Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Enlistments for one man's amusement

          For all his depth, a mark of Abraham Lincoln's greatness was a deep humility.

          When saluted by Union volunteers in 1864, he remarked that he was "exceedingly obliged to you for this mark of respect."

          He continued, "It is said that we have the best government world ever knew, and I am glad to meet you, the supporters of that government."

          Lincoln revered the troops so highly that he exposed himself to enemy fire more than once, his stove-top hat a frighteningly handy sniper target.

          His successors were not so brazen, but presidents who have committed troops have taken pains to visit them: Eisenhower at the Korean Peninsula, Lyndon Johnson at Cam Rahn Bay, George H.W. Bush in Riyadh, George W. Bush in Baghdad, Barack Obama in remote parts of Afghanistan.

          And Donald Trump in Palm Beach County. On the phone.

          True to form, humility was out the window during his Thanksgiving Day call, staged while in the background servants set up a feast for him and his well-fed friends.

          As it turns out, Trump called the troops mostly to brag about himself. It's all he knows.

          It's one more bit of evidence that Trump's claim about doing so very much for our troops is just so much wind. What he has done is to make the U.S. military his personal accoutrement.

          Proposing to spend millions of dollars we don't have on a Russia-style military parade. Employing pre-election hysteria to send 5,800 troops to the border as razor-wire caddies. For Trump, as with Kim Jong-un, military is just another self-indulgence.

          A deployment of the size now at the border, by the way, is more than the United States committed to defeating ISIS.

          And for what? The only authorized combat function there is defending Border Patrol agents if attacked by migrants. Otherwise, at a price tag of $210 million, these men and women will while away the holidays, doing next to nothing that they were trained to do.

          Retired Admiral James Stavridis, former supreme NATO commander, denounced Trump's border deployment in the strongest terms -- in part because it's not a military mission, and in part because it takes troops away from training for actual military functions.

          "Nobody has been better for the military than me," says Trump. It's a statement of opinion, so we can't count it among his countless lies.

          Another claim that's been sandblasted by reality: "I've done more for vets than any president has done, certainly in many, many decades."

          Tell that to the veterans now months in arrears in housing assistance guaranteed to them under the GI Bill. Called to explain the problem to a congressional subcommittee, the Department of Veterans Affairs says it's due to a computer problem.

          If so, one would expect such a big, big friend of veterans (Trump), to climb all over this matter and get it fixed.

          As with most things, Trump is all talk. If it rains, he'll send his regrets and then blame the Secret Service.

          That was the case, in his now infamous decision to not go to a 100th anniversary of World War I ceremony in Paris attended by other world leaders and by his own chief of staff.

           Less discussed was the fact that also Trump became the first president in recent history to not make an appearance on Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery.

          Days later, the White House held a ceremony to honor veterans, which turned out, mostly, to be an event to honor you-know-whom for his great leadership.

          At that photo-op, Trump criticized his predecessor for failing to serve veterans. The fact is that among other achievements under Obama, the VA made historic inroads into dealing with veterans' homelessness. And Trump has done . . .

          The military? The VA? It's all a toy for the Golden Boy.

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


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

‘Next great chapter’ for sweet potatoes

           Since nothing that Donald Trump says can be taken seriously except as work for bone-weary fact-checkers, I didn't take seriously his recent call for the creation of a sixth branch of the military: Space Farce.

            Now I acknowledge that I should have taken Space Farce seriously.

            For one, the administration was talking about an $8 billion price tag. For another, how could I not take it seriously when Vice President Mike Pence pronounced it the "next great chapter" in the defense of our nation?

            Yet for some reason, early on, I was skeptical.

            Here Trump was talking about an "elite group of war fighters specializing in the domain of space."

            I had to admit confusion, as he regularly uses "elite" as an insult. What was he saying about the noble space fighters we had yet to shoot into the heavens?

            Semantics, all. Since then, though, I have shed my skepticism. I'll tell you now why I am fully prepared to embrace Space Farce.

            It comes from reports of studies centered on the next generation of outer-space weapons, a veritable Manhattan Project of a decade's duration.

            First inklings:  A 2009 report from NASA about an experiment to grow sweet potatoes in space.

            In deep secrecy, scientists from the Tuskegee Center for Food and Environmental Systems for Human Exploration of Space – yes, this is a real thing – dispatched a team of sweet potato cuttings to ride with astronauts aboard Space Shuttle Columbia.

            After a short voyage, the growth of the cuttings in space was compared to cuttings held to Earth's surly bounds. The results were promising, if you like sweet potatoes.

            Fast-forward to today and a hydroponic system now employed on the International Space Station, growing -- you guessed it.

            At first I was wholly offended by this. But that was because I didn't understand.

            If the intention was to consume sweet potatoes in space or grow sweet potatoes that the universe didn't need – well, that had to be science fiction. I tried to eat sweet potatoes once. Once.

            What was afoot up there? Surely Earth has enough loamy soil to grow sweet potatoes for the ink, or plastic or other legitimate non-dining purposes George Washington Carver carved out in his laboratory.

            Why sweet potatoes in space?

            Only now has the puzzle been solved, and I realize that as a theorist I've had a role in it – a Werhner von Braun role, a J. Robert Oppenheimer role.

            I've been writing for decades about finding non-dining purposes for sweet potatoes -- because, well, you can't eat them. I tried that once.

            I want sweet potato farmers to prosper like the rest of them. So in my research/reportorial role, I've pointed out all the ways the starchy objects could serve mankind other than by casserole dish.

            In the 1990s I suggested that with sturdy mortar, sweet potatoes would make good building materials. That's right. Had budget writers in the House continued to be dominated by Trump droids into the year ahead, this president could be building his beautiful border wall with sweet potatoes. Alas.

            In the 2000s I shared reports of scientists' use of sweet potato peelings in removing hazardous chemicals at Super Fund sites.

            Work with me, people. Such was my message to mankind. Let us find constructive uses of sweet potatoes other than bolstering the marshmallow cream industry.

            Now, to my immense relief, I realize that someone other than me was thinking big-picture about these things: the idea people in the Trump White House, the minds behind Space Farce.

            I wrote way back in the '80s that sweet potatoes would make highly effective weapons if dropped or flung from above. This is no exaggeration. When deployed in their red birthday suits, sweet potatoes are pointed, dense and menacing.

            Now, I realize the merits of what Vice President Pence has pronounced but whose strategic details have yet to be sprung:

            Sweet potatoes will serve as the weapons Space Farce deploys to keep our fiercest galactic enemies at bay.

            Should, for instance, a cross-stellar caravan of Central American refugees telegraph their intention to couch-surf at the International Space Station or any Trump star properties, Space Farce could stop them in this very way.

            I'm with you all the way, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President. Sweet potatoes for interplanetary defense, not for dinner.

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

Monday, November 19, 2018

'Big victory': Another Trump whopper

           For the Party of Trump, it's just a misty memory now – a celebration way back there in June.

            Republican Karen Handel had barely edged out Democrat Jon Ossoff for a vacant suburban Atlanta seat in Congress.

            It was the first special election watched nationwide to see how general disgust for Donald Trump would boost Democrats' fortunes, even in Red State America.

            When Handel won, Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway tweeted, "Laughing my #ossoff."

            Yes, well. That was June, and the administration's laughter has subsided.

            On Nov. 6, Handel lost the seat she had held for a whole five months.

            The winner? Lucy McBath, an African-American gun-control activist whose son was shot dead six years ago in a dispute over loud music.

            At this count, that makes 39 Democratic congressional pickups – a whopping 15 more than they needed to flip the House.

            Trump called the results Nov. 6 a "big victory," and said he was "ecstatic." Odd. That doesn't appear to have been his demeanor since.

            You'd be cranky, too, if your foes flipped more than 300 legislative seats, won seven new governor seats, and assumed the majority of attorneys general – the office that sues.

            Except for a barren few instances, truly notable Republican victories were stunningly close -- even in Texas, even in Georgia.

            Meanwhile, the U.S. House, with its power of the purse (adios, beautiful border wall) and investigation (hola, Trump tax returns) now will provide the check on the president that this moment demands.

            The Republicans' drubbing in the House was the most decisive since post-Watergate house-cleaning.

            Though many Democrats wanted more (the Senate), consider what just happened.

            They took back the House of Representatives in spite of gerrymandering that caused many to think of the GOP majority as impenetrable.

            They took it back in spite of Republican vote suppression efforts aimed squarely and strategically at people of color.

            A lightly reported fact is that several states voted for measures that will continue to erode the corruption of vote suppression and gerrymandering:

            1. Florida approved a measure to allow ex-convicts to vote.

            2. A measure to end gerrymandering staged a landslide victory in Missouri.

            3. In Michigan, voters approved a package that not only will end gerrymandering but set in motion automatic voter registration, same-day registration and "no excuse" absentee voting.

            4. Colorado voters approved two ballot issues to end partisan gerrymandering. The Centennial State already has same-day registration and mail-in ballots. Results? A 62 percent turnout -- in a mid-term election. Wow.

            5. And if you want to talk blue wave: Colorado just gave the Democrats monolithic control of the legislative process -- a Democratic governor, D-controlled House and Senate, and a sweep of statewide offices.

            Thanks, President Trump.

            Moderate Republican Congressman Mike Coffman had clipped along for years in a suburban Denver district, repeatedly fending off strong challengers.

            Then came the Trump presidency. Now Coffman will be unemployed.

            The question now is what this portends for 2020. Many say that the spell Trump casts on rural America and the South will work out for him again in the Electoral College.

            It certainly could. However, as poorly as Republicans did in swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona, Trump would have to reclaim a lot of support that appears to have vanished.

            Trump still has a clammy grip on Republican love. That won't get him a second term.

            A September Gallup Poll found that only 31 percent of independents view him favorably.

            More ominously for Mr. Personality, a November poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics found that, for respondents under age 30, the president's approval rating was a bottom-scraping 26 percent. Fifty-nine percent said they "will never" vote for him.

            Never. That's a long time.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sir, you don't run the country; we do

            Jim Acosta did his job.

            It's clear, even after two years, that Donald Trump does not understand his own.

            The CNN reporter asked the president about his "invasion" terminology of a bedraggled caravan hundreds of miles from our borders – justification for an election-eve rousting of enlisted men and women -- ordered from their homes to stare at an empty southern horizon.

            Acosta asked about the possibility of further indictments in Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian collusion and more.

            Instead of answering like a president, this one answered like a schoolyard blowhard by grabbing Acosta's press credentials on a wholly bogus charge that he manhandled an aide.

            You've seen the type in your own schoolyard. He gets caught doing something wrong and threatens to pound anyone employing his or her two good eyes.

            We saw Trump play politics with American troops, sending them to the border for no other reason than to ramp up the froth of his supporters pre-election. An "invasion" – oh, yeah. It's only costing $220 million. We've got that, um, somewhere.

            Supporters cheered at the rallies he held for Republican candidates. And for himself.

            Reportedly we are on the verge of hearing from Mueller, just as Trump continues his 24/7 effort to undermine the investigation by getting rid of the man overseeing it and putting in charge someone who has loudly criticized Mueller.

            Collusion? Mueller may not be able to prove it. Remember, though: It was obstruction of justice that brought Nixon down. With our very own corneas, we have witnessed obstruction from this president every day in every way.

            It extended from his pressuring of James Comey to back off the probe, to his firing him because he wouldn't back off, to the pressuring of other key investigatory figures, to the firing of Jeff Sessions and the demotion of Rod Rosenstein.

            Now we have an acting attorney general who literally auditioned on TV – CNN, no less – with suggestions on how to stop Mueller.

            Donald Trump, like Nixon, but even more zealously, is out to operate above and beyond the law.

            Not so fast, said the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week in telling Trump he could not yank the rug from under DACA recipients seeking renewals under the program.

            Not so fast, said U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in ruling that Trump cannot authorize the Keystone XL pipeline without an environmental review as our laws dictate.

            Not so fast, said voters across the nation Nov. 6, yanking the House of Representatives away from the Party of Trump. Accompanying that was a raft of Democratic victories in statehouses across the nation.

            Of particular interest was that the Democrats not only picked up seven governorships but also now have the majority of attorney general offices in the nation. These are positions from which the loyal opposition repeatedly and tenaciously will challenge Trump's presumptive moves in court.

            I can appreciate Trump's mindset in telling Acosta, "I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN."

            Once again, Trump doesn't get it. The country is not his to run. He's an executive hired by the people of this country that is a republic with separation of powers. CNN is a private company that can do what it wants. Trump cannot.

            I realize that some Republicans think of government as just another enterprise that can be awarded by a bid system. In it, the winner of that bid does whatever he wants until bids go out again. Yeah. Government is an even bigger Halliburton.

            For those of you who believe that, think of it this way: The voters just decided to provide a check on the chief contractor awarded that bid in 2016. This check comes with awesome investigatory powers.

             Just as Trump's acting A.G. assumes that as Trump's surrogate he can stop Mueller by denying him the funds to do his duty, so can the House of Representative wield the power of the purse to dictate what Trump can do with his power.

            Of course, the ultimate check on Donald Trump comes in two years. Millions of Americans will count the days.

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


Sunday, November 4, 2018

The tourists in the White House

            Gnats. That's what experts at crime scenes call gawkers who suddenly appear to leer at the event.

            Timothy McVeigh, later to commit his own horrible crime in Oklahoma City, was a gnat at the scene of the Branch Davidian tragedy outside of Waco. So was budding conspiracy monger Alex Jones,  joining many in tin-foil headgear there. They were gnats drawn to a flame, plying a tragedy for pernicious ends.

            In effect, that's what Donald and Melania Trump were in Pittsburgh the other day – gnats -- at the scene of the Tree of Life mass killings.

            Just about anyone truly connected to the events suggested that if they came it should be later.

            But "later" didn't fit into the president's schedule. Discretion also didn't fit into a campaign narrative he wove like a spider on meth.

            Only a leader with a massive blind spot would tweet, amid the suffering, a gratuitous plug that Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Keith Rothfus' "sincere level of compassion, grief and sorrow" was "very inspiring. Vote for Keith!"

            Good grief.

            Yes, we are supposed to give him credit for coming. In Trump's world, general human traits like empathy, sympathy and general kindness are remarkable. Such sensitivity was a matter of fact in his predecessor's world.

            Barack Obama came into the White House with the thought that not only was he going to get things done but that he was going to make people feel part of a greater whole.

            The real tears Obama shed after the Sandy Hook massacre, after the death of John McCain and that of Aretha Franklin, those were the signs of the actual human feelings we should expect of our leaders.

            From Trump, it's, "Dab those eyes with these paper towels."

            Trump continually tells his rallies that it's not his nature to be presidential. We know.

            Trump is more like a tourist, a bigwig who got access to the Oval Office, settled into that big chair without the consent of the majority of Americans, and didn't leave.

            He saw buttons he could push and levers he could pull. "Hey, what if I pushed this?"

            "Ooh, look at this phone. I can get the Joint Chiefs in a second. Wait; I'll send thousands of troops to the border. Watch."

            That's the kind of deep thought Trump employed when he said he could order an end to birthright citizenship. No, Sir. You can't.

            All of you on the right who regularly pledge your love to the Constitution – yes, you, Ted Cruz – should call this man a hack.

            Melania is a tourist, too, though a stylish one. She did so much for our great land when she flew to Africa. Correct that statement: Our great land spent so much.

            Reportedly you and I are on the hook for $95,000 at the Semiramis Intercontinental hotel in Cairo. That's a significant tab, particularly because Melania didn't even spend the night.

            Well, it was all worth a fine shot of the first lady in her stylish pant suit in front of the Pyramids.

            The previous first lady stirred hearts and minds everywhere she went, and she continues to do it. She remains intent on making the most of every moment in her role in the spotlight.

            The current occupants of the White House comport themselves as if they're just passing through, as stylishly as possible.

             MSNBC host Joe Scarborough has a prediction: What we see are the harbingers of a president who will call it quits after a single term.

            I don't see it, although Mike Pence has a PAC that's already humming.

            Until Trump leaves or voters remove him, we are but gnats outside the yellow crime-scene tape marking his presidency.

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