Thursday, May 25, 2023

This article on the death penalty might change your mind; it did mine.

 Robert Bentley, a Republican, served as governor of Alabama from 2011 to 2017. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, was governor of Alabama from 1999 to 2003.

Alabama has 167 people on death row, a greater number per capita than in any other state. As far as the two of us are concerned, that is at least 146 people too many. Here’s why.

As former Alabama governors, we have come over time to see the flaws in our nation’s justice system and to view the state’s death penalty laws in particular, as legally and morally troubling. We both presided over executions while in office, but if we had known then what we know now about prosecutorial misconduct, we would have exercised our constitutional authority to commute death sentences to life.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1976, nationwide, 1 person on death row has been exonerated for every 8.3 executions. That means we have been getting it wrong about 12 percent of the time. If we apply those statistics to the 167 people on Alabama’s death row, it means that as many as 20 could have been wrongfully charged and convicted.

The center has found that wrongful convictions are “overwhelmingly the product of police or prosecutorial misconduct or the presentation of knowingly false testimony.” Judge Alex Kozinski, former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, has said the withholding of exculpatory evidence by prosecutors is an “epidemic” in the United States. Shamefully, such misconduct most frequently involves Black defendants (87 percent).

Alabama has not been spared miscarriages of justice. The first known exoneration from the state’s death row was of Walter McMillian, whose case was highlighted by Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson in his book “Just Mercy.” But there are other death row convictions that should haunt Alabama’s leaders.

In 1998, a non-unanimous jury recommended death for Toforest Johnson for the killing of an off-duty sheriff’s deputy based on the testimony of someone who, unknown to the defense, was later paid a $5,000 reward. The case of Rocky Myers, convicted of murdering his neighbor, is even more disturbing. Myers was never connected to the murder scene, and even though the jury recommended life without parole, the judge overrode the recommendation and ordered his execution.

One of us, Don Siegelman, is personally haunted by the case of Freddie Wright, whose execution he could have commuted but did not in 2000. Twenty-three years later, Siegelman believes Wright was wrongfully charged, prosecuted and convicted for a murder he most likely did not commit.

Since 1976, when the Supreme Court granted prosecutors immunity from civil liability, it has been common for prosecutors to get close to 99 percent of the indictments they seek from grand juries. One reason for this is that grand juries are secret proceedings, with no lawyers present and no judge to oversee what prosecutors are doing. In this stealth setting, prosecutors have free rein to present false testimony or false evidence or to withhold exculpatory evidence to get the outcome they want.

Before 1976, the U.S. incarceration figure hovered around 200,000 people. After 1976, the number skyrocketed to more than 1.6 million. With the legal cover of the 1976 decision, President Barack Obama’s solicitor general argued to the Supreme Court in January 2010 that “U.S. citizens do not have a constitutional right not to be framed.” Ending unjust convictions will involve rethinking prosecutorial immunity.

In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that a unanimous verdict is required to convict someone of a capital crime warranting death. The court highlighted the racist underpinnings of non-unanimous verdicts as a Jim Crow practice dating from the 1870s. Alabama had been the only state to allow a person to be sentenced to death by this legal relic and has 115 people scheduled to die based on non-unanimous jury verdicts. Because the court’s ruling didn’t explicitly extend to the sentencing phase, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), using “tough on crime” rhetoric, recently signed a law that now allows a jury to recommend a death sentence on an 8-4 vote.

Alabama was also the last state to ban judicial overrides, a practice whereby judges were able to overrule jury verdicts of life without parole and order death. The Equal Justice Initiative had raised a concern about this practice, finding that “the proportion of death sentences imposed by override had often been elevated in election years.” Judicial overrides accounted for 7 percent of death sentences in a nonelection year but rose to 30 percent when Alabama judges ran for reelection.

In 2017, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, signed a law banning judicial overrides. But it was not applied retroactively, so 31 Alabamans, including Myers, are still scheduled to die based on this outlawed practice.

Alabama is one of 27 states that retain the death penalty. Of those, 14 have not conducted an execution in 10 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and the governors of five states (Arizona, California, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania) have said they will not oversee an execution during their terms.

As governors, we had the power to commute the sentences of all those on Alabama’s death row to life in prison. We no longer have that constitutional power, but we feel that careful consideration calls for commuting the sentences of the 146 prisoners who were sentenced by non-unanimous juries or judicial override and that an independent review unit should be established to examine all capital murder convictions.

We missed our chance to confront the death penalty and have lived to regret it, but it is not too late for today’s elected officials to do the morally right thing.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

The Three Tasks of Government

By Bing West      May 17, 2026

“There are three tasks,” the renowned historian Paul Johnson wrote, “which any government must perform: external security, internal order and maintenance of an honest currency.”

The United States is failing at all three tasks. Concerning security, the 2021 chaotic desertion of Afghanistan undermined America’s global credibility and military status. Leading NATO in giving arms to Ukraine brought partial redemption. However, this is eroding as the war drags on and President Biden refuses to send offensive weapons because he openly fears Putin. In the Middle East, America’s influence is crumbling. China negotiated a resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran sponsors repeated missile attacks upon U.S. ground forces and, in acts of defiant piracy, has seized three oil supertankers. The U.S. Navy did nothing except video the pirate boats. Iran gleefully showed that video on its TV stations. Led by Saudi Arabia, the Arab League readmitted the bloody Syrian regime. While China ratchets up pressure upon Taiwan, the administration’s budget for our navy and for the military, in general, does not keep pace with the inflation caused by the administration’s massive transfer payments.

Concerning internal order, social media has stunted the natural social interactions of our adolescents and spawned spiteful divisiveness among the adult population. Crime in most cities is both pervasive and brazen. More than 100,000 Americans die annually from fentanyl entering via the open southern border, along with two million illegal immigrants. The Democratic Party believes the swelling Hispanic vote will eventually ensure permanent majority rule by the Democrats. So, the human flood will continue unabated as long as President Biden is in office.

He has based his reelection upon arguing that anyone voting for Trump is an extremist. Trump responds in kind, touting “I am your retribution.” Both our leading politicians are driving Americans farther apart.

The third task of government is “maintenance of an honest currency.” No reasonable observer can repute honesty to the crass selfishness of the administration and Congress. It is impossible to sustain today’s generous social security, health benefits, multitudinous transfer payments, and the military without devaluing the dollar and insuring roughly four percent inflation for the next decade. With productivity growth of an anemic one percent versus inflation at four percent, every year the situation worsens. Our profligacy has bequeathed to our grandchildren a crushing debt burden.

The Roman Empire endured for 500 years. It disintegrated when its currency depreciation made it worthless to the legions. The soldiers walked off the job and the authority of Rome collapsed along with its borders.
To sum up: Government’s three basic tasks of external security, internal order, and maintenance of an honest currency are intertwined. Currently, America is failing at all three tasks. Facts, however, don’t change attitudes. The attitudes in our beloved country are internally poisonous. The forthcoming election is not about moving our country forward; it is about demonizing the opponent. This election is all about yelling, “The other guy is worse than I am!”

Military historian West, a former assistant secretary of defense, has written a dozen books about America’s recent wars.

Sunday, May 7, 2023


This 1967 true story is of an experience by a young 12-year-old lad in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. 

It is about the vivid memory of a privately rebuilt P-51 from WWII and its famous owner/pilot. In the morning sun, I could not believe my eyes. There, in our little airport, sat a majestic P-51. They said it had flown in during the night from some US airport on its way to an air show. The pilot had been tired, so he just happened to choose Kingston for his stopover. 

 It was to take to the air very soon. I marveled at the size of the plane, dwarfing the Pipers and Canucks tied down by her. It was much larger than in the movies. She glistened in the sun like a bulwark of security from days gone by. 

The pilot arrived by cab, paid the driver, and then stepped into the pilot's lounge. He was an older man; his wavy hair was gray and tossed. It looked like it might have been combed, say, around the turn of the century. His flight jacket was checked, creased, and worn - it smelled old and genuine. Old Glory was prominently sewn to its shoulders. He projected a quiet air of proficiency and pride devoid of arrogance. 

 He filed a quick flight plan to Montreal ("Expo-67 Air Show") and then walked across the tarmac. After taking several minutes to perform his walk-around check, the tall, lanky man returned to the flight lounge to ask if anyone would be available to stand by with fire extinguishers while he "flashed the old bird up, just to be safe." 

Though only 12 at the time, I was allowed to stand by with an extinguisher after brief instruction on its use -- "If you see a fire, point, then pull this lever!" he said. (I later became a firefighter, but that's another story.)

The air around the exhaust manifolds shimmered like a mirror from fuel fumes as the huge prop started to rotate. One manifold, then another, and yet another barked -- I stepped back with the others. In moments, the Packard-built Merlin engine came to life with a thunderous roar. Blue flames knifed from her manifolds with an arrogant snarl. 

I looked at the others' faces; there was no concern. I lowered the bell of my extinguisher. One of the guys signaled to walk back to the lounge. We did. Several minutes later we could hear the pilot doing his pre-flight run-up. He'd taxied to the end of runway 19, out of sight. All went quiet for several seconds. We ran to the second-story deck to see if we could catch a glimpse of the P-51 as she started down the runway. We could not. There we stood; eyes fixed on a spot halfway down 19. 

Then a roar ripped across the field, much louder than before. Like a furious hell spawn set loose -- something mighty this way was coming. "Listen to that thing!" said the controller. In seconds, the Mustang burst into our line of sight. Its tail was already off the runway, and it was moving faster than anything I'd ever seen by that point on 19. 

Two-thirds the way down 19 the Mustang was airborne with her gear going up. The prop tips were supersonic. We clasped our ears as the Mustang climbed hellishly fast into the circuit to be eaten up by the dog-day haze. We stood for a few moments in stunned silence, trying to digest what we'd just seen.

The radio controller rushed by me to the radio. "Kingston tower calling Mustang?" He looked back to us as he waited for an acknowledgment. The radio crackled, "Go ahead, Kingston." "Roger, Mustang. Kingston Tower would like to advise the circuit is clear for a low-level pass." I stood in shock because the controller had just, more or less, asked the pilot to return for an impromptu air show! The controller looked at us. "Well, What?" he asked. "I can't let that guy go without asking. I couldn't forgive myself!"  

The radio crackled once again, "Kingston, do I have permission for a low-level pass, east to west, across the field?" "Roger, Mustang, the circuit is clear for an east-to-west pass." "Roger, Kingston, I'm coming out of 3,000 feet, stand by." 

We rushed back onto the second-story deck, eyes fixed toward the eastern haze. The sound was subtle at first, a high-pitched whine, a muffled screech, a distant scream. Moments later the P-51 burst through the haze. Her airframe straining against positive G's and gravity. Her wing tips spilling contrails of condensed air, prop-tips again supersonic. The burnished bird blasted across the eastern margin of the field shredding and tearing the air. At about 500 mph and 150 yards from where we stood, she passed with the old American pilot saluting. Imagine. A salute! 

I felt like laughing; I felt like crying; she glistened; she screamed; the building shook; my heart pounded. Then the old pilot pulled her up and rolled, and rolled, and rolled out of sight into the broken clouds and indelible into my memory. 

I've never wanted to be an American more than on that day! It was a time when many nations in the world looked to America as their big brother. A steady and even-handed beacon of security who navigated difficult political water with grace and style; not unlike the old American pilot who'd just flown into my memory. He was proud, not arrogant, humble, not a braggart, old and honest, projecting an aura of America at its best. That America will return one day! I know it will!

Until that time, I'll just send off this story. Call it a loving reciprocal salute to a Country, and especially to that old American pilot: the late JIMMY STEWART (1908-1997), Actor, real WWII Hero (Commander of a US Army Air Force Bomber Wing stationed in England), and a USAF Reserve Brigadier General, who wove a wonderfully fantastic memory for a young Canadian boy that's lasted a lifetime. 

PLEASE GOD, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN….AS SOON AS YOU CAN! "A veteran, whether active duty, or retired, is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to "The United States of America," for an amount of "up to, and including their life." That is Honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand that.


Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Opening of the 2023 Season

Number 33 (Year) got started this past week at FDIC. I was honored by attendees such as Steve Schwartz, CEO and co-owner of Lion Protects, the longest sponsor of the Firefighter Challenge. He was followed by John Granby, who recently retired from Lion. Over the next couple of months, you will get the inside scoop on the origins of the Challenge. There’s some background on Wikipedia - and that post needs updating and more accuracy. I don’t know who started that thread, but it was a good start. 

 The Challenge got its start when Chief David Gratz and Dr. Leonard Marks walked into the Human Performance Lab at the Sports Medicine Center at the University of Maryland and asked, “Can you determine what it takes to climb a ladder and ventilate a roof with an axe?” The answer was “Yes.” 

 Back to Indy, 49 years later. Here are Steve Schwartz’s remarks on the Firefighter Challenge course Wednesday, April 25, 2023: 

 Steve: Lion and I have had the honor and privilege of supporting the Challenge since its inception. My uncle Richard Lapedes, Lion’s previous CEO, believed in honoring Firefighters’ toughness and bravery while encouraging them to possess athletic strength and agility. 

 At first, LION was a sponsor, but it soon became apparent that LION should step up to the plate and be more than “a sponsor” because the Challenge’s purpose was consistent with LION’s purpose to keep firefighters ready for action. In the late 90s, I became involved in the LION fire service business, and the story begins for me and my relationship with the Challenge and Paul. 

 I committed LION to transform our relationship from a sponsor to a true partner of On Target and helped to add stability to the Challenge as it grew to what it is today. The five evolutions that Paul created for the Challenge replicate the physical and mental demands of daily firefighting and, in some cases, the extreme extra efforts required to be a firefighter performing at the highest level. 

 We took the extra step to create the LION’s Den to honor the highest performers who complete the Challenge in less than 3 minutes. We are proud of our exceptional commitment to the Challenge. We are thrilled that, as we stand here today, we see a new, invigorated, and, we believe, even more exciting, competitor-friendly course set inside the LION Arena of the Brave. 

 So let me conclude my remarks by honoring Paul. I have seen Paul 2-3 times a year for the last 23 years, with some phone calls between personal visits. Since the Challenge started coming to Indy, I always saw him here. Paul’s enthusiasm for the Challenge was always so vibrant it felt like a crusade. That enthusiasm was so infectious. Paul had such a single-minded focus on the Challenge. 

 Every time we met, he shared his latest ideas on how to market it and new ways to attract more participants. He was never ready to give up or lose hope in spreading the challenging gospel. He is a man of great integrity who has faced challenges in his own life that give him the humility all great leaders possess.

 Thank you, Paul, for the Challenge, your life’s work. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far and away, the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. “Paul you have lived that life to the fullest.   

 John Granby: It was only fitting that LION became part of this incredible and grand Challenge as, at its core, LION has always believed in showcasing the physical and mental demands of the Firefighter as well as promoting the health and safety of the Firefighter. Being physically fit is one of the 16 core life initiatives of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. This event helps to highlight the need for all firefighters to be physically fit and healthy. 

 It is a way for LION to “give back” to the fire service and its 1.1 million active firefighters, to help them become even better physically and mentally and, in turn, help protect the communities they serve and promote the value of the fire service. LION has always been at the forefront of the health and safety of Firefighters. He has always tried to develop the lightest, safest, and most functional Turnout gear, station uniforms, and training equipment for the fire service. 

 Talk about stories about Paul – what Paul meant to you- As we stand here today and introduce everyone to the improved Challenge course, we are sure that a new chapter has begun. We believe that the new look of the system and the new direction that it has taken will only enhance and increase the legacy that Paul created in the 30-plus years that proceeded this new and improved course. We know that the look, energy and direction we propel this fantastic event well into the future. We hope that with all that is being done, this event will further the health and safety of all firefighters.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Sometimes it's interesting to go back in time and look at the news...

 “Yet for a variety of reasons, both personal and civic, their characters not only should not be altered, but could not be, even if the tragic hero wished to change, given his megalomania and absolutist views of the human experience. In the classical tragic sense, Trump likely will end in one of two fashions, both not particularly good: either spectacular but unacknowledged accomplishments followed by ostracism when he is out of office and no longer useful, or, less likely, a single term due to the eventual embarrassment of his beneficiaries, as if his utility is no longer worth the wages of his perceived crudity.”   —The Case for Trump (2019)

After the midterms, the Republican Party and half of the conservative movement are now furious with Donald Trump. Their writs are many—even though the party establishment shares much of the blame. More importantly still, American elections have radically shifted to mail-in/early/absentee voting rendering Election Day a minor event. The predictable result is that any close race undecided on Election Day in subsequent days usually is won by the Democrats.

On the eve of the midterm, Trump gratuitously attacked Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who was up for reelection, while all but announcing he would run for president.

That preview could have waited until the elections had passed. The pizzazz may have galvanized some Trump-haters to go to the polls. It might even have alienated perhaps a few thousand DeSantis Republicans who were not thus inclined to vote for Trump-stamped candidates.

Trump’s frantic fundraising efforts had amassed a huge sum in his PAC, geared to his future primary fights. But many felt he was far too parsimonious in spreading his largess to his own cash-strapped and outspent MAGA candidates. That stinginess might have helped contribute to their defeats in close House and Senate elections.

Those earlier rumblings were only amplified after the unexpectedly anemic Republican midterm performance. Trump sent out a disjointed, almost unhinged letter damning DeSantis as disloyal, without gratitude (to Trump), mediocre, and overrated.

The indictment was ill-timed to DeSantis’ landslide victory over Charlie Crist. DeSantis’ long Florida coattails fueled the only red tsunami of the entire evening. If Trump thought he would employ the battering-ram tactics of his first presidential debate of 2020, then he should remember they failed (in contrast to his effective second debate against Biden). And in reaction, DeSantis’ rope-a-dope silence is effectively designed to let Trump punch his way out and down to the low 30s in approval.

Trump further blamed some of the losses of his endorsed candidates on either their own shortcomings and lack of loyalty, or the bad advice from those who had persuaded him to back losers. New Hampshire U.S. Senate candidate Don Bolduc was deemed insufficiently denialist and so, according to Trump, was crushed in the New Hampshire race.

Former First Lady Melania Trump, of all people, was reportedly to blame for convincing the ex-president to back Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race.

Yet Oz turned out to be a tireless worker and a rookie but solid candidate. Still, he was easily outspent—and was fatally injured by the balloting blowback against the mediocre Trump-supported gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. The latter’s wipeout injured Oz and Republican congressional candidates once thought likely to win.

Worse still, Trump highlighted his self-obsession over party concerns by weirdly celebrating the loss of fellow Republican senatorial candidate Joe O’Dea of Colorado. His RINO crime was spurning Trump’s support. Stranger still, Trump attacked popular Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin for supposedly having a “Chinese”-sounding name.

But these were sins of commission. There were also those of omission. Trump had not issued an ecumenical call to head to Georgia, to forget intramural squabbles, and to rally money and time on behalf of Herschel Walker—Trump’s own endorsed candidate.

Even if the Senate is now lost, Trump should issue such a call—if keeping his person clear of the Georgia mess. In 2021 his loud whines to supporters that Georgia’s voting was rigged kept his base home, while offending swing independents.

That one-two punch ensured the surreal victories of two neo-socialist Democratic senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. The duo ensured Democratic control of the entire Congress, guaranteeing the disastrous first two years of the Biden Administration. It takes effort to ensure that Georgia now hosts the two most radically left-wing senators in the entire Senate.

Even before the midterms, there was a latent feeling among half of Republicans that Trump, given his age, and the animus he incurs among the rich Left and touchy independents, might retire to the role of kingmaker, rather than try a third presidential election. Trump’s eruptions, coupled with DeSantis’ stunning and singular midterm success, ensured that such prior latent conservative unease is now overt.

Indeed, in near hysterical fashion, Trump became stigmatized and scapegoated as the culprit for nearly every Republican race lost. Yet many of his endorsed candidates won. And some who lost did so quite independently of anything Trump said or did. Tiffany Smiley, Tudor Dixon and Lee Zeldin were good candidates and their opponents feeble. But not even Abraham Lincoln could have gotten them elected in bright blue Washington, Michigan, and New York.

On the other hand, there were also lots of RNC-approved candidates who likewise lost narrow races. And Senator Mitch McConnell sent millions of dollars to RINO Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to defeat fellow Republican and genuine conservative Kelly Tshibaka, more to protect McConnell’s own leadership role than to ensure a more reliable Republican vote in the Senate.

As the disappointment over a red ripple began to subside, many found some long-term good: the winner Ron DeSantis was empowered. The now cocky but still demented Joe Biden is delusional, convinced he could be a winner in 2024, And Donald Trump now must either settle down or settle up.

An unspoken paradox arose among many that Trump’s vital MAGA agenda might be better continued and advanced by those others than its creator—even as Trump insisted that there can no more be a MAGA party without him than there could be sunshine without the sun.

Trump Considered

One explanation of the Trump dilemma is that like all classical tragic heroes and western gunslingers, Trump solved problems through means unpalatable to those in need of solutions beyond their own refinement. It is the lot of such tragic figures to grate and wear out their welcome with their beneficiaries—but only after their service is increasingly deemed no longer needed.

In this moment of wishing the wounded Shane would ride off into the Tetons and leave the more civilized alone, we should remember Trump’s four historical accomplishments that will only grow in light of Biden’s subsequent disastrous four years.

One is partisan. Trump utterly destroyed the 30-year Clinton grifting and quid pro quo machine in general, and Hillary Clinton’s endless and often toxic political career in particular. It was characterized by the despicable Uranium One sale, the foreign shake-down contributions to the Clinton Foundation, her destruction of subpoenaed emails and devices, and her blatant violation of State Department rules of personal communications.

Clinton’s failing campaign and eventual collapse in 2016 was so shocking that it all but crushed her very psyche—to the point that she had funded a foreign ex-spy to systematically and illegally destroy her political opponent. She ended up denying the very legitimacy of the election she lost. Then she topped that off by urging Joe Biden not to accept the 2020 verdict should he lose the popular vote.

Hillary Clinton is physically, psychologically, and spiritually spent—and never recovered from her ill-fated collisions with Donald Trump.

Two, Donald Trump recalibrated the Republican Party to become more populist and nationalist. Previously it was shrinking and offered the Left an easy stereotype of a small club of aristocratic white corporate elites.

Yet Trumpism did not renounce prior Republicanism, at least not entirely. Rather, Trump sought to save it by recalibrating the party. He demanded toughness with China, attacked illegal immigration, addressed the crisis of the deindustrialized American interior, and adopted a Jacksonian foreign policy. That was all in addition to embracing Republican policies of low-taxes, small-government, deregulation, traditional values, and originalist justices.

Three, Trump’s actual four years of governance were characterized, before the advent of the pandemic, by robust growth, low inflation, energy independence, low unemployment, a rebuilding of the U.S. military, eventual curbing of illegal immigration, the Abraham Accords, and forcing NATO to spend far more on defense. Trump saved the Supreme Court and lower federal courts for a generation.

Four, in his furious counterassault against a vicious administrative state, bankrupt media, and crazed elite bicoastal class, Trump survived and ended up exposing and discrediting them all. Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, which monitors media coverage, found that after just a few months in office, Trump was the subject of the most biased coverage in modern presidential history.

While the media both thrived on him and yet sought to ruin their greatest source of income, it committed suicide through its hysteria and fixations. Trump’s “fake news” attacks were crude. But they resonated precisely because he was correct that the media had become utterly corrupt and a mere extension of the progressive project.

Trump in his current state is an object of derision. But that he is still standing is a miracle in itself, given the abuse he endured that was predicated on lies, myths, and venom. In the first year of his presidency, partisan House members filed articles of impeachment. Foreign Policy printed an essay 11 days after his inauguration calling for his removal through either impeachment, the 25th Amendment, or a military coup.

It became a progressive parlor game to publicly dream of his assassination by explosion, decapitation, stabbing, incineration, hanging, or shooting. Joe Biden on three occasions bragged of his desire to physically beat him up.

That fisticuffs trope was amplified by everyone from Cory Booker to Robert De Niro. His National Security designate, General Michael Flynn, was framed by the efforts of the FBI and remnants of the Obama Justice Department through an ambush interrogation aimed at reviving the ossified Logan Act.

For nearly three years he was smeared and slurred as a Russian collaborator. That was a false charge and it devoured 22 months of his presidency, until the Mueller investigation imploded. Frenzied leftist hysterics followed this implosion. His first impeachment remains a stain on democracy.

Trump, remember, did not cancel aid to Ukraine. He was prescient in warning about the serial corruption of Hunter Biden and his father’s family syndicate. He was far tougher on Vladimir Putin (greater sanctions, flooding the world with cheap oil, leaving a flawed missile treaty, hammering Russian mercenaries in Syria, sending offensive weapons to Ukraine that Obama-Biden had forbidden, beefing up military spending, etc.) than his predecessor. Putin did not invade other countries under Trump’s tenure, unlike during prior and subsequent administrations.

In its politicized efforts to get Trump, the FBI blew up its reputation as a competent, professional, and disinterested investigatory bureau. A good argument can be made that three consecutive directors, Mueller, Comey, and McCabe, either under oath misled a House Intelligence Committee inquiry or simply flat-out lied. Retired four-star generals systematically violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice with impunity as they slandered their commander-in-chief variously as Nazi-like, a Mussolini, or analogous to the architects of Nazi death camps.

Congressional representatives grew so desperate to end Trump’s presidency that they called in a hack Yale psychiatrist to declare him, quite unprofessionally and without an examination, non compos mentis and deserving of forced removal from office. Do we remember “Anonymous” who bragged in the New York Times of a covert and concerted effort inside his administration to destroy it?

A common denominator with all his critics—Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Dr. Bandy X. Lee, the CNN cadre, Andrew McCabe, Robert De Niro, Adam Schiff, Howard Stern, Peter Strzok, and a host of others—was that their anti-Trump obsessions either diminished their careers or empowered Trump, or both.

In response to all this, and often in preemptive fashion, Trump became obsessed with the historic injustice of it all. He yelled to high heaven that the Russian collusion charge was an utter hoax. He hammered the message that the COVID pandemic never originated naturally in a wet market but was birthed in a Wuhan virology lab. He screamed that the Hunter Biden laptop was authentic and a window into the Biden family’s systemic and lucrative corruption. Trump was right on all these counts, but, like mythical Cassandra, the more he rattled off the truth, the less likely he was to be believed given the coarseness of his protestations.

To push through his agenda, and to strike back at the Democratic-media fusion, Trump stooped to battle nonstop with minor and irrelevant enemies—and often his own allies. He wrongly encouraged January 6 demonstrations at the Capitol at a time of volatile passions—missing the story of the 2020 election that was lost far earlier in the spring through altered voting laws.

We will never quite know why the media became obsessed with Trump to the point that it is now a mere caricature of its former self. Was it Trump’s supposed crudity, both physical and vocal, that so shocked their sensibilities, from his orange hue and combover flop to his Queens accent? Was it MAGA estrangement from both Republican and Democratic hierarchies? Was it his deplorable base that had earned an entire vocabulary of hatred from the Obama-Clinton-Biden nexus (clingers, deplorables, dregs, chumps)? Or was it Trump’s own Ethan Edwards-like 360-degree, 24/7 constant obsessive combativeness?

After all, it was not Trump but his enemies who weaponized the CIA, FBI, and Justice Department. Trump, unlike Obama, did not spy on journalists. And unlike Biden, he created no ministry of truth. His supporters did not call to junk the Electoral College, pack the court, destroy the filibuster, or opportunistically add two new states. They did not radically change the voting laws through means that undermined the authority of state legislatures to end Election Day as we had known it for over three centuries. They did not turn balloting into mostly a mail-in/early voting phenomena that saw the usual rejection rate of ballots plummet even as the number of non-Election Day ballots soared.

So, Kingmaker, Scapegoat, or Outlaw?

A good argument of “ifs” concerning Trump and the recent Republican midterms can be made: if he had stayed out of picking candidates; if he had helped all Republican candidates including those who opposed him; if at his rallies he had advanced positive “Commitment to America” solutions rather than litanies of his own past hurts and grievances; and if he now pivoted and raised money for the conservative agenda rather than having trashed rivals who nonetheless have advanced his shared cause.

By 2022 even hard conservatives thought Trump was expendable, his liabilities growing larger than his assets, his future potential deemed less than his past achievements, his don’t tread-on-me pushbacks to the Left overshadowed by his cul-de-sac and gratuitous spats with irrelevancies, and his former remarkable perseverance in the face of historic and unjust attacks overshadowed by his current preemptive squabbles.

So, will Trump rest on his considerable laurels and ride out gracefully to Mar-a-Lago? And there, as a kingmaker/elder statesman, will he work to institutionalize his MAGA agendas while raising money for any presidential candidate who embraces it?

Or will a subdued candidate Trump now pivot, grow quieter, and let the people vote in the primaries to decide whether they want him anymore—and whether Ron DeSantis sinks as a 2016 Scott Walker on the national stage (a similarly talented and successful governor), or assumes the mythical status of Ronald Reagan?

Or will an unapologetic Trump instead now escalate his slurs, bray at the moon, play out his current angry Ajax role to the bitter end, and thus himself end up a tragic heroappreciated for past service but deemed too toxic for present company?

Friday, March 3, 2023

How exercise can help you build resilience at any age

Intentionally stressing our bodies through exercise can make us more resilient to a variety of stressors By Kelyn Soong February 3, 2023 at 2:28 p.m. EST (Rose Jaffe for The Washington Post) Stress surrounds us every day in subtle and substantial ways. Although we can’t eliminate stress from daily life, research shows that by intentionally stressing our bodies through exercise, we can change how we respond to stress and boost our resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity — a career setback, a relationship breakup or any of the big and small disappointments of daily life — and grow from the experience so that we handle difficult situations even better the next time. Much of the research on resilience focuses on building the skill in childhood, but resilience can be strengthened at any age. Resilience is essentially an emotional muscle, but a growing body of research shows that stressing our physical muscles by exercise is one way to increase our capacity to cope with daily stress. “We want to experience manageable stressors so that we can develop stress resilience and not react with a big stress response every time something unexpected happens,” said Elissa Epel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco and the author of “The Stress Prescription: Seven Days to More Joy and Ease.” “Our body not only can handle acute stress but loves it, and expects it when it’s short-term and manageable.” The amount and intensity of exercise needed to improve stress resilience depends on the person, according to Tinna Traustadóttir, an associate professor of biological sciences at Northern Arizona University and the senior author of a 2021 study on the effects of exercise training on physiological stress resilience in adults. In the study, the researchers randomly assigned 40 sedentary women and men, about half of them young adults and the rest aged 60 and older, to either eight-weeks of aerobic exercise training or a non-exercise control group. Three times a week for eight weeks, the exercising volunteers pedaled, jogged or stair-climbed at a gym, their workouts focusing on prolonged, moderate intensity sessions on some days and shorter, high-intensity intervals on others. Intensity was based on heart rate relative to each person. The sessions progressively lengthened, from 30 minutes at the start of the study to 50 minutes by the end. The goal of the study was to test whether regular exercise improved the individual’s response to stress, so the researchers had to come up with a way to re-create stress. They settled on a physiological stressor, inflating a blood pressure cuff to restrict blood flow in the forearm, which is considered a mild stressor mimicking what happens during a heart attack. Blood tests measuring the oxidative stress response followed. At the end of the study, not surprisingly, the exercisers had improved their fitness, including a 15 percent gain, on average, in their aerobic capacity. “This is just an eight-week, not a very long exercise intervention,” Traustadóttir said. “And we were able to show differences that after the exercise training, there was less of an oxidative stress.” Traustadóttir also found that those in the exercise group had less oxidative stress than those in the control group who were not exercising. And the more a person had improved their fitness, the lower the stress response, whatever someone’s age. One of Traustadóttir’s takeaways is that to build resilience, it’s not so much about what particular exercises are done, but doing them consistently. “It’s whatever people will enjoy and will therefore do on a regular basis,” she said. Why exercise can boost resilience Studies of stressed-out mice offer clues to why exercise can help us cope better with stress and become more resilient. In one series of experiments, researchers at Emory University studied the stress response in mice, some of which were allowed to run to their heart’s content on exercise wheels while others were kept inactive. After three weeks, the scientists checked for markers of a brain chemical called galanin, which is known to increase with exercise and is associated with mental health. (People with variants in galanin-related genes are at higher risk for depression and anxiety disorders.) As expected, the running mice showed higher levels of galanin. In fact, the more a mouse had run, the more of the brain chemical it had. To induce stress, the researchers subjected the mice to mild shocks on their paws. All the mice were stressed by the experience, but the running mice bounced back sooner, returning to normal mouse behavior. Meanwhile, the non-running rodents continued to cower, still overwhelmed by stress. The study suggested that for the running mice, exercise had increased galanin levels and helped them become more resilient. Exercise “has profound effects on the way that your brain functions and how the neurons function,” said David Weinshenker, a professor of human genetics at Emory University and the senior author of the study. “It can actually change the neurochemistry in your brain and promote general brain health.” Even walking can change the brain Philip Holmes, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Georgia, defines stress resilience as the “ability to adapt to stress in a way that’s not deleterious.” Part of his research deals with the neurobiological mechanisms responsible for stress resilience and the neurobiological effects of exercise. The most significant impact that exercise has on brain function is to promote neuroplasticity, Holmes said. “That really just means changeability, literally a building of connections in the brain,” he said. “And one thing that we found that exercise does is it promotes these connections in the prefrontal cortex, which is a critical area for emotion regulation.” Holmes’s research on rats and mice shows that even moderate exercise can activate the locus coeruleus, a small brainstem nucleus that is important for attention, arousal, motivation and cognitive function. The exercise Holmes studied in rodents is analogous to brisk walking by humans. The locus coeruleus neurons make substances called trophic factors, which promote the building of neural circuits. The stress-resilient parts of the brain get better, healthier circuits while activated, Holmes said. “So, every time we walk around the neighborhood, you’re making more of these trophic factors, building more of these circuits,” he said. “It may just be a little bit, but that will be beneficial.” Weinshenker agrees that moderate exercise can change the neurochemistry in our brains and says any aerobic exercise that gets your heart rate up can be beneficial for stress resilience. “It doesn’t even have to be vigorous exercise. It could be something just as simple as walking for 20 or 30 minutes a day,” he said. “It could be walking, running, biking, swimming. People play a lot of pickleball now.” Epel calls the short, concentrated bursts of acute stress to our bodies, such as the stress we experience during exercise, “hormetic stress.” The term hormetic, she explains in her book, refers to “something that in a larger dose would be harmful, but in a smaller dose is quite beneficial.” “Hormetic stress works almost like a vaccine,” Epel writes. “You receive a micro-dose of the ‘virus’ (stress), and then, later, when you face a large, intense similar stressor, you’re essentially inoculated against it.”

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Is air pollution causing us to lose our sense of smell?

Our sense of smell is one of our richest and wide-ranging windows into the world around us, but a threat in the air we breathe may be eroding our olfactory powers. For many people, a bout of Covid-19 gave a first taste (or rather a lack of it) of what it is like to lose their sense of smell. Known as "anosmia", loss of smell can have a substantial effect on our overall wellbeing and quality of life. But while a sudden respiratory infection might lead to a temporary loss of this important sense, your sense of smell may well have been gradually eroding away for years due to something else – air pollution. Exposure to PM2.5 – the collective name for small airborne pollution particles, largely from the combustion of fuels in vehicles, power stations and our homes – has previously been linked with "olfactory dysfunction", but typically only in occupational or industrial settings. But new research is now starting to reveal the true scale – and the potential damage caused by – the pollution we breathe in every day. And their findings have relevance for us all. On the underside of our brains, just above our nasal cavities, lies the olfactory bulb. This sensitive bit of tissue bristles with nerve endings and is essential for the enormously varied picture of the world we get from our sense of smell. It's also our first line of defence against viruses and pollutants entering the brain. But, with repeated exposure, these defences slowly get worn down – or breached. "Our data show there's a 1.6 to 1.7-fold increased [risk of] developing anosmia with sustained particulate pollution," says Murugappan Ramanathan Jr, a rhinologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore. He has become one of the few experts in this field after he started to wonder if there was a link between the large numbers of patients he was seeing with anosmia and the environmental conditions where they lived. The simple question he wanted to answer was this: were a disproportionate number of anosmia patients living in areas of higher PM2.5 pollution? Until recently, the little scientific research on this topic included one Mexican study in 2006, which used strong coffee and orange odours to show that residents of Mexico City – which often struggles with air pollution – tended to have a poorer sense of smell on average than people living in rural areas of the country. With the help of colleagues – including environmental epidemiologist Zhenyu Zhang who created a map of historic air pollution data in the Baltimore area – Ramanathan set up a case-control study of data from 2,690 patients who had attended Johns Hopkins Hospital over a four year period. Around 20% had anosmia and most didn't smoke – a habit that is known to affect the sense of smell. Sure enough, the levels of PM2.5 were found to be "significantly higher" in the neighbourhoods where patients with anosmia lived compared to healthy control participants. Even when adjusted for age, sex, race/ethnicity, body mass index, alcohol or tobacco use, the findings came up the same: "Even small increases in ambient PM2.5 exposure may be associated with anosmia". The finding has been echoed in other parts of the world in studies published this year. One recent study in Brescia, northern Italy, for example, found the noses of teenagers and young adults became less sensitive to smells the more nitrogen dioxide – another pollutant produced when fossil fuels are burned, in particular from vehicle engines – they were exposed to. Another year-long study in São Paulo, Brazil, also indicated that people living in areas with higher particulate pollution had an impaired sense of smell. But exactly how is pollution wrecking our ability to smell? According to Ramanathan there are two potential routes. One is that some of the pollution particles are passing through the olfactory bulb and getting directly into the brain, causing inflammation. "Olfactory nerves are in the brain but they have little holes at the base of skull where little fibres go into the nose, [looking] almost like little pieces of angel hair pasta," says Ramanathan. "They are exposed." In 2016, a team of British researchers found tiny metal particles in human brain tissue that appeared to have passed through the olfactory bulb. Barbara Maher, a professor of environmental science at Lancaster University in the UK who led the study, said at the time that the particles were "strikingly similar" to those found in airborne pollution next to busy roads (domestic fireplaces and log stoves were another possible source). Maher's study suggests that these nanoscale metal particles could, once in the brain, become toxic, contributing to oxidative brain damage that damages the neural pathways, although it still remains a theory. The other potential mechanism, says Ramanathan, may not even require pollution particles getting into the brain. By hitting the olfactory bulb on an almost daily basis, they cause inflammation and damage to the nerves directly, slowly wearing them away. Think of it almost like coastal erosion, where sandy, salty waves eat away at the shoreline; substitute waves with pollution-filled air, and shoreline with our nasal nerves. ‟ Modern combustion methods can create nanoparticles so fine that they are small enough to directly enter our bloodstream and brain tissue Unsurprisingly then, anosmia disproportionately affects older people, whose noses have been assaulted by air pollution for longer. More surprisingly, none of the Johns Hopkins patients lived in areas with excessively high air pollution – many lived in leafy areas of Maryland, and none were from pollution hotspots. It suggests that even low levels of air pollution could cause problems over a long enough period. A similar recent study has separately been carried out by the Aging Research Center at the Karolinska Institute, in Stockholm. Postdoctoral researcher Ingrid Ekström was puzzled by findings from the early 2000s that showed more than 5.8% of adults in Sweden had anosmia, and 19.1% had some form of olfactory dysfunction. Knowing that anosmia rates were higher in older people, Ekström and colleagues designed a study using 3,363 patients aged 60 and over. Using strongly scented "sniffing sticks" of 16 common household smells, participants received a score depending on the number they could correctly identify. As with the Baltimore study, the participants' home addresses were mapped and analysed according to municipal air pollution readings. And as in Baltimore, there was a strong correlation between higher pollution levels and poorer smelling ability.  "They have been subjected to pollution throughout their lives," says Ekström. "We don't know exactly when their olfactory impairments started to decline.” But she is “confident” that long-term exposure to pollution was the cause, even at low levels. In 2021, The World Health Organization (WHO) changed its health-based guidelines for a maximum annual average exposure to PM2.5, reducing it from 10 to 5 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3). Stockholm, Sweden's capital, is one of the few major cities in the world that manages to stay below this level with an annual average of 4.2µg/m3. By comparison, Islamabad, in Pakistan, has an annual average PM2.5 levels of 41.1µg/m3 while it is 42.3µg/m3 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. This arguably makes the Stockholm findings even more relevant – if even Stockholm residents are having their senses eroded by low levels of pollution, then how much worse will it be in regions with high levels? It is also a reminder of how highly localised pollution can be, both outdoors and indoors. People's cooking methods and heating choices may be exposing them to higher levels than their neighbours. (Listen to learn how effective air purifiers are.) Meanwhile modern combustion methods from vehicle engines to the latest 'eco' wood stoves can create nanoparticles so fine that they barely register on PM2.5 readings, but are small enough to directly enter our bloodstream and brain tissue. Air pollution is known to cause a quarter of all deaths from heart disease and stroke, and nearly half of all deaths from lung disease. By comparison, perhaps, our sense of smell seems low down the list of concerns. But both Ramanathan and Ekström warn that we underestimate the importance of smell at our peril. Ekström's research speciality is dementia. And anosmia may be an early warning sign. "With dementia and especially with Alzheimer's Disease, we assume that [the] disease progression is actually starting several decades before we can see the first symptoms," says Ekström.  Anosmia is one of the first symptoms. By the time Alzheimer's is diagnosed, "almost 90% of patients have anosmia", says Ekström. The exact link remains unknown, but one theory is that "environmental toxins enter the central nervous system via the olfactory bulb and cause damage, triggering this cascade effect that may ultimately lead to neuro-degeneration". The Maher Lancaster study, for example, found that metal nanoparticles were directly associated with the formation of 'senile plaques' – lesions on the brain and one of the neuropathological hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Despite such strong links, Ekström argues it is only recently that researchers have "opened their eyes to the olfactory sense" and its role in disease. Loss of smell has bee n linked to increased likelihood of depression and anxiety in various studies, and is known to play a role in obesity, weight loss, malnutrition and cases of food poisoning. The reasons are perhaps obvious – our noses play a key role in our experience of the world around us, affect our ability to taste food and help us avoid meals that have gone off. A poor sense of smell may mean that sufferers are likely to seek out stronger tasting food, which is very often salty and fatty. By contrast, a total loss of smell can put people off food and lose enjoyment from it, ultimately becoming underweight – a particular problem amongst the elderly.  Ramanathan has seen many patients who "can't taste food, can't smell their wine, the things that gave them pleasure in life". He recalls one patient who was a professional sommelier, for whom developing anosmia was both personally and professionally devastating. Smell and taste are also linked to memory. "People don't remember what that pastry looked like that they ate in France, but they remember what the shop smelled like", says Ramanathan. Re-experiencing a particular smell can transport our memories straight back to that moment in pastry shop. This raises the question – albeit yet to be properly studied – whether the inverse could also true, and no longer being able to smell could impair our ability to create new memories in the same way. Anosmia could also be an indicator of other, wider health issues. Numerous studies, typically of smokers – for whom smell impairment persists even 15 years after quitting – have shown that olfactory dysfunction is significantly associated with increased mortality among older adults. One particular study even hypothesised that anosmia could be used as a predicator for greater likelihood to die – from any cause – amongst older adults over a five-year-period. In a study of 3,005 US adults aged 57 to 85, those with anosmia were found to be four times more likely to die than their peers five years later. The researchers concluded that deteriorating sense of smell could be a "bellwether" for the accumulation of toxins from the environment or slowed regeneration of cells. So, should we care that air pollution – to which we are all exposed – is impairing our sense of smell and causing anosmia? Clearly, the answer lies somewhere between "yes" and "hell yes". Ramanathan, for whom traffic pollution and waste incinerators top the local pollution concerns in Baltimore, says "air quality matters". "I think we need tight regulations and control," he says. Many people may not even realise the pollution they are exposed to, so they rely on politicians regulating it to protect the populations in the surrounding areas. "This is one of many [pollution-related] conditions," adds Ramanathan. "But this is kind of a special one, right? If you have COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] you could probably still enjoy your glass of wine. But not with this one." Ekström says tackling air pollution is not simple. World events can also cause unexpected shifts in behaviour – Ekström mentions anecdotally that winter wood burning has been on the rise in Stockholm as worried residents wean themselves off Russian gas. But even the every-day, low-level air pollution we are exposed to  “should be taken more seriously", she says. And what's more, “olfactory impairment should definitely be taken more seriously”, too. * Tim Smedley is author of Clearing The Air: the Beginning and the End of Air Pollution, published by Bloomsbury.