Sunday, July 25, 2021

The fire is next door, wherever you live

            Last October in a Rocky Mountain fire season without end, my son got a sorrowful message.

            On a morning when the sky wore a sandpaper hue, he was in front of his apartment when something drifted from the sky and into his hand:

            A charred aspen leaf.

            One might have assumed it was from a fire next door, or certainly near.

            Depends on what "near" is. The fire was 40 miles away in Colorado's Poudre Canyon.

            The Cameron Park Fire burned from August to December, obliterating 326 square miles of forest and 469 structures.

            It was Colorado's biggest forest fire ever. Sad to say, it is just the beginning.

            Humanity rapidly is gumming up an environment that was timepiece-primed for regeneration and now is prone to disaster.

            Policymakers who won't give a second's thought to spending military billions are balking at the price tag of climate policies that put heft behind what history will record as empty words.

            President Biden is pushing for the heft. The provincial concerns of oil and coal, however, neutered an infrastructure bill designed to cut climate pollution by half by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels).

            Barack Obama, whose directives in spite of a recalcitrant Congress dramatically changed how this country consumes energy, writes in his memoir "A Promised Land" of a fantasy about new priorities with the Cold War over, that this nation "put its immense power and authority behind the climate change fight."

            He imagined, in the success of such an effort, "the geopolitical benefits that would have flowed from weakening the grip of petrodollars and the autocracies supported by those dollars."

            Sure, he was thinking of Russian oligarchs and Saudi royals. He also had to be thinking of North American tar-sands empires and a coal industry that seeks a reason to be.

            The autocrat who preceded Biden became president in large part by pandering to Coal Country, though fewer and fewer entities buy what it sells.

            That helps explain to a great degree why that autocrat smirked and clowned around the carbon-loading causing our planet to sweat.

            To be honest, forest fires, as destructive as they continue to be, are a low-priority item at the moment.

            Higher up the list is the fact that the West is experiencing a thousand-year drought.

            The Colorado River -- the Ganges of the West -- supplies water to 40 million people in six states. While populations have grown rapidly, the flow has declined 20 percent over the previous century.     

            Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado, is at its lowest level since it was built in the '30s.

            National Geographic magazine had a feature in 2015 predicting this. But what were voters concerned about. Um, building a wall?

            We can only imagine what Donald Trump would have to say about the mega drought and the clear connection to climate change.

            He'd say our shower heads are too skimpy.

            How tragic that Americans chose a clown to lead them into times like these, and that his party still thinks he says things that matter.

            There was nothing to joke about last October when the section of the Rockies nearest and dearest to me was ablaze.

            Speaking of that blackened leaf carried for all those miles to my son's hand:

            The species aspen is considered a natural fire break in a forest. Sometimes, however, the fire is so intense that fire breaks get broken.

            This week the Poudre Canyon experienced a deadly flash flood because of earth so scorched and denuded it can't absorb heavy mountain rains. One person is dead and three missing, and several houses are gone.

            Right now a canopy of smoke extends across the country from wildfires in Oregon and Washington, reminiscent of the Black Sunday cloud that drifted all the way to our nation's capital during the Dust Bowl.

            That got Washington's attention in 1935. What about today will get those in power to look to our tomorrow?

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Comparing whom to Nazis?

            Republicans want their history laundered and starched.

            This apparently includes likening facilitators of life-saving medical care to Nazis.

            That's what GOP Congresswoman Lauren Boebert did the other day before a red-meat CPAC audience.

            "Needle Nazis" were coming to the doors of unsuspecting Americans to coerce them with their evil designs, she said. The carnivores applauded.

            Boebert has called vaccine outreach the designs of "medical brownshirts." Sure, they are, if brownshirts came bearing cotton swabs and life-saving vaccine.

            Lordy. Where does the Republican Party dredge up the likes of her?

            The "coercion" of which she speaks is nothing of the sort. Americans are free to abstain from what she calls the "Fauci ouchie." Catchy.

            Alongside Marjorie Taylor Greene, Boebert is either the Laverne or the Shirley of the House Republican Sedition Caucus. ("Schlemiel! Schlimalzel! QAnon Incorporated!")

            Greene recently equated mask mandates to the doings of the Third Reich.

            Let's allow the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland to respond.

            The museum tweeted that comparing public health measures to the tactics of Nazi Germany "is a sad symptom of moral and intellectual decline."

            Republican Party, this is on you.

            You have let Donald Trump, and then Tucker Carlson, and these shyster sisters, do your thinking for you on a life-or-death public health question.

            Pollster Frank Luntz, a longtime Republican who nonetheless is zealous in promoting vaccinations, says this in the Washington Post:

            "We always ask, what will be the last straw? What will be the moment that we lose the ability to communicate and cooperate and get things done?

            "Well, we've reached it. Now decisions are being made not because of evidence or facts or statistics, but strictly on political lines. Now people are going to die."

            People are dying and suffering at an accelerated pace in states with low vaccination rates. Yet CPAC attendees in Dallas applauded when a speaker chortled that Joe Biden would come up short of his 70 percent vaccination goal.


            The conference was themed American UnCanceled. Catchy. What about the lives canceled by this pandemic?

            "COVID is nasty. COVID is a weapon," says Missouri Resident Louie Michael. I wonder if CPAC would have the guts to invite him to speak.

            He and his wife, who said they were "on the fence" about vaccination, caught the virus. Both almost died. He was hospitalized for 15 days. She went into respiratory failure.

            Now, telling their story on social media, he says, "I wish I could go back in time. I would have got the vaccination."

            Let's hope those words prevent some suffering in the Michaels' state of Missouri. Cases are surging there with vaccination rates 10 percent below the national average.

            Per Frank Luntz' lament, the national map showing vaccination rates appears to mimic the national electoral map.

            The same applies in states, where the rural-urban divide is showing up in vaccination rates. Denver had a packed house for the MLB All-Star Game. It could do so with over 75 percent of adults vaccinated in Denver County.

            Meanwhile, the counties of Western Colorado are all hovering around and under 40 percent as hospitalizations from COVID climb.

            Oh, guess who represents Western Colorado in Congress? That's right, one reckless shyster.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Sunday, July 11, 2021

The insurrection that didn't happen

            The day after Independence Day last week, Huffington Post had a fitting "tribute" to – well, let's have HuffPost say it:

            "They rejected democracy. They lied. And they spent July Fourth calling themselves patriots."

            Featured was a collection of gushing faux patriotism from Republicans who have shown since Jan. 6 they have a serious problem with this thing called the United States.

            Sen. Ted Cruz: "I'm proud to be an American and proud to be free."

            Sen. Josh Hawley: "This is the greatest nation in the history of the world."

            Funny that Hawley and Cruz should say those things, considering they and many of their Republican brethren have done their best over the last six months to undermine what this nation is all about: self-government and the rule of law.

            Truth be known, Cruz, Hawley and their Proud Boy buddies desire something wholly apart from the nation they say they love.

            What they want is Haiti. Or Yemen. Or Somalia.

            No, not places without running water and lots of black people.

            What Cruz, Hawley and friends want is a country where the mob reserves the right to rule. Where elections have scant consequences. Where "One person, one vote" is the oath of the enemy. Where the peaceful transition of power is an annoyance. Where civil war never ends.

            Certainly they have a constituency – one sworn to uphold a lie. Not just any lie, the Big Lie. The biggest and most destructive lie in American history.

            The other day, reading about another time when ruthlessness was on the losing end of history, I thought about what might have happened if things were different here on Jan. 6, 2021.

            What triggered these thoughts was the fate of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

            Milosevic, who ordered ethnic cleansing during the violent sundering of Yugoslavia, was defeated at the polls in his bid for reelection in 2000. He refused to acknowledge his defeat.

            When a popular uprising formed against him, Milosevic, having commanded Serbian armed forces, assumed the troops would blunt it. He was wrong. The military gave him no cover.

            Now, imagine if Donald Trump got what he wanted Jan. 6. Imagine that Mike Pence refused to certify the results of the election. Imagine that Trump, like Milosevic, wouldn't leave.

            Instead of the insurrection that happened Jan. 6, we would have a whole other uprising. It would have taken a little longer to assemble, because unlike the one Trump himself stirred to violence that day, this one would come from every corner of our land as people found out that he who was defeated at the polls was going to ignore the fact. 

            I'm guessing that the troops Trump assumed were under his command would decide that they were under the voters' command.

            I'm imagining Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, Jared and Kayleigh McEnany – armed only with their cell phones – giving up the ghost when the gates were breached by people who assumed elections have consequences.

            Who would be the patriots then?

            I imagine Ted Cruz speed-dialing his travel agent.

            I imagine Josh Hawley hailing not a mob but a cab.

            Yes, it's a tough proposition when one can call an election, set a date for certification, count votes to the best of mankind's abilities, and put an end to a corrupt administration.

            In Haiti, whose president was just assassinated, the people don't know who's in charge now. Central to the discord that preceded the horrific events was a dispute over when the presidential term ended – that is before gunmen ended it.

            Here, in America, we know when the president's term ends. Until this past January we had never had a president refuse to acknowledge it.

            Or an entire political party, for that matter.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, July 5, 2021

A valedictory about pride -- and prejudice

            The valedictorian left the podium empty-handed, except for his hold on classmates' hearts.

            The principal took away his microphone and his prepared remarks, but when grads shouted, "Let him speak," another mic was produced and, by memory, he said all he intended.

            "For so long I tried to bend and break and shrink to society's expectations," Bryce Dershem said at a moment when he was told to do exactly that.

            But he went on with words to inspire many, not just the audience at Eastern Regional High School in New Jersey, but millions online. His dad shared it on YouTube

            The principal had forbidden Bryce to say he is gay. Thank goodness he persisted.

            He talked about getting treatment for anorexia. He talked about having considered suicide. His voice faltered only once.

            But there he was, a pride flag draped over his shoulders:

            "I am a fighter, and today I am a survivor."

            He's not the only one. Consider Gavin Grimm, a transgender individual who sued when his school in Virginia prevented him from using the boys' room.

            A four-year battle ended in victory for Grimm and others like him when the Supreme Court refused to review a lower court ruling allowing transgender individuals to use the facilities with which they identify.

            How sad that a high schooler needs to wage such a battle for the rest of us. Reminds us of other young people who have walked through school entrances under duress along history's arc.

            The good news is that this is just one of many victories for LGBTQ rights, regardless of what oppressively stone-age edicts emanate from red-state legislatures.

            The Supreme Court – yeah, that Supreme Court – ruled in June that federal civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender workers.

            Meanwhile the U.S. Senate – yeah, that Senate – has confirmed Joe Biden's choice of Rachel Levine, a pediatrician, as assistant U.S. secretary of health, making her the first openly transgender individual so confirmed.

            Our nation has its first openly gay Cabinet member in Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. Colorado's Gov. Jared Polis is openly gay. The general response from Coloradans is, "Who cares?"

            Ah, but some Americans care.

            Robert Jeffress, Donald Trump's favorite holy man, would no doubt denounce Colorado for having abided in the devil's doings.

            Jeffress recently lashed out at devoutly Baptist Baylor University as full of "infidels" for even considering approving a new LGBTQ group.

            The offending statement in a Baylor press release said that it hasn't changed any principles while it "continues to place a priority on the care of all students."

            Now, wait just a minute, said Southern Baptist Convention seminary president Art Mohler. He accused Baylor of "institutional capitulation disguised as care."

            Tut tut. Imagine a Christian university showing it cares about all students.

            At this point, let us reflect on the reaction young Bryce Dershem got from his classmates. They loved him. They embraced him and what he had to say.

            Sounds almost biblical.

            The sirens of the right – Republican leaders, religious leaders – are positively deaf to what young Americans have to say about LGBTQ rights. Most young Americans are fully in support. 

            They don't think of gay-ness as a sin. They think of it as part of the person, like the curly hair like Bryce Dershem or the angular nose on my face.

            Most young Americans think, as do I, that the real sinners are the political and religious leaders who marginalize people for no reason other than basic prejudice.

            It's the kind of prejudice that at one time made a crime of same-sex intimacy. The leaders behind those policies were pathetic and wrong. As with those who placed all their chips on Jim Crow, history will look at them as losers.

            Bryce Dershem, however, is a star.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: