Monday, September 25, 2017

A small man in a big office

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear" – George Orwell.

This strand of freedom means nothing at all to Donald Trump.

At every turn he shows no grasp, and certainly no reverence, for the fundamental liberty enshrined in our Constitution: to speak one's mind without retribution.

So of course, pandering as he did to a red-meat Alabama crowd, he said the other day that football players who take a knee during the national anthem show "total lack of respect for everything we stand for."

Sorry, Sir, but per this precious freedom, you are the one showing no respect.

Yes, we hear people – many in that Alabama crowd -- exalt "freedom," but they don't really mean it. They exalt the type of liberty awarded to the motorist with the most horse power, or the developer with the best attorneys.

They exalt the type of freedom that will keep outsiders from moving into their neighborhoods.

They exalt the type of freedom that entitles a civilian to sling an AK-47 over his shoulder, or that which comes with imposing the majority's religion on everyone.

In the most recent matter, the one that just roiled the NFL, Trump seeks to be a royal demagogue over a handful of athletes who peacefully have registered their dissatisfaction with our country by kneeling during the national anthem. They do not jump around and shout obscenities. They register their grievance in the most respectful way possible. In the case of Colin Kaepernick, it's been at great risk to his career.

Trump is more troubled by this – by a player silently taking a knee – than a white supremacist chanting, "Jews will not replace us."

For someone in the most powerful position in the United States to act this way shows someone sorely out of his shoe size.

On the campaign trail he said people who burn the American flag should be jailed and kicked out of the country. The U.S. Supreme Court, with Antonin Scalia writing the opinion, said that's what totalitarians do.

You will bow to the flag, or your head will be removed. You know, like ISIS does.

A flag is a symbol, like these letters. The government can't dictate symbolic speech. If it can tell people how to comport themselves around symbols on cloth, it can do the same with all other symbols, and all other symbolic speech.

It's interesting: Before making that grandstand appeal as presidential candidate, on David Letterman's late-night show, Trump agreed when Letterman voiced disdain for an effort to amend the Constitution to ban flag desecration. Though not supporting flag-burning, Letterman said our nation "is far greater than that symbol, and that symbol is standing for freedom of expression."

Said Trump, "Sure. You're 100 percent right."

Sadly, in office, not only has Trump done the dictator's dance regarding that symbolic expression, he's called to change the laws so elected officials can sue the news media. Except in special circumstances, that's something a unanimous Supreme Court prohibited in the landmark Times vs. Sullivan ruling in 1964.

Libel suits by elected officials would have a chilling effect on a free and probing press, said the court.  Ah, but Trump has called the press "the enemy."

This man who is so very big in the high-rise world truly is a flyweight when it comes to the weighty matters that distinguish this nation from others marked by totalitarians and the tantrums of power.

A bigger man, George Washington, said this of free speech: If it is taken away, "then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter."

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, September 18, 2017

Downgrading Hurricane Steve

He started out as a radar image on the outer reaches of the American psyche, with little likelihood of harming anyone.

Winds shifted. He became a threat to the mainland. His image appeared on our TV screens. The breathless watch ensued.

Now the threat has passed. No longer a storm: Steve Bannon is not even a tropical depression.

Donald Trump doesn't think climate change exists, but for some reason he believes Steve Bannon is for real.

Yes. Trump shuns scientists while ascribing to comic-book advisors.

What is it about these guys? Bannon, Stephen Miller, Mick Mulvaney, Steve Mnuchin. They act like "Dick Tracy" villains, with Trump as Big Boy Caprice.

Or, they're Imperial Army generals of the Galactic Empire. Their chests are bruised from saluting the orange emperor.

EPA administrator Scott ("The Phantom Menace") Pruitt has become the Darth Maul of anything that might help the planet.

Jeff Sessions is pale, ashen (Attorney) General Tyranus, accustomed to the clench of the Emperor's thought waves around his throat.

Bannon is from another show, at least in his mind. He's a character on "Power Rangers" – no, not the White Ranger -- or the red, green, black, yellow or blue one. He's Zordon, the torso-less floating head that gives the Power Rangers their chalk talks.

Bannon's head used to float about in the Oval Office. Now, having been removed from his post as Donald Trump's special advisor, he floats back out of the outer rim of shamelessness to relish in the squeak of his captain's chair at Breitbart.

One can say many things about what's really bad during the Time of Trump. But the fact that millions had to endure Bannon's floating face in a segment of high-rated "60 Minutes" may say it all.

He told Charlie Rose that anyone who criticized Trump on the "Billy Bush Weekend" – when we all got to hear Trump jabber about assaulting women courtesy of "Access Hollywood" – was dead to the campaign. That's you, Chris Christie.

            He talked of going all alt-right to take out various Republican lawmakers in primary challenges, a strategy that would cost the GOP a whole bunch of campaign dollars. Bravo, say Democrats.

Regardless, reports Time magazine, "Now that Bannon has broken cover, he doesn't seem so menacing." And that applies to the movement he's come to embody, albeit in body-less form.

Let's put him aside, as one would a clown when more interesting acts present themselves.

In a recent somber essay in Time after the horrible events in Charlottesville, historian and author Jon Meacham ruminated on the awful similarities between Trumpism (and Bannonism) and the populist strains that made George Wallace a political force.

"Wallace brought something intriguing to the modern politics of hate in America: a visceral connection to the crowds, an appeal that confounded elites."

So, too, with Trump, writes Meacham, whose words in the paragraph, framed a black-and-white photo of former Klan leader David Duke, another pledged to salute the man.

Meacham, mere days after Charlottesville, didn't sound optimistic about what was to come.

The country, he writes, looks to its president "for a steadying hand in stormy times of unease and vitriol. At the moment we look in vain."

Ah, but the very next weekend a planned white nationalist rally in Seattle was absolutely swamped by forces of sanity, unity and kindness. The white supremacists were made so insignificant as to be invisible. I wonder what Steve Bannon thought of his movement that day.

It was the American people who, resoundingly, provided the "steadying hand" that the president didn't.

What did Steve Bannon think about that from his swivel chair?

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Sunday, September 10, 2017

No special eyewear needed for this sight

Watching terrifying radar of what scientists predicted -- Irma's march up the Florida peninsula -- a thought occurred about a tranquil and serendipitous observation days earlier.

That brilliant day we knew exactly when the sun and moon would intersect – the solar eclipse. Yes, down to the second. Science gave us a drumroll. We trusted it.

I wondered why President Trump didn't stay inside and harrumph those eclipse predictions away. Why trust scientists?

What was Florida Gov. Rick Scott doing on eclipse day? What about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott? Along with majorities in both states' legislatures, neither chooses to believe what science says about the biggest story in the world.

From his Florida home, Rush Limbaugh called the projected lethality of Irma a "liberal hoax" – before hustling his bushy tail out of town ahead of it.

Though the media are hooked to "breaking" events, the biggest story is not that which hits when TV crews are on the scene in rain slickers.

It's what happens every day, gradually, almost invisibly, like species being rubbed out by development, like pine beetles gnawing away at forests.

Like sea levels rising.

Like tropical storms becoming much more potent, dumping rainfall amounts not seen before.

Like politicians and their enablers seeing evidence they choose not to acknowledge.

Sea levels were rising long before Irma put Florida in a headlock. Global sea levels measured by NOAA are at historic highs and rising at increasing rates. This is no surprise. Scientists said it would happen as global temperatures rose.

Scientists have theorized that as global temperatures rose, extreme storms would become more extreme.

In March, a team of international climate scientists confirmed this. The study looked at events like Texas' devastating 2011 drought, flooding in Pakistan in 2010, and the 2015 California wildfires. It tied them to how climate change causes the jet stream to stall and to prolong and intensify the worst climatological events.

These matters may help explain the prolonged horrors of Harvey and the fact that Irma was twice Hurricane Andrew's size. Even if they don't, we have enough evidence to be treating climate change as the most serious matter ever besetting the planet.

That's right. Ever.

We're talking about vanishing glaciers, the streams from which, like the Ganges in India and Bangladesh, have sustained whole regions.

We're talking about something as grave as the Great Barrier Reef destroyed by too-warm waters.

We're talking about those pine beetles – on whom the only check is the kind of prolonged, bitter Rocky Mountain freeze that climate change has consigned to another era.

Back to Florida: Gov. Scott warned Floridians to be ahead of the storm. But when it comes to getting ahead of the kinds of events that have placed Florida in such a precarious situation, he's not been interested. He's put a virtual gag order on discussing climate change, just as the Trump administration has done.

Ah, yes. In the wake of Harvey, Irma, Jose and Katia, with historic fires in the Northwest thrown in for good measure, Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, said now's not the time to discuss such matters. It's time to deal with the damage from all the natural havoc.

Actually, Mr. Pruitt, your job is protecting the environment. But since you've spent most of your life protecting industry at the expense of the environment, you've had lots of experience for what you are not doing now.

When is the time to discuss climate change? No time, according to you and your arrogant club of profit-seekers.

Yes, we knew exactly when the sun and moon would intersect. Down to the second. We knew exactly what was happening then.

About the climate, we know exactly what is happening now. And we don't need special glasses to see it.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, September 4, 2017

Meet human needs? Nah, let’s play tea party games

It took only a few days and 50 inches of rain.

President Trump, who was threatening to shut down the government just the other day, suddenly realizes that, maybe, government has some things to do other than deliver to him his shiny border-wall bauble.

Texas Sens. Ted Cruz, John Cornyn and other Texas anti-spending posers suddenly find meaning and merit in the words "emergency spending."

Emergency spending was an olive they couldn't swallow without extended tea party-style posturing after Superstorm Sandy decimated the Atlantic Northeast in 2012.

Now reality has hit them with a 1,000-year storm in the Lone Star State.

After Sandy, Cruz and Cornyn stalled and strutted over the money the Northeast needed.

Cruz said the Sandy aid package was "two-thirds pork."

The Fact Checker at the Washington Post, citing a Congressional Budget Office report that said that "virtually all" of the bill was directly related to storm damage, awarded Cruz "three Pinocchios" for his claim.

Cruz and Cornyn have mastered the art of "Grammstanding" attributed to former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm -- a constant and loud opponent of federal spending, but faster than a speeding bullet claiming credit for spending to come Texas' way. He was a force of nature, and hypocrisy.

Post-Sandy, Cruz and Co., including tea party stalwart, then-South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney -- now Trump's budget director -- said that the spending should be offset by budget cuts.

It's always amazing to see people like Mulvaney advocate monstrous increases in military spending without a wisp of the "budget austerity" the "conservatives" preach about everything else, particularly spending that helps low-income Americans.

Heaven forbid, for instance, that the government should help the working poor with preventive health care

Well, a lot of Texans are in desperate need. And many have nothing now and will get nothing, no matter what emanates from Washington.

As Washington Post columnist Dave Von Drehle wrote in Harvey's wake, "Paradoxical as it may seem, the less a person has the harder it is to replace it." Poorer people don't have the reserves and the insurance policies and the second homes or wealthy friends who can deliver them from that despair.

Oh, and while we're talking about human needs: In February, Trump tweeted, ""The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018."

It was idiotic then, and truly moronic now with the environmental disaster in the Houston area – floodwaters having inundated seven toxic waste sites. Yes, you might say it's, "All hands on deck," government-wise, making Trump's idea of government a disaster unto itself.

To score cheap points with people who don't see the big picture, he pretends that this weekend's blue-sky forecast and means perfect weather to come.

An example of this is the Trump administration's rollback of an Obama administration rule meant to make it easier for communities using federal emergency aid to rebuild based on future threats.

Governors had pointed out that current law requires rebuilding a site or structure as it was before, not reconfiguring it to adjust for such things as sea-level rise. In effect, under this requirement, structures inundated in Houston would be sitting ducks for the next major storm.

Smart. So smart.

Trump's 2018 budget, by the way, would sock FEMA by $667 million. After Harvey, he talks about needing an additional $8 billion for the Texas gulf coast. Which is it, Mr. President?

Trump and the tea party purists like Cruz said we didn't need all that government. A few days and 50 inches of rain later in Texas, they now say we do.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: