Saturday, October 31, 2020

On Grand County wildfires

 A version of this was published in the Winter Park Times, Nov. 6, 2020

As I write this, it is very difficult to focus on politics. The election and COVID are nearly forgotten  because we in Grand County has been traumatized by a wildfire ranked as the second-worst in Colorado’s history.  Even those of us who were not yet to be determined to be close enough to qualify as a pre-evacuation/evacuation zone,  saw a wildfire that ran 20 miles east in a night that could just have easily run twenty miles south to Fraser in a wind shift.  The outpouring of care from County residents to food banks, livestock transports, and animal shelters, the heroism of local law enforcement evacuating those in danger and our own firefighters were the brightest lights shining through smoke and the emotions of despair and fright.  We are forever grateful.

 It was the beetle-killed forests, over 70% under the ownership and/or management of the federal government in Grand County, that fueled both the Williams Fork Fire in August/September later dwarfed by the East Troublesome fire in October. The public policy implications for more funding of the urban interface of private lands with federal forests must have our highest priority in Grand County. Climate change has contributed to these wildfires. It is no joke and human contribution to it needs to be taken seriously,  but there is still much to do at our local level until we tackle that global problem with any success.  We have just had a horrific wake-up call.  

My view from the ridge between Winter Park and Fraser could give an idea of some direction in public policy that may protect us from such disasters in the future. I have been a part-time and full-time resident of that ridge since the late 1960s. The first vacation after we moved to Colorado was at Beaver’s, then a dude ranch on the outskirts of a small settlement, now the town of Winter Park. We were brought there by my love of horses and the lore of the West of my native Oklahoma, and the passion of skier husband who learned the sport on the slopes above Sarajevo, Yugoslavia,  later the site of a Winter Olympics.  It was on the trail rides of that vacation we fell in love with the view from the ridge. Yes, we stayed in the Beaver’s lodge in 1965 and now, in 2020, I was thrilled to learn it will be renovated and repurposed by the University of Denver.  In 1967,  we were able to stake our claim to a bit of land on the ridge. We were at the edge of miles of logged land with second-growth matchstick lodgepole pines so close together we could not ride our horses through them without banging our knees.  We watched the Fraser Valley change from ranch land to being ringed by developments of condos and second homes. Enough of the valley remained open spaces after some epic fights of citizens against developers so that we were spared the urban sprawl of Summit County at least until now. The Fraser River Valley landscape had changed dramatically because of the bark beetle killing the lodgepoles, turning much of the evergreen trees into gray ghosts. Warmer winters of climate change failed to kill the bark beetles, once kept in check by long gone episodes of 30  below zero weather. This year summer seasonal monsoons failed to materialize as extreme drought-plagued us. Some landowners responded to the relatively small October 2010 Church Park fire five miles from us by clear-cutting every tree on their property. Elsewhere  I saw other owners do likewise, clear-cutting trees surrounding the YMCA camp at Tabernash, at a ranch near us, on the approaches to  Grand Lake Lodge, and in a peninsular development near the lakes.  The major private developers around Winter Park and Fraser, and the ski area, with help of federal and state urban interface funds, did selective thinning and removal of dead trees and downed logs and cutting firebreaks. For several years we endured the smoke from burning slash piles and did our own share of forestry care, as well. The Fraser Valley now is a different, more biologically diverse landscape, but it is still beautiful.  It made the area more defensible in case of wildfires threatened by the minimally managed forests around it.  It may serve as an example of how to deal with Grand County’s population growth and incursions into our forests, but it will take private and public money, lots of it. Zoning changes and building codes can play a role, too. It is just a matter of public will.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Trump: the Bernie Madoff of politics. Those who trust him are his victims

 A con man is an abbreviation of a confidence man...who depends on those who trust him to rip off someone successfully. Donald Trump's victims are those who trust him the most...those who attend his COVID super spreader rallies, and especially those over 65 in the Florida Villages retirement developments.80% of deaths from COVID are in that demographic. Bernie Madoff before Trump likewise used his religious cohorts and Florida golf club acquaintances to victimize with his fraudulent investment scheme.. He first got their trust and then used them for his purposes, just as Donald Trump has done to demonstrate there is nothing to fear from COVID. Go ahead and consider mask-wearing the mark of his political opponents he insinuates (except for those behind the podium) and he revels at the thousands in the audience who appear shoulder to shoulder shouting their "lock him up" "lock her up" chants in his rallies. Trump may not verbally be practicing herd immunity, but the guinea pigs are his own most loyal followers, who he does not really care about their health, only the successful demonstration of what great political strength the con man in chief wants to convey to media


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

What if Trump loses the election; what could we expect

There is some fear Donald Trump  is a wannabe dictator and has expressed he would like to be president for life. What if he would not concede and refuse to leave the Oval Office by January 20,  Inauguration Day. In both 2016 and 2020, he has openly refused to say he would accept the results of the vote. Is that just a public relations posture or would he act on his belief? What he has said in advance of the vote even beginning, is that if he loses, it was because the vote was rigged.  He is not required by the Constitution to concede. It has been the custom for all losers to concede just to avoid a Constitutional crisis, but Trump thumbs his nose at customs or norms whenever it suits him. Fasten your seatbelts between Nov. 3, 2020, and January 20, 2021, though.  He can whine, tweet, argue, and take it to court all he wants until Inauguration Day. Due to the anticipated flood of mail-in ballots, the winner of the election may not be known for weeks and after all of the challenges and legal action are finished, we may not even know the outcome by January 20. Most mail-in ballots will be cast by Democrats and Republicans polled mostly plan to vote in person on election day, so that the same day Nov. 3 vote is likely to reflect a Trump win.  He will be claiming victory and assert every vote cast by absentee or by mail is a fraud. Do not be a sucker. What then happens, at best, is the mother of all constitutional crises as the issue lands in the Supreme Court. What then if he refuses to leave the Oval Office if a court decision goes against him?  Lawrence O'Donnell, an old Washington hand, an MSNBC host, in his tweet, July 31,2020 .has the easiest scenario. The Secret Service would just usher him out the door. Trump would be treated as a trespasser and will be evicted.  According to constitutional law professor Lawrence Tribe, if there is not a determination of a winner by inauguration day, Nancy Pelosi becomes president because she is next in line and the secret service would carry out the Constitution's requirements.  
 There are some violent scenarios out there, but let us pray for the most peaceful way so we would still maintain our democracy. by harnassing, and honoring the provisions of the Constitution and law. There are predictions that right-wing groups would try to use violence to keep Trump in power.    Some of these violent movements are also promoting a civil war. Worse would be if Trump tried to do whatever it takes to stay in power, peaceful or not. That is how most modern wannabe autocrats seized power, abusing the intent of their constitution and using and intensifying unrest on the streets to gain public consent to become an autocrat. The result has been the rule of a person, not the rule of law,  who tells you what the law is and how you are to comply or else (from losing your job to losing your life) and their constitution or laws were to  ignored. Civil rights and protection of minorities are trashed, often with persecution and killing of opposition leaders and reporters .and rigged elections. To get public permission to become an autocrat they used fear to motivate them to scrap democracy in favor of a strong leader, fear of chaos, Muslim immigrants or Chechnyan or Kurdish terrorists,  overblown nationalism, and white tribal fear of other races. It has happened from Putin to Erdogan of Turkey and to a lesser extent in Hungary and Poland who were already racially homogeneous but feared middle east refugees would change that
.This is also an eerie echo of Germany in the 1930s. With the support of enough Germans, if not a majority in the midst of severe economic distress  Hitler rose to power and greater support by hyping fear of Communists and hatred of Jews. Some of the chaos erupting on the streets between political parties was fomented by his brown shirts, suspected of even setting fire to the Reichstag, the parliament building. He promised them order and an end to chaos and their economic suffering. Germany would be great again with another empire, a third one like they had before, and he co-opted royalists, traditional militarists, and industrialists early in the game.  .That is not some farfetched outcome in the US because there is a large body of voters in the US who would follow Trump to do whatever he wants and believes whatever he utters is their truth too.  
 Fears of caravans from Mexico and an emerging threat with the power of African-Americans protesting police brutality have been consistent themes of the Trump administration.  These two themes have become more obvious since the RNC convention. Dog whistles have turned into shout outs with praise of law enforcement who are always acting correctly,  neo-Nazi and white supremacist marchers who are also fine people, and white race-motivated gun-toting militias who are patriots. Added to this is Trump's touting the Trump economy that favors the rich trickling down their wealth as the solution to the COVID caused crash helped made worse by the inept and slow response from the administration. This observation is confirmed by the current direction of the Trump campaign that emphasizes these two messages of fear of loss of white control of "the streets and cities" and that the stock market is booming.  Those are consistent themes in their pronouncements,  tweets, and words, in advertising, and by media echo chamber cohorts.

In many power grabs by wannabe dictators, particularly Turkey, the military was a powerhouse, keeping a country on an even keel of Ataturk's secular western leaning reforms. . President  Erdogan ran on a populist conservative religious plank appealing to uneducated religious non-urban populations. Some bombings in urban areas of suspicious origin were blamed on Kurdish terrorists.. After elections, he consolidated power and purged military generals, judges, teachers, and civil servants and replaced them with loyalists.  An attempt by the military to intervene failed,.    In other instances of a rise to dictatorship, a revolt in the military was simply a putsch, replacing one dictator with a military junta or a general. In 2020 2021, that will not happen in the US.   Chairman of the  Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley,  has made it clear the active military will not be used for domestic political purposes.   Trump tried once to get them to look like the military.was on his side in Lafayette Park. Trump had openly advocating dealing with all protestors by" suppression and domination of the streets" and he had expressed fantasies the active military would be his instrument. Instead, he dressed a bunch of federal agents like they were ready for combat in Afghanistan, intimidating protestors, tossing them in unmarked cars, and going forth into the streets "looking for a fight" per a  military veteran who was a protestor. That was Trump's vision of dealing with protesters, and it was a fiasco,  igniting an even larger crowd to violence. These unmarked Federales were. disinvited by State and city officials because they made things worse and after critics called them brown shirts or Trump's private army.  Milley pointedly said the military is sworn to defend the constitution, implying they were not sworn to defend a political person.  This also means, it is assumed, the military would also refuse to march Trump out of the White House if Trump refuses to vacate it. 

The above is a version of parts of a September Mufticforumblog post.

Another October Surprise bites the dust as Guiliani's Ukraine Effort bears rotten fruit

  The GOP/Guiliani attempt to damage Joe Biden tying him to alleged participation in a Hunter Biden business activity in Ukraine blew up two plus weeks before the Nov. 3 election.  A mysterious email turned up that purported to show evidence of Joe Biden/Hunter connection.  Instead of providing the smoking gun, it was questioned as a Russian disinformation action and Rudy Guiliani himself became the target of an FBI investigation into his being used by Russian agents.

More: Guiliani's contact in Ukraine, Andriy Derkach, is believed to be a Russian agent; and the White House was warned by the FBI nearly a year ago that his source was tainted. The guy who discovered the "email" called a friend of Guiliani and changed his story again and again of who called whom..the FBI or what. That Hunter had a drug problem is no secret...and in fact Biden mentioned it in the first debate. Joe Biden did not have a drug problem and did not profit by this, we know, but the Trump kids made off with huge profits while their dad was president.. The Russians hacked Burisma, which is known so the Russians controlled the message. , The newspaper who printed the story is a Murdoch-owned publication as is FOX news. paper = as is Fox who "reported it". That is why no other media outlets reported it.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The turning of the Supreme Court into an ideologically lopsided institution

 Elections have consequences. The turning of the Supreme Court into a politically ideologically lopsided institution with the GOP ramming through Trump's third nomination, Amy Coney Barrett, will also have consequences that on critical issues the majority of that body will represent the views of only a third of the American people.  What is left for Democrats is to make the GOP Senators pay. If the Senate turns blue, and Biden is elected, there is a chance that some of the damage can be undone. Roe v Wade could become a law legislated by Congress. The state legislatures and state courts also play a role in righting this ship. This November 3 election is more than about just the election of the president. It is about the entire ballot, national, state, and local.

 The Supreme Court could become more ideologically balanced by expansion. However, the chances of issues of interest to Democrats reaching the Supreme Court will be less since the lower courts have also become much more conservative due to the singled mindedness of the GOP dominated Senate to stack it with ideologues screened specifically for their views on issues, not for their devotion to jurisprudence or precedence. This nomination was not screened by a religious group. It was not a religious test in spite of the GOP attempt to turn this into an anti-religious issue. . It was screened by a political and ideological think tank, The Heritage Foundation, who listed Amy Coney Barrett as one of their choices for the Supreme Court and had also had a list of recommendations for lower court positions, as well. The advantage Democrats will have lies in hands of the voters who two to one oppose overturning Roe v Wade and two to one support the provisions of the ACA (Obamacare), as well two to one supporting the rights of gay marriage. In short, the issues the GOP senators support represent one-third of the opinions of the American public on critical issues..  In reality, the damage done to the courts is to make it an institution that is so out of step with the public, it will lose credibility and respect. What is needed is not to turn the Court blue, but to have judges on it who are not hidebound ideologues who passed the litmus tests of ideological think tanks, but who would rule on the basis of the law and observe judicial precedent instead of turning back the clock to the 1950s or even to the end of the 18th century. 

Colorado can do its part by voting to defeat Cory Gardner. I noticed in a Gardner ad that he opposes government-run health care. That means ending Obamacare (ACA) since his voting record reflects this, but it also could apply to publicly run Medicare and Medicaid and let the private for-profit sector again gouge those who need those services into the realm of unaffordability.  Remember, too if the GOP has its way, Social Security will be subject to the mercy of the casino of Wall Street. The protection or repair of the damage to these popular government-run services will depend upon the outcome of the election of senators and the White House.    see  chart 3

Opinion | Supreme Court precedent makes clear that recusing herself from any Trump-Biden reelection dispute is the right thing for Amy Coney Barrett - The Washington Post