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One of the things I love most about woodworking is it gives you plenty of time to ruminate. Since we moved to Pennsylvania in March, I was able to set up a new wood shop and have spent plenty of time there. Ruminating.

-Why did anyone here give a damn about the French election? I mean, I can understand caring if you have a house in Marseilles, but otherwise? The only things the French have given the world is champagne, overpriced cuisine and Napoleon.

-What did people with pre-existing conditions do before Obamacare? I mean, I thought being a Crohn’s patient might make me somewhat knowledgeable about the topic, but apparently I must have been dead and not realized it.

-Why do people who insist that we need to go to a government run, single-payer medical system in the US always use the VA as a point of reference? If anything, the VA is excellent at demonstrating how terrible the government is at running a healthcare system. After all, if they can’t root out the corruption and incompetence, or come up with some sort of accountability for a system that serves only 2% of the population, imagine what happens when that’s expanded to “serve” all 350 million of us.

-I keep seeing these rosy BLS employment stats, which then get slashed in the next quarter. Just like the Obamanauts did, the Trumpers are celebrating them as “proof” that the economy is wonderful. In the meantime, real growth remains negative, interest rates are climbing and both the government and private debt bubbles are liable to pop at any minute. Fun times ahead!

-Can the Yankees keep this up? I know it’s only May 8, but 20-9 is a lot better than 9-20. Right now, they’re on pace to win 112 games. And let’s face it, this is a fun team to watch. They keep finding ways to win the kinds of wacky, crazy games they lost over the past decade. Down 10 runs? Score 11 in 3 innings. Down to your last strike? Hit a 3 run homer to win the game. Blow a 3 run lead to the world champs in their yard? Will your way to win an 18 inning classic.

-This obsession the Democrats have with Russians, racists and socialism is going to keep them out of power for a long time. The incredible part is they don’t seem to realize it. But while they may not be dumb enough to verbalize it the way Hillary did, they still seem to think most of the country is populated by “deplorables,” and woe to the Dem pol who dares voice something else. Just look what happened to poor Tim Ryan when he vainly tried to get them back to normalcy.

-In the meantime, my greatest fear about Trump (that his oversized ego couldn’t let the little slights go without acting as if it was the worst thing since fake mayonnaise) is being born out daily. Just this morning, my phone exploded with Trump tweets that are absolutely irrelevant to the job he was elected to do. He is supposed to be President of the United States, not Reality Star in Chief.

-Why is the world acting like North Korea is the second coming of Nazi Germany? The idiots can’t even shoot a missile at the sea, for pete’s sake. If that’s a military threat to us, then our military is in much worse shape than we ever thought.

-Why do dandelions ALWAYS seem to find my lawn? I’m not talking one or two. I’m talking enough to make it look like the grass is actually the weed.

More to come later, I’m sure. Until then, keep on laughing! The world will think you’re absolutely nuts, and who knows? Maybe we all are!

Towers Just Want to Have Fun


I know many people are thoroughly confused about why the power goes out.

Trumpian Ignorance


The Donald has “issued an ultimatum” to the Congress. I’ve heard or read this line about a half dozen times in the past 30 minutes. This is not only ridiculous, but demonstrates the president’s incredible lack of understanding about the separation of powers and co-equal branches of government.

The President heads up the Executive, which is tasked with implementing and enforcing the laws passed by the Congress. It is the Congress which is tasked with legislative and fiscal responsibility. The President can ask Congress to enact laws. He cannot demand them.

Trump’s ignorance of the Constitutional process is woeful. Does he really presume to tell Congress what to do? The bill he wants passed has been widely panned as the only way to actually make the health care system worse. If it fails later today (as seems likely) and Congress produces a straight repeal bill in June, will he hold to his threat and veto it? To do so would be political suicide. Of course he would sign it.

The reality here is Trump is learning a lesson he should have learned in his pricey boarding school: the President is at the Congress’ mercy on legislative matters. He cannot set deadlines, he cannot set the legislative calendar and he cannot dictate terms. Regardless of how much he bloviates, how many tantrums he throws or how often he tweets, every President runs the risk of becoming impotent if he offends Congress.

Donald Trump runs the risk of becoming a neutered, one-term, inconsequential​President if he continues to antagonize his governmental equals. He loves to compare himself to Andrew Jackson. But in reality, his presidency is looking more like another Democrat voted into office to”shake things up.” Another President who ignored political norms, made enemies of his own party, relied more on sycophants and family than people who understand how government functions. 

Yes, at this point, the Trump Administration is looking more like the Carter admin than the Reagan years. 

It’s Never Easy to Say Good-Bye


As I’m sure many of you know, I’ve dealt with an aggressive case of Crohn’s Disease for almost 26 years. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve won most of the battles (including a couple when, by all rights, I should not have survived), but the disease is winning the war. That’s why, as of today, I am officially retired.

This hasn’t been an easy decision for me. Willingly giving up my business is one of the most gut-wrenching decisions I’ve ever made. It isn’t one I did on the spur of the moment, but really, my body made the decision for me. I was strongly contemplating it last Fall; by Thanksgiving it was fairly obvious which way I was leaning. I had pretty much made up my mind by New Year’s. My hospitalization in January only served to confirm my decision. 

Most people nowadays are at least aware of Crohn’s Disease and know it has something to do with frequent bathroom breaks. That’s a far cry from when I was diagnosed in 1992, when almost nobody had heard of it (I certainly hadn’t). What most of you probably don’t know is all of the other ways Crohn’s can play hell with your life. Over the past 6 years, this disease has shown itself not content with ruining my digestive tract. It’s spread (in order of appearance) to my eyes, my vascular system, my bones, my heart, my lungs and my endocrine system. The most recent organ to feel Crohn’s wrath is my pancreas, which has my blood sugar yo-yo’ing like a hyperactive toddler on a teeter-totter.

Then there’s the chronic fatigue and chronic pain. Sadly, there isn’t much anyone can do about the fatigue. I power through as best I can, but between the sugar spikes and pain I find myself expending energy just to sit upright. As for the pain, literally every joint in my body – from my neck to my ankles – is constantly throbbing, aching and burning. In a way, it’s a good thing: I don’t notice the pain in my gut nearly so much. When it gets unbearable, I’ll take a couple of Tylenol. The doctors have offered me a wonderful cocktail of Tramadol and Flexoril, but as long as I can grin and bear it, I’ll prefer bourbon and rum in my cocktails.

Of course, since I was confirmed legally blind in November I’ve lost my driving privileges. To be honest, that wasn’t a huge blow. I’d noticed months before that my eyesight was failing and drove sparingly. But it’s still just one more reason that retiring now makes sense.

Finally, there is my family to consider. Fortunately, my sons are all doing reasonably well for themselves. But I can’t work myself into my grave so long as my wife is willing to stand by my side. And I’ve cheated death too many times not to feel his grip on my shoulder. Hopefully, God will hold off a while before He decides He needs another Marine to guard the Pearly Gates.

As for what the future holds, well, I don’t really know. I know I need a heart valve replaced; I’ve begun the testing to see if the rest of my body can stand the strain. I suppose I might do more woodworking and fishing. I’ll probably have time to read the 40 or so unread books in my Kindle library. And I suppose we’ll start looking at property in warmer climes. Even though this winter has been relatively mild, the simple fact is my body starts to shut down when the mercury dips below 50°.

So, it’s time to say so long to Rothfeldt Consulting. It’s been a good ride, but all good things must come to an end. 

President Trump, Russophile?


The dominant political news of the week was the dismissal of Lt. Michael Flynn (ret.), President Trump’s first National Security Advisor. His abrupt departure brought back a few issues that should have been answered during the fall campaign, but weren’t. In a multi-part series, I’ll be examining the following:
1. Were the leaks that led to Flynn’s ouster justified? Are leaks ever justified?
2. Is the President’s Russophilia damaging to his Presidency and the nation writ large?
3. Should career civil servants place greater emphasis on conscience or policy?

It’s been a nagging question for something like 18 months now: what is the relationship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin? The questions first arose during the campaign, when Trump seemed to be sending public love notes to Putin. The questions reappeared after President Trump, rather than accept that Putin is a diabolical dictator, preferred to argue that the US government operates in the same nefarious manner as the Russian. And they roared into prominence this week, with the revelations about former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s tête-à-tête with the Russian ambassador and the leaks about the Trump campaign’s contacts with the Russian SVR.

The President’s conduct towards Russia and Vladimir Putin certainly engender some questions.

1. Why is Trump so reluctant to condemn Russia and Vladimir Putin in particular?
I’ve given this some thought, and I have a sort of good news/bad news idea about the subject. The good news: I do not think President Trump is being blackmailed by, or in any other way criminally beholden to the Russian Federation. Do I think he has business interests there? It would be ludicrous to think a man who once held a beauty pageant in Moscow and has at least minority interests in resort properties around the world doesn’t have some sort of similar arrangements in Russia. Do I think those holdings are substantial enough that the Russian government could leverage them to their advantage? No. Not even someone as vain as Donald Trump would be willingly complicit in treason over a few hotel rooms. If he is, then we’ve plumbed new depths of depravity.

I suspect the reason is simpler, but far more disturbing. Based on public statements going back nearly 30 years, I believe our President wants to be Vladimir Putin. He admires and respects the way Putin handles things, with an autocratic iron fist wrapped in a cement glove. Killing political opponents? Perfectly fine (remember, Trump once praised the Chinese for running down dissenters with tanks). Invading foreign countries and plundering them? It’s cool – just keep the oil. Operating above, below and in conflict with established law? From abusing eminent domain in the 1980’s to his “so-called judges” remarks in the last few weeks, Trump has consistently demonstrated that he thinks laws apply to everyone BUT him. Even Stephen Miller’s outburst last Sunday (“the President’s authority will not be questioned!”) demonstrates a very totalitarian view of government, the kind of government prevented by our Constitution. That he’s constrained by the Constitution and its provisions against executive overreach galls Trump (and, sadly, his supporters) to no end. Putin has no such constraints and when he did, he was able to just ignore them until the Russian constitution was changed.

2. Why was his campaign in “constant” contact with Russian officials?
This is, of course, still unproven. However, the fact is that there is an investigation into the likelihood of contact between the SVR and the Make America Great Again campaign, and that it’s been partially leaked, suggest there’s more than just smoke to this question. As for why it would have occurred, see the above conclusion that Donald J. Trump stars in “Crazy about Vladdy.” The one thing that nobody seems to recall is that Vladimir Putin actually won a democratic election in 2000, on a platform eerily similar to the one Donald Trump ran on in 2016. If the person you venerate over all others might be in a position to offer advice and encouragement, any of us would seek their counsel.

3. Why didn’t Trump tell Vice President Pence that former national security adviser Mike Flynn wasn’t being honest about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador?
3a. Why wasn’t Flynn fired the second Trump learned he was deceiving the vice president? 

Once again, if the President is attempting to model his administration on that of his favorite Russian dictator, neither of these questions is difficult to answer. In fact, they both have the same answer: Flynn was ordered to lie to Pence by Trump. As to why Trump would have Pence lied to, there are two reasons. The first is that Trump was certainly aware that having Flynn reach out to the Russian ambassador regarding the latest Obama sanctions was a clear violation of the Logan Act. He also knows that despite decades in public office, nobody has ever accused Mike Pence of malfeasance or corruption. He knew then that Pence’s reaction would, at best, be another tepid endorsement of the President’s orders and Flynn’s duplicity in carrying them out.

The  other thing  to remember on this point is that part of Vlad’s governing style, and one that has thus far proven true of Trump’s, is a dedication to the idea of equal but rival teams in open competition. Pence is the de facto leader of the ‘establishment’ group. Flynn was very much part of the ‘apocalyptic’  group. In effect, Trump was already pitting those two groups against each other before he even took office. That he waited nearly 72 hours before firing Flynn after the first revelations about that phone call, and Flynn’s duplicity towards Pence, looks for all the world like Trump was waiting to see if there would be any blow-back on Pence. After all, Trump is also aware that of all the people in his administration, the two most admired on Capitol Hill are Mike Pence and James Mattis. Pence, being his Constitutionally appointed successor should he be unable to complete his term, therefore presents a clear and pressing danger. The fact that unlike Obama with Joe Biden, or George HW Bush with Dan Qualyle, his VP is considered one of the few sane members of his inner circle poses the threat, essentially giving cover to Democrats  if they decide to implement clause 4 of the 25th Amendment.

The larger question that needs to be answered is: does the President’s infatuation with Russian style politics and deep admiration of authoritarianism endanger the nation? So far, the answer is not in any lasting way. The Constitution was written by men who were intimately familiar with being ruled by a tyrant and designed to ensure that no one person could unilaterally impose his will on the government. As they intended, the structures they built have soundly defeated Trump’s every move to emulate his idol’s governing style, much to his chagrin. The separation of powers works.

That is not to say Trump cannot inflict serious damage, at least on the United States and the western democracies strategic position. But dealing a fatal blow to the Constitution does appear to be beyond his scope.

There are other questions, but we don’t have enough information to speculate on the answers. For instance, who in the campaign was speaking to the Russians? Are they now in the administration? Were any of those people responsible for the leaks to the Washington Post that started this ball of wax? The President could, of course, put an end to all this by issuing a statement that answers those questions.

But then again, we know Trump isn’t about to do that. He’ll continue his current method of dealing with this crisis, attacking the press for asking the questions and attacking the leaks themselves. Because, after all, that’s what Vladimir would do.

Leaks vs. Whistleblowers


The dominant political news of the week was the dismissal of Lt. Michael Flynn (ret.), President Trump’s first National Security Advisor. His abrupt departure brought back a few issues that should have been answered during the fall campaign, but weren’t. In a multi-part series, I’ll be examining the following:
1. Were the leaks that led to Flynn’s ouster justified? Are leaks ever justified?
2. Is the President’s Russophilia damaging to his Presidency and the nation writ large?
3. Should career civil servants place greater emphasis on conscience or policy?

One of the more interesting results of the Flynn Fiasco is the President’s relentless damning of the news articles that forced his hand and the leaks that made those news articles possible. While part of the attacks are typical hubris that nobody, except the Trumpers, takes seriously (sorry, the stories weren’t “fake news”), as with all good propaganda there is an element of truth to them. We’re all aware that Trump takes criticism about as well as a child. Those stories weren’t the opinion-filled pieces that Trump has been able to dismiss as terrible journalism. They are hard-hitting, factual articles that were made possible by the type of inside information that isn’t ever supposed to see newsprint.

In short, the President is rightly incensed about the leaks which have plagued his administration from Day 1. Regardless of the fact that we know Trump values personal loyalty above all other traits, leaks of this sort can constitute a national security threat.Take away that Trump feels personally slighted by what he perceives as an internal attack from the “deep state,” and we’re still left with the reality that someone (or several someone’s) within the National Security Council staff went and blabbed to the Washington Post about Flynn’s violations of the Logan Act, and to the New York Times and CNN about the Trump presidential campaign’s contacts with the Russian intel services as far back as 2015.

Americans have always had a love/hate relationship with government leaks. We celebrate Mark Felt, the leaker later famously revealed as “Deep Throat,” whose information exposed the corruption and malfeasance of the Nixon administration. We vilify Bradley Manning, whose leaking apparently drove him/her/it to finally lose whatever grasp on reality him/her/it ever had. Then there are figures like Edward Snowden, about whom we are ambivalent: the leaks were damaging and showed illegal government activity, but we can’t quite make up our mind whether he’s a whistleblower, a pawn or a traitor.

Now add in that often, our government will purposely leak information. Whether it’s Scooter Libby giving David Ignatius “deep background” about Iraqi WMD, or James Jones’ leaking Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Afghan plan, the previous two administrations have used strategically timed leaks from the National Security Council to advance their agenda. That’s not inconsequential; the last 16 years have seen increasingly aggressive actions against leakers.

So the question before us is this: when is a leaker a whistleblower? Felt was undoubtedly a whistleblower, Manning a leaker.

The answer seems to be more one of public opinion than anything else. Had the nation simply shrugged off the Constitutional breaches of Richard Nixon as “Nixon being Nixon” and “politics as usual,” Jeffrey Zeifman would have been tasked with hounding Woodward and Bernstein to reveal their source. If we had publicly decided that Wikileak’s publication of Manning’s data dump revealed a pattern of illegal conduct by US forces, he might not be trying to get the taxpayers to pay for having his genitals whacked off. As for Mr. Snowden, he will probably find himself in permanent exile – while the NSA spying certainly violated the 4th Amendment, that Constitutional protection isn’t terribly popular at the moment.

Another factor is whether the government wants to pursue charges against the leaker. An example of such a situation is Scott Davis, the man responsible for exposing the Department of Veteran’s Affairs allowing veterans to die before ever seeing a doctor. He leaked internal documents showing VA was well aware of the problem but not doing anything to address it, a clear violation of 18 USC 793, 794. Yet, even the notoriously anti-leak Obama administration passed on filing charges against Davis. This was despite the  fact that few leaks embarrassed the former President quite as badly as the revelation that even as he was sending American servicemen into  harm’s way, he was turning a blind eye to their care upon their return.

And so, in this way, we’ll be able to eventually determine which of these leaks merit whistleblower status. That Gen. Flynn broke the law is beyond doubt; that he demonstrated woefully poor discretion likewise. (Seriously, a career spook who didn’t know a phone call to the Russian ambassador was being recorded by both the NSA and the Russian FSB? That’s…terrible). The level of demonstrated incompetence alone should have resulted in his dismissal, much less the willful lying to the Vice President.  Similarly, if the ties between the Russian intel service and the Trump campaign are proven, then those leakers will likely rise in American lore to match that of Deep Throat. If it results in nothing more than innuendo, the President will be fully justified in rooting out and charging the people responsible.

 

The Phone Call


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It’s late one evening. Behind the bar at Andy’s Cafe in Cincinnati, a spray tanned older gentleman laughs quietly with his guests when the phone rings.

“Andy’s, where the beer is cold and the music is hot,” he answers.

“Hey, John! It’s Paul – Paul Ryan, remember me? Well, I’m sure glad I caught you. I need some advice.”

“Well, you know I left that life behind, Paul. Breaking up bar fights is easier on a 67 year old body than those squabbles on Capitol Hill.”

“I know, I know. But look, I’m in a real pickle here. Was kind of hoping to bounce some ideas off you and see what you think.”

“Are you recording this? Is this some sort of practical joke? You know, like when y’all ran that celebrity real estate developer for President. Man, that was a doozy!”

“No, no, this is serious. And yeah, glad you liked that one. But there’s something you may not have heard about, yet.”

“Really? Shoot.”

“That guy is now the President of the United States. And I don’t mean the United States of Benetton. And he’s part of the reason I need your help.”

“You mean, you idiots ran the only man in America who uses more spray tan than me and lies more than Nancy? Wasn’t that script for ‘Trading Places 2’ rejected by Hollywood?”

You can hear the pause before Ryan responds, “Maybe it was. But he and that gawd-awful combover are  in charge now.”

“Oh, you are truly and greatly screwed. Like Big Green Weenie screwed. No, better yet…”

“John, this is serious. Everyone thinks he’s a Russian spy or something, and DC is so busy not tripping over one another over they haven’t noticed the Chinese star-and-sickle tattoo he got the other day.”

“Right, serious. Speakering of which, you haven’t introduced that tooth repair kit I invented yet, have you? Give me a couple a days Head Start.”

“How droll.”

“I know, hahahahahahaha! ”

“So, do you have any advice for me?”

“Retire. Buy a bar in Wisconsin. You can get royally drunk and nobody gives a shit.”

“No, look, this is serious. Do you know what he asked me to do this morning? He asked me to draw up legislation selling Alaska back to the Russians!”

“Well, he is a real estate developer. I imagine he got a good price.”

“Mitch is beside himself over this. Jeb Hensarling wants to know if he can get something similar from Spain for California. This whole thing is going off the rails.”

“You guys are  the ones who nominated him. If I remember right, you had a chance to turn him away at the convention. You gotta deal with him now.” The old bartender belches loudly. “Damn, that was a GOOD one! Did you hear that, Paulie boy? Rattled the doors with that one, I did!”

Ryan sighs, loudly. “That’s history. What do I do now?”

“I told you. Retire. Buy a bar. Get drunk.”

“You can’t be serious!”

“Sure I am. I did and look at me now. I’m hanging out with my friends, only using spray tan once or twice a week and I’ve only cried once in the last year. Best move I ever made was coming back to this bar.”

“Thanks, John. You’ve been a real help.”

“Glad I could be, Paul. And next time you’re in Cincinnati, the beer is on me.”

A Message to the Trumpers


I am writing this on a Tuesday, before the sun peeks it’s head over the horizon. I am giving myself time before I actually publish, because the topic I’m about to cover is one that angers me beyond almost anything else imaginable. Before I write something so intemperate it results in my home being firebombed, I’m giving myself time to cool off between writing and publishing. Because friends, I’m about to hold a mirror up to you – and some of you aren’t going to like what you see. You’re going to be angry with me for pointing out your hypocrisy, angry enough to fight. That’s fine. As long as you also realize the reason you’re angry with me is because I’ve been bold enough to force you to recognize your own stupidity, I can live with the epithets and bruised feelings.

See, today I want to discuss not only President Trump’s obvious disdain for the nation he was elected to lead. That is bad enough. What makes it worse – what has me ready to start tearing people’s heads off their necks – are the apologists giving him cover on this. They all claim to be patriotic Americans, yet every single one of them is ready to denigrate their country in defense of party and President. Trump’s megalomania has the potential to be problematic. It is the enablers, the apologists and mindless partisans who make that potential reality.

Are you one of those mindless partisans? Ask yourself this: if Barack Obama had, during an interview with Anderson Cooper during the Super Bowl pregame festivities, compared the United States to the government of Fidel Castro, how would have you reacted? Sounds silly, right? After all, we know how you would have reacted. During his Great Apology Tour to begin his presidency, President Obama made dozens of inflammatory statements apologizing for United States leadership, for defeating communism, for leading in the Global War on Terror and for other perceived sins. He was roundly criticized for those statements, and rightly so.

I’m not going out on a limb here when I say you were part of that chorus of condemnation. I know you were. I spoke with many of you on the subject. Your Facebook and Twitter timelines from the Spring and Summer of 2009 are filled with statements of derision for the egregious positions taken by the President. And you know what? We were justified in our contempt for a President who willingly, eagerly even, held his nation up to international ridicule.

Yet on Sunday, Donald Trump took Barack Obama’s anti-american rhetoric and ratcheted it up to 11. Never before has a president told the world that the United States murders political dissidents, assassinates reporters, invades foreign countries and threatens global peace in order to enrich a few privileged members of the government. Never mind that the veracity of such a statement wouldn’t stand 5 minutes of examination. The very idea that a President would ascribe such a motive to our governance is as noxious to our national soul as chlorine gas would be to your lungs.

But rather than being roundly and strongly condemned for saying it, there was muted concern by some Republicans. There was no reaction at all, other than some faint applause, from many of you Trump train passengers.

Personally, the President’s statement left me incredulous and stunned. But YOUR reactions have made me so upset I actually feel physically ill.

*********

It is now early in the afternoon on Tuesday. I needed to take a break. My blood pressure was rising and my vision narrowing, and my infamous temper was beginning to boil over.

Around lunchtime, the Trump administration decided that anyone critical of them was trafficking in “fake news.” They even took the unusual step of not only releasing a press statement to that effect, but sending a White House spokesman on a TV tour to press home their point. Well, so be it. Sorry, President Trump, but I think this is important enough to intrude upon your dream world. This is one time trying to bend reality to your will won’t work.

Over the past two days, I have found myself in a few heated arguments regarding the president’s embrace of soviet tactics. One person is so convinced of the certitude of Trump’s position they now refuse to talk to me. The other was trying to convince me that the half-hearted reprobations being offered by various Republicans on the Sunday talk shows demonstrated sufficient outrage. I think some feelings got hurt there. too.

Those condemnations were anything but. The statements made by people like Marco Rubio, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and the like were right to note that the United States does not conduct national or international politics in the same vein as Vladimir Putin. But what each of those mealy-mouthed politicians, those sorry excuses for men, the morally challenged of US politics failed to do is what was required of them. Not a one actually said anything along the lines of, “The President is clearly wrong in his assertion.” None of them could muster the courage to link the President to his outrageousness. From a purely political POV, I understand. None of them are willing to chance losing the Trumper vote. It does absolutely nothing for my esteem of their character (they have none), but I understand.

Indeed, in the 60 hours or so since news of the President’s adoptive tone of soviet style tactics broke, I have only heard two elected Republicans take Trump to task. One is Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. The other is Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. That’s it. Two men with the basic courage to stand up for what is right and to castigate wrong. Folks, we aren’t doing JFK proud here.

Now, as I was saying, I may not be thrilled with the limp-wristed elected officials of the GOP but I understand their stances. It takes real leadership to risk losing your office in defense of the nation’s moral character these days. That it does brings me back to the real problem – the average Trumper reading this right now.

*********

It’s now late in the afternoon. I was interrupted by an internet outage, which I guess can get filed under “stuff happens.” But you know what I can’t put in that “stuff happens” file? Presidents throwing the country under the bus.

There’s a lot of things this President has done, and I’m certain will do, that can get filed there. His inept speaking style certainly qualifies (even if he does have the biggest words). The botched messaging behind, and terrible rollout of, the visa moratorium does, too. Likewise the really poor Cabinet appointment process. But those are the kinds of things that can be chalked up to political inexperience, bad timing and concerted (and often over-the-top) political resistance.

But in admitting that he respect’s Vladdy Putin’s management style, President Trump created what would for anyone else be an unforced error. Except in Trump’s case, this isn’t an error. Even if he hadn’t spent the campaign praising Putin, watching how incensed he became at Bill O’Reilly’s rightly calling the dictator a “killer” gave away his true feelings. In fact, when you watch that segment (the pertinent part begins at the 2:10 mark) and watch Trump’s facial expression and body language, it’s the same you see right before a bar fight breaks out.

Why?

Why, indeed, would the President of the United States of America then launch into a diatribe about how the United States is no better, drawing a moral equivalence between soldiers killed on a battlefield and the summary execution, torture, and murder of political opponents?  How can he possibly countenance a man who had some 13,000 Syrian dissidents hung in Aleppo and think the US government commits equally heinous acts???

Had the President said something along the lines of, “Look, we all know Putin is a dictator who used terrible means to get power and does horrible things to stay in power. But I think we might work together to rid the world of islamic terror, kind of like we worked with Joe Stalin to eradicate Nazism” I doubt anyone could take him to task. It’s factual and it’s an opinion of a possible policy approach that does have some upside.

Instead, we have the President defending the world’s worst dictator since the fall of the Soviet Union by saying the United States uses soviet political tactics. Oy gevalt!

It demonstrates one of two things. The less onerous, and sadly less likely, is that President Trump is terribly misinformed about the character of Putin. Given his defiant refusal to accept even the most basic intel, it is a possibility. But far more likely is that Trump does respect Putin and his methods. It fits a pattern that Trump has exhibited for as long as he’s harbored political ambitions (remember, in 1990 he praised Deng Xiaoping for the way the Chinese Communist party put down the pro-democracy movement, exemplified by having tanks run down students in Tiananmen Square). In short, Trump loves him some dictators.

That our President equates strength with authoritarianism shouldn’t surprise anyone. He has given wink and nod deference to the Constitution, while showing he has no idea what comes after, “We the People”. That, in itself, is not troubling. He is not our first President to prefer trying to run the country as an autocrat. Some of our best (Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR) and some of our worst (Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter) presidents pushed the limits of the executive authority given them by the Constitution. What ultimately kept those autocratic tendencies in check was that when they overstepped, even their most die-hard supporters rose up to say, “Wait a minute, Mr. President!”.

Once the election was over, I accepted the decision and said I would support the President when I thought he was right, and would come down on him like a brick wall when he was wrong. He has done some good things already, and I’ve offered my praise and support for those things. I think most of his cabinet choices are excellent (with the exception of the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs nominee). I applaud the idea of implementing an visa moratorium on nations without a functioning government but highly functioning terrorism training camps. I applaud the decision to move forward with the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines.

I cannot and will not accept that our president is on television, in the lead-up to the most watched event on the planet, telling the world that the United States government sanctions the murder, torture and persecution of it’s political opposition. That is more than a bridge too far. It may even be treasonous. Let’s face it – that clip is likely to wind up in an ISIS or Al Qaeda video at some point. I can just hear Anwar al-Awlaki narrating in the background, “See? Even the American President believes the United States is the Great Satan!”.

Those of you who are sitting on the sidelines, holding neither this president nor the members of his party accountable for such vile sentiments, are even worse. You demonstrated by this election that the real power in this nation still rests with you. During the election, many of you promised that if a President Trump overstepped his bounds you would hit him, hard, despite your unwavering support for his campaign.

I’m still waiting. Much as I worried then, you’ve drunk too deeply of the orange Kool-Aid and left your objectivity behind. Rather than challenging Trump on a patently dangerous and unamerican statement, you’ve opted to ignore it. Or even worse, to actually defend the indefensible. You have, in short, abdicated your citizenship in favor of not being uncomfortable. Because let’s face it, having to admit that you might have something in common with the avowed Trump haters would be uncomfortable, wouldn’t it?

But you know what it would need? It would need you to grow a pair, to have a little moral courage, to believe in something other than a spray tanned narcissist. So far, ALL of you are lacking in the cajones department. Even though you know I’m right, I’m not willing to bet more than 10% of you actually come to your senses. But I am willing to bet most of the remaining 90% will find it easy – fun, even – to adopt the President’s authoritarian attitude.

Because you would rather not be Americans anymore . You would rather be Trumpers.

And that, my friends, is the saddest thing of all.

An Open Letter of Praise for the VA


Those of you who have been following my blog for a while should know a few things about me. I am a proud veteran, and I have Crohn’s Disease. And I have been an outspoken critic of the Veteran’s Administration, and the Veteran’s Health Care System in particular. But I try to be fair in my criticisms, and when someone does something right they deserve to be recognized. Such is the case with my recent hospitalization at the East Orange VA Hospital. Following is a letter I wrote to the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs (Des.), David Shulkin and the Director of the New Jersey Veteran’s Health Care System, Vincent Immiti.

Gentlemen,

I am a Cold War era veteran who has dealt with the Veteran’s Health Administration since 1994. Over the intervening years, I have had my share of complaints. I have been either an inpatient and/or outpatient recipient of services at multiple hospitals: Ft. Lauderdale, Wilmington (DE), Philadelphia, New York Harbor and, of course, the Lyons and East Orange campuses of the NJVHCS. I am not writing to tell you that rainbows are blooming over the VHA – only a fool would believe that. But I feel that after years of heaping some well-deserved abuse on what has proven to be a dysfunctional system, my most recent experience is deserving of praise for a job well done.

On Saturday, January 21 of this year I was brought into the East Orange Veteran’s Hospital Emergency Room. I have suffered with Crohn’s Disease since 1994 and this was the beginning of yet another hospital stay for me. I was not looking forward to it, as my previous partaking’s of the VHA’s hospitality always left me feeling more as if I were a POW than a patient. Allow me to say, I was pleasantly (as pleasantly as a hospital stay can prompt) surprised by this admission.

It truly was a night and day experience, compared to all my previous hospitalizations. Whereas in the past, my concerns and questions were met with derision or (even worse) indifference, this time I found the medical staff earnestly answering my questions, explaining the anticipated course of therapy and being attentive to my concerns and those of my family. In past hospitalizations, medications would arrive haphazardly without any semblance of a schedule, nurses would be impossible to find, even when called, and doctors acted as if I, the patient, were a burden they would rather not deal with. The only thing they seemed interested in was prescribing high doses of pain killers and moving on to the next victim.

Hospital cleanliness was always a concern, as I could go days without seeing a mop or broom used. As you’re probably aware, Crohn’s patients in the middle of an extreme flare are prone to having accidental, violent bowel movements. In 2009, after once such episode, the nursing staff did eventually come in to change the bedsheets – but with a set of blood-stained ones. Such was the level of contempt that the overall staff seemed to have for the patients in their care.

As veterans, we do not ask for anything special. Every veteran I’ve ever met is proud of our service to our nation and would gladly reenlist should the nation need our services again. As patients, all we’ve ever asked for is to be treated with the basic respect anyone should give another human being. The anger and disgust many of us feel towards the VHA is rooted in the failure of the VHA to recognize and act upon that humanity.

But as I mentioned, this hospitalization was not only what one would expect at any medical facility, but in many ways surpassed even the highest expectations one could have of any hospital. The staff exhibited all the hallmarks of a professional medical organization: courtesy, attentiveness, compassion and competence. Nurse calls were answered promptly, and if an RN was needed but unavailable, the LPN’s explained the situation. My attending physician not only provided timely and pertinent explanations of my care – in terms a layman can understand! – but proved an exceptional coordinator with the specialists I needed (gastroenterology, pulmonology and cardio). Tests that were performed were explained beforehand, including not only descriptions of the procedures but the reasons for them. The residents, interns and medical students did not treat me as an object of fascination on par with a living cadaver, but as a suffering patient with information they needed to perform their duties. Even the orderlies, janitorial staff and other support staff approached their jobs with a general friendliness and professionalism that made the otherwise dread of a hospital stay comforting.

The change is remarkable. I was going to attempt to single out individuals for jobs well done, but then realized everyone associated with my care deserves special recognition.

I am not a medical professional. I suppose you could say I’m a professional patient, given my history, but that’s the extent of my medical training.  However, my post-military career has been in operations and program management. As such, I can recognize and appreciate when an outstanding manager has taken control of a bad situation and is effecting a complete turnaround.

As I began, I’m not going to gloss over the fact that there are still major problems and deficiencies throughout VHA. However, Mr. Shulkin, upon your confirmation I can think of no better place to start turning around the system than seeking out your best, listening to what they’ve done and implementing those practices throughout VHA. Based on my recent stay, you would do very well to begin with Mr. Immiti. The change he has effected is nothing short of amazing.

I thank you for your time and again, congratulations on a job well done.

Semper Fi and Regards,

Raymond Rothfeldt

Combat Vets Are Not Insane


Yesterday, Esteban Santiago-Ruiz, an Iraq combat veteran since discharged from the Alaska National Guard, opened fire in Ft. Lauderdale’s airport, killing 5 and wounding 6 more. He boarded an Air Canada flight in Anchorage and flew to Ft. Lauderdale. Upon arrival, he took his lone bag into the restroom, unpacked and loaded a 9mm pistol (along with two spare magazines) and then went into the baggage claim area of Terminal 2. It was there he went on his murderous rampage. Once he was out of ammunition, he assumed the position and waited for the police to arrest him.

Those are the facts. What we do not know is Santiago-Ruiz’s motivation, but two explanations seem likely. One, he joined a terrorist group and carried out an attack. According to news reports, he visited the Anchorage FBI office in November and said he was hearing voices that were telling him to join ISIS. The other probability is that Santiago-Ruiz is suffering from a form of schizophrenia, suffered a psychotic break, and the voices in his head told him to carry out this attack.

Based on the evidence so far, the second scenario seems the more likely – and that worries me greatly. For much of the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, the public perception of combat veterans was that they were all ticking time bombs. Movies like Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter and Rambo: First Blood were all Hollywood blockbusters and terrific viewing. Unfortunately, they all showed combat veterans as being psychopathic murderers when the reality couldn’t be further from that portrayal.

Already, news outlets and social media are reverting to that image of the combat vet when discussing Santiago-Ruiz’s actions. Yes, his aunt said he “changed” after his combat tour. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Everyone I know who has been in combat is changed by the experience. Odds are, that Santiago-Ruiz suffers from PTSD. It’s a relatively common occurrence among combat veterans, and for good reason. Any experience where you spend months on end in life-and-death situations, where not only your life but the lives of your closest friends depend on your actions and reactions, is going to rewire your brain.

However, PTSD is not related to homicidal rage, nor does it even begin to closely resemble the type of psychotic break required to shoot up an airport. Indeed, the type of break exhibited by Santiago-Ruiz generally isn’t induced by combat, unless there’s a traumatic brain injury involved (from what we know thus far, it doesn’t seem he suffered one).

So far, these basic truths haven’t stopped the media from reverting to the tired “psycho vet” meme as an explanation for Santiago-Ruiz’s actions. That’s lazy journalism at it’s worst, and it’s too bad this is the route the media has chosen to exploit. I urge you to ignore any outlet that tries to push this narrative. Remember, combat veterans make up less than 2% of our population. They answered the call the rest of the nation ignored and put their lives on the line to defend the United States; a test of public service most would fail. To ostracize them over fake story lines generated for cheap ratings, is to cheapen their service and lessen our nation. Shame on those who would advance such stories, and shame on those gullible enough to believe them.