Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

July 28, 2018

Trump's Fake Victories

By David K. Shipler

                It’s too bad that Donald Trump wasn’t president during the Vietnam War, because he would have declared victory and avoided years of bloodshed, as Vermont Senator George Aiken proposed in 1966. And judging by today’s gullible Trump supporters, 40 percent of Americans would have believed him. Imagine Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, had they been around, hailing the North Vietnamese tanks rolling into Saigon, without resistance, as Trump’s breathtaking achievement in peacemaking. The war was over!
                If you lay out Trump’s various methods of appearing to win, you come up with at least three styles of fabrication.
                1. A real conflict but a declaration of victory that is either premature, exaggerated, or totally made up. North Korea is the main example to date. Despite Trump’s boast about peace in our time, bragging that the nuclear problem had been “largely solved,” Kim Jong-un’s regime has not agreed to a single step toward denuclearization—no timetable, no inspections, no concrete plan. He’s suspended testing, probably because he’s done all the testing needed so far for nuclear development, and while he’s made a show of dismantling a couple of test sites, intelligence agencies see work on nuclear weapons continuing.
And Kim’s dispatch of 55 boxes of bones to the US, which Trump trumpets as the remains of “American Servicemen,” cannot be authenticated until forensic analysis can find actual matches to American families. Until identifications are made, the somber pageantry of the return of the dead is, sadly, only theater, and a cynical ritual at that. The remains could be of non-American, UN troops who fought in the Korean War—or they could be of Koreans themselves. Kim has learned quickly how easy it is to get mileage from Trump for empty gestures.

July 20, 2018

Rip Van Winkle in Russia

By David K. Shipler

                I spent last week in Russia and felt as if I had woken up, after a long sleep, to an unrecognizable  world. Putting aside the nefarious activities of Vladimir Putin’s government—Crimea, Ukraine, cyberattacks, Novichok, and the police-state mechanism poised to act at Putin’s whim—Russia has revolutionized itself, at least on the surface.
                I’d last been there 25 years ago, in the liberalizing Gorbachev era and then right after the breakup of the Soviet Union, so I witnessed the beginning of change: a freer discourse, an occasional private restaurant devoted to pleasing customers rather than repelling them. But my true reference point, the time I seem to have fallen deeply asleep, was the communist period of the late 1970s, when I lived in Moscow for four years. Awakening last week, I felt like some country rube who had never seen a city’s bright lights. Or, as my son Michael noted as we traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg for the World Cup, I seemed to be switching glasses all the time, looking through Soviet lenses in utter amazement.
                Gone are the depressingly gray state-run stores and restaurants with empty shelves, long lines, and unsmiling clerks and waiters with no motivation to serve. Decent restaurants in Soviet days required connections to get reservations, and some had signs screwed permanently to the doors saying, “Myest Nyet,” “No Room.” Who wants customers when you get paid anyway by the state? And except for the caviar, the food was rarely gourmet. A Russian joke went this way:
                Customer: Is the fish fresh?
                Waitress: I don’t know. I’ve only worked here two weeks.

July 2, 2018

Trump vs. Workers

By David K. Shipler

Making America Cruel Again, Part 2 of an Occasional Series

            One of the many peculiarities of Donald Trump’s presidency is how deftly he stabs workers in the back while making many of them think he’s on their side. He’s given “I’ve got your back” a new meaning.
            His administration is dismantling environmental protections for laborers, decimating job safety regulations, and attacking the livelihoods of many of them by triggering tariffs on US goods going to Canada, the European Union, and China. Most of this destruction can be repaired in time once Democrats return to power in the White House and Congress. But more durable damage is being done by the Supreme Court, and there is surely more to come as Trump tees up for his second court appointment.
His first pick, Neil Gorsuch, is remarkably hostile to workers’ rights, and he has been so since before he ascended to the Court. He wrote the 5-4 majority opinion this term in Epic v. Lewis, stripping employees who are forced to sign arbitration agreements from any recourse in the courts over unfair labor practices. And he joined the 5-4 majority in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, stripping public employees’ unions of their ability to collect dues from all workers who profit from the salaries, vacations, health insurance, and other benefits negotiated through collective bargaining.
Gorsuch’s position should have come as no surprise. In a 2016 dissent as an appeals court judge in the Tenth Circuit, he went through bizarre legal acrobatics to uphold the firing of a truck driver who opted to leave his cargo rather than freeze to death on a winter night in Illinois.
When the brakes on his trailer froze, the driver, Alphonse Maddin, phoned for help from his company, Trans Am Trucking, and waited several hours for a repair truck. He was practically out of fuel, the auxiliary power heater for the cabin was broken, and he began to show dangerous signs of succumbing to the subzero temperatures. His cousin, who called him, said that his speech was slurred. His feet felt numb, and breathing was difficult. Finally, in desperation, he unhitched the tractor from the trailer and drove toward safety, returning 15 minutes later after being informed that the repair truck had arrived. He was then fired.