake news.” For too many currently in power, too much depends on keeping credulity alive. And too many Trumpophiles welcome the slumber of its comforting embrace.  
Trumpist credulity now faces its biggest challenge. Confirming everything Trump’s impeachment exposed, and more, John Bolton’s book has discharged a Foxotrumpian effluvium, enjoining the credulous to deny or excuse the malversation to which he bears witness. (Which is it? Lies, or classified?) 
During the impeachment trial, Senate Republicans cravenly refused to call Mr. Bolton. Do terminally credulous Trumpists finally understand why?  
Oh. Almost forgot: that Trump quote, still around, is fake. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

It's Not Antifa

After eighteen-thousand documented false statements from our “president,” you’d think everyone would assume he’s lying until proven otherwise. You’d be wrong, of course.  
Repeated endlessly, amplified by a carefully-crafted network of media propagandists, Trump’s lies are gobbled like manna, leading para-Trumpists to conclude there’s no downside to lying. “My attitude was get it done, but I didn’t say, ‘Go do it,said William Barr, about the attack on peaceful protestors at Lafayette Square. Pepper spray isn’t a chemical, he added. Like Mueller found no crimes. From Trump and adjacent, lying is Plan A. Here’s the perfect example: “Antifa.”  
Short for anti-fascist, the term described various groups in post-war Germany dedicated to preventing fascism from rising again. Connected loosely, if at all, they were, in essence, detectives, looking for leftovers from the Reich. People who wanted to preserve freedom and democracy from fascism. The idea naturally spread to America, where, until Trump, Nazis were disliked.  
Raise your hand if you know what Antifa is here; its headquarters, its command structure, its membership requirements and how many it has. Do you know how to pronounce it? Are you sure all demonstration disrupters are Antifa? Keep your hand up if you believe it’s more dangerous to democracy than white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Proud Boys, Boogaloo Boys, the KKK. Have you seen Antifa members recruiting here, like Proud Boys are? Are you okay with the use of military spy-planes over American citizens? 
Omitting the aforementioned rightwing gangs of “very fine people” who actually do have structure, recruitment, funding, and nationwide reach, Trump has described only Antifa as terrorists. Based on a report by a Russian operative working for a Russian propaganda network and carried on more-Trumpist-than-Fox OANN, (which looks a lot like “ONAN”) he even suggested the old man (my age) who was pushed by police is “possible Antifa,” and implied his skull-cracking fall was a gravity-enhancing “setup.” Not the first of Trump’s Russia-sourced conspiracies 
As Trump lurches ever further from his rocker, his confabulations are exploited online by entities posing as Antifa, announcing non-existent plans for violent invasions into white neighborhoods. One such deceiver has been identified as the white nationalist cabal “Identity Evropa.” In Snohomish, Klamath Falls, across the nation, the deceived show up, armed and drinking, which isn’t dangerous. When the fabricated invasion doesn’t happen, what so proudly they prance.  
Contrary to Trump’s and Barr’s assertions, no one arrested in the current chaos has been identified as Antifa, whereas the presence of white supremacists and other rightwing agitators has been confirmed. The consequences of these “presidential” lies are grave. Inflamed by Trump, Barr, fascist-flirt Senator Tom Cotton, and Fox “news” saying the appropriate response to peaceful protest is sending in the troops, citizens are driving into crowds, grabbing long guns from their trucks and threatening to shoot. Doing it, in some cases. Even here, on Capitol Hill.  
It’s not hard to believe this is exactly what Trump intends. Accustomed to lying or cheating or blaming his way out of personal responsibility for his entire life, he’s becoming increasingly desperate for something, anything, by which to regain traction. To help you ignore his serial failures and the flood of generals and admirals finally calling him out; even stirrings among Republicans.  
From his depleted trick-bag, Trump chose the worst, which is to say the most Trumpian, option: turn citizens exercising their First Amendment right of assembly, petitioning equal justice from their government, into the enemy; get Trumpo-Americans exercising their Second Amendments rights to believe, and unleash the hounds of Hell. Seeding the civil war he has all but called for, should he be unable to suppress enough votes in November.  
After Trump’s third-world-dictator attack on peaceful protesters, sending his message of “domination,” Americans are fighting each other. Convinced all demonstrators are “Antifa,” which, it’s been shown, comprises virtually none of the protestors we’re seeing, Trumpists feel empowered to threaten their lives, spewing Trump-endorsed rage at fellow Americans advocating liberty and justice for all. This may be his most dangerous, anti-American lie of all.  
Meanwhile, as he pretends Antifa is our foremost enemy, Trump is precipitously and without consultation reducing our troops in Germany. This pleases Putin, who’s moving forces to his western border. What election help, and more, one wonders, has Putin has promised in return?  
To salvage our democracy, it’s November or never.  
For those interested in discovering what Antifa is and is not, these links are a start.
[Image source]

Friday, June 5, 2020

Racism, Protest, And Trump

The thread of racism runs through the fabric of America. Anyone who pretends otherwise, who believes our justice system is free from it, who fails to understand it’s at the heart of these demonstrations, is deluded. 
Contrary to claims, the election of President Barack Obama didn’t mark its end. Like jogging or birdwatching, presidenting while black provoked racist fury, eventually helping to “elect” Trump, whose racism was obvious long before he back-doored politics by way of Kenya. Before he urged participants to “knock the crap” out of protestors at his rallies, before he told police to be rough when arresting people.  
White Americans can grieve, but we can never feel what it’s like to be African-American when yet another is killed by cops in circumstances unlikely to have extinguished a white person. None of us has had to teach our sons how to avoid being murdered, nor feared for their lives whenever they went out. Who can say they wouldn’t be protesting, rioting even, if skins were exchanged? 
Policing mass protests is tough. This isn’t about cops. It’s about bad ones and unequal justice. And bad people and their bad president, who didn’t start it but has made it worse, before, during, and, no doubt, after the current turmoil. He thinks it plays well for him.  
It’s an unending cycle: brutal police action results in the death of an African-American; angry protests arise, initially peaceful. Then someone throws a brick, a firebomb, looting starts, police respond, people are arrested, violence becomes the story, peaceful protestors are ignored, the underlying issues are suffocated. Again.  
The words of no president could entirely quell violence. Before Trump, though, they’ve tried. Only he, seeing personal advantage, has intentionally poured accelerants into the flames. Incapable of rising to the occasion, he could no more appeal to our best than he could put down a cheeseburger. To him, this violence is an opportunity to distract from his incapable coronavirus leadership, to get his base even angrier, to assure their turnout in November.  
No doubt some of the violence is an expression of anger and frustration, even as it buries the message. But the overwhelming majority of protestors have been non-violent; those who aren’t make it easy to dismiss them all as, in Trump’s inspirational words, “lowlifes and losers.” Which is the point: many instigators – white supremacists, neo-fascists -- are there to do just that; and, unlike anti-fascists, the only group Trump would designate as terrorists, their presence has been documented.  
Violence is to be condemned, but a real president would acknowledge the country’s cross-cultural pain and seek ways to heal it. Instead, eager to look tough, Trump chooses to make it worse, threatens to unleash “vicious dogs and ominous weapons,” calls governors “weak” while sequestered in a bunker in a darkened White House. (He was only “inspecting it,” he told Fox “news.”) Lacking the moral authority of presidents past, he calls for cruelty, not calm.  
In his most disgusting act, ever, which is like picking the hottest tree in a forest fire, Trump, aping third-world dictators, facilitated by his (no longer our) Attorney General, had peaceful citizens dispersed with gas, rubber bullets and low-flying helicopters, before imperiously strutting across the street, followed dutifully by the Secretary of Defense and, decked out in combat fatigues, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. To posture with a Bible, with whose content he’s unfamiliar. 
Never have Trump’s phony religiosity and authoritarian phantasies been so evident, nor his certainty that his supporters are fools. Which they were quick to confirm. That Book should have melted his face like the Lost Ark.  
It’s heartening to see police and elected officials kneeling with protesters, and black demonstrators stopping white agitators from further carnage, pleading for calm, protecting a white cop. But Trump and his enablers will never address racial inequality. It’s up to all of us, liberal and conservative, finally to do so; and, because it’s now or never, to recognize the mounting danger we thought impossible: a democracy-destroying “president,” exploiting justified demonstrations to drag us ever closer to the military-backed dictatorship he craves; whose latest actions have been so disturbing, so sinister, they leave one bereft of words.  
So hear Joe Biden’s instead. Consider what we might regain, if there’s time; if military leaders find the integrity to refuse Trump’s despotic demands; if Republicans reclaim the American values for which they once stood; and if white people finally listen. Really listen.
[Image source]

Friday, May 29, 2020


Even diehard Trumpists in our state know he’s lying about vote-by-mail. We’ve done it, scandal-free, for years. His claim that it’s rife with fraud is absurd, so much so that you’d think the aforementioned delusionaries would wonder: if he lies so blatantly about this, maybe the people calling him a constant, pathological liar are right.  
Unless it wasn’t covered on Fox “news,” Trumpists also know the only fraud related to mailed ballots was in the 2016 election, in North Carolina, where Republican operatives collected ballots from trusting people in Democratic districts, promising to turn them in, saving them the trouble. The ballots were squirreled. 
Why are Trump and Trumpists afraid of vote-by-mail? Most studies have shown it favors neither party; in fact, by making it easier for older folks to vote, and since older folks tend to vote conservative, some studies have suggested an advantage for Republicans. Wherefore, then, the obvious lies?  
Simple: voting by mail foils Republicans’ time-tested tools of voter suppression and deceit. Closing or understaffing polling places in Democratic districts, limiting hours -- favorite forms of chicanery in red states -- become irrelevant. Hacking voting machines, in which Moscow Mitch knows Russians have dabbled but refuses to act, and the ease of which has been demonstrated by children, goes away. 
Software-based vote-switching disappears, too. And mailed ballots can be reviewed, which, lacking paper records, most voting machines don’t allow; especially those preferred by red states, manufactured by Republican-donor companies like Diebold. 
By neutralizing GOP voter suppression, voting by mail provides more opportunity for everyone, even Democrats. Mystery solved. 
Parenthetically, the Fox-hyped report of thirty-eight-million “missing” mail-in ballots nationwide included every ballot mailed out and not returned. Ballots sent to the wrong address, ballots sent to people who didn’t vote. A loose definition of “missing.”  
This week, Trump threw another tantrum: his favorite prevarication platform pushed back on his voting lies. Twitter, on which Trump spends hours daily, an activity to which he refers as “working,” attached links to some of his tweets, allowing readers to find the truth. In a signature would-be-dictator’s meltdown, he threatened to eliminate Twitter, showing, yet again, his – let’s call it – “misapprehension” of presidential power. And censorship. Big-tech social media squelches “conservative voices,” he whined. 
If only. He’s been getting away with contumelious lies forever. Plus, if he’s conservative, Jeffery Dahmer was vegan.  
Particularly ironic about this latest Donnie-brook is that his followers don’t care a snowflake’s worth if he’s lying; the last thing any of them would do is follow a link to bubble-bursting knowledge.  
Twitter ought to have kicked him off, permanently. His definitionally insane, law-suit worthy implication that Joe Scarborough murdered an aide violates its rules in ways that are supposed to result in being expunged. But Twitter and Facebook have always allowed outrageous falsehoods to spread like swamp scum. Multi-billionaire Zuckerberg just told Fox “news” he won’t be fact-checking Trump. Twitter, though, says it will continue. Good.  
Given such mendacity from a “president” so disconnected from reality, who models ignorance the way strippers model pasties, perhaps we should excuse our fellow citizens who consider it tyranny to be told to wear masks while hoarding toilet paper. Let’s hope their refusal is only Trump-augmented ignorance. Maybe they’re unaware that, because people can be carriers without being sick, wearing masks protects others from the wearer, not the other way around. If it’s not ignorance, then it’s “Trump doesn’t wear a mask, so I won’t, either. I don’t care if I make you sick.” Such people could properly be called deplorable.  
It’s bad enough that ignorance has become fundamental to Trumpism. To think it’s hate-based, too, is worse. For many Trumpists, though, it is: in great-again America, they hang a Democratic governor in effigy, taunt and spit on people who care enough to wear masks. Asians are their latest target. 
This week Trump sneered that a masked reporter was only being “politically correct.” And said he didn’t want to give reporters the “satisfaction” of seeing him (showing concern for Americans by) wearing one. That’s a deeply disturbed individual.  
States run by denialist governors are now experiencing dramatically increased infections. By contrast, Governor Beshear, that effigized governor, is admirable. Here’s his response to the contemptable act. Improbably, Kentucky contains both him and Mitch McConnell.   
True conservatives should be urging everyone to vote Trump out. Here in Washington, it’s easy. You can mail your ballot in, and you don’t even need postage.    
[Image source]

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day

Reposting something I wrote a couple of years ago:
(Think about the last two lines, above. If that isn't irony, I don't know what is.)
Monday, Memorial Day, a friend shared a Facebook meme: “Only two defining forces have offered to die for you. Jesus Christ, and the American Soldier. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom...”  
And I thought, those who served in Vietnam as I did, before and after, killed there, didn’t die for our freedom. They died because they were poor, mostly, couldn’t get student deferments, or have daddies who bought them a pair of invisible bone spurs. They died not knowing or caring why they were there. Quoting another veteran, they died for a mistake. Taking and returning fire, they fought to protect themselves and their squadron, not anyone else. All they wanted was to ride those “freedom birds” back to the world with as many of their limbs as possible. The ones I evacuated mostly didn’t. Their Purple Hearts came at a much higher price than mine. And those who died were still dead three days later.  
I served in Danang, not far below the DMZ. “Rocket City,” we called it. When the rockets rained in and we dove for cover, it wasn’t for anyone’s freedom but our own. The beach there, China Beach, was beautiful, though; white sand, mild surf, and warm waters comparing favorably with the occasional nurse from the 95th Evac stripping her combat fatigues down to a bikini, as choppers patrolled the shore, gunners sitting halfway out the doors, feet resting on the struts, protecting our freedom to swim.  
Just down the beach was the civilian MACV compound, fenced, guarded, green, quartering contractors making big money servicing the war. Someday, I figured, China Beach would be a destination spot, adorned with expensive hotels, win or lose. And so it is.  
Protecting America’s freedom had nothing to do with it. Especially not to the orchestrators. The Domino Theory was a useful selling point. Now our trading partner, Vietnam did fall. And it has hotels and McDonalds.   If the term makes sense, World War II was a good war. There was a definable cause, and undeniable need. It liberated people held in cages, terminating that practice and Nazism forever for a while. And it ended the Depression. 
Afghanistan was justifiable, might even have made us safer, had Rumsfeld not let Osama off the hook, had Bush not bailed to pursue unrevealed intentions. Iraq’s “Domino Theory” was “Bringing Democracy to the Middle East,” as bogus as the former, and as the Gulf of Tonkin incident. It was never about protecting our freedom, even though more who fought there, and more people back home, believed it was; more than was the case with Vietnam. By then, propaganda had found a louder voice. Dick Cheney’s stock in Halliburton made out. Oil companies and defense contractors, too. Most everyone else paid dearly for the adventurism, and the bill still isn’t settled. 
It’s easier to believe our wars have been to defend freedom than to consider other reasons. No matter what, those who died deserve our veneration. And contrition, for the lives we’ve enjoyed since they lost theirs. And for our complicity in sending them, unquestioning, to fight wars instigated by old men whose kids rarely did, for reasons obscured beneath star-spangled bromides.  
It’s wrong, and lazy, to define patriotism only in terms of war; equate it only with those convinced to fight, for reasons they’re made to believe. It’s not their belief that needs questioning: it’s that of those who slap “Support Our Troops” stickers on their cars and trucks, fly flags that say “Behold my patriotism,” coal-roll, vote for tax cuts that deprive veterans of their rightful benefits, and call themselves patriots. 
After serving in Vietnam, Memorial Day makes me more angry than sad. Once a year the tears are real; the absence of those who died is eternal. Yet we remain at war, even as phony platitudes and intimations of future wars from a “president” who dodged the draft by fakery expose the day of remembrance as the manipulation it has always been. My friend, an honorable man who didn’t serve, believes with all his heart. I respect him for that. My anger may be overly self-righteous, but military members aren’t the only Americans protecting our freedom. So are teachers, nurses, housekeepers, factory workers, researchers, parents, climate protestors, plumbers, Social Democrats, the remaining actual conservatives, community organizers… 
But not those keeping us in a state of perpetual war, selling the myth that freedom is the reason.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Conspiracies. They're Everywhere.

More than a few times, Trump has declared himself “the most transparent president” in history. Last week, in only nineteen words, Joe Biden summarized the truth: “It seems the way to get fired by President Trump is not to commit wrongdoing, but to investigate it.” 

Transparent. Perhaps Trump was referring to how easily one can see through his attempts to hide truth, how obvious his lies are to people who aren’t doing the three-monkeys thing. After all, Trump entered the political arena by flogging the lie that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Remember when he sent his “investigators” to Hawaii and said they were finding “amazing things”?

It fit perfectly into the demographic at which he was aiming: conspiracists; resentful people, hungry for lies, long as they fit their worldview. People who harbored unarticulated anger; who needed someone to blame for whatever it was in their world that needed blaming. He spoke, and up their ears they pricked.  

Transparent. Hiding promised tax returns, blocking people from testifying to Congress. Soviet-style purges, ousting revealers of the swampy corruption he brought to the White House; firing Inspectors General, five so far, who looked into it, like Trump’s phony “state of emergency” declaration, allowing arms to Saudi Arabia without Congressional approval. Or the one investigating Moscow Mitch’s wife.

Accountability? Not for Trump. Because these expulsions validate their paranoia, Trumpists are unbothered. People who oppose him are part of a worldwide conspiracy whose aim, among other things, is to rape and sell children in the basement of a pizza joint with no basement.  

If Trump is ignorant of everything a leader of the United States and, until recently, of the world must understand, he’s a stable genius when it comes to knowing his audience. He began with and is now staking his reelection on people who hear noises at night and think flying saucers. Facilitated enthusiastically by the co-conspirators of rightwing media, it works.

As his incompetent coronavirus failures became undeniable, he turned to blaming everyone except himself. And to distraction. Circling back to his original objet d’artifice, he’s feeding them “Obamagate!!!” Echoed by every rightwing disinformationist and Congressperson, this transparent fakery is being lapped up like fetid water by thirsty desert-wanderers. Trump’s confabulations fit his idolaters like a bandoleer. 

And oh, the unmasking! Horrifying!! Jim Croce tried so hard to warn us. How many Trumpists even know what it means? How many find it disturbing that Trump’s unqualified but loyal Director of National Intelligence released names of some who requested unmasking Michael Flynn, as if to suggest a nefarious plot; as if it wasn’t an all-but routine, justifiable request? How many know the unmasking requests fulfilled in Trump’s time number over thirty-five-thousand? Wild guess: none. 

Nor do they see anything wrong with a “president” turning the DOJ and intelligence agencies into instruments of personal power, vengeance, and, in the case of Bill Barr, erasing history. Russian interference? Never happened. Whole thing was a made-up coup attempt. 

Why would Trumpists see anything wrong? He’s not only their ticket to Heaven, but their protector from all the world’s evil, the people coming after them: One World Government, the W.H.O. and CDC, commies (not Putin, though, or his internet trolls), the Trilateral Commission, Agenda 21, lizard people, the Illuminati. The Deep State. Jews, Muslims, the non-white. Climate scientists, doctors, educators, journalists. Vote-by-mail. Liberals. Bill Gates. 

Evolutionary biologists theorize susceptibility to conspiracy theories, currently most associated with Trumpism and certain fundamentalist religious sects, derives from an evolutionary advantage to seeing patterns, even where they don’t exist, as a way of assessing possible threats to survival. Makes sense. But, like creationism, evolution is imperfect. (Hemorrhoids.) 

In America, that proto-beneficial wiring has short-circuited. Trumpists see sinister patterns everywhere, causing them to overlook, excuse, even celebrate his uncaring lies and petty nastiness. Attacking the press; promoting and taking dangerous medicine and, with revelatory ignorance, rejecting evidence of its ineffectiveness; creating distrust in elections; firing those who speak out; scapegoating; claiming he’s treated horribly: these are positives in a God-sent savior who strikes at dangers only they can see. Belief in conspiracies provides community, too, and feelings of control in a world spinning out of it. 

As if custom-made for and by Trump and Trumpists, the ultimate manifestation of this psychic agoraphobia is QAnon. If not all supporters are that far gone, anyone still with him must be close. Have clean underwear handy and read all about it.

[Image source]

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Running On Empty ... Lies

Next newspaper column (updated, below):
Golly. Because some of its denizens have tested positive for Covid-19, White House people are finding it “scary to go to work.” It shouldn’t have taken a virus to tell them that. Maybe “scary” is the necessary first step on the way to “embarrassing.” 
With “president” and vice ignoring their own guidelines, even demanding people remove masks before photo-ops, it was inevitable there’d be contagion in the contagion. Even as Trump insists testing is “overrated” and “makes us look bad,” he’s now being tested daily, as are all people coming into the West Wing. Except for him, personnel are suddenly required to wear masks. He’ll make his workplace safe, but not yours. Yours doesn’t need to be. You can be a warrior.  
By now, Donald “We’ve prevailed” Trump’s reelection strategy is clear: lie. All day, all night, Kellyanne. Truth being disadvantageous, lie. And, with Bill Barr’s help, erase history. Because Trump knows he’ll get no pushback from supporters, and because the “fake news” “enemy of the people” have gotten so trounced by the terrifying torrent of transparent Trumpic truthlessness that they’ve tossed in the towel. He knows it takes more time to correct his lies than he spends telling them. Co-conspirator Moscow Mitch just said Obama “left no game plan.” Brazen. Like Trump and Barr, he thinks you’re too stupid to notice.  
For now, Trump’s biggest lie is that he’s handling the pandemic “beautifully.” Which explains, one assumes, his daily blame-placing and responsibility-shirking. Initially praising China’s Xi for his response to the virus, Trump is now not only blaming China and repeating the Putinesque lie that Covid-19 was created in a Chinese lab, about which science says the opposite, he’s implying it was a deliberate attack on the United States, a “worse attack than Pearl Harbor.”  
Commending people who reject the precautions he’s now taking, people braying about rights but not responsibilities, Trump is rallying anger, his ploy of first resort. At governors, Democrats, President Barack Obama, China. As with Muslims, Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, and LGBT Americans since his “election,” attacks on Chinese-Americans are spreading, too, as the xenophobic deplorables wing of the faithful respond to his mendacity. Angry, ill-informed people, Trump believes, will keep him in office. Dr. Fauci is the latest target.  
By defunding American researchers in China, where we need to be if we’re to understand how the virus spread and how to prevent it from happening again, Trump endangers even more lives. He’d rather attach pseudo-credibility to his China lies than prevent another pandemic. 
Anyone who admires Trump’s crisis “leadership” should take nine minutes to watch this recounting of the US response and Trump’s part in it. Or admit a preference for remaining ignorant.  
To the extent that actions have been effective, it’s because governors like ours stepped in to fill the federal leadership void. After ceding responsibility to them, Trump began criticizing and undermining their efforts, calling for resistance while taking credit for what they’d done. Lying. About who got what to whom, when. About how much was available, where. About total US testing compared to other countries rather than per capita. About “numbers are coming down.” On these matters, the record is clear. Trump is trying to ensure you forget.  
Ignorance and anger are key to Trump’s reelection. Rather than a sense of unity during a time of unprecedented crisis, he’s staked victory on creating division. Unfamiliar with helping others for its own sake, he pits Americans against each other, for what he sees as personal advantage. Given Trump’s lifelong mendacity, it’s unsurprising.  
What’s surprising is the ease with which he’s conned so many. All countries have individuals like Trump. But tens of millions? American exceptionalism has become its free-world-leading preference for misinformation, its docility before undisguised attempts to confuse and distract. Trump’s “presidency” fits perfectly with, amplifies, and feeds on the streak of paranoid and credulous conspiracy-mongering that’s always run through American life. After Trump applauded Michigan’s AR-packing protestors, people began calling for lynching Governor Whitmer. If such threats aren’t historically extraordinary, a “president” all but encouraging them is. His latest: “Obamagate.” Because he can.  
Since 1789, we’ve survived isolated outbreaks of ignorance. Now, though, it’s a national movement, the bedrock of a major political party; one that countenances a lying “president” who claims absolute power; that remains silent when Trump calls 
President Barack Obama treasonous, but calls the former president “classless” when he breaks his long silence to speak the obvious.   
[Update, 5/15: since I published this, Moscow Mitch admitted he was wrong about Obama not leaving a plan. The version that will be in The Everett Herald will be a revised one, without the reference to his original claim, and a few extra words about "Obamagate:" that Fox "news" is running with it and Trumpists are swallowing it like a cheeseburger, without chewing.] 

Friday, May 8, 2020


Next newspaper column:
Question: If those long-gun-toting, body-armor-wearing, priapic protesters storming the gallery of the Michigan legislature had been African-American, Latino, Muslim, or Native American, would their deaths be considered Covid-19 related? When Trump called them “very good people,” was he distinguishing them from the “very fine people” marching for white supremacy in Charlottesville? 
Or was it random, simply reinforcing his impeachable calls for insurrection and his insecurity around powerful women, like Michigan’s Governor Whitmer? 
What if they’d taken a knee? 
Actual good people are raising thoughtful questions about how to calibrate reopening. Among them, the CDC has produced detailed guidelines, which Trump immediately spiked. But those Michigander embarrassments to the male gender weren’t there to be thoughtful. They were there to intimidate, implicitly threatening violence, cheered on by their “president.” (Swastikas and Confederate flags, evidently indispensable to the movement, remained outside.)  
They were terrorists. That our “president” suggested making “a deal” with such people underscores the obvious: Donald “I’m-treated-worse-than-Lincoln” Trump has neither interest in nor understanding of democracy. Those gunmen have even less. In this democratic republic, they should be heroes to none, no matter one’s views on reopening. But here we are, and there they are. Our “president” celebrates them, and democracy is on a ventilator.  
By contrast, George Bush, with whom I rarely agreed but never considered an empathy-free, self-aggrandizing, full-time liar (only part-time), just produced this.  
President Barack Obama already had.  
How sad that former presidents are needed to fill our current moral leadership vacuum. How sadder that protesting poseurs can’t see what’s behind premature reopening: states can cancel unemployment from workers who refuse to return before it’s safe. Federal aid can be withheld from small businesses who, out of concern for employee and customer health, don’t yet open. 
And if Moscow Mitch’s suggested state bankruptcies were to happen, there goes their employees’ retirement benefits. Meanwhile, troll-bots are flooding social media, fanning the protests. From where, do you suppose, and for what purpose?  
Intended by Trump and his homegrown and trans-oceanic enablers to fracture us, it’s working. In Oklahoma City, McDonald’s workers enforcing rules were shot. A Michigan security guard was murdered over it. We know there’ll be more, and it’s on Trump, urging Americans to rise against each other, if that’s what it takes to crank up the economy. For him, reopening isn’t about you; it’s about reelection.  
Speaking of elections, it’s time to address the Joe Biden sexual harassment claims. That he injudiciously massaged Ms. Reade’s shoulders and/or neck is believable. He’s admitted to being inappropriately “touchy-feely,” and has reined it in. One finds her much-belated accusation of forced digital penetration harder to believe, though, for reasons enumerated by an experienced prosecutor of sexual assault cases, here 
In a he-said/she-said situation, judgments will be influenced by preexisting suppositions and, yes, by political leanings. For the above-linked reasons, this columnist finds Ms. Reade less credible than the accusers of Brett Kavanaugh and Trump. Unwanted digital penetration is wholly inconsistent with one’s perception of Vice-President Biden, whereas Trump has bragged about sexual assault that differs from Ms. Reade’s accusation only by depth.  
Let’s assume Ms. Reade is truthful. Perhaps she is. Our electoral choice then turns on policy, because we’d be choosing between a man whom we’ve heard gloating about sexual assault, accused of it by at least twenty-five women; and one who admits to overly-familiar touching (think George and Angela) but denies intentional assault. 
If those who voted for Trump, overlooking his lifelong amorality, are above criticism but those who’d vote for Vice-President Biden are hypocrites, who can be surprised? We’re living, after all, in Trumpworld, where inconvenient truth is “fake news” and under-reaction to Covid-19 for months, continuing even now, is considered “a great success.”  
It could be argued, if Vice-President Biden did it, that his and Trump’s behavior offset each other, even though, by multiples, they don’t; so the election becomes, as it should, about issues: What they’ll do about accelerating climate change; about pollution, healthcare, renewable energy, science and research, programs that help the needy become productive. Women’s rights, minority rights, voting rights, early childhood education, Social Security, Medicare. 
Who’ll preserve capitalism by reducing unsustainable wealth disparity; what they’d cut and whom they’d tax to abate skyrocketing national debt; who’ll respect separation of powers; who’ll seek expert advice and who’ll ignore it; who’ll convene truth-tellers and who’ll fire them. And pretty much everything else on which the future of all generations hangs.  


Thursday, April 30, 2020

Columnists vs. Journalists

Next newspaper column:
There’s confusion, lately, about journalism versus columnists; between fact and opinion. These examples will clear everything up: 
Fact: In last Sunday’s tweet-storm, Trump said journalists who received “Noble” prizes for “fake news” should have them rescinded. Sub-fact: It’s spelled “Nobel.” Co-fact: There’s no Nobel prize for journalism. 
Opinion: Trump is losing it at an accelerating rate. 
Fact: Trump’s tax cuts produced trillion-dollar budget deficits, with the benefits going mainly to the already-wealthy. Corporate tax cuts created shareholder dividends, windfalls for executives, and stock buybacks, but minimal hiring of or salary increases for workers; thus doing little for the economy. 
Opinion: The tax cuts were unnecessary, and detrimental to the future of capitalism. The current crisis shows why tax cuts in economic good times are a bad idea. 
Fact: Trump wondered if getting disinfectants into the body, by injection or other unspecified means, and/or shining light inside, would cure the virus. Having both delivered and received endoscopies, up, down, and sideways, we know light entering via whatever orifice won’t illuminate bronchioles and alveoli, where the virus does its worst. Then Trump said it was sarcasm. 
Opinion: People who continue to defend Trump should be embarrassed. But he’s giving America multiple sarcasms. 
Fact: In medical school, we saw people who’d had disinfectant injected into them. We called them cadavers. 
Opinion: Not opinion. 
Fact: Trump just said he “created” the “greatest” economy ever. 
Opinion: That’s like a new contractor adding the final story onto a skyscraper and claiming credit for designing and building the whole thing. 
Fact: Pence said he didn’t wear a mask at the Mayo Clinic so he could “look people in their eyes.” 
Opinion: Toady. Flunked anatomy. 
Fact: Trump deregulated the pork-producing industry BEFORE Covid-19. 
Opinion: Look what happened. 
Fact: Kushner/Trump claims the federal response to Covid-19 has been “a great success.” 
Opinion: Soviet-style disinformation, which Trumpists will believe.  
As to journalists and columnists: the latter… aren’t. That’s why columnists and other opinionations are found on a newspaper’s opinion page, whereas its reporting (journalism) is in front, making it easy to read only news, and to know where to stop. In fact, if one finds particular columnists annoying, it’s medically advisable to ignore them.   
A recent spate of emails and letters complaining about the lack of “conservative” voices in this newspaper suggests the need to distinguish between conservatives and Trump supporters. Because you can be one or the other, but not both. 
We recall a time when conservatism meant fiscal responsibility. When it disdained the idea of an all-powerful president, and when it understood that an opposing party isn’t an enemy, but a vital component of legislating wisely, via the sort of compromise on which this country was founded.  
Years ago, conservatism supported our Constitutionally-mandated separation of powers; believed in Congressional oversight of the executive; understood the indispensable role of inquisitive, skeptical journalism in a democracy, and why it was enshrined in the very first of the Bill of Rights. Once, conservatism included comprehending the value of an independent (and qualified) judiciary; and belief in free and fair elec… okay, maybe not that. 
You can support Trump – improbably, millions still do – but you can’t, by any definition, call yourself a conservative: he embodies the opposite in every way. Similarly, Trumpists who claim belief in Jesus can do so only by rejecting His teachings. 
This paper carries conservative columnists. Being actual conservatives, they rarely write in support of Trump. Letters from Trump supporters, however, are regularly printed, praising him and, often, announcing cancelation for not having their weltanschauung reinforced. Which, again, is why… oh, well. 
If The Herald carries fewer opinions in support of Trump than ones correctly pointing out his unfitness, it has always done journalism; for example, turning up damning information about a recent Democratic county executive. Even when reporting on politicians, if journalism is factual, it’s apolitical. If reporting reveals malfeasance, it’s “fake news” or “bias” only by the malefactor’s definitions.  
In covering Trump, balance is impossible: physics teaches us that the occasional ounce of truth can’t nullify a ton of lies. For Trumpists, being presented with opinions they don’t share countervails the value of a local news source. That’s Foxification, personified. (Opinion.) 
In a bygone world, none of this would need saying. In Trumpworld, though, wherein facts have given way to fiction, and incompetence (fact) from the White House is both undeniable and denied, the obvious needs stating and restating, over and over.

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