Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Inside the GOP Rationalization Chamber

I can't believe what I'm saying here, but Stephen Colbert miscalculated.

Of the abominable act of sending children to chain-link big-box jails at the border, he said: "Either you could be horrified or you could be working for Donald Trump."

It was unclear if in his calculation Colbert considers Fox News personnel to be salaried Trump employees. However, we sadly must acknowledge: Quite a few Americans were totally fine with this terrible deed.

Nearly one in five polled by CBS News – 17 percent – said they supported the policy. One wonders: What else would they endorse for brown-skinned little ones? Enhanced interrogation?

After all, we've separated non-white children from parents before -- on the slave auctioning block, in the parceling of space for Japanese internment camps and more. See? Nothing new here.

These apologists for an off-the-rails president have scored a 100 – a perfect score -- on a new rating system we will call the Unconscionability Index.

These are the very ones of whom Trump said that he could "stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody," and they would explain it away with candy-apple impunity.

And let's face it; as president, Trump has done just about everything this side of a shooting spree.

He has lied at a rate that's staggering even for a bankruptcy king. In his first 500 days, the Washington Post Fact-Checker credited him with 3,251 misleading or wholly false claims. Of course, there are petty political lies, and there are lies to save one's political life.

He lied – dictating it on Air Force One -- to cover for Don Jr. about a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian contingent, one which had every marker of the thing Team Trump says never happened: collusion.

He ordered his staff to lie about the pretext for firing James Comey before committing the truth, off the record, to two Russian emissaries and, for good measure, on the record, to NBC's Lester Holt.

He changed his story multiple times in explaining why he fired former national security advisor Mike Flynn.

Flynn's real firing offense was that criminal thing, that collusion thing – assuring the Russians that the not-yet-president would lift sanctions imposed on Russia for its efforts to sabotage the 2016 elections. And we are to assume Trump knew nothing about that.

Sure, just as Trump knew nothing about the $130,000 hush payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

He lied when he minimized Paul Manafort's role in his campaign, saying the indicted, Russian-connected wheeler-dealer "worked for me for a very short period of time – for what, 49 days or something?" Manafort was Trump's campaign manager for 145 days.

In 2016, Trump supporters issued hyena screams alleging conflicts of interest involving the Clinton Foundation in its work to combat global poverty and illness.

However, the Rationalization Chamber has nothing to say about the Trump Foundation's serving as Trump's personal and political piggy bank. The New York attorney general had something to say in a new lawsuit: that the Trump Foundation, much like Trump University, is nothing but a scam.

Back to Russia: Even if Trump never colluded with the Russians, the degree to which he pooh-poohed a concerted foreign attack on our elections is impeachable unto itself.  

Oh, and back to Fox News: John Dean, whose words were central to the impeachment of a president, has theorized that if such a network had been around in 1974 to serve as a rationalization chamber, Richard Nixon might have finished his second term despite his crimes.

True or not, you know Nixon wished he could have a 24/7 mouthpiece to plead his own "witch hunt" case. Sadly for him, cable news had yet to be invented.

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

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Biblical quotes, child abuse and ‘zero tolerance’ folly

Crossing the street on foot the other day, a terrible thought crossed my mind.

It was a vision, actually: of my offspring broiling in a remote tent city under the blazing Southwest sun at the behest of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

You see, I was committing a crime at the time -- jaywalking.

Sure, it's just a Class A traffic infraction, but I'd better stop it anyway. Based on the "zero tolerance" policy modeled by the Trump administration, one day my family could be ripped away from me for insubordination in the presence of pedestrian signals.

As of this writing, since April about 2,000 children have been separated from their families when they arrived illegally in this country.

Their parents have committed a crime, proclaimed Sessions, grinning as he invoked Romans 13 about obeying the government.

Well. Immigration experts point out that 90 percent of these offenders are charged with misdemeanors. Yikes. Where is that crosswalk?

Previously, back when people with a conscience governed our land, families like these were assigned civil hearings that led to deportation or other remedies. Sounds civil.

Zero tolerance? What the Trump administration is doing is child abuse. It's the language of bayonets and the Gestapo.

Our president says he hates it. Then he says it's the fault of laws passed by the Democrats. That's a lie, or least a claim that can't be affirmed by any fact-checker not on Fox News' payroll.

Anyway, Trump has never needed facts to explain anything he does.

Zero tolerance: It sounds velvety tripping off the tongue but invariably results in abrasions and abominations, like a second-grader treated as a criminal for possessing a butter knife at school.

Sessions' justification of his policy is that it sends a message to potential violators. I can't argue with that.

Sessions, therefore, would agree with a big-thinker friend of mine who, though he opposes the death penalty, explained that if we wanted no crime whatsoever we would make the most minor of offenses – like littering -- punishable by death.

That would send all reasoning individuals a message about the law.

Murder and rape? As my egghead friend pointed out correctly, deranged people aren't deterred by reason, or the gallows. Jaywalkers, though . . .

The attorney general is no big thinker, but maybe he is onto something.

If the misdemeanor of being in this country illegally merits the dismemberment of one's family, why not do the same for other misdemeanors – like exceeding the speed limit by 25 mph or throwing a burning butt out one's car window?

Take those offenders – they broke the law, you know, criminal law – and separate them from their children. Put the children in isolation camps where they can't even be held by caring adults. Crate them away like artifacts.

Trump supporters: Is this your definition of "pro-life"? Do you check the origination of the child in question, and if it's from, say, El Salvador, treat that life like a used tire?

As for that Bible thing: Romans 13 has some pretty stern things to say about adulterers -- ahem, Mr. President -- and various other offenders, even those who missed the memo on circumcision.

Suggest for us, Mr. Sessions, how we shall command such individuals' attention.

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







Monday, June 11, 2018

Is 'ounce of prevention' beyond comprehension?

The explosion didn't destroy the small Texas town of West. It only took out 120 of its homes, its nursing home and three of its schools.

Add to that tally the deaths of 15, including 12 first-responders who showed up to a fire alarm, not knowing they were about to be vaporized. More than 150 were injured in the town of less than 3,000.

Witnesses compared the 2013 detonation at the West Fertilizer Co. – caused when flames ignited a stockpile of ammonium nitrate -- to that of a nuclear bomb. Thus it was investigated like one.

The Obama administration took seriously the task of preventing such accidents and informing nearby residents and first-responders of the dangers.

The rules adopted after the West explosion involved better inspections and better information for surrounding communities and those who serve them.

Now the Trump administration has shown – guess what? – that it will take most seriously the desires of industry relatively to these matters, doing so at the expense of – guess what? -- safety.

Days after the five-year anniversary of the April 17, 2013, blast, EPA chief Scott Pruitt announced he would rescind the rules.

West Mayor Tommy Muska calls it dangerous policy. "If we don't regulate this, it will happen again," he told the Austin American-Statesman.

Of course it will. But that's the future. For now, let's cut corners to satisfy business concerns and to justify policies that put the interests of a few above the interest of many. People will forget who did what by the next time disaster strikes.

Whether it's protecting our water or our air, or extending the life of our planet, Republican leaders seem wholly content to focus on short-term, bottom-line considerations.

The notion of taking the long view of anything -- "An ounce of prevention..." -- is not their job. Rolling back common-sense protections at the behest of moneyed interests — that's more like it.

On another policy front, consider what Republicans in the House proposed recently when renewal of the annual farm bill came up.

The GOP-controlled Committee on Agriculture voted to gut immensely successful land conservation programs.

We're talking about initiatives dating back to federal responses to the Dust Bowl era, 1930-1936.

The committee voted to eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides financial incentives for farmers to perform conservation practices like grazing management and the planting of cover crops and range grasses to prevent soil erosion.

These policies are smart. The Dust Bowl wasn't caused by nature. It was caused by man – specifically the overplanting of crops because the getting was so good. Even during severe drought, planting practices were all about the next crop, not about the future beyond it, when the rain didn't come or when markets turned sour.

House Republicans didn't abandon soil conservation entirely in the newest farm bill, but in dollar terms it would represent a severe pullback in support. To do what? To justify unjustifiable tax cuts, we must assume.

The good news is that the farm bill, which also took draconian swipes at food stamp assistance, was defeated by a bipartisan backlash. But pay close attention. The same themes will return when the bill does.

Did we mention the Dust Bowl? As the mayor of West said about a horrific tragedy in his town, if we don't regulate such a thing, "It will happen again."

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


Monday, June 4, 2018

Serious case of parasitism in executive branch

John Dean famously warned Richard Nixon of a "cancer on the presidency."

The diagnosis today would be that the presidency has a tapeworm.

That would seem to be assessment of Adam Serwer, senior editor of The Atlantic. He writes to empathize with those flustered as they attempt to connect the dots between the varied outrages and scandals associated with this president.

Russian collusion? Sexploits and hush money? Pay for play? Financial crimes and conflicts? Which thread merits our attention? All of them, writes Serwer.

"There are not many Trump scandals," Serwer writes. "There is one Trump scandal. Singular."

That singular scandal, he writes, is general corruption by many people -- individuals whose DNA compels them to use power "for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people."

Spin the wheel of corruption. Team Trump hits on every stroke:

Budget director Mick Mulvaney admits that as congressman he met only with representatives of entities that contributed to his re-election.

Trump's choices for Cabinet have made like contestants on "Supermarket Sweep," their shopping carts stacked to the ceiling at taxpayers' expense.

The Trump children have picked up overseas favors like daisies in the spring.

Trump International Hotel has entertained foreign emissaries despite the clear conflict.

Trump's attorneys say it's legal, but a federal judge says attorneys general in Maryland and the District of Columbia can proceed with a lawsuit alleging that such conflicts violate the emoluments clause – prohibiting a sitting president from accepting payments from foreign governments.

So, in practical matters, which of these above might serve the function of removal?

Maybe none of the above.

Face it. If removal by impeachment is your pleasure, it takes two to tango – two houses of Congress, and a supermajority in one. Out of the question.

I've always said that the remedy for Trump (before 2020, that is) is not the political system (Congress) but the criminal justice system. Clearly, with how Trump has comported himself in business, and who's now investigating him, criminal indictments are hardly out of the question.

This notion didn't come from my small brain but from an enormous noggin – that of Steve Bannon. Of the Mueller probe, he told author Michael Wolff, "It's all about money laundering."

You don't say, Mr. Bannon.

Mueller has enlisted some of the nation's top investigators of financial crimes. Otherwise, Paul Manafort might not be a household name.

State attorneys in the New York and Washington regions are on the vine as well about these very matters.

An illuminating article by business writer Garrett Graff explains what this is about. Money laundering is the means of shuffling around illegal earnings and playing keep-away from the government when it comes to tax time.

A trademark of money laundering is massive in-cash transactions. Cash is hard to trace, hard to track, Graff writes in Wired.

For that reason, investigators would be highly interested in Citizen Trump's buying a $12.6 million Scottish estate and a $16.2 million Virginia winery – all in cash.

Similar activities have been attributed to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who, Graff quotes an expert in tracking the financing of terrorism, has shown a pattern of "atypical financial transactions."

Wait – did someone say "terrorism"?

No law enforcement entity is probing Team Trump for that – as of today.

The terror connection is this: Post-9/11 the Patriot Act gave investigators new tools to get a handle on financial activities that stretched across oceans.

Graff says such tools could come into play in determining if Russian money has helped and is helping keep the Trump empire afloat.

What an irony it would be if a GOP political cudgel in the "war on terror" became the device that ushered this president into civilian life -- and into the world of corrections.

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