Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Lawn Order

Add this to the list of differences between Democrats and Republicans: not considering it “weaponization” when Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice indicted Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), whose bill of particulars, like Trump’s, appalls. No cries of “witch hunt” or “two-tiered justice,” except Menendez himself, who Trump-eted, “Those behind this campaign simply can’t stand that a first-generation Latino-American from humble beginnings can rise to become a US Senator...”

Similarly, as to Hunter Biden, many on the left have noted that federal indictments are rare for his infractions and have questioned the insecure handling of THE LAPTOP!!!!, but none have said he did nothing wrong.

From Democrats there have been no calls for presidential pardons, none for defunding the DOJ. No liberal has characterized as gestapo tactics the FBI search of the senator’s home. Instead, one hears escalating calls for Menendez to resign or be booted (not from Republicans, though); and agreement that if Hunter Biden is found guilty, he deserves appropriate punishment. Menendez has already had to resign his powerful Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship.

Imagine that: Recognizing its indispensability, one party respects our system of justice, while another – a self-proclaimed defender of law and order -- doesn’t. Wants, rather, to stifle its independence or defund it entirely.

Unfamiliar with the concept of integrity, rightwing icons like Charlie Kirk and the usual Foxing heads want to convince their ungulate followers that the Menendez indictment was a “deep state” ploy to make it appear that the DOJ is impartial. With today’s “conservatives” and their media, you can’t win. Anything good done by President Joe Biden or his government is bad. Anything bad done or said by Trump is good. Facts that breach the bubble are fake. Trump’s crimes aren’t crimes, while Biden’s lack of crimes demands investigation.

That mentality provides excellent ratings for Fox “news” and plenty of airtime for Trumpublicans, but it’s a parody of responsible governance. (Would I credit Trump if he did something good? See below.)

Daily examples confirm Republicans’ disinterest in and inability to produce serious legislation. For a budget to pass, Gym Jordan prattled on Fox “Business,” “... no money can be used to target your political opponents, which is exactly what Jack Smith is doing to President Trump.” Then, without irony, he went on to update the audience on his made-for-Foxification targeting of Hunter Biden.

Another: Margorie Taylor Greene (R-Jezero Crater) announced she’ll vote against any budget that includes money for Ukraine because they “sex traffic” children and “harvest their organs.” Thereupon, Semispeaker Kevin McCarthy stripped funding from their proposal.

Making America great, people actually voted for that lady. Is she a liar or just surpassingly stupid? Either way, she’s angling for and may well be Trump’s VP pick. A vengeful authoritarian plus a meretricious conspiracist: Trumpism’s pinnacle and America’s agonal breath. Kari Lake? Interchangeable.

Without desperate vote suppression and unscrupulous gerrymandering, lunatic MTG, crotchety Lauren Boebert, and the rest of the Caucus of Crazy would be babbling on street corners, as passers-by hurried on, avoiding eye contact. Prone to confusion as he is, when Trump said, “They aren’t sending their best,” he might have meant Republican states, not Mexico. It’s possible, though, that those people ARE the best they have.

Definitely not our best, but reading the ketchup on the wall, Trump, who brags that, by anointing bench-legislating, billionaire-selected ideologues to SCOTUS, he deserves credit for ending reproductive choice, is suddenly simulating sensibility. Now he’s suggesting there’s middle ground, rather than, say, making felons of people who drive women to another state for a legal abortion. I’ll say it: Good for him. I’ll also say: his epiphany comes more from electoral worries than empathy derived from a rumored past.

Lest we conclude that Trump, aka inmate P01135809 out on bail, has turned toward the light, something he’s done only during a solar eclipse, he confirmed his plans for a second “presidency,” should the combination of anti-democracy voters and third-party candidates return him to the Oval Office. Implying General Mark Milley deserves death, he pretended it was because, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the general wisely reassured China of America’s stability after 9/11. In reality, he was furious over Milley’s book revealing Trump’s dangerous ignorance and incompetence.

Trump also promised government weaponization to punish “treasonous” news organizations. To His Errancy, criticism in any form is a capital crime. But P01135809 and Trumpists call Democrats fascists.

Finally, for a chuckle: Because they knew of Senator Menendez’s sleaze, Trump presumes, he demands that all Democratic senators must resign. Having covered projection last week, it should be unnecessary to identify it again. But there it is. Same with his rant about media, leaving out the real danger, Fox “news” et ilk. His just-rendered conviction for fraud isn't projection. It's a decades-long truth.

Oh, and that over-hyped poll? There’s only one that matters: “Democracy or Autocracy: choose one.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2023



Projection: attributing to others what one is, in fact, doing oneself. Everything, in other words, that Trump and his defenders accuse Democrats, especially President Joe Biden, of doing. Prime example: Trump’s relentlessly repeated phrase in reference to those pointing out and prosecuting his crimes and lies: “Fascist thugs.” This, from the guy who promises weaponized retribution, were he to become “president” again. Campaigns on it.

Also the guy who bragged about threatening electoral retribution to Texas state senators if they voted to remove Texas’ laughably corrupt attorney general, Ken Paxton. It was jury-tampering, by definition. By a fascist thug. Who bragged.

In a dead heat with Florida to become the apotheosis of Republican authoritarian leadership, Texas outdid itself in that impeachment trial. Presided over by their Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick, who gives Governor Abbott a run for his money in the race to the bottom of cruelty, the outcome was predetermined. Prior to the trial, Patrick accepted $3 million from a Paxton-associated PAC, subsequent to which every ruling he made favored the impeachy.

Paxton’s corruption had been so obvious that Texas House Republicans voted (I know, right?) overwhelmingly to impeach. The Senate, one of whose members is Paxton’s un-recused wife, succumbed to Patrick’s pressure and Trump’s threats, letting him off as shamelessly as Republican US Senators did in Trump’s impeachment trial. Several of them voted against Trump, however; whereas in Texas the corruption left none untouched.

In terms of nationwide importance, though, other than reconfirming the Republican Party’s love and defense of lawbreakers, domestic and foreign, Alabama beat Texas in the destruction derby, by demonstrating that our constitutional democracy depends on buy-in by all of us; especially lawmakers, state and federal. Ordered by the Supreme Court (no fan of its current composition, I) to undo its egregious gerrymandering and create two predominately Black districts, Alabama’s legislators simply refused to do it. “What’s SCOTUS gonna do,” we presume they concluded. “Send Sonia Sotomayor down here to beat us up?”

It’s true, of course. The Supreme Court has no enforcement arm of its own. Its rulings are made real by citizens who believe in our system of laws and governance, and who voluntarily defer to them, in order to preserve civil society; the thin ice on which we skate as a nation. The Republican Party’s decision to follow the spirit and letter of the law only when it suits them is another form of climate change, nearly as deadly; the one which melts it all down.

Moreso their caving to and defense of Trump, by simple observation the greatest threat to democracy ever to occupy the White House, even though he came in through the back door. His round-the-clock flurry of lies and threats are nearly universally unchecked by members of his party, too afraid of being primaried, too lacking in integrity to speak up. Did he destroy documents? By continuing to claim, falsely, that the January 6 committee destroyed all theirs, we know the answer is yes. Projection.

So while Republicans and whatever is the appropriate term for Trump claim it’s Democrats who want to destroy America, it’s they who are, in fact, actively doing it; because they understand that constitutional democracy is not their friend. Allowing fair elections with equal access to voting for all; following judicial orders and Congressional subpoenas: politically counterproductive. The same goes for proper education. Projecting “cancel culture” on liberalism, today’s Republicans are banning books all over the country, in far greater numbers than the occasional objection to Dr. Seuss: the former is aimed at preventing children from learning and thinking about science and America’s true history; whereas the latter, et similar, if misguided, is about acknowledging stereotypes.

This week we witnessed – those who could stand it – the conspiracy-promoting, fact-free, get-me-on-Fox attacks on Attorney General Merrick Garland, who sat, more patiently than humanly possible, before Gym Jordan’s committee investigating... stuff. More projection; more weaponizing government against those with whom they disagree. While the country faces insolvency due to a handful of intransigent, far-right, not-right members, while House Republicans are unable even to fund our military (the party of strong defense!!) they continue their pursuit of the world’s greatest criminal mastermind, private citizen Hunter Biden, whose nefarious scheme to launder money, they say, was done in the open, through commercial banks. Garland got him a grillin’ on that, too.

That Hunter B was just indicted by a Trump-appointed investigator, carried over and not interfered with by President Biden, somehow wasn’t considered important by Mr. Garland’s inquisitors. Conspirators gotta conspire, after all, facts be darned.

President Biden, both senile and a brilliant deceiver, must surely be impeached, evidence of involvement, or not. Senile? Trump just claimed he beat Barack Obama in his election, and that he, Trump, prevented World War Two. Watch the video in the link. Senility is Trump’s most definitional projection of all. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Democracy, Attacked

On Monday, the twenty-second anniversary of the attacks on 9/11/01, I listened to a podcast in which the speaker remarked on the unity Americans felt that day. When our democracy is threatened, he posited, Americans come together. (Except Trump, whose actions on and after that day should be memorialized along with the attacks.)

The podcast was well-intentioned and, other than the “democracy” proposition, approximately true. The attack was on people, American citizens, mostly, but not our form of government, per se. If threats to democracy brought us together, the Civil War would never have happened and today’s Republican Party would have been relegated to irrelevance, long ago. Add to the equation respect for the rule of law, even laws with which one disagrees, and accepting election results, even those which one finds disappointing, and it’s incontestable.

Begun before Trump but raised stratospherically by and for him, Republican attacks on democracy have become platform-level policy. So much so that Trump is running, specifically, on the ways he’d subvert it if elected. Rather than finding his increasingly projectile, fascist-adjacent ranting abhorrent, supporters’ eyes remain unbatted. 

Actions, we’re told, speak more loudly than words. Based on their willfully anti-democratic actions, the party of patriotism and law and order can no longer claim either; nor, since they “elected” Trump, have they bothered to pretend otherwise. The preceding Civil War reference is appropriate, as many of their party’s leaders are warning of it, while others openly call for it should Trump not be reelected, for any of several democracy-preserving, defeat-demanding reasons.

Osama bin Laden’s attack on the Capitol was thwarted by brave passengers on United Flight 93. Trump’s attack on the Capitol, also thwarted by brave Americans, got further. And, unlike 9/11, 1/6 was aimed directly at democracy.

To his credit, usually wind-fingering Mike Pence, who has zero chance of becoming the Republican nominee, just called out the degradation of his party. Referring to Trumpism’s abandonment of conservatism, he said, “Should the new populism of the right seize and guide our party, the GOP as we have long known it will cease to exist. And the fate of American freedom would be in doubt.

That party, of course, ceased to exist long ago; and freedom is precisely what the 2024 election will be about. Not Hunter Biden. Not Joe Biden’s or Trump’s age. Not taxes. Not even borders. Freedom. From the authoritarian rule Trump promises, of which his orchestrated “impeachment inquiry” is an example, to cheers at his rallies and silence from Republican “leaders” who should – possibly do – know better. 

There are, in fact, people who know better. Signed by presidential centers of thirteen former presidents from both parties, an extraordinary statement was just released from the George W. Bush Presidential Center, calling for a return to the foundational principles of our democracy. Why now? Because until now, until Trump, it was unnecessary.

The statement stopped short of naming Trumpism explicitly, but the message was clear, and concluded thus: “By signing this statement, we reaffirm our commitment to the principles of democracy undergirding this great nation, protecting our freedom, and respecting our fellow citizens. When united by these convictions, America is stronger as a country and an inspiration for others.” If only.

There’s little doubt Trump will be the Republican nominee, and none that he’d receive millions of votes, from people who love his dictatorial promises to imprison his “enemies” and, as opposed to the fairytale accusations of Joe Biden, actually to weaponize government as an instrument of revenge. Which, as mentioned, he’s doing now, according to reports, personally directing the transparently political, evidence-lacking, un-voted-upon impeachment inquiry into President Biden. Ironically, any forthcoming subpoenas are already invalid, per Trump’s own justice department.  

Despite worrying about the future my grandchildren face, I’m betting there are more Americans who see Trump for the danger he represents than don’t; enough to ensure that the next president will not be him. Also encouraging are electoral outcomes, in various states, in reaction to Republican tactics: proofless impeachments, banning history, criminalizing abortion, teaching Prager U in public schools. If they continue their cynical legislative uselessness, they may lose the House and sink further into minority in the Senate.

As I run out of adequately descriptive words, here are some from Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch-22, foreshadowing Trump and the ease with which his amoral perfidy took root: “It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, ... arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” 

The flourishing of character-free Trumpism also required decades-long efforts to convince enough voters that knowledge, science, and expertise are bad; and propagandistic media happy to profit by promoting it. In 2024, we must bring it to an end.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023


No politics today. Instead, I’ll try to describe what it's like for a surgeon operating in a potentially disastrous situation. Even being as in command of yourself as you can possibly be, it tests everything you’ve learned, everything you can bring to bear. And, on some level, it’s scary. I’ve been in war, feared for my life. It's not the same. In the OR, it’s worse.

In Vietnam, the odds were with me: nightly rocket attacks; large base, small target. Occasional risky flying. By contrast, potentially ruining or ending the life of someone in my care, having to forge ahead knowing the next move could literally be deadly while having no personal risk at all — that’s a uniquely surgical fear, I think; at risk of making a fatal move, as opposed to having one made at you. Sometimes – not often -- I've failed to save a severely injured person. It feels terrible. But never, unless memory fails, have I caused a surgical catastrophe. If I had, I might have quit.

Once, as a lowly surgical intern, I was holding retractors while a professor struggled to extirpate a large pelvic tumor. I don't remember the details -- probably the ensuing river of red washed them out of my brain. What I recall, though, as if I carry a picture of it in my wallet, is how fast the field filled with blood. That's what happens when the iliac vein is breached: it's big, it's fragile, it doesn't hold a stitch very well. And it's connected immediately to the vena cava, the biggest and fullest of them all.

When you approach any major blood vessel, you want to have wide access to it. You want proximal and distal control, meaning the parts of the vein or artery above and below where you plan to work need to be easily approached, exposed, and ready. Dissected out, maybe slung with rubber loops, to facilitate placing clamps if needed. With a big tumor blocking view, those measures can be impossible.

So the surgeon worked his way around the mass, apprehensive, I assume, about what lay behind. Whether he lost his way, didn't anticipate the anatomic distortion, or just came up snake-eyes, I can't say. But when he lacerated the vein, blood poured out like a prison break, while the tumor prevented gaining control.

I've been there. Forced to deal with an unexpectedly undecipherable mass of indeterminate origin, causing obstruction in multiple areas of bowel stuck to it, adjacent to big vessels. Wanting an easy way to avoid opening the door to disaster, but seeing none. 

"Okay," I'll say. "This could be trouble. Let's take some time to be ready." Start another couple of IVs. Get blood in the room, bring in the cell saver (a device for collecting, filtering, and reusing the patient’s spilled blood). Open up some vascular clamps. And, because I want to eliminate all distractions, I also like to open an emergency pack of silence, asking everyone in the room to stop loose talk and to shut off the music. (Music in the OR is nice, most of the time.)

As tense and demanding as it is, it's also thrilling, if that’s the word -- maybe even spiritual -- to leave behind everything else in the world, and, like a living lens, focus entirely, body and mind, on a few centimeters of space; to have time all but stop. Perhaps paradoxically, despite breath speeding up, aware of rising pulse, and sweat dripping down my sides -- even needing to pause for the ultimate cliché, the wiping of a brow by a nurse (I've dripped sweat into the occasional wound -- safely flushed it away with lots of saline) -- my hands don't shake.

But yes, dissecting my way into the area as carefully, clear-headedly, and patiently as I know how, at an incompletely suppressed level I'm fearful. And although, while in the maelstrom, there's confidence I can carry on as long as necessary (like sound and extraneous thought, physical discomfort shrinks into insensibility) when the tension has passed, physical and mental exhaustion can well up with surprising suddenness. Neck stiff, back aching, hyper-extended knees wobbly and sore. (I stood back once, not realizing a knee had gone numb, and went down like a ton of scalpels.)

I guess there's a sense of accomplishment, but it's more like having lucked out. Knowing, like that day decades ago, it could have been otherwise; wanting never to be in that situation again, it's hard to feel pride. Not in the moment, anyway. Only relief.

Because I believe the way to deal with complications is knowing how to avoid them in the first place, and as hard as I work to do that, I can’t help wondering -- even when pretty sure there was no option -- whether I missed an alternative to skating on such thin ice. I couldn't do it every day.

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