Monday, October 16, 2017

Bed sheet flapping from the Oval Office

While you're at it, Mr. President, burn the furniture.

You've shoved the sofa up against the door. You've cut the phone lines. You've hung a bed sheet out the window. You've stripped off that dress shirt, donning that red tie as a head band.

"Attica. Attica."

Donald Trump can't tell Congress what to do, doesn't trust anybody or anything. Doesn't trust the process. Doesn't trust Kelly or Tillerson.

But he has Twitter. He has the White House intercom. Now hear this: The inmate-in-chief has taken over the asylum.

Trump's announcement that he will cease subsidies built into the Affordable Care Act, and his decertifying the Iran nuclear agreement, show an individual who 10 months on has tired of deliberative governing. He will hold us all hostage as long as he can hold out.

Robert Mueller, you are now on the clock.

What Trump did last week in cutting the subsidies for the ACA will hurt millions of Americans? It will drive up insurance costs for many. It will cause more insurers to exit the health exchanges.

Trump said that we'd have a "great health care system" that "covers everyone" under his leadership.

This doesn't sound like that.

It sounds a little like someone prone to pick a fight with a streetlight.

If he wants a fight, a whole bunch of state attorneys general are game. Those states are going to fight tooth and nail to prevent Trump from doing this, and so are insurers, and so are medical professionals.

When Congress was considering this option, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that enough insurers would leave the market that about 5 percent of the nation would have no insurer from which to choose in the individual market.

This is outrageous, and seemingly illegal, since the ACA requires individuals to have coverage or pay a fine.

However, this is not just about the people who will be harmed.

This is about federal stewardship. The CBO says Trump's edict will drive up the deficit by $194 billion by the end of the decade, as the government will spend more on tax credits without the subsidies.

Speaking of stewardship, Trump's action on the Iran deal leaves in limbo something that many nations labored to bring about.

Trump and Republican opponents of the agreement say that it allows Iran to continue its nuclear program. That depends on what "nuclear program" means. Nuclear energy? There's a big difference between power plants and bombs.

As for nuclear weapons, the agreement forbids Iran from ever acquiring them, and subjects Iran to indefinite monitoring.

Did Iran benefit from the agreement? Of course it did, in the unfreezing of stranded assets and the lifting of crushing sanctions. Having international eyes fixed on its nuclear designs was absolutely worth it to Iran. The deal was a carefully negotiated give and take, so everyone got something in in the bargain.

Imagine if we had been able to get ahead of the curve relative to North Korea's nuclear program by lifting its pariah status a generation to avert the arms race that again threatens the planet. This is what President Obama and international allies accomplished with the Iran agreement.

Speaking of intercom hijinks: Just as Trump's second-grade taunts of Kim Jong-Un do not make this a safer planet (Right, Secretary Tillerson?), neither can his ditching of a painstakingly crafted agreement to halt Iran's nuclear program.

But a safer world, or a better health-care system, don't appear to be Trump's objectives. His main objective is to show that he's in charge and Obama.

While you're at it, Mr. President, burn every other presidential portrait, particularly of you-know-who.

"Unable or unwilling to completely erase his predecessor's signature initiatives," writes the Associated Press, Trump has "turned to another approach, wreaking havoc."

A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that 71 percent of Americans want Trump to improve the ACA, not disable it. But of course, Trump has cut the phone lines. How should he know?

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

The NRA's prostitution ring

The Denver Post's top headline after one of the gun lobby's very best customers killed 59 people from above read thusly: "NRA supports restriction."

Yes, the top story was what the NRA might do after all that killing.

It wasn't, "Congress admits cowardice in the face of carnage." It wasn't, "President lifts thumb to avert next slaughter."

It wasn't even, "Thoughts and prayers waft over Las Vegas."

It was, "What does the NRA think about this?"

Understand: The NRA's deigning to consider any restrictions at all on a hyper-killing device called a bump stock is headline news. It's: "China calls for safer toys." It's "Medellin Cartel urges: 'Just say no.'"

That "NRA supports (fill in the blank)" is Page 1 fodder may be the greatest indictment of our political system, next to Donald Trump's ascendancy.

The NRA is a group of hobbyists -- people with time and gun powder residue on their hands.

What a group of hobbyists says should be of no interest to anyone except to fellow hobbyists – say, if the next NRA convention opts for cold cuts over cutlets.

To make NRA an adviser for public policy on anything involving firearms is akin to the Fraternal Order of Vespa Riders dictating traffic policy.

What actual people think about gun policies – and solid majorities support stricter gun laws such as universal background checks – is immaterial.

The same applies, for instance, to environmental protection. But when the Trump administration wants advice on that matter, it turns to the special interests affected.

Recent news coverage has flagged Environmental Protection Administration director Scott Pruitt as one of the profligate offenders in the Trump administration's jetting around on taxpayers' dollars for spurious reasons.

What is more significant, though, is what the New York Times reports: that Pruitt's itinerary as EPA director reveals almost non-stop canoodling with corporations that have vested concerns in his decisions.

These include meeting with major campaign donors like coal mining behemoth Alliance Resource Partners, which is now thinking the $2 million it gave the Trump campaign was one heck of an investment.

Well, back to the NRA. Public disclosures reveal that it spent more on lobbying in the first two quarters of this year -- $3.2 million just through June -- than it did in all of last year.

You wonder where all those dollars went.

No mystery as to what those dollars have wrought. One of the first things Trump did as president was sign a Republican bill to roll back an Obama administration rule adding people deemed mentally incompetent to the national background check database.

Yes, this was Job 1 for a new president. Those gun hobbyists have clout.

Because the man who killed so many in Las Vegas passed a background check doesn't mean we should throw up our hands on the rightness of such checks for all gun purchases, including online purchases like the Aurora theater gunman used to amass his arsenal.

However, when President Obama sought to impose such a restriction after the massacre of innocents at Sandy Hook, the "thoughts and prayers" bravehearts in Congress shot it down.

No doubt the hobbyists' lobbyists helped steady the aim for the GOP.

This week conservative media are making a big production of the fact that some Democrats received campaign contributions from now-certifiably sleazy, if not criminal, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

This might concern us if Weinstein were, like Big Coal and the gun lobby, helping formulate public policy. He's not. It's hardly a concern at all.

We seem resolved to ignore what vested industries have done to steal our democracy.

In other news, the president of the Brazil Olympic Committee was arrested for buying votes to bring the 2016 games to Rio de Janeiro.

It's a criminal offense to buy a sports spectacle. But you'll never see gun merchants or big polluters doing a perp walk for buying our government.

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

Monday, October 2, 2017

No wall, but Trump does have his foxhole

What a tremendous statue this will make:

Donald Trump aboard his golf cart, his polo shirt overstuffed, his ball cap pulled down to his brow, observing the world from his secure tee box.

An image for the ages, like Washington in the rowboat and MacArthur in the surf. Let us start carving the man for posterity.

He is a self-portrait in insularity: While Puerto Rico strangled on muck and cried out for clean water, Trump struck a pose behind a plastic windshield -- and picked maybe the most pointlessly venal fight imaginable.

You might say Carmin Yulin Cruz, mayor of San Juan, picked it. After all, she was in the midst of death and despair when she reacted to Trump's "really good news story" line about her Puerto Rico with, no, it's a "people are dying story."

Trump could have said, "Pardon me for being flippant. This is serious." Instead, he was flippant.

Trump's two-tweet response was that Cruz had "been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump . . . Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort."

Yes, that's our president: not interested in serving the people of this nation – and that includes Puerto Ricans. He's solely about self-service. The viceroy has been offended.

The mark of a great leader is the ability to see beyond the fray and lead where necessity lies. Trump sees what's on his TV cluster and gets a cramp in his Twitter hand.

What a glorious battle he waged against silent football players who might take a knee, exhorting crowds to boo and owners to fire the SOBs. History will remember this.

He said he wasn't criticizing black players. Of course, he knows what the whole matter is about; it's about being black.

He's not black. Why should he care?

Now, if difficulties arise for rust-haired, overly tan bankruptcy masters, you've got a fight from the man.

The racial divisions that are carving up this nation are getting more acute by the day, and Trump is happy to oblige.

As with his interchange with Mayor Cruz, he's not going to back down. He's not going to concede.

Stop that "come together" nonsense, people. The Trump presidency is going to be about trench warfare.

The man has dug his foxhole and spends every day fortifying it, digging deeper. These will be four years of poison gas and hand grenades. Right, Steve Bannon?

Every day and in every way, Trump and the Republican Party are making it known that they are determined to hold and administer power without the help of black and brown people.

Over and over, the courts have admonished the GOP for redistricting and vote-suppression shenanigans aimed at marginalizing people of color. The Republicans couldn't care less. That's how they plan to hold and administer power.

The Electoral College gives inordinate power to white-flight districts and white-dominated states. We get it. We got it. We got President Trump from it.

Yes, a lot of Americans needed to be reminded that Puerto Rico was, is, one of us. Of course, if you consider "us" to be human beings, that applies everywhere, say where desperate people seek refugee status.

The Trumpite response to Black Lives Matter is, "All lives matter." You really couldn't tell that after nine months of this presidency.

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