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:

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:

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."


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:

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:

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: