Thursday, April 30, 2020

Columnists vs. Journalists

Next newspaper column:
There’s confusion, lately, about journalism versus columnists; between fact and opinion. These examples will clear everything up: 
Fact: In last Sunday’s tweet-storm, Trump said journalists who received “Noble” prizes for “fake news” should have them rescinded. Sub-fact: It’s spelled “Nobel.” Co-fact: There’s no Nobel prize for journalism. 
Opinion: Trump is losing it at an accelerating rate. 
Fact: Trump’s tax cuts produced trillion-dollar budget deficits, with the benefits going mainly to the already-wealthy. Corporate tax cuts created shareholder dividends, windfalls for executives, and stock buybacks, but minimal hiring of or salary increases for workers; thus doing little for the economy. 
Opinion: The tax cuts were unnecessary, and detrimental to the future of capitalism. The current crisis shows why tax cuts in economic good times are a bad idea. 
Fact: Trump wondered if getting disinfectants into the body, by injection or other unspecified means, and/or shining light inside, would cure the virus. Having both delivered and received endoscopies, up, down, and sideways, we know light entering via whatever orifice won’t illuminate bronchioles and alveoli, where the virus does its worst. Then Trump said it was sarcasm. 
Opinion: People who continue to defend Trump should be embarrassed. But he’s giving America multiple sarcasms. 
Fact: In medical school, we saw people who’d had disinfectant injected into them. We called them cadavers. 
Opinion: Not opinion. 
Fact: Trump just said he “created” the “greatest” economy ever. 
Opinion: That’s like a new contractor adding the final story onto a skyscraper and claiming credit for designing and building the whole thing. 
Fact: Pence said he didn’t wear a mask at the Mayo Clinic so he could “look people in their eyes.” 
Opinion: Toady. Flunked anatomy. 
Fact: Trump deregulated the pork-producing industry BEFORE Covid-19. 
Opinion: Look what happened. 
Fact: Kushner/Trump claims the federal response to Covid-19 has been “a great success.” 
Opinion: Soviet-style disinformation, which Trumpists will believe.  
As to journalists and columnists: the latter… aren’t. That’s why columnists and other opinionations are found on a newspaper’s opinion page, whereas its reporting (journalism) is in front, making it easy to read only news, and to know where to stop. In fact, if one finds particular columnists annoying, it’s medically advisable to ignore them.   
A recent spate of emails and letters complaining about the lack of “conservative” voices in this newspaper suggests the need to distinguish between conservatives and Trump supporters. Because you can be one or the other, but not both. 
We recall a time when conservatism meant fiscal responsibility. When it disdained the idea of an all-powerful president, and when it understood that an opposing party isn’t an enemy, but a vital component of legislating wisely, via the sort of compromise on which this country was founded.  
Years ago, conservatism supported our Constitutionally-mandated separation of powers; believed in Congressional oversight of the executive; understood the indispensable role of inquisitive, skeptical journalism in a democracy, and why it was enshrined in the very first of the Bill of Rights. Once, conservatism included comprehending the value of an independent (and qualified) judiciary; and belief in free and fair elec… okay, maybe not that. 
You can support Trump – improbably, millions still do – but you can’t, by any definition, call yourself a conservative: he embodies the opposite in every way. Similarly, Trumpists who claim belief in Jesus can do so only by rejecting His teachings. 
This paper carries conservative columnists. Being actual conservatives, they rarely write in support of Trump. Letters from Trump supporters, however, are regularly printed, praising him and, often, announcing cancelation for not having their weltanschauung reinforced. Which, again, is why… oh, well. 
If The Herald carries fewer opinions in support of Trump than ones correctly pointing out his unfitness, it has always done journalism; for example, turning up damning information about a recent Democratic county executive. Even when reporting on politicians, if journalism is factual, it’s apolitical. If reporting reveals malfeasance, it’s “fake news” or “bias” only by the malefactor’s definitions.  
In covering Trump, balance is impossible: physics teaches us that the occasional ounce of truth can’t nullify a ton of lies. For Trumpists, being presented with opinions they don’t share countervails the value of a local news source. That’s Foxification, personified. (Opinion.) 
In a bygone world, none of this would need saying. In Trumpworld, though, wherein facts have given way to fiction, and incompetence (fact) from the White House is both undeniable and denied, the obvious needs stating and restating, over and over.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Twenty-Five For Forty-Five

“I alone can fix it,” he announced, to delirious cheers, after which he proceeded to prove he couldn’t: budget deficits, healthcare, Mexico/wall, coal, 4% growth… It’s a long, well-known list. 
More recently, he claimed “total authority” over when states end stay-at-home rules. Then, maybe realizing he couldn’t avoid responsibility if he failed to fix this, too, he punted to governors.
Which brings us to now, when, in a functioning democracy, the 25th Amendment would be halfway to dethroning him. 
We refer to fomenting armed rebellion against those governors to whom he ceded authority. “Liberate Minnesota,” he tweeted. “Liberate Michigan.” “Liberate Virginia...” In the last instance, he added, unsubtle and mendacious, “… and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege.” This “president,” having told governors it was theirs to decide, is inciting citizens to rise up -- armed, by implication -- against those governors and their decisions. Did he mean it? He said it. Like a dangerous lunatic, not a president. Not even a “president.” This should be obvious to everyone. 
It isn’t. From sea to temporarily-shining sea, answering the bawling of their golden calf, people are protesting. Saying, in effect, “We’re not sick, and if we’re asymptomatic carriers who end up infecting others, and if that overwhelms our hospitals, causing more deaths, it’s okay. We may be waving swastikas and Confederate flags along with the Stars and Stripes, wearing armor, packing, urging fellow citizens to die for us, but we’re the real patriots.” 
Like their Tea Party predecessors, they’re acting in the interests of wealthy Republican donors (Family DeVos and gun promoters this time around) and against their own. Possibly fatally. Perfect timing of reopening is impossible, especially with inadequate testing; but these virulent protests are helping the wrong people. 
The point, though, is less about the comparative handful, so far, of protesters than it is about an Oval Office malefactor who encourages sedition. Who’s appealing to the worst of us, intentionally turning America upon itself. Like his transparently cynical, base-pleasing ban on Green Card applications. To “protect” us. It’s what he considers leadership. 
What he doesn’t consider leadership is creating coherent policies to address this crisis; especially a coordinated, federally-managed process for getting protective equipment and testing capability to every state, rather than causing hospitals and states to resort to subterfuge to get and keep them. Instead, it’s thievery and grift from a lifelong crook and grifter, likely so he can dole it out as political patronage. Governors of both parties are speaking out, too.   
Unironically carrying signs saying “My body, my choice,” these easily-exploited protesters are beyond reach. They reject the personal sacrifice and common sense that real patriots have always delivered when America needed them. If this slice of Americana is small for now, the cultish cake from which they’re cut is not. But surely there are former supporters and true conservatives who see how this “president” is undermining his own government, suborning rebellion, to save his particularly personal @$$.  
And, equally importantly, who see what he’s not: an able and empathetic leader, more concerned for others than himself. Who see how he’s preparing to shift blame onto governors (after China, Democrats, President Obama, and the W.H.O.) for his own failings; and who’ve come to recognize he doesn’t care about the consequences for our republic.  
The current occupant of the White House is but one disturbed man, whom we should ignore. The problem, then, is us. Those who’ve become so inured to being lied to that they neither notice nor care. “You’re a commie POS,” was the entirety of a recently-received email. Asked, in response, what he’d read that’s remotely like communism, the sender disappeared. (I didn’t dispute the POS part.) “You’re a liar,” write others, who refuse to provide examples. 
“Say hello to George Soros,” smirked yet another Foxicant, who declined information about the work Soros does defending democracy and supporting resistance to dictators around the world. Giving less to Democrats than the Koch Brothers give to Republicans, my pal George is nevertheless a knee-jerk boogeyman for propagandized rightists. Hook, line, Foxified sinker, regurgitated word for word, mindlessly. 
People like that are why the 25th won’t be invoked. Integrity began leaking from the Republican Party with the election of Saint Ronnie. And those were the good old days. Fox “news” didn’t exist, and our pernicious “president” was just a pampered draft-dodger who hadn’t yet filed his first bankruptcy.
[Image source]

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Lessons From A Virus

My next newspaper column:

Last week I wrote that Rudy Giuliani invested $2 million in the maker of Trump’s touted malaria drug. Though his credibility disappeared years ago, Rudy denies it, and no proof has been forthcoming. I should have dug further. More important were Trump’s ridding himself of oversight, and the preview Wisconsin’s primary gives us of voting in Trump’s America. For some, my carelessness detracted from that. Lesson learned.

The corona crisis is providing lessons, too. In no particular order:

1)   “Government is the problem” only when it’s mismanaged. More so when it’s been gutted, defunded, and filled with lobbyists and yes-people.
2)   Air is clearer, water is cleaner, animals are thriving. This puts to rest claims that addressing pollution and climate change will make no difference.
3)   The aforementioned have resulted from massive curtailing of human activity; but we know how to create non-polluting energy without shutting down. It can’t happen overnight like this has, but the need and means are clear. Uncaring, Trump and Republicans stand in the way, doing everything they can to promote fossil fuel and inhibit renewables. Choosing contributions from oil producers over the health of humanity and the planet is unconscionable.
4)   Tying health insurance to employment is dumb.
5)   Removing healthcare access from huge numbers of Americans endangers us all.
6)   An economy in which millions face bankruptcy by missing one paycheck wasn’t as robust as Republicans were proclaiming. Not to mention the crushing demand on food banks. Low-wage workers, targeted by Republican policies, are vital to our economy and deserve better.
7)  Trump arranged to get his signature on the "rescue" checks. As if it’s his money, his gift. It’s the only responsibility he’s taken lately, and it’s a self-promoting lie.
8)  Republicans filled the “rescue” with giveaways to their rich donors. Billions; unrestricted, unsupervised.
9)  Patriotism isn’t waving flags. Among other things, it’s caring how one’s actions affect others; willingness to sacrifice in order to help, even people you don’t know. Self-described “patriots” who refuse, because “freedom,” are, in fact, the opposite. The virus has stripped away pretense.
10)  Trump ignored warnings for critical weeks, making things immeasurably worse, costing lives. Recent revelations by determined, dogged journalists are undeniable. His intellectual and psychological unfitness for the job should be obvious to everyone by now. Persisting deniers are as dangerous as he is. 
11)  Republicans calling for “opening” the country prematurely value money more than human life. From the “pro-life” party, this is ironic.
12)  In addition to his experienced pandemic response team, which Trump disbanded, President Barack Obama left a sixty-nine-page document, which foresaw and addressed, in comprehensive detail, every challenge we’re now facing: struggling hospitals, shortages, supply chains, manufacturing, the role of each government department, states vs. federal responsibilities, testing. All of it. Despite Trump’s incessant blaming and repetitive lies, this pandemic WAS foreseen. And there were plans.
13)  Trump’s downplaying of testing, to hide the numbers, is immoral.
14)  So desperate is he to shift blame, Trump is lying about and, in the midst of a global health crisis (and flare-ups, around the world, of polio, measles, Ebola, diphtheria) cutting funds for the WHO. It’s another example of how unfit he is for the presidency: to blame his failings on others, he’s willing to cause death around the world. Mostly in poor countries, of course. It’s beyond shameful: it’s evil. 
15)  Claiming “total authority,” Trump neither understands nor respects the Constitution. Declaring himself a “wartime” president, he nevertheless left procurement to the states. If “war” doesn’t require federal management, what does? Worse, he’s making it harder for governors like ours, hurling insults and hijacking equipment they’ve obtained. 
16) Withholding needed supplies from governors who didn’t praise him enough, and granting them to those who did, is despicable. People are in need. Trump doesn’t care. Everything is about him.
17) Lacking federal leadership, several Republican governors are putting their people, and, therefore, all of us, at risk.
18) Suddenly all for it, Republicans who objected to deficits and stimulus packages during the Obama presidency clearly weren’t standing on principle, but on willingness to damage the country to keep President Barack Obama from succeeding.
19) Wisconsin showed why Trump fears mail-in ballots; and that when enough people understand the seriousness of what’s at stake, Republican voter-suppression can be overcome. For America, this might be the most important lesson of all.

[Image source]

Friday, April 10, 2020


My next newspaper column:
Anyone having any two of five human senses operating at fifty-percent capacity or greater recognizes that Trump’s government is a kleptocracy. The latest of many examples: Rudy Giuliani bought $2 million worth of stock in Novartis, the company that makes the malaria drug he began hyping as a miracle cure for Covid-19 immediately after the purchase. Trump, Inc., has a stake, too. 
Trump’s “administration” purchased a million doses of the unproven drug, with our money. Anyone surprised? Remember that Novartis paid Michael Cohen $1.2 million for access to Trump. It’s all of a piece with several Republican Congress-dwellers cashing in by buying and selling related stocks right after being briefed on the coronavirus, before the rest of us knew anything. 
Serving in Vietnam, I took the Trump-drug as malaria prophylaxis. Despite seeing several cases while there, I stopped, because it made me sick. That it’s innocuous is another of Trump’s endless lies. Is it effective for coronavirus victims? We don’t know. But the studies touted by such unreliables as Rudy and Trump and Fox “news” fabricators and, unbelievably, Trump’s second-most egregious groveler, William Barr, are equivocal at best, and they’ve been the opposite of scientific. Either way, Trump will take credit for everyone who recovers after taking it, true or not.  
Fear of truth is why Trump fired two inspectors general this week and last, and attacked the integrity of another who’d accurately reported that hospitals across the country are in desperate need of protective equipment. Trump assumes his followers will believe him when he says everything is fine, because he’s done a “fabulous” job. It’s not, and he hasn’t. 
Our hospital, where I’m assisting in surgery, is in better shape than most. Still, PPE is under strict control. Having changed masks between cases for my whole career, it’s now necessary to reuse them throughout the day. Other locations are facing far worse.  
The first I.G. Trump fired was the one who fulfilled his duty by informing Congress of the infamous whistleblower complaint. Informed. Didn’t opine. Informed, as required by law. Trump’s vilification of him was as illuminating as it was disgraceful. The second fired Inspector General was chosen, independently, by IGs from several agencies, to oversee the dispensing of the trillions of taxpayer dollars in the rescue package. A respected, reportedly “dogged” inspector, fired summarily. Has it anything to do with Trump’s hotels’ eligibility to cash in?  
The thievery isn’t just about our money. They’re stealing elections, too. Wisconsin’s this week was the Party of Trump epitomized, demonstrating the ways by which democracy will die they’re allowed to pilfer another four years. Which is, explicitly, their goal.  
Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has a majority of unqualified rightwing ideologues, selected by no-longer-governor Scott Walker, whose “conservative” policies, like Brownback’s in Kansas, ruined his state’s economy. One of those judges is up for election, facing a credible Democratic opponent. Like the national Republican Party, Wisconsin’s is desperate to keep its compliant court majority. Because of Covid-19, far more people than usual requested absentee, mail-in ballots. Surprise: the state was slow in delivering them, especially to minority areas. Days after the election, some still hadn’t gotten theirs.  
To allow time to receive late-arriving ballots, in consideration of the pandemic, Wisconsin’s Democratic governor ordered a delay. Republicans ran to their reliable judges, who invalidated the order. SCOTUS, predictably 5-4, upheld the invalidation. Issued remotely so as not to endanger themselves in person, their decision forced thousands to endanger themselves in person. Trump, who voted by mail in Florida, “because I’m allowed to,” says mail-in voting is corrupt (it’s the least corruptible, as Washingtonians know). He also lied about when and why Wisconsin Democrats requested the delay.  
In cities most populated by Democratic constituencies, polling places were drastically reduced. Milwaukee, which has the highest black population, a demographic hit disproportionately hard by the virus, went from one-hundred-eighty to five. Choosing democracy over threat to life, people waited in lines for hours, just as their Republican legislature wanted, though they must have figured more would stay away.  
A political Amber Alert, Wisconsin warns of nationwide voter suppression, ideologically activist courts, disregard for public health, disadvantaging minorities. With more Democrats voting but Republican-controlled, by virtue of gerrymandering sanctioned by their corrupted court, Wisconsin is Trumpism’s future America. 
Like Wisconsin’s, Trump’s judges won’t protect voting rights or democracy. Absent massive, united Democratic turnout in November (Trump/Russia is already sewing dissension, effectively) it’s over. 
[Image source]

Friday, April 3, 2020


My upcoming newspaper column:
If it wasn’t clear before, it is now, to all but the contentedly Foxified: putting a multi-failed businessman ostensibly in charge was a bad idea. What was the Electoral College thinking when it gave him tenure? 
This week, our businessman-in-chief finalized his killing of automotive fuel standards, gifting oil companies at the expense of public health and the future of our planet. Those are things about which he’s never cared, of course. This was well-known before his “election.”  
In one of his recent, beautiful press conferences, the ratings of which he’s touting like he once did his sexual escapades, Trump shared his idea for saving the restaurant industry: let businesses resume deducting expenses of sending their execs to lunch. He was serious.  
Nor is it surprising, having scammed his way through life, that he’d accuse hospitals of doing something fishy with the equipment they’re receiving. Long suspected of laundering mob money, Trump figures everyone’s as dishonest as he. And he needs scapegoats to distract from failure. Hospitals. Democratic governors. China. Impeachment, laughably.  
Republicans were once outraged when Rahm Emmanuel, President Obama’s Chief of Staff, said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Now, as Trump follows the script, they’re silent. His EPA is using Covid-19 as an excuse to relax pollution rules. William Barr wants judges to suspend habeas corpus till further notice. Texas has banned abortions during the outbreak. And, as predictable as it’s cruel, Trump rejected an extended Obamacare signup for the millions who’ve just lost their jobs. People about whom we’ve always known he couldn’t care less.  
Made more challenging by Trump’s unnecessary, business-friendly, trillion-dollar-deficit-creating tax cuts, the too-small economic rescue package is larded with giveaways to large businesses, including – surprise – real estate investors; while sending a comparative pittance to low-income people, who Steve Mnuchin said can live on $120 a week. Democrats managed to force oversight for the half-trillion dollars heading toward corporations. Forthwith, Trump announced he’d not abide by it. Never been his thing, rules. But he wants his name on the checks.  
Also not his thing: reality. While declaring his “decisive” embargo of flights from China saved us all, figuring he’d done everything necessary because the rest was hard, Trump sent tons of supplies to China in January: the very materiel of which there’ve been shortages ever since. Masks, PPE, even ventilators. In early February, Senators met with White House officials, who rejected offers to fund stockpiling supplies. Why? Not good business? Meanwhile, his initial foot-dragging and denial, reinforced by Fox “news,” lingers in many red states, where Trumpism is literally killing people.  
But he just praised himself for not listening to “those” who said Covid-19 was like the flu. “Those” were he, repeatedly. Astounding. If he sold people on Trump University, in Trumpworld, he figures he can sell that lie, too. Also, only in Trumpworld, where facts are anathema, a truth-teller like Dr. Fauci receives death threats.  
After months of ignored warnings, rejecting the pandemic team and plans President Barack Obama left him, and after irresponsibly wasting time downplaying the threat, which Trump wants you to forget, and which the Foxified already have, some things are improving. Where followed, social distancing is working. Still terribly inadequate, testing is ramping up. That’s because, while Trump was claiming there was no crisis, smart people knew better and began preparing. 
PPE shortages remain, including locally; and, notwithstanding Trump’s continual disinformation, struggling states are having to pay inflated prices to outbid the federal government and each other to obtain them. But, hey, it’s good business. What was it Rahm said, again?  
But Trump’s self-praise-fests are getting beautiful ratings, like no one has ever seen (“I’m number one on Facebook,” he said, mid-crisis. Another lie. President Obama has more). Some watch because when he stops congratulating himself, experts speak. For the rest, is it the scripted sycophancy or the made-for-TV attacks on journalists? When a reporter directly quoted him admitting he told Pence not to call governors who aren’t nice, Trump lied he never said it. It’s on tape! 
Trumpists must love the politicization of aid to blue states, though. Perfectly normal. Remember how President Barack Obama did it with Chris Christie after Hurricane Sandy?  
The effort it took to dissuade Trump from declaring victory on Easter to boost his electoral chances confirms his unfitness. Dead people, he had to be told, could threaten reelection as much as a recession. Not the first thought, evidently, of a businessman.

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