Monday, February 26, 2018

Evangelicals' dance with the devil

Billy Graham is dead, and Christianity isn't feeling too good itself.

So charismatic, so compelling, no American rang up more ratings points for his faith than "America's pastor," but that was yesterday.

Now? Church attendance steadily declines. Meanwhile, the numbers of those who declare themselves spiritual but not religious grow.

Surely the reasons for this are many, but one is clear:

Many who advertise themselves as Christian have been digging a hole for their brand for years. They have sapped Christianity of its essence, which is love, and replaced it with two higher virtues: possession and possessions.

They took the "gold" from the "golden rule" and sent it offshore for tax purposes. They divined God's plan to be that they – white heterosexuals -- shall rule.

They set aside "hope" and "charity" in favor of "hate" and "blame" -- the first for Muslims and gay people, and the second for desperate Mexicans who come without papers to clean their toilets and pick their fruit.

Prince of Peace? This variant of faith is as militant as imaginable -- each war a holy war, and one's shiny firearm as much an accoutrement as the cross.

However, the most damning thing about so many self-proclaimed evangelicals and their leaders is the horse on which they have bet their previous winnings: Donald Trump.

True, Billy Graham helped politicize faith by being too cozy with politicians like Joseph McCarthy. He famously said Richard Nixon's "moral and ethical principles wouldn't allow him to do anything illegal."

However, at least Graham modeled inclusivity and straddled the divide, befriending and counseling presidents of either stripe.

Not so with the man who inherits Graham's empire, the hyper-partisan Franklin Graham.

He's defamed the multitudes by calling Islam "a very wicked religion . . . a religion of war."

He can't speak of homosexuals and transgender individuals without assigning to their desires the "LBGT agenda," whatever that is.

You may buy into Franklin Graham's spiel, but ask the young people you know and understand why so many young people want nothing to do with Graham's church, or the church itself.

That's tragic, because the church that actually models the love of Christ is something needed in a world torn by divisiveness and conflict. I was raised in a loving Methodist congregation. I know what good the church can do. This is not that.

Now we have a moral charlatan as president, less Christlike than anyone imaginable, and evangelical leaders line up to kiss his ring.

Sexual predator or not, serial adulterer or not, Trump is their guy -- he who figured out that mouthing their party line (even when changing his previous positions) would help him win the Republican nomination.

Asked about revelations of Trump's alleged affair with a porn star replete with a $130,000 pay-off, Tony Perkins of the selectively pious Family Research Council said Trump gets a "mulligan." OK, Mr. Perkins, what say you about the alleged affair between Trump and a Playmate with another payoff? How many mulligans does Trump get? Unlimited, clearly.

Back to that whole "LGBT agenda." Franklin Graham, and the churches that share his attitudes, couldn't be more out-of-touch with the majority of Americans, particularly young Americans who support LGBT rights – make that human rights without qualification. Most young people I know want nothing to do with this, or any, self-righteous bigotry.

Amid evidence that Christian church attendance is declining, interestingly I heard from a Unitarian friend who said attendance at his congregation is surging. His congregation isn't about excluding people or dividing people. It's not about colors or cloth or condemnation. It's exclusively about that Golden Rule stuff.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Turn the corner against gun-culture politics

A 19-year-old drove a killing machine right through a Florida high school the other day, killing 17 and injuring many more.

It just shows you that no matter what traffic laws we have, people will die. So let's all agree to do nothing. It's pointless.

Well, all right. The killer tore through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High with an AR-15, not a Dodge truck. But, hey, what can you do?

After all, he was old enough to drive.

Anyway, why talk about the means by which he killed? He could have used a machete, quoth the AR-15 lobby. He could have used poison gas. He could have detonated a nail bomb.

The 9/11 killers used box cutters, you know, and jet planes.

What was a nation to do then? Nothing, of course.

Take away people's box cutters and only the people with jet planes at their disposal will fly them into skyscrapers.

But, wait. As we recall, the heinous deeds of those attackers caused America to turn itself inside out, to wage two wars, create a new Cabinet department, to change how airports and seaports and surveillance agencies operated.

The 9/11 toll was staggering – 2,996 dead. And yet, behold the yawn over the fact that 15,549 Americans died by gunfire last year and that 1,881 have died at the end of a gun this year. Yes, it's only February.

That makes the massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High, and before that inside a prayerful church church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and before that in Las Vegas, and before that in Orlando, less than unusual and more of the usual.

To address gun violence as the threat it is, one that faces every family in America and every community, it calls for a 9/11-style culture shift. It calls for laws that treat gun violence as a national emergency.

Or we could do nothing.

President Trump – what a guy in a time of horror and tragedy. The students of that high school had just had their childhoods and their childhood friends ripped from them, and he was lecturing them, via tweet, that they should have been more alert.

Don't take offense, grieving child. That tweet wasn't really meant for you. It was meant for the National Rifle Association – a signal that "do nothing" will be federal policy on guns until, say, 2020.

Or maybe something will happen sooner if Americans refuse to vote for, in Bob Weiss' words, "gun whore" politicians.

Who is Bob Weiss? He's a California father who lost his daughter Veronika in 2014 when a gunman killed six people and injured 14 near the University of California-Santa Barbara.


He was one for whom those "thoughts and prayers" wafted across the land from politicians bought and sold by the gun lobby.

President Trump last week said that no one should have to endure what Bob Weiss did. Watch Trump do nothing to ensure that.

He and his fellow Republicans, or at least most of them, won't even grab the low fruit of banning the bump stock, the mechanism that enabled Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock to fire off 1,100 rounds before killing himself.

A few decades ago policymakers decided that a culture shift was in order to confront a public health emergency: carnage of the nation's highways.

            Though some said people would just ignore it, in 1973 a national speed limit was enacted. The result? Though many continued to ignore it, highway fatalities declined by 17 percent in one year.

Imagine if that happened with gun violence. That would have meant 2,466 of last year's gun violence victims would be around today to vote out lawmakers and presidents who do nothing.

You can see why the gun lobby wants nothing done.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Fabricator hears Mueller's foot steps

Donald Trump lies more often without consequence than anyone to ever grace his position. Being a frequent liar, however, doesn't make him a good one.

As fabrication has proved to be his primary function in the White House, that's sad. It's a massive waste of entrepreneurial talent.

Let's see. Trump said dozens of times on the campaign trail that his campaign team had no interaction with the Russians.

In fact, at least 12 Trump associates had contacts with Russians during the campaign and transition. CNN reports 19 face-to-face meetings with Kremlin-linked individuals and 51 assorted communications.

To what degree you might give this man the benefit of the doubt, 51 is considerably more than none.

Trump has said he never met George Papadopoulos, indicted for lying to the FBI about interacting with the Russians. That's not even a good lie, per a widely circulated photo.

And Papadopoulos, who first spilled the beans to an Aussie diplomat about Russian-stolen "dirt" on Hillary, was far more than the "coffee boy" Team Trump claims.

He helped write Trump's first foreign policy speech. He served as point person for a presidential meeting with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

"No collusion"? Papadopoulos knows. And he is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller.

This takes us back to Trump, the great liar who isn't very good at it. He says he wants to talk to Mueller. His attorneys say, "Oh, God, no."

Says "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough: "His own lawyers think he's too stupid and too much of a liar to stand up to the heat."

For good reason. Trump constructed a lie to explain the firing of James Comey. Trump constructed a lie to explain the Trump Tower meeting between a Russian delegation and Trump's son, son-in-law and others – you know, the meeting convened to discuss adoption, surely something near and dear to Don Jr.'s and Jared Kushner's hearts.

This lying stuff can be contagious. Now even supposed straight-arrow John Kelly is caught with his tongue in the door jamb.

Kelly wants us to believe that only last week did he become aware of abuse allegations against just-ousted Trump aide Rob Porter, and, that as soon as he knew, Porter was out the door.

That could not possibly be true. The FBI learned about the claims in the process of doing his security clearance. Surely, this information penetrated the consciousness of Mr. Conscience in the Trump White House.

Oh, and on the issue of lies and security clearances, Kushner has yet to answer to why, in obtaining his security clearance, he initially failed to list 100 calls or meetings with foreign officials from more than 20 countries. (Later he added an addendum to his applications.)

This all goes back to a culture of deceit. And the principal and most heinous deceit pertains to Russia's attack on our country's elections system as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.

Trump has shrugged and winked and nodded as we have heard story after story about what Russia did to undermine our elections system, from fake posts in social media, to stealing and publishing embarrassing emails from the Democratic Party, to literally worming its way into state elections systems.

Trump and his acolytes want us to believe that the president is being set up by a biased criminal justice system. That's a joke.

That justice system is trying to investigate the crime of the century, one by which a hostile foreign power helped a man who got fewer votes than his opponent ascend to the White House.

Yes, this is the person who claimed he'd won by a landslide, that 3 million votes had been cast illegally, that illegal voters had been trucked across state lines to defeat him.

He entered lying and never stopped. For the everyday citizen, keeping track of the falsehoods is impossible. Good journalism helps, though. And at least one person, Mueller, has been keeping score.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Donald employs the O.J. strategy

Mike Pence, defending the release of a politically juiced Republican memo that Donald Trump said "vindicated" him, said it was all about transparency.

As is Trump's releasing his tax returns.

As is Trump's releasing of White House visitor logs.

As are the names of foreign companies doing business with the Trump organization.

Oh, wait. He's not releasing any of those.

Trump says the Russia investigation is all about Democrats' trying to torpedo his presidency. Indeed.

A Republican special prosecutor (Robert Mueller), hired by a Republican assistant attorney general (Rod Rosenstein), who answers to a Republican attorney general.

Team Trump says the investigation is tainted because a single FBI agent, since fired by that Republican special prosecutor, expressed his desire that Trump not be president.

The irony: That former agent, Peter Strzok, is the one who recommended reopening the investigation that knee-capped Hillary Clinton's candidacy in the last two weeks of the 2016 campaign.

None of that matters. Donald Trump thinks he's found his Mark Fuhrman.

Aspersions of racial animus by the L.A. detective were critical to the planting of seeds of doubt in the O.J. Simpson trial.

Blood on the Bronco? Cuts on Simpson's hand? An alibi shot to hell? Well . . .

An actual meeting in Trump Tower with Russians offering actual incriminating evidence against Hillary Clinton? A lie-filled cover-up letter dictated by Trump?

A "back-channel" relationship with Russia sought by Team Trump before the election?

An offer from the soon-to-be national security adviser to ditch sanctions on Russia should Trump be made president?

A lie-filled explanation of why Trump fired FBI director James Comey after he leaned on him to demand loyalty?

Pressure exerted on any number of high-ranking officials to take the air out of Mueller's tires?

And now "the memo" – an effort by House Republicans (and Fox News) to "vindicate" the president with the bloody glove.

Again, we must remind ourselves what this is about. It's not about Russian "meddling." It's about an attack, a multi-pronged attack on our elections, an attack about which Trump has shown absolutely no alarm, even denying its occurrence.

It's not about "hacked" emails. That's so techie, so trivial. It's about stolen information – stolen, the FBI and CIA have said, by a foreign power intent on helping its chosen candidate become our chief executive.

The cyber attack continues. In the days before the House released it, Politico reports, Russian Twitter bots contributed their mighty net-genuity such that by midnight Jan. 18 "#Release the memo," was being tweeted 250,000 times per hour.

Ask Trump, and he'll say that's the voice of the people working.

Trump talks a lot about voter fraud. You hear him say nothing about Soviet hackers' efforts to infiltrate and infect state elections systems except to call the story a hoax. Arizona shut down its voter registration system for almost a week to analyze and detect any mischief. One user name and password for an election system was stolen. In Illinois, hackers got into the voter database in July 2016 and retrieved voter records.

Similar mischief was happening before the 2016 election with Russian-seeded pro-Trump fakery on social media.

One analyst called Facebook "a living, breathing crime scene for what happened in the 2016 election."

Disregard all the evidence, say the Trump acolytes, particularly on state-run media, aka Fox News.

The investigation has been tainted by people with political opinions, they say. Yes, they really say that.

Admittedly, this worked for O.J. He got a jury to ignore it all in favor of one incredible conspiracy theory.

Well, we won't be expecting this House to serve as an impartial tribunal for the mountains of evidence Mueller undoubtedly has amassed about collusion and coverup.

If anything happens to Trump, it's going to depend on (1) a grand jury or (2) a Democratic-controlled Congress.

In this election year, Congress could become the latter before the next State of the Union.

A grand jury? That could happen any time. Next week, even.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: