Monday, June 19, 2017

Health policy: Team 'Mean' hands off to 'Coward Caucus'

Donald Trump didn't just say the House-passed bill to replace the Affordable Care Act was mean. He called it "mean, mean, mean."

That's "mean" times three.

Interesting. When he invited the House White Caucus, er, Republican Caucus, over for a celebratory photo op after its passage, he said the bill was "incredibly well-crafted."

But let's give Trump credit here for saying something true – maybe a first. The House bill is well-crafted -- for something so incredibly mean.

What this means is that Senate Republicans have a low bar to scale -- or a high bar to limbo -- as they take their own stab at wrecking health coverage in America.

They can take the cue that "mean" multiplied by just two will do.

That certainly appears to be the case from what we know.

Of course, what we know is minimal, for Senate leadership has been stirring this concoction behind closed doors, with the anticipation of putting it on the floor without a hearing, and with as quick a vote as possible.

One thing we know is that Republican senators are honing their propaganda skills for what emanates.

We know this from a statement from West Virginia Sen. Shelley Capito, who attempted to say that cutting off millions from Medicaid in seven years wouldn't mean cutting them off. It would, said she, mean "transitioning" them from the health coverage on which they were relying.

Yes, one of the tools of the propaganda trade is the art of euphemism: hiding meanings with words, like "collateral damage" for a whole bunch of dead civilians and "enhanced interrogation" for torture.

Capito is considered a GOP moderate, and she is putting a nice spin on the fact that, apparently under this bill, states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA would have seven years to, um, transition all those millions of insured people over to, um, being uninsured.

Once again, we are only guessing at the Senate's designs, because all discussions are being held behind closed doors, with the reported intent to have little to no discussion once the bill hits the Senate floor.

Hence, Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman has called the architects of this maneuver the "Coward Caucus."

As Waldman observed, an aide to a GOP senator involved in the secretive process said, "We aren't stupid." The senators are hiding their cards until they can make their play. They know that the moment Americans find out what's actually at play, they'll burn up the phone lines.

 In fact, they should be doing that right now (Capitol switchboard – 202-224-3121) and demanding that the Senate slow down and allow the public to see what's going into the sausage.

It's been said countless times that the Affordable Care Act was "rammed down Americans' throats." But it took over a year to write and approve, and the process involved hundreds of hearings and meetings, even a speech from President Obama about the legislation.

Additionally, Senate Democrats accepted 160 Republican amendments to the bill. What's the chance that Republicans will accept Democratic amendments to this bill? Zero. Three times zero.

So, yes, this is cowardice, and the American people should not sit by idly as it happens.

We've seen a similar yellow streak from Republicans who have dodged town hall meetings with constituents, knowing they'll get grilled foremost about health care.

You see, governing is not just think-tank slogans and what sounds good coming from Sean Hannity or Grover Norquist. Governing involves people. Governing affects people.

These wall-hugging chameleons offered their services to us, the governed, and part of the deal was to involve us in their decisions, to hear us out.

Call your senator and be heard. However, try not to sound too mean.

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

 

Monday, June 12, 2017

One Trump shrug said more than all his lies

Sen. Richard Burr: "Do you have any doubt that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 elections?"

Former FBI director James Comey: "None."

It was the kind of question you'd expect someone concerned about national security and the state of our elections to ask the man who ran the FBI until recently.

It was the kind of question you'd expect most Americans to ask. It was the first question asked last week as Comey faced inquisitors in the Senate.

What did Donald Trump ask Jim Comey when he had the opportunity?

Whatever was discussed – and Comey kept meticulous notes – we can rest assured that Russia's assault on our democracy wasn't it.

Yeah, what's with that?

Whatever the Russians have done, it has never seemed to bother the man. In one of the debates, he shrugged it all off -- said such cyber activities might be the work of "someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds."

Curious -- that Trump would show so little curiosity, make that none whatsoever, about activities by a foreign power that seemingly would alarm anyone who pledges allegiance to our flag.

Unlike Trump and his hear-no-evil, see-no-evil supporters, Burr, a Republican, and Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, are actually inquisitive.

Reacting to a report by the news organization The Intercept about Russian attempts to hack into state elections systems, Warner, Burr's co-chair on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, "The extent of the attacks is much broader than has been reported so far."

This includes the reported attempted hacking of elections infrastructure by the Russian cyber espionage group known as Fancy Bear in several states, the threat so serious that the Arizona secretary of state shut down the state's voter registration system for a week.

Not curious about that, President Trump?

It is a very grave matter that Trump would attempt to call off the dogs on Mike Flynn. It's very serious that a private citizen named Jared Kushner would meet with Russians in Trump Tower and attempt to set up a secret back channel to Vladimir Putin. (All, of course, without the direction of his father-in-law.)

That's damn serious, possibly criminal. However, I can't think of anything more incriminating than a man who assumes the presidency and shrugs off facts about the mounting evidence that outside forces tried everything possible to undermine the system of self-governance for which countless Americans fought and died dating back to this nation's inception.

Yes, shrug at that. Dismiss that.

Speaking of lack of curiosity, it's telling that Trump and his supporters respond to this claim by saying: Even if the Russians tried to mess up the elections, there's no evidence that they changed vote totals.

That's beside the point.

What Russia attempted, if the FBI is right, was an assault on the American system that really has no equal this side of bombs and torpedoes.

And Trump has simply shrugged it off.

The severity of the matter is why former national intelligence director James Clapper says that Watergate – the culmination of many underhanded political acts -- "pales compared to what we're confronting now."

Don't shrug, Mr. President. Despite those who last week turned to Fox News for your brand of self-medication, a Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that 61 percent of Americans say you fired Comey for the protection of your hind end "rather than for the good of the country."

Donald Trump is a lie machine. He lies almost every time he speaks. But his biggest act of presidential immorality thus far may have been an act of silence – a conspicuous lack of outrage about what hostile foreigners tried to do to damage the system that elevated him to his present position, a system he is sworn to protect.

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

 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Donald Trump vs. (most of) the planet

It's easy to distill Donald Trump's decision on the Paris Climate Agreement down to the fact that, like a coddled toddler, he ascertained that as president no one could make him do it.

Easy to deduce that, like a smart 3-year-old, he rejected peas and carrots because, yuck.

The thing is, if that was Trump's mindset, he'd have explained it in terms any 3-year-old could understand.

Instead, Trump laid out his decision with a whole bunch of words that amounted to (1) a Gatling gun of lies or (2) a sophomoric attempt to explain something way over his head.

First, the lies (for a full review, Google "Trump" "Paris" and "fact check," but reserve some time):

Even for one who has established himself as the least credible person ever to rise to his position – with only 36 percent of Americans telling Gallup they find him trustworthy – his statement about the Paris agreement was a tour de farce.

Washington Post reporters shredded his factual claims, the biggest being that the agreement tied U.S. hands while giving the Chinese free rein to "do whatever they want."

Not true. "From the start," reports the Post, "the agreement was designed to have the kind of plasticity Trump seemed to be seeking by allowing nations to choose the amount of greenhouse-gas emissions they were willing to cut."

That's "tremendous flexibility with no penalties," explained Columbia University environmental law professor Michael Gerard.

Gerard added, "Trump obviously didn't read the Paris agreement, and his statement was written by people who willfully misrepresented its content – his staff or his lobbyist friends."

Then there's the whole issue at hand: climate change -- an issue on which Trump has had several positions, depending on what his audience wanted to hear, we can presume.

In the mode of one who isn't ready to think big thoughts, Trump appears disinclined to think this whole thing through before embarrassing his country in the eyes of the world.

Yes, truly, this is Donald Trump against the planet on multiple planes. What good company we have found with Nicaragua and Syria. However, let us not forget that the Republican-controlled Senate has refused to ratify the Paris accords.

But, wait. Someone phone Sen. James Inhofe and the "hoax" chorus.

Climate deniers surely rubbed their ears to hear Trump imply in his statement that reducing emissions might actually do something, temperature-wise:

"Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance, it is estimated that it would only produce a one degree – think of that, this much – Celsius reduction in global temperatures by the year 2100." (MIT analysis says the agreement, if fully enforced, would reduce the planet's warming by a full degree.)

Ah, so are you saying climate change can be mitigated by emissions cuts, Mr. President? Or are you plying the made-in-China hoax you were telling us about on the campaign trail?

More likely, as Vice President Pence says, it is just part of the "climate change agenda" pushed by liberals because, hey, that's what liberals do. They conspire to get masses of climate experts to agree with them, and they march on Washington to make everyone uncomfortable.

The problem, America, is that we are trying to parse the words of a man who is at a loss for them, and whose command of facts makes words immaterial.

 As David Brooks writes in The New York Times, "At base Trump is an infantalist. . . Immaturity is becoming the dominant note of his presidency."

In other words, we're out of the Paris Accords because, yuck.

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

What the family billions bought Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos took the Jared Kushner route to a prominent place in America's life. She married into it.

She did it by betrothing billionaire ($5.5 billion net worth) Dick DeVos, whose father founded Amway. Dick got his turn as CEO. It's the American way. So is buying influence with lawmakers.

Over the years, the DeVos family has spent an estimated $200 million ingratiating itself with lawmakers and, of late, at least one orange-haired presidential candidate, who chose Betsy to be on his secretary of education.

It was no great surprise that the Senate (by a one-vote margin that required Vice President Pence's tie-breaking vote) awarded her the tiara she desired. After all, majority Republicans owed her a great sum.

"Great" may understate. The family spent nearly $1 million on current senators alone. Sen. Marco Rubio, for one, received $98,300. Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner got $49,800.

In the presidential campaign, Trump supporters heard, "Drain the swamp." Meanwhile, big GOP contributors like Betsy DeVos heard, "Buy this swamp and build condos on it."

So, just what can one buy with a five-year spree of $5.3 million in political contributions? In the case of Betsy DeVos, it's the keys to your public school.

It's all very heady -- quite a trophy for a person who, like many of her ideological kin, doesn't really buy into the whole concept of public schools.

In a hearing process that revealed almost no qualifications to set public education policy, we were told that her chief asset was that she "cares for children."

Now here she comes advising about what's best: $10.6 billion in cuts -- less money for poor districts through Title 1 funding; less for the art education; less for after-school programs; less for preschool programs; less for technical education; less for child nutrition; less for adult basic education.

Ah, but DeVos says we can afford to plug $1 billion into school vouchers for private and church-run schools. School vouchers are advertised as "choice" by the symphonic propagandists of the right. The suggestion that people get to "choose" where to take their voucher money always plays well with those repelled by the germy masses that populate public schools.

Let's understand: School vouchers aren't about education. They are about association, a ticket to flee, a knowing nod to privileged Americans for whom white flight is a defining lifestyle.

No evidence supports the hype about school vouchers as tickets to something better. For one, they can't and don't match the costs of private schools, which set their tuitions as insurance that selectivity will reign.

The most important reason why vouchers are a bogus "solution" is that the central factor in educational excellence is parents. If private schools are better in any way, the claim can only be explained by more homogenous populations and highly engaged (and wealthy) parents.

We hear DeVos mention "failing public schools" in every other sentence, but she dare not say that urban schools (without question the schools to which she refers) deal with challenges that she could barely contemplate in a life of privilege.

Another magic bullet promoted by DeVos and Trump is charter schools.

Ah, charter schools: Some – those not run by flea-bag, fast-buck, for-profit operations that leave town by the weekend – do commendably. And why? Supposedly it's because they have fewer state requirements. If that's the case, why not have fewer requirements for all schools, particularly the clinking, chafing shackles of standardized testing?

            An idea for DeVos: If vouchers to private and church schools are the answer, distribute your family billions that way, rather than in subdividing the swamp.

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

‘Deep Throats’ lined up for a city block

Newly elevated, helium-inflated, a president for a bare blink of an eye, Donald Trump chose as one of his first presidential acts a declaration of war on the press.

So, how's that going?

Trump called reporters "the enemies of the people." Henchman Steve Bannon called the media "the opposition party." Interesting claim from one who made his name with the saliva machine of Breitbart.

Define "media," guys. Does that include Twitter? Does that include Fox News? Does it include lil ol' Moscovites with laptops?

Hilarious it is that Trump would ever denounce "fake media." After all, he is its chief beneficiary, indeed, its invention.

In a CNBC rundown of the "top fake news stories" of 2016, the most-viewed bogus post on social media was, "Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Trump for president."

So, it's hard to know what Trump means by "the enemies," because he paints with a broad brush the "media" reporting facts and stating truths. 

If he means The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters, the Associated Press, Politico, Time, Slate, Mother Jones, New York Magazine, even The Wall Street Journal, the "opposition" is staging a rout.

The Los Angeles Times last week ran a seven-part series of editorials titled "Our Dishonest President." It called Trump's campaign to discredit news organizations "cynical" and "creepy," with "echoes of Josef Stalin and other despots."

Surely the editorial writers didn't mean Trump's long-distance squeeze, Vladimir Putin, there.

Trump excluded the American media but welcomed Russian reporters to his glad-handing and intel-sharing with chief Russian officials after firing FBI Director James Comey. Then someone leaked that Trump called Comey a "nut job."

Recall now that the key source who helped bring down Richard Nixon, known as Deep Throat to The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, was the No. 2 man at the FBI at the time, Mark Felt.

With Trump's character assassination of Comey, a man well-respected in the ranks, one can imagine insiders lined up three abreast outside the parking garage to be the next Deep Throat to bring down a president.

For days The Washington Post and The New York Times have taken turns delivering stunning scoops with dozens of inside sources.

Trump's eyes shed projectile tears about these leaks. With so many leakers inside the White House, the only way to eradicate them would be to flea-bomb and bolt all exits.

Of course, when it comes to the press, the issue with Trump is not just his quest to bully and delegitimize news-gatherers.  He also reveals a grade-school mentality about press freedoms.

 One of Comey's memos indicates Trump's desire to imprison reporters who share the leaks that have made his monarchic dreams so miserable.

Trump apparently hasn't heard of the Pentagon Papers case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government couldn't stop news agencies from reporting classified materials that they obtained.

By the way, that principle would be front and center if the United States were to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, something Attorney General Jeff Sessions now seeks.

In this and whatever legal clash presents itself, be assured that Donald Trump would go hard and heavy against the First Amendment. It is the man's nature.

Noting that every president has battled an inquiring press, the editorial series in the Los Angeles Times asserts that Trump "has escalated the traditionally adversarial relationship in demagogic and potentially dangerous ways."

That said, the paper pledges that it will continue to do its job of covering the Trump administration fairly and comprehensively.

In the Watergate investigation, The Washington Post did not set out to bring down a president. It set out to find the truth.

Mr. President, if you have an enemy, it is the truth.

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Two impeachable obstructions at play here

As we recall now, it was James McCord, our nation's 37th president, who in 1974 famously said, "People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook."

No?

Oh, right; James McCord wasn't president. He was just the first name of note – a campaign committee schlemiel arrested for a third-rate burglary – in a chain of offenses ultimately tied to the man who profited politically from a vast dirty tricks campaign: 37th President Richard Nixon.

Mike Flynn isn't our president, either. National security adviser for a hiccup, Flynn is just the person to whom investigators want to talk at the moment. He is our James McCord in a scandal bigger than Watergate.

It involves Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 election, acts acknowledged by FBI director James Comey, acts dismissed with a smirk by Trump.

            It involves Trump's attempts to cow Comey before canning him. It involves Trump's attempts to intimidate former acting attorney general Sally Yates with threatening tweets the day she testified before Congress. And of course, it involves that time-honored tradition: a cover-up.

            So, we are talking here of one of two impeachable offenses: (1) obstruction of justice, the Trump way, and (2) obstruction of democracy, the Russian way.

            On the first count, Harvard constitutional superstar Lawrence Tribe calls Trump's dealings in Comey's firing "vastly more serious" than anything Nixon did.

            We appreciate the president explaining that on three occasions he solicited assurances from Comey that the FBI wasn't investigating him. Code for you and me: "I am not a crook." Code for Comey: "You're fired if I don't hear what I want to hear."

          Why in the world, if it were investigating Russian meddling in the election and collusion involving the Trump campaign, would the FBI ever take Trump's role off the table?

          This brings us back to the other act of obstruction, an act many are forgetting at the moment, the one pertaining to our democracy.

          As Comey said unequivocally before a congressional committee, the Russians did a whole bunch of things to try to influence the 2016 vote. We all know the horse which horse they placed their bets.

Trump's blank-look bemusement about this has been impeachable on its face.

Much evidence has been assembled about the Trump team's interaction with the Soviets before he assumed office. Most curiously, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak's met with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner (and not the president-elect?) at Trump Tower in December.

When such things were revealed, what did Trump say the issue was? The issue, he said, was surveillance of his people. He hasn't denied the meeting in question.

How unbelievable it is that the Russian ambassador could have been in Trump Tower without at least a handshake with the man Putin most wanted to congratulate for his beefy conquest? It can't be believed.

As Rachel Maddow said the night of Comey's firing, we're listening closely, and the White House cannot offer an explanation thus far about just about anything is has done from Day 1 that "has the benefit of being true."

Trump apologists blow off the Russian story. It had no actual influence on the 2016 result, they say. That's not the issue. Neither is the assertion that rogue "Trump surrogates" did suspect things. This is about Trump and no one else.

The 1799 Logan Act forbids civilians from engaging in diplomacy with nations with which the United States has a dispute. Conceivably, we don't even need proof that Trump assured the Russians sanctions would be lifted. All we can assume is that Team Trump jumped the gun to deal with Russia before it had any such authority.

Mike Flynn isn't the story. "Trump surrogates" are not the story. Just as he's insisted all along, Donald Trump is the story.

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Pop a cold one for one cold-hearted vote

Look at the smiles on those faces. Look at the preening.

You'd have thought President Trump and the beaming Republican cohorts standing behind him – Stephen Colbert called it "the strategic white persons reserve" – had just cured cancer. Or accepted ISIS's surrender. Or returned man to the moon. Or brokered Middle East peace.

No. No. No. And no.

What they celebrated was something that would relieve millions of Americans of their health coverage. Bully.

True, also, however: They were celebrating something that could kick many out of office in 2018 and make the smirker-in-chief a one-termer.

Beer and high-fives all around -- for voting to do what 55 percent told Gallup they shouldn't: repeal the Affordable Care Act. Then there's the 87 percent (March CNN poll) who oppose lifting the requirement that insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions.

The Republican response on that matter is so very arrogant: maintain the protections on pre-existing conditions (that is, in states that don't opt out entirely), but let insurers charge more.

The Center for American Progress has put a pencil to this and predicts that a person with diabetes would pay an additional $5,600 annually for the same coverage as under the Affordable Care Act. For someone with cancer? Just forget it.

Don't call it Trumpcare. Call it Trumpdoesn'tcare.

This is the man who said that his approach to health care would mean coverage for everybody. This is the man who, hours after the Republicans' disgraceful act, complimented the Australian prime minister on that country's single-payer system, saying, "You have better health care than we do."

By the way, this isn't the first time Trump has praised single-payer health systems. But, you see, he won the GOP nomination by cozying up to tea party anti-government fundamentalists and the hyper-pompous, hyper-callous religious right. WWJD be damned. The Donald? He's just riding the nag that delivered him.

Someone tell us how what this bill would do to improve health care in America. Anyone?

You won't hear it from the American Medical Association. Not from the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists or the American Psychological Association.

By review, that's: No. No. No. No. And no. All have condemned that which has made our president smile.

You see, those organizations actually have considered what this bill would do. The Republicans in the House voted to pass it without knowing or caring. Had they cared to know, they would have waited for Congressional Budget Office analysis.

Well, here's what we do know. This measure would cut $880 billion over a decade from Medicaid, a lifeline to 74 million Americans, including the poorest of the poor and the elderly.

You may be saying, "Good. We spend too much. We need to reduce the deficit." But that's not where any savings would go. Most of the money yanked from the poor -- $594 billion – would go to well-off Americans in the form of tax cuts.

In other words, as the E.J. Dionne writes in the Washington Post, Trump and Co. "don't care a whit about what they do to the health-care system or how their bill endangers lives."

Jim Newell in Slate calls it not health care reform but "a dramatic piece of upward wealth distribution." Yes, resources that now help needy people flowing to people who have all they need. It's mean. It's reprehensible.

Pop a cold one, Republicans. For this cold move, you are going to get popped by voters at the next opportunity.

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Here come the clowns with ‘tax reform’ balloons

"The clownish veneer of Trumpism conceals its true danger," writes David Remnick in The New Yorker. "Trump's way of lying is not a joke; it is a strategy, a way of clouding our capacity to think, to live in a realm of truth."

What's it this week? We are asked to "reform" our tax system, with only guesses as to how the changes would benefit Donald Trump. His tax returns are tucked away, courtesy of yet another fluffy flake in a blizzard of lies. (Getting audited, you know.)

Much attention has accrued to Trump's historically low approval ratings. But consider: One hundred days into his presidency, Gallup finds that only 36 percent of Americans believe their president to be "honest and trustworthy."

(That same 36 percent, by the way, answered affirmatively to the question: "Yes or no. The creature named Sasquatch invented the incandescent light bulb.")

When it comes to trust, however, we can all agree on one thing: We can trust Trump to do what's best for Trump.

Whatever the actual details of Trump's tax-paying, or lack of it, his tax proposal would benefit him beyond measure.

The alternative minimum tax was the principal feature in our tax code that got Citizen Trump in 2004 – the only year revealed -- to pay some taxes. And, hmm, the alternative minimum tax would go away under Trump's proposals.

That year paid them at a rate of 25 percent. Without the alternative minimum tax, he would have paid at 4 percent.

"If that return is typical," writes Ronald A. Kain in the Washington Post, "the Trump tax plan is an 86 percent tax cut for . . . Trump."

But, of course, that return isn't typical. That's why Trump allowed it to "leak."

He doesn't want taxpayers to see the years when he paid no taxes at all. He doesn't want Americans to know about his international (Russian?) business entanglements.

Speaking of business: Trump wants to more than halve federal corporate tax rates. (Benefiting whom? Good guess.)

It's true that U.S. corporate tax rates are high compared with most western countries. However, when various loopholes are factored in, the General Accountability Office reports that about two-thirds of corporations already pay no federal tax. He wants to dramatically slash tax rates of high earners. Benefiting whom?

 He wants to abolish the estate tax. Called the "death tax" by Republicans. Yes, a tax on "death" to skew the debate in the minds of the less wealthy.

The thing is, the estate tax applies to one-fifth of 1 percent of us, only affecting couples worth more than $11 million. And the first $5.45 million of an estate is exempt.

Trump wants us all to down this medicine with the sugar of doubling the standard deduction for middle-income earners. Few of us would reject this offer, except that in sum Trump's proposal would cost the country's coffers trillions of dollars. 

Unless something cancels out the revenue lost, this proposal would cause the federal debt to balloon by $11 trillion in a decade.

And we're to believe the old supply-side tax-cut fantasy that got us in a bottomless deficit hole -- that the tax plan will "pay for itself." Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says so. Yes, and Mexico will pay for Trump's wall.

It all adds up to more debt and less elasticity for our government to govern. And to accomplish what? To fence off the Trumps, the DeVoses, the Koch brothers, and other inheritors of a nation's great wealth in gated acres of green.

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Resistant to facts on climate? Wait – we have pictures

The word is that Donald Trump isn't much of a reader.

Former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Taran Killam affirms this – that then-candidate Trump "struggled to read" when preparing for a dismal guest-hosting of SNL last year.

That's OK, Mr. President. Research finds a broad swath of our population, up to half of us, is what University of Indiana researcher Larry Mikulecky first termed "aliterate" – able to read, but having no interest in it.

So, let's assume not that our president can't read, just that for him it is unnecessary.

Reportedly he isn't interested in long reports. He demands Twitter-sized explanations with lots of pictures and charts.

Granted, not every picture will prove illustrative to the reluctant reader in the Oval Office.

No doubt he saw pictures of the rivers of humanity on Earth Day -- hundreds of thousands -- protesting his anti-science, anti-environmental policies. (Sample sign: "I can't believe I'm marching for facts.")

Professional marchers, you know. Sad.

Women's March. Tax Day "Show Us Your Returns" March. March for Science. Next up: People's Climate March. Millions of people, all told. All pros, apparently.

Fortunately, we have other visual cues that might seem more compelling. If we could get them before Trump's nose, he might be a changed man.

Consider some before-after photos distributed by Associated Press showing now-decimated glaciers – among them the Trift in the Swiss Alps and the Mendenhall in Alaska. Ice built up over generations has vanished in the veritable blink of an eye: 10 years.

The same applies to glaciers around the world.

Depletion of the Gangotri Glacier in the Himalayas may be the planet's most grave matter. It is a key source of water for the Ganges River, which sustains more people than any river anywhere -- roughly a billion in India and Bangladesh.

I realize Trump believes this global warming stuff is a hoax, but something is melting those ice fields. Maybe the big-government climate cabal is sending professional defrosting teams up in the hills with hair dryers.

So what if global warming is happening? If it is, says Trump's anti-science brain-trust, just wear polyester instead of wool, and turn up the A/C. Also, wear scuba suits on the nation's coasts.

OK, so how about some other pictures? Let's try charts.

The publication Anthropocene Review charts side-by-side the respective acceleration of various earthly quantities – most prominently carbon dioxide levels – along with such things as ocean acidification, population, fertilizer consumption and water use. Every one shows a gradual incline until late in the 20th Century. Then, in great rapidity, the up slope is beyond dramatic.

And guess what? That stunning slope just about tracks the trajectory of Earth's surface temperatures in the same time period.

You may wonder what "anthropocene" means. It means that mankind is making a mess of things. For the last 12,000 years or so, we've lived in what scientists call a climatological sweet spot, the Holocene epoch, which followed the Pleistocene, when the planet's last ice age occurred.

Many who study natural history assert that with increased pollution and development, we have moved out of the Holocene into something they call the Anthropocene – "anthropo" for "man" -- an epoch in which human activities warp, degrade and dictate earthly conditions.

Yes: conditions no longer dictated by nature but by human nature.

Speaking of glaciers and those photographs that we want President Trump to see:

We can talk numbers, said American James Balog, who photographed the devastation, but nothing "touches the heart more profoundly (than) when you see it in pictures."

            All of which, of course, requires that one have a heart to be touched.

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

 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Fox News, the official state propaganda arm

It's a tradition in many militarized cultures, like turkey and cranberry sauce. First comes the military show of force. Then come the goose-stepping troops.

You may think this to be a reference to the goons of North Korea, or the vipers of Syria. It is. It's also a reference to "Fox and Friends."

First, Syria: Did you notice that Bashar al-Assad's air force was flying missions almost immediately from the airfield supposedly crippled by President Trump and 59 Tomahawk missiles? Actually, they barely dented the runway from whence Syrian planes fly.

And North Korea: What a spectacle. At every opportunity, Kim Jong Un demonstrates that "ineptitude" is the same in any language.

So, what's this got to do with "Fox and Friends"? Well, whatever Trump does, especially if it involves bombs, Fox News will salute with heels high and legs unbent.

Late-night host Seth Meyers, whose "Closer Look" segment is among the best and most informative commentary on the planet, said that with its sycophantic treatment of Trump, Fox News is "the closest thing we have to state TV."

Trump has tweeted plugs for Fox News shows and, without an ounce of vetting, passed on bogus claims voiced by specious Fox News "experts."

Then there's Trump's buddy Bill O'Reilly. Here's a man who, like Trump, knows that lies and bluster are how to build his base.

Two years ago NBC News banished Brian Williams from its lead anchor position for twisting the truth about his reporting exploits. That's what an actual news organization does when a matter of credibility becomes a distraction.

By contrast, O'Reilly missed not a second of face time when caught lying around the same time, saying he had reported in combat, which he had not, unless one considers combat to be trooping around with DEA agents in South America.

And now we know that Fox News dished out $13 million to women who claimed sexual harassment by O'Reilly. Having seen how Fox News founder Roger Ailes did the same in a spirit of entitled creep-itude, maybe O'Reilly believes that abusing women is the Fox News route to upward mobility.

Ah, but who should come to O'Reilly's defense but Donald Trump. Brothers in arms, with smallish, roaming hands.

Well, of course, he'd come to O'Reilly's aid. The man holding the early distinction as the most unpopular president ever has to be comforted by a 24-hour TV channel that affirms every offensive notion and every untruth he might utter.

The other day Trump invited his pals at "Fox and Friends" on a fawning White House tour, then praised them on the air.

When Trump took office, there was talk that the administration might expel the media from the traditional White House press room. This hasn't happened -- yet.

However, with the president assailing the rest of media as the "enemy of the people" while plugging Fox News at every turn, it might be efficient for Trump to kick 'em all out and invite Fox News to relocate its studios to the space and place from where an independent press historically has covered presidents.

Take another cue from Vladimir Putin, Mr. President. Russia has state-owned agencies like TASS and Ministry of Defense-run Zvezda television. They make sure that the people know what Putin most wants them to know.

The day after Trump did the only thing imaginable to improve his public standing -- drop the biggest non-nuclear bomb ever -- "Fox and Friends" led off with Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" while the detonation played in black and white.

Zvezda couldn't have done it better.

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Launching missiles from 'Oppositeville'

Wilbur Ross was misinformed, and he was sitting right next to the guy.

To watch the missiles fly, Donald Trump had assembled his inner circle to a cramped room that looked like a banquet nook at Benihana. Please pass the sak√©.

It was Mar-a-Lago, actually. Being at the new nerve center of western civilization, you'd have thought those assembled would get an accurate picture.

Ross, our new commerce secretary, was in the room. Here's what he said: The Missiles of April had taken out 20 percent of Syria's air capability.

Maybe the commerce guy doesn't have to be a numbers guy in this administration.

Because, it appears we took out not even one operative warplane with our 59 Tomahawks. We did, however, send several structures to Quonset hut heaven.

Indeed, the reports two days after the attack had Syria launching flights once again from the stricken airfield.

OK, it was for show. Apparently of the eight people we killed, none was Russian. Whew. This is because we warned Russia, which warned Syria.

Say what you will about what it will accomplish. John Kerry applauded it. He and President Obama had asked Congress for authorization to do it. Congress refused.

Among those urging Congress to refuse was Citizen Donald Trump. Over and over, he tweeted we shouldn't do exactly what President Donald Trump ordered, along with the chicken chou mein.

What a fine state of affairs. The least credible, most ethically bereft individual ever to have such authority now finds flinging missiles at sovereign nations to his liking, and the liking of cable news.

Months ago Citizen Trump said Obama should ask Congress to do exactly what Trump did without asking Congress. He didn't consult with other nations, either, except to advise that it would be done.

Boston Globe columnist Indira Kakshaman uses the term "Oppositeville," for the region between Trump's two ears. Saying one thing, doing the opposite.

Writes David Frum in The Atlantic, many will call Trump a hypocrite for this, but that's not accurate. The situation is far worse. A hypocrite says one thing "while inwardly believing another." Trump's words, he said, are "no guide" whatsoever to what Trump means.

Trump ran as an isolationist who railed against overseas military encumbrances. The problem for inflamed alt-right followers at the moment is that they listened to him.

In less than three months in office, Trump has ramped up bombing in Yemen after a botched raid involving special forces in which a Navy SEAL and dozens of civilians died. He's increased troop levels in Iraq and Syria.

Forget what he said. He has lethal toys, and he likes them.

Observed Phyllis Bennis, analyst for the Institute for Public Policy, Trump is an "interventionalist-isolationist" now.

The obvious contradiction in terms isn't what she means. She means that Trump is inclined to do his interventions in isolation. Solo. No diplomacy, no working with Congress or the United Nations or NATO. That's what she means.

Maybe we can hope henceforth that Trump will be consistent in a Trump way, reversing course: turning the Trump Wall into open space, welcoming desperate Muslim families to our shores, and finding room in his budget and his heart for things that actually help people not in his own income bracket.

As it is, we are to assume that massive cuts in environmental protection, transportation, the national parks, schools, climate science and medical science – all are money the military needs.

Maybe he has a point. The 59 missiles fired to destroy almost nothing cost $60 million, which is roughly a third of what Trump says we can't afford ($1.6 billion) for after-school programs for the nation's children.

Once again, however, we could all hope that we're being misinformed as to what the man is doing, like those in the room with him.

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

 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Democrats' obligation: Fight like hell

It's about the public record now.

It's about Coretta Scott King speaking from the grave to remind us how one-time judge and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions winked in approval from the bench at racist schemes to keep black people from the polls.

It's about our new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos showing how little she knows about public education.

It's about the man charged with protecting the environment, new EPA chief Scott Pruitt, asserting that his chief role is to protect polluters.

All of these things, and more, we have learned in the hearings on Donald Trump's horrific personnel choices.

From them we have on the record the dubious thoughts of those dangerously positioned to harm their respective arms of our government.

For this reason -- although Judge Neil Gorsuch is a cut above, by Trump's abominable appointment standards -- the Democrats must fight his nomination with every ounce of their being.

They owe it to us all to have a long-needed conversation about two institutions in question, our highest court and our Constitution.

We know now how Gorsuch sided with a trucking firm that fired a driver for leaving his unworking rig while waiting hours for company help. His other option was freezing to death inside the cab.

We know Gorsuch sided with Hobby Lobby in its refusal to provide coverage for something its owners considered immoral – birth control – under the Affordable Care Act.

We know Gorsuch opposed the landmark Supreme Court ruling that caused one of the last great edifices of bigotry and discrimination -- state prohibitions on same-sex marriage -- to crumble.

Granted, Gorsuch is intelligent. He and has a commendable temperament. Trump could have chosen worse.

And that is completely beside the point.

The Democrats have to fight like hell, delay with every day, because the longer this matter is digested by the public, the more it will be aware of the stakes.

The last time the nation was riveted to matters like these was during the 1987 hearings for Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, rejected by the Senate. The proceedings provided a magnificent and compelling lesson in judicial philosophy. At issue was the same "strict constructionism" that makes Gorsuch a favorite of hard-right players like the Federalist Society.

In the Bork hearings, we found out that the right of privacy upheld for decades by way of the 14th Amendment's "liberty" clause causes many strict constructionists to break out in hives.

We also found out that these people hold the "equal protection" clause of the same amendment to apply only to the emancipated slaves that the authors had in mind, and not today to women, gays and lesbians, the transgendered, Latinos, Muslims or any other marginalized group.

If this stone-age philosophy does not apply to Gorsuch, he should disavow it. Does the Constitution mean "equal protection" for only a few? That how the Federalist Society reads it.

Keep talking, Dems. Keep resisting.

Remind Americans, particularly the nearly 60 percent who are offended by the Trump presidency, that the only reason the seat in question is vacant is because Republicans in the Senate subverted the very Constitution they venerate when refusing to have hearings for Barack Obama's choice, Judge Merrick Garland.

Democrats have to fight with every step and every breath the reign of the man who placed second in the popular vote and says he won by a landslide. Any mandate he claims is less than microscopic. They have to fight because in congressional district after congressional district, state after state, angry constituents are demanding that they not roll over and play dead.

With their calls and emails and letters to members of Congress, with their protests and marches, these constituents have gone on the record. We must put the Trump administration on the record at every opportunity, so no one will forget at the next opportunity to choose new leadership.

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