Sunday, September 30, 2018

The toxic public unraveling of a would-be justice

            I used to think that the way Texas seated judges was the worst.

            Last week, watching the steam pour from Brett Kavanaugh ears, I changed my mind.

            Our nation's founders had what appeared to be a great idea – lifetime, presumably nonpartisan, appointments based on Senate confirmation. That concept has become irredeemably poisoned.

            Should Kavanaugh ascend to the Supreme Court, he forever will be the embodiment of that toxicity, and it will have nothing to do with alleged sexual offenses.

            I used to consider Texas' direct election of judges to be the worst possible method of populating the bench. I wrote it, oh, 100 times. The system made judicial positions too political, too dependent on campaign cash and raw voter ignorance. At its worst, it made judges pander to the masses.

            That was bad. But to then hear Kavanaugh call the questions he now faces part of a "calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger" and "revenge on behalf of the Clintons," and to see the Republican-controlled committee advance his nomination to the floor, I decided, "No, this is far worse."

            Kavanaugh's partisan rant should disqualify him from the lifetime post he seeks. That post requires independence and dispassion about the parties that might appear before the court. He just showed his hand. He sprang a sprocket before our eyes. Like the president who appointed him, Kavanaugh is unfit.

            Kavanaugh is entitled to think what he thinks, just not to think it on the Supreme Court. .

            As for Kavanaugh's "partisan hit" claim, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford not only was highly credible in describing the assault she suffered. She also should have convinced anyone with ears that her coming forward was no favor to any political party.

            So far, Kavanaugh has done a serviceable job of keeping his story straight. His defenders? Not at all. They can't decide whether to vouch for his virginal nature or whether this is much ado about youthful hi jinks – "the politicization of one's adolescence," as one conservative commentator lamented.

            Republican Senate nominee Kevin Cramer of North Dakota dismissed the charges as trivial – just two drunk teens, and, "It didn't go anywhere."

            Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King offered the every-able-bodied-male-does-that defense: that if Kavanaugh gets rejected over these concerns, "No man will ever qualify for the Supreme Court again."

            Hey, guys: "Everybody does it" — even as weak and poisonously cynical as it is --doesn't happen to be Kavanaugh's defense. It's, "I didn't do it." Curiously, he hasn't sold that line to a polygraph like Dr. Ford has.

            Now, were Kavanaugh confirmed, what potentially looms with allegations by multiple women against him is a perjury rap.

            Back to the toxicity of this process, particularly under a toxic president. When President Obama nominated the plain vanilla eminence of Judge Merrick Garland, Obama didn't preen around saying he would deliver meat to his snarling base with his choice.

            With Kavanaugh, Trump delivered the venison.

            The fact that the GOP classified material about the judge's political positions on matters that would appear before the court bespoke the tenor of this appointment.

            Kavanaugh said Senate Democrats were trying to "Bork" him. He sees this episode from Bork's point of view instead of that of a Senate that questioned extreme writings about civil rights including the 14th Amendment and the right of privacy. Bork was rejected because of a hard-right judicial philosophy the Senate deemed out of the mainstream. Judicial philosophy is not what has delivered Kavanaugh to an FBI probe of alleged sexual assaults.

            The Constitution Center says "The verb 'bork' is used as slang, to 'defame or vilify (a person) systematically, esp. in the mass media, usually with the aim of preventing his or her appointment to public office; to obstruct or thwart (a person) in this way.'

            After Kavanaugh's appearance on national television Thursday, it appears he has Borked himself.

             Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, September 24, 2018

Death toll with a capital 'T'

           The killers were silent, but the sensors at my feet were screaming out their names.

            I was in a plane flying over the Houston Ship Channel to see air pollution.

            A Baylor University scientist had invited me. The cramped single-engine had barely room for me and the sensors coughing out data on the nitrogen dioxide, particulates and hydrocarbons being cooked into ozone by the autumn swelter.

            On the ground below, someone was having an asthma attack.

            No biggie – unless that person died. And if so, it's the price of commerce. Right, Mr. President?

            Asthma is one of the facts of life in Houston. Google "Houston asthma" and understand.

            Often those life-or-death health crises are from a snoot-full of benzene, a prime byproduct of petrochemicals.

            However, when it gets up above in the milky blue sky over the Gulf, it's just so much profit.

            That's how the Trump administration is looking at air pollution – profit on high not to be impeded by any consideration of breathers below.

            The administration's own Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that lifting restrictions built into the Clean Air Act will kill hundreds of Americans.

            Republicans' apparent answer: "So what?"

            The restrictions in question are about coal-fired power plants.

            Coal: The market is turning away from it. Technology is finding ways around it, and yet a nation's air policies are held hostage to election-year posturing about it that helped Trump gain a few electoral votes.

            Trump calls it "beautiful, clean coal." There's nothing clean about it. What's known as clean-coal technology is oxymoronic, at least compared to alternatives.

            What coal-fired plants were required to do under President Obama's provisions of the Clean Air Act was to burn it as cleanly as is technologically possible.

            What the Trump plan does is remove requirements under which aging coal plants were going to have to do that.

            At least one-third of the coal-fired power plants in the country are not subject to advanced pollution controls, according to the EPA. They would be off the hook to get clean under this order.

            Now, a memo to Team Trump: Who allowed some numbers-cruncher at the EPA to tell the American people that this change could cause as many as 1,400 Americans to die by 2030?

            Couldn't these figures, and the numbers-cruncher himself, be deep-sixed somewhere? Maybe where they keep the figures on Trump's Russian money-laundering?

            Yes, many would die, says the EPA. Ah, the collateral damage of rewarding coal-mining states for their patronage.

            The fact is, at every turn, Trump is willing to let Americans die in the face of his deregulatory fury.

            Fifteen states are suing to block the administration's proposal to lift Obama administration restrictions on heavily polluting trucks, which calculated that its measure would save 1,600 lives a year from respiratory distress.

            You may not trust those figures or those people from whom it came. The question, then: What is your threshold for being concerned? Five lives? Two hundred?

            Back to the airplane that carried me over the Houston ship channel that day. We were aloft to gauge how far pollution traveled from the many plants in that petrochemical hive.

            Pollution from that locale travels whole time zones, sharing asthma-causing chemicals and particulates far and wide.

            This brings us to more ridiculousness from Trump. Last month the administration revealed a proposal that would allow states to set their own standards for pollution from coal-fired plants, as if air can be divvied up like a nice little subdivision.

            But it can't. The air, clean or dirty, envelops all, belongs to all. Use your voice, while you can.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Mr. Vice President, you are one big phony

           Mike Pence has offered to take a polygraph. Quick. Rush a device to his side.

            No – there's no chance whatsoever he's the senior official who wrote the anonymous New York Times commentary that branded his boss petty, amoral, and consistently acting in ways "detrimental to the health of this republic."

            Why do we know the author in The Times isn't Pence? That's simple. One whose spine is as jellified as his would never do something so brassy.

            However, let's play along with his pretense. This is all Pence is -- a pillar of pretense, of plastic piety. Ask him: Are you Anonymous? Then ask a whole lot more.

            Mr. Vice President, you've said you knew nothing about Mike Flynn's offer to the Russian ambassador to lift sanctions over attacks on the U.S. election system. You know, it's that collusion thing. Please reaffirm your response for the benefit of the electrodes on your forearm.

            Mr. Vice President, you said after the embarrassment in Helsinki that President Trump's interaction with Vladimir Putin was an example of "American strength in action." Did you get sufficient REM sleep the night before?

            Mr. Vice President, the other day you said the Space Force would "strengthen our security . . . ensure our prosperity . . . and carry American ideals into the boundless expanse of space." Was that you talking? Or was it cold medicine?

            Mr. Vice President, have you changed your mind at all since, as a congressman, you said, in reference to then President Clinton: "The very idea that we ought to have at or less than the same moral demands placed on the chief executive that we place on our next-door neighbor is ludicrous and dangerous."

            Now that your boss has been implicated not only in shacking up with porn figures but making illegal pay-offs to them, have your moral standards gotten their customary 10,000-mile checkup?

            Mr. Vice President, you said the other day in regards to the discord over the Kavanaugh hearings that we need to return to a "more respectful time" in our politics.

            As one tweeter said in response:"Irony just died."

            Mr. Vice President, like all of the president's mouthpieces, in just about every statement you seem flatly and precisely devoted to insulting the intelligence of every thinking man and woman.

            You did that when, in defending Trump's border policy of separating children from their parents, you called the U.S. "the most welcoming country on Earth."

            You did it after his remark about not accepting refugees from "shithole countries." You said Trump's policy is not dictated by "race or creed." OK, it's just dictated by a basic lack of class or any inkling of dignity.

            None of your statements are to be taken at face value, Mr. Vice President, no matter how much your face assumes the tenor of a Da Vinci painting.

            Such was the case in May 2017, barely into the infantile days of the Trump administration, when you formed your own political action committee – the Great America Committee.

            It was the first time that a sitting vice president had done so.

            Sitting vice presidents have all the support they need from the national political party. Your move has the markings of someone with his eyes on someone else's office suite.

            Don't you, as Trump's greatest apologist, see this president fulfilling his four-year term?

            Mr. Vice President, Americans indeed would be served if we could strap you into a truth suit. They would see quickly that in casting their lot with serial prevaricators, we got two for the price of one.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The worst -- and second-worst -- thing Trump has done

            The curly-haired tot bows his back and looks away, as if to attempt an escape. The woman, attempting a hug, quickly grows agitated.

            "I am your mommy, papi," she says in Spanish.

            He squirms to get away.

            "What is wrong with my son?" she sobs.

            He doesn't recognize her. They've been separate for more than three months. That's a lifetime at 3.

            The woman, once frantic with joy to see her son, gulps back the horror of realizing that happy endings are not always joyous when separated from one's child at the border.

            What will occur when and if the 500 children still imprisoned at the border by the Trump administration are reunited with their parents?

            Many of those youngsters will be jubilant. To many, their parents will be strangers.

            Yes, 500 children. Five, zero, zero. Still separated -- in spite of a court order, in spite of what Donald Trump said would happen months ago.

            Now, what does the Trump administration appear to be requesting? More time – and more detainees.

            This abomination Trump said he would cease – after he said he could do nothing about it and blamed others. Then after taking fire from every direction, including his daughter and his wife, he provided just enough lip service to make us look away – much like little Papi now looks away from the face of his mom.

            How serious was Trump about reversing the most inhumane directive since Japanese internment camps?

            Here's how serious: Last week the administration sought to change the rules under which the courts have ordered it to act.

            In question is the Flores Settlement Agreement, from a 1997 lawsuit over the holding and handling of immigrants at the border.

            The administration wants out from under the agreement that has bound others before it and has limited the extent to which the government can hold minors in immigrant jails.

            The objective, reports the Washington Post, is for the administration to be able to hold children longer and to rapidly escalate the building of detention facilities.

            Under the rules of the Flores Settlement that the government previously agreed to and now seeks to change, children cannot be separated from their parents for more than 20 days. And as a member of the human race, let me pronounce the 20-day limit as atrociously long unto itself.

            We aren't talking about ax murderers. We are talking about hope-for cleaning women and frightened asylum seekers. Papi's mom came seeking asylum from Honduras and found a nation more oppressive than what she fled.

            The administration had a July 19 deadline to reunite these families. Reportedly it was "racing" to do so. Actually, the only running it was doing was an attempt at an end run on court orders.

            U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee was having none of the administration's claims of being hamstrung about doing the right thing. She called Team Trump's court pleadings a "cynical attempt" to stall over an "ill-considered executive action."

            Ill-considered. That's one way of saying it. What we've done to these people should make every American ill.

            How about this, President Trump? Instead of jetting around to red-state rallies before people preening as cardboard cut-outs, you jet down to the border, look at the fruits of your leadership, and do what you said you'd do months ago.

            Does anyone remember this "non-politician," this man of action, telling us how he knew how to get things done? Tell that to Judge Gee.

            Of all the reproachable things this man has done, and the list is long (ask senior advisers), what he did to that mother and her child is the worst. The second-worst is what he's doing now about the fate of so many more like them: just taking his time.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, September 3, 2018

Republicans strap on an orange suicide vest

            Let's acknowledge that Ted Cruz got something right once upon a time.

            It happened in 2016 -- when he called Donald Trump a "pathological liar" and a "sniveling coward."

            Now? Cruz will hug him tightly to his chest in a few weeks when Trump goes to Texas in a bid to save Cruz's Senate seat.

            This should be fun. The sniveling. The lying. The heebie-jeebies in static shockwaves between two who give each other the creeps.

            The thing is, after that rally, after Ted bathes himself in hand sanitizer after embracing a man who called him "lying Ted" and alleged that his father helped kill JFK, Cruz is going to find out it didn't help him at all.

            Donald Trump is not a winning proposition in 2018. Even if one assumes he is going to inspire his "base" to vote, those hard-core voters were going to do it anyway. What Trump is not going to do is inspire independent voters to drink his red Kool-Aid again or elect people who act like he does and who support his policies.

            And yet, in race after race, Republicans have nominated candidates who are the Trump-iest in the field. We get it. The "base" wants more of that belligerent, divisive, truth-be-damned style.

            They don't understand: "Like Trump" is no formula for victory this fall. Just the opposite.

            It's stunning to see a major party glom frantically onto an individual who, according to the latest Washington Post poll, 60 percent of Americans view unfavorably.

            That tracks other polls. At this writing, the cumulative polling by shows Trump's unfavorable rating at 54.5 percent compared to 40.3 percent -- the grimmest indicator in months for the tweeter-in-chief.

            For many weeks the two lines on Fivethirtyeight's graph remained relatively stable and just about 10 points apart. That was plenty enough. What changed? It appears the president's unfavorable rating shot up just about when John McCain died and Trump acted like an ogre.

              At the first of the memorial services for McCain, an emotional Joe Biden used words one knew would get Trump's goat. Of McCain, he used the word "decency" four times and "dignity" six times.

            Talk about affronting Trump's loyalists, who proclaim:

            "We don't need no stinking decency. We need ruthlessness, coarseness and petty personal attacks in the wee hours."

            Biden might offer Americans a different flavor in 2020.

            Next came the service at the National Cathedral with a bipartisan throng that applauded Meghan McCain's memorable "America was already great," preceded by her reference to "cheap rhetoric" aimed at her POW father by an individual for whom sacrifice meant having to shed shoes for the podiatrist.

            The New York Times reported it, and no one could deny it: "For years Mr. Trump mocked and condemned the Arizona senator. In death, Mr. McCain found the way to have the last word."

            I know. Fake news.

            Now Arizona has buried him, and Arizonans consider who will represent them in the Senate.

            Arizona Republicans just chose from three candidates who, as in so many GOP primaries, pulled an acrobatic Cirque de Soleil act to prove which was the Trump-iest. Is this really an asset in the general election for GOP nominee Martha McSally? Hardly – especially since she is facing a strong, serious, seasoned Democrat in Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema.

            Could a Democrat taking that Senate seat in revulsion against Trump be the last word?

            I'm thinking not. That very well could come in 2020. Imagine: Centrists and independents join Democrats in Arizona to award that state's 11 electoral votes to a Democrat, and with it Trump's removal.

            Then again, with Trump's low regard among increasingly exasperated voters, this presidency will be over long before Arizona's time zone reports.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: