Thursday, April 27, 2017

Immutable Values

My upcoming newspaper column:
Donald Trump used to love polls. There’s a recent one he might have liked, though it received little attention. Comparing views of Democrats and Republicans on Trump bombing Syria, and how they differed from four years ago under President Obama, it found that in 2013, 38% of Democrats supported the idea. Now the number is 37%. In 2013 22% of Republicans favored it. This time around, it’s 86%. That’s as revelatory as it is unsurprising. One party had consistent values, another didn’t. For Trump, that’s good news, and affirming.  
There’s nothing Trump can do or do not that will diminish support among those who see wonderfulness in him. Failures? He tried. Michele Bachmann (among others) still believes Jesus put him in the White House. Jesus, who bade us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, who warned about rich men, camels, and needles, and had a thing about healing the sick, gave us a president who’d ignore the needy while taking away their health care and enriching the wealthy. Jesus was silent on coal sludge in our streams and lead in our pipes, but I’m guessing He’d have been against them. Also, praising despots. Trump’s His boy? Not buying it.  
I send my columns in before Saturday, but I’ll predict that today, Trump’s hundredth in office -- a benchmark he repeatedly touted and by which time he promised big things during the campaign but has, like most of his assertions, recently disavowed -- Obamacare hasn’t been repealed and replaced, ISIS hasn’t been defeated, a budget agreement hasn’t been reached, tax overhaul hasn’t happened, and the wall isn’t under construction. Or funded.  
You’d think these reversals would be of concern to his supporters. They aren’t. You’d think there’d be second thoughts among those who voted for a naïf who only now discovered health care is complicated, relations between China and North Korea are fraught, NATO is indispensable, the Import-Export Bank does good, China stopped being a currency manipulator (Trump claims they stopped when he got elected. It ended at least two years earlier.) That each of these represents a one-hundred-eighty-degree flop ought to give Trumpists pause. Likewise, that Angela Merkel had to tell him eleven times how the EU works.  
It hasn’t. To them, it means he’s flexible. Their votes for a person who opines on subjects about which he knows nothing, makes up facts, lies repeatedly about impossible plans, changes his tune after talking to China’s Xi for a mere ten minutes, are of no concern. No worry about who he’ll spend the next ten minutes with, to arrive at what epiphany. “No one knew flying was hard,” said the pilot. “No prahhhhblemmmmmm,” said the passengers, all the way down.  
Recently, a letter here complained about jokes at Trump’s expense. What if it were Obama, the writer asked. Fair enough: who can explain humor? But could that writer or any Trump apologists say they’d have had no problem were it Barack Obama whose people had shady Russia connections, lied about them, and the lies were covered up? What if he’d promised not to golf and then did, at record-breaking pace? Would they have been okay with blatant conflicts of interest, lining his pockets with taxpayer money at various businesses? They hated President Obama’s use of executive orders. Not Trump’s. Or his projected trillions in budget deficits. Aren’t core values sort of immutable?  
With rare exceptions, Trumpophiles email me with linguistically colorful avoidance of issues. I offer to engage, curious why they’re okay with reversing pollution regulations, auto emission standards, workplace protections, cutting medical research, and childcare for working moms. I ask which of Trump’s actions have helped anyone but corporatists. No replies. It’s puzzling.  
In Donald Trump I see a man who blames others for his failures, a perpetual liar who’s admitted he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, hasn’t fulfilled any important promises, whose idea of foreign policy is dropping explosives, literal and vocal. I see someone unable to form intelligible sentences, stick to a topic or avoid gasconade from capital letter to period; who has no appreciation of the Constitution; who’s more interested in ratings than reality, who wastes valuable time holding pretentious rallies for himself. 
His people love it.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Fair Is Fair

Don't know what quids were quoed, but this is a good thing that Trump has done:

An Egyptian American charity worker who was imprisoned in Cairo for three years and became the global face of Egypt’s brutal crackdown on civil society returned home to the United States late Thursday after the Trump administration quietly negotiated her release.
President Trump and his aides worked for several weeks with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi to secure the freedom of Aya Hijazi, 30, a U.S. citizen, as well as her husband, Mohamed Hassanein, who is Egyptian, and four other humanitarian workers. Trump dispatched a U.S. government aircraft to Cairo to bring Hijazi and her family to Washington...
Obama tried. Sissi seems less than a good guy, and I assume Obama wasn't willing to kiss his ass the way Trump did when he visited Washington recently. So who knows what deals were made or implied?

We can expect Trump to tout this like crazy, and I guess he deserves it. It's not as if he has much else to point to, other than getting a predictable hard case on the Supreme Court.

[Update: Yup. All about himself. Still an asshole.]

[Image source]

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Greater Of Two Evils

My upcoming newspaper column:
Fox and Friends, Donald Trump’s favorite source of fair and fawning news, recently featured interviews of Harvard students. Asked who is more dangerous, ISIS or Trump, to the smug derision and faux shock of the studio-bound, their answer was Trump. After showing the video, the gaggle interviewed the interviewer, who produced random unsubstantiated claims and conclusions. The thing is, notwithstanding the condescension of the couched, those students were apodictically correct. 
Which is not to say that ISIS or wannabes in their thrall are incapable of doing considerable harm in the US. They have. They will again. But destroying the institutions of our democracy? That, only Trump is doing. Killing Americans by the tens of thousands? Not ISIS, not on our soil. We don’t yet know whether Trump’s impulsive, uninformed, and discohesive foreign policy will lead to American deaths. Let’s hope not. With certainty, though, we know his domestic policies will.   
For example: each year, between twelve and fifteen thousand Americans die from asbestos-related causes. Yet Donald Trump -- who’s referred to asbestos as “100% safe” -- and his EPA head would deregulate it. In the same phlebitic vein, their removal of environmental protections, clean air regulations, water quality rules, allowing the use of clearly dangerous pesticides, reversing climate change mitigation, coal plant cleanup, and too much more to stomach, will lead to countless more death and disability than ISIS ever dreamed. So will his rejection of science research. Trumpists’ denials won’t change the truth. If they’ve somehow rationalized approval of those destructive actions, they need to explain why. 
Threatening our free press, attacking the exercise of rights to assemble and protest, granting clandestine ethics waivers to his swamp-born appointees, Trump erodes both trust in government, and the ways by which we hold it to account. His steady stream of lies big and small, and reneging on most of the promises on which he campaigned (golf being the least of it!) make it obligatory to question everything coming from him or his government. Same with his tweets. Is this more damaging than ISIS? In terms of what makes America great, absolutely. 
This isn’t speculation; it’s happening. And if lying about releasing tax records doesn’t rise to the level of life-threatening, it does, along with the aforementioned throwing ethics overboard, raise legitimate concerns about having turned our government over to thieves and swindlers, who’d enrich themselves at the expense of the health and well-being of average Americans. As witness, the tens of thousands of deaths predicted by repealing Obamacare to provide tax breaks for their pals; or the effects on women’s health of defunding Planned Parenthood (which Trump signed in private), or the heartless results of cutting nutrition programs for children. Pointing to ISIS is distraction from all this. 
The greater threat is obvious. The only way America can be brought down is from within, by lying autocratic politicians, deceivers, and by the lazy voters (and non-voters) and complicit press who enable and excuse them. Trumpism is the Cascadia fault line. ISIS is a tremor.  
And now, having praised those Harvardites for their grasp of the obvious, let me acknowledge college students can also be idiots. When I was one, I was one. But I never shouted anyone down, demanded a speaker be disinvited, or felt “unsafe” in the face of contrary ideas. Nor did my classmates, some of whom turned their backs, or walked out, or refused diplomas when Robert McNamara was given an honorary degree at our graduation. (That was early enough among Vietnam war protests that it made national headlines.)  
No more than “alt-right” threats and violence against minorities define true conservatism do those safe-space-seeking, micro-aggression-claiming, speech-drowning students define liberalism. They’re the opposite. They anger and embarrass me, as do administrators who coddle them. There are words and actions, especially directed against minorities, that are inexcusable and shouldn’t be tolerated, on campus or anywhere. But if colleges and universities aren’t places where uncomfortable and unfamiliar ideas can be aired and challenged by direct discourse, what are?  
As to those who turn peaceful protests violent, I abhor them even more: effectively, they may as well be working for Trump. For that matter, since it’s always a handful of goons in disguise, who can say they aren’t?  
[Image source]

Friday, April 14, 2017

Onward Christian Coppers...

So this is happening:
An Alabama Presbyterian church may soon become the first in the nation to form its own police force, invested by the state with the rights of “regular” police. 
Officials at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, which belongs to the smaller and more conservative of the nation’s two major branches of the denomination, say their church, with 4,100 congregants and a 2,000-student school, needs the protection of a church-run police force...
I'm gonna assume that everyone who's okay with this would be similarly okay if a nearby mosque were to do the same thing. And if not, why?

Don't get me started on Gurkhas. Or those Shaolin guys.

[Image source]

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Syriously Unserious?

My upcoming newspaper column:
Who could see images of dead children after a gas attack and do nothing? Not even people who demand keeping those same kids away from our shores. Nearly with one voice, Congress extolled Trump’s flip of the back of his tiny hand in the general direction of Assad’s face, while liberal commentators on cable television rhapsodized that the missile strike conferred upon him the pallium of presidency. 
Because that’s what defines “presidential.” Not taking care of citizens in need, not protecting the environment or addressing the obvious threat of climate change; not supporting programs that help people find their way out of poverty, or producing a coherent healthcare plan. Calling in from luxury golf resorts, what presidents do is let fly ninety million dollars’ worth of cruise missiles. It makes up for everything. 
Unless it’s Barack Obama asking Congress for authorization. To him, they said “no.” Had President Obama gone ahead anyway, according to then-citizen Trump, it’d have been to distract from lousy poll numbers. But that was when Trump was tweetvocating the opposite of what he just did, and when the Russia thing wasn’t a thing. 
There are no good answers in the Middle East, any more than there was a secret Trumpic plan to defeat ISIS, so, assuming the facts are as he claims, it’s hard to fault his choice. In his position, though, I might not have fired off meaningless missiles, having first alerted Russia (before informing Congress or the State Department), who told Syria, who moved personnel and armaments out of the way. But it was definitely “something.” Assad resumed sorties from the airfield within hours, back to where the gassing occurred. If “something” was called for, was that it? To what end? Of which dog? And what’s next?  
It sent a message, gushed the gushers: “We’re back! Don’t mess with us because there’s more where that came from!” Or was it, “If you do certain sorts of badness we’ll symbolic gesture the heck out of you”? Either way, its most undeniable accomplishment was changing the domestic conversation.  
Is it coincidental that Assad’s attack came right after Trump signaled it’s no longer our concern who’s in charge of Syria? Trump blamed President Obama’s previous decision not to act. Maybe he’s right. Maybe Congress should have granted authority when asked. Maybe, like Trump, President Obama shouldn’t have bothered following the Constitution when committing an act of war. I don’t know. Really, I don’t.  
But I do know some things. I know there’s no lasting US-dominated military solution over there, with or without ground forces. I know if it’s possible to influence history in our favor it’s more likely to occur by providing aid to refugees than by creating more of them. I know the situation is so complicated that the adage “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” doesn’t apply and never has. More like, “My enemy is my enemy and so is my friend.” 
Of course it’s hard to ignore images of dead children; they’re horrifying. Yet, for Trump et al., it remains easy to spurn living children who, fleeing the devastation, arrive on our doorstep. Spent on them, that ninety million might have done more good, for Syrians and America. Like professing love for the unborn while cutting programs that help impoverished babies after birth, something doesn’t add up. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians have died in their war. Why did only the gassing educe a Trump response? Why so showily military yet strangely sanitized, and why now? Optics, maybe. Deception, even? How can we know? When our president is a proven recidivist liar, every claim he makes, every step he takes becomes suspect. 
Here we are, possibly uniquely gifted with life in the Universe, and the opportunity – had people more grace and less arrogance – to enjoy and share it. And yet, both by action and neglect, we’re not. Humans are ever more unworthy of their cosmic fortune. As proof, in America, the only thing people from all sides can agree upon is that when Trump authorized a missile strike, it was “presidential.” That’s horrifying, too, and means as a nation, species, and planet, we’re in worse trouble than I thought.
 [Image source]

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lying Liars

The retraction from the Gold House occupant and apologies to Susan Rice from all the RWS™ should be coming any moment now.
Washington (CNN) After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, multiple sources in both parties tell CNN... 
... One congressional intelligence source described the requests made by Rice as "normal and appropriate" for officials who serve in that role to the president. And another source said there's "absolutely" no smoking gun in the reports, urging the White House to declassify them to make clear there was nothing alarming in the documents...
We have a president who lies constantly, to whom the truth is, at best, immaterial. When can we ever believe him? Speaking of which, on a smaller scale I suppose:

The only thing Trump got right in his tweet, however, is the outcome of the race. Estes did not “easily” win on Tuesday, as the president said. In an ultra-conservative district that Trump won by 27 points in November, Estes won by only 7 points. ...Democrats did not spend heavily on the race. In fact, they barely spent anything at all. 
...They did not aid Thompson with funds for advertising. Republicans, on the other hand, poured significant money into the race. They dispatched Sen.Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to stump on behalf of Estes and ran robo-calls from both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Finally, no Democrat “predicted victory” there...
It's obvious by now that Trumpists prefer being lied to. Enjoy it. Find it refreshing, evidently. You know, "sticking it to the establishment."

[Image source]

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Shit Sandwich

This is a perfect example of how Trump, et. al -- in this case, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Attorney General-like Person -- sling bullshit and call it prime rib.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers.
... “The availability of prompt and accurate forensic science analysis to our law enforcement officers and prosecutors is critical to integrity in law enforcement, reducing violent crime, and increasing public safety,” Sessions said in the statement... (My emphasis)
In other words, from now on we'll be the ones deciding what constitutes factual forensic science. Because, you know, that review stuff just slows down the process, especially by scientists who know what they're doing. Quick and crappy science is better than resolute and reviewable. Get those perpetrators in (private) prisons, guilty or not.

Sessions is also rolling back any efforts to make the "war on drugs" more rational because mass incarcerations have done so well to win the battle. And he's backing off the Justice Department's role in looking at troubled police departments around the country. By "troubled," I mean ones currently under scrutiny for bad policing. By "bad policing" I mean racism.

Kind of a trifecta, really: go after weed again, lock up the coloreds, and we'll decide what evidence is.

Hard to say which of Trump's appointees will do the most damage, but Sessions and Pruitt are strong candidates for the top slot.

[Image source]

Friday, April 7, 2017

Words Don't Matter, Is The Implication.

A week ago, Rexit suggested that the US will no longer have the goal of removing Assad from power. A few days later he, Assad, used sarin gas. Again. Naturally, Trump blamed it on Obama. Because the words coming from him and his administration don't matter.

Couple years ago, Trump "warned" President Obama not to engage in Syria without Congressional approval. He also, when Obama's poll numbers were low, predicted Obama would strike Syria to improve them. Words, is all.

I have no idea what the right thing to do is, though.

Also, I have no idea what the guy in the picture is talking about.

[Image source]

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Midnight Save

My upcoming newspaper column, a respite from the current reality:
Offering a break from Kremlin on the Potomac, here’s a story modified from my Surgeonsblog days.
If I hadn't just finished a midnight appendectomy, Opal would have died. Not entirely canceling the bad luck in her life, she began her exsanguination when a surgeon and staff were immediately available. Vomiting all that blood, she was close to death when the ambulance arrived. 
Niceties like passing a scope to find the source go out the window when someone is bleeding to death from her stomach. I'd gotten the urgent call about a patient in extremis as I was writing post-op orders for the previous patient. After telling the team to expect more business immediately, I flew down the stairs to the ER to meet Opal, who wasn't in a position to be sociable. In shock, confused, retching blood, she also showed physical side-effects of high-dose steroids, which she was taking for some mysterious disease. Whatever I might do, those drugs would surely limit healing. And you can't stop them abruptly after surgery: it might cause physiological collapse. 
One thing about operating on the hypercritically ill: when you start from zero, there's no downside. She's going to die unless I can do something. No decision there, and, in a perverse way, no pressure: it’d be hard to make things worse. Which is not to say I'm cavalier. I know I'm the only hope she has. 
Based on the odds, I expected a bleeding duodenal ulcer, the surgical approach to which is generally quick and comparatively easy. Not Opal: likely due to her steroids, she presented me with two enormous ulcers encompassing most of her stomach, one of which had eaten through the back wall of it and into the splenic artery. No wonder she was bleeding so massively: that's a big one. One of my surgical teachers used to say, jokingly, not to worry about bleeding unless you can hear it. This I could hear. In order to stanch the flow, giving the anesthesia team a chance to fill her tank back up, the first step was to press my finger to the hole in the artery; and then I stood there, a warm-blooded cork. Several bags of blood and saline later, I placed sutures on either side of my finger, around the vessel. Dryness: silent and welcome dryness. Now what? 
Even when unavoidable, operating on someone in shock is not a good thing: it necessarily adds to the trauma, even as it seeks to reverse it. The least you can do is the best you can do. But Opal was in a fix. Having eroded nearly to the point of perforation, those ulcers were too treacherous to leave; plus, I might have just killed her spleen. So, having no lesser options, I chose to remove her entire stomach and her spleen, fashioning a sort of stomach-substitute reservoir out of intestine and connecting it to the end of her esophagus. Too much surgery, really, for such a sick and medically depleted lady, and I went fast as possible to minimize her anesthesia time. Despite my having told the family to expect a challenging stay in intensive care, with death a real possibility, Opal recovered without complications, thanks in no small part to great care from excellent nurses. 
Her life was tough: she lived in a half-hovel, to which I made many visits over the next several years, as she'd call with some concern or another and I'd go see her to do what I could. Every Christmas there’d be a card from her, thanking me for another year of life she'd have missed, had we not met. 
Several years later Opal underwent a major operation by a different specialist, and once again nearly died. Not directly involved, but feeling somehow responsible, I visited her daily in the ICU and painted an appropriately grim picture to her family. Yeah yeah, they seemed to say. Heard it all before. And darned if she didn't make it again. This time around, though, she had major healing problems, and I became a pro-bono de-facto visiting nurse, debriding her wound for weeks at her sad little home. I guess I didn't want those Christmas cards to stop. They did, eventually, but not for a few more years.  
[Image source]

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Pulling Toilet Paper Over Our Eyes

In what world is this a repeal of North Carolina's "bathroom bill?" And why is their governor, who won his election by running against that bill, planning to sign it:
... Thursday’s “compromise” bill actually maintains many aspects of HB2. The law prohibited municipalities from establishing LGBT protections at the local level and mandated that in all public facilities, transgender people could only use facilities that match the sex on their birth certificate. The proposed “compromise” repeals HB2, but then immediately reinstates much of it:
  • Only the state legislature would be able to pass any legislation related to the use of multiple-occupancy bathrooms. Thus, no city or public school could assure trans people that they can use facilities that actually match their gender identity.
  • Municipalities would still be banned from passing any LGBT nondiscrimination protections until December 1, 2020...

Did they think the NCAA, which withdrew all tournament games from N.C., would be fooled? Do they think everyone else is that stupid, too? (And how is it that the NCAA, of all institutions, is now a moral force?) Well, turns out they were right about the NCAA. Moral force indeed. "Reluctantly."

We need new terminology. Cynicism is too mild, assholery not broad enough. Assholicism? Sleazophilia? Inhumanearrogantignorantselfrighteousdickheads?

[Image source

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