Monday, March 19, 2018

This week on '(U.S.) House Makeover'

The Republican Party just spent $10 million on one congressional election in Pennsylvania and reaped nothing but agony. Calculators out: What it spent amounted to $100 per vote cast for the loser (Donald Trump).

For the GOP in this election year, the agony has just begun.

You might claim that the loser in Pennsylvania Congressional District 18 was Rick Saccone, who lost to Democrat Conor Lamb. That's true only technically.

Two-Ton Trump was the Biggest Loser in a district he won by 20 points in 2016 and in a race he cast as being all about him, as is everything else.

Not only did he campaign in the district with a rally in which he hardly mentioned Saccone. Mike Pence campaigned there, too. So did Donald Jr.

Not only did the president he stake his reputation to a Saccone victory, he also bet the nation's economy.

Observers were at a loss as to why Trump suddenly announced steel and aluminum tariffs, though GOP free-traders recoiled and Trump chief economic adviser Gary Cohn resigned.

How to explain? Simple. Trump's presidency is on the line, and this big test was in steel country.

And so the makeover of the U.S. House begins. The makeover of the Senate has already commenced with Democrats claiming the vacant seat in Alabama.

The Democrats have been on a winning streak – Virginia, New Jersey, Washington state, Alabama, Pennsylvania -- and they have this joke of a president to thank.

If "joke" sounds disrespectful, know that the matter goes both ways. When someone disrespects his office like Trump has, "joke" is being too kind.

Consider what Trump did the other day when, as he told a private audience, he admitted he didn't know what he was talking about when he chastised Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the trade deficit he said Canada inflicts on us.

Actually, the United States has a trade surplus with Canada. Supposedly Trump, novice on every other thing, was supposedly Mr. Experience on trade.

This is the 21st century mark of being "so smart." Trump thinks he can say anything he wants and his followers will follow.

Then again, what happened to that overwhelming support Trump enjoyed in Pennsylvania?

The Trump voters who've turned on him thought they'd found the answer for what ails us in him. It turned out it was just a crank call.

Before last week, Democrats needed to win back 24 seats to take control of the House. Make that 23.

A raft of Republican retirements in the House, and with the tenuous fates of Republicans in districts that went to Hillary Clinton, make that a very attainable goal.

This is a pretty big deal regarding the future of this president. Aside from the spending bills and other legislation that emanate in the House, impeachment does as well.

The firing of FBI second-in-command Andrew McCabe, and Trump's sophomoric end-zone dance about it, is one wrinkle in the obstruction-a-thon that continues over collusion with Russia.

Speaking of the House: The House Intelligence Committee last week announced that, as the president says, there's "no collusion." The subpoenaing of business records from the Trump Organization pertaining to business deals in Russia indicates Robert Mueller is at least one person withholding judgment on that claim.

Team Trump has said repeatedly that Mueller's probe has reached an end. At this rate, Democrats could control the House before Mueller shuts down his operations.

Back to that Pennsylvania House race. The seat was vacated when the incumbent Republican, religious-right champion Rep. Tim Murphy, resigned after admitting to having an affair. What's worse, Murphy, a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, was alleged to have suggested that his paramour have an abortion.

Such upstanding men, this breed of leaders. Let's ask Stormy Daniels what she thinks of that.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, March 12, 2018

At Pruitt’s EPA, changing ‘P’ to ‘D’

The Trump administration has inspired some amazing magazine covers, like Time's depicting the tweeter-in-chief poking in his palm as he leans like a giant vagrant against a cratering Washington Monument. Brutal.

However, that's tame compared to Newsweek Feb. 16.

Under "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" in 50-point type, wounded and dying Disney-esque creatures flee and fall before Trump's man at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Headline: "Scott Pruitt is having a wonderful time destroying the EPA."

Yes, the man assigned to head the nation's environmental watchdog has left that dog chained out in the elements and is feeding it a steady diet of mercury and trichloroethylene.

Meanwhile, he uses his status to run for higher office, waste tax dollars on personal missives, and profit at the good graces of polluters.

Pruitt's tenure "is the regulatory equivalent of the German blitzkreig across Poland," writes Newsweek's Alexander Nazaryan.

The former Oklahoma attorney general, who spent the lion's share of his time there flinging junk suits at the EPA, now seeks to destroy it from within.

It won't work, writes Nazaryan, because environmental law isn't something one ideologue can toss out like an empty Skoal tin.

That doesn't mean Pruitt hasn't and won't inflict lasting damage. One horrific wound has been the departure of more than 700 EPA staffers, many of them scientists, who quit.

In their place, to the extent that Pruitt sees fit to fill any of the vacancies, are recruits direct from industry: polluters and profiteers and climate deniers.

"It's hard to think of another instance in America public life in which the interests of corporations were placed so far above the interests of the American people," writes Nazaryan.

Pruitt says his motivation is job creation. He boasts, for instance, that the first year of Trump policies created 50,000 jobs in the coal industry. Not quite, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Try 2,000.

Pruitt's assault on a host of regulations, dating back to the Obama administration and beyond, are offered as means of freeing up employers to hire more people.

The Environmental Integrity Project has analyzed the linkage between EPA regulations and job loss. It has found that only 0.2 percent of mass layoffs – 50 workers or more – are related to government intervention or regulations. By contrast, for every job lost due to regulations, 15 are lost due to cost-cutting reorganization.

What this means is whatever harm Trump and Pruitt manage to do to the Earth will be inflicted principally to soothe CEOs and stockholders fixated on their profit margins.

Recently Pruitt held a presumably public meeting in North Dakota to get feedback on his plan to revamp provisions of the Clean Water Act. When average citizens showed up at the meeting, however, they found out they were not invited.

This, reports Tribune-Media Services, is the way Pruitt works. When he seeks input, his audience is hand-picked and "industry-friendly," like representatives of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Meanwhile, representatives of the Navajo Nation have complained that their concerns about clean-water rules have been ignored.

This is what Pruitt does, merrily, merrily.

If he were honest, a virtue yet to visit the Trump administration, Pruitt would go ahead and change the name of his agency to EDA – Environmental Degradation Agency.

His first item of business as Oklahoma attorney general was to halt a lawsuit filed by his predecessor against chicken farmers alleged to have polluted the Illinois River. Oh, and he did so after receiving $40,000 from those farmers.

And so it goes. Pruitt has upped his game doing the bidding of the Koch brothers and Dow Chemical as he eyes a U.S. Senate run or, hey, maybe the presidency someday.

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay. They'd be delighted to have no EPA.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, March 5, 2018

Porn star's payoff and other Trump debts

Do you care about Donald Trump and the porn star? You are entitled not to, and not to care as well about the Playmate who said he, um, engaged her and then offered to pay.

In both instances, said activities would have occurred two years into his marriage to Melania. Busy man.

USA Today recently asked: Should we care? Do we have to? As everyone knows, infidelity has been a part of many presidential narratives.

However, something is different about the porn star matter. Not surprisingly, it involves money.

What you may know about is that Trump's attorney paid $130,000 for the silence of the stage-named Stormy Daniels, enthraller of small audiences in such big hits as "The Witches of Breastwick" and "Dripping Wet Sex 4."

What you may not know is what the Washington Post now reports: When Trump dallied on the agreed-upon hush fund, she threatened to go public before the 2016 election.

So Trump attorney Michael Cohen did what one would for any exceedingly slimy client. He created a limited-liability company that served as a vehicle for the payoff.

Now, once again, you are entitled to not care. Except for that money thing, because it may have broken the law.

Public interest group Common Cause has filed inquiries with the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department to investigate whether the money in question came from Trump or from his campaign stash. The latter would violate federal finance law.

Carnal deeds aside, this should add to a thousand points of fascination about Trump and his money.

It would appear that all the pennies he has he owes back to someone.

Last year's Pulitzer Prize in public affairs reporting went to David Farenthold of the Washington Post for revealing the extent to which Trump's charitable foundation – ultimately shut down by the New York attorney general -- was a joke and a fraud.

Among other things, its funds had gone to a Republican candidate (illegal) and to trinkets like a portrait of the Orange Stallion himself. Charity? Not nearly as much as Trump claimed.

Truly, however, this is micro potatoes compared to what Robert Mueller is investigating: How Trump used others' money, particularly that of overseas lenders.

As Mueller presses allegations of money-laundering against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, recall that Steve Bannon told author Michael Wolff, "This is all about money laundering. (Mueller's) path to Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner."

Mueller has subpoenaed records from Germany's Deutsche Bank, which "was the only major commercial bank willing to lend to Trump after his string of bankruptcies," reports NPR.

Trump has denied having business deals inside Russia, but NPR reports that money from the former Soviet Union has helped finance projects for him in New York and Canada.

What we have is a supposed business wizard who, because of how often he leaned on the "bankruptcy" button, has had to turn to overseas sources of support.

There's extreme symmetry to Trump's reliance on other's money – aka debt. For that is how he proposes to finance the tax cuts he has touted as president.

Whereas analyses pointed to $1.5 trillion in additional debt, an analysis by Politico points to $2.3 trillion over 10 years.

Trump seeks to profit in office exactly the way he did as a businessman and builder, coasting on someone else's dime.

The other day I encountered someone who said he voted for Trump and gave but one simple rationale:

"He paid for his own campaign."

This is news to most who paid any attention to anything at all about Trump, particularly to the $30 million he received from the National Rifle Association and $15 million from the Big Daddy of big data, Robert Mercer.

Paid for his own campaign? The man can't even keep his porn stars mum.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: