Friday, December 28, 2018

Insanity Talks. Integrity Walks.

My next newspaper column:
Did everyone have a merry Christmas? Swaddled in the psychic ataraxia born of rationalization and, let it be said, from ignoring the teachings of the One whose birth they just celebrated, no doubt Trump’s remaining supporters did.  
Last week, though, rationalization must have been especially enervating. For years, they’ve attributed Middle East chaos to President Barack Obama following the timetable for Iraq withdrawal agreed to by Bush and the Iraqi government. Not de-facto president and oil-man Cheney convincing figurehead president and oil-man Bush that March, 2003 was the perfect time to abandon Afghanistan and invade Iraq in the first place. For (wink-wink) democracy.  
And it was President Obama’s pre-negotiated pull-out that birthed ISIS, not Bush disbanding Saddam’s army, which led its officers to join the resistance. So Trump’s abrupt announcement of withdrawal from Syria and precipitous drawdown of forces in Afghanistan must be a mind-bender. But wait: the DOD says it’s only seen Trump’s tweets, has yet to receive orders. And Bolton vowed we’re not leaving Syria before Iran does. Is anyone in charge? It’s insanity.  
After Trump trumpeted vanquishing ISIS and lied that Russia is “very unhappy” with his decision to leave, ISIS killed 700 people, the Taliban crowed they’d “defeated the world’s only superpower,” and Putin said he agreed with “Donald.” Rationalize that! 
The upshot is to have handed Putin a double-overtime win of the Cold War, evoking withering words of resignation by the last of Trump’s “my generals.” In effect, Mattis said he found it impossible both to share American values and serve Trump. Then anti-ISIS Special Envoy Brett McGurk quit; originally a Bush appointee, elevated by President Obama, ignored by Trump. Integrity walks.  
Since US meddling in that part of the world has produced only bad outcomes, Trump’s decision to leave, assuming it’s real, isn’t indefensible. Other than timing. And giving Putin, Assad, and Erdogan everything they want, and abandoning the Kurds, a people who’ve been valiant in fighting ISIS, to the slaughter they fear at the hands of Turkey. 
Gratifying for Trumpists, though, was his eagerness to lay off eight-hundred-thousand government workers right before Christmas, showing those supporters his commitment to a wall his acting Chief of Staff once called “absurd and almost childish.” Imagine the chants at Trump’s next “Adore Me” rally: “Build The Artistically Designed Steel Slats!! We Will Pay For Them!!” 
After it accomplishes a great deal of not-much, Trumpists still won’t question his fabrication that see-through slats on far less than half of a two-thousand-mile land border, ignoring sixteen-hundred miles of beach along the Gulf, was indispensable to border security. Bone spurs a-jingling, Trump marches to the tunes of Fox “news,” Rush, and Vlad, keeping supporters distracted from his self-enriching, economically unsound, planet-degrading agenda. Which, as they demonstrate, works like a person not laid off. 
Speaking of bone spurs, was his last-minute bolt to Iraq, where he hallucinated bizarrely about military pay raises and outed a covert Seal Team, related to the unsurprising “never-had-‘em, daddy-bought-‘em” revelation?  
More dissonance for Trumpophiles: after gifting him with Syria, Trump eliminated sanctions on Putin’s oligarch pals. And who benefits from the government closure that followed, more than America’s rivals? Presidents are responsible for a shutdown, Trump once declared, referring to Obama. I won’t blame Democrats, he just said, right before blaming them. “Donald’s” kowtowing to our enemies is at pyrexia pitch, as if he’s been warned to wrap up his to-do list before he goes down. 
And now the year might end with investors in worse shape than when it began. Wall Street, where profit is paramount, has taken notice. Predictably, Trump and Trumpists, who demand credit for not killing President Obama’s recovery, are contorting away from any accountability Trump, his egotistical trade wars and diaphanous deals, massive deficits, and increasingly irrational pronouncements might bear for the reversal. Unlike Trump’s acolytes, stock markets prefer stability. (One day doth not a recovery make.)  
Claiming to know more about everything than anyone, Trump trusts his “gut” over advice from people who do know things; is given to paranoid rants, threatening critics, off-loading ill-considered announcements, contradicting himself, daily affirming his untrustworthiness; is unable to comprehend complex policy, and genuflects to foreign adversaries. That this is frightening, dangerous madness is obvious to all but the gratefully pacified. Soon, the moneyed donors who spent big to own Republican Senators, expressly to protect their interests, could well come to demand their purchases join those willing to stand up. We’ll see.  
Either way, Happy New Year.  
[Image source]

Friday, December 21, 2018

Rats, All The Way Down

My next newspaper column:
Everybody loves somebody someday. Domestic abusers get bailed out by the abused, escaped felons find shelter on the outside. Human nature being what it is, even serial killers get fan mail and marriage proposals. Let’s assume, however, that few saw attempts to bring such people to justice as nothing more than politically motivated hit-jobs. Or, even as the bodies piled up, witch hunts. (American Wiccans are protesting current usage of the term.) In societies that value the rule of law, it’s accepted that criminals should be punished, and people about whom there’s reason to suspect outlaw behavior should be subject to scrutiny.  
In the US, not long ago considered the world’s greatest democracy, on whose constitution other countries based their own, thirty-eight-percent of the population still believes any suggestion that the current “president” is the common denominator in a conflagration of crimes is merely the stuff of sore losers. How comforting to consider such criticism to be born of irrational hate, rather than reckoning with the implications for our country and the world in having a “president” who’s a constant, and possibly criminal, liar. 
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If a well-worn cliché, Californians can testify to the truth of it. By now, the smog of scandal in the center of which Trump lies requires medical-grade respirators. Yet hardcore Trumpists frolic outside, breathing deep, claiming, eyes tearing, that coughing is good for us all. 
Leaving much of our public lands ready for ruin, trailing the fumes of fifteen separate ethics investigations, Ryan Zinke is the latest of Trump’s “best people” to work the revolving door. Courts just smocked the EPA, ordering reversal of the damage Scott “Also the Best” Pruitt would have done to our environment and children by lifting restrictions on a poison banned by President Obama. 
There are plenty more liars, incompetents, and thieves Trump has gathered close, but they’re not even the prime evidence of his flagitious conduct. He, his family, and businesses, his campaign, inaugural committee, transition team, and his fake “foundation” (which he just agreed to shutter under court supervision) have attracted investigations; seventeen so far. That’s a lot of boil, boil, toil, and trouble to have been cooked up from nothing. 
There’s also smoke signaling Trump’s dalliances with crime networks, home-grown and foreign, for his whole career. It was, at least in part, because of his connections with criminals, laundering money, and phony, failed business deals, that when he was on the verge of personal bankruptcy, no US bank would bail him out. Forced to turn to Russians, Saudis, and Deutsch Bank, he left himself, and now us, vulnerable. Don’t believe it? Plug “Trump mafia ties” into your favorite search engine. And ask yourself: is a temporary tax break, or the deportation of immigrants, fourteen-thousand kids incarcerated at the border, or however else Trump is floating your boat, a fair return for de-facto complicity? 
Even a Fox “news” commentator suggested to Trump that he stop calling Michael Cohen a “rat,” because that’s what mobsters call a guy who sings to the cops. You can’t “rat” with lies, but rats do leave a sinking ship of state. Trump’s rodents see the rising water.  
Trumpists would have us believe it’s “entrapment” by Mueller, et al., that’s causing the exodus from S.S. Trump. Hardly. Even Mike Flynn’s lawyers admitted he wasn’t entrapped. It’s the writing on the walls: prison walls. Grifters and crooks who, seeing Trump’s own malfeasance and greed as protection, once believed themselves untouchable, are reading between the bars. This includes Trump’s ironically-named pal and fake-news-purveyor. Could it be a Pecker that brings down the p---- grabber?  
From a new report to the Senate, we’ve learned Russia’s 2016 disinformation efforts were even more extensive, sophisticated, and purposeful than was known. Also revealed is that a letter of Russian intent (cf: Steele dossier) which didn’t exist, actually did. But wasn’t signed. Was. Trump’s lies about Russian connections may be the least of his legal problems, but colluding with a foreign adversary is still kinda serious. If confirmed (smoke/fire), there’s a word for it. 
Even conservative news outlets like WSJ and Forbes are making his corruption undeniable. So Trump suggests criticizing him should be illegal. Baseless hate? Well, admittedly, it’s hard to love.  
As the winds of investigations blow the smokescreen from the rubble, Trumpists may have to look for their missing conscience and reconsider where they stand. Blaming messengers isn’t a forever firewall.
[Image source]

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Racists Among Us

My next newspaper column:
Racists, anti-Semites, xenophobes, homophobes: they’ve always been with us. When I lived in Salem, forty years ago, anti-Semitic leaflets were placed in my mailbox. Back then, though, such people would sneak around at night. Now they feel empowered – encouraged! -- to express their hatred in the open, confident that leaders who ought to condemn them in the strongest possible terms, and with the strongest possible actions, will look the other way, even suggesting that among them are “some very fine people.” No longer must they seethe, full of resentment, in the dark.  
Last week eight such America-loving patriots were arrested right here in Snohomish County, after assaulting a black DJ in a bar, shouting the expected racial slurs. Recently discovered, a Monroe white-supremacist had killing Jews in mind, and the weapons to carry it out. Local schools are reporting a significant upsurge in racist incidents. Across our state, hate crimes increased by 42% in 2017, much faster than the already-shocking national average.  
As with the force of a particular hurricane and climate change, it’s not possible to point to a specific hate-crime and blame it on the climate of white nationalism Trump has brought to his “presidency.” But the trend is obvious, one more thing on the list of outrages about which Trump’s thirty-nine-percenters are either happy, or against which they’re unwilling to speak out. Trump’s empathetic first response to the recent murders in a synagogue was to blame the victims for not having armed guards.  
Even white women are getting in on it. Nearly daily we see video of one shouting down a black or brown person for existing, or wearing a hijab, or not speaking English. One expects such behavior from a certain stratum of white men, like those pictured in the story about the beating. The sort who’d rather not get to know people who don’t look or think like them, except eight to one in a bar fight.  
But those women enjoy their white privilege as much as their menfolk do, and must feel equally threatened as they see American demographics running away from them. It’s an answer to why any woman would vote for a grossly misogynistic “president” or anyone in his party, as it seeks to relegate women to mere vessels for the seed and service of men, as God intended. 
Not all of the minority of Americans who continue to support Trump, even as his crimes and those of his “only the best people” become clear, are openly racist. Many are merely suffering from self-inflicted blindness; or, one supposes, have enough remaining humanity to keep themselves from acting out. If they’re appalled, they need to say so.  
Those others, though. They’re consumed by the rage born of self-scorn; the kind that can be mitigated only by hating those in whom they don’t see themselves reflected. The liberal in me should be sympathetic, I guess, think of ways to help them with their self-esteem issues. Establish workshops to undo the damage their parents did. Show them Mister Rogers re-runs, offer ice cream. Public schools teaching tolerance is, after all, somebody’s duplicitous “agenda.” Probably George Soros’.  
Ages two and four, my grandchildren play with any kid of any color willing to play with them, laugh and do silly things, at the park, at preschool, seeking only fun with people their size. It’s both heartwarming and, knowing what’s coming, heartbreaking. Those children, also growing up in our Pacific Northwest, have nurturing parents teaching them that race, religion, attire don’t matter: only being kind to each other does. 
To embrace the hate of which we’re seeing more and more, one has to be taught, with intention. Because the last thing haters want to see, given their own insecurities, is their spawn rejecting their family values. So teach them they will, birthing an endless source of damaged, dangerous people.   
There’s little reason to expect change. Even if future presidents have a moral compass, absent in our current one, if they love America for what it is instead of what so many embittered Trump supporters wish it were, people longing for the not-great old days will remain, finding ever more targets for their self-pitying anger. And, as they love to remind us, they’ll be armed. 
So, sadly, it falls upon local law enforcement and brave activists to protect decency, for we can expect no help from the self-described “… nationalist” in the White House.  
[Image source]

Friday, December 7, 2018

Getting Harder To Deny

My upcoming newspaper column:
If you haven’t seen video of Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greeting each other at the G-20 summit, take a moment to do so. I'll wait.  
There. If you weren’t disgusted, you might be a Trumpist. Because only the fully Trumpified can watch those bros slapping hands, grinning like a couple of guys who’ve gotten away with murder, which they have, without recognizing what’s going on. Two crime lords who know they’ve pocketed the “President” of the United States like a used handkerchief. “Nice one,” Putin says. “And Donald stick up.” MBS chortles, “He has always been for sale cheap.”  
One comes to feel sorry for Trump’s diehards. With the latest revelations, his corruption is so obvious that it has to be painful to maintain the pretense. Surely, cracks are forming in their wall of denial, and the light making its way in must be blinding to those who’ve craved darkness for so long. Trump can’t even keep his lies straight. Almost within the same breath, he’s said he has no financial ties to Saudi Arabia and boasted that they’ve given him millions. Not mentioned, so far, is that on at least two occasions a certain Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bailed him out from imminent personal bankruptcy. But he knows we know.  
For those to whom Trump’s profligate lying hadn’t been clear, the last couple of weeks should have been eye-opening. Having assured us for years that he had no dealings with Russia, a claim belied by the bragging of his own sons, he’s finally admitted – had no choice – that he’d been trying to erect a signature phallus in Moscow as recently as during the campaign. It’s cool, he said. No big deal. Other than lying to us all. And the planned gifting to Putin a $50 million penthouse.   
But it IS a big deal. To complete the arrangement, he’d have had to win the presidency and lift American sanctions on Russia, including those on the bank from whom financing was, illegally, being arranged: foreign policy in service of personal enrichment. It’s a big deal that Russia worked to accomplish exactly that; and that Trump immediately tried to get the sanctions lifted. It’s a big deal that, knowing the truth, Putin had Trump by the shorts. Saudis, the same. They could expose his lies at any time, and who can doubt there’s much more? Will his ties to the Russian mafia be exposed? Even his “incredible” deal with China was a lie. Wall Street fell for it, but only for a day. Wreckage ensued.  
While Trumpists pretend he never lies, or excuse the constant effluent as Just-Trumpness or Not-Obamaness, the rest of us understand the implications for national security when a “president” lies about relations with, and is in hock to, hostile actors. Trump’s steadfast refusal to criticize Putin or Prince for their crimes becomes more understandable; and more inexcusable. As his former conspirators form a chorus line, unfamiliar sounds of truth are being heard. State TV, dba Fox “news,” along with all Trump enablers, pretends the lies and liars mean nothing. “Process crimes” they scoff, in unison, as if handed a script. “Who cares?” 
We all should, including honorable Republicans, of which, one assumes, there remain some; and it shouldn’t require the work of a Special Prosecutor to open their eyes to the obvious. 
As currently constituted, today’s Republican Party threatens America’s foundational values more than any terrorist organization, and it’s time for true conservatives – I know a few – to admit it and withhold their support. 
The rot is everywhere: from election fraud in North Carolina (by the GOP, not voters), to legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Ohio, following NC’s lead, aborting election results they don’t like; from silence on Trump’s lies; deference to polluters; acquiescence to grifters and deceivers in Trump’s cabinet (Zinke, Carson, DeVos, Ross, Pompeo, to name a few, more links on request); electing and empowering overt racists. Today’s Republican Party has come to stand for lying, science illiteracy, electoral cheating, voodoo economics, greedy oligarchy, crony-capitalism, white nationalism, hypocritical theocracy, and zero-sum politics.   
This un-American activity began when Reagan and GHWB, progenitors of Trump but putatively nicer, hired Lee Atwater. There followed Ailes, Gingrich, DeLay, Rove, McConnell, leading, inevitably, to Trump and Trumpism. To save our democracy, authentic conservatives need to join the fight, as once they would have. We liberals can’t do it alone.  
[Image source]

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