Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Picking up the Helsinki Pieces

This is the text of a Facebook post I did yesterday, for those of you with whom I'm not connected there ...

As a veteran of more than 40 years of service in the US intelligence community, I am personally and professionally appalled by the comments made in Helsinki by Donald Trump. Instead of accepting and relying on the rock-solid, evidence-based findings of his own intelligence community, Mr Trump refused to call out Putin over Russian interference in the 2016 election. Make no mistake: the president of the United States is willing to accept the demonstrable lies of Vladimir Putin over the men and women who work day and night to protect his country. There is no - NO - excuse for this. Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution states that treason consists of "... adhering to (the) Enemies (of the United States), giving them Aid and Comfort." Mr Trump's shocking siding with Mr Putin, acceptance of his bald-faced lies, and refusal to put the interests of the United States ahead of his own vanity come perilously close to meeting the Constitutional definition of treason. Don't even try to sugar-coat this or explain why Trump deserves the benefit of the doubt. If ever there were a clear picture of the menace to our nation posed by this man, it was today's ghastly, reality-challenged press conference in Helsinki. Today, I am ashamed of my government and utterly disgusted by anyone who can view Mr Trump's shameful performance as anything but a disaster of historic proportions.

Have a good day. Expect better from your chief executive, but don't hold your breath. More thoughts coming.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Musical Sunday

One of my favorite singers is Nanci Griffith. She's had a lot of great songs, including "Late Nite Grande Hotel," "Wall of Death," and "Battlefield," but one I'd forgotten about until it popped up on my random playlist during my power walk earlier this week was this one ... which dates to 1994 and is even more topical today.

We are indeed living in an inconvenient ... if not downright maddening time. Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Cartoon Saturday

As my father would have said, if this past week had been a fish, I'd have thrown it back.

In a disgusting and embarrassing display of partisan rancor and total incivility, the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees wasted eleven hours in a shameless attempt to undermine the Mueller investigation via brutal and endlessly repetitive ad hominem attacks on former FBI Special Agent Peter Stzrok; after browbeating and insulting US allies at the NATO summit in Brussels, Donald Trump gave a self-congratulatory news conference and then went on to London, where he conducted a scathing interview denouncing British Prime Minister Teresa May right before a black-tie dinner in his honor ... hosted by May; former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, awaiting trial on charges developed during the No-Collusion Witch Hunt™, was moved from his relatively comfortable prison accommodations in the Northern Neck Regional Jail to the Alexandria Detention Center in Northern Virginia, which has a history of housing high-profile prisoners; and the mayor of the city of Lancaster, California, wants to enact a ban on the wearing of neckties in the workplace, citing a study that claims they restrict 7.5% of the blood going to the brain ... which may explain the horrendous behavior of participants in Thursday's Strzok Circus, at which everyone was wearing neckties that obviously cut off blood supplies to their brains.

This week, in honor with the GOP's relentless attacks on the health care system, we offer a collection of cartoons about where we're going with "affordable" health care ...

It's what your insurance will pay for ...

Saving money on anesthesia ...

And on colonoscopies ...

Cheaper than sutures, and it takes less time to apply ...

Generics apply everywhere ...

They didn't make much of an effort to save it ...

The modern choice ...

Good advice ...

Addressing the most important symptoms ...

The future of American medicine ...

Have a good day and a great weekend. Come back tomorrow for Musical Sunday, when we visit Nanci Griffith for a timely tune. More thoughts then.


Friday, July 13, 2018

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

Because after the travesty of the House Strzok debacle, we all need something to laugh at so we won't cry ...

I think I'll vacation somewhere else ...

Yes, but what about the food? ...

It's an unusual method of preparation, to be sure ...

Um ... perhaps someone ought to call rodent control ...

I think I'll stock up on those panty stuffers ...

Well, I certainly hope so ...

Tough qualifications ...

But how do you know when you're successful? ...

Say, what? ...

D'ya think? ...

Great Moments in Editing and Signage ... more fun than parsing Bret Kavanaugh's paper trail!

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... more thoughts then.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Derangement Syndrome

If you are one of my many friends on Facebook, you may already have seen all or part of what follows ... feel free to stop reading and come back another day. Otherwise, feel free to read on and to leave civil and thoughtful comments. I will summarily delete any comments that involve name-calling or fail to clearly and cogently address the issues raised here.

A while back, I engaged in a long-running online debate with one of my old co-workers, a person whose opinions I respect although we fundamentally disagree on many political issues. At one point early on in the discussion, he admonished me for exhibiting "TDS" ... "Trump Derangement Syndrome."

Derangement Syndrome is not a new thing in American political life. I first heard the term used during the administration of the second President Bush, when Republicans and conservatives accused Democrats and liberals of "Bush Derangement Syndrome" - an inflexible opposition to everything said or done by George W. Bush. Derangement Syndrome returned in its mirror image a few years later when it morphed into "Obama Derangement Syndrome," an inflexible opposition to everything said or done by Barack Obama ... including the absolute conviction (against all evidence) that Mr Obama was not born in the United States and was thus ineligible even to be president. Obama Derangement Syndrome was particularly virulent because it was laid over an ugly layer of racism that bubbled beneath the more or less calm surface of American life.

And now, of course, comes the third mutation of the condition - "Trump Derangement Syndrome," an inflexible opposition to everything said or done by Donald Trump*.

Disclaimer: I frankly admit that I despise Donald Trump. I didn't like Hillary Clinton either, but Trump to me represents the worst in American politics - a man without scruples, with no knowledge or understanding of significant issues of domestic or foreign policy or international economics; a man utterly unfamiliar with and dismissive of Constitutional norms; a shameless liar even when lying was unnecessary and who, when his lies are exposed, simply doubles down on them; a man willing to hurl juvenile insults at opponents; a man who blithely alienates our closest allies and cozies up to the worst dictators; and a man willing to utter the worst sort of banana republic-style threats of violence and legal action against his opponents.

If being horrified by this constitutes TDS, then I guess I'm guilty as charged. But despite my friend's urging to respect the office of the presidency if not the incumbent, I cannot accept the debasement of the office once held by George Washington, one of the most civil and thoughtful of men, by a man who completely lacks the common decency, civility, and gravitas required by the nation's highest office ... once the most powerful position in the world. I cannot support or admire a man who does not accept that he is the president of all Americans, with a responsibility to unite the country (difficult though the job may be) ... not just to pander to those who wear red hats and cheer his every word at his endless ego-trip rallies.

One can make the specious argument that Trump supporters felt the same way about life under President Obama, but then, Obama did not blatantly lie at every turn, constantly ridicule his opponents, declare the press to be the enemy of the people, call for his electoral opponent to be jailed, insult and ignore the warnings of his own intelligence community, and deliberately insult our closest allies while embracing autocrats who represent the opposite of traditional America values.

My friend says that he doesn't like everything Trump says, but he likes what he does, and he urges me to recognize the positive things Trump has accomplished, but I don't see any. As far as I can see, the much-ballyhooed tax has resulted in my taxes going up. Our traditional alliances are in tatters. North Korea, having vaguely sort of halfway maybe promised to stop its nuclear program, has been caught secretly upgrading its facilities and has blithely insulted Secretary of State Pompeo with the accusation that the United States is engaging in "gangster politics" ... a turn of events anyone with any knowledge of previous negotiations with North Korea could have foreseen. We have unnecessarily antagonized the rest of the world and gotten ourselves into a trade war that others will be happy to help us lose. While we desperately need a complete revision and update of our immigration policy, we have squandered our moral high ground by engaging in horrifying acts of brutality unworthy of a great nation. I am probably the only person who has actually put forward a potentially-workable plan for immigration reform ... but nobody's interested.

If opposing - on firm and defensible grounds - the sort of man we've placed in office constitutes derangement, then I'm deranged. But I'd rather be considered deranged by some than sit back and watch the country I love go down the drain. There is no ... no excuse for the sort of behavior demonstrated by Donald Trump and his cronies and enablers**. Someday ... sooner rather than later, I hope ... we will realize what we've done and right the ship.

But I'm afraid its already too late.

Have a good day. Demand better of your government, even if there's little hope of getting it.

More thoughts coming.


* There's also a Hillary Derangement Syndrome which is every bit as virulent as Trump Derangement Syndrome, but it doesn't really count in this discussion because she was not elected (according to law and the Constitution, if not the popular vote) and has no measurable influence in government any more.

** Yes, I know that I will be excoriated by those suffering from whataboutitis, angry because I have not equally castigated Those Damn Democrats who, everybody knows, started the whole thing. Maxine Waters is as big an idiot as Donald Trump, but is not in a position to cause as much lasting damage to the nation as Trump is. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Letter and the Spirit of the Law

Here's a timely chicken-and-egg question for you: which is more important, the letter of the law or its spirit?

This is no trivial question, especially during these times when an increasingly law-and-order focused administration* applies a no-tolerance policy emphasizing enforcement of the strict letter of the law, particularly in immigration-related cases.

What do we mean by letter vs spirit?

Traffic laws provide the simplest example. The most common highway speed limit in the United States is 55mph (roughly 88kph, for those of you in more advanced countries). If we follow the letter of the law, every car traveling 56mph or faster should be ticketed ... which is clearly impossible. In such cases, it's the spirit of the law that's important - an appropriate maximum speed has been decided upon** for most situations on a given stretch of road, but police officers have broad discretion as to which speeders they pull over. My personal experience is that if you are moving with the flow of traffic (neither significantly faster or slower), not driving recklessly (tailgating or weaving in and out of traffic), and not dangerously far above the limit (say, more than 20mph over), you will not be ticketed even though the letter of the law says you should ... the police generally apply the spirit of the law (maintenance of traffic safety) rather than its letter in order to keep traffic moving safely.

Emphasizing the letter of the law rather than its spirit can lead to significant abuses of authority, as when police use abusive speed traps to raise funds, or use obscure transgressions as a pretext for other actions that might otherwise be illegal (using a broken taillight as an excuse to search a car for drugs or weapons, for instance).

This is what we see happening today in the application of immigration laws on the southern border.

The spirit of immigration laws is a worthy one: to protect the nation from unregulated immigration and - indirectly - to protect would-be immigrants from exploitation by the unscrupulous. But enforcing the letter of the laws by criminalizing every illegal border crossing and by separating children from their parents has the opposite effect: it diminishes our moral standing in the world, unnecessarily overburdens our courts and social services, and distracts law enforcement personnel from addressing the more serious threats of drug smugglers, terrorists, and human traffickers.

Writing laws is both easy and hard. It's easy for Congress to dash out a new law quickly in an attempt to be seen to be doing something about a problem, but it's hard to come up with an effective law that will satisfy every person and group with a stake in the issue. A law needs to be specific enough to be enforceable, yet flexible enough to allow some discretion in its application ... thou shalt not kill is pretty specific and enforceable, and yet we have laws providing differing penalties for first, second, and third degree murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, justifiable homicide, etc, which allow for some discretion in how the illegal deprivation of life is prosecuted.

So, is the letter of the law or the spirit of the law more important?

Because it is all but impossible to write a law that covers every specific combination of circumstances, I suggest that it's the spirit of the law which is more important - what is the goal the law is meant to achieve, and will a particular verdict advance that goal?

What's your view? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


P.S. - I'm reminded of the old joke about lawyers: If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the facts are against you, argue the law. And if both the law and the facts are against you, go on television and yell like crazy.


* The focus on strict law enforcement does not apply, oddly enough, to transgressions committed by members of the administration itself. And Donald Trump has just nominated to the Supreme Court a man who seems to have the view that the president is above the law. Go figure.

** Here's a pretty good explanation of how speed limits are determined.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Poetry Sunday

This past week Americans celebrated their Independence Day - the Fourth of July - with fireworks, parades, streets adorned with flags, and miles of red, white, and blue bunting. The Fourth of July is the high point of summer here in the US of A, sitting as it does between the traditional start of the summer season on Memorial Day and its traditional end on Labor Day. It's a day for celebrations, sales events, and the general enjoyment of life in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I've used this poem in this space before, but it's appropriate to the season and a reminder that, on the Fourth of July, we ought to celebrate all the things that we treasure as Americans, embodied in the good old stars and stripes ...

The Flag is Passing By
by Henry Holcomb Bennett

Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,
A dash of color beneath the sky:
Hats off!
The flag is passing by!

Blue and crimson and white it shines,
Over the steel-tipped, ordered lines.
Hats off!
The colors before us fly;
But more than the flag is passing by.

Sea-fights and land-fights, grim and great,
Fought to make and to save the State:
Weary marches and sinking ships;
Cheers of victory on dying lips;

Days of plenty and years of peace;
March of a strong land's swift increase;
Equal justice, right and law,
Stately honor and reverend awe;

Sign of a nation, great and strong
To ward her people from foreign wrong:
Pride and glory and honor,--all
Live in the colors to stand or fall.

Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums;
And loyal hearts are beating high:
Hats off!
The flag is passing by!

I hope you enjoyed the Fourth of July, and took a moment amid the fireworks, picnics, parades, and sales to remember the sacrifices, duties, and responsibilities of citizenship that made our independence a reality ... and continue to keep it so.

Have a good day, and enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts later.


Saturday, July 07, 2018

Cartoon Saturday

Well, we're into July and - oddly enough - it doesn't look a whole lot better than June did. Sigh.

Having finally reached a point where his brazen displays of scandalous behavior could no longer be protected by his patrons, EPA chief Scott Pruitt resigned on Thursday; twelve teenaged members of a soccer team and their coach remain trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand while rescue forces try to figure out a way to get them to safety; a British couple has been hospitalized after apparently being poisoned by the same nerve agent used last March in an apparent attempt by Russia to kill a defector and his daughter; Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club has applied for permission to hire 40 foreign workers to serve as waiters during the upcoming winter social season in Florida, despite Trump's insistence that foreign workers are holding down wages and stealing jobs from Americans; and in Toronto, police continued to dig on the property of an accused serial killer after discovering additional human remains beyond the seven already found.

This week, for no particular reason, we'll feature a series of cartoons about the legendary Great White Whale - Moby Dick* - and his nemesis, Captain Ahab ...

How things might have turned out differently ...

Sometimes you should just quit while you're ahead ...

I recommend against allowing ...

The Great White Pun ...

Well, are you? ...

Version B of the above ...

I hope the insurance covers this many meetings ...

Maybe it's just me, but I think Mrs Fenster looks like the Great White Twinkie ...

Uh, oh ...

Memory sometimes plays tricks ...

And that's it for the obsessive-compulsive edition of Cartoon Saturday.


* No, Mike, Moby Dick is not an STD.

Friday, July 06, 2018

The Right-Cheek Ass Clown for July, 2018

We're past the halfway point of 2018, and there's just no letup in the number of people desperately trying to win my Ass Clown awards. And so it is that we separate the chaff from the rest of the chaff and name our

Right-Cheek Ass Clown for July, 2018

and the award goes - for the fourth time - to

Senate Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell (R, KY)

In a time when our political leadership has risen to unparalleled heights of hypocrisy and substandard performance, Senator McConnell stands head and shoulders above all competition with his insistence on an immediate vote to seat a replacement for retiring Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy, despite having inflexibly insisted that such a vote would absolutely not be taken for President Obama's last Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, because the vacancy occurred in an election year. Senator McConnell has compounded his hypocrisy by claiming that the two situations are entirely different - that a presidential election and a Congressional election are totally different, and that the only important election is the presidential one, because the president makes Supreme Court nominations.

While it is, of course, true that the sitting president nominates a preferred candidate to the court, Senator McConnell has failed to note the fact that it is the Senate which actually votes on the candidate ... thus, one can persuasively argue that a Congressional election is more important than a presidential one, because the "people's voice" Senator McConnell is so anxious to have heard is more reflective of the outcome of a Congressional election ... especially given that the sitting president was elected (albeit legally and Constitutionally) by a minority of the people.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is named as our Right-Cheek Ass Clown for the month of July, 2018, for his supreme exercise of the art of political hypocrisy.

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.


Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Patriotism vs Nationalism

A while back I published a post with my thoughts on the topic of patriotism in the era of Donald Trump. After reading it, one of my friends (yes, Richard, that's you) suggested I comment on the topic of patriotism versus nationalism. I thought it was a pretty good topic, especially for the Fourth of July, so here goes ...

My Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines patriotism as, "Love for or devotion to one's country;" and nationalism as, "Loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness; exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups."

I believe we are well beyond patriotism in today's America. Today, "love and devotion to one's country" seems to be measured not in mutual respect for our fellow citizens and devotion to our founding traditions, but in ostentatious displays of the flag (including the flag of the Confederacy, which had nothing to do with loving the USA, and the Gadsden "Don't Tread on Me" Flag, which praises love of individual rights over love of country and responsibilities of citizenship). It also seems to include an insistence on "America First." We are living in the age of "Red, White, and Blue, So Screw You!" nationalism.

I consider myself a patriotic American. I love my country. I spent 23 years in uniform serving it, and I'm proud of its melting pot tradition and of the largely positive role we've played in the world. Americans don't always do the right thing the first time, but over the 240-plus years of our history, we've usually managed to work things out among ourselves in a way that has made us arguably the most wealthy and successful nation on earth.

Unfortunately, we are shedding many of the qualities that have allowed us to create this great nation. Consider our attitude toward immigration. Immigrants ... which virtually all of us are, if you go back far enough* ... built this nation. My paternal grandparents came from Hungary in the late 1800s, and my maternal ancestors came from Germany before then. They worked hard, learned to speak a foreign language (English), and built new lives for themselves and a strong base for those of us who came later. Do we need secure borders? Of course we do. Should those who try to enter illegally be turned back? Yes. But as Americans, we should recognize why it is that so many people want to come here, legally or not - because they have the same dreams and aspirations our own ancestors had.

Responsibility for the present social and political disaster of our immigration "policy" - such as it is - rests squarely on the shoulders of the president and Congress. By ignoring our history and our shared values in favor of kowtowing to a mindless blaming of "immigrants" for every problem, they have - confusing patriotism and nationalism - led us directly to the horrific mess we have today. As far as I can tell, I'm the only person who has ever proposed a workable and realistic immigration policy**, and it's been pretty much ignored by every president (Bush, Obama, and Trump), Representative, and Senator I've sent a copy to.

Another thing that separates destructive nationalism from patriotism is the tendency to demonize those with whom one politically disagrees as enemies who wish only the destruction of the nation. We see this in the overheated rhetoric of Donald Trump, who denounces Democrats - individually and collectively - at every opportunity, accusing them of wanting totally open borders and the unlimited influx of foreign criminals, and who denounces the media as "enemies of the people" rather than First Amendment guardians of what's left of our democracy. We also see it in the overheated rhetoric of Democrats who allow their passion to overrule their brains (yes, Maxine Waters, I'm talking to you) ... all it does is convince passionate Republicans that equally passionate Democrats are all crazy.

So ...

Patriotism vs Nationalism. What's the real difference? I think it's best summarized in the comment attributed to Carl Schurz: the nationalist says, "my country, right or wrong;" the patriot says, "my country, right or wrong. If right, to be kept right; if wrong, to be put right."

Unfortunately, we've reached a point where no one can agree on - or even discuss rationally - what's right.

And that's wrong.

Have a good day and a safe and happy 4th of July holiday. More thoughts later.


* It's not PC, but in this category I also include "Native Americans," many of whose ancestors originally arrived in North America via the prehistoric land bridge from Siberia to displace whoever might have been here even before them.

** Check it out here if you haven't seen it any of the other feensky-zillion times I've shared it.