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.