Friday, May 25, 2018

Corruption On Trump, Like Down On A Duck

Here's my next newspaper column:
If it walks like corruption, quacks like corruption, and has feathers like corruption, Congressional Republicans and Trump’s worshippers will duck the implications. So obvious is the stink that a sort of religious devotion is required to excuse it. Which they do.  
Remember those tough-guy tariffs on China? Have Trumpophiles dismissed how cleverly Xi upstaged him? Cancelled billions in orders from US farmers, replaced them with sales from Russia. How quickly Trump caved! Do Trump’s supplicants rationalize the relation between his sanctions on ZTE, a Chinese telecom company about whose products security experts had warned our government against purchasing, and the fact that hours after Trump properties in Indonesia got a half-billion-dollar loan from China, he reversed them? 
How about Elliott Broidy, billionaire bigwig in the RNC before resigning over paying over a million in hush-money to a Playboy “model” he’d reportedly impregnated and pressured into an abortion? He also slid two-hundred-grand into Michael Cohen’s hush fund. Am I the only person suspicious about who actually impregnated the lady? (Okay, wild speculation based on nothing more than, you know, clear-eyed character assessment and past history.) 
Either way, Broidy and his company profited handsomely after the election, raking in nearly a billion bucks from Saudi Arabia and the UAE for his lobbying against Qatar, and around eight-hundred-million in defense contracts. A company that, before the election, had done only a few thousand dollars’ worth of defense work. Nice return for (agreeing to?) brief embarrassment. 
Speaking of the Qatar business: Trump’s sudden policy switch against them, despite their being an ally in whose country our biggest military base in the region resides, followed (mere coincidence, all praise to Trump) their refusal to bail out Jared Kushner’s white elephant, money-sucking, sign-of-the-devil mistake in Manhattan. Then, and please be sitting down, Trump’s policy toward Qatar turned favorable again, right after they rethought their refusal and agreed to pony up.  
So what, say the devotees, between sips of Kool-Aid. It’s exactly the shrewd businessman we found so holy wholly vote-worthy in the first place. Except back then, when he got sued thousands of times, went bankrupt repeatedly, and stiffed the people he hired, it was between him and those he cheated. Now, it’s the foreign policy and reputation of our country he’s bleeding for self-enrichment. Written with feathers on parchment, for obvious reasons, there are laws against that sort of thing, currently ignored by those constitutionally empowered to prevent such peculation (among other patriotic obligations in which they’re derelict). Ho hum, remark the idolaters, while ingesting the Trumpal bull on FBI “spies.” The FBI, which studiously avoided announcing their investigation of Trump during the campaign. The FBI, another protection against tyranny.  
Then there’s Trump’s overweening neediness in shoving his way into the limelight when those hostages (about whom he lied) returned home. US President Barack Obama, not wishing to be the focus of attention on the return of ten North Korean hostages during his presidency, skipped homecomings. Contrasting Trump, President Obama also understood gloating would signal the manipulative usefulness of taking more hostages. Let’s give Trump a pass in this case, though: long range thinking isn’t his forte. You can’t get a turnip out of the barn.  
But Trumpists revere his brilliance at handling our enemies. Like Kim Jong-un, who, it turns out, played him like a two-dollar geomungo. Stop war games with South Korea or the summit is off, Kim demanded. Broadcasting to the world how his narcissism creates vulnerability to manipulation, Trump buckled, while calling Kim “very honorable.” (Imagine if President Obama had said that!) Finally, after Kim demanded even more, Trump, realizing his unwitting exposure, canceled before Kim could. 
This is what happens when cultists empower a man so incapable of learning or taking advice from people who know their job. Which excludes John Bolton, who made the dumbest possible analogy between Trump’s Korean policy and Libya. 
The only characteristic as widespread among Trump’s team as corruption is incompetence. And hypocrisy. And enriching the rich while punishing the poor. As long as he feeds their prejudices and stokes their self-pity, Trumpists will excuse anything. That’s their deal with the devil.  
I’m not the first to address the cult-like behavior of those still genuflecting at the altar of Trump. There’s a difference, though. Unlike Jim Jones’ Kool-Aid, Trump’s kills slowly, almost imperceptibly, afflicting even those who refuse to imbibe.  
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Friday, May 18, 2018

Brain Farts

My next newspaper column:
Here's a heavily reworked piece from a past life. That it’s a mishmash reflects how thoroughly recent Trumptivity has smacked my gob:  
America is losing its collective mind, so it shouldn't be surprising that med schools and even vaunted hospitals are offering "alternative medicine.” Some call it “complementary.” Give ‘em what they want, I guess. It’s as cynical as hiring Scott Pruitt to run the EPA.  
It’s hard to figure how otherwise intelligent people become convinced of the efficacy of whatever “medical” woo they wish, even when studies have shown it doesn’t work. Why is truth so unattractive? Why isn't inquisitiveness universal? Doesn't realism confer survival benefit? Or would we all be jumping off cliffs if we didn't have mythology? Maybe that's it. Maybe too many skeptical realists have already jumped.  
The neediness of the human brain, stacked against its obvious power -- the ability to create, to invent, to inquire, to love -- is a paradox. If it’s a stretch to write my way from frustration about “alternative” medicine to the destruction of democracy and the planet at the hands of Trump and Trumpists, they’re of a piece with climate change denial and the need to impose one’s religious views on others via legislation which flies in the face of separation. Because, I guess, when others don’t share one’s views, it threatens one’s ability to stave off dubiety.  
As there are billions of people on the planet with vastly differing religious beliefs yet equally certain in their singular truth, it’s obviously a fundamental human need. Amazingly, for some, the cult of Trump is replacing their religion. Trump, of all people: a faker whose only religion is self-aggrandizement. He’s brilliant, though, at deceiving others to accomplish it. Happy was he to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, helping his enablers to feel ever closer to rapturing, while figuring they’ll remain Earth-bound, sending money even as he fleeces their flock. 
At one time, believing the unprovable had survival benefits: when dangers were mostly natural and the advantages of grouping together were obvious, belief in all-powerful protectors were civilizing. But as society has gotten impossibly complex and the dangers we face are mostly human-generated, they’re becoming detrimental. Rather than encouraging people to cleave together and feel their common humanity as they once did, the increasingly hardened beliefs of a few are causing us to fall upon one another in hate and fear. Lies (Trump’s about the Iran agreement being among his latest) have, for half of us, become preferred over truth. 
Magical thinking is who we are, I guess. If, in the medical world, it only served to enrich some at the expense of others, so what? But it’s hurting people; and it's pretty clear, with anti-vaccination for example, that it can hurt us all, not just the gullible or desperate. 
When I see this mainstreaming of bogosity, I can't keep help thinking of the other side of the same coin: people murdering in the name of their gods, blaming natural disasters on gays, demonizing the educated, undoing environmental protections and human rights, ignoring climate change. They arise, seemingly, from the same shortcomings of the human brain.  
In less than a lifetime, we've gone from Model T to Tesla, from Kitty Hawk to Mare Tranquilitatis, crystal sets to satellite radio. The power of science is obvious. Yet despite -- or is it because of? -- the amazing progress we've seen at the hands of science, people willfully and in increasing numbers simply ignore it; reject it in order to maintain their prejudices. Or, in the case of today’s Republican Party, by legislating their falsehoods into law, their cash flow. The draw of delusion is great; if straws they be, grasp at them we must.  
But one shouldn’t get to pick and choose. Don't believe in evolution? Okay. Then don't get on an airplane. Earth is six thousand years old? Your call to make. But return your smartphone. Homeopathy makes sense? Drink it down. But put away that laptop, never avail yourself of GPS. Because if man and dinosaurs lived at the same time, if carbon-dating is bogus, atomic clocks don't work and organ transplants are impossible. If vaccines cause autism, and no-touch Reiki heals, Rovers aren't on Mars, Trump’s a truth-teller, climate change is a hoax, and nothing will happen when I click the button to send this in.
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Friday, May 11, 2018

First Things First

My next newspaper column:
“By their attorneys shalt thou know them.” (Judges 22:13)  
Roy Cohn, Michael Cohen, Rudy G. The first two, Trump hired years ago, not in spite of but because of their talents for law-skirting, “fixing” scandals, and willingness to do shady deals. Rudy, who knows? Before he lost his mind, he had an occasionally positive reputation. Until his post 9/11 self-promotion and his enigmatic “security” firm, he was often considered effective; nowadays a disqualifying characteristic for a Trump job. But his unhinged scream-fest at the RNC upped his cred. It’s the demented Rudy that Trump unleashes on TV studios.  
Roy Cohn became notorious as Joe McCarthy’s Rasputin, glowering beside him at Senate hearings of a seriousness absent today. Returning from subsequent exile, he became Trump’s mentor, teaching him the ins and outs of cheating and bribing one’s way to success. Cohn had other clients, too, including the Catholic Archdiocese, Mafia boss Carmine Galante, and Newhouse Publishing; and he managed to curry favor with politicians of both parties. By “curry favor,” one means “buy off,” a skill he taught his willing pupil. Interestingly, Cohn was also tight with Ronnie and Nancy, who managed to get him to the head of the line for the then-experimental AIDS drug, AZT. For more, read this. 
Diehard Trumpists, as they do about his entire career of cheating, will say it’s just good business. Who, other than honest people, wouldn’t want a mob lawyer in a city known for corruption? Trump’s Mafia connections might be more widely known and believed, had exposure not been quashed by the Wall Street Journal’s management in the run-up to the election. 
Other than a vowel, the difference between Cohn and Cohen is lawyerly competence. Roy, they say, was brilliant. Poor Michael can’t seem to do or say anything smart or exculpatory about the devious dealings he had with his boss. Now he’s outed for clandestinely receiving tons of Russian money for presidential access. What sort of man serially hires attorneys known for ignoring the law, threats, bribes, and deals done under the table? What sort of people consider such a man presidential material? How much corruption is too much, finally?  
If you think Mueller looking into those business dealings goes beyond his mandate, how about this: after a career of boasting of being “the king of debt,” Trump suddenly switched to cash, by the hundreds of millions. The smell of rumored money-laundering for Russian oligarchs rises like methane from a swamp. Let’s assume Mueller knows more than we do.   
Now, catching up on the latest news avalanche:  
So desperate was Trump to discredit the Iran deal, it appears his people hired Israeli spies to dig dirt on members of the Obama administration who worked on it. To those who’ll “whatabout” the Steele Dossier: if you can’t see the difference, explaining won’t help. The mendacious, dangerous, reckless idiocy of backing out demands a separate column. After the ash settles.   
To offset injurious tax cuts for the rich, Trump would remove billions from CHIP and other programs for the needy. Family values.  
Ollie North is the perfect choice for NRA president.   
Scott Pruitt’s ethical cloud should be made into a logo, put on a flag, and flown over the Gold House.  
Ben Carson believes tripling rent for subsidized housing will incentivize residents to work harder. Or become homeless. I forget which.  
At record lows, Bering Sea ice recently diminished by a third in eight days. Nice hoax you’ve got there, Don.  
Suckering Texas’ governor and all of right-wing screamerdom, the JadeHelm/Obama/Walmart/incarceration conspiracy was the product of a Russian troll-farm  
Paul Ryan fired the House chaplain because, like some crazy liberal featured in the New Testament, he prayed for poor people. Good that taxes provide spiritual care for Congressfolk, though, as they coax camels through the eyes of needles.  
Trump’s goons stole his medical records from his former doctor. Illegal. And intriguing.  
Blaming GOP sabotage of Obamacare, health insurers in Virginia want 64% rate increases. The uninsured rate is rising, too. As predicted.  
Torture is back in the news. Reminder: except to elicit false confessions, it doesn’t work. Also, it’s immoral.  
Good for Trump that three American prisoners were released by North Korea. Because he’s Trump, he lied about it  
Last, hardly least, another liberal hero falls to a sex scandal. Sigh. 
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Friday, May 4, 2018

Less Alfred, More William

I’m on record, around my house anyway, saying President Obama should have refused his Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe that confers credibility when I say to those, including South Korean President Moon, suggesting the next one ought to go to Trump, “Not so fast.” 
The question is to what extent Trump had anything positive to do with potential Korean peace, and the answer is, who knows? Was his uninformed bellicosity instrumental? If so, was it deliberate strategy? If the answers to both are yes, then, okay, give him a slice. So far, though, pledges to end the Korean War and denuclearize the peninsula seem to have happened absent the US.  
Which leads me think the two Korean leaders decided to do it on their own; because, based on Trump’s desire to renege on the Iran agreement, TPP, and Paris, they figure they couldn’t trust any accord to which the US was signatory. Is there a Nobel Prize for untrustworthiness? 
Other factors: the literal collapse of NoKo’s nuclear facility; Kim’s secret meeting with Xi; Kim’s existing nukes, about which, after his meeting with Pompeo, there was no mention of removing. That, it seems, is between the two Koreas. Aware Trump’s promises are worth less than a reverse Stormy denial, Kim cleverly asked for assurance we wouldn’t invade. It’s meaningless, but it gives cover for both of them. Moon knows Nobly flattering Trump accrues points for later. For that matter, Binyamin Netanyahu knows deceptions about the Iran agreement will impress Trump and the Foxified. 
But, sure: if sustainable peace and verifiable denuking happens, if Trump avoids harshing the mellow, and if the Swedes want to include him in their prize, they should. (My fantasy: it goes to Kim, Moon, and Pompeo.)  
More praise for Trump: I agree the White House Correspondents’ Dinner should go away. It’s become an embarrassment, especially to the White House press. Their job is not to make nice with any administration, it’s to keep skeptical distance while calling them to account. Given a chance to affirm those truths last week, they blew it. Ironically, at the bizarre, grandiose rally Trump held during the dinner, he passed the three-thousand official untruths mark. 
Yes, Michelle Wolf was crude and nasty, though not compared to Trump’s most rabid – if easily offended – base. (NSFW proof.) But, more than many in her audience whose job it is, she spoke truth to power. She owes Sarah Sanders and Kellyanne Conway apologies? No. They owe us. They accept money to tell lies, about Trump, about the press, furthering Americans’ disregard for truth. Sordid lies from the White House vs. vulgar humor from a comedian: which damages our country more? Yet leadership of the press corps and several of its members condemned the speech. 
Brooking unprecedented attacks on journalists and their profession, nonstop attempts to diminish their indispensable role in the preservation of freedom, an administration lying its way past multiple offences, even threatening blackmail of a US Senator, they hadn’t the courage to stand up. If there’s a problem with mainstream media, it isn’t liberal bias; it’s forgetting what they’re called to do, and by whom. 
Right-wing screamerdom was outraged. Silent over the vulgarities of their president, fresh from eight years of slinging vile insults at the prior one and his family, countenancing misogyny, racism, homo- and xenophobia, torrents of dishonesty and threats, they melted like snowflakes at hearing someone respond in kind. Donald Trump, the very embodiment of the word, called Ms. Wolf “filthy.” From our unfair and unbalanced media such hypocrisy is expected. From those who consider themselves serious reporters, the sort empowered and protected by the Constitution, it’s discouraging.  
So it’s a good time to recall the words of William Lloyd Garrison, journalist, abolitionist, suffragist, written before the Civil War (I do, when people tell me to tone it down): “I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation… Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm … but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present… I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch..." 
So, good for Ms. Wolf. Her audience, present and absent, needed calling out for their malfeasance. Sadly, she gave them more credit for understanding their role than they deserved. 
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