Friday, December 7, 2018

THE DANGER OF GOING WITH GUT OVER SCIENCE



Donald Trump all too often leaves reasonable people with their mouths hanging open. So much of what he does and says seems, to the logical mind, utterly incredible and audaciously inappropriate. How, for instance, can a president of the United States repeatedly declare himself opposed to and in conflict with his own intelligence community, his own party, his own attorney general, his own cabinet? These are all firsts on the US political scene that have many people shaking their heads in disbelief.
A trick-photo joke is too close to true to be funny, when it 
comes to Trump's environmental policy.
But it’s not all that hard to understand Donald Trump’s stance. He is not the president of all Americans, despite currently occupying the post of President of the United States. Trump is the president of “Trump”, chief executive of his own brand. Narcissist that he would appear to be, that brand, that trademark, that name, is all that he is loyal to. Everything else is expendable—friends, contacts, allies, his cabinet, members of the media, the general welfare of Americans and America, even the future of the planet as a whole. In Trump’s world, nothing is true unless it fits the Trump narrative.
We witnessed another patent example of this phenomenon this past week when Trump rejected out of hand a US government report that spoke in no uncertain terms about the dire treat posed by global climate change and underscored the need to act now to try to keep it from growing any worse. The congressionally mandated government report, known as the National Climate Assessment, predicts that climate change will cost the US economy 400 billion dollars, in current terms, by the end of the century. The report says that increasingly frequent wildfires that, to date, there is no effective way of controlling or combating, are already seriously affecting air quality in the Western states, and with air growing ever hotter and drier, the problem only stands to become wider-spread in the future.
 The report says that "climate change is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us."
According to the report, this includes worsening air pollution causing heart and lung problems, an increasing variety of diseases transmitted by insects, and potential for increasing fatalities as a result of heat waves and increasingly severe allergies. It also indicates that, on our current course, the kind of ever more extreme weather events that we are experiencing can only get worse.
The report is periodic and mandated by law. It is based on hundreds of previous research studies and is carried out by over a dozen government agencies and scores of independent climate, economic and health professionals. It is a highly comprehensive study that details how global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas is hurting each region of US, and how it impacts different sectors of the economy, including energy and agriculture.
The report wasn’t supposed to be released until this month, but the Trump administration quietly leaked in on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, when Americans flock to shopping centers and go on line en masse to take advantage of post-Thanksgiving deep discounts). According to a quote from an international policy expert at the World Resources Center, the earlier release on a date when the general public would be distracted was actually an attempt by the administration to bury the study.
Following publication of the assessment, Trump said that he has seen it, “read some of it” and “didn’t believe” that climate change would bring any serious economic impact.
Just as, in the past, Trump has claimed that he “knows more than the generals” when it comes to US strategic military interests, in this case, he appears to know more than the climate scientists, government economists and specialized federal agencies as well.
The president has several times indicated publicly that he trusts “his gut” over science. For the sake of his grandchildren and other future generations, he’d better hope that he’s not mistaking (greenhouse) gas for brain waves emanating from his gut.     

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

ANOTHER TRUMP (AMERICA) FIRST



At the G20 summit held this year in Buenos Aires, Argentina, US President Donald Trump racked up yet another first. He was the only major world leader to indicate that he didn’t believe in climate change and would do nothing to combat it.
That’s right. When the Group of 20 signed a joint statement closing the summit last Sunday, a major issue was a renewed commitment to actively combatting global climate change in accordance with the Paris Accord, but final approval was not unanimous. Only 19 of the 20 major economies committed once more to fighting climate change. The only hold-out...You guessed it.
The US also flatly objected to use of the word “protectionism” in the final draft of the agreement in the section covering flaws in the current world trading system. Resistance from Washington was so great that the word ended up being censored from the final text.
But this was also consistent with the Trump administration’s policies, since if the international trade system has gone from being flawed to heading for a complete breakdown, the shift can only be attributed to the US president, who has levied tariffs on friends and rivals alike, sparking a major trade war with China that has thrown the international economy into a tizzy and prompted worldwide confusion and trade insecurity.
Protectionism is precisely what Trump is attempting to engage in (though he refuses to call it that). But he has failed to realize that the global economy is now so interconnected that it is impossible to impose protectionist tariffs against another major world trading power like China, or such a close trading partner as Canada, without shooting yourself in the proverbial foot. The best example? The closure of five General Motors plants in the US because tariffs imposed on imported parts have made it cheaper for the auto giant to produce cars elsewhere.  
Delegates from other countries attending the G20 meeting would later reveal that negotiations had been grueling and that the US had been the lone hold-out on nearly every issue included (and not included) in the final agreement. The Trump administration has been openly critical of the World Trade Organization, which is at odds with Trump’s America First (America Alone) policy that has his administration implementing unprecedentedly aggressive trade policies targeting not only China but also US allies in European Union and elsewhere.

Friday, November 30, 2018

HOSTAGES TO THE G20


Argentine President Mauricio Macri was very obviously elated at being the master of ceremonies and center of attention at the start of the G20 summit of major industrialized nations, which this year was being held in Argentina’s capital city on November 30 and December 1. After a decade of isolationism and “bad company” under the populist Kirchner regime that preceded his government, Macri has, in all fairness, bent over backwards to lift Argentina out of its former pariah status on the Western stage, and this G20 meeting is clearly a crowning moment for the country’s president—though not so much for many of his people.
Trump fumbles with the earpiece then throws it to the floor.
Macri’s first meeting on the opening day of the conference was with US President Donald Trump, slated for 7 a.m. As per Trump’s custom —dramatic planned late entrances—the US president didn’t arrive at Government House from his hotel until 7:23 a.m., thus making a show of his disregard for everyone else’s schedule at a conference attended by practically all major world leaders. He showed further disdain for the host country by only reluctantly accepting an earpiece so that he could hear the simultaneous English interpretation of Macri’s welcoming speech, and only then merely holding it up to one ear instead of putting it on. When Macri had finished speaking, Trump said, “I think I understood you better in your language than I did on this, but that’s OK,” and then tossed the earpiece to the floor.
Macri made reference to the long relationship that his own multi-millionaire family has had with billionaire Trump and his family for decades. Trump, meanwhile, recalled how he had told the Argentine president’s father, businessman Franco Macri, that he was sure Mauricio would one day be president and congratulated himself for making the right call.
Macri said, “...It took us 30 years to convince you to come, Donald...We had to wait for you to become president and for me to become president to manage it, but we Argentines are really very happy to have you here in our country.” 

Clearly, there are many Argentines who would beg to differ. 

As in many other parts of the world, Trump is a less than popular figure here among a very large segment of the population. He is often seen as a bully, when not as a buffoon, and as a danger in his role as the most powerful leader on earth, due to his America First (America alone) policy, his contempt for traditional US allies, his unpredictable and often belligerent foreign policies, his fostering of a worldwide trade war and his disregard for the basic tenets of democracy and for the science behind efforts to rein in global climate change. Add to that Argentina’s previous negative experiences with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and foreign business and banking under the former military regime (1976-1983) and under the 10-year reign of elected President Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999), as well as the extraordinary and massively disruptive security efforts surrounding the G20 summit itself, and the mood among a major portion of the population is anything but positive surrounding either Trump’s visit or the summit as such. 

Security for the two-day summit alone will cost Argentine taxpayers an approximate 43 million dollars at a time when adherence to IMF guidelines is imposing a cruel austerity program on the population at large. Since taking office, Macri has also scrapped former subsidies on basic services such as privatized electric power, natural gas, water and sewage, etc., causing utilities to skyrocket, while permitting concession-holders to pretty much dictate their own prices. A free-floating exchange rate and free-market price policy has significantly raised retail prices for basic necessities in dollar terms, while, additionally, new and increasingly onerous taxes have been imposed on a population already stretched thin, while pay increases and social security are being severely restrained by the Macri administration.
Ramped-up security for the summit has prompted a veritable shutdown of the entire country. Mobility has been so severely restricted for the Friday and Saturday summit that the government saw fit to declare an extraordinary national holiday on Friday, and there has been a nationwide shutdown of domestic air services. Long-distance bus services have also been suspended, as have subway and train services for Buenos Aires and the Greater Buenos Aires area and maritime services in the Port of Buenos Aires. Local bus services were being maintained on a restricted basis. In short, Buenos Aires and indeed much of the country as a whole were being held hostage by the G20. 

A vast number of Argentines tend to tremble whenever world leaders get together with their own government to decide their fate. This is not surprising, considering the country's checkered foreign policy and economic  history. Many tend to figure that any time world leaders gather behind closed doors, the purpose will be to figure out how to divide up the world’s wealth, power and resources, and that, in the end, the common people will always lose. Judging from their own experience, the people of Argentina may very well have a point.

With regard to how certain local experts view Argentina’s hosting of the G20 summit, the opposition newspaper Página 12 asked Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, professor of international relations at Argentina’s Universidad Di Tella, to provide an opinion on what the benefit to Argentina would be of hosting the G20 here and of subordinating its foreign policy to the whims of Washington.
The Government is composed of an elite that believes that some of the Menem administration’s recipes worked,” Tokatlian told the daily. “But (Macri) doesn’t know the level of financialization that has taken place in the world and that it’s not possible to go back to the '90s. That world doesn’t exist anymore.”
According to the Universidad Di Tella professor, “They (the Macri government) are not intellectually sophisticated. They have a logic of interrelationship between the political world and the economic world more typical of the '90s, which doesn’t exist today within the domestic internal dynamics of the United States. So they opt for the third way, which is to believe that security issues are going to be what will open other economic doors. Then they look for the path to see how to get the Southern Command into to the DEA, into the FBI. This shows ignorance.”
Tokatlian went on to say that, “in addition to their ignorance, they have a very optimistic view of the world, of globalization, of the free market, of the flow of investments, of the attraction posed by the arrival of a government different from (the earlier) Argentina and of the end of what they call populism. When optimism meets ignorance, the balance is a catastrophic cocktail.” The fear, he said, was that Argentina would overreact. “Then,” he said, “we go from ignorance and optimism to naivety and to voluntarism. That is a very bad reading of the United States.”

Macri got a taste of this new, non-'90s realpolitik on the first day of the summit when Trump laid down a new rule. Basically, you're either with China or with the US. There's no in between.  
Last Sunday, I arrived back in Argentina after almost a month away in my native United States. I had nearly five hours to kill in the Jorge Newbery metropolitan airport before catching my domestic flight to Patagonia. After checking my bag, I decided to cross the street in front of the airport to walk a while along the beautiful coast of the River Plate. But instead of the usually lovely view I found blocks and blocks of what looked like a miniature replica of Donald Trump’s ´proposed border wall—solid sheet metal nine feet tall, topped by endless coils of razor wire. At first I couldn’t imagine why this romantic and iconic Buenos Aires attraction had been so monstrously violated. And then I realized that this was the ugly face of the upcoming G20 meeting.


Disheartened, I walked along the barrier dragging my carry-on behind me, unable to get even a glimpse of the miles-wide, lion-colored waters of the River Plate until, abruptly, passing the main security area of the airport, the wall ended and a familiar and welcome sight unfolded: the inveterate anglers who daily fish the waters of their city’s river from the sidewalk behind the flood wall. This was where they had all re-grouped, squeezed up the coastline by the aggressive new barrier, but undeterred from their beloved enterprise. There was the lady who sold bait, coffee, sandwiches and churros. There too was the food wagon that sold sausages, hamburgers, fries and drinks. And then the fishermen themselves, with their rods lined up along the flood wall, enjoying what had turned out to be a truly fine spring day. It was passive resistance, a reminder that the coastline was a long one and that the government wasn't going to be able to fence them out of all of it.
I found a place to sit and watch them for a while, and as I did, I had to smile. The razor wire and security wall would always represent the unassailable power of the rich over the common people. But the anglers represented the simple truth that people adapt and find a way to work around the government, no matter what gets thrown at them. Life goes on, governments and policies change. The only thing that was constant, I realized, was this, people in the pursuit of happiness...against all odds.   


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.