Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Umbrage 2016: the false equivalency test

If Donald Trump is so wealthy, why would he lift $12,000 from his charitable foundation to purchase a Tim Tebow helmet and jersey?

If he's so wealthy, why would he turn to his foundation, not his own stash of cash, to contribute $25,000 to the campaign of Florida Attorney General Pam Biondi?

The latter occurred just as Biondi was considering investigating the affairs of Trump University.

These and so many other questions are raised by Washington Post's David Farenthold's extensive, and barely discussed, coverage of the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

Yes, these matters are barely discussed, while questions about possible conflicts of interest associated with Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation have gotten Benghazi-style rolling-pin treatment. Trump has called the Clinton Foundation "the most corrupt organization in history."

Yeah, right.

I am going to wager right now that Trump has only a foggy idea of what micro credit is, and that his supporters couldn't care less. 

Well, micro credit is the principal good promoted by the Clinton Foundation – tiny loans to people in Third World countries to help them become entrepreneurially self-sufficient. The magic of micro credit has been demonstrated across the globe, and might be one of the best investments any charity could make.

The Trump Foundation, meanwhile, did such things as purchase a 6-foot painting of the Donald and his lovely wife, and donate $100,000 to right-wing Citizens United, eponymous plaintiff of the Supreme Court ruling blowing a host of campaign spending laws out the window.

The tale of two foundations is just one example of the false equivalency being applied to the two candidates.

So, you believe Hillary Clinton can't be trusted. If that's your criterion for supporting Trump, please make note that Politifact has studied a raft of Trump claims and found only 15 percent of them "true" or "mostly true."

Instead, Politifact's analyses are ablaze with determinations like "pants on fire" for Trump's claim that Ted Cruz's father was photographed with Lee Harvey Oswald, or Trump's statement now that he opposed the Iraq invasion before it happened.

And, of course, there is Trump's eight years of insisting that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States. We can all be relieved now to hear him say that's a bunch of hokum. When will he walk back all of the other fairy tales he has spun into Republican nominee gold?

No wonder, as he approached the debates, Trump was saying that fact-checking isn't the job of moderators. Maybe that's true, but someone ought to hold the man accountable for the lies he sells.

Try and convince us that Clinton can't be trusted. But no presidential candidate ever has merited the kind of critique presented in a Washington Post commentary in which the respective ethics advisers to presidents George W. Bush and Obama, Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, ran down a long list of how a Trump presidency would be "ethically compromised."

Clinton's foes have assailed her for being less than open to the press. That's not an unfair accusation. However, how does Trump get a pass when he refuses to share his tax returns with the voters and has gone as far as to bar entire news organizations from covering his campaign?

Was Clinton compromised when her foundation solicited donations overseas? Painter and Eisen see potential problems with that. However, they see far greater conflicts ahead in a Trump presidency in his refusal to commit to establishing a blind trust to deal with his overseas business holdings.

In those situations, write Painter and Eisen, "Would Trump act to benefit the national interest, or his and his family's investments?"

"What a joke," Trump is thinking. "Ethics?" This is a business. When we take over, we run it our way.

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

 

Monday, September 19, 2016

The impostor in the red ball cap

A lot of people have said a lot of things about Donald Trump's deficiencies, but the most succinct may be this: "beyond repair."

What loose cannon would say such a thing about Trump? Surely it is someone swimming in partisan passion, blinded by bile.

Ah, but no, the description comes from one of the more dispassionate people imaginable, a Republican to boot: former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

True, Gates, confines his assessment to foreign policy. But you can read between the lines in his recent commentary in the Wall Street Journal and deduce that he doesn't think Trump is capable of just about any duty the presidency requires.

Gates calls Trump "stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government."

That's not all. Gates calls Trump "temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. He is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief."

It's one thing for Hillary Clinton to say this, and they have. It's another for a Republican to say this, particularly one of Gates' stripe.

Maybe Gates is tainted. He knows too much about stuff. He was CIA director under George H.W. Bush, then defense secretary under George W. Bush, then was asked by Barack Obama to continue.

Oh, and somewhere in there Gates also was president of that bastion of liberalism Texas A&M.

One could challenge Gates' credibility in deference to Trump's credibility. One could also challenge the Republic of Antigua to send its navy into New York Harbor. 

We don't need Gates' assessment to know this, however:

Trump is a time bomb in a red ball cap -- a walking, talking international incident. He is the man who would have taken all the evidence John Kennedy had 54 years ago about missiles in Cuba and smirked as he set off World War III.

A President Trump isn't the end of the world -- necessarily. It would just be the end of all credibility for the U.S. government in that world.

However, Trump's fakery/foolery quotient in foreign policy is only the half of the problem. The rest is contained in an amazing story by Politico that points to "cut-and-paste policy" by the Trump camp.

Politico reports essentially that Trump has no policies of his own. Or if he has any, he is mostly inclined to copy from others.

For instance, his tax policies "appear to be lifted almost verbatim" from Jeb Bush, Politico reports. So, too, with education proposals copied from Mitt Romney's 2012 platform.

"They're faking it, and they're doing a good job faking it," said Tim Miller, a former aid to Jeb Bush.

Miller said that when Trump released a plan for addressing problems with care for veterans it appeared to be lifted from the proposals of he who Trump calls "not a smart man" – that Jeb guy.

Bush national security adviser John Noonan told Politico, "Trump gleefully made fun of Jeb for being an academic, cerebral guy, and now here's Trump leaning over his shoulder and copying his homework."

Indeed, reading this account, Trump sounds a lot like the high school jock who thinks he's too important to listen in class.

"I think one of the most insulting things about the Trump candidacy is just how little regard he has for the demands of the office," said Noonan.

In fiction, the fascinating con man has become a fulcrum of much intrigue, from "The Rainmaker" to "Elmer Gantry."

Combine the comments of all of these critics (each of them a Republican) and know that Trump is constructing his own work of fiction – the fiction that he is able and stable.

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

If guns come before mental health, that’s just crazy

   We interrupt non-stop coverage about what happens during an NFL national anthem to bring news that actually might matter.

   (By the way, ending that national anthem crisis is simple, says my wife: Stop televising it. Three national annoyances go away at once: pop stars butchering it, sports stars protesting it, and media fixating on it.)

   Now, as promised, a matter that actually affects lives:

   While lawmakers of both parties are standing to salute a good idea to address mental health, one man has been criticized for taking a knee – kneeling toward the gun lobby.

   That would be Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

Cornyn promoting a mental health bill that has supporters in both parties. However, his inclination to combine gun matters with mental health matters threatens the very things everyone else supports.

   The legislation would result in more psychiatric beds, something the nation sorely needs and both parties support. It also would signify a shift away from treating prisons as America's mental hospitals of choice.

   The most amazing thing to report is that the House of Representatives supports this.

   Yes, that House. The governing body which has done nothing of consequence since supplying the chips for National Salute to Guacamole Day.

   Believe it: The House overwhelmingly passed a measure in July to increase psychiatric beds and do better for the mentally ill. It was seen as the Republican response to Newtown-style, Aurora-style killings committed by mentally ill individuals.

   "Our mental health system in this country is a failure," said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., the House bill's sponsor, "and this is one of those times when we're not gathered for a moment of silence, but a time of action."

   Ah, yes. Moments of silence after mass murders. Another matter of pompous pointlessness.

   So, how could guns have any bearing at all on mental health legislation? Here's how.

   A Cornyn-sponsored bill in the Senate, which would do many of the things approved by the House, has gun-related language that could sap Democratic support and kill it.

   For one, it would require a judge's order to ban someone from buying guns due to mental illness. For another, it would allow people previously committed for mental illness to purchase a gun as soon as a judge's commitment order expires.

   Why include these combustible matters in proposal for treating the mentally ill?

   Cornyn did it for the very reason Mitch McConnell recently said there will be no new Supreme Court justice until the National Rifle Association says it approves of the nominee. Cornyn is doing what too many lawmakers do, scratching the NRA's every itch.

   (By the way, Sen. McConnell, the voters might have something to say in November about this court matter if they take away the Senate majority that places the NRA in such a position.)

   In this dust-up, we see the abomination of attaching polarizing riders against contraception and for flying the Confederate flag at VA cemeteries to legislation that almost everyone agrees is needed. That's been the problem with a Zika funding bill. The Republicans say we need it, but loaded it up with poison pills certain to draw the president's veto. Last week, consequently, the Centers for Disease Control said it was just about to run out of Zika funding.

   Back to mental health: It is encouraging to report that Cornyn says he'll consider dropping the gun initiatives so legislation can advance.

   That would mean that Congress – this Congress – actually agreed to do something that would benefit the American people. How about that?

   We now return you to your previously scheduled distraction.

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