Posts Tagged ‘White House’

The Trump Mar a Lago Documents? … The French Have a Word For It

Tuesday, August 30th, 2022

By Bob Gaydos

  2E64A078-5397-4E5A-9F5F-E845D579A554  An arabesque is an arabesque wherever you may be. A grand jeté is a grand jeté in Tokyo or “Paree”.

    Came across a YouTube channel the other day in which a Russian ballerina and a Japanese ballerina were discussing their chosen craft. They knew enough of each other’s language to be understood, but what really made the conversation possible and meaningful to both is that when either of them said, for example, “sur la pointe” or “battu,” the other knew exactly what she meant.

     Ballet terms are in French everywhere. Period. C’est entendu. 

     Thus has it been since King Louis XIV adopted the dance style that originated in 15th Century Italy for his own court.

     The king, an avid dancer, created many of the terms and steps that exist to this day. He took the ballet out of the court and introduced it to the public, plié by plié, creating a professional dance company. And, while styles may differ somewhat, the language of the ballet persists, from Moscow to London to New York to Rome to Tokyo to Paris and to every pirouette in every ballet class in the world. Everyone understands it.

      Brilliant. Simple. No confusion.

      If only the same could be said for some other forms of communication. Compare the universal language of ballet to, say, the confusing verbiage surrounding a sizable stash of apparently sensitive, even classified and top secret government documents that Donald Trump apparently took home with him, along with newspaper clippings, notes, magazines and other stuff when he moved from the White House to a golf resort in Florida. Threw it all in cardboard boxes for, well, he never said what for.

        Trump apparently regarded the documents as “mine.”

        The people at the National Archives, which stores and protects government documents for the American people, consider them “ours.”

         When Trump finally agreed, after many months, to return documents, his lawyer apparently said there were “none” left in Florida. The National Archives folks and the FBI disagreed. They said there were “some” documents left. In fact, “a lot.” They wanted them “all.”

          Another lawyer suggested that Trump had “declassified” the documents, as presidents can do. The National Archives replied that saying so doesn’t make it so. 

         Trump said the FBI conducted an “unwarranted” raid on his Mar a Lago home, treating him like some common thief, rather than a twice-impeached former president. A judge said the raid was, in fact, warranted. In fact, he signed the warrant, saying there was “probable cause” to believe that classified or other sensitive documents were still stored at Mar a Lago and, furthermore, that there was “probable cause” to believe that evidence of “obstruction” would be found there.

          At some point, Trump suggested the FBI planted documents, yet insisted he wanted them back. He even said the FBI should release the affidavit for the search, suggesting, one presumes, it would show no justification. What the FBI released said it had reason to believe Trump was keeping “national defense information,” a violation of the Espionage Act.

           Espionage, by the way, is French for spying, another word that everyone understands. 

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.          

          

          

       

      

 

A Date That Should Live in Infamy

Wednesday, January 5th, 2022

By Bob Gaydos

The Insurrection.

The Insurrection.

   The scenes are still vivid. The memory is fresh. A year, passed disturbingly quickly, has not dimmed the shock nor diminished the sadness of witnessing the most direct assault on American democracy since the Civil War. A violent, deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overthrow a certified, fair election.

       January 6, 2021 is now a date for Americans to remember alongside Dec 7, 1941 and Sept. 11, 2001. The storming of the Capitol is an event to place alongside the ,firing on Fort Sumter.

       That’s how I feel a year later and I am troubled that too many Americans, perhaps preoccupied by trying merely to survive and function in the middle of a pandemic, do not see the Insurrection and its aftermath for what it was — an attempted coup to keep Donald Trump in the White House.

      I know. Those things don’t happen in America. Not in the land of liberty, the leader of the Free World, the beacon of hope and opportunity where all are welcome.

      Once upon a time …

      The election of Trump to the presidency and the total acquiescence of the Republican Party to his program of greed, deceit, threat, ignorance, bullying and total disrespect for the rule of law simply in order to maintain power have rewritten the story line. Or at least they’ve submitted an alternative plot line — an adaptation of Orwell — that goes: “Welcome to America, where all men (not women) are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

        So my hopes this Jan. 6 lie with those public servants in Congress (including a couple of courageous Republicans) who have been investigating the Insurrection and preparing to give the American people a full report of who knew what and when they knew it, who did what and when they did it and, mostly, how we hold them accountable. My hopes also lie with the thus-far sluggish Justice Department of Merrick Garland in following through on any and all evidence of criminal behavior uncovered by the House Jan. 6 Committee.

        There is urgency to this because congressional midterm elections happen this year and, if Democrats lose control of the House, Republicans, fearful of Trump and devoid of any sense of duty to country, will probably disband the committee. They may even try to impeach President Joe Biden out of spite. Such is the state of that party and, from their overwhelming silence, local rank-and-file Republicans seem just fine with it.

         This means the rest of us, a solid majority of Americans, must insist on a full, public report by the committee and pressure members of Congress of whatever political party to honor the process.

         Finally, we must encourage historians and educators to present the events of Jan. 6, 2021, in a full and honest manner. Since they were televised, only the braInwashed will deny them, but this is key for our “Once upon a time” to not become a fairy tale.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

Dear Mr. President, We’re With You

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

    Dear Mr. President, sir, Mr. Biden, Joe … 

 President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden

   Wow, this is harder than I thought it was going to be. After four, really almost five, years of writing virtually nothing but columns of anger, fear, shame, bewilderment, outrage or embarrassment, writing a simple note of congratulations and best wishes is proving to be a challenge.

      But it is the necessary and proper thing to do. Already, that’s a change.

      I guess I wanted to start by saying that it’s not every presidential election in this country that is greeted with a huge, “Thank God!” when the final result is announced. Even atheists, maybe especially atheists, had that reaction when you were pronounced the winner last November. Yes, I know and recent days have demonstrated that not everyone was pleased with the result. But I for one have sensed a profound feeling of relief and hope arise in this country, “Joe won!”

       Thank God.

       The final weeks before your inauguration were … frightening I guess is the appropriate word. The assault on the Capitol by racist Trump loyalists shook America and the world. But, as you and others have noted, we survived. Democracy survived. I always felt we would, but then I did not think it would ever come to that horrifying scene of Jan. 6.

       Yet here we are. No subsequent violence, as warned against. Instead, many calls for unity, some certainly motivated by self-preservation. There is, I think, a palpable calm across the country, a result of being rid of the chaos and anger of the last four years.

       I do not envy you your challenges, but I do have faith that you understand them and will not seek to avoid or downplay them. I look forward to a measure of decorum and honesty that had all but disappeared from the White House. I also look forward to an opportunity for another era of growth in America. It is my sense that millions of my fellow citizens, including many who did not vote for you, are grateful to have survived an attempt to dismantle our democratic republic and are more than willing to do what is necessary to fix what we learned was broken.

       To me, this means holding those responsible for assaulting our laws and principles accountable for their actions as well as initiating a comprehensive effort to re-educate many Americans on what Lady Liberty stands for in the New York harbor, what “liberty and justice for all” really means in the Pledge of Allegiance.

        It will not be easy and many will resist at first. But sending the truly traitorous to prison will undoubtedly get the attention of many of the merely ignorant. As always, hope lies with the new generation.

        Mr. President, I know you know all this, but I think it’s important you know how many of us are with you in confronting this challenge. There are actually happy memes on Facebook again. I will undoubtedly disagree with you on some policy or another, but I don’t expect to be slandered on Twitter because of it. For my part, I will try to go back to my professional approach of not using profanity to express my opinion. I will also write a more specific letter in the near future on actions I think need to be considered. (Your executive orders undoing much of the damage of the past four years and your plan for dealing with Covid are a great beginning, by the way.)

      In closing, as someone who is a few months older than you, let me say I hope you get plenty of rest, pay attention to what you eat, exercise regularly and maybe give Kamala Harris more to do than most vice presidents typically get. It couldn’t hurt.

      Again, congratulations and be well.

Bob Gaydos

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

America’s in Need of an Intervention

Sunday, November 18th, 2018

By Bob Gaydos

The First Family ... in need of an intervention?

The First Family … in need of an intervention?

Democrats are talking about impeachment. Robert Mueller is looking at indictments. I’m fine with both, but honestly, more than anything else, I think America needs an intervention. Our addict-in-chief is out of control.

In addition to writing a blog for the past 10 years, I have been writing a monthly column called Addiction and Recovery. The goal always is to provide information on issues that are widely misunderstood. Like non-drinkers behaving like full-blown alcoholics.

Like Drumpf.

The Dotard-in-chief has talked sparingly about his respect for the power of alcohol, noting that his brother, Fred, died of alcoholism and at least implying that this may be the impetus for the Donald’s tea-totaling ways. But professionals in the field of addiction and alcoholics in recovery will tell you that alcohol is but one symptom of the disease. Take away the alcohol but change nothing else and you have what’s known as a “dry drunk.” That’s someone who has all the “isms” and can be so miserable to be around that people often wish he or she were drinking again.

They’ll also tell you it’s a family disease. It can cross generations, skipping here, striking there and can manifest in many ways. To repeat, alcohol need not be present for alcoholism to exist. It generally just makes it easier to spot.

What got me thinking about Drumpf and alcoholism was the obvious state of withdrawal he went into following the defeat of so many Republicans in the mid-term elections, culminating in the Democrats reclaiming the House of Representatives. It was bad enough to drive a man to drink. He was obviously depressed and reportedly irritable and angry at everyone in the White House. He even blamed Republican losers for not soliciting his support. He claimed Democrats voted more than once by changing clothes outside polling places. He fired his attorney general. He sat in his hotel room in Paris, watching TV and refusing to attend ceremonies at a cemetery to honor Americans who died fighting in World War I. Because it was raining. He was pouty with all the assembled world leaders, save for his buddy, Vladimir Putin, who managed to bring out a smile in him.

Why Putin?

Well, for one thing, the Russian president may be the only head of state who hasn’t let it be known, directly or otherwise, how little regard he has for Trump, as a person or a president. I think it’s fair to assume that Putin buffs Trump’s huge, fragile ego every time they meet. Especially in private. That’s because Putin is smart and Trump is a sucker for applause, adulation, approval.

It’s his alcohol.

The other factor in his more-erratic-than-usual behavior of the past week or so was the absence of political campaign rallies in his life. Leading up to the elections, they were an almost daily ritual. Get on a plane; fly here or there; make up scary stories of caravans of immigrants threatening America; rile up the base; hear them cheer. Look at all those MAGA hats! This is great! Bartender, hit me again. …

Whaddya mean it’s closing time? I’m the president and you’re not. I want another campaign stop. They love me. Let’s do Arizona again. Tell them I’ll give them a tax cut.

It’s tough to go back to work after that, especially when you hate your job and know you don’t know how to do it but have to act as if you do. Alcoholics tend to have large egos and low-self esteem. This is often disguised by an outsized personality or an ability to persuade people.

Sound familiar?

Dr. James West, founding medical director of the Betty Ford Clinic, who was described by the clinic’s director as “an addiction physician before there was even that term,” also wrote a column on addiction that appeared in the Desert Sun, a daily paper in Palm Springs, Calif. in the 1990s. One column addressed the question of an “alcoholic personality” in someone who doesn’t drink.

“Generally,” he wrote, “alcoholics seem to have the same kinds of personalities as everybody else, except more so.”

Among traits, he said, “The first is a low frustration tolerance. Alcoholics seem to experience more distress when enduring long-term dysphoria or when tiresome things do not work out quickly. Alcoholics are more impulsive than most. Secondly, alcoholics are more sensitive.”

“Alcoholics have a ‘low rejection threshold.’”

Don’t we know it.

Dr. West, who was a recovering alcoholic himself, died in 2012 at age 98. He also wrote: “Another trait found in excess in alcoholics is a low sense of one’s own worth. Then there is isolation. Alcoholics are loners. It is with most difficulty they are able to share innermost thoughts and concerns with anyone.

“Although they may be articulate, charming and very persuasive, they operate behind an armor or shell that keeps the world out. They are afraid of intimacy.”

This brings me back to Trump and the subject of an intervention. Much as I think it’s needed, I don’t see it happening. It’s usually the family and close friends who initiate such a drastic step. Melania seems to have accepted her role as wifely enabler, probably with a sweet pre-nup. The two older sons are chips off the same old block and probably fear daddy’s wrath. Ivanka, the apple of his eye, obviously does not see herself suffering from his addiction. Should that ever happen, the dynamic could change dramatically.

Which is to say, intervention for America from this First Family addiction could come from an interested third party, say in the form of a Robert Mueller indictment of Ivanka, or one or both sons. A moment of stark clarity for the Trumps. No cheering crowds. No MAGA hats. Lots of lawyers and legal fees.

“Daddy, turn off the TV. We need to talk …”

rjgaydos@gmail.com

The Buck Never Stops With Trump

Friday, November 9th, 2018

By Bob Gaydos

D4EC7881-03DC-40CE-B0DA-02AA50509A49There’s still too much happening, too fast, so I’m sticking with the Jimmy Cannon approach for a while. So …

— Maybe it’s just me, but I’m having trouble figuring out which is worse: a) claiming you don’t know someone you just appointed to a pretty important job when critics immediately say the appointment is illegal and inappropriate; b) lying about knowing the guy when you just said on national TV less than a month ago that you know him and he’s “a great guy”; or c) thinking that the best way to cover your butt for making what is being described as an “unconstitutional appointment“ of someone who is being widely described as a “crackpot“ to the position of acting attorney general of the United States of America is to say, in effect, “Hey, they told me he was a good guy for the job. I never met him. Don’t blame me.”

The buck never stops at Donald Trump‘s desk. Think about it (you Trump supporters who stumbled in here by mistake can ignore this part), the man who occupies the most powerful position on the planet would rather people think he appointed a political hack to the most powerful law enforcement position in the country without ever talking to the man face-to-face than admit maybe he was a bit too hasty. Coincidentally, of course, at a time when the Justice Department this stranger would head has an active investigation of Trump and the 2016 election.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, with Drumpf, lying is second nature, but being embarrassed is unacceptable. It must be someone else’s fault. The media’s! Yeah, that’s it. I’ll blame CNN.

— Maybe it’s just me, but if I were a member of the White House press corps, I wouldn’t ask a single question at the next press conference if Sarah Huckabee Sanders is at the podium. No one. No questions. She took lying for a living to a new low with the use of a doctored video to revoke Jim Acosta’s White House credentials. The truth is under constant assault by this administration and the Republican Party. The press is the defender of the truth. Sarah must go,

— Maybe it’s just me, but I have issues with voters who prefer a dead pimp, a congressman indicted for insider trading, another one indicted for using thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal affairs and another one who is proudly racist over their opponents just because their opponents are Democrats. Methinks it says some unpleasant things about those voters. The Republican Party of Reagan, never mind Lincoln, no longer exists.

— Maybe it’s just me (and this definitely falls in the category of patting my own back), but those dots (I listed 17 of them) I wrote about back in January got connected on Election Day with a wave of women (mostly Democrats) elected to the House of Representatives. Sparked by the #metoo movement, with “a record number of women, mostly Democrats, running for political office this year at the local, state and national levels,” I wrote, and with “female registered voters outnumbering male registered voters in the United States … this is not simply a revolution about sexual predation — or an attitude of male sexual privilege, if you will. As I see it, it is an awakening, a moment of clarity, a realization that what was does not have to continue to be. Cannot be, in fact. Republicans are mostly clueless to the moment. Democrats ignore it to their continued ineffectuality at the polls.” So I said. It’s nice to be right occasionally, even nicer that the Democrats paid attention.

— Maybe it’s just me, but has anyone heard about anyone being charged with murdering Jamal Khashoggi? Are we still buddies with the Saudis?

— Is that caravan still threatening our southern border?

— Is it petty to criticize by name the members of your political party who didn’t get re-elected because they didn’t beg for your support? Is it typical (see item one) to think you, with your policies and rhetoric, bear no responsibility for their defeat?

— Maybe it’s just me, but Floridians deserve whatever they get for electing Rick Scott governor in the first place and maybe a bonafide racist to replace him. Throw in Marco Rubio, too. Imagine, counting all the votes is cheating.

— And finally, maybe it’s just me, but have you noticed that, unlike Congress, the third leg of government, the courts, have been holding their own against the onslaught of anti-everything coming out of the White House? The latest rulings stalling the Keystone Pipeline and preserving DACA show the value of independent courts. Maybe it’s just me, so why is Chuck Schumer being so soft on Mitch McConnell?

#voxpopuli

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

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

Fly Me to the Moon, Please!

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Look! Up in the sky! Our ancestors.

Look! Up in the sky! Our ancestors. Nibiru was a no-show again.

Trump thinks he’s an emperor.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and about 70 percent of the country think the president is a moron.

Of that remaining 30 percent, a sizable portion believe Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and the earthquakes that rocked Mexico were god’s vengeance on humankind for (a) the mere existence of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons and (b) the idea that such persons should be allowed the same rights as “normal” people. Others in this group take it as fact that there were a pair of dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark.

This is by way of reporting, in case you missed it, that Nibiru once again failed to live up to its hype. This is not disappointing, but it is getting old.

If you somehow missed it, Nibiru is a “giant planet,” supposedly discovered by the Sumerians, which, according to one translation of ancient Babylonian texts, passes by Earth every 3,600 years to allows its inhabitants to interact with earthlings. NASA says it’s a hoax, but the prediction has evolved (or mutated) into Nibiru (also called Planet X), flying into or close by Earth, causing cataclysmic problems. That was supposed to happen in May 2003 and again in December of 2012. 

Also, Sept. 23 just passed. Missed again, although the “end of times” had been predicted by David Meade, a conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed “Christian numerologist” who must have miscalculated, as did all those web sites dedicated to Nibiru.

It’s the interactive fly-by of Nibiru that caught my attention, though, not the hellfire and brimstone and rising tides theory. One would have to think that any celestial visitors these days would only have to slow down enough to take a peek at the headlines and decide to come back in another 3600 years when maybe we had our stuff a little better together.

Some people, however, are not willing to wait that long for contact with beings from elsewhere in the universe. Doug Vakoch is one of those. The president of METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is moving along with announced plans to send messages to stars with planets thought to be capable of sustaining life. First transmissions are scheduled for next year, despite warnings from some noted scientists that in sending messages rather than just listening for them he may be inviting trouble in the form of nasty aliens, as portrayed in many science-fiction movies.

Vakoch and his crew of serious scientists dismiss those portrayals as the result of active imaginations and a situation for which we have no actual data. “One of the reasons people are so afraid of METI is that it seems riskier to do something than to do nothing,” he says.

Ironically, one of those who have voiced warnings about METI is Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX. Musk is not the sit-around-and-wait -for-things-to-happen type.

Last month, as earthlings were breathing a sigh of relief at having been spared the wrath of Nibiru once more, Musk was in Australia at the annual meeting of the International Astronautical Congress moving up the deadline on his intent (some say pipe dream) to launch a manned mission to Mars. He’s talking 2024. Yes, seven years. Employing a really big rocket with lots of powerful engines, his plan is to launch two cargo missions to Mars in 2022 and four missions in 2024, two cargo and two with crews. Eventually, the goal is to create a colony, with the rockets transporting 100 people per trip.

Paying for his grand plans is always a question with Musk. He says he figures on building lots of rockets (smaller than his original plan) which can also be used to fly people to Paris or London or Tokyo instead of just Mars. He says his system could move people between any two cities on this planet in less than an hour, for an appropriate fee of course. People would be the payload on the Mars rockets, also. Investors welcome.

Closer to home, Musk says the really big rocket could be used to take people to the Moon. “It’s 2017, we should have a lunar base by now,” he said in Australia. “What the hell is going on?”

Well, sir, as stated above, the president (whose business advisory councils you quit and who named a climate-denier to head NASA) thinks he’s an emperor, the secretary of state thinks he’s a moron and 30 percent of Americans — some of whom think dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark — are apparently still OK with all that.

So, Messrs. Musk and Vakoch, if you don’t mind, let’s get those rockets and inter-planetary messages going quickly, before the emperor declares war on Nibiru.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Musk, Killer Robots, Trump, the Eclipse

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump looking at the solar eclipse.

Donald Trump looking at the solar eclipse.

Elon Musk and Donald Trump made significant scientific statements this week. Digest that sentence for a second. …

OK, it’s not as strange as it sounds because each man was true to himself. That is, neither message was surprising, considering the source, but each was important, also considering the source.

Monday, Musk and 115 other prominent scientists in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence attending a conference in Melbourne, Australia, delivered a letter to the United Nations urging a ban on development and use of killer robots. This is not science fiction.

Responding to previous urging by members of the group of AI and robotics specialists, the UN had recently voted to hold formal discussions on so-called autonomous weapons. With their open letter, Musk and the others, coming from 26 countries, wanted the UN to be clear about their position — these are uniquely dangerous weapons and not so far off in the future.

Also on Monday, on the other side of the planet, as millions of Americans, equipped with special glasses or cardboard box viewers,  marveled at the rare site of a solar eclipse, Trump, accompanied by his wife, Melania, and their son, Barron, walked out onto a balcony at the White House and stared directly at the sun. No glasses. No cardboard box. No problem. I’m Trump. Watch me give the middle finger to science.

Of course, the only reason Trump shows up in the same sentence as Musk in a scientific discussion is that the man with the orange hair holds the title of president of the United States and, as such, has the power to decide what kind of weapons this nation employs and when to use them. Also, the president — any president — has the power, through words and actions, to exert profound influence on the beliefs, attitudes and opinions of people used to looking to the holder of the office to set an example. Hey, if it’s good enough for the president, it’s good enough for me. This is science fiction.

Please, fellow Americans, don’t stare at the sun during the next eclipse.

Trump’s disdain for science (for knowledge of any kind, really) and his apparently pathological need to do the opposite of what more knowledgeable people recommend, regardless of the topic, are a dangerous combination. When you’re talking about killer robots, it’s a potentially deadly one.

The U.S.Army Crusher robotic weapon.

The U.S.Army Crusher robotic weapon.

How deadly? Here’s a quote from the letter the AI specialists wrote: “Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.

“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

In fact, it’s already opened. On the Korean peninsula — brimming with diplomatic tension, the rattling of nuclear weapons by the North Koreans and the corresponding threats of “fire and fury” from Trump — a fixed-place sentry gun, reportedly capable of firing autonomously, is in place along the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone.

Developed by Samsung for South Korea, the gun reportedly has an autonomous system capable of surveillance up to two miles, voice-recognition, tracking and firing with mounted machine gun or grenade launcher. There is disagreement over whether the weapon is actually deployed to operate on its own, but it can. Currently, the gun and other autonomous weapons being developed by the U.S., Russia, Germany, China, the United Kingdom and others require a human to approve their actions, but usually in a split-second decision. There is little time to weigh the consequences and the human will likely assume the robot is correct rather than risk the consequences of an incorrect second-guess.

But it is precisely the removal of the human element from warfare that Musk and the other AI developers are worried about. Removing the calculation of deaths on “our side” makes deciding to use a killer robot against humans on the other side much easier. Too easy perhaps. And robots that can actually make that decision remove the human factor entirely. A machine will not agonize over causing the deaths of thousands of “enemies.”

And make no mistake, the robots will be used to kill humans as well as destroy enemy machines. Imagine a commander-in-chief who talks cavalierly about using nuclear weapons against a nation also being able to deploy robots that will think for themselves about who and what to attack. No second-guessing generals.

Musk, a pioneer in the AI field, has also been consistent with regard to his respect for the potential danger posed to humans by machines that think for themselves or by intelligences — artificial or otherwise — that are infinitely superior to ours. The Tesla CEO has regularly spoken out, for example, against earthlings sending messages into space to try to contact other societies, lest they deploy their technology to destroy us. One may take issue with him on solar energy, space exploration, driverless cars, but one dismisses his warnings on killer robots at one’s own risk. He knows whereof he speaks.

Trump is another matter. His showboating stunt of a brief look at the sun, sans glasses, will probably not harm his eyes. But the image lingers and the warnings, including one from his own daughter, Ivanka, were explicit: Staring directly at the sun during the eclipse can damage your retina and damage your vision. Considering the blind faith some of his followers display in his words and actions, it was yet another incredibly irresponsible display of ego and another insult to science.

Artificial intelligence is not going away. It has the potential for enormous benefit. If you want an example of its effect on daily life just look at the impact autonomous computer programs have on the financial markets. Having weapons that can think for themselves may also sound like a good idea, especially when a commander-in-chief displays erratic judgment, but their own creators — and several human rights groups — urge the U.N. to ban their use as weapons, in the same way chemical weapons and land mines are banned.

It may be one of the few remaining autonomous decisions humans can make in this area, and the most important one. We dare not wait until the next eclipse to make it.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Lining Up for The Smell of Death in D.C.

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

People viewing -- and smelling -- the corpse flower (titan arum) in Washington, D.C.

People viewing — and smelling — the corpse flower (titan arum) in Washington, D.C.

There was a distinct stench of decay in the nation’s capital last week and thousands of visitors showed up to get a whiff — heck, a full, deep inhalation — of it. What’s that? No, no, this had nothing to do with the White House or Congress … stick with me. The odor emanated from, of all things, a flower.

The corpse flower. These large malodorous plants are not for sale at your local garden store. For one thing, they’re huge — this one is 8 feet tall — and bloom rarely. Unpredictably, really. And then for only two days at most. This makes such occasions an excuse for people to line up around the block, as they did at the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory, to look and smell.

A plant scientist who is public programs manager at the U.S. Botanic Garden, told the website LiveScience “… once you get into that room, it really hits you pretty hard. It reminded me of a dead deer on the side of the road in the Florida Everglades with a big pile of really soggy, moldy laundry next to it. It was really, really unpleasant.”

I think I know what the man is talking about. In my neck of the woods in upstate New York, about 75 miles from New York City, some farmers have taken to spreading what they say is fertilizer on their land, but which, to noses familiar and comfortable with normal fertilizer, smells like dead deer times ten. Death smell, we call it. Really unpleasant. The farmers never said it was the corpse flower, though. Duck eggs is the story they’re going with.

Unlike the corpse flower, no one around here lined up to take a good, deep whiff. You really only had to drive by to get it. A lot of people did complain to public officials, however, and that may have stopped the practice. Lately, it’s just been good, old-fashioned cow manure.

In Washington, though, Amorphophallus titanum was holding forth last week to no apparent purpose. While it rarely blooms and no one can say when one will bloom, the plant can be long-lived and botanists say the blooming has a specific purpose. Get this: The corpse plant uses its death smell to attract flesh-eating bugs such as beetles and flies that will carry its pollen to cross pollinate other corpse flowers.

So its purpose is simply to perpetuate itself apparently. Thank you, Mother Nature. One bloomed in the Bronx last August, but the plant is native to the rain forests of Sumatra and I suppose it makes sense in the ecological framework of western Indonesia. As for the D.C. transplant, I’m not certain.

This particular plant, which blossomed for the first time, is said to have grown from 4 feet tall to 8 feet tall just in the time it was put on display in the greenhouse — less than a week-and-a-half. It reeked of death for a couple of days then withered.

The folks at the Botanical Garden said this particular plant was the first corpse flower to bloom in Washington, D.C., since 2007. So for eight years — from 2008 to 2016 — there was no call to line up for the smell of death in the nation’s capital. This year — bloom!

Hmmm. Maybe I was wrong about the plant’s purpose. Maybe it’s trying to tell us something. Let’s see … what blooms big and garish without warning for no purpose other than to promote itself, attracts a crowd, appeals to flesh-eating bugs, stinks to hell for a brief period and then withers and goes away for a long time?

Maybe they’ll have a clue at the White House.

rjgaydos@gmail.com