Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Predictions For The New Year


We were once in New York City when the new year arrived. Uninterested in being crushed by several thousand people in Times Square, we watched the ball drop on TV. Since then, it’s been my goal to sleep through the festivities; especially when I was on call. Other than an excuse, as if they need any, for young people to get drunk and copulate, I’ve never seen the point. The flipping of a calendar. Whoop de doo.

Admittedly, since the election of Trump, it’s been reasonable, if futile, to hope the next year (or day, or week) would improve upon the last. There’s nothing wrong with hopefulness on any day. But January Oneth is so arbitrary. Why not June? Or, if it must be January, how about inauguration day eve? Every four years: seventy-five percent less meaningless.

Among reviewers of the receding year, there’s none better than Dave Barry. I wouldn’t dare. Nor will I make resolutions, other than forcing myself to pay attention and, when necessary, which is pretty much constantly, to sound alarums.

But I’ll indulge in a few predictions, none of which requires imagination or psychic ability, because next year will be a straight-line continuation of this one. What we’ve become, where we’re headed, is stone-cast: Han Solo in carbonite. Bad stuff will get worse. Good stuff will get better, but it won’t matter. The year will bring unbridgeable division, political poison and paralysis, same as now.

The House committee investigating Trump’s attack on democracy will succeed in proving how corrupt and intent on destroying faith in elections he and his hench were. His enablers, followers, and his dutifully destructive media will continue to dissemble, deceive, and dismiss the seriousness. The clearer it becomes that, as polls showed Trump losing to Joe Biden, they set out to convince the herd that the election would be “rigged,” the less it will matter. Though it’s hard to imagine how much less than it already is. Most Republicans will persist in rejecting the facts like they reject vaccines.

Democrats will keep legislating to improve Americans’ lives and mitigate environmental threats. Seeing politics as a zero-sum game in which the county’s future isn’t a player, Republicans will continue to obstruct. Democrats will beg Joe Manchin to prioritize America over coal; Republicans will cheer him on. Something will get done, though far less than is needed. Republicans’ sponsors will exult; corporations will reward their political purchases, executives, and investors. Kids born into poverty will remain poor. When God closes a window, Mitch McConnell bolts the door.

At the federal level, there’ll be no substantive legislative proposals by Republicans. Out in red states there’ll be plenty, aimed at securing Republican electoral wins, no matter the preference of voters. More rufescent rules will appear, packing election boards with Trumpists or moving election oversight to legislators. Some are already working on allowing themselves to declare winners when they don’t like voters’ choices. Gerrymandering will keep them in control, even where there’s a majority of Democratic voters. Knowing unfettered democracy disfavors them, Trumpists will delight in its crumbling.

Threats of violence against election officials and school board members will continue. More good people will resign. Actual violence, by unmasked patriots, on flight attendants, restaurant servers, and store employees will increase.

In state primaries, Republicans will lose if they don’t repeat Trump’s election Big Lie while characterizing liberalism as a mortal enemy. Use of the terms “socialism” and “communism” will still bear no relation to their actual meanings. Nor will Republicans stop lionizing their worst, whether it’s hate-peddling Congressional demagogues, a delusional, self-important teenage killer, or a guy who insulted President Biden during a sweet call to children, lied about it, and then, realizing his mendacious nastiness made him the perfect rightwing hero, is “praying about” running for office. God’s answer will be of interest.

Climate change will become more undeniable, and, by elected Republicans, more denied. After taking down thousands of anti-vaxxers, Omicron will run its course by Fall. SCOTUS will abort Roe v. Wade. The John Lewis voting rights act will be filibustered to death. The economy will continue to grow at the record pace initiated by President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Rightwing media will credit Trump and/or focus on inflation. The southern border mess will become slightly less horrible.

Instances of discovered voter fraud will remain in single digits, mostly by Republicans. Impossibly, my grandchildren will become even more endearing. Rand Paul will still define “stealing an election” as legal Democratic voter registration and persuasion by having desirable policy, as opposed to Republican suppression and lying, having none. 

Happy New Year, anyway. Remember: Champagne is quicker than eggnog.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Good Tidings And Nog

(My newspaper column, that will be/is/was published on Xmas eve day.)

On this, the morning of the day of the night before Christmas, good tidings we bring. Figgy pudding, which is to say the minds of those whose only news sources taste like Trump, we set aside. For they won’t have been privy to the tidings, nor would they see them as good if they had.

We begin with a Scrooge who has seen the Ghost of Politics Future. Mitch McConnell, whose credo has always placed personal benefit above our country’s, who once spoke in the highest of dudgeon against creating the January 6 Commission, now says its findings are “something the public needs to know,” even as most Congressional Republicans dissemble, ignore, and refuse cooperation. 

From which we conclude Mitch’s finger drips wet in the winter wind. Recognizing the significance, seeing a loser in the looming, he concluded it’s time to disembark the Trump train. Indeed, those findings are exceptionally serious. (This eggnog is very tasty.)

The hardest-core Trumpofoxified will never see it that way; he’ll always have his thirty-five percent, despite or, just as likely, because of his exposed crimes. But ‘tis the season for belief. Surely, there exist enough rational conservatives, if not Republicans (mistletoe and lumps of coal), who see the Commission’s revelations for what they are: damning. Of Trump and the amoral, unqualified sycophants with whom he protectively surrounded himself. How they tried to subvert and overturn a legitimate, fraud-free election –- the fundament of democracy -- by whatever extra-constitutional means necessary, is now as clear as Mount Baker on winter’s cloudless days. So is the “fraud-free” part. (Think I’ll have another.)

Trump wasn’t the first. Nixon, too, worked to overturn an election, the one he lost to JFK. The difference is that, nasty and dishonest as he was, in the end, he could place America’s good above his own; be convinced by people around him not wholly devoid of morality. Same with impeachment. Which stands in snow-white contrast to Trump and his atramentous mobsters.

We’ve also learned that several Fox “news” talkers privately understood the horror of the insurrection, while publicly dismissing its seriousness. This will convince the cogent of how dishonest and damaging the network is and always has been; now, they’ll look elsewhere.

Tucker and Laura and Sean, never fans of fair elections, won’t change, nor will their psychically attached viewers. But true conservatives, by definition, should be fans; and, like Mitch (not that he fits the definition), they must have had enough of Trump, in sufficient numbers to keep him foundering in Florida. (Maybe one more.)

The denouement of his power to corrupt is good tiding, indeed, if not necessarily for democracy. Fully given over to preventing opposition voting, Republicans are likely to nominate someone equally dangerous, but smart. Like Raging Ron DeSantis, who is to Florida, Covid-wise, as Trump was to all states. Obvious even as it unfolded, the degree to which Trump politicized the pandemic and muzzled scientists has now been laid out, in black and white. Or is it blue and red? More reasons to ho-ho-hope for the slumbering to awaken. 

Same, dare we say, with climate change. Hardly a haven of liberalism, the Pentagon recently released a statement detailing the ways in which global warming threatens national security. Last week we read of the degree to which it’s destabilizing Earth’s poles, imperiling the entire planet. Only science-denying anti-vaxers can dismiss the evidence; and whereas they have the numbers to keep the pandemic alive, they may no longer have the votes to do the same for climate denialism. In time for Christmas, its existence is real to everyone having accessible intelligence. 

There’s good news, too, in Joe “Owns-and-Owned-by-Coal” Manchin’s sabotage of President Biden’s Build Back Better Bill. His West Virginia is the second-poorest and unhealthy state in the Union. When its citizens realize how they’d have benefitted, and that Manchin joined every single R in voting against it, and that he thinks they spend tax credits on drugs, they’ll make their state reliably blue again, as once it was. Thanks to demographics and to its leaders, unconcerned for its Tiny Tims, Texas is getting there as well. Joyeux Noel. (Yes, please.)

Sarah of Wasilla provided heimal tidings, too, pledging to Turning Point USA’s death-cult gathering that she’d be vaccinated “over my dead body.” Sorry, Sarah: no one vaccinates dead bodies. Saner than she, I’m triple vaccinated. You should be, too. Research confirms it’s highly protective from omicron. 

So, Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it. Season’s Greetings and/or Happy Holidays to those who don’t. (Hey, how much booze was in that eggnog, and how many did I have?)

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Dangerous Demon Doctors

 


The Dean of Admissions at my medical school liked to ask applicants why they wanted to be a doctor. Given the clich├ęd response, “Because I like people,” he’d ask, “Yes, but do you like SICK people?” I don’t recall that he asked me that one; if he had, I might have answered, “I can’t be a dentist, because my hands are too big to fit in a mouth.” Which reminds me of what I did say when my dad suggested I should consider being a proctologist: “I think I’m too tall for that.” 

In any case, after talking to me for a few minutes, the Dean (Cactus Jack, we called him, for his gravelly voice and no-b.s. attitude) announced “We’ll take ya.” And that was that. 

My point is that it seems there are lots of docs of the Trumpist persuasion who do, indeed, like sick people. So much so that they’re trying extra hard to create them. And there are plenty of state legislatures around the country doing their best to send victims their way. It’s hard to figure. Medical school, after all, is pretty rigorous; hard to get through without at least some understanding of the scientific method; i.e., the ability to distinguish between documentation and doo-doo.

If not all doctors are brilliant, few are downright stupid. Is what I used to think. In Congress are several doctors, at least one of whom falls hard into the stupid category.

That’d be Rand Paul, who had to create his own ophthalmology board to become certified, and who’d need to acquire an additional wit to rise to half-wit level. The Republican remainders, who inveigh against mask and vaccine mandates (not to mention perpetuating Trump’s big lie) and who rarely argue for science-based approaches to the pandemic, have no such excuse. They must know the harm they’re causing.

Elected docs aren’t the worst among my chosen profession. Appearing regularly on rightwing media, other defrauding doctors regale the credulous with fairytale falsehoods, without evident shame. Mysteriously, they’d managed to get their medical degrees. It puzzles me.

All states have medical licensing boards, whose prime directive is to make sure doctors meet standards of competence and ethics. Anyone paying attention knows they’ve hardly covered themselves with glory, historically, in that regard; still, it’s been reassuring to see several state boards clamping down on doctors who spread Covid misinformation. Sadly, it’s happening in only in a third of states. For two-thirds, it must be no big deal. Welcome, even.

As of about a week ago, there’s one fewer doing the good work. Caving to pressure from its Republican-controlled legislature, Tennessee’s medical board has announced it’ll no longer rein in those dangerous docs. Amazing: actual elected representatives of the people, sworn to act in the interest of their citizens, pressured their medical board to stop disciplining lying or incompetent, willfully dangerous doctors. Let ‘em lie; we like it. It serves our interests.

Nor is Tennessee’s the only legislature acting to ensure the pandemic continues. In pretty much every red state, by legislative or gubernatorial mandate, requirements for masking and/or vaccinations are being struck down, going so far as to threaten school districts and private businesses who want to protect employees, customers, teachers, students. So much for freeing them from government overreach, the be-all and end-all raison d’etre of Republican rationalizations for giving their megadonors every bit of hands-off they demand.

By now, even Trumpic Fox-watchers (what took you so long, Chris Wallace?) must know it’s mainly among the unvaccinated that the pandemic rages on. So, what has overtaken their brains? It can’t be those vaccine-embedded microchips; they’re not the ones getting them. And powerful and effective as unabated brainwashing by rightwing has come to be, it can’t have decerebrated so many millions entirely on its own. Even though it’s obvious their disinformation is doing the work of our global adversaries, can those enemies’ activities on antisocial media have been so thoroughly assimilated without some sort of amplifying force?

It’s millions of people, convinced by bad doctors and lying media to harm themselves, their children, their families, friends, and neighbors. Weakening the country to which they claim singular loyalty. There had to be another explanation, and I’ve finally seen the obvious.

Aliens. From outer space. Beaming mind-control rays or drugging our barbeque sauce, softening us up and dumbing us down for the coming invasion. Affecting, ironically, only the unvaccinated. Too crazy? Alex Jones just suggested President Biden used a top-secret “weather weapon” to cause those deadly tornados. He’s proof the aliens are already here. Same with the Trumpofoxified millions: Unknowingly, they’re pod people. Nothing else makes sense.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

"Earthen Vessels," He Called Them


Overtly or co-, every one of the conservatives currently on the Supreme Court lied during their confirmation hearings. They knew it, Senators knew it, those of us watching knew it. With big-money backing and, in the cases of Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney Barrett, by way of cosmic hypocrisy on the part of Mitch McConnell, each was specifically selected to end legal abortion. Which, by all accounts, is about to happen.


So let’s talk about it. I can take it if you can.

First, some mostly non-controversial statements: 1) Polls show only 20% of Americans believe abortion should be banned under all circumstances, which is fewer than those who think it should be completely unrestricted; and far less than those who think it should be legal until some gestational point. 2) Establishing a universally agreed-upon point is impossible. 3) Where birth control and realistic sex education are available, abortions are much less common than where they aren’t. 4) It’s inconsistent to be “pro-life” yet unwilling to provide those things, or help for children forced to be born into poverty. 5) Late-term abortion is both disturbing and extremely rare.

6) Few, if any, women make the choice lightly. More often than not, it’s heart-rending. 7) Carrying an unwanted or fatally deformed pregnancy to term is likely to be life-long traumatic. The younger the mom, the more so. 8) If the Court effectively makes abortion illegal, it will contravene the wishes of 80% of the population, spurring countless illegal abortions, with attendant maternal death and disability. 9) Like Congressional Republicans, holding minority views which prevail in our dysfunctional system, they don’t need to care.

The following IS controversial, despite its obviousness: 10) Arguments against early abortion are 100% religious. And specifically religion-based opinions don’t belong in civil law. 

Okay. We’re off to a great start.

That there’s no distinction between an embryo smaller than your pinkie, having no measurable brain function or sensory life, and a fully-formed, viable baby is a religious concept. To which people are most certainly entitled. But it’s not universally held, not even among the religious. To so believe, one must claim God knows us before we’re born and has a plan for us all. Again: perfectly fine. Commonly held. But not universal.

Nor consistent. Because if it’s true, God also pre-plans stillbirths and birth defects that kill postpartum. And, since we know that as many as a third of all conceptuses are expelled, often before women even know they’re pregnant, medically referred to as “spontaneous abortion,” He had to have planned those as well. There’s no logical middle ground. In fact, doesn’t that mean anti-abortion laws are anti-God?

Don’t take my word about the religious basis for banning abortion. Here’s North Carolina Republican Madison Cawthorn, excessive Trumpist, incendiary liar, multi-alleged sexual harasser, performing an abortion speech last week on the floor of Congress, describing women as “… Eternal souls woven into earthen vessels sanctified by almighty God and endowed with the miracle of life …” His rhetoric echoes “pro-life” arguments made by all who make them. Not everyone, however, reveals so unambiguously the subservient role in which they view women.

At least until Republicans like Cawthorn are fully in charge (not far off), Americans are (theoretically) free to practice and express divergent religious views. People who see conspiracies to force Sharia law upon us have no problem doing so with their personal interpretations of Biblical law. Of which there are many. Interpretations. Some of which include being pro-choice.

Respect for divergent religious views is maintained when public law remains out of it. There's no reason “pro-life” and pro-choice can’t share space in our democracy. (What’s left of it.)
If your beliefs direct you, don’t use birth control, don’t have an abortion, don’t have sex outside marriage; and then, only for procreation. Banish from your houses of worship those who fail. It’s your right. What’s not, though, is compelling those religious prohibitions on others by force of law.

Everyone would prefer that there were no abortions. Not because they’re illegal, but because they’re no longer needed. Which would require Republicans ending their “pro-life” hypocrisy when it comes to birth control and sex education, and refusing to fund child-help programs. Even then, unwanted pregnancies are bound to occur. The force is strong…

Those who disapprove of abortion don’t need to outlaw it. Their God will know where they stood. Leave the consequences of having an abortion, if such there be, to Him who’s so familiar with them. Having a plan for us all means the innocent embryos from medical abortions surely will have the same afterlife as those of His “spontaneous” ones.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

To Cut Off One's Nose...

 


There was a time when it was impossible to believe elected Republicans would deliberately damage the country and its residents for political gain. After all, how could such a thing be considered a positive? Well, it’s come to the point that it’s really the only explanation for what they’re doing. And not doing.

In Congress and in state houses around the land, Republicans are making sure Americans will continue to get sick from the pandemic, and are planning to run for reelection on it. Ban mandates. Shut the government down to make it happen. They’re saying so, openly.

As there remain millions of people refusing to be vaccinated, even as their anti-vax “influencers” make deathbed repentance and call for vaccination before dying of the virus, Republican leaders see a perfect constituency. (It’s possible followers only of rightwing media haven’t even heard of those prominent deaths.)

Latest example: having pushed to end unemployment benefits in the now-discredited belief that it’d stimulate return to employment, suddenly they’re all for extending those benefits: but only to those who quit their jobs rather than be vaccinated. “We’re here for you, anti-vax conspiracists and Qanoners. Refusers to be microchipped and magnetized. Remember us, if you’re still alive, on election day. Let’s go, Brandon.”

The logic must be that they count on their in-pocket media to make sure voters only note that, say, the pandemic is continuing, or that the economy is struggling in some areas. Memories are short and facts in short supply on the dark side. So if the pandemic rages on, or help for the economically impacted vanishes, it can only be the fault of President Biden and Democrats.

The message will resonate through the airwaves, online, and be force-fed through one-channel TVs. By next election, memories of Republican blockages and refusals, if they once noticed, will vanish like Greenland’s glaciers.

That has to be it: we can do or not do anything we want, they must think, and, like those memory-wipey thingies Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones used, our voters won’t remember a thing. We can count on Trump, if for nothing else, to keep whipping the anger; and we know Tucker, Sean, Laura, et coven, will, too.

How else to explain ongoing Republican attacks on vaccine and mask mandates? Freedom? Choice? Yeah, right. Ask John Roberts about that. No, it can’t be about standing up to tyranny. If that were a Republican virtue, Trump would have been gone with the first impeachment. By now, as numbers of Covid cases continue to rise in mainly red states and they fall here, it’s clear that seeing their constituents fall ill or die doesn’t bother them. Long as they believe they can make a case come November.

In a rational world, of course, there’d be no case. But it’s also obvious that rationality has left that party like Trump left his first two wives. After all, it’s a party in which a celebrity quack like Dr. Oz thinks he can become a US senator. From a state in which he doesn’t live!

Perhaps he’ll get laughed out of the Keystone State. But Lauren Boebert hasn’t been laughed out of Colorado, nor Marjorie Taylor-Greene out of Georgia. Gaetz. Jordon. Cawthorn. People who haven’t passed, much less offered any serious legislation. People who only slur and fan hatred for colleagues on the other side. But they get elected, and that’s the thing. In their districts and states, voters love it. As long as they slander and “stick it to the libs,” they don’t care if nothing gets done on their behalf. In the case of Ms. Boebert, that’s despite the Denver Post’s outraged editorial.

She, for those who missed it, suggested to an appreciative, cheering audience, that Rep. Ilhan Omar could be a terrorist. Said she (Omar) doesn’t represent the America in which she (Boebert) is raising her children. There’s a certain irony in that, you may notice.

And Ms. Taylor-Greene, who, committee-less, fills her time spewing hate and lies, and just got in a fight with fellow Republican but not completely insane Nancy Mace, claims she’s not the “fringe” of the Republican Party, she’s the base. It might be the only true thing she’s ever said.

As a physician and putative scientist, I’ve never been into wishful thinking. But waving a magic wand might be the only way to stop the dying of democracy. When upwards of forty-percent of Americans, suffering cluelessness-by-media, keep electing Republican representatives not on the basis of what they do but whom they hate, absent something metaphysical, the end is near.

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