Monday, May 28, 2018

Blowing smoke about stewardship of our natural assets

It goes and goes and goes -- the stretching of credulity by the team of scoundrels Donald Trump has assembled to oversee our air, our forests, our waters.

We have Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt with his $3.5 million round-the-clock security detail and the $43,000 soundproof phone booth he had built in his own office.

We have Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seeking to lease property for fracking in the pristine Sangre de Cristo Range, not a mile from the silent shifting of the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado.

In either case, we have ironclad industry control of agencies formed to be honest brokers regarding public assets – our lands and our environment. Yes, the word is "our."

In the meantime, we have Republicans in control of Congress who are abiding by their partisan oath to cut taxes, thereby straining the fiscal resources we have to protect or maintain our wild assets.

There's that "we" and "our" again.

Facing a $12 billion backlog in maintaining national parks (and we wonder why . . .), I'm not sure what Zinke expected when his department proposed more than doubling the fees for entry to a host of national parks.

The idea was pelted with pine cones. Back to the drawing board. 

Now Republicans have proposed addressing those fiscal needs with something loftily called the National Park Restoration Act.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., calls it a "long-term commitment to the parks" by his party. Forgive me, but as I read those words, all I can hear is, "Let's do this on the cheap. We have Big Energy to serve."

Which is exactly what the act would do.

The revenue Gardner and proponents envision would come from energy development on public lands, things like the fracking Zinke wants on Bureau of Land Management property near the Sand Dunes.

The act is nothing more than a justification for more energy development in those public lands. At the same time, it makes the well-being of national parks contingent on an unstable and unpredictable revenue source. And after all, that revenue would go somewhere else, so this is simply a shell game for what the general fund should do.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the natural world, Scott Pruitt has signed on a dramatic increase in the use of wood-burning power plants, declaring it a "carbon-neutral" means of providing energy.

Pruitt's argument is that if trees are cut for biomass operations and replanted, the new trees will cancel out the carbon lost from the logging and that released from incineration.

Not surprisingly, a whole lot of scientists call this bunk. Not surprisingly, Pruitt is ignoring the science.

For one thing, regrowth of natural forests takes a century or more, while the planet stews in its juices.

For another, biomass ranks with coal in emitting carbon dioxide and particulates.

And burning wood to generate electricity is hardly cost-effective, and in fact is costlier than utility-scale wind and solar.

What this is, not surprisingly, is a "giveaway to the forest-products industry," writes a trio of top environmental scholars in a New York Times commentary. Of course, like the National Park Restoration Act, it is framed as something that's good for us and our wild assets.

The team Trump has assembled to oversee these matters has only one set of assets in mind -- as do those in Congress in neglecting their role of serious natural stewardship. The assets that matter are those measured on corporate ledgers.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dim foresight: Place seed corn in microwave, press ‘start’

The old farmer says, "Don't eat your seed corn. You need it for planting."

What would Steve Mnuchin say about that? Donald Trump's treasury secretary clearly would say, "It depends. Can it be sold on the futures market?"

We know what Trump's man heading the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, would say: "Seed corn makes great fritters. Fry 'em up."

Team Trump is all about immediate gratification -- aka the next meal -- or at least the next election: not so much as a glance down the road past that.

Trump and Republicans in Congress engineered a tax cut that will drive up the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next decade. For what? Principally, so that America's wealthiest will be wealthier.

Yes, most of us will pay less in taxes. That will mean mainly two things:  (1) more debt for your children and grandchildren; (2) strained public services for all.

Somebody in the tea party – for whom red ink was Satan's tonic -- explain that bargain.

Wait, say supporters of short-side (short-sighted) economics. Look at the economy.

No question, the economy looks good -- an upswing that was in gear before Trump took office. It's no surprise, though, that big tax cuts would help. The question is, "At what cost?"

Similar tax cuts preceded the Great Depression. So did tariffs. One could Google "Smoot-Hawley" to learn about this, but don't try schooling Donald Trump on history.

Now let's talk about the long-term economics of saving energy. Scott Pruitt doesn't get it.

Pruitt wants to roll back fuel standards that the Obama administration negotiated with automakers.

Not only did that agreement look to conserve finite petroleum sources, but fuel economy saves Americans money.

The concessions in those standards are slated to reduce fleet efficiency by a stunning 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Imagine the oil saved by that. Now imagine the savings for Americans. The Union of Concerned Scientists finds that the average household could miss out on nearly $28,000 in fuel savings by 2030 should Pruitt get his way.

The same analysis found that the standards have already saved $58 billion in fuel costs since 2012.

We won't mention the greenhouse emissions averted by Obama's wise policy, something to which, again, automakers agreed in exchange for the federal bail-out during the Great Recession.

We won't mention that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere just reached their highest point in 800,000 years.

Let's not mention that the greenhouse effect is fact, not theory.

Let's observe instead that saving finite energy sources means we have more of them in the future (you know, like seed corn), that regardless of the CO2 issue, using less fossil fuel means less pollution in general – ozone, hydrocarbons, soot, mercury.

The fact is, everything about reducing fuel consumption is good -- unless one doesn't care at all about the environment, or the future.

By the way, the last time CO2 levels were this high was the mid-Pliocene era. At that time, global temperatures soared, the ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica melted, and ocean levels were 10 to 20 meters higher than today.

Don't worry about that future, say today's political leaders. We have an election coming up. Excessive heat? With melted butter, that's how seed corn becomes delicious popcorn.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado


Monday, May 14, 2018

The art of being transparently corrupt

I overheard the voter stand by her man, Donald Trump, the day after the "Access Hollywood" tapes showed him in vibrantly misogynistic Technicolor.

"I'd rather have someone coarse than someone corrupt," she sniffed -- the latter reference being to Hillary Clinton.

What does that Trump voter smell now? Roses, no doubt.

This, though we're learning that several major corporations, including one with pronounced Russian connections, paid Trump attorney Michael Cohen millions to -- what?

To gain insight into Trump's thoughts? That's pretty pricey, when Twitter is free.

To influence policy to their benefit? I think that's called "pay to play," something of which Trump accused Clinton in raising funds for the Clinton Foundation.

To provide a slush/hush fund for all those "Stormy" matters in a man's life?

It spells corruption, smells corruption. Trump isn't even trying to hide it. Drain the swamp, eh?

What a ridiculous discussion it is to focus on the role of Michael Cohen. Was he selling influence? Give me a break. The dollars he received were meant to benefit one man only.

Trump supporters, so focused about probity in the presidency -- at least before Trump -- know what that money is for. They couldn't care less.

Over at the White House, what a charade it is for the media to focus on the veracity of Sarah Huckabee Sanders. "Has she lost the room" at press conferences?

The poor lady is chasing moonbeams around a Maypole. She wouldn't know truth if it arrived in a Candygram.

Of Trump, Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein has said, "We've never seen a president who lies so routinely." And Bernstein has covered a few liars.

I think back to that Trump voter who was so concerned about corruption.

Does she think that when a contingent of Russians showed up in Trump Tower to talk to Trump's son and several key aides, the president-elect didn't know it?

Does she think that when Mike Flynn spoke to the Russians about holding off on sanctions once this administration took office, he then said nothing of it to the president who would make that determination?

Some voters may not realize that it's a crime for a civilian to negotiate with a foreign government, much less a hostile one. If Flynn did that on behalf of the president-elect, would it bother the Trump voter in the slightest?

It apparently wouldn't bother House Republicans. They shut down their investigation of the Russian matter just in time for the world to hear about more suspicious activities in the form of Cohen "client" Columbus Nova, a firm with ties to Kremlin power player and oligarch Victor Vekselberg.

Trump said before the election that he could "stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue" and shoot someone, and his supporters would blink only at the gunshot. So far, he's proving himself right.

So clearly is he lying that (1) either he is wholly inept at lying or (2) he knows lying doesn't matter one whit regarding the allegiance of his never-wavering 40 percent base.

By the way, folks: He'll need quite a bit more than that to retain the presidency.

Should he finish this term and run in 2020, it will be fascinating to see what Trump supporters pull out of their hats to tar Trump's opponent as ethically challenged, as so many did about Clinton to justify their 2016 vote. Maybe the Republicans will find a misstatement or two from that Democrat to build into a nationwide smear campaign.

And Trump will run on the guarantee that, hey, if he's corrupt, at least he's above-board about it. Cue the cheers.           

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, May 7, 2018

Crossing the bridge to gun sanity in spite of the troll below

The vespidae were aloft over Boulder last week.

Vespidae – the family of hornets.

The Boulder City Council stirred up a hornets nest. It voted to abolish the sale and possession, unless registered, of what the city defines as assault weapons, as well as bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.

The action is yet to be finalized, but the unanimous preliminary vote seems to assure approval – as well as a full-court press by the hornet lobby.

Hear the gun industry and fanciers say there's no such thing as an assault weapon. Hear them say, for instance, that the "AR" in AR-15 is misrepresented as standing for "assault rifle" when in fact the "A" stands for "Armalite," after the arms maker.

That's a fact. And it's beside the fact.

An assault rifle is what we decide it is. We: the community. We: the nation. We: Americans in concert. We: also known as representative democracy.

The gun lobby and its supporters assert that the AR-15 the AK-47 and other kin of military lineage are just rifles – "sporting rifles." A most curious claim. However, it is the "we" above who will and can decide if they belong in civilian hands.

This was done by Congress in 1994 with the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Protection Act, aka the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. It lasted 10 years until the Bush administration and a Republican Congress let it expire.

Seven states, including New York and California, have assault weapon bans, as do the cities of Denver and Vail.

Opponents said such things do nothing to save lives. Not true, said University of Massachusetts professor Louis Klarevas. The author of "Rampage Nation," Klarevas writes that while the law was in place, the number of mass murders (six or more dead) dropped a "staggering" 37 percent.

A violation of the Second Amendment? Not so, say the courts. Limiting what "sporting weapons" civilians be sold or imported doesn't mean Americans can't bear arms. Not at all.

The mere fact that not just anyone can have a grenade launcher or machine gun affirms that a law targeting particular arms is fully constitutional.

The NRA opposes gun control? Why did it not allow guns into the auditorium in Dallas the other day when Donald Trump pandered to the (defenseless) crowd?

You may say the whole concept of "assault weapons" is vague. Agreed. Then again, communities and states only have a vague idea of what speed limit would best save lives, and they make decisions as to what those are.

You may say people are certain to violate this law (buying their weapons outside Boulder), and that will apply to bad guys.

Yes, and the same could apply to speed limits, laws against rape, bribery and anything else. So let's not have any laws?

The gun lobby is like a troll under the bridge posing a riddle before it allows passage. The vast majority of Americans want stronger gun laws. We should cross that bridge without asking permission.

For the National Rifle Association to dictate our gun laws is like the Alliance of Maserati Owners setting our speed limits. It's like Big Energy writing our environmental laws. (Oh, wait; that's what's happening now under Scott Pruitt and Team Trump.)

The gun lobby shouldn't write out gun laws. We should.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Your swamp water is served

Did I hear Donald Trump say that someone in Washington should resign because of an unsubstantiated claim?

Yes I did. He tweeted that Montana Sen. John Tester, a Democrat, should resign over claims that may or may not hold water regarding the bizarro comportment of Trump's choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, the dearly departed Ronny Jackson.

Mr. President, if one were required to turn in his Capitol badge over an unsubstantiated claim, you wouldn't have served past "biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan" and "illegal voters brought in on buses" in New Hampshire.

If either of those charges didn't stick, you would have had to resign each day thereafter, and today, and no doubt tomorrow when next your tweeting finger itches.

There are two classes of pathological liars – 1. all of them before and since Donald J. Trump, and 2. Donald J. Trump. When it comes to lying, he is in a class by himself.

There's something else in which the Trump Administration is achieving a singular distinction: garden-variety corruption.

In one of those moments when someone in the Trump Administration committed the firing offense of truth, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney told a group of bankers that when he served in Congress he had a rule for any meeting with a lobbyist. It was contingent on a payment to his re-election campaign. Without payment, no meeting.

This is how Donald Trump has "drained the swamp."

Yes, he talked and talked about changing the way things were done in Washington, about how he wouldn't be swayed by big-money interests, how he would turn away the entreaties of Wall Street, unlike, say, Hillary Clinton.

Well, look at what's happened. One of his first acts of business was to lie down for Wall Street and dynamite the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, appointing none other than the sainted Mulvaney to do it.

An enemy of big lenders? Trump is Wall Street's dream come true.

No, what we are seeing is the most corrupt administration since . . . maybe since the coining of American currency.

A lot of attention has been directed at the excesses of Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, with his $40,000 sound-proof room, his $3 million in security costs, his comfy-cozy apartment provided at $50 a night by a lobbyist.

This is just about a man wasting tax dollars for his own comfort and aggrandizement. Far worse is his devoted servitude to oil and gas interests, another word for polluters.

Consider the issue of methane pollution and the Obama administration's requirement that oil and gas producers capture escaping greenhouse gas rather than venting or "flaring" it.

Pruitt has acted to set aside that requirement at the bidding of industry, particularly petroleum giant Devon Energy from Pruitt's home state of Oklahoma, and anything done by Koch Industries.

Emails released under court order show that Pruitt's relationship with the oil industry is basically that he does what it says.

As Politico reports, Devon Energy "authored a letter on methane emissions that Pruitt largely copied and sent to the EPA."

Methane, by the way, is swamp gas.

So, what exactly did Trump mean when he said, "Drain the swamp"? He certainly didn't mean removing the influence of lobbyists and all the usual corrupters of government.

Apparently he meant purging Washington of people who actually had an eye out for the public welfare in lieu of bringing in moneyed interests, like Trump himself, to control the government.

Those who thought Trump would actually be an agent against corruption bought a mossy, smelly basin of green slime. Drink up, folks.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: