Tuesday, October 2, 2018

FALLING IN LOVE



As I was listening to excerpts from President Trump’s rally speech given in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which he professed his love for Kim Jong-un, I was trying to imagine if former President Barack Obama had said something similar about a ruthless dictator.
I’m referring to Trump’s outrageous hyperbole regarding his “falling in love” with the North Korean dictator. What Trump said, specifically, was, “We are doing great. That was a big, big problem. I was really being tough and so was he, and we would go back and forth. And then we fell in love. No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters.”

You could feel everyone catch their breath for an instant before they started to laugh. It was a joke...Wasn’t it?
That’s when I tried to imagine what the reaction would have been in West Virginia (or Ohio, or Alabama, or Kentucky, or any number of other states that encompass unshakable bastions of Trumpism) had President Obama said the same thing about some anti-US dictator—any anti-US dictator! Like, what if he’d said it about the ayatollahs of Iran, jocularity notwithstanding, while his administration was negotiating the Iran anti-nuclear accord? He would have been crucified. In Washington, the GOP (not particularly known for its sense of humor) would have gone bat-shit crazy. They might even have sought to impeach Obama for consorting with the enemy, even if he’d said—like many are saying about Trump’s statement—that it was a clearly a joke.
Joke or not, Trump’s loving embrace of Kim has serious implications. First, it can’t be taken as anything but a tacit endorsement of the North Korean regime. It places Kim on a one-on-one footing with the president of the United States, and thus weakens the US negotiating position, since while Washington has done much to make overtures toward the North Korean dictator, Kim has conceded little in return. There is no evidence that he has substantially, if at all, reduced his country’s nuclear capabilities and thus, the only real concession he has made has been to temporarily halt nuclear arms and intercontinental ballistic missile testing.
Second, Trump’s full personal acceptance of Kim sends a signal to South Korea that it should push ahead with its bilateral peace efforts with the Kim regime. While lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula should surely be a principal goal, it should only be consummated by means of bilateral concessions, not, as appears to be the intention of South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, by easing security and encouraging the US to do the same, without any mutual measures being taken by Kim.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, Trump’s slobbering love affair with Kim Jong-un sends a dangerous message to other despots worldwide. Kim is one of the worst dictators on earth (despite Trump’s apparent affection for him) and he has inherited his well-deserved reputation as such from two generations of the brutal Kim dynasty that preceded him. Among other crimes, he has reportedly ordered the murders of around 160 members of the government who didn’t agree with him or whom he saw as potential traitors. He has also eliminated his half-brother in a scandalous attack on foreign soil. But worse still, he has continued the policy of his forebears of maintaining gulag-like work camps that are reported to be worse than Nazi concentration camps. Some 130,000 citizens populate these camps, many for such arbitrary “crimes” as “gossiping against the State.”
A recent International Bar Association report charges that “there is sufficient evidence to establish that perpetrators ranging from Kim Jong-un to lower-level prison guards (have) perpetrated, and continue to perpetrate, crimes against humanity in North Korean political prison camps.” The report describes atrocities about which North Korean defectors have testified, including, among many others, “a prisoner's newborn baby being fed to guard dogs, the execution of starving prisoners caught digging for edible plants on the mountainside, and a variety of violent measures designed to induce abortions, including injecting motor oil into women's wombs.”
This is the monster with whom the US president has “fallen in love”. Nor is it the first time that Trump has expressed admiration for what he considers the winning virtues of ruthless dictators.
During his campaign for president he touted Russian strongman Vladimir Putin as a better leader than US President Barack Obama and he has continued his love affair with Putin up to the present day.
Duterte
When he met Philippines dictator Rodrigo Duterte, he told the Filipino leader that he “just wanted to congratulate” him because he had heard that Duterte was doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.” It should be noted that Duterte’s way of dealing with the drug problem was the extrajudicial killings of drug dealers and addicts alike.
Trump said he was giving “very high marks” as well to Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He said it at a time when Erdogan was cracking down on the press, on his political opponents and on civil society as a whole, while diminishing to an ever greater extent what had once been a democratic system in Turkey.
Erdogan and Trump
The US president has also praised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, saying el-Sisi was “doing a fantastic job in a difficult situation” and lending him full US support. Field Marshal Sisi seized power in a 2013 coup d’etat that toppled Egypt’s first democratically-elected administration. His government has been criticized worldwide for suppression of civil liberties and for human rights violations. According to Human Rights Watch, el-Sisi has “maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards dissent” and provided “near-absolute impunity for abuses by security forces under the pretext of fighting terrorism.”
El-Sisi
There was a time when the US, even under its most authority-prone presidents, encouraged some form of democratic process in any country that wanted to consider itself our ally. Those days, at least for now, are over. Donald Trump praises despots shamelessly, probably because he himself has no love for the democratic process or rule of law. Or at least if he does, he’s keeping it a coveted state secret.   
This kind of acceptance of truly evil despots undermines the image of the United States abroad in two ways: First, it clearly separates us from other Western nations that were our staunchest allies before the Trump regime came to power, and that still strongly believe in the tenets of democracy and rule of law. And second, it provides a signal to dictators and autocrats worldwide that the US under Trump will give them a pass and maybe even legitimize them by praising them to the heavens, as long as they can flatter their way—whether by “love letters” or other means—into the current president’s good graces.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

SOBER AS A JUDGE: WHAT BRETT KAVANAUGH’S BEHAVIOR TELLS US ABOUT HIS FITNESS FOR THE SUPREME COURT



We Americans have all been “treated” to an unprecedented spectacle this past week during the extended confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s presidential nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Ted Bundy
I should start from the premise that, after years of getting to know personally and reading about numerous victims of sexual abuse, I tend to be much more sympathetic to victims than to their alleged victimizers. Abusers and predators tend to be people who show one face in public and quite another in private. Serial killer and serial rapist Ted Bundy, for instance, was considered by many to be not only handsome, but also highly charismatic. And these were traits that he exploited to win the trust of his victims—at least a dozen of whom he decapitated, many both before and after sexually desecrating their bodies.
Abusers are often regarded as model citizens. And their defense almost always seeks to make the victim seem vindictive, confused, promiscuous, deranged or all four. Predators seek to turn the tables and convert themselves into the victims, saying they’ve been falsely accused and have no idea why their alleged victims are trying to ruin their lives.
Bill Cosby
The guilty verdict handed down in the case of “America’s Dad”, famed and once beloved actor and comedian Bill Cosby, right at the height of the Kavanaugh hearing, is a case in point. And for many it was a huge “holy crap” moment as they realized that there was enough evidence to convict this iconic figure of drugging and raping at least one victim (although another several dozen women—five of whom testified during Cosby’s retrial—made similar claims that weren’t admissible because the statute of limitations had passed). Andrea Constand, who Cosby mentored and then groomed in 2004, before drugging and raping her, said that she had come forward because she considered it her “civic duty” to end Cosby’s reign as a serial rapist.
That said, before I knew any of the details of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation against Brett Kavanaugh of a sexual assault that allegedly occurred over three decades ago, I’m embarrassed to say that my first assumption was that it was a set-up. I immediately assumed that it was, pure and simple, part of a concerted political strategy to keep Kavanaugh from being confirmed by the Senate as a Supreme Court justice.
Since then, however, Dr. Ford has managed to change my mind. After seeing what she has put herself through—death threats, having to move from her home, having to go before an obviously hostile and utterly skeptical Senate committee to testify on the intimate details of the alleged assault, and having to expose to the general public both her family and a traumatic experience that she has sought to repress from early adolescence to the present day—I can now only assume that Dr. Ford felt, like Andrea Constand, that it was her civic duty to denounce what happened to her all those years ago, before the alleged perpetrator was appointed for life to a Supreme Court where his influence on women’s rights and women’s issues will likely be major for a generation to come.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford
There were other reasons that convinced me of Dr. Ford’s sincerity: The fact that she willingly submitted to (and passed) a polygraph test, and that she not only said she would submit to, but demanded an FBI investigation into her allegations ranked high among them.
It is important to recall that all we have up to now are the conflicting testimonies of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh before the Senate Confirmation Committee, which finally deigned to hear testimony from the two this past week—though not from other women who have come forward with similar stories that might well corroborate what Ford told them. It seems clear that the idea of leading Republicans was to merely provide Dr. Ford with a soapbox from which to make her accusation (tossing a bone to the #metoo movement in the process), then to politely thank her for her visit and move on, post-haste, to the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh.  But so compelling was Ford’s testimony, and so underwhelming Kavanaugh’s performance, that the committee finally had to heed the eleventh-hour change of heart by swing-vote Republican Jeff Flake, who said he wanted an FBI probe before he cast his vote.
Even though a week-long limit has been placed on that probe to see if corroborating evidence can be turned up to back either Ford or Kavanaugh’s stories, it is at least something more akin to due process than the sham that would have had Christine Blasey Ford testifying one day and Brett Kavanaugh being confirmed for the Supreme Court appointment the next. While, as I say, nothing has yet been proven with regard to the testimony of either witness, Dr. Ford did a lot better job of making her story believable than did Judge Kavanaugh—a highly experienced jurist who came off to many looking like an hysterical amateur with little idea of how to defend himself without coming completely unglued.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh
In this regard, much has been made of the rage that Kavanaugh must surely have been feeling because of how he was being “victimized” and his reputation left in tatters as a result of Dr. Ford’s accusation. But it should surely be taken into account that Ford is being victimized and accused every bit as much as Kavanaugh is. She's being accused of being a liar and a Democratic shill, for which, it might be added, there is absolutely no evidence. The great difference, as I see it, is that she took a lie detector test and called for the FBI to investigate (clearly nothing to hide), while Kavanaugh (who, as a federal judge, should believe in due process, especially if he's going to sit on the Supreme Court) has been dragged kicking and screaming to an investigation, has refused to submit to a polygraph, and has shown a comportment unbecoming of a Supreme Court justice in questioning before the Senate committee.
During the questioning by Democratic senators, he was often hostile, rude and uncooperative. And he voiced personal conspiracy theories, blaming Democrats and “the Clintons” for what he called “a hit job” to keep him off the Court. Many of his outrageously hostile and inappropriate statements during testimony seemed to many reminiscent of the vitriolic tweeting style of President Donald Trump, and hardly the cool, level-headed, professional response that most of us would have expected from a federal judge, let alone a candidate for the Supreme Court.  
No matter what the practical outcome of the testimonies and subsequent brief investigation might be, I feel that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has done a service to the nation by demonstrating a side of Brett Kavanaugh’s personality that the rest of us surely never would have seen within the context of a majority “good ol’ boys” confirmation process in which the judge would have been a Republican shoo-in.
Instead, we have gotten to observe a Brett Kavanaugh who, when cornered, immediately cracks and demonstrates his virulently anti-Democratic, violently anti-liberal and inappropriately biased leanings—something that hardly speaks well of his qualifications for the life-time appointment that he is seeking.
In the end, Judge Kavanaugh would surely have been well-advised to remain “sober as a judge” during the questioning, and to have submitted to whatever process was necessary to corroborate his innocence, instead of giving vent to his uncontrolled rage, no matter how incensed he might have been at having his place of privilege questioned by “a mere woman.”


Monday, August 27, 2018

JOHN McCAIN: CELEBRATING HIS LIFE AND LEGACY



Senator John McCain, who died last Saturday at the age of 81, was, perhaps, the last of a breed among conservative US politicians. Certainly, in the current GOP, usurped by interloper Donald Trump, he was one of a kind. And any Republican politician who is resisting Trump’s divisive assault on the party today is taking his or her cue from Senator McCain. Hopefully, the memory of this unique statesman will serve to encourage other conservatives to resist and to reach across the aisle, as John McCain did throughout his storied political career, to embrace his opponents and seek common ground instead of focusing on their differences.
Grandson and son of high-ranking naval officers, John McCain began his service to his country in the mid-1950s, when he enrolled in the Naval Academy at Annapolis. He had been a skilled amateur wrestler in high school, and at Annapolis he took up boxing and became a respectable lightweight. Even then, he was a maverick with a high IQ, who excelled in courses he liked (such as literature and history) but paid scant attention to those he didn’t. As such, he often found himself in trouble with his superiors, but he was looked up to by many of his classmates, and he found even greater favor by using his considerable fighting skills to stand up for underdogs who often became the victims of bullying at the academy.
He received his commission as an ensign in 1958, after which he enrolled for two years of training at the Pensacola Air Station in order to become a Navy pilot. His training completed in 1960, McCain was commissioned as a ground-attack bomber pilot. In his earliest missions, he gained a dubious reputation as an often reckless air jockey, who pushed safety to the limit and beyond. As such, he ended up crashing three different military aircraft with sufficient skill to avoid serious injury.
By 1967, aged 30, McCain had risen to the rank of lieutenant commander and requested combat duty. He was assigned to fly A-4 Skyhawks off of the flight deck of the ill-fated aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. He and his fellow pilots on the aircraft carrier were to form part of Operation Rolling Thunder, a series of bombing runs initiated out of the Gulf of Tonkin against North Vietnamese targets.
McCain was aboard the Forrestal when an infamous fire broke out aboard the carrier, in which 134 seamen perished before the flames could be brought under control. McCain himself had to escape from his aircraft after it caught fire in the advancing flames. It was while he was attempting to help other pilots trapped in the blaze that Lieutenant Commander McCain was seriously wounded by shrapnel from a bomb set off by the fire.
With the Forrestal taken out of commission, and once cured sufficiently of his wounds, McCain volunteered to continue to play a part in Rolling Thunder from aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany. All of this happened in that same year 1967, in which Lieutenant Commander McCain would fly 22 successful bombing missions and would be awarded the Navy Commendation Medal and a Bronze Star.
It was on his 23rd mission, in October 1967, that John McCain was shot down over Hanoi. He broke both arms and a leg when he ejected from his heavily damaged Skyhawk. He nearly drowned when he parachuted into a lake, but was picked up by a North Vietnamese patrol. The Viet Cong regulars used their rifle butts to break both of McCain’s shoulders and then one of them bayoneted him.
After his capture, he was placed in an infamous prison known to GIs as “the Hanoi Hilton”. There, he was refused medical attention and was beaten and tortured repeatedly in an attempt to get information from him. His two cellmates at the time didn’t expect him to live. But against all odds, he did. He was only given medical attention after his captors found out that he was an admiral’s son. Word of his being shot down spread quickly in the international press.
In early 1968, McCain was placed in solitary confinement, where he would remain for nearly two years. At one point during that time, after his father became commander of US forces in the Vietnam Theater, the Viet Cong offered to release McCain into US Navy custody. This was a propaganda ploy that, on the one hand was designed to demonstrate how merciful the Viet Cong military was toward its enemies, and, on the other, to show other US POWs that the privileged sons of high ranking American officers were willing to use their influence to gain early release.
However, in strict adherence to US articles of war, which prohibit American service personnel from accepting special parole or privilege from the enemy, Lieutenant Commander John McCain refused to accept release unless all other POWs were released with him. As a result, he was subjected to unspeakable new horrors, in which he was taken from his cell and beaten regularly every two hours for an indefinite period of time. During this period he lost 50 pounds and as his health began to fail, he contemplated suicide. His attempt to kill himself was foiled, however, by prison guards and the torture continued.
Eventually, McCain realized that he had reached his breaking point—every person has one, and certainly his was far and away a very high bar. He signed an anti-US propaganda statement. Surely, no one (with the exception of Donald Trump) has ever blamed McCain for finally folding when life had become unbearable and suicide impossible. No one, that is, except John McCain himself, who always considered the signing of that false “confession” a “dishonorable act”. To make up for it, McCain refused to sign any further propaganda papers and as such, was again subjected to regular beatings several times a week.
It wasn’t until 1973, after more than five years in captivity, and in the waning days of US participation in the Vietnam War, that John McCain was released. The injuries that he suffered in captivity would plague him for the rest of his life. Among other things, he was never again able to raise his arms above his head. Despite that fact, after going through long and harrowing physical rehabilitation, he was eventually reinstated as a Navy aviator and was given command of a flight training group in Florida.
Having achieved the rank of captain, John McCain decided to retire from the Navy in 1981. He was granted a disability pension. Over the course of his distinguished military career, McCain received a Silver Star, two Legion of Merits, three Bronze Stars, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, and a POW Medal.      
 But John McCain was best known for his political career. As a congressman and senator for the state of Arizona, McCain spent 36 years in the US Congress. His colleagues, almost to a man and woman, and on both sides of the aisle, recognize that, whether you agree politically with John McCain or not, everything that he has done throughout his political career has been, to the best of his knowledge, what he thought was “the right thing to do.” He has been a hard-core opponent of those who disagree with him, but he has also been quick to admit to mistakes and errors of judgment.
He has also been a consummate statesman, who has sought results over party line. From Ted Kennedy to Barack Obama, and from Hillary Clinton to Chuck Schumer, he is remembered as a tough opponent but one who, when it came time to seek results, was willing to sit down and negotiate from a position of common ground rather than stonewalling on points of contention. This willingness to see the other point of view even while sticking to his convictions is clearly what permitted a staunch Republican like McCain to forge a deep and lasting friendship with a committed Democrat such as Joe Biden.
John McCain was, perhaps, the last of the Eisenhower-type Republicans. He believed in country above party, decency above advantage, fairness above winning, despite his combative nature and his adherence to his own strict code of ethics.
His bitter opposition to Donald Trump has been that of a true representative of “the party of Lincoln”. Trump is everything that John McCain opposed, as the president has demonstrated in the shabby treatment that he has given to Senator McCain himself. Trump once complained that he had raised a million dollars for McCain’s presidential bid and that McCain had “let us down.” Adding, “I never liked him as much after that because I don’t like losing.” Asked how he could show such disrespect for a proven war hero after calling McCain “a dummy” and “a loser”, five-time draft dodger Donald Trump said, “He's not a war hero. He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured.”
The statement shocked the majority of Americans, but rolled off the backs of Trump’s blindly loyal base like water off a duck’s back. Many, including myself, thought such an attack on an American military and political icon would end the career of a recently born-again Republican interloper in McCain’s own party, but we were all wrong about that. A significant segment of the population that was no longer interested in the values that McCain so clearly embodied—honesty, truth, justice, democracy, duty, honor and country—would carry Trump to a narrow victory in which he lost the popular vote by three million votes, and the GOP would suffer a humiliating setback in its erstwhile incarnation as the party of Lincoln, the party of Eisenhower and the party of John McCain.
Trump cannot find it in his heart to be generous toward John McCain even in death. A terse tweet sending condolences to McCain’s family was clearly going to be the president’s only concession to a man whose selfless service to his country spanned six decades. This despite the reported urging of Chief of Staff Kelly and other White House insiders that Trump release a eulogy statement written for him. Instead, the president jetted off to play golf. And on his return, he ordered the White House flag, which flew at half-mast over the weekend, to be returned to full mast.
This so angered veterans and congressional insiders that Trump was reluctantly forced to release a statement, two days following the senior senator’s death, grudgingly claiming that, “Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment.”
Too little too late, the president’s attitude speaks volumes of how different from John McCain’s his brand of “Republicanism” is—politics without honor, without truth, without chivalry, without concession, without sacrifice, and without patriotism.           

Saturday, August 11, 2018

BRUSH...


I’d like to explain my absence.
Where to begin?
A couple of weeks back I had what, at the time, I considered “a little accident”. I was doing some work outside the house here in Patagonia—scraping the snow off of Virginia’s car, checking to make sure the entry valve to our water storage tanks wasn’t frozen, unsticking the padlock on the front gate so Virginia could get out, etc.
I was doing all of this in my indoor shoes, something I seldom do in freezing weather, but I was in a rush and not putting on my boots, I thought, would save some time.
It was as I was again climbing to the top of our flagstone steps to open the gate for Virginia that I stepped on a patch of ice and felt myself starting to slip. Now, I’m usually sure-footed and immediately sought to recover, but failed to be able to get off of the ice or to stop the slide.
Unfortunately, I was at the top of a six-foot drop into our patio and simply, like a man washed overboard, slipped off the edge back first. The first thing to break my fall was a large granite boulder. Obviously, my body did the giving. I tried to scramble to my feet so as not to scare Virginia who was running back to see what had happened, but I was feet upgrade, head down, and scrambling never came into it.
I struggled to turn over, got on my knees and managed to push myself to my feet with the help of the roof of a sturdy doghouse. The pain was excruciating. I knew it was bad. Nothing had ever hurt like this before. But I managed to convince Virginia to go ahead about her errands. I just needed to catch my breath, I told her.
Inside the house, I did a quick damage control. The pain was persistent but I was getting my breath back. I could walk with certain difficulty but none of my limbs was broken. I was sure it was just a bad fall and that by the next day I’d be feeling better.
The next day, however, I realized that certain ways I moved a rib was clicking and decided to get myself looked at. At the local clinic they took x-rays and confirmed that I had a broken rib. There wasn’t much I could do about it, they said—wear a wrap eight hours a day and take painkillers. No going out for at least five days and no physical exertion for at least two weeks.
The third day, a Saturday, I did as I was told, but I started feeling worse all the time. I had to wear the wrap only a couple of hours at a time rather than eight straight because I was having difficulty breathing. In the evening when I took off the wrap, I immediately felt dizzy and confused. I had tunnel-vision and felt that I might black out. I told Virginia that I wanted to lie down on the couch and that if I didn’t get to feeling better soon, I’d let her drive me to the clinic to get checked out.
That never happened. Once I was down on the couch, I was never able to get up again under my own power. Virginia called the paramedics and in a short time, two consummate professionals, a man and a woman, managed to sit me up and started asking questions. I kept trying to doze off but they kept talking to me, loudly, assertively.
“Come on, champ! Hang in there. You’re going to be all right.” They asked about medication, ailments, etc., and I muttered answers as coherently as I could. But by now, all I wanted to do was sleep, and they apparently had to avoid that at all costs.
They’d had to leave their vehicle fifty meters above the house, partly over rough terrain. They wanted to see if they could get me there on foot. They managed to drag me to my feet, but as soon as they did, everything went black. Next thing I knew the male paramedic was yelling my name in my face. I think I tried to say something like, “Just let me sleep a while and I’ll be okay.” But I don’t know if I actually said it.
Finally, with the help of Virginia, they were manhandling me into a strange sort of wheel chair and strapping me in. How they did it I’ll never know since the woman couldn’t have weighed more than 120 pounds, but between the two of them, they managed to maneuver my 235 pounds up the path one step at a time, across the gravel and into the ambulance.
Once inside they locked my chair to the wall so as not to have to get me onto a stretcher. They told Virginia to follow us in her car. It was already well after midnight by this time. We had a mile of rocky pitted mountain road to negotiate before we reached the highway. They were constantly asking how I was doing, if I was with them. I could hear them like from very far away talking among themselves. The woman was driving. At one point he was consulting her about my condition, reading her my vital signs, such as they were, and she stopped the ambulance and climbed into the back with us.
She was busying herself over me, perhaps giving me an injection, when I heard him say, “You’re lucky you got her, champ, she’s a genius.”
And then we were under way again. I felt the jostling stop as we pulled onto the blacktop of the highway. As we drove, the guy stayed close, talking to me, squeezing my hand, saying, “Stick with me, champ! Come on, it won’t be long now. You’re doing great!” But then I heard him say to the woman, “Hit the lights and step on it. I can’t find his pulse anymore.”
At the clinic they were waiting for us. Between sleep and semi-consciousness, I felt myself being borne dizzyingly fast on a stretcher through the narrow halls, the front end being used as a battering ram to open successive swinging doors. There were drips hanging above me and they were taking blood pressure, temperature, pulse. Somebody cut my shirt off with surgical scissors. Then I felt them slide me into the tunnel of a tomography unit. I wanted to warn them that I was claustrophobic, but suddenly I was asleep again.
The next thing I knew, a doctor was shouting in my face, “Danny! Danny! Can you hear me?”
I nodded.
“You punctured a lung, buddy.” I wanted to mention that I was taking blood thinners, but clearly, he was already aware of that. Instead, I grimaced and nodded. “The surgeon’s here. We’re going to get a tube into your lung to draw off the blood.”
Later, in recovery, I heard the surgeon say, “We’ve drawn off about four and a quarter pints of blood. We’re leaving you hooked up because you’re still bleeding and we’re taking you to the ICU.”
I would later find out I’d lost another couple of pints to an intramuscular bleed that had bloomed across my back and side.
When I awoke in the ICU the next morning, I knew where I was. I was fairly comfortable. I’d gotten an end bed with a window where I could watch the sunrise on the mountains and the lake. As I lay there watching the beautiful red light tinge the snow-choked mountain tops, the phrase “brush with death” came to mind. And I suddenly, to my surprise, teared up and felt a wellspring of emotion thinking, “This is what it means. I might never have seen this again.”
Then I thought, “It’s a new day, the only one I have, and nothing will ever be the same again.”
 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

BOTTOM LINE: UNSUITABILITY TO SERVE



Any reasonable person watching the press conference held yesterday by presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki after what can only loosely be referred to as a “summit meeting” has to have come to one of three conclusions: that the US president is an intellectual midget incapable of understanding the simplest of concepts (such as who is “friend” and who is “foe”), that he is certifiably insane (a psychopath, for instance, is defined as having “a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits”...um, if the shoe fits), or that he is a traitor to his country.
Following the disgraceful display of capitulation demonstrated by Trump before a gloating Vladimir Putin, former CIA Director John Brennan was quick to tweet "Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes and misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous."
“High crimes and misdemeanors” is, of course, the constitutional definition of grounds for impeachment. Treason, as Director Brennan pointed out, is something else. As demonstrated by all of the pundits who were outraged by Trump’s performance but who balked a little at Brennan’s characterization of it as treason.
The word seems to scare a lot of people. But let’s look at it from Brennan’s clearly ethical and patriotic viewpoint. The simple dictionary definition of treason is “the crime of betraying one’s country.” In other words, putting one’s own interests or, worse still, the interests of a third party or country above those of one’s nation. That might not matter a great deal, in a peacetime situation at least, if you’re just John Doe. But if you’re Donald John Trump, and the president of the United States, it’s a very big deal indeed.
The US Constitution has its own definition of treason: “ "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort..."  
So where does that leave Trump? Andrew Wright, former assistant White House counsel and associate professor at the Savannah Law School, was quoted yesterday as saying that since the US and Russia are not at war, he didn't believe that Trump's conduct at the summit alone amounted to treason.
"It's quite clear he's selling out important American national-security interests by not standing up to Russian aggression," Wright told the on-line publication Business Insider. "That's why you see some people using the term 'traitor.' It's not a term I prefer to use ... It's the kind of thing I'd like to see after more investigative processes and legal findings."
But Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean and professor of law at Cornell Law School, countered that, even without a formal declaration, there is a case to be made that Russia and the US are indeed at war.
"One argument would be that Russia has engaged in a covert cyber intervention against US interests, including election meddling, that rises to the level of hostilities," he said.
"However, an even better argument would be that Russia and the United States are on the opposite sides of various armed confrontations in Syria." He was referring, of course, to Russia's backing of the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad while the US is providing a certain amount of support to rebel groups seeking to overthrow that regime, a situation that has brought US-coalition and Russian air support into dangerously close contact on more than one occasion.
No matter whether Russia and the US can be considered to be engaged in hostilities against one another, Putin’s Russia must at least be considered a hostile power, in terms of the strategic interests of the United States—whose democracy and system of government, mounting evidence shows, it has been actively seeking to undermine—and to the interests of its closest allies in Europe, where Putin is seen as a clear and present danger. And so the second part of the constitutional definition (offering aid and comfort to America’s enemies) would appear to fit.
The fact that Trump refused to even have his closest aides in the room with him and Putin when they met (and this was the US president’s stipulation, not Putin’s, although Putin must have been overjoyed by the suggestion) is telling. And it speaks to the body language of the two men when they later emerged to face the press, with Trump looking and sounding as if he had just been bitch-slapped and Putin smirking and posturing like the bouncer at a high-end disco.
And there can be no doubt that every thinking human being in the United States and in the NATO nations must have been utterly astonished, when Trump cavalierly dismissed the findings of ongoing probes and the indictment of a dozen military intelligence agents of Russia for explicit and reiterated intervention in the US election process and said that he believed Putin’s “strong and powerful denial” that he was involved.
Okay, we know Putin wasn’t sitting in bed at night with his laptop hacking the elections, but if Russian state intelligence was involved, Putin was giving the orders. This was like his repeated denials that Russia was involved in the fighting in Ukraine—following, it should be added, Russian annexation of Crimea. Those involved in the bloody fighting in ethnic Russian areas of Ukraine were, he insisted, volunteer guerrilla fighters. But they were wearing Russian uniforms without insignias and were armed to the teeth with Russian hardware. And official Russian troops and tanks were assembled all along the border with Ukraine. Obviously, Putin wasn’t there leading the charge with ivory-handled pistols in the style of George Patton, but let’s not kid ourselves: His finger was on the trigger.  
Stunned Americans are today asking, why. Why would a US president deny his nation’s own intelligence (more than a dozen intelligence agencies that say Russia is involved in cyber-warfare against the US)? Why would he show such utter and humiliating weakness toward the autocratic leader of an anti-democratic and anti-American expansionist regime? Why would he refuse to even bring up the subject of the twelve indictments against Russian cyber-spies, let alone demand their extradition? And why would he preface the summit with this nefarious autocrat by doing Putin’s work for him and trashing America’s closest allies, sowing discord in NATO and destroying international confidence in the US as the leader of the free world?
But those are the wrong questions. The question should be, how long will the American people put up with a president who is capable of doing these things? It is no longer a matter of whether Donald Trump is serving his own interests above those of the country he is constitutionally bound to serve. It doesn’t matter whether the Russians have something personal on Trump that, if revealed, would spell personal disaster for him, or that he simply can’t admit the role of Russian espionage in helping him win the election in 2016 and that if he is going to be able to justify as legitimate his controversial win over Hillary Clinton, he must place his own narcissism above the interests of the country—and if that’s the case...see item three in the first paragraph of this essay. What matters is that the president has proven himself unequivocally incompetent to serve in the high office that was bestowed on him.
Yesterday, we witnessed the president of the United States—an office usually held by individuals thought of as leaders of the free world—grovel before one of the world’s most ruthless autocrats, an authoritarian who has been in power for nearly two decades, and who, since 2014, has made no secret of leading his country on the path to a new age of expansionism, in pursuit of a return to the power and glory of the now defunct Soviet Union.
Trump has made it clear that he values his relationship with Putin above his responsibilities as president of the United States.
That should be a clear enough response to any questions in anyone’s mind about what happened this week.