Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

The GOP’s Dying Words … Silence

Friday, May 18th, 2018

By Bob Gaydos

John McCain ... not going quietly

John McCain … not going quietly

‘It doesn’t matter; he’s dying anyway.”

The words, relayed to the world via the Internet, were spoken by a White House aide about Sen. John McCain, who is stricken with brain cancer, but they could just as well have been another shovel of dirt on the remains of what once was the Republican Party,

In fact, when McCain, who is not going quietly, does succumb, it could fairly be said that any meaningful remaining link to what once was the Grand Old Party will have been lost. In truth, the party has been brain dead for years.

When I first read the comments attributed to White House special assistant Kelly Sadler I was angered, but not surprised. Not these days, not with this administration. Cruelty is a staple.

The comment was made during a staff meeting about the Dotard-in-chief’s nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA director. McCain had voiced strong opposition to the choice even as he battled cancer at his home in Arizona. The comment was apparently intended as a joke, which did not go over well, but was quickly swept off the table.

But the telling thing about the comment is what followed from her boss and from members of the Republican Party who have known McCain for decades and who, not insignificantly, made him their presidential nominee in 2008.

Nothing. For days. Nothing. No cries of outrage at the disrespect for a party elder and the blatant lack of humanity in the remark. No thought of the impact on McCain’s family. No calls for Sadler to be fired. No call from the boss saying, “You’re fired.”

We’re told that Sarah Sanders, White House press secretary, did chew out the staff, not for the comment, but for someone leaking the comment. Someone leaked the Sanders chewing-out. Now they’re trying to fire the leakers.

This is the world of Trump, from mocking a reporter with a physical disability — at a campaign rally where it drew cheers — to declaring that McCain, a Navy pilot who was shot down, captured and endured years of torture in Vietnam, was “no hero” because he was captured.

This, from the man whose alma mater, New York Military Academy in upstate New York, makes no mention on its web site of the fact that one of its alumni is president of the United States. That would normally be considered a good recruiting tool, but there’s nothing normal — or decent — about this presidency.

Again, this speaks volumes about the Republican Party and so many who identify themselves as Republicans yet have not a word to say publicly about the man who has infused the office he holds with a level of greed, ignorance and callousness that is at times mind-numbing. It’s one thing to make a mistake, to be conned, to exercise bad judgment. It happens to everyone. It’s quite another thing to be unable to admit the mistake, to say I was conned, I was stupid, I was greedy, I was foolish, I was wrong. I’m sorry. I regret my choice.

McCain said it recently, about his fateful and perhaps politically fatal decision in 2008 to choose Sarah Palin as his running mate, instead of his good friend, Sen. Joe Lieberman. That decision did much to strengthen the wingnut, know-nothing branch of the Republican Party which gives Trump free rein today. Choices have consequences.

Lest I be accused of getting on my high horse, slinging arrows of accusation as if I had never succumbed, let me admit to a choice I unequivocally regret making — writing an editorial endorsing George W. Bush’s decision to attack Iraq. I can try to justify it by saying I had a great deal of respect for Colin Powell, who was secretary of state, and that his presentation to the United Nations claiming Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction was convincing. No matter. The fact that it was a Bush/Cheney/CIA lie did not occur to me and I let myself be convinced even though I had always believed that the United States did not, would not, should not attack another country. I wrote the editorial. I was conned. I was wrong. I regret it.

Trump, vindictive to the core, obviously resents McCain’s dramatic, late-night, thumbs-down vote that doomed the GOP effort to kill Obamacare. It was a good moment for McCain, who has had a less-than-perfect record as a senator. I have not always applauded McCain’s decisions, but in terms of statesmanship, leadership, patriotism and basic decency, he has it all over Trump. And yet, the silence persists from McCain’s Republican colleagues in Congress about a White House aide joking about him dying.

Haspel, who ran a CIA torture facility and destroyed records connected with it, was confirmed by the Senate as the new CIA director. Bad decision. McCain, who knew torture first-hand, objected strongly to her nomination. Trump thinks torture, which is illegal, is just fine. In fact, he’d like more of it. He’d probably really like to promote the female aide who joked about McCain dying, but will settle for firing the aide who leaked the comment. Having compassion is a dangerous trait in this White House. In the Republican Party, which can’t bring itself to say Donald Trump was a mistake, compassion has long ago been discarded.

May John McCain live on for days and weeks and months and even years as he valiantly battles his disease. The Republican Party for whom he once was the standard-bearer is dead and gone.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

For Shame, America, for Shame

Friday, April 20th, 2018

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump and mentor Roy Cohn.

Donald Trump and mentor Roy Cohn.

“Slime ball.”

That’s how the man with all the ‘‘best words,” the man who “know(s) words” replied when a man he had once fired called him a liar and compared him to a mob boss.

The man who had been fired, James Comey, also happened to be the former director of the FBI and also happens to have written a book in which he says the man who fired him was overly concerned with proving that he had never been involved in a situation that included Russian prostitutes and people urinating on each other. “Do I look like a guy who needs hookers?” Can you imagine me in such a situation? the former FBI director says his former boss asked him in the Oval Office.

This is where Donald Trump has taken the office of president of the United States. And, just to get it out of the way, yes, I can imagine Trump in such a situation. That’s the problem, America.

Think about it. If it didn’t happen, then there’s no way for someone to prove it did. And in this country, prosecutors — even special prosecutors — have to prove you did something wrong, rather than you proving you didn’t. It’s called the presumption of innocence, a commodity this administration has flushed down the toilet, along with any semblance of dignity.

There is no shame in the White House. We are reminded of this daily, with lies, big and small. Payoffs to cover up extra-marital affairs. Blatant racism, nepotism and corruption. An aversion to the rule of law and an ignorance of the Constitution. An aura of pettiness, shallowness and vindictiveness. Utter disdain for the poor or disadvantaged. And smiling all the time.

So, too, with the Republican Party as it bows at the feet of Trump, a Russian puppet now clearly its leader. There is no shame. No sense of decency. “At long last,” I find myself asking rhetorically of the Republican Party, “have you no sense of decency?

Well … history offers an answer.

Those words were first uttered in 1954 by Joseph Welch, a Boston lawyer hired by the Army — the U.S. Army — to defends itself from charges by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin, of lax security at a secret Army facility. McCarthy had used his position as chairman of the  Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to intensify his ongoing crusade to weed out what he claimed were hundreds of Communists working in the State Department and other federal agencies as well as in private industry, notably entertainment and the arts. During an endless round of hearings brutally conducted by McCarthy and his chief counsel, Roy Cohn (remember that name), witnesses were accused, insulted and relentlessly grilled. “Red-baiting.”

Finally, during the three-month-long, televised Army-McCarthy hearings, the senator charged that one of Welch’s young lawyers, who was not working on the case, at one time had ties to a Communist organization. He pressed the issue. Welch had had enough. “Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness,” he said. As McCarthy tried to continue, Welch interrupted:  “Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

McCarthy, finally, was done. Someone had called him a bum to his face. He was eventually censured by the Senate and scorned by his own party. But careers were destroyed, lives ruined, families and friendships broken because of an unfettered campaign of reckless accusation and fear-mongering conducted by a publicity-hungry politician being advised by a ruthless lawyer, Roy Cohn, for whom nothing — facts, lives, careers … decency — mattered.

Roy Cohn, it turns out, was a younger Donald Trump’s lawyer, confidante and social secretary for many years in New York City. “If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent, you get Roy,” Trump once said.

The student learned from his mentor. Trump testified as a character witness at Cohn’s disbarment hearing in the ‘80s (they got him), but eventually dropped him as his lawyer on discovering Cohn was dying of AIDS. People are dispensable.

More history. In 1972, Sen. Edmund Muskie, one of the most-decent people to ever run for president, had the misfortune to weep during a speech in snowy New Hampshire in which he was defending himself and his wife from accusations from William Loeb, conservative publisher of the Manchester Union Leader. An editorial accused Muskie, a Democrat, of using an ethnic slur against French-Americans, a large voting bloc in the state. The charge was based on a letter from a Florida man that was later shown to be a hoax planted by the dirty tricks division of the Nixon White House, another time when Republican shame took a holiday. Loeb also made a not-so-subtle suggestion that Muskie’s wife enjoyed drinking too much.

In defending her, Muskie spoke during a snowstorm, calling Loeb a “gutless coward.” But the senator’s voice broke and tears appeared to roll down his face. His aides later said it was snow because, apparently, decency in a presidential candidate was unacceptable. Voters agreed. Muskie eventually dropped out.

One more lesson on Republicans and shamelessness from history: Swiftboating.

The phrase was born during John Kerry’s run for the presidency in 2004. The Democratic senator from Pennsylvania was subjected to a relentless campaign in TV ads and even a book questioning his claimed military service and the circumstances of his combat medals.

A Navy veteran, he was commander of a swift boat, used to patrol the waters in Vietnam. A group calling itself Swift Vets and POWS for Truth attacked Kerry’s record as false and his medals as undeserved. The well-funded campaign dealt a serious blow to his campaign, leading to the re-election of George W. Bush. The Swift Vets claims were eventually determined to be unfounded, with virtually none of the veterans in the group having served on a boat that Kerry commanded.

“Red-baiting,” “dirty tricks, “swiftboating.” The terms live on today as examples of lying in politics and shameless disregard for the impact on people’s lives. All by Republicans in the pursuit or defense of power. It wasn’t always so with the party, but now it is. Trump, the proud ignoramus, gets a free ride from a shameless Republican Congress that has abandoned all pretense of decency. We’ve got ours, they smile.

Well, I for one am ashamed, America. At long last, I wish more of you were, too.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Why Won’t McCain Take on Trump?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

John McCain and Donald Trump ... no love lost

John McCain and Donald Trump … no love lost

What will it take for John McCain to finally go after Donald Trump?

Clearly, there can be no love lost between the Arizona senator and the befuddled president. Nor is it likely there is any mutual respect.

During the presidential campaign Trump insulted McCain as ‘’no hero’’ for his service as a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War. Trump, who did not serve in the military, said he didn’t regard people who were taken prisoner as heroes. McCain’s plane was shot down over Vietnam. He was held prisoner for five-and-a-half years and was tortured by the North Vietnamese.

More recently, McCain called Trump up short by insisting that the United States does not torture prisoners, despite the president’s comments to the contrary. McCain also went out of his way to call the prime minister of Australia to let him know that the United States still regards his country as a close ally, despite Trump’s rude phone call with him. In response to this, Trump called McCain, who was the Republican candidate for president in 2008, a ‘’loser.’’

McCain also questioned the wisdom and success of the recent U.S. raid in Yemen in which a Navy SEAL was killed along with several civilians, including children. In response, Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said anyone who questioned the success of the raid was doing a disservice to the memory of the SEAL. Another shot at McCain.

McCain responded: “Many years ago when I was imprisoned in North Vietnam, there was an attempt to rescue the POWs. Unfortunately, the prison had been evacuated. But the brave men who took on that mission and risked their lives in an effort to rescue us prisoners of war were genuine American heroes. Because the mission failed did not in any way diminish their courage and willingness to help their fellow Americans who were held captive. Mr. Spicer should know that story.”

There are a lot of things Spicer should know, but there are many more important things that his boss should know and doesn’t. And McCain surely knows that. Trump’s bumbling through foreign affairs would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so serious. But the mysteriously tangled relationship between Trump and Russia dwarfs all of Trump’s miscues thus far in its potential for serious damage.

McCain, as a senior member of the Republican leadership in the Senate, is well-position to demand an independent inquiry into Trump’s Russian ties. Another Republican veteran in the Senate, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has also been critical of Trump and often stands with McCain on issues. The two men have standing within their party and on the other side of the aisle for their long years of service as well as their willingness to occasionally tell the truth as they see it, rather than as their party leaders would have us see it

The question is how long McCain can stand by, apparently in the name of party loyalty, and offer occasional criticism while Trump makes a mockery of the Constitution, tarnishes the presidency, and erodes America’s credibility as a world leader. As a former presidential candidate for his party, McCain should be livid with Republicans’ current representative in the White House. Maybe he is.

The senator shows more and more signs of losing his patience with Trump. In a speech McCain gave recently at a security conference in Munich, he basically shredded Trump’s foreign policy, his position on immigrants, his critical statements about NATO and his penchant for making things up. As for Trump seeing no difference between Russian and American behavior, McCain had this to say: “ I refuse to accept that our values are morally equivalent to those of our adversaries. I am a proud, unapologetic believer in the West, and I believe we must always, always stand up for it, for if we do not, who will?’’

Strong words, and he never mentioned Trump by name. Still, by not challenging Trump with actions as well as words, McCain leaves himself open to criticism that, while he may be prone to occasional flashes of anger, he’s not willing to risk losing whatever standing, power, and influence he may have within his party by engaging in an all-out fight with the president based on principle.

A willingness to set aside his principles in a search for power was evident in McCain’s presidential campaign when he sold his soul to the religious right at Liberty University and followed that up by losing his mind and picking Sarah Palin, the Tea Party Queen, as his running mate. He will never live that decision down, but he can make up for it.

Republican congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan show no sign they are willing to do their jobs and hold the president accountable. Their behavior is beyond cowardly. It’s an insult to the concept of leadership. McCain can fill this vacuum. In fact, it’s almost made for him. And it’s not as if he has anything to lose at this point in his career. He’s 80-years-old and was just elected to another six-year term In the Senate. This could well be his last rodeo, so why not make it a worthwhile ride and break a bull who’s been turned loose in the White House?

 

Ali, Me and Two Guys Named Frank

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Frank Giannino (left) and Frank Shorter

               Frank Giannino (left) and Frank Shorter                                                                  photo by Bob Gaydos

Muhammad Ali was the most famous person on the planet for much of his life and mine. It’s possible that, even in death, he still held that distinction, even though he had long ago lost the physical skills that originally brought him to the world’s attention as Cassius Clay. He was young, brash and, in his own immodest opinion, “the greatest” at what he did.

What he did, of course, was “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” while making his opponents in the most brutal of sports, boxing, look foolish. As Clay, he was unquestionably the best — the heavyweight champion of the world. The title itself conveyed a measure of fame. But it was as Ali that he became most famous and, eventually, beloved and respected by millions.

Not by all, of course. He was human, with faults and flaws. But also, as it turned out, he was a man with deep-rooted convictions. He demonstrated them as Cassius Clay by refusing to report for the draft during the Vietnam War, declaring that he had no argument with the Vietnamese people and would not kill them on the orders of a government — his own — that had denied, and continued to deny, him and other blacks basic rights from the very founding of this nation.

He was threatened with arrest and imprisonment, with the loss of his boxing crown and, as he well recognized, with the loss of millions of dollars. “Lock me up,” he said. In the end, as Muhammad Ali, a Muslim, he won his battle in the courts, reclaimed his boxing title in the ring, continued to speak out against bigotry and became a symbol of courage and respect worldwide.

Ali died last week, at 74, largely the result of the punishment he took in the boxing ring by coming back to prove he was still the greatest. Having just turned 75 myself a few days earlier, I was thinking about Ali and what we do with our lives after a certain point, but more specifically, about people who achieve something special, something unique, something that, if you really think about it, should make you stop and say, “Wow.”

As fate would have it (pay attention, fate is always having it), I found myself at an event in my area that offered up two men in one high school sports arena who’d had their own “wow” moments — Frank Shorter and Frank Giannino.

To say they are both former long-distance runners would be like saying Ali had good footwork in the ring. Shorter started running to school as a young teenager every day, from one side of the City of Middletown to the other, and wound up winning the gold medal in the Olympics marathon in Munich in 1972, a feat credited by many with sparking the running boom in the United States. He followed up with a silver medal four years later.

Giannino, who, despite success, described himself as a “no-talent ultra-marathoner” in high school, went a little farther. Actually, a lot farther. In 1980, he completed what remains to this day, the fastest run across the United States: 3,100 miles in 46 days, 8 hours and 36 minutes. It’s still listed in Guinness; you can look it up.

Both men were in Middletown, N.Y., on a warm Saturday morning, encouraging young runners, the men’s mere presence a testament that special achievements can be as close as your next-door neighbor. Hey, if Frank could do it … Unlike Ali, both Franks excelled in a sport that allows its participants to age more gracefully and sometimes still enjoy it. But they have not rested on their laurels.

Giannino, 64, owns a running store and has shown that determination and discipline that took him across the country 36 years ago in organizing and promoting local running events for years. In fact, he was instrumental in resurrecting the popular running event at which we were all present. 

Shorter, 68, appears at running events and is a motivational speaker. But he has also served as chairman of the United States Anti Doping Agency, the independent agency which has a stated mission of being “the guardian of the values and life lessons learned through true sport.”

Shorter stepped down as USADA chairman in 2003. He has testified before Congress and written articles about drugs in sports. He says he is still involved “unofficially” in keeping sports clean. “I don’t want to sound mysterious,” he said, “but I’m still involved. What’s going on with the Olympics today is that they’re finally doing what they said they were doing years ago. … They told us they couldn’t keep samples for any length of time. Now look. …”

“I don’t do this for the recognition,” he added.

No kidding. Rooting out cheaters in sports is as popular in some areas (Lance Armstrong fan clubs for example) as refusing to report for the draft on moral grounds.

I guess my lesson learned here is that, whatever you do, whatever you may have accomplished, for as long you can, you keep showing up for life. You lace up your running shoes and stay true to your principles. And don’t forget to acknowledge people who do special things. It never hurts to hear a little “wow” once in a while.

I think I may have read that before. I may have even written it before. But wasn’t this much more enjoyable than politics?

rjgaydos@gmail.com