Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Sound Of Minds Closing

By the time I retired from my surgical practice, there was no operation I did exactly as taught during training. New studies are done. New technology happens. Because science is, by definition, skeptical, and because modern healthcare is science-based, it would be shocking if doctors weren’t always questioning their knowledge and open to change. (This is characteristic of no practitioners of homeopathy, by the way, or acupuncture, reiki, et woo, to whose followers the attraction is, evidently, that they’re unchanged over generations; no testing desired.)

I was taught by surgical innovators and pioneers. But time keeps happening; even their wisdom, it turned out, could be found wanting. I mention this because the sentinel characteristic of Trumpism and most of today’s Republican Party is the opposite. Once inculcated, Foxotrumpian lies are inlaid like a parquet floor. Nearly two years later, Trump still tells his adoring crowds he won by a landslide, making him either the most outrageous liar or the most delusional person ever placed in office by the Electoral College. Following suit, R candidates are calling fraud in their upcoming elections, even before the vote. 

In marginally more enlightened Washington State, thirty percent of Republicans believe Trump’s indisputably debunked Big Lie. Nationwide, the percentage is much higher. You know what, by electoral standards, WAS a landslide? The 57-43 vote to remove him from office in the second impeachment. Yet, at Trump rallies, his three-monkeyed drones still brandish signs saying he won, while chanting “lock her up.” 

Remember Arizona legislator Rusty Bowers, who famously refused Trump’s demands to break the law, later said he’d still vote for him, but more recently expressed reluctance? Confirming everything I’ve ever written about Trump’s no-longer conservative party, they expelled him; a leader in their legislature, a lifelong actual conservative. “Rusty has failed in his specific actions,” they said, “including co-sponsoring Democrat-led bills.” And declared him, “… no longer a Republican in good standing,”. Following the law, speaking truth, cooperating for the common good: unacceptable, in the eyes of the GOP.

I’ve had “conversations” with Trumpists who refused to watch the January 6 hearings. Not interested. Pre-dismissed. It was a peaceful protest, totally overblown. Right: we heard, and they didn’t, that Pence’s security detail were calling their loved ones to say goodbye. One-sided, they claim. Yet, as Vice-chair Cheney said and they’ll never see, “The case against Donald Trump is not made by his political enemies. It is instead by Donald Trump's own appointees, his own friends, his own campaign officials, people who worked for him for years, and his own family.” Like Rusty Bowers’, Ms. Cheney’s political career is likely over. A truth-telling, lie-rejecting, brave and ethical Republican. Oxymoron.

As a doctor, always aware I could be wrong and making sure as possible I wasn’t, I find Trumpists’ refusal to learn incomprehensible. And worrisome for our country. If my mind was similarly closed, I’d have still removed gallbladders through eight-inch incisions and kept victims hospitalized for a week. If I’d clung to the received wisdom that bowel surgery patients require a tube down their nose for days, ignoring later studies showing they retard recovery, I’d have had lots of miserable patients and, deservedly, lost my surgical privileges.

Among the reasons Trump didn’t want to call off the rioters, as we learned and the ignorers won’t, is that it would “give the media a win.” So much for duty to the Constitution and the rule of law. So much for thinking outside his own troubled head, a dereliction of duty and failure of leadership the hearings made clear as our air once was. After his “team normal” insisted, he gave a speech acknowledging Congress had certified the electoral votes. But refused to say the election was over.

A person who did watch is Rupert Murdoch, creator of the propaganda network dba Fox “news.” His New York Post editorialized, “Trump has proven himself unworthy to be this country’s chief executive again,” and his Wall Street Journal wrote, “Character is revealed in a crisis, and Mr. Pence passed his Jan. 6 trial. Mr. Trump utterly failed his.” No wonder Trumpists refused to watch.

Cynical as it gets, they’ve nominated, to be among only one-hundred senators, carpetbagging Dr. Oz, famous for selling phony cures and housing Turkish nationalists in a secret condo, and Hershel Walker, talented only in football and domestic abuse. They’ve invited Hungary’s dictatorial leader, whose top advisor just resigned over a disgusting, neo-Nazi speech, to speak at CPAC. When a “major” political party idolizes authoritarians, purges its few honest leaders, and keeps its members deliberately ignorant, there are consequences for us all. Until we no longer have it, voting remains our only means to resist. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

It's Who They Are

Someone is spending big money on nasty ads against Washington’s Democratic state senators. Someone, or some group, really, really wants to flip the majority in that body. Making the same out-of-context and misleading claims about the members’ votes, the ads are nearly word for word, but with differing targets.

What’s their agenda? Ending mail-in voting? Outlawing drop boxes? They’re already “surveilling” them, despite proof they’re completely safe, everywhere. Criminalizing abortion? Deputizing citizens, thought police, to report people considering it? Maybe it’s banning sex education or teaching America’s full history. CRT, nonexistent in our schools, for sure. How about restricting access to birth control? Not here? In Republican-controlled states, it’s all on the table. Because it’s who they are. 

Last week, the US House of Representatives voted on a bill addressing neo-Nazis in our military and police. Every Republican voted no. Nearly all of them voted against implementing an active shooter warning system. Why? To offset tax cuts for donors? It’s also who they are. Because Democrats still have a majority in the House, both bills passed, but there can be no more stark demonstration of why America needs that majority to remain.

Those bills, which would have benefitted all Americans save for Nazis and murderers, plus one protecting abortion rights, also receiving zero R votes, will probably be blocked by Republican senators. To them, politics are zero-sum. If Republicans become the majority there, neo-Nazis, corporate polluters, the ultra-wealthy, and religious extremists will have cause to rejoice. No one else. It’s who they are.

They’re also people who claimed the story of a ten-year-old fourth-grader, pregnant by rape, forced to travel to another state for an abortion, was a lie. Or said she should be forced to give birth, despite being too small to do so “naturally.” On another bill, protecting the right to cross state lines for abortion care, all Rs voted no. Small government. Isn’t that who they are?

Picture a ten-year-old girl’s body at full term. Bullied in school. Think of her being wheeled into an OR, awake, crying, frightened, surrounded by masked strangers, put to sleep. Awakening scarred, literally and figuratively, forever. Can you imagine what her life would be like afterward? Forced-birth Republicans can’t. It’s not who they are. 

When the rapist was arrested, Republican idols like Jim Jordan, Tucker Carlson, et awful, refused to apologize. Others went with the fact that the man is an illegal immigrant, as if that’s the story. D-list Foxer Jesse Waters claimed credit for the arrest, fantasizing that by calling the story a hoax he pressured law enforcement to do their job. Then he said the doctor who cared for the child, LEGALLY, should be charged as a criminal, siccing Indiana’s Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita on her.

Rokita obliged. With his party’s characteristic lack of empathy, he preached the Gospel according to Trump: “This is a horrible, horrible scene caused by Marxists and socialists and those in the White House who want lawlessness at the border… This girl was politicized—politicized for the gain of killing more babies.” “Politicized,” he said, politicizing. And lying. Mendacious hypocrisy is who they are.

What’s at stake if Republicans control the federal government is no mystery, as their just-released document makes clear. The “Blueprint to Save America,” 122 pages of heartlessness, summarized in Mother Jones, “…calls for significantly reducing the size of America’s social safety net, drastically limiting or outlawing abortion access nationwide, effectively throwing in the towel on combatting climate change, raising the age to receive full Social Security benefits, cracking down on transgender rights, and making it easier for Americans to carry concealed weapons.” 

There’s more. The EPA would be gutted, funds for Medicaid and food stamps would be cut drastically; the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Labor Relations Board, entities that protect everyone but rich Republicans: gone. Corporations would be virtually unregulated. It’s who they are.

Famed economist J.K. Galbraith once wrote, “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” Anyone who doubts Professor Galbraith’s words need only read that radical document. The entire manifesto is here.

And now, this: it’s an unworkable system that allows a single senator, a participant in and funded by the fossil fuel industry, to block desperately-needed climate legislation, and to prevent raising taxes on his owners to pay for it and other needed spending. Manchin. It’s who he is. Rendering him powerless is another reason to elect more Democrats to the Senate. Democratic voters must turn out like never before. For my grandchildren, I donate money to Democratic candidates around the county. Maybe it helps.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Webb Of Life

It’s impossible fully to grasp the images coming from the James Webb Space Telescope. Countless clusters of light: galaxies. Millions of them, each containing billions of stars. A Milky Way’s worth of Milky Ways. And it’s but a slice of the out-there, seeing branches on a single tree in a rain forest miles away and bigger than (what’s left of) Brazil’s. Only more.

No analogy captures it. Our Earth, in the vastness of the Universe, is a single grain of sand among the grains of all the beaches and deserts on our planet. Our brains are unequipped to make sense of it. Black holes and nebulae. Light years. Parsecs. Numbers so enormous, they shatter into meaninglessness.

The tidy nebula in Tuesday’s gorgeous image covers an unimaginably vast region of space and contains countless stars coming into and going out of existence. What hope do non-scientists have of wrapping around it; we can barely understand atoms.

After traveling for billions of years, the light in those images arrived, nearly from the beginning of the space-time in a tiny corner of which we happen to exist. It’s a wondrous scientific achievement, by people far smarter than anyone reading (or writing) this. People committed to learning about and understanding our universe, in ways that most of us never will. For the thrill of it, the wonder, expanding the mind. Curiosity and thirst for knowledge remain human characteristics, at least in people as yet unaffected by a political party’s attempts to erase them. And it’s still only a superficial scratch on the surface of the unknown.

Here we are, improbably alive on nothing more than a molecule, insignificant within the cosmos, while the birth and death of stars and galaxies continue as they have from before this time began. Through the Webb telescope, we see what happened billions of years ago. Happening still.

In such an unmeasurable expanse, how can our Earth be the only bearer of life, with billions and billions of places for a one in a billion-billion chance to occur? In whichever creation story one chooses to believe, it can’t be that everything out there, so far beyond what we can see or Bronze and Iron Age religious scribes could imagine, is only about us? That it’s for us, alone, that a creator, selected from among the planet’s cafeteria of religions and hundreds of gods, cares? Is suppressed insignificance the reason we’re carelessly destroying the home we’ve been gifted? Denying, as so many do, that it’s happening?

If we can’t grok the enormity, we ought at least be able to see how foolish, how petty and ungrateful we are to waste the flickering light of life we’re living, in a tiny speck of universal existence. Even if there’s another life awaiting (it can’t be comparable to earthly consciousness, because, you know, ATP and glycolysis), there’s no excuse to behave as selfishly and uncompassionately toward one another as we are in this one. To, using the scientific term, blow it.

State Senator and, I’m happy to say, friend, John Lovick recently shared a maxim he holds close: “You stand for what you tolerate.” Profound in its simplicity, it’s even more so in light of the lights shining light on the outermost reaches brought nearer by the Webb telescope. Paradoxically, life’s insignificance and brevity thus reflected demands we not waste the moment we’ve been given. We oughtn't misuse the opportunity to stand for something while we’re here, by tolerating the intolerable. If the immensity of the universe we’re seeing means what we do here matters little, in scale, the onus of significance is, therefore, on each of us.

Unwillingness to tolerate the destructiveness of Trumpism is part of what I’ll stand for in my remaining time. We applauded Arizona’s Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers, whose faith and belief in the Constitution compelled him to refuse Trump’s criminal demands. Then we learned he’d vote for him again. Trump’s irrationality and lies, tolerated, presumably, to preserve tax cuts and deregulation are what he actually stands for. Unlike what we first thought, it’s dishonorable. 

The same for anyone who manages, for whatever self-serving excuses, to rationalize continued support for Trump, despite his perpetuating a democracy-destroying lie, trying to regain power by inciting hate, caring nothing for the impact. They stand for what they tolerate. What some see as hateful in my writing reflects, in fact, my unwillingness to tolerate, in silence, Trump’s dragging down of America. After seeing those magnificent images and contemplating their meaning, even less could I tolerate being seen to stand for it. There’s the meaning: we make our own. Christ-like acceptance of “otherness” would be a good start.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Courting Disaster

Let’s hope readers enjoyed Independence Day. It might be the last one to which the name applies.

In the same way that Trump discovered he could ignore the Constitution at will, the Federalist Society’s hand-picked, McConnell-stolen Supreme Court has come to realize they can rule however they wish, precedent and consistency be damned. On parchment anyway, there are restrictions on executive power; but there are practically none on them. Trump et mob ignored the quilled rules and did so with impunity; because there are few that apply to them, the Six Injustices realized that, in practice, they have nothing to ignore.

They’re the dog who caught the car. Except they know exactly what to do with it: chew it up, leaving a smoking (coal smoke) ruin. Why, for example, isn’t same-sex marriage covered under the Fourteenth Amendment? Because Clarence Thomas says so. There are five others.

The Constitution isn’t silent on SCOTUS overreach. Per Article III, Section 2: “[T]he Supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.” In other words, if it had the will, which it doesn't, Congress could limit what sort of cases the Court can hear; starting, perhaps, with obvious conflicts of interest, like Thomas protecting his insurrectionist wife, Barrett favoring “Americans for Prosperity,” which spent $1 million on her candidacy, Gorsuch siding with Penguin Random House, who’d published his book. The liberal justices aren’t squeaky clean, either. 

It’d be a start. And the rules should be unambiguous, unlike the meaning of separation in the First and militias in the Second Amendment, both of which the current Court seems bent on re-writing. Though impossible in the current climate (was that a pun?), what’s needed is reigning in such destructive decisions as removing EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases. Their rationale was made of thin, if polluted, air: Congress, they said, couldn’t possibly have meant to give it the authority it gave. It will apply to other agencies, too. The Justi are there because of money from polluters. Why else would they take the case? 

Equally ominous, because democracy is dying as fast as the planet, is their choice to hear a case, next session, involving state legislatures’ right to make their own rules for voting in national elections, not subject even to state judicial review. Who doubts the outcome? Equal voting access? One person, one vote? Not anymore. Meanwhile, honest election workers are quitting, under ugly threats from Trumpists, replaced with big-lie believers. Death’s door is wide open. 

That our democratic republic is now incapable of effective governance has become undeniable; what comes next, also undeniable, is frightening to contemplate. For the first two-hundred years, most Americans and their chosen representatives maintained some version of good faith, so the founding flaws hadn’t been fatal.

In particular, the minority-power-tilted Senate, where, because of Mitch McConnell and a couple of spineless Democrats, the non-constitutional filibuster has tilted that power even further; the Electoral College, which allows losers of the popular vote to become “president” and then to appoint judges hand-picked for their anti-democratic views. Compromises, the impact of which wasn’t foreseen. Our founders couldn’t have predicted millions of Foxotrumpified voters. Or modern weapons of war doled out to civilians like Mardi Gras beads.

Those now-outdated constructs had the potential, from conception, for abuse by politicians of ill will. Good fortune, if that’s what it was, kept it at bay till the era of Ronald Reagan. His grinning “government is the problem” and the people that followed -- Lee Atwater, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, Tom Delay – began the beginning of the end, hastened now by the current congressional crew of conspiratorial con-artists, too numerous to mention. And capo de tutti capo, Mitch McConnell. Trump is merely the final beneficiary of the fall; inevitable at the founding, irreversible since the 1970s.

Whether majority or minority leader after November’s midterms, Mitch McConnell will never allow constraints on the far-right, ideological court; his proudest achievement. To him and his party, the Constitution is an arcane museum piece, whose relevance is purely situational. When it comes to a national ban on abortion, if he’s in charge, the non-constitutional filibuster will evaporate like Donmikerudy’s proof of election fraud. And the Court will approve.

On his censorious, weirdly-named “Truth Social” website, Trump wrote, “We are truly a nation in decline;” the only truth he’s ever told. The reasons are his unending election lies and the unreachable people who continue to believe him, representatives of whom leave (fair warning) vile, obscene, NSFW messages on Republican January 6 committee-member Adam Kinzinger’s office phone, calling from the basket

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