Friday, November 15, 2019

The Monkey House

My next column in The Everett Herald:
As impeachment heats up, memes are hopping around cyberspace like bedbugs at Mar-a-Lago. A few, paraphrased:  
“Trump and Republicans would have us believe people willing to testify under oath are liars, and those who refuse are truth-tellers.” Or: “If someone has information that would exonerate you, why would you prevent them from testifying?” Also: “The perpetrator of a coup takes power. If it’s really a coup, it’s Pence.” Best: “The house is on fire, Trump is lighting matches, and Republicans are demanding to know who called the fire department.” 
On what basis can a “president” prevent people from appearing before Congress as it carries out its Constitutional oversight duties? Would he have them arrested? Under the aegis of what laws? Can a “president” order a citizen not to speak? Isn’t there something about that in the Bill of Rights? (Okay, under the Bill of Barr, we know it could happen.)  
When Susan McDougal ignored a subpoena by Republicans chasing Bill Clinton’s penis around D.C., she went to jail. Why not now? Maybe because the party that no longer believes in enforcing the Constitution currently controls the DOJ. If Democrats ordered arrests, Barr would simply ignore them. What’s past is prologue.  
Perhaps more than any event, impeachment exposes political hypocrisy. It also reveals the limited understanding voters have of why the process exists or how it works. That hypocrisy, mated with reinforced ignorance, is a powerful brew which too many people, particularly the Foxified, find pleasingly potable. Our pal Lindsey Graham has become the primary chef de cuisine. As the former prosecutor of the Senate trial of Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and much holier than we, he should know better. Which means whatever Trump has on him is more powerful than fairy dust. 
To wit: When Gordon Sondland testified he knew of no attempted extortion, Republicans lauded him as the ender of the Democrats’ game. Subsequently, as others revealed how Sondland lied, and going to jail wasn’t what he thought he’d bought with his million-dollar investment in Trump, leading to “clarification,” Graham wondered “was there a connection” with Democrats. Figuring, one assumes, anyone telling the truth is either a Democrat or cahooting with them.  
As if that piece of cogito-gymnasty wasn’t enough, Lindsey then stated, “I consider any impeachment in the House that doesn’t allow us to know who the whistleblower is to be invalid.” After such a bull-shot aimed at the selectively stupid, a reality-check is needed. 
For reasons so obvious that enumeration is unnecessary, whistleblowers’ identities are protected by law. Moreover, by now it doesn’t matter who the whistleblower is: everything he or she reported has been corroborated, severally. So what do Republicans get from outing him/her? Intimidation of the next potential truth-teller, is what. It’s the horse-head in the bed. It’s how mobsters behave; people who’ll do whatever it takes to keep insiders from turning state’s evidence and upping their jig. 
Same with crocodile tears about the pre-impeachment investigations. Like a grand jury, what’s done is assessing, securely, evidence of possible crimes. If convincing, the process becomes public. Which, for fairness to all parties, is exactly how it should work. Not investigating possible malfeasance by any president would be dereliction of Congress’s Constitutional duty.  
If the House impeaches, the Senate becomes a jury, with House members as prosecutors. Evidence is presented, witnesses are called. The Senate convicts or doesn’t. Neither Lick-boot Lindsey nor any individual, including the “president,” gets to decide what invalidates the process. Only by Constitutional amendment could the system be changed. 
To be clear: attempted extortion of a vulnerable country trying to defend itself against Trump’s pal and America’s enemy, Putin, successful or not, is a signal example of why impeachment is a Constitutionally-defined remedy. It’s also worth noting that what any Biden did or did not do is immaterial to whether the “president” did what he did. Nor does wising up at the last minute nullify the attempt. Failed bank robbers serve time, too.  
Anyone who thinks Republicans are serious about truth must watch Devin Nunes’ opening statement at Wednesday’s public hearing. Calling it “unhinged” insults doorways everywhere. Short of massive public outrage – if that -- nothing will force integrity on Congressional Republicans. Virtually all have pre-excused Trump; Lindsey Graham says he doesn’t even need to see the evidence. 
In codifying impeachment, our founders presumed Congressional commitment to a purpose higher than themselves. Sadly, they didn’t foresee today’s elected Republicans.  
[Image source]

Friday, November 8, 2019

Laugh Riot

My upcoming column in The Everett Herald:
As defending his Ukraine extortion gets increasingly desperate for Donald and his excusers, who’d be calling for imprisonment were it anyone else, it’s time for some levity. Everyone needs a good laugh, especially those trying to defend the indefensible. It’s gotta be dispiriting.  
Remember that big, beautiful, Mexico-funded wall, the money for which Trump diverted from veterans’ benefits, military-base schools, and over a hundred other Pentagon projects? Remember how he ballyhooed the design, declaring it’d be impenetrable? Well, how ‘bout that professional climber who free-climbed it in twenty-seven seconds; or the eight-year-old girl who did it in a minute? Even a Trump supporter topped it, using suction cups. One hopes Trumpists got a cleansing laugh out of that.  
Heard the one about smugglers using battery-powered, readily-available saws to butter through those beautiful slats, and, because the slats are so tall, bending them easily after a single cut, allowing passage? (It’s physics!) Did Trump think they’d need miles-long extension cords? What a kidder! 
For more grins, observe the flailing contortions of Trump’s defenders as they pirouette around damning testimony. First it was a “perfect” phone call. Then there was a friendly request but no quid pro quo, because if there had been, well, that’d be bad. Then, okay, there might have been something quid-like and quo-ish, but not very much. And now it’s, yeah, well, obviously, there was a quid pro quo, but let’s not, you know, call it anything like a shakedown. For one thing, he didn’t have evil in his heart.  
Yep, one of Trump’s most comedic senatorial excusers, John Kennedy (ironic, huh?), actually said, “... Did the president have a culpable state of mind? … Based on the evidence that I see, … the president does not have a culpable state of mind.” Get it? He said “… does not have…”, not “didn’t.” To have any state of mind, a functioning one is required. Slipped that little joke right on by. Who says Trumpists are humorless? 
“Culpable state of mind.” The creativity is impressive, if gelastic. While extorting a foreign leader into smearing political opponents, no one would have that, right, whatever it is. If a Republican Senator says someone’s state of mind isn’t “culpable,” game over. Because those guys are curators of the mind. Heck, Lick-boot Lindsey says he doesn’t even need to read the evidence, because he knows “it’s b.s.” That’s powerful mind-grok.  
So, sure, the “president” attempted extortion, perverting foreign policy and using taxpayer money, but lacked the requisite thoughts when doing so. Besides, according to a just-passing-through Attorney General, abuse of power isn’t a crime. True enough: everyone kept their wallets. Classic comedy, that. Then Gordon Sondland recanted his lies, choosing truth over Trump. First in a sitcom series?  
If tears of laughter aren’t yet streaming, check out Trump’s spawn appearing on Fox “news,” criticizing Hunter Biden for making money off his family name, declaring their disgust at political nepotism, deadpan as Buster Keaton, self-aware as stone. Ivanka, Jared, Lara, Ben Carson, Jr., Candy Carson, John Pence, Kyle Yunaska … Good one, guys.  
Another: Trump finalized reneging on the Paris Climate Accords just as scientists warned of impending “untold human suffering.” And handing the world’s economy to China? Priceless. Talk about comic timing! In China, they’re still laughing. 
For another knee-slapper, get a load of Trump’s mobsters ignoring Congressional requests to testify. Ponder that preposterous piece of parchment providing protection from presidential perfidy. Who claims, with a straight face, it applies to Republicans? And who doesn’t get the joke as they demand legally-protected whistleblowers appear in person, while going all Marceau over those Trumpic refuseniks? Plans to sabotage the public hearings they’ve been demanding? A million laughs. 
Magnificent mummery, Republicans saying they’re the law-and-order party. Comedy pyrite. Like Trump bribing impeachment-jury Senators with campaign money and pressuring Barr to prostitute himself again. Hilarious. Did coffee just come out your nose?  
Stop me if you’ve heard this: Trump is considering reading an incomplete “transcript” that isn’t one. Selling “Read the Transcript” T-shirts to his gullibles. We’ll have even more gut-busting giggles when his accountants, under court order, release his tax returns.  
Finally, if your sides aren’t already splitting, there’s that photo of a gag of millionaire evangelical preachers blessing Trump. Now THAT is high-level humor. Not a godly person in the room. Stop! Yer killing us!  
They say laughter is the best medicine. With Trump in office, it’s amazing anyone gets sick.

[Image source]

Friday, November 1, 2019

Impeachment Becomes Him

My next column in The Everett Herald: 
“You don’t even have to have committed a crime to lose your job [as president] in this constitutional republic, if this body determines that your conduct is clearly out of bounds…” More recently, the quotee said of Trump, “He’s not fit to be President of the United States.” Everyone knows whose words those are. What happened?  
The leaders of today’s Republican Party have become a crime syndicate and protection racket. The difference between their protection game and the Mafia’s is that the latter threaten to ruin their victims themselves, whereas Republican leaders have convinced their voters it’d be liberals. Either allows getting away with murder, real or virtual. Witness their recent storming of the secure room in which impeachment inquiries are taking place.
That shameful show was a stunt for the stupid. Claiming they were denied access while, along with a quarter of Republican Representatives, several already had it. But rarely showed up. Whining about closed-door hearings which included Republican members of the relevant committees. Pretending they themselves hadn’t ever done it (Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!), and that the rules allowing it hadn’t been written by them. By law, those storm troopers should lose their security clearances. 
The cherry atop the steaming pile is their claim that impeachment inquiries are unconstitutional. A coup. Deep state shenanigans. Only those who’ve not read the Constitution or who, like Trump, believe it doesn’t apply to Republicans, could swallow such nonsense. Trump’s latest press secretary described following Constitutional provisions as “waging war on the Constitution.” This is gnathonic absurdity hoisted to cosmic levels, demonstrating how ill-informed and manipulable they believe their voters to be. If truth is your foe, smear its bearers. And the process. The more deplorably, the better. Like trying to out the original whistleblower, putting party over country in a most sickening, lawless, dangerous way.  
Suppurating under that steaming cherry is the pretense that closed hearings are improper. In obvious ways, they protect both the witnesses and those about whom they’re testifying, until decisions are made. Those crying foul will rue the loss of secrecy during open hearings, when damning facts become public and unspinnable.  
This crime syndicate is fine with Trump rejecting Congress’s mandated oversight, as even former employees refuse subpoenas. They remain silent when Trump calls members of their party who’ve criticized him “Human scum,” and when Trump’s recent acting AG says abuse of power isn’t a crime. To no outcry, lifelong bullying “businessman” Trump has stiffed local governments for over a million dollars in campaign-rally-related costs. Nor has any of the made-men denounced Betsy DeVos, cited for contempt of court, and fined. Knowing the DOJ is headed by a man who shares Trump’s disregard for the Constitution, it’s a protection racket for their personal use. Supporters fiddle while the Republic burns.  
Surely their singular patriotism has led Trumpists to the Federalist Papers. They’ve learned that, despite being the strongest advocate for presidential power, Alexander Hamilton was also the force behind including impeachment as a remedy for its abuse. They’ll have noted and understood his concerns, as he wrote, When a man unprincipled in private life. . . despotic in his ordinary demeanour — known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty — when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join in the cry of danger to liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion — to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day — It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’” Trump and Trumpism are Hamilton’s warnings enfleshed. 
Trumpic crimes against democracy are unending, but we must also note the killing of al-Baghdadi: unequivocally good news, notwithstanding Trump’s bizarre, rambling, self-congratulatory announcement of it. We’ve since learned, though, that his hasty withdrawal of troops, against “his” generals’ advice, abandoning the same Kurds who provided mission-critical intelligence, nearly ruined it. Necessarily hurried after his ill-considered impulsiveness, the operation’s success was in spite of, not because of Trump. Without the Kurds and our Trump-slandered intelligence services, al-Baghdadi would still be alive.  
Reinforcing the point, we end as we began, with relevant words from times past: “Why don’t we ask the Navy Seals who killed Bin Laden? They don’t seem happy with Obama claiming credit. All he did was say O.K.” 
Guess who.
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Friday, October 25, 2019

Past Due

My next column in The Everett Herald:
I’ve just returned from NYC, where my brother was mowed down by a taxi on his morning run. He was in the ICU, intubated, for three days; has undergone four operations. He knows he’ll never run again and will be lucky to recover to the point of walking. With a walker. 
The obvious, the cliché, is that things can change in an instant: live every day as if it’s your next to last. Would that we all could; though nowadays I doubt every human would spend it lovingly. 
Also obvious: anyone who dismisses Democrats’ urgency in improving our healthcare system has never been really sick. My brother and his wife can afford supplemental nursing care. They can afford a lawyer, not only for the legal issues but for help with the dizzying paperwork. Pages and pages of it. Bills coming from all directions, staggering bills. Traveling only four blocks between hit and hospital, the ambulance charges alone were in the thousands. 
Despite passing much of the work along to the lawyer, my sister-in-law has spent hours dealing with approvals and refusals; speaking, emailing, texting to various agencies and offices. For many, probably most people, it’d be all but impossible.  
The care he’s received in NYC has been excellent. Still, communication has been occasionally spotty, and were it not for the extra help they hired, my brother’s needs would be met more erratically. Too slowly, in some cases, as he is entirely, helplessly, bedridden.  
To those people whose reaction to healthcare reform proposals from any Democrat is a kneejerk cry of “socialism, communism, they hate America,” one hopes none have to experience what my brother and his family are going through. If they ever do, and if Mitch McConnell has managed to keep things the same (or, as Republican legislators prefer, improved them only for insurance executives and stockholders), and if Trump’s lies about Democrats and “socialism” continue to infect their minds, I hope they have the education and monetary means of my brother and his wife. 
I’m not saying reform won’t be disruptive or complicated, or won’t include unanticipated glitches. What I am saying is it’s undeniably necessary. 
Enough said. Of that.  
While biting the Big Apple, I spent time with my niece, an extraordinarily brilliant, internationally-honored researcher and professor of immunology at NYU. (Also, sweet as honey.) Her work is published in highly-regarded journals; work that might – no hyperbole – lead to defeating a particularly deadly form of childhood leukemia. I asked how things are going.    
Not well. Like many devoted scientists, she’s feeling the effects of Trump’s funding cuts for research. Also, because, seeing the writing on the wall (not that one), American students are increasingly disinterested in pursuing science, her post-docs are all immigrants. Which, again because of Trump and his weak-kneed defenders, have become difficult to hire. To Trump’s self-centered, short-sighted, uninquisitive cultists, none of the preceding is worrisome. How amazing. How deplorable.  
Speaking of worrisome, on a related, less complicated but locally important note, I have a simple, understandable algorithm for evaluating our state’s voter initiatives: if it’s one of Mukilteo Tim’s, I vote no. Why? Because I’m a member of society. Because I understand the role government plays in keeping us mobile, not to mention safe, educated, healthy, not poisoned or on fire. If I don’t particularly enjoy paying taxes and fees, I recognize their value.  
Eyman once bugged me to write a column about one of his initiatives. Eventually, I did. And never heard from him again. A monument to self-indulgent esurience, his latest, I-976, is ruination in the making. Perhaps some voters never drive, or if they do, it’s never to Seattle. Maybe they don’t see potholed roads or rickety bridges, never use our ferry system. So maybe, rationalizing penuriousness, they’ve convinced themselves there are no direct or indirect benefits to them for keeping those things functional and improving. 
I may not use mass transit much, but I understand its value and am willing to pay my share. Also, I drive an electric car. On tax-supported roads. I’m okay with the EV fees I’m charged, and don’t think reducing them to $30 is fair to those who pay gas taxes.  
This neo-Republican greed must be brought to an end. America is letting infrastructure decay to third-world levels, ceding science to China and India, world politics to Russia, and the future to people who’ve stopped caring. Or don’t have grandchildren.

[Image source]

Friday, October 18, 2019

A Cult By No Other Name

My next column in The Everett Herald:
Poor Trumpists. The corruption seeping from the White House like a plague is so labyrinthine it’s almost impossible to assimilate, much less ignore. Thus the cheering as Trump gets ever more obscene and unpresidential at his rallies; nasty, conspiratorial, pushing lies, spewing poison. It’s easier to buy the Biden/Biden fables than to consider the millions Trump’s spawn are raking in, or how foreign governments’ grease Trump’s palm via his properties. Easier to cheer his words about Joe “kissing Obama’s a$$” than contemplate his hiring only sycophants willing to befoul the independence of important cabinet departments. To overlook the flagitious stink rising from the White House, smelling like Ukrainian natural gas. That’s what rallies are for.
Do you suppose, on their way home, pumped full of hate for Ilhan Omar, ralliers discussed the timing of the Putin/Erdogan/Rouhani meeting and Trump’s subsequent abandonment of the Kurds? Did they note how it gifted the region to that tyrannical trio, or worry about future implications as the US forsakes the most reliable fighters against ISIS? Are they reflecting on Russian and Syrian troops moving in? Did they wonder how Trump’s gaudy towers in Turkey played into it? Or what Putin must have on Trump? 
If they swallowed the lie that Obama “cut and ran” from Iraq (following a schedule negotiated by Bush), is it hard to excuse pulling out of Syria; an announcement made by Trump without discussing it with “my generals,” then flipping again? Does it strike them as “great and unmatched wisdom?” What will they say as not-actually-defeated ISIS regains strength? Have they noticed the subsequent gloating about American unreliability on Russian TV? Has Trump?  
After a couple hours of chanting “Lock him up,” were those rapturous attendees disturbed that, abandoned by Trump despite being steadfast allies, Kurds struck a desperate protection deal with the unleashed Assad, worst of the worst? How, one wonders, do they feel about the US joining Russia as the only countries refusing to support a resolution condemning Erdogan’s invasion? Are they puzzled that Trump’s so-far ineffective “sanctions” exclude Erdogan himself? Did they love Trump’s bizarre, made for TV, faux tough-guy letter to him? Of course they did.  
Was the escape of ISIS prisoners a topic that followed their enthusiasms? Was there mention of the sixty “high-value” ISIS captives US forces had to leave behind because of Trump’s precipitous, short-sighted directive? Or the fifty tactical nukes now in Turkish hands? After cheering Trump’s promise to “destroy socialism” (Medicare, the VA, Social Security, the Post Office, police, oil and farm subsidies, parks…??), did they spend time contemplating Rudy Giuliani’s Soviet-born henchman pressuring the firing of our ambassador to Ukraine as she investigated their corruption, versus the false claims of Biden’s? Did they question the relationship between Trump’s recalling the person probing Ukrainian crimes and Biden advocating the firing of one who wasn’t? Did anyone in the back seat raise the possibility they’re being played for fools?  
Might Trumpists find it troubling that a day after Attorney Second Lieutenant Barr met with Rupert Murdoch the only truth-teller at Fox “news,” Shep Smith, was gone? Does it bother them that the aforementioned official, theoretically the chief legal advocate for all Americans, has instead become a globetrotting go-fer? Of course not.  
Do Trump’s lie-filled, virulent, divisive rallies provide enough primal pleasure to brush away concerns about a “president” claiming the Constitution doesn’t apply to him? And meaning it? And invertebrate Republican legislators agreeing? Do they sense hypocrisy when submissive Lindsey Graham, prosecutor of Clinton’s impeachment, says even starting an inquiry is an attempted coup? Do they think only Democrats like Susan McDougal should be jailed for ignoring Congressional subpoenas? Will they ever have enough of Trump’s lies? Again: of course not
Did they get a secret chuckle from this contemptible thing, whatever the source? 
 Residue Trumpists are a definitional cult. Victims of human susceptibility to false prophets, blind to the dangers, tribal, they love him like a god. For so-inclined Americans, it’s nothing new: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Marshall Applewhite. Perhaps proto-humans benefitted from shedding individuality in total submission to an authoritarian leader; today, survival of more-evolved primates depends on the opposite. Once cult-ivated, though, independent thought becomes impossible. Their deceivers know what strings to pull.  
Outside the cult, Trump’s autocratic madness and corruption are obvious. Because today’s poison works more slowly than Jonestown’s, there’s still time to put down the cup, but that’s not how cults work. Unfortunately, with Trump’s, it’s not just their own survival at stake.
[Image source]

Thursday, October 10, 2019

"Do-Nothing Democrats." That's Chutzpah.

My next column in The Everett Herald:
Trump’s been impeaching himself lately, so despite his dictatorial attitude that our Constitution doesn’t apply to him, and Republicans’ hypocritical, laughable defense of it, let’s discuss something else: replacing the classic definition of chutzpah, wherein a guy kills his parents, then begs for mercy because he’s an orphan. 
Trump recently called Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s half of Congress a “do-nothing” branch. Like most of the effluent from the White House and adjacent, the opposite is true. Here’s a small sample of legislation passed by House Democrats, which Moscow Mitch McConnell has refused to bring to the Senate, while he and Trump accuse Democrats of accomplishing nothing. Definitional chutzpah.  
First was HR-1, a sweeping plan to decrease the role of dark money in national politics, limit lobbying, protect and expand voting rights, and more. Serious action against the political corruption Americans, except those in on it, claim to hate. Actually draining the swamp, as opposed to sluicing it into the White House. The bill died at the hands of Moscow Mitch, because the swamp is what put him and Trump in office and, they believe, what will keep them there. Assuming the Constitution is invalid.  
There’s more. Have Trumpists heard of HR-986: protecting pre-existing conditions; HR-987: lowering prescription drug costs; HR-7: closing the gender gap in pay?  
HR-9: addressing climate change; HR-1428: infrastructure investment and job creation; HR-840: veterans’ child care; HR-1585: reauthorizing Violence Against Women Act; HR-5: protecting the rights of LGBT people. 
HR-8: background checks for gun purchases; HR-1644: protecting net neutrality; HR-1944: making it easier to save for retirement, described as one of the most important changes to retirement rules seen in years; HR-2480: child abuse prevention and treatment; HR-790: Federal civilian workforce pay fairness; HR-1331: drinking water protection… 
You get the idea. Investigating Trumpic and para-Trumpic malfeasance hasn’t kept Democrats from other work. Most of their bills would have been beneficial even to Trumpists. They’ll never see daylight in Mitch’s Senate. Alleging Speaker Pelosi’s House of Representatives has done nothing is yet another Trumpic lie; like a Mexico-funded wall, China paying his tariffs, climate change as hoax, “perfect” phone calls, and kangaroo courts. 
Assuming impeachment has played out, a Republican message for 2020 will apparently be that Democrats have accomplished nothing. Democrats’ should be: “Look what we’d have done for all Americans, including women, veterans, voters, retirees, people who breathe air and drink water, use medications, prefer tolerable climate, believe in democracy, had Democrats controlled the Senate and had we a president who cared for Americans of all colors, religious beliefs, and health and wealth status.” 
On the important issues, polls are consistent: mainstream policies of Democrats are preferred by a large majority of voters. Which is precisely why Republicans are committed to blocking legislation and preventing voting equality.  
Were we forced to choose between seeing Mitch McConnell out as Senate Majority Leader or Trump out as “president” (though, increasingly, we might get both), we’d opt for exit-door number one. It’d be a tough choice, though, between seeing him as Minority Leader, fuming ineffectually, signature hypocrisy refulgent, or out of the public eye entirely, McDucking the tens of millions he amassed while on the public dole. 
Unlike Trump, who pings and pongs between ideas that come randomly into his self-absorbed head or are implanted there by Fox “news” deplorables (the ones he still considers to be working for him), Moscow Mitch knows exactly what he’s doing. And, possibly because of those millions of rubles, sorry, dollars he’s pocketed, he doesn’t care about the consequences. 
Blocking legislation aimed at creating freer and fairer elections, and at preventing foreign interference in them, McConnell complained that Democrats were trying to create “political benefit.” Because it had gotten only one Republican vote, he reasoned, it couldn’t be fair. Which is even higher-order chutzpah: pressure your party’s legislators never to vote for Democratic bills, then decry partisanship. Or this: recently-leaked House GOP plans to blame mass shootings on people “coming from the left.”  
But the Kremlin Kentuckian is correct: like truth, fair elections do benefit Democrats. The only way to overcome his obstructive, anti-constitutional behavior is to outvote it. If the proportion of people who agree with Democrats shows up, and if their votes aren’t suppressed or altered, McConnell/Trump politics ends. Even more so when true conservatives have finally had enough of anti-democracy, self-aggrandizing dishonesty, and of Trump’s escalating craziness. Which is an even bigger “if.” 
[Image source]

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Melting Down


My next column in The Everett Herald:
You know what they say: there are two types of people in the world; those who say there are two types of people in the world, and those who don’t.  
There are three types of people in the world. The smallest group consists of Trump, his Caligari Cabinet, his spokespeople, enablers, accomplices, and consiglieri, and his Congressional apologists… The people, in other words, committing obvious crimes and those directly abetting them. Lying. Covering-up. Threatening. Hallucinating conspiracies.  
More densely populated are the remaining two groups, consisting of those who see what’s happening, describe it, recognize the implications, and try to do something about it; and those holding their hands tightly over their eyes with their thumbs in their ears. 
We’ve always had criminals, and we’ve always had people trying to expose and stop them. But there’s never been such a blatantly corrupt administration, in which the corruption is spread among so many people; and we’ve never “elected” a “president” who had a lifelong history of corrupt business practices in the first place, whose children were of the same mold, and whose transgressions were widely known before the election. 
Nevertheless, the first two kinds of people, qua categories, aren’t particularly groundbreaking. Who hasn’t played cops and robbers as a kid, right? It’s that third category that’s so baffling. How much energy it must take to refuse to deny, to excuse what’s going on. Worse, to like it. Even as the daily revelations are becoming a torrent. 
Some people cheered Bonnie and Clyde. This is altogether different. Donald Trump has no understanding of America. He’s calling Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a traitor. He’s demanding to know who that whistleblower is; has implied such people should be killed. He’s calling six Congresswomen (four women of color, two Jews) “savages.” He’s encouraging “civil war” if he’s impeached. Pompeo says no State Department employees will honor Congressional subpoenas. Lindsey Graham, who led the Clinton impeachment trial, says Trump’s not getting due process! What’s more “due” than a process outlined in the Constitution? Nevertheless, Trump calls it a “coup.” Rudy Giuliani says… well, who the heck knows WHAT Rudy says? Other than admitting to forgery.  
But they know how to speak to Group Three. They know the can’t-miss buzzwords: plot, fake, set-up. And, of course, “deep state.” Know what that really is? It’s career government employees wanting to do their jobs: protecting the food supply, the electric grid, small farmers and small businesses. Keeping vital research going, feeding the hungry, funding promising ideas that banks and other NGOs and banks won’t take a chance on. Oh, Solyndra, you say? One failed business out of hundreds funded, paying back their loans, giving innovation a chance? Dig deeper. 
In Group Three are two sub-categories: the deceived (of which there are another two: the willing and the unknowing), and the nasty. One of Fox “news” nastiest, Laura Ingraham recently did a “hilarious” bit on her show: using a straw to “drink” a steak peppered with broken incandescent light bulbs. Get it? You know, stuff liberals hate: straws, red meat, and wasting energy. Good one, right?  
But it explains why many in Group Three stick with Trump despite his mounting destruction of Constitutional governance, despite his lying and abuses of power, despite turning the departments of state and justice into nothing more than henchmen. Despite behaving in a way at which they’d be outraged were it a Democrat. 
They stick with him because, like Laura Ingraham, they love sticking it to liberals. What a great reason. How patriotic. How thoughtful. 
How deplorable.  
If there are any Trumpists who’d like to learn what our government really does, including indispensable and highly beneficial things about which they clearly have no idea, there’s a book they’ll find enlightening, if they could disencumber their minds long enough to read it. It’s called “The Fifth Risk,” by Michael Lewis, who also wrote “Moneyball” and “The Big Short,” among others. For those who believe in some sort of evil “deep state” and in the uselessness of government, it ought to be required reading. 
Or just note how, under pressure of impending impeachment, Trump is melting down at increasing speed, making ever-wilder accusations and anacoluthons, acting more and more the mad king. No matter the outcome of this Constitutionally-created process, he’s becoming so unhinged that even Group Three loyalists might come to recognize the obvious. 
One can hope.

Friday, September 27, 2019

As The Clock Ticks


My next column in The Everett Herald. Things are happening so fast it's nearly impossible to keep up, much less condense it into a weekly column. So, apologies for a jumbled mess:
Remember when Republicans screamed about abuse of power because President Barack Obama’s IRS was making its legally-required determinations of non-profits’ legitimacy? And they mostly turned down liberal ones? Such innocent times. Remembering nostalgia can be painful.  
But now it’s serious. Trump’s childish name calling? Ho hum. Lying all the time? Goes in one ear… Hiring then firing unethical incompetents, not to mention people who won’t kow to his tow? Common as breathing. But the last couple of weeks have been exceptional, even for Trump. Anyone who sees what he’s doing and doesn’t care or, worse, defends it, is complicit in the destruction of constitutional governance. We’re no longer approaching autocratic abuse of power: it’s upon us. In the era of Trump, things that go without saying need saying, over and over; even to people plugging their ears. 
Separation of powers and checks and balances, especially oversight of the executive by Congress, is fundamental to our form of government. It’s not magic, though. It requires willingness of representatives and citizens to buy in. Traffic lights are meaningless if everyone ignores them. (An increasing problem in these parts, but I digress.) 
Those who watched Trump’s campaign manager Lewandowsky’s non-testimony saw an arrogant, condescending, disrespectful creep, who’d not have answered questions whether or not he’d been ordered to stay mum. But there are other witnesses to Trump’s malefactions. Trump and his consigliere Mr. Barr are silencing those people, too; every one of them. Under such conditions, checks bounce. 
The oversight dereliction by national Republicans, and, till now, aimless tut-tutting by Democratic leadership, was not, presumably, what our founders had in mind. They believed they’d built safeguards to prevent exactly the sort of executive overreach we’re seeing from Trump; and they assumed elected officials would commit to protecting the republic. They had put country above personal advantage, so they believed future generations would, too. How wrong they were.  
Which brings us to the roiling whistleblower/Ukraine mess, about which, as details ooze out, we already know enough to recognize behavior grievously inconsistent with original intent.  
If on nothing else, can Republicans agree that an open, democratic society must encourage and protect people willing to call out dangerous and/or illegal governmental actions? That a system allowing fair evaluation of their allegations is vital, and that efforts to prevent it, especially by an accused president, are dangerous? Before taking a position, perhaps Trumpists could pretend we’re talking about Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama. It’s a useful exercise.  
Because Trump has never denied doing things which later were proved true and because we know he’d immediately quash foreign intervention in our elections, Republicans are confident … oh, wait. A conversation was confirmed. Then we learned someone heard something in that conversation which they found alarming; and we know the Inspector General of intelligence operations deemed it a “credible” and “urgent” threat to national security. 
Trump denied pressuring Zelensky to investigate (a fake scandal involving) Joe Biden by withholding US taxpayer funds designated for military aid, although another Ukrainian official, Anton Geraschenko, has confirmed it, and their foreign minister has said they were “totally surprised” when the money was withheld. 
Now there’s a five-page “memorandum” of the thirty-minute call, full of smarmy flattery of Trump, touted as showing no offer of a quid pro quo. There are several intriguing ellipses in the pages, however, and a bit of “nice little country you’ve got there. Be a shame…” Trump now admits withholding those funds. They were released right after the lid blew off. 
Most recently, the actual complaint was released, with, of course, redactions. And, predictable as rain, Trump has called the people involved traitors, with not-so-veiled threats. So far, Republican leaders haven’t called him on it.  
Some combination of Trump, his osculating Attorney General, and “acting” DNI Maguire ordered Inspector General Atkinson to stonewall. Giuliani said it was “the State Department” that asked him to contact Zelensky; the “transcript” shows it was Trump, with AG Barr in the mix. Barr and Pompeo soliciting foreign influence on Trump’s behalf? The IRS “scandal” pales.  
Trump encouraged a foreign government to seek dirt on his political opponent, directly and using departments of justice and state. One would hope for an Inspector General having integrity to report fully, even risking charges. It’s that important. 
There isn’t a Republican anywhere who wouldn’t be screaming for impeachment if this were President Barack Obama, and they know it. Their silence now says everything. 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Dear Leader

My next column in The Everett Herald:
First time North Korea’s Kim bowled, he rolled three-hundred. He walked at three weeks old and talked at eight. Golfing for the first time, he got eleven holes-in-one and scored thirty-eight under par. He was born under a double rainbow, at which point a new star appeared in the sky. Also, he invented the hamburger.  
The preceding are claims by North Korea about leaders named Kim. Defectors say citizens believe them. 
Hurricane Dorian was heading straight for Alabama. Climate change is a hoax. Trump’s is “the most pro-science administration, ever.” Democrats will turn America into Venezuela. Trump engineered the biggest economic turnaround in history. Ivanka got her “moral compass” from her father. 
Okay, that last one is obviously true.  
Also, Donald invented the Sharpie.  
Unlike North Koreans, Americans can access real news (which, Kim-like, Trump and Trumpists prefer to call “fake”) and multiple sources by which to evaluate it. Truth, even when denied by our current government and misrepresented by its media mouthpieces, is still obtainable by those wishing to know it. There is, therefore, no reason for a “Dear Leader” cult to exist here. But it does. Cut off from the world, Kim’s believers may be excused for their sad credulity. Not Trump’s. 
For example: when not ignoring it entirely, they dismiss the Dorian/Alabama debacle as amusing. It’s not. Because of what happened after Trump’s baseless tweet, it’s portentously illuminating. His claim that Alabama was in the hurricane’s path needed redress, lest Alabamians take unnecessary, costly actions, including panic. 
Having made a mistake, normal people would admit and correct it. Trump, being Trump, did the opposite. Insisting he was right, Dear Leader clumsily altered an official weather map, and, confident in the slavish loyalty of his excusers, didn’t even bother to make it look convincing. (Or is he so delusional that he thought it was?)  
It’s Trump, so there’s more. Attacking the National Weather Service for its much-needed, factual correction, he threatened their jobs, via the inexcusable Wilbur Ross. Caving, in an unsigned statement, NOAA’s leadership submissively chastised the people who’d issued the corrective. At least it didn’t overtly claim Trump was right; only that, duh, one can’t be one-hundred-percent sure of weather projections. He could have said Dorian would bowl a three-hundred game, in other words, and who’s to say? 
A “president” successfully bullied scientists for political gain: even today’s Republicans ought to recognize the danger. If they were still conservative, they would.  
So fearful are Trump’s swamp-dwellers of resisting his derangements, they pressured international agencies dealing with migration to scrub mention of climate change as a factor. This week, because liberals are serious about climate change, he revoked California’s authority to set its own automobile emissions standards. Why aren’t states-rights, anti-authoritarian “conservatives” outraged? It won’t always be California. 
Other than Trump, whose shaky self-esteem is threatened by President Barack Obama, who benefits from deregulating drinking water? Was he joking when he justified re-enabling energy-gobbling incandescent light because he likes the way it makes him look? 
Responding to the attack on Saudi oil fields, he announced we’re “locked and loaded,” waiting only for Saudi Arabia’s murderous leader to tell us “under what terms we would proceed.” Great. Now Trump takes orders from MBS. Then, after Putin told him to cool it, he said it wasn’t really a threat. 
But Trump stands up to dictators and would never lie us into war. Nor is his unilateral withdrawal from the Iran agreement responsible for Iran’s escalations. Also, Kim is so perfect, he neither defecates nor urinates (actual assertion). 
Too insecure to do otherwise, Trump lies rather than admit a mistake. His flammable vengefulness makes his surroundees afraid to contradict him. Now it appears his acting DNI is suppressing a whistle-blower complaint about his actions, deemed credible and urgent by the department’s Inspector General. These capitulations to a dangerously disordered leader should disturb everyone who understands what has, until now, kept America great. 
Whatever Trump does to intimidate these people, it’s turned 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue into North Korea West. But what explains Trump’s cultists outside the Beltway? Perhaps it isn’t swampy cowardice, but a manifestation of the easily-exploitable human weakness that, throughout history, has led people to deify demagogues who blame others for their problems. Might they yet look inward and disenthrall themselves? It’d save them and us, but that’s not how cults work. 
Trump kept his no-golfing promise, though. He was already acing every hole.  
[Image source]

Friday, September 13, 2019

My Pal, Cal

My next column in The Everett Herald.
Last month I got an email from an old friend. Its subject was “My plans.”  
Fresh out of residency, I met him when I arrived in Oregon to begin my surgical career. Also a surgeon in town and, therefore, a future competitor, he and his wife nevertheless welcomed me and my wife, invited us to dinner, after which, as easily as if we’d known each other forever, we became pals, the four of us. Laughed, dined, traveled. Had sleepovers, even. 
Judy and I moved to Everett thirty-seven years ago, but we’ve stayed in frequent touch, they visiting here and we there. We attended each of their children’s weddings. Our scheduled trip together to the Oregon coast last winter was scrapped after his wife got into a terrible auto accident. Her recovery was arduous.  
Eleven years older than me, he’d attended college at the arch-rival of mine. The first intercollegiate baseball game, in 1859, was between our two schools. “We” won, 73 – 32. Referred to as “The biggest little game in America,” the football rivalry is the oldest in Division III, fourth-oldest in the US. He captained lacrosse; I played rugby. We were in the same fraternity in our respective schools, laughingly shared the ridiculously complex, secret handshake. We both served as military doctors; he outranked and outlasted me. 
The email arrived on a Thursday. The plan to which its title referred was suicide. Saturday.  
In my surgical practice, I’ve dealt with death, in and out of the OR. On a couple of occasions, I’d been the one to turn off a ventilator; have counseled families when the inevitable was approaching. And I watched the grim, relentless decline of my mother and grandmother as their vibrant humanity was cruelly peeled away, layer by layer, by Alzheimer’s Disease. Along with my family, I sat beside my dad as he died; was with my cousin when her mom breathed her last. 
I’ve told myself that if I knew I was heading to the final station, especially with dementia, I’d jump off the train before it got there. Until now, though, the idea of assisted suicide had been an abstraction. Suddenly, it was immediate, and I had thoughts. Like, what would he (anyone) be thinking at the moment of drinking the potion?  
Next evening, as in better times, we talked on the phone. He sounded good, relaxed. We recalled the fun we’d had, I told him how grateful I was for his friendship, how important it’d had been for me, the young guy, to work with him in the operating room on those rare occasions when it happened. How sorry I was it had come to this, that I respected his decision and considered it courageous. Asked how his wife was doing, he said, “She’s fine. Looking forward to it.” Typical.  
“It’s been a wonderful week,” he said. “Each day, family was here, with tears and laughter. It’s like I got to attend my memorial service. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it this way.” He wrote his own obituary.  
Debilitated and disabled with unrelenting back pain, dependent on supplemental oxygen because of progressive, untreatable lung disease, he’d become unable to get out of bed. Until his intractable spine made it impossible, he, a lover of golf, had a dream job after retiring, traveling the Northwest reviewing golf courses for a magazine.  Now, bedridden and air-hungry even on oxygen, frustration and humiliation were constant. His pain medicines made him feel unlike himself. In hospice care for months, he was tired. And ready. 
On Saturday evening, he and his wife in Oregon, we here, all we could do was drink a toast, and, with sadness and smiles, honor him.  
Last week we had lunch with his wife. He’d waited till the afternoon, she told us, in order to see the kids of friends play their consolation game in the Little League World Series. They watched part of “Forrest Gump.” Prior to the final cocktail, he took two prescribed pills. When he felt he was getting sleepy, his wife mixed the drink, per protocol, handed it to her husband, and climbed into bed next to him. 
As she snuggled into his shoulder, he said “I love you.” Not long after, he stopped breathing. She waited for a while, she said, to be sure. I wondered how she decided it was time to get up, and what it felt like when she did. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Make It Go Away

My next column in The Everett Herald:
Concerned for fellow Americans, I was relieved to see people lining the shores of Florida, praying Hurricane Dorian away. It seems their god or gods (the photo didn’t specify) heard the prayers and changed his/her/their/its mind/minds. Kept the worst of the storm hovering over the Bahamas, where it seems to have killed or ruined the lives of mostly black people. So, thanks. Good job.  
I wish I had the power to get God to rethink His plans, too. I’m not sure how many congregated down there, but I doubt I could gather much of a crowd. Plus, I’m pretty sure any god that put Trump in office wouldn’t be interested in hearing from me. “How dareth you assume I have no plan,” He’d say. “Or that I wouldst change it for such as you? Only my children who loveth Trump as do they Me may so beseech. Also, why all your caring for the needy?” Is my guess.  
But as long as we’re speculating about what God wants, the true, exclusive understanding of which is given only to Trumpists, I found it enlightening to have been informed by Tony Perkins, among Trump’s most ardent Evangelical supporters, that teaching evolution is what’s causing America’s mass murders. (By consensus of his similars, hurricanes are on gays.) He seemed stumped when asked why countries with far fewer believers than ours, or those whose people believe in different gods and theories of how we got here, don’t have mass murders. 
But he’s not the only one who’s borne that witness. As a biology major, learning more and more about the evidence for evolution and the inherent beauty of how it works, I couldn’t wait to start killing people. The science lab had a stock of loaner ARs, as I recall. It was a while ago; I might be misremembering.  
Weirdly, the Pope isn’t an evolution-denier. But how could the view from the throne first occupied by Saint Peter be as clear as that of Mr. Perkins, et. al? Ex-cathedra, shmex-cathedra, right? If he doesn’t get stuck in an elevator again, maybe Papa Francesco will defend his love of science in an upcoming balcony appearance. 
But I don’t need his blessing to affirm that medical school was a constant stream of amazements, as the beauty and intricate secrets of the human body were revealed. No less than staring at the heavens, it imparted a daily sense of wonder. If conditions in our tiny corner of the universe happened to be perfect for the sparking and evolution of life, why should that negate belief? Why the fear of teaching what’s more of a miracle than many that are claimed? 
If there’s a creator, I figured, he/she/it’s brilliant, if careless. I could ignore the problem of how something as complex as a creator could exist without a creator, just as I could make myself not dwell on all the imperfections that seem to have slipped by. I was learning to repair many of them, after all. Such enlightenment made me grateful and satisfied to be here, now; in the demonstrable, interconnected beauty of it, I found wonderment enough. 
There’s spiritual delight in that, which can be experienced by people of any belief or lack thereof. Arguing to keep that joy of discovery from our children, thinking one’s particular belief-choice, or preferred translation among many, of one book among many, is superior to all others, and to demand universal acceptance at the expense of knowledge, is born of arrogance and fear. Plus, as we just saw, it seems to lead people to pray, wittingly or not, for harm to others rather than themselves. 
Whatever happened to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?” If Tony Perkins and Donald Trump are exemplars of justice, mercy, and humility, it’s hard to see how teaching their professed beliefs would end mass murder. Besides, Trump’s is transparently phony, and who knows what Perkins is really about? 
For years, climate scientists have been predicting increasingly powerful hurricanes. Trump said he’d never heard of Category 5 till now, though during his reign of error there’ve been four others. When not golfing, he kept warning Alabama, even after the NWS corrected him. Then, pure Trump, unable to admit error, he altered their map with a Sharpie. Breathtaking, even for him.  
“Presidential” ignorance. Pray away hurricanes. Stop teaching evolution. Excuses for doing nothing, when times demand the opposite.
[Image source]

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Price Of Delusion

My next column in The Everett Herald:
“The United States must be prepared for a future in which its traditional technological predominance faces new, perhaps unprecedented challenges.” That’s from a report produced by the Center for a New American Security, about China’s efforts in quantum computing. 
Which, far as one can tell, has something to do with harnessing subatomic particles (“quantum bits,” or “qubits”) for highly complex computations conventional computers can’t handle, including becoming un-hackable. Jonathan Dowling, a physics professor at LSU who also professes in Shanghai, predicts that in two years China will “go dark,” as their systems become impenetrable. Security implications are obvious.  
It’s said quantum computers will be to current computers as current computers are to the abacus. There’s potential to revolutionize development of new drugs against diseases, for one thing; and to create, well, a quantum leap in artificial intelligence. Full realization is several years away; but China is pulling ahead of the US. Last year, it filed for twice as many related patents. Their government is pouring billions into research, as well as offering juicy incentives to Chinese-born scientists who leave the US to return home. In addition, they’re paying US scientists handsomely to spend time there. 
Assuming we survive his homicidal climate-change denial, the future implications of the US attitude toward science under Trump are clear. Cutting funding for research to pay for tax cuts; deleting mention of climate change from USGS press releases; preventing government scientists from publishing their findings regarding it, or of harmful effects of chemicals Trump has unregulated. Several examples of which have been learned recently, as scientists resigned their government positions in protest.  
Joel Clement, a former Interior Department scientist, spoke to Congress of a “culture of fear, censorship, and suppression” coming from the Trump administration that’s keeping government scientists from doing “their best work.” Michael Halpern, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, testified that whereas there’d been efforts in the Bush II and Obama administrations to water down certain findings, meddling has risen to unprecedented levels under Trump. Studies into health threats to offshore oil workers and of surface coal mining have been quashed, for example. Same with research into certain chemicals in drinking water, for fear of “a public relations nightmare.” 
Build the wall.  
Last year a third of EPA scientists reported being required to alter or omit climate change language; even worse, some chose to do so on their own, fearing repercussions. Unwilling to tolerate such interference, some scientists are leaving the US, ensuring we’ll fall further behind. This danger, too, is obvious. 
Lock her up.  
At the just-ended G7 summit, at which he turned the volume of his increasingly untethered lies up to eleven, Trump skipped meetings on climate change and the Amazon fires. The picture of his empty chair, Trump’s America epitomized, is being seen around the world.   
There’s more, of course: despite signing an agreement to reduce plastics in our oceans, he’s doing nothing, preferring to blame Asia. And whereas it’s true that most comes from there, it’s because they’ve been accepting US plastic trash and dumping it. He’s happy, however, to act to sabotage sustainable energy, already costing many thousand jobs in the solar industry, with more losses predicted. 
Democrats want to destroy you.  
China is out-innovating us in alternative energy, too. So is much of the free world. Denmark, which inexplicably prefers to keep Greenland, produces over forty-percent of its power from wind. Germany is even higher. In some months, it gets sixty-five-percent of its energy from renewables. Meanwhile, Trump is deregulating methane, the worst greenhouse gas.  
Send her back.  
From the dark caverns of Trump’s troubled mind, his unwillingness or incapability to understand science, or to admit being wrong, is endangering the entire planet. Enabled by spineless Republicans and timid Democrats, the inadequacies of an increasingly unwell individual are endangering the entire world. Our Constitution was designed to prevent such travesty. Sadly, its creators didn’t foresee this level of Congressional fecklessness.  
Enemy of the people.  
Bent on worsening the planet’s most critical problems, Trump is making us a not-great, rogue nation and second-tier innovator. Excusing this dereliction by pointing to employment or the stock market doesn’t wash. Nothing justifies indulging this irrational “president,” whose delusional ignorance and pathological rejection of the obvious are hurtling us toward catastrophe. Republicans screamed about unchecked presidential power with President Obama. Why the acquiescence now, when the danger is greater? And real.  
They’re coming for your guns. 
[Image source]

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