Friday, February 22, 2019

Notes From The End Of Time

Tomorrow's newspaper column:
February fifteen, two-thousand-nineteen. Day one of the denouement, the beginning of the end. Herewith and henceforth shall I endeavor to document the fall, in hopes survivors, if any there be, may come to comprehend and avoid our fate. 
Today it was announced that our country is in a state of national emergency. Responding as a patriot, and for as long as I’m physically able, as long as there’s air to breathe, I’ll record events as they unravel. Perhaps an eventual historian, even an alien lifeform or probe, picking through the rubble, will find these words and piece together the finale of a formerly great and powerful country. Here will be a diary for the future reader, whoever it may be and whatever it may hold.  
Day two. Saturday, February sixteen. The “president” has fled the White House. Ensconced in a state protected on three sides by ocean waters, his panic is palpable. Mysteriously, he is photographed ordering an omelet. I struggle to decipher the meaning: an attempt, albeit inconsistent with his declaration, to convince us to go about our business as if nothing has happened? If so, is it intended to expose us to harm, as with his prior pollution and energy directives, and treaty dissolutions? Is he party to the emergency? Or, given his bodily habitus and the effects of eggs thereon, has he decided the emergency is so dire, nothing matters? We’re left to wonder. And worry. Perhaps it was egg-white only. What then?  
Day three. Sunday, February seventeen. Relentless snowfall and freezing temperatures ended long since, yet snow remains, now become ugly, black, disfigured, like random chunks of crumbled buildings, smothered in toxic ash. Is this the true emergency, poison falling from the sky rather than amassing at our borders? I shudder, as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road calls itself to mind. I must acquire, hoard, and protect food and drink. 
Day four. Monday, February eighteen. The stock market has failed to open. Mail is undelivered, and my bank is closed for the third day straight. Systemic collapse has become undeniable. I recall something whose meaning originally escaped me: our garbage was picked up but the recycle bins weren’t. Of course! Why recycle as Armageddon approaches? And yet they collected the garbage. Oh! I understand: they intend it as feed for themselves. The situation is far worse than I’d allowed myself to think. But it reminds me to retain everything that might be digestible. Trees are bare. Would that I hadn’t forgone plantings last spring. 
Day five. Tuesday, February nineteen. Using blankets and scraps of cardboard, we’ve blacked out our windows. I worry light may still show through, alerting marauders of our presence. I’m grateful my neighbor is Deputy Chief of Police, but his drab, aging, unmarked patrol car affords no visual deterrent and little comfort. I assume he’s armed. If it comes to that, I believe he’d share extra weapons. Unarmed, I place full-tang, cocobolo-handled, high-carbon Damascus steel, Santoku-style chef’s knives inside each door. Lacking enough, one gets a can opener.  
Day Six. Wednesday, February twenty. Housebound for days, I venture out. Needing reinforcement fencing and more protection for my larder, I head to Home Depot, parking several blocks away, reconnoitering on foot. Approaching the parking lot, I see an ominous gathering of brown people, eying me in ways I can’t interpret; greedily, perhaps. Eschewing eye contact, I turn away, wondering how many more are on their way, and what are their intentions. The warnings have been too mild. And too late.  
Day Seven. Thursday, February twenty-one. Daring to check the news, I discover all is not lost: Bernie is running again. He must believe the US will still exist in 2020, and surely, as they always do, Democrats will select and rally around their best candidate, setting aside bitterness for the good of the country when it isn’t Bernie. What could go wrong? 
But then I discover there’s been massive voter fraud, after all, just as Trump has told us. He was right. About. Everything.  
Wait. It was Republican fraud? In North Carolina? Home of “surgical,” Republican-created voter ID laws? Later, I read McCabe informed the Gang of Eight, and Trump takes Putin’s word over the DNI on Kim’s missiles. I no longer know what to believe. 
Hopelessness overwhelms. We uncover our windows, resigned to the onrush of rapists, murderers, landscapers, and roofers. 
[Image source]


Friday, February 15, 2019

No Intelligence For You

Tomorrow's newspaper column, today:
Lost in the afterglow of what Ann Coulter called the lamest State of the Union Speech of all time was an actually significant utterance from Trump. Using words not written for him to read, haltingly, off a teleprompter, he arbitrarily dismissed the Congressional testimony of the heads of each of our intelligence agencies; all, to a man and woman, contradicting pretty much everything he says about threats our nation faces. That’s far more consequential than evanescent calls for the high-minded politics of which he’s incapable.  
Trump claims ISIS is defeated; they said it’s reconstituted, engaging new tactics. Trump says North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat; they said Kim has no intention of relinquishing his nuclear ambitions, and is hiding his activities. The Iran deal is failing, swears Trump. They’re following its conditions, say our intelligence agencies. There’s no threat from climate change, insists Donald. The opposite, squared, is what the intelligence community understands. Nor did they confirm a security “crisis” at our southern border.  
Claiming they’re “naïve,” Trump spurned those leaders, all of whom he appointed. Virtually alone among his appointees in having expertise in the positions for which they were chosen, they’re even more unique in their willingness to tell it like it is, rather than offering him only what he wants to hear. 
Merely a week past my frolic amongst happy amphiscians, it’s jarring to consider the implications of a “president” who absents himself from daily intelligence briefings, already pared down to a third-grade comprehension level, and who, when he can’t avoid hearing it, disregards the information those agencies provide. Who, according to reports, gets angry when shown material that belies his preferred beliefs, causing people to avoid giving it to him. The implications should be obvious, even to Trumpists, so consider it we must. In a world where hyper-partisanship didn’t require otherwise thoughtful people to excuse the inexcusable, no one would defend such dereliction.  
The mission of our intelligence-gathering agencies is to provide a president with the best possible data about potential threats, foreign and domestic; to ground critical decision-making, affecting war and peace, in facts as one is best able to know them. They, and no one else, have the resources: surveillance satellites, spyware and spies, analysts, informants, communication networks with similar foreign agencies. If a president, or, in this case, a “president,” decides he can make life and death decisions without their input, on what or whom, then, will that person rely?  
Ample is the “president’s” gut, and he’s said it’s the source of his best thoughts. His brain, he reminds us with misspelled words, is like none other’s: no one knows more than him about anything. Likely, he even believes it; yet he regularly shows lack of comprehension about almost everything of which he speaks. (Documentation provided on request.) So, if not our intelligence agencies, and if not only his gut, whence comes the information that convinces him of the naivety of the intelligence community? John Bolton? What unique sources does he have? Vladimir Putin? He has plenty. 
We’ve learned Trump’s announced withdrawal from Syria was not discussed with the Joint Chiefs. Happening immediately after a chat with Turkey’s Erdogan, it received instantaneous approval from Putin. Does this reveal who’s pulling Trump’s strings? Which would be worse, a “president” who takes orders from foreign leaders (or Fox “news” screamers), or one who considers himself infallible? In either option there’s little comfort. The only other is that he studiously evaluates gathered intelligence, but he’s eliminated that possibility.  
Everyone should find this scary as hell. Example: by ending Reagan’s INF treaty, against expert advice, Trump rewards his donors with fat military contracts, Putin realizes his dream of nukes on his European border, and the world becomes more dangerous. And we’re to believe an information-averse, pathologically-lying “president,” who just lied his way through El Paso, when he tells us otherwise.  
Beyond learning how to operate, the most critical part of my surgical training was having drilled into me – under penalty of expulsion – what I didn’t know. Even more than technical skill, such boundaries define a safe doctor. No one would risk their life with surgeons who considered their teachers naïve, refused to learn new approaches, didn’t read surgical journals, attend professional enrichment courses; didn’t seek advice when needed, considered germ theory a hoax. 
So, what justifies doing the equivalent with Trump? The wall? Imaginary tax refunds? Is life that cheap? 
Also: if you're okay with Trump's "emergency," you don't get to say you love America anymore.

[Image source]

Friday, February 8, 2019


My upcoming newspaper column:
Hearing Donald Trump talk up bipartisanship is like listening to a lecture by Hannibal Lecter on veganism. Unsurprising as cold weather in winter, he trashed Democrats, per usual, at a lunch with news anchors before the speech. Bipartisanship died before the speech was birthed. (No, I won’t even begin to unpack the lies, implicit and explicit, he produced when addressing late-term abortion. Nor the cynical appeal to his ready-for-outrage base, for whom such lies are coin of the realm.)  
Seriously: how many spit-takes occurred around the country, around the world, when the word “bipartisanship” passed his lips? The lips of the guy who’s consistently claimed Democrats want open borders, care more about criminals than law-abiding citizens. The guy who calls for locking up former opponents and considers news reporters enemies of the people. 
After removing all knowledgeable people from the HIV/AIDS task force established by President Barack Obama, Trump now calls for Congress to appropriate money to fight it. (Important insight: he used to brag about making his girlfriends be tested.)  
Economic miracle, he called it, and indeed it is, for CEOs, shareholders, and the millionaire recipients of his tax cuts. For those in the middle class expecting their “average $4,000” in tax cuts: fooled ya! For those concerned about trillion-dollar deficits: you, too.  
We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution,” alliterated the personification of each of those. Who’s done everything possible to bring pain to immigrants, LGBT people, and non-Christians (of which, ironically, he is one.) “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he said. Right. Legislation and investigations are as incompatible as war and peace. Anyone buy that? Was it true during the endless investigations of Hillary Clinton? If so, was it because Rs had no spare time to legislate, or because they insisted on blocking President Barack Obama no matter what?  
Watching Trump read words arranged in complete sentences is like watching a toddler trying to fit shapes into one of those fit-the-shapes-into-one-of those-shape-things. When confronted with proof of Trump’s endless string of lies, his supporters either deny that he lies, or ask us to ignore his words and focus on what he does. Okay, let’s. 
Let’s see what happens with his change of heart on AIDS. Let’s see how much drug prices drop (to date, on his watch, they’ve dropped about a half of one-percent.) Mainly, though, let’s see how he uses his office to model cooperation, high-minded politics, and to discourage hate for his usual targets. Let’s see how he addresses those trillion-dollar deficits and missing middle class tax refunds; whether he reverses his orders that have increased pollution, allowed poisons in food, and have, for the first time in years, caused America’s carbon emissions to rise.
Let’s see what he does about climate change, continued denial of which denotes mulish idiocy, and mention of which, like his bullying shutdown, received none of his speechwriters’ attention. And, since he’s suddenly the very model of a modern compromiser, let’s see if he’s willing to buck the frothing of his base by offering permanent resolution of DACA and TPS in exchange for his unnecessary wall. Let’s see if he’s willing to promise that he’ll accept his $5.9 billion for it, and not a penny more, ever. 
All SOTU speeches aspire to soaring rhetoric. Some presidents have the chops to deliver them soaringly, too. Coming from Trump, who, when not stumbling through a teleprompter, descends into mendacious incoherence, there’s a certain loss of luster. But I’m a generous guy. Sunning, as I am at the moment, in Hawaii, accompanied by my sweet, adorable, innocent, and as-yet unpolluted grandchildren, I’ll accept Trump’s word that he’s had his recently referred-to “Come to Jefferson” moment. 
And, for the sake of those grandchildren and everyone else’s, too, including the ones of those who unfailingly attack me as a commie blinded by baseless hate of Trump, I’ll afford him the benefit of my doubt, until such time as he proves he’s the same fomenter of fear and hate and denialism he was before Tuesday night.  
That’s all I can muster, pounded out reluctantly, in the warmth of my surroundings. Grandpa’s presence is required to accompany the kids to the beach. By the time this is printed, I’ll be back among you, hoping the pipes ain’t froze, trying to retain the mellow memories of happy disconnect. 
[Image source]

Friday, February 1, 2019

Moron The Shut-storm

Saturday's newspaper column:
Where have you gone, Ronald Reagan-o?  
In an administration filled with ironies (the nicest way to put it), it’s particularly amusing that the Trump shutdown, in addition to accomplishing nothing other than pain for people about whom Trump couldn’t care less, may have permanently entombed an undead Reaganism: “Government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.” (Among others are his voodoo economics, that he single-handedly ended the Cold War, and his Iran-Contra innocence.)  
First, let’s review: More than a month after rejecting the exact offer he just accepted, having originally indicated he would but backing off when Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh jerked on his leash, Trump has re-opened the parts of government he’d shut down to prove... something. He didn’t get his wall, but he managed to create hardship for 800,000 people and their families, and for those who depend on the services those government employees provide.  
“I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal,” Trump feigned, hoping we’d believe it was something other than what had been on the table from day one. Hoping we’d conclude the great negotiator had won the day, that his shut-storm hadn’t been a failed attempt at extortion, over a promesa he couldn’t keep. 
Being Donald Trump, boastful bully, he added that he has a “very powerful” alternative, but didn’t have to use it “at this time.” Meaning, of course, declaring a national emergency. Usurping the role of Congress in setting funding. Reducing the criteria for engaging emergency powers to presidential whim. Paving the way to unrestrained authoritarianism. Every sentient Congress-dweller ought to reject it, unconditionally. Because whatever else is true about illegal immigration, by no definition can it be called an emergency. It’s been on the decline for a decade (except at Trump properties).  
Also, being Trump, he lied. Said Democrats have “fully acknowledged” that a “barrier, a fence, a wall, or whatever you call it” (love that!) is an “important part of the solution.” They haven’t. His desperation to pretend Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hadn’t pitched a double-header no-hitter was obvious. The genius deal-maker. How many bought it, other than O’Reilly and Hannity? Not Ms. Coulter. 
But to the point: when the shutdown began, Trumpists crowed it was a brilliant maneuver, which would expose “non-essential” government workers, a way to get rid of those paycheck-getting, do-nothing employees of the American people. Funny thing: it did the opposite. Turns out – who knew? – government does important work, without which bad things happen. Stuff for which government is, indeed, the solution. The shutdown proved the inverse of what rightists were celebrating.  
It also took creating another shutdown off the table. Though Donald seems to relish inflicting pain for its own sake, it’s doubtful he’ll try that stunt again. It’s “national emergency, behold my Putintial power,” or nothing. Extortion replaced by usurpation. At which time self-described conservatives who still support Trump will face a “Come-To-Jefferson” moment. 
If they’re okay with Trump declaring an emergency when there’s none, they’ll be admitting what they’ve heretofore pretended away: they’re delighted to have a dictator, as long as he’s dictating what they want to hear. (First they came for…) Because it will come down to this: do they accept America’s constitutional imperatives of checks and balances, separation of powers, co-equal branches, “elections have consequences,” or not? Is their professed patriotism, which they claim liberals lack, applicable only when they’re fully in charge? (Reminder: when Rs were fully in charge, Trump couldn’t get his wall.)  
Trump might be realizing his go-to thuggery won’t work anymore; that he’s facing in-charge Democratic Representatives who’ll neither be bullied nor countenance his lies; who’ll do the work demanded by our Constitution, lacking for the past two years. For once in his privileged life, he’s unable to get his way by coercion, barratry, or cheating. Were he capable, and if he wants to accomplish anything, he’d finally attempt to learn the job. No more bailouts from Daddy or Russia. No more prostrate, bi-cameral Republican majorities. The Constitution: it’s partly back, baby. 
As long as we’re high-fiving, let’s fantasize no more dereliction of duty by such miscreants as Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham. Who knows why they’ve rolled over, but their submissive acquiescence to Trump’s extortion (blackmail?) and demagoguery has been shameful and dangerous. And they’re already encouraging Trump to declare his emergency. So it becomes undeniable: dictatorship, is where they stand.  
Koo-koo-ka-choo, Mister Jefferson.
[Image source]

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