Sunday, March 29, 2020

Who'll play Dan Patrick's Hunger Games?

            For better or much worse, when its Legislature is in session, Texas' lieutenant governor is arguably the most powerful state official -- able to railroad or kill any bill.

            Right now, however, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is but a clanging cymbal.

            The cymbal-ic imagery comes to us from I Corinthians and the line about the person who speaks not from love but from politics.

            That's only my translation, but it suits so well the words of certain conservative voices – like Donald Trump's.

            From Trump, the current tally of empathetic words a whole month into the COVID-19 crisis has topped out at zero.

            Now we have him sounding frighteningly like Dan Patrick.

            Patrick, who honed his percussive instrument as a Houston talk-show host, seems to have primed the pump for others, including the president, to suggest that we shelve common sense for dollars and cents.

            Patrick's suggestion that older Americans should sacrifice their lives for the sake of a back-to-bar-codes-now economy fits so well with the general greed-is-good, business-as-God philosophy.

            All along free-market fundamentalists have been comfortable with a "Hunger Games" where certain competitors haven't so much as an arrow.

            In this case we aren't talking about the laws of the jungle, market-wise, but the biology of a virus that preys most seriously on compromised systems.

            Some of the younger and healthier have acted over the last few days like they are apart from the human race. At the moment, fortunately, most of us are relying whole-heartedly on the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci, even if Trump is reticent.

            The fact is that as decisively as governors have acted regarding this crisis – New York's Andrew Cuomo the Churchill being of the moment – for Trump to revoke social distancing recommendations too soon would be nearly as ineffectual as anything Texas' lieutenant governor has to share with us. It would just be words

            Regardless, it would be unbelievably dangerous. It would be a license to bio-hooliganism – back to the beaches and the casinos. Mardi Gras II, anyone?

            What's going on right now in the minds of some free-market fundamentalists is what has been at play all along in their efforts to shrug off climate action.

            Who cares what becomes of the Great Barrier Reef as long as this business cycle doesn't take a hit? Shrinking glaciers? How does that affect my bottom line? Vanishing Arctic ice? Hey, a new shipping lane.

            It's all about rationalize the rationing of what our planet has to offer. Some people will always have all and more than they need. Of course, they will always need more.

            So, too, for those whose general constitution will allow them to ride out an affliction like the coronavirius. Not so for those who unknowingly will be exposed by them and then die because their bodies can't handle it.

            In her book, "This Changes Everything," about the clash between capitalism and the environment, Naomi Klein writes of "sacrifice" zones – places laid to waste for the fossil fuels a carbon-addicted society demands.

            Those zones, she points out, have graduated from barren outreaches where oil derricks seem at home to the veritable backyards of homes endangered by fracking operations.

            Those who would rush us back to business prematurely vise would create a sacrifice zone of anyone vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID-19.

            To think that we would even consider this option says how over-the-top has become the worship of mammon. Check Luke 16:13. It's about serving two masters.

            Not that I would have either as my master, I vote for Fauci over Trump.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, March 23, 2020

Viral droplets from Fox News believers

            Informed that Fox News talking heads were getting hammered for having dismissed the virus now afflicting Americans by the thousands, my wife shrugged.

            "They have to follow their leader," she explained.

            So very true.

            Once upon a time to call one's self a news organization would, by definition, mean a devotion to independence and truth-seeking. Today, at one news organization in particular, it means a game of Follow the Leader. 

            What we see with three players -- Donald Trump, Fox News and untruth -- is a lover's triangle. Trump utters untruth. Fox repeats it and venerates it. Trump hears his untruth venerated on Fox News. He feels further venerated, his untruth made true.

            Now throw devoted Fox News viewers into the mix and the droplets of untruth they spread among themselves.

            Before the virus, this was a truth problem. Now it's a virus problem.

            The informational relationship between Trump and MAGA red caps could be compared to Legionnaires disease – a microbe circulating, recirculating and recirculating again in a confined area.

            That living space has two musty rooms: Fox News and the social media sites they inhabit.

            This was not a health problem when no one could be killed by untruth, unless it involved, say vaccinations or Tide Pods.

            Now the untruth that was perpetuated by this president and his info pipeline has not only delayed action in some parts of the country but has resulted in more people contaminated and thereby spreading the disease.

            Now, just as Trump rebuffed and delayed serious action to fight COVID-19, we see several red states dragging their heels, while states like California, New York and Colorado take the virus threat like what it is: a threat to every American life.

            We see lawmakers like Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young calling it the "Beer Virus." (Corona -- get it? Yuck, yuck.)

            We see Trump plying racism, the life force of his movement, by calling it the "Chinese virus," and fellow yucksters calling it the "Kung Flu" and passing on myths like it came from the eating of bats. (That's you, Sen. John Cornyn).

            We see Alex Jones, a Trump-favored information source, selling bogus remedies to it.

            We see a Trump favorite like California Rep. Devin Nunes saying people should go to restaurants and bars, then saying he meant for carry-out. Oh, yes? To the bars? A Corona to go?

            What's frightening, just as frightening as the virus itself, is that so many Americans are vulnerable to all of the above.

            When Trump was running for president, I offered a term for these people: the Thirders. This came from polls that showed that one-third of Americans consistently asserted that Barack Obama was a Muslim.

            It was roughly the same sub-set of Americans who, polls said, blamed Obama for the poor federal response to Hurricane Katrina – three years before Obama became president.

            They will not be constrained by facts.  

            Back to the present – or, say, three weeks ago: While state and local leaders were frantic to get ahead of a virus Trump and the hydra of myth purveyors on conservative TV and talk radio were doing the opposite. 

            Right now, having reversed their hawking of a "liberal hoax," the operative myth purveyed by those on the right is that Trump is the decisive "war president" we need at the moment to set everything right.

            That's not what we heard from governors, mayors and health-care workers who felt left in the gale against the elements.

            Trump may get his act together, and we with him. But history will record the delay in not only responding to the crisis but acknowledging it at all.

            As Greg Sargent writes in the Washington Post, "Trump propagandists like Sean Hannity have stampeded in herd-like fashion from initially attacking the media for supposedly hyping coronavirus to claiming its dire nature actually displays Trump's heroism."

          Some of Trump's followers have gotten the message. Some have not.  Social distancing is six feet? For now, double that if someone on the trail is wearing a red ball cap.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Open a window, America

            "We would be warm below the storm in our little hideaway beneath the waves" – The Beatles


            At this very moment, what's safer: an octopus's garden or a yellow submarine?

            I ask because that's exactly where my mind flashed when a blessed Beatles standby stroked my wits the other day.

            Is salt water a conductor for COVID-19? What about social distancing in a submarine? What about toilet paper?

            Such is the fruit of a 24-hour virus-update world.

            This is a deeply unsettling stretch, made more so by leaders at the top mostly concerned about staying there.

            This winter has had a claustrophobic sense to it, with the tense exhaustion of impeachment and the desperation of millions – put me at the front of the line -- to end the era of Trump. Post-impeachment, he lurks like a Hitchcock character trying to beat the closing credits.

            Now add the incessant march of the killer microbe.

            Millions of us feel shut in, but we need not feel agoraphobic – fear of the outside.

            Start by opening a window. Then open the door and step out into the freshness. The backyard beckons. So, too, that walk you've meant to take.

            Where I live in Colorado, the dormancy is done. We have green again in the foothills, though the peaks to the west still don white. Though avoiding crowds like MDs urge, I am not going to be a shut-in.

            Sure, some contingencies are meant for a scary moment. But some are just good sense that ought to endure long after the moment.

            Better hygiene. Better nutrition. And what about exercise? Yes, it's how we all stay healthy.

            Most of the provisions aimed at slaying the virus are simple common sense. We didn't need it to remind us.

            These precautions remind me of the steps aimed at combatting climate change. You may not want to buy into what climate scientists are saying about the greenhouse effect, but few can argue that the measures by and large are good for us and the planet regardless.

            The only ones who'll dispute the need to conserve fossil fuels, pollute less and save energy (also known as saving money) are those Armageddon types who think the world is soon to end and reserve the right to destroy it themselves.

            I've heard commentators say, "Don't go out." They don't mean it literally. They mean don't go out to that favorite Starbucks or on the bus or subway.

            Do take that walk. Do jog. Indulge the dog.

            A report finds that many New Yorkers have taken to bicycles to avoid mass transit. With less traffic in the city because of the virus, this is an exceedingly healthful call.

            One of the most heartening scenes comes from Italy, locked down because of the virus. There, people on their balconies sang songs together.

            As communities, by and large Americans are doing the right thing right now to avoid a spike in infections that overwhelms hospitals.

            A salute here to those who can't do their jobs remotely.

            As one expert said, we should all hope that when it's over someone will claim that it was an overreaction. That will mean the reaction worked.

            However, it is an overreaction to cloister one's self entirely from a greening out-of-doors, to not appreciate a moment's respite from rushing to and fro, for those of us who have that luxury.

            Regardless, we can do this. We can make the most of this, while we wait for the waters to calm.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Sunday, March 8, 2020

No time for show-pony theatrics

            Meme of the week: "Wash your hands like you just shook hands with Trump."

            Donald Trump says he washes his hands constantly. Since little of what he's ever said can be believed, take that claim to the Dumpster and dowse it in bleach.

            Trump has comported himself in the midst of the coronavirus emergency like a beer-fueled football fan. He kvetches about the refs (Centers for Disease Control). He cheers for only his side. Scandalously, the only score he sees is the Dow Jones average. It's all a game.

            He is proving as much the problem as any remedy.

            As the Washington Post says, in an analysis of how our government is serving the public:

            "Public health experts have found their messages undercut, drowned out and muddled by the president's push to downplay the outbreak with a mix of optimism, bombast and pseudoscience." 

            So typical: While overstating the number of test kits available to states, Trump said the slow response in availing test kits for the virus is Barack Obama's fault.

            Not even close. Obama did nothing to gum up testing. His response to the Ebola virus, for instance, was widely praised as nimble and wise. And truthful.

            With Trump's kind of leadership, of course we are awash in bad information – so bad that while the World Health Organization fights the actual germ, it has a web site to confront the "infodemic" of contaminated claims.

            As a WHO official said, bad information is spreading faster than the virus.

            But, of course, ever since we elected a 280-character phenom president, we've been swimming in an infodemic of misspelled words.

            Trump trundles out falsehoods like China produces bric-a-brac.

            At a Fox News-hosted town hall in Scranton, Pa., on subjects ranging from the virus to Afghanistan to North Korea to the border wall, detailed 10 false or misleading claims

            This is a moment when a leader could really use a degree of trust by the populace. But credibility has never been Trump's calling card. However, he excels at yelling lies into his microphone while people standing behind him scream approval for the camera on cue.

            As pertains to the health crisis, he has politicized every matter and attempted to deflect every challenge to his actions as president.

            He told a rally crowd the threat of the virus was Democrats' "new hoax." But of course COVID-19 is no hoax. The question is the extent to which Trump treated it as such.

            In the last few days the stock market has swooned, even when the Federal Reserve Board cut the benchmark for lending, as Trump screamed for it to do.

            The economy is slowing down with such harbingers as the cancellation of Austin's South by Southwest festival and health concerns gripping travelers.

            As this happens, expect loud protestations from Trump about the bad break that has befallen the fragile slice of relative prosperity he claims as his own.

            You'll never hear Trump credit Obama for what was done to address the Great Recession that greeted the latter's presidency. You'll just hear the Big Lie that anything positive was all Trump's doing, not the truth that he is riding a recovery that came from Obama's toil.

            Just one more falsehood in an info-sea of them.

            Unforeseen bad breaks visit every presidency. The delineation between presidents is how they handle misfortune.

            Trump can't handle what has arrived by way of this dangerous virus. He's a show pony who does his best work with his texting hand. He now faces a test where "show" doesn't count. Lives are on the line.

            Lives, yes -- but, geeze, what about the stock market?

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Sunday, March 1, 2020

From Katrina to COVID-19: Governing is no game

           One of the pithiest commentaries about the chief executive to whom we are shackled comes in five words from San Diego Union cartoonist Steve Breen.

            His cartoon shows Donald Trump, reading from a sheet labeled "politics" and training a pointer at "VIRUS" on an easel.

            Pictured as a troubled bystander, Uncle Sam cautions, "Less 'I,' and more 'US.'"

            But of course, that's not what this public health matter is about. It's about The Donald.

            Just ask Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. He said we're hearing so much about COVID-19, the coronavirus, because the media "think this is going to bring down the president."

            Sorry, but I've heard countless non-media people talk about the coronavirus over the last week, and not one of them have mentioned Trump.

            Surgical masks they mentioned. Drug supply chains disrupted, they mentioned that. Will schools close? Is our government ready for this?

            A few mentioned Mike "Pray on It" Pence, no friend of science, overseeing what is done and sanitizing what federal health officials say.

            A few commentators have compared Trump's, "We're totally prepared," to George Bush's, "Mission accomplished." Appropriate. More appropriately, Trump had better hope this is not his Katrina moment.

            It didn't sound like "we" are prepared when Trump said in a less-than-prepared press conference that a vaccine would be available "fairly quick."

            Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases followed him to the mic to say it'll be more like a year to a year and a half.

            Trump call for emergency funding. This from an administration that has taken major steps to defund key Centers for Disease Control functions and has cut national health spending by $15 billion.

            Just one example: In 2018 the CDC had to cease 80 percent of its efforts to prevent global disease outbreaks because it was running out of money. It reduced its presence overseas from 48 countries to 10.

            All so that the Republican Party could award tax breaks to billionaires and mega corporations.

            Did someone on Team Trump not figure that things like this outbreak might happen? We've had SARS. We've had the avian flu. We have an increasingly globalized economy. You would think that we would never let our guard down regarding these health matters.

            The problem is that we elected someone president who saw the office as a game, not a solemn responsibility. His game was to gratify himself and his kin, and to spite political foes and doubters -- to train the laser on everything carrying Barack Obama's signature, for instance.

            When Trump returned to the microphone for a mulligan after his initial swagger about the coronavirus, he almost seemed shaken. Almost.

            But you aren't going to extricate bravado from this man. That's all he's about.

            Today's all-big-business-all-the-time conservatives lose their voices when things go wrong in governing and they aren't up to the task of righting the matter. They just don't believe in government, or governing.

            Hurricane Katrina was a splash portrait in dysfunction brought to us by those who thought anything "we" as our government could do, "they" -- private businesses -- could do better. What a disaster.

            Donald Trump sees "government" as a vessel for "me."

            It's mostly an impediment to his designs and desires. Governing? That's not what he got into this to do.

            Up to now, by and large, he's been able to get by as a Fox News troll and fairway hacker. But when the cases of infection start to mount, even the people who told Trump, "You just be you," will insist that he look like someone else entirely.

            Good luck with that.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: