Sunday, February 17, 2019

A border crisis sized to TV screens

            It's always against our better judgment that my wife and I check in to see what Fox News is reporting.

            I don't even recall why we did it. Was it to see how Fox was reporting the story that Justice Department officials discussed using the 25th Amendment to remove Donald Trump as mentally unfit?

            Was it to see the latest about Paul Manafort's deep involvement with Russians or Roger Stone's dance with Wikileaks?

            Whatever the case, flipping to Fox, we were delivered to – surprise -- a crisis on the border. Trump says it is so, and it must be so.

            The blonde talking head first talked to a Republican someone who affirmed it was so.

            Then we saw pictures that surely affirmed his affirmation: a scene of brown-skinned people in a Mexican border town being unruly.

            Then Fox went split-screen as the talking head parroted Trump's claims about how a wall would stop drugs and dangerous Mexicans.

            To do this, half the split screen was filled with pills. They looked addicting. The other half was filled with one disorderly Latino-looking individual struggling with authorities.

            We were not as troubled by this as some Fox News viewers no doubt are. We guessed that the picture of drugs might be stock footage of allergy medication. We guessed that the disorderly Mexican might be a Puerto Rican riled over a parking violating in New York City.

            Regardless, if so inclined, a viewer of TV – like our president, when doing what he does best -- could find that split screen very alarming. You wouldn't want to fight that angry Latino for that parking space.

            My wife observed that as scary as the scene might be to some, imagine how much more so with a big screen.

            We have a 27-inch screen, plenty big. But imagine the fearful American family hunkered down before an 86-inch TV. By rough division, that's 43 inches of drugs and 43 inches of disorderly Mexican.

            That, of course, is the audience to which our president has been appealing ever since he rode the escalator down from on high: people who scare easily, most also having disposable income for big, beautiful TV screens.

            Most of them live in places that almost never see Mexicans except in vignettes on Fox News. Most never see undocumented workers, for those workers hurry to be unseen at their hotels and motels and busing their tables.

            Trump wants us to fear undocumented individuals, but even he hasn't feared them sufficiently to not hire them to work on his properties in great numbers. A split personality?

            Well, yes – 25th Amendment-style.

            Talk about venting out of two sides of one mouth. In 2014 Trump tweeted that President Obama had acted to "subvert the Constitution for his own benefit" in doing an end run around Congress and creating DACA. Indeed, Trump said it was an impeachable offense.

            Fortunately, multiple courts have affirmed Obama's authority to do want he did. Trump is not going to be so lucky with siphoning billions from budgeted sources for his pet project.

            Thinking about this border-wall thing, I have an idea which relates to another Republican pet initiative: school vouchers -- tax dollars to let people send their kids to private schools.

            I've always wondered why Republicans don't demand that other public services are doled out similarly. Vouchers for fire or police protection, say. Vouchers for street repair.

            Since Trump is intent on this scheme, he could follow the Republican playbook and issue "wall vouchers" to those who demand them. They could build iron slats around their white-flight neighborhoods to make them impermeable to disorderly Mexicans.

            More cost-effectively, if he wants to stoke more fear he could issue emergency vouchers to buy bigger TV screens.

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

Sunday, February 10, 2019

First, zap those insufferable drug ads

           Snowed in on a brittle February day, I spent it watching a drug commercial.

            OK, the ad didn't last the whole day. It just seemed like it.

            Indeed, all 60 seconds of it still plays out in my mind. Good job, makers of Dupixent.

            Don't look it up. If you do, if will infect your mind and marketers will have gotten more bang for their – your – buck.

            Whatever drug-makers spend comes from you, including well-coiffed explanations about why prices can't possibly be lower.

            Since 2011, one analysis (truecostofhealthcare.org) finds that Big Pharma has spent almost a trillion dollars, $895 billion -- on marketing. That's 60 percent more than the $549 billion spent on research.

            I'm going to challenge that marketing estimate, though. The makers of Dupixent clearly spent close to $1 trillion on this one commercial alone.

            According to the commercial, it's for uncontrolled moderate to severe dyshidrotic eczema. If you've got that, raise your hand.

            No, wait. Don't. Because if you do, as the commercial shows, your hand looks like it's been in a pizza oven. Or you might feel like poison ivy is winding around your ankles. Or at the wash basin it feels like red ants are staging Woodstock on your hands.

            We see all this in effects fit for an Ingmar Bergman film festival.

            If you've got this disease, do you need this? No, you need a doctor to tell you have it and to prescribe something.

            Of course, it advises to "ask your doctor" if this prescription is right for you.

            Not to speak for everyone with uncontrolled moderate to severe dyshidrotic eczema, but that's not your job.

            After hearing about what the drug can do, it's your job to shake the ants off and make note of all the bad things it might cause, like fever, swollen lymph nodes and a "general ill feeling."

            What's the remedy when generally ill from watching these commercials?

            Only two countries on the globe, New Zealand and ours, allow this. All others prohibit direct marketing of drugs to patients. Makes sense, as these drugs require a doctor's prescription. It's not like we can get a dose at the Dairy Queen.

            Once again, we hear many explanations about why prescription drugs are so expensive. R&D. Testing. Patent protection. All valid. Marketing? Explain its purpose. It has none except to drive consumer demand for something a consumer can't easily buy.

            This kind of marketing should be banned. If not, at least the pharmaceutical industry should be flogged and exposed for the ridiculous amounts spent on it.

            If not banned, the FDA should remove the absurd requirement that any and all drug advertisement list every benefit and potential adverse side effect. If you want to know these, as the commercial says, "Ask your doctor."

            The only beneficiaries of this kind of information are the TV stations that sell longer ads. And they can be assured that ads from ambulance-chasing attorneys will fill the void.

            Washington has never been so divided. However, both parties have been talking about lowering drug prices.

            The Trump administration proposes to cease rebates that substitute for actual discounts -- a good idea that just tinkers around the edges of a monstrosity.

            Democrats want to do much more, such as enabling the export of drugs from other countries. We're told that's a bad idea because of safety issues. That sounds like the claim from the ban-abortion crowd that its chief concern is women's health.

            The FDA can approve medicines imported from afar just as easily as it can approve those made here. What a ridiculous dodge. Seriously, we get avocados from Mexico. We don't keel over in the guacamole.

            Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said that the government should be making generic variations of drugs that keep people alive, like insulin and EpiPens. Some say that's a matter of free enterprise and consumer choice. The people using these products have no choice.

            Drug companies have a choice -- to minimize unnecessary costs – and ridiculous TV commercials should be at the top of the list.

            Go ahead. Ask your doctor.

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

 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Third-party math is Trump's fondest calculation

            Donald Trump was having a horrible month. Then Howard Schultz gave him a chance to flex his inner Biff.

            Trump hopes, hopes, hopes Schultz runs for president.

            And so President Biff did what his role model, the ruling oaf in "Back to the Future," did to Marty McFly: called him chicken.

            Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, "doesn't have the guts to run for president," he tweeted.

            That should do it, Biff.

            Judging by Trump's horrible approval ratings -- cumulatively now in the 30s -- the only way he could be re-elected would be to have a semi-legit candidate siphon off a sliver of votes in what might otherwise go to the Democrat in key swing states.

            A viable independent candidate? The last one to get so much as a single electoral vote was George Wallace in 1968 with four southern states' worth of 46.

            Ross Perot? Zero. John Anderson. Zero. Ralph Nader. Zero. Jill Stein. Zero. Gary Johnson. Zero.

            What did each accomplish? Well, Nader voters in 2000 helped George Bush, a man antithetical to everything they were about.

            Howard Schultz, a lifelong Democrat, doesn't like the apparent leftward-ness of the Dem field.

            Why doesn't he offer himself in that field as an alternative to the lefties? Democrats support candidates with a range of beliefs.

            Instead, he contemplates holding himself up as the hope of squishy centrists or flighty progressives, a means of flushing away their votes while a minority of voters returns Biff to office.

            Schultz reportedly is aghast at the blowback relative to his burst of idealism backed by billions. Good. He is absolutely entitled to dispose of all those billions in a nationwide campaign that will net him nothing, but he needs to know that third-party math is Biff's best hope.

            Michael Bloomberg, who also pondered a third-party candidacy but now is considering offering his centrism as a Democratic candidate, pointedly asserted that a third-party victory is beyond possibility, if no reason other than the Electoral College. Of this there is no doubt whatsoever.

            But let's face it. This is about voters, not Howard Schultz. Someone else, like Stein, will offer himself or herself as a nonviable alternative to the only two we know to be viable

            So, I'd like to ask Howard Schultz, the voter -- not the maybe candidate -- this one question: Considering which of two candidates you and we all know will win in 2020, the Democrat or Donald Trump, which do you want populating the Supreme Court?

            Ask that of anyone who considers voting "third party," or lodging a "protest vote," or opting to "vote for nobody" due to the fact that none of the two viable candidacies meets the desired definition of ideological purity.

            Which side do you want populating any of our federal courts? Where you stand on reproductive rights? What about LGBTQ rights? What about corporations flexing their muscle and lording it over workers (and lawmakers)? What about unchecked gun violence? What about merciless immigration policies?

            All come before the courts, particularly the Supreme Court.

            Conservatives have shown that they will hold their noses and dwell in the latrine tank long enough to vote for a person who is certifiably corrupt and is bereft of a moral compass if that person will appoint the judges they crave.

            Some think of Trump voters as dumb, but voting with an eye on the courts is smart.

            It's the way every progressive or centrist voter should look at the "choice between two evils." What philosophy do you wish the courts to reflect?

            I tire of the spiels, "There's not a lick of difference between them," and "They're both corrupt."

            There was a time when the two parties were similarly business-driven and it was basically an anti-Red contest of "Who can top this?"

            No more. Never in the last half century have the two parties been so different.

            As for Biff, if you're alarmed by him, know that he wants you to flush away your disgust in 2020.

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

 

Monday, January 28, 2019

These are men of conviction(s)

            Roger Stone's lineage that is like the circulatory system of political corruption in America. Like a Mafia family tree.

            The man with a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back was one of the baby Dirty Tricksters behind the varied activities that got Nixon booted from the White House.

            He was close with Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy's side man in the Red Scare war on free thought.

            Stone takes credit for being the first to promote the idea of a President Donald Trump, and then made Trump his protégé.

            That makes sense. Back during the Army-McCarthy hearings, Army counselor Joseph Welch famously asked of the senator-inquisitor, "Have you no sense of decency?"

            In Donald Trump, Roger Stone found someone without any. Sense. Decency.

            "He'll say and do anything," Stone of our president to Politico's Michael Kruse. Stone really knows this guy.

            "Anything" would include shutting down the government over money to obtain a sliver of a wall only a minority of Americans wants and which he said Mexico would finance.

            "Anything" would include saying for all to hear, "Russia, if you're listening . . ." in urging on the quest of friendly hackers to assist his campaign.

            "Anything" would be the host of lies and ruses surrounding his campaign's involvement with Russian emissaries in 2016 and before, most serious being Michael Flynn's illegal diplomacy -- on behalf of the president-to-be -- offering Russia the lifting of sanctions without having any authority to do so.

            Now we have the arrest of Stone, an alleged go-between for the Trump campaign and Wikileaks on that matter of Russian-stolen emails.

            Stone says, "I will not testify against the president." If the president has done nothing illegal, why not share freely?

            Ah, the Watergate connection. Stone was one of the original "Plumbers" who did what they could to sabotage Richard Nixon's political opponents.

            What got Nixon removed from office was the aborted theft – by a team of Cuban emigres -- of materials from the Democrat National Committee.

            Damn. Foiled by the night watchman.

            Did young Roger Stone back then say, "The Plumbers will rise again"?

            Then, in 2016, did Stone say, "Mission accomplished," when high-tech Russians (not low-rent Cubans this time) broke into the electronic innards of the very same political organization and stole what they could?

            As this investigation proceeds, along with the indictments and convictions, people are assuming their positions in eerie parallelism.

            Paul Manafort (convicted), former Trump campaign manager, is John Mitchell (convicted), chairman of the Nixon campaign. Former national security advisor Flynn (convicted) is John Ehrlichman (convicted), Nixon's domestic policy advisor.

            Lesser players like deputy Trump campaign director Rick Gates (convicted), foreign adviser George Papadopoulos (convicted) are Nixon Plumbers Donald Segretti (convicted), Charles Colson (convicted).

            Ex-Trump attorney Michael Cohen (convicted), is Nixon White House counsel John Dean (convicted). History will show both as taking star turns before congressional probes.

            So, who will Roger Stone play? Well, of course, G. Gordon Liddy (convicted), the guileful offensive coordinator of the Dirty Tricks campaign.

            Yes, back when Stone was a little Liddy, you know he dreamt about growing up to be a big Liddy. And in America, dreams do come true for one who will "say and do anything."

            We all know, of course, where this places Donald Trump in the 21st century remake of "All the President's Men."

            It may not have the same concluding scene. That's because of players in the Senate with the medical condition known as spinal mush. They are going to look everywhere but where the truth resides.

            None will step up to play the role of Howard Baker, ranking Republican on the Select Watergate Committee. Baker simply wanted the truth.

            So it will be up to the voters to do what Congress should, which is to remove a president so similar to all his sleazy pals.

            Hmmm, a great movie title: "All the President's Sleazy Pals."

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

Monday, January 21, 2019

Capricious, reckless and illegal

            It took till almost after lunchtime, Day 1 of this reign, for fact-checkers to start losing track of the torrent of lies flowing from President Donald Trump's lips.

            Similarly, one loses track of the progression of his policies that judges have declared half-cocked, presumptive and unconstitutional.

            The latest? A federal judge has ruled against the administration's plans to inquire about citizenship on the census.

            Disregard the fact that such a question is certain to drive down response rates and unnecessarily give the census an inaccurate picture of who lives here.

            What U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman found was that in springing this on the nation, the Trump Commerce Department violated the Administrative Procedure Act enacted in 1946, which requires agencies to be deliberative and thorough rather than "pretextual," legal-speak for concocting a false reason for a planned action.

            Think of a black bear that stumbles into a camp cooler you unknowingly put in his path. The bear takes a paw the size of your head and has its way with the bacon, eggs and yogurt. No matter that the bear would've gone hunting for the cooler wherever you put it, because he relies on brute force to get what he wants. The cooler in his lumbering path was a pretext to break in.

            Judges repeatedly tell the Trump administration it can't have its way with whatever it can get its paws on.

            It happened in November when a federal judge blocked construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline because the administration had not done an updated environmental analysis.

            Now we are at a point where Trump talks about stringing together whatever means he can to create a physical barrier at the Mexico border. On the pretext of preventing terrorism, and the pretext that Democrats want open borders. Two more lies.

            Memo to the president: The government doesn't own much of the land in question. It's owned by countless land owners. You know: private property.

            Aside from that question is the host of environmental considerations working against a break-neck quest to build a wall on biologically sensitive and often inaccessible areas.

            One key environmental issue is the matter of drainage and flooding. Nogales, Ariz., and the twin border city from which it is has been walled off, knows all about it.

            On multiple occasions the barrier there has contributed to massive flooding and millions of dollars in damage.

            That's just one of countless environmental issues posed by something that would require intense and prolonged study and mitigation. Trump may not think so, but the courts will.

            One border issue is the fact that you just can't build a wall along certain stretches of the Rio Grande. The solution apparently has been to move the wall yards or miles from the river itself and, in effect, to cede the property to Mexico.

            Explain that to the American owner whose property suddenly becomes part of Mexico, with no access for the property owner. Better yet, explain that to a judge.

            Then there's the issue of disrupting habitat crucial to survival or any number of migratory species along the border – like the musk turtle and the Santa Catalina Island fox. Ah, they're just animals. Who cares? Well, something called the Endangered Species Act – otherwise known as a law – exists to protect them.

            It doesn't matter if Donald Trump doesn't care. What matters is that he has to follow the law.

            Away from strange and forbidding lands he can't comprehend, what other law is Trump trampling? How about there in Manhattan, where a parade of foreign dignitaries have been pumping cash into Trump International Hotel in violation of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause?

            Two federal judges have allowed suits to proceed against Trump over this matter.

            You'd think that someone in Team Trump would wonder about the legality of this.

            However, according to a new watchdog report, lawyers for the General Services Administration, clearly groomed to do Trump's bidding, downplayed or ignored the host of conflicts posed by the president running a hotel patronized by foreign players.

            Thanks goodness for a branch of government that can tell Donald Trump that he can't ransack things just because he runs one branch of it. Now that the opposition party has real power in the legislative branch, many more hard lessons loom ahead.

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

 

 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Miles and miles of big, beautiful lies

             No one has the Trump administration figured out like satirist Andy Borowitz of The New Yorker. Here's the headline to his post last week:

            "Sarah Huckabee Sanders offers to lie for free during shutdown."

            It's a tough job, carrying bucket after bucket of bilge for your boss, but someone has to do it. (Presumably Sanders gets paid through the Trump "crisis." She'll not miss out on any of her $179,000 a year, with a $10,000 raise scheduled.)

            As New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman puts it, the nation's only crisis is having a president "no one believes."

            You bet it's a crisis. Bulletin: Even Fox News is calling this administration out on its hysterical stream of right-wing confections.

            That's where Sanders floated the line that "nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at the southern border."

            Fox News' Chris Wallace was on it. He pointed out that just about all of the people she cited, those listed on a federal list of suspected terrorists, were stopped at airports.

            How many of those suspects were apprehended at the border? Six.

            Six? Four thousand? That's only 3,994 people away from the truth. Meanwhile, the government shutdown affects 800,000 federal workers.

            The biggest lie is that the people the wall would stop are physical threats to you and me. It's such a spurious and racist claim that any reasonable person should denounce the Grand Weasel.

            What other lies has Trump told about this outrageous vanity quest? First, of course, was that Mexico would pay for it. Over and over he said it. Now he's saying, with Republican hand-servants echoing his claim, that revenue from better trade deals with Mexico will result in the $5.7 billion he says he needs.

            The thing is, if he were to get every penny it won't even scratch the surface of the costly white elephant along the border.

            A Cato Institute analysis finds that completing a border fence along the entire 2,000 miles of Mexican border would cost an astronomical $59.8 billion – and this factors in roughly 700 miles of barrier built since 2006.

            In other words, Trump could have his $5.7 billion and would have barely made a dent in stopping the flow of desperate people trying to make it to this country.

            And for this he's shut down the government.

            By the way, what is Trump's proud-to-shut-it-down gambit itself costing? According to S&P Global Ratings, in a matter of days the cost would exceed the $5.7 billion Trump has demanded. As of Jan. 11, it had cost U.S. economy $3.6 billion.

            Trump made a clumsy act it was for Trump to trot out his empty claims of a national emergency before a national audience. It's one thing to tweet falsehoods to those who will digest them. It's another to interrupt America's evening for said purpose.

            Not only do a majority of Americans oppose the shutdown and Trump's expressed purpose for it, three-quarters of those polled by NPR say it is "embarrassing for the country," including a majority of Republicans.

            The gall merchant in the Oval Office had the temerity to say that large numbers of federal employees support what he's doing. Sure they do, as they try to figure out how to pay next month's rent and go to food banks to feed their families.

            This is a losing game for Trump and for America.  His precious $5.7 billion is not worth what he has created. But the "border crisis" serves to distract from his other big problems.

            Fortunately, one person it is not distracting is Robert Mueller.

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

 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Inside the new Department of the Inferior

            Renaming federal departments is nothing new.
            The Defense Department was the War Department. The State Department was Foreign Affairs.
            And in 2016 the nation's steward of public lands became the Department of the Inferior. And with it the Environmental Pillaging Agency.
            Take bad science, add ethically malformed leaders, and draw up policy sculpted by industrial marauders. That's our approach to public lands and natural resources under Donald Trump.
            Or in the words of Michael Hiltzik, a Pulitzer Prize winner for the Los Angeles Times and covers our Inferior Department: What was founded to be "a steward of America's natural patrimony" has been transformed "into an agent of plunder."
            This is not what Ryan Zinke said he was going to create when chosen by Trump to head the department. In confirmation hearings, Zinke mouthed words that sounded like an environmentalist.
            Zinke said he wanted to follow in Theodore Roosevelt's tradition in protecting and bolstering the nation's public lands. This caused an environmental eminence like National Wildlife Federation CEO Collin O'Mara to support him.
            However, upon Zinke's recent resignation, O'Mara wrote, "Zinke's dogged pursuit of unfettered fossil-fuel extraction makes James Watt's disastrous tenure look timid."
            It was a testimonial to the Trump-Zinke approach to public lands that three-fourths of the members of the National Parks Board resigned in protest of Inferior policies that were fashioned almost entirely to the whims of industry.
            Consider a proposal by Inferior to limit Freedom of Information Act requests by average citizens. Rest assured, no such request by industry will be shuffled to the bottom of the stack.
            How to explain this? Easy. Under Trump, the Department of the Inferior is no longer a public entity but a private one, for-profit, proprietary. "Government run like a business."
            One thing that industry has demonstrated is its commitment to never let science in the public interest get in the way of private interests.
            In Trump's Department of the Inferior, the best scientific minds have been chased away or shuffled into positions where they can't be seen or heard.
            Under Zinke, a page on Inferior's website which once served as a go-to location for facts about climate change was remove.
            Meanwhile, all science grants of more than $50,000 given by the department have been vetted by a high school football teammate of Zinke who has no science background.
            The Union of Concerned Scientists, in a report on the "monumental disaster" facing scientific pursuits in the department, tells of upper-level ideologues "freezing out advice from science committees; restricting DOI scientists from communicating about their work; removing, reassigning, or intimidating scientists; and creating a climate of fear and intimidation."
            Lest anyone think things might change without Zinke, who bailed just ahead of a Congress inclined to probe a raft of ethics charges against him, backward "progress" likely will continue.
            His successor, David Bernhardt, is a former lobbyist for mining and energy interests. Whereas Zinke tried to lip-sync Teddy Roosevelt in his confirmation, Bernhardt no doubt will be mouthing the lines of oil cutthroat Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood."
            The Washington Post depicts Bernhardt as the strategy guy behind much of what's happened in the Inferior Department – the opening of 17 million acres of federal lands for oil leases (some as cheaply as $1.50 an acre), and efforts to tunnel under the Endangered Species Act, per industry demands.
            "We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received," Teddy Roosevelt said of our natural areas. "Each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."
            If we are to read the intentions of Trump, that "good fortune" was really meant for an elite club of investors.
            By the way, that quote is up on the National Parks System web site. Watch for it to be purged by sundown.
          Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.