Sunday, May 15, 2022

To serve his country, not a conniving president

            In his book about testifying in Donald Trump's first impeachment inquiry, Alexander Vindman recounts a heated argument with his Russian immigrant father.

            "Support the president," his father shouted. "Do whatever the president wants."

            But Vindman, a decorated Army lieutenant colonel, knew his obligation was to his country, not to a corrupt and conniving leader.

            And so Vindman testified against Trump, his commander in chief. Then he felt the wrath of right-wing barkers and a cast of reality TV players posing as public servants.

            In his memoir, "Here, Right Matters," Vindman writes that the urgings of his father, a Trump supporter, were conditioned by a Soviet system in which acceding to power and to "backroom corruption" was the only way to survive.

            In that way the elder was right. Vindman was committing career suicide.

            But Vindman voices not a shred of regret.

            It was his job to observe the infamous 2019 call between Trump and Ukraine's leader in which Trump tried to use U.S. tax dollars as a lever toward a political dirty deed.

            Vindman courageously reported Trump's attempt to extort the struggling nation for petty political purposes.

            Agreeing to testify in the hearings about Trump's actions, he was electronically crucified on cable TV. Then the White House stripped him of his foreign-service duties.

            In 2019, with Russia menacing the country, our president was blocking the very sustenance keeping Ukraine from being consumed by Vladimir Putin's forces.

            Trump freed up the aid to Ukraine only after reports about his plot broke in the press and Democrats in Congress demanded answers.

            Vindman, the National Security Council point man on Ukraine, watched with horror as assistance to Ukraine hung in the balance over what he calls "sleazy domestic political considerations."

            Any so-called public servant who looked the other way in the face of this wasn't interested in serving the country but his or her own partisan skin – Soviet-style.

            Vindman's four-word reaction to his treatment by Republican inquisitors in his hearings summed it up: "Truth was their enemy."

            As for the transcript of the notorious "do us a favor" call, Vindman confirms it was doctored so as not to show how explicit Trump was about the anti-Joe Biden claims he wanted to plant in Zelensky's ear.

            What we know now is that apart from an actual investigation of spurious allegations, Trump wanted a statement from Zelensky that his government was investigating Biden, whether it did or not. This was a staggering abuse of presidential power. Trump shouldn't have served one more day in office.

            Even without actions that launched the third impeachment trial in American history -- with another to come before Trump was ousted – Vindman writes that he saw enough to consider Trump unfit.

            Vindman writes that he observed "inattention to any policy, much less foreign policy."

            Because Trump "never provided any policy guidance," Vindman writes, "nobody in responsible circles took his remarks seriously on policy direction."

            One direction was clear, however, writes Vindman: an alarming stance of "accommodation and appeasement toward Russia," paired with an "inexplicable hostility toward Ukraine."

            Americans should cringe when Republican enablers express their concern for the security of the country Trump tried to screw. This includes lawmakers who authorized that aid in 2019 and watched Trump dangle it like a ball of yarn.

            To read what Vindman's experienced, including his dismissal from his job and his unplanned retirement from the military, is to feel his loneliness in dealing with people who not only excuse but embrace one man's ruthlessness and criminality.

            Rather than the "traitor" Fox News squawkers called him, Vindman is a true patriot who believes in a nation of shared interests and fundamental principles like service over self.

            One can be excused, however, in reading his memoir and seeing ours as not one nation indivisible but as dueling tribes that have lost any sense of commonality.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Silent squires of suffering without Roe

          This is not about Alito, or Kavanaugh, or Gorsuch, or the Federalist Society, our now de facto judicial branch.

          This is about Olivia. She's 16. A beauty. A waitress. She met a guy. Dreamy. Twenty-two. Great car. Said he loved her. Then an EPT changed his tune. He lost that loving feeling. He's gone.

          A little romance, and a little statutory rape. To the Republicans who rule Olivia's state, it doesn't matter. Nor does any other contingency that would face a woman when a pregnancy brings lawmakers, mostly male, into her life.

          Her body, her privacy, her medical decision, is not hers. It is theirs.

          Again, this is about Olivia. The smooth-talking sire will bear no penalty. Men in good suits will bear no penalty, will never know inconvenience.

          Or maybe on Election Day they will. This election and the next. Maybe the majority of Americans consistently supporting abortion rights will rise up and be counted.

          No more apathy, no more assumptions that a woman's reproductive decisions, and Americans' privacy rights, will be protected by the Constitution.

          That majority must make Republican lawmakers defend their choice, over and over.

          Does anyone remember when it was hard to tell between Democrats and Republicans? I do. Kennedy and Nixon had so little that distinguished each other that their only true disagreement in their televised debates came down to the disposition of Quemoy and Matsu.

          Don't bother to look them up.

          Now, the GOP has become a party of raw oppression. Democrats, or at least the vast majority holding public office, are the defenders of the oppressed.

          Roe vs. Wade was so "egregiously" decided that 50 years of courts upheld it over and over and over.

          But then, across that half century, justices were presumed to be about the law, and precedent, not what might tip a primary election.

          And so here we are. Republicans and Fox News commentators want to talk about who leaked the fact that this court is about to dynamite Roe. They don't dare talk about what this will do to women.

          Not a word. Like Olivia's boyfriend, they are mute, assuming they are immune to the consequences of what they've done. 

          It is all sobering and scandalous: Like a con man ascending to the presidency with a million fewer votes than his opponent. Like a Senate refusing to have hearings for one Supreme Court nominee and rushing to have hearings for another.

          This is not majority rule. This is a few having their way over the rest of a nation, and over the Constitution.

          The tendency is to say, "These things happen." That's a cop-out.

          The right to abortion hung in the balance going into the 2016 presidential election. Republicans knew what the stakes were. A lot of people who are aghast at what the Supreme Court is poised to do didn't think things through. They stayed home that Election Day.

          A lot of people want to blame the Electoral College for this development. Others want to blame the filibuster. Neither is correct.

          The reason this happened was because of apathy – apathy that bequeathed us the Trump presidency, apathy that ceded the bullet points of this discussion to "pro-life" propagandists.

          The demise of Roe will be a national tragedy. But now the battle lines are clear. They are in each state and each legislature.

          No one running for statehouse should be allowed to waltz onto a stage without a succinct explanation of his or her stance on empowering the state to order a woman to gestate to term.

          No one running for Congress or the statehouse should be allowed to wink away what happens when a woman is victimized by rape, incest or faces a life-threating pregnancy.

          Alito, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch will never have to face what Olivia now must. But we must make every lawmaker face the ramifications of what these justices decide.

          Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Staggering toll of willful negligence

           With an American death toll soon to reach 1 million from COVID-19, Crede Bailey is a whole other statistic.

            It didn't kill him. It only took his leg and ruined his lungs.

            I wouldn't know of Bailey's suffering had I not read about his boss's staggering negligence in Jonathan Karl's "Betrayal."

            Bailey was director of Donald Trump's security office. As such he was one of many victims of what Karl calls "almost total disregard for COVID protocols" in the early stages of the pandemic.

            Bailey was hospitalized for three months, ultimately suffering permanent damage to his lungs and amputation of the lower part of his right leg.

            This from an illness that Trump said at a campaign rally "affects virtually no one at all."

            Karl's book has drawn most of its attention for describing the events of Jan. 6 and Trump's efforts to nullify his rejection by voters.

            However, its depiction on how the Trump White House behaved during the pandemic is every bit as scandalous.

            People continue to die from the pandemic Trump so brazenly dismissed.

            No employer would have been allowed to endanger his employees like Trump did -- and by extension, the people he swore to defend and protect.

            Chris Christie spent a week in intensive care battling the disease after attending a super-spreader event at the White House staged for TV and the introduction of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

            He had dodged a bullet earlier when, in helping prep Trump for a debate, he was in close contact with Trump aide Hope Hicks, who was infected.

            Unlike any responsible entity in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the White House didn't inform Christie or others that they might be infected. He found that out from a CNN reporter who told him of Hicks' illness and asked how he was.

            Trump apparently couldn't care less.

            There was the deadly cover-up about Trump's blowing off COVID testing as he prepared to join Joe Biden on a stage in Cleveland.

            When Trump got the virus and was himself in ICU, it became a lie-filled TV extravaganza, with white-coated props sent out to dismiss what later was shown to have been a very serious situation.

            Did we say extravaganza? That certainly was the case when Trump returned to the White House for a diva moment on the balcony. It could have been even more outrageous. Aides told Karl that Trump had talked to them about wearing a Superman shirt under his suit and ripping off his dress shirt to reveal his "S."

            It was all a joke to the man, or at least he wanted to downplay the threat at every turn.

            Meanwhile, people died.

            Last week documents from the Centers for Disease Control revealed how the White House shot down recommendations that churches begin hosting services remotely or with drive-through services rather than spread the virus through singing, hugging and prayer.

            Interestingly, the White House lawyer who prepared the memo, found reason for a yuck: "I will say that if I was old and vulnerable (I do feel old and vulnerable), drive-through services would sound welcome."

            And now we have a million dead Americans – many of whom are dead because the leader they venerated executed his official duties so callously. Tragically, many of his followers comported themselves the very same way.

            The disease Trump said would cause so little suffering – no worse than the flu – over the last two years was the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer.

            Another staggering number: an estimated 200,000 American children have lost one or both parents to the disease.

            Now vaccines stunt its devastation. But before vaccines, an ounce of prevention would have saved lives, and at least one man's lungs and limb.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.