Monday, January 14, 2019

Miles and miles of big, beautiful lies

             No one has the Trump administration figured out like satirist Andy Borowitz of The New Yorker. Here's the headline to his post last week:

            "Sarah Huckabee Sanders offers to lie for free during shutdown."

            It's a tough job, carrying bucket after bucket of bilge for your boss, but someone has to do it. (Presumably Sanders gets paid through the Trump "crisis." She'll not miss out on any of her $179,000 a year, with a $10,000 raise scheduled.)

            As New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman puts it, the nation's only crisis is having a president "no one believes."

            You bet it's a crisis. Bulletin: Even Fox News is calling this administration out on its hysterical stream of right-wing confections.

            That's where Sanders floated the line that "nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at the southern border."

            Fox News' Chris Wallace was on it. He pointed out that just about all of the people she cited, those listed on a federal list of suspected terrorists, were stopped at airports.

            How many of those suspects were apprehended at the border? Six.

            Six? Four thousand? That's only 3,994 people away from the truth. Meanwhile, the government shutdown affects 800,000 federal workers.

            The biggest lie is that the people the wall would stop are physical threats to you and me. It's such a spurious and racist claim that any reasonable person should denounce the Grand Weasel.

            What other lies has Trump told about this outrageous vanity quest? First, of course, was that Mexico would pay for it. Over and over he said it. Now he's saying, with Republican hand-servants echoing his claim, that revenue from better trade deals with Mexico will result in the $5.7 billion he says he needs.

            The thing is, if he were to get every penny it won't even scratch the surface of the costly white elephant along the border.

            A Cato Institute analysis finds that completing a border fence along the entire 2,000 miles of Mexican border would cost an astronomical $59.8 billion – and this factors in roughly 700 miles of barrier built since 2006.

            In other words, Trump could have his $5.7 billion and would have barely made a dent in stopping the flow of desperate people trying to make it to this country.

            And for this he's shut down the government.

            By the way, what is Trump's proud-to-shut-it-down gambit itself costing? According to S&P Global Ratings, in a matter of days the cost would exceed the $5.7 billion Trump has demanded. As of Jan. 11, it had cost U.S. economy $3.6 billion.

            Trump made a clumsy act it was for Trump to trot out his empty claims of a national emergency before a national audience. It's one thing to tweet falsehoods to those who will digest them. It's another to interrupt America's evening for said purpose.

            Not only do a majority of Americans oppose the shutdown and Trump's expressed purpose for it, three-quarters of those polled by NPR say it is "embarrassing for the country," including a majority of Republicans.

            The gall merchant in the Oval Office had the temerity to say that large numbers of federal employees support what he's doing. Sure they do, as they try to figure out how to pay next month's rent and go to food banks to feed their families.

            This is a losing game for Trump and for America.  His precious $5.7 billion is not worth what he has created. But the "border crisis" serves to distract from his other big problems.

            Fortunately, one person it is not distracting is Robert Mueller.

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

 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Inside the new Department of the Inferior

            Renaming federal departments is nothing new.
            The Defense Department was the War Department. The State Department was Foreign Affairs.
            And in 2016 the nation's steward of public lands became the Department of the Inferior. And with it the Environmental Pillaging Agency.
            Take bad science, add ethically malformed leaders, and draw up policy sculpted by industrial marauders. That's our approach to public lands and natural resources under Donald Trump.
            Or in the words of Michael Hiltzik, a Pulitzer Prize winner for the Los Angeles Times and covers our Inferior Department: What was founded to be "a steward of America's natural patrimony" has been transformed "into an agent of plunder."
            This is not what Ryan Zinke said he was going to create when chosen by Trump to head the department. In confirmation hearings, Zinke mouthed words that sounded like an environmentalist.
            Zinke said he wanted to follow in Theodore Roosevelt's tradition in protecting and bolstering the nation's public lands. This caused an environmental eminence like National Wildlife Federation CEO Collin O'Mara to support him.
            However, upon Zinke's recent resignation, O'Mara wrote, "Zinke's dogged pursuit of unfettered fossil-fuel extraction makes James Watt's disastrous tenure look timid."
            It was a testimonial to the Trump-Zinke approach to public lands that three-fourths of the members of the National Parks Board resigned in protest of Inferior policies that were fashioned almost entirely to the whims of industry.
            Consider a proposal by Inferior to limit Freedom of Information Act requests by average citizens. Rest assured, no such request by industry will be shuffled to the bottom of the stack.
            How to explain this? Easy. Under Trump, the Department of the Inferior is no longer a public entity but a private one, for-profit, proprietary. "Government run like a business."
            One thing that industry has demonstrated is its commitment to never let science in the public interest get in the way of private interests.
            In Trump's Department of the Inferior, the best scientific minds have been chased away or shuffled into positions where they can't be seen or heard.
            Under Zinke, a page on Inferior's website which once served as a go-to location for facts about climate change was remove.
            Meanwhile, all science grants of more than $50,000 given by the department have been vetted by a high school football teammate of Zinke who has no science background.
            The Union of Concerned Scientists, in a report on the "monumental disaster" facing scientific pursuits in the department, tells of upper-level ideologues "freezing out advice from science committees; restricting DOI scientists from communicating about their work; removing, reassigning, or intimidating scientists; and creating a climate of fear and intimidation."
            Lest anyone think things might change without Zinke, who bailed just ahead of a Congress inclined to probe a raft of ethics charges against him, backward "progress" likely will continue.
            His successor, David Bernhardt, is a former lobbyist for mining and energy interests. Whereas Zinke tried to lip-sync Teddy Roosevelt in his confirmation, Bernhardt no doubt will be mouthing the lines of oil cutthroat Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood."
            The Washington Post depicts Bernhardt as the strategy guy behind much of what's happened in the Inferior Department – the opening of 17 million acres of federal lands for oil leases (some as cheaply as $1.50 an acre), and efforts to tunnel under the Endangered Species Act, per industry demands.
            "We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received," Teddy Roosevelt said of our natural areas. "Each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."
            If we are to read the intentions of Trump, that "good fortune" was really meant for an elite club of investors.
            By the way, that quote is up on the National Parks System web site. Watch for it to be purged by sundown.
          Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Trump Nation can't see out its own windows

            Fifty years ago, just before he became the first man to plant his feet on an astral plane, Neil Armstrong wrote that from space, one perceives "a much bigger universe than we can normally see from the front porch."

            "Perhaps going to the moon and back isn't that important," he wrote. "But it is a big enough step to give people a new dimension in their thinking – a sort of enlightenment."

            From space, all that is petty and provincial becomes microscopic. Southern California and South Carolina are of the same kernel. A big, beautiful border wall wouldn't rival a cat's whisker.

            As we enter a new year, more Americans understand that to yield to the petty is not what we as a nation are about. Not that the national mood is reflected in a cloistered chief executive holding the government as his very own hostage.

            Make America great again? What Donald Trump makes America out to be isn't that. Rather than the brawny hero of the downtrodden, his America is cramped, crouched and crochety.

            Forget Liberty's lamp. What Trump and his supporters envision is dimly lit: bars over opaque windows, narrow rows of limited goods inside, a faded '60s-vintage sign above the cash register pronouncing, "We reserve the right to refuse service."

            The America of Ellis Island embraced opportunity and diversity. The driving impetus of Trump's America is to plant a boot on an immigrant's hind side.

            Trump believes he speaks for America on these matters. Not even close. A solid majority of Americans – 58 percent according to a Harvard CAPS/Harris poll -- opposes his shutting down government to get funds for his border wall.

            It's curious to ponder those who think the wall is worth national paralysis. Who are they? Most are detached from a world of difference, living in rural areas and least likely to encounter "illegals."

            Look at the reds and blues of the presidential map and see that the most Trump supporters are where the least people are. Hmmm.

            They may be remote-minded, but they can still get Fox News on their satellite dishes and Rush Limbaugh on their A.M. dials. They live the very same drum-drum fear-beat that caused Trump to backtrack on a unanimous Senate resolution to fund government before the end of the year.

            The other day Trump and the Fox News fear merchants found something to justify their pitch: the tragic slaying of a California police officer, the suspect having fled Mexico.

           Imagine how much safer we might be if Republicans showed as much concern about the legally armed monsters who have cut down so many in schools, churches, synagogues, concert venues and more. But in the narrow rows of the cloistered shop that is Trump's America, the sale of firearms is always robust.

            The Limbaughs, the Laura Ingrahams, the Tucker Carlsons of the broadcast world want you to fear immigrants. Sorry, but all I can think of is the Spanish-chattering fellows hired by the roofing company to spend sweltering hours on my Texas roof one storm season as they worked to keep the next rain off my brow.

            Fifty years ago, with the space program, Americans had the opportunity to think bigger than this. Neil Armstrong hoped for a future of loftier intentions.

            "Hopefully, by getting a little farther away, both in the real sense and the figurative sense, we'll be able to make people step back and consider their mission in the universe."

             His musings had the ring of songwriter Julie Gold's "From a Distance":

            "From a distance there is harmony and it echoes through the land. And it's the hope of hopes; it's the love of loves; it's the heart of every man."

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