Martin Dyckman, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 24

Martin Dyckman

Martin Dyckman: EpiPen debacle demonstrates need for price controls

martin dyckman“Your money or your life,” a laugh line for the great comedian Jack Benny, must be the business model of the American pharmaceutical industry.

It’s time for a serious national discussion on establishing price controls over Big Pharma.

The latest provocation is the staggering increase in the price of the EpiPen, a necessity for people with life-threatening food and bee-sting allergies. The two-dose pack that cost about $100 in 2007 is priced at around $600 now.

A different company sells the same product in France for about $85.

The self-injecting device was originally developed for the U.S. military. The drug it contains, epinephrine, actually costs about $1 per dose to manufacture, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

All this is why Heather Bresch, the CEO of patent holder Mylan Pharmaceuticals and the genius behind the price rise, has for the moment displaced the smirking Martin Shkreli as the public face of her ruthless industry.

It doesn’t help that image that her compensation swelled nearly eightfold, from some $2.5 million to nearly $19 million, while the EpiPen was becoming six times more expensive.

Or that the face of the customer who’s being told “your money or your life” is most often a schoolchild.

Even if there’s family insurance, most plans these days have enormous deductibles

And yes, Mylan is another of those companies that ran out on U.S. residency — in this case to the Netherlands — to reduce its taxes.

Unlike Shkreli, a corporate takeover rogue who skyjacked the price of a vital anti-parasitic drug for people with compromised immune systems, Bresch is a major figure in the pharmaceutical industry. In that respect, her profiteering is more significant, and more worrisome, than his.

Responding to a social media firestorm that yielded some 70,000 online signatures, 100,000 letters to Congress, and serious attention in the media, Bresch announced Mylan will give some customers larger vouchers to buy EpiPens at discounted prices.

But those apparently aren’t available to people on Medicare, soldiers and veterans, and millions of others who have no insurance. That’s no substitute for reducing the base price to something reasonable.

Reeling under public pressure, Mylan announced Monday that it will offer a generic version for about $300. That’s still three times what it cost in 2007, more than three times the price of an equivalent product in France, and 300 times the intrinsic value of the medicine the device contains.

Unless you’re one of those legendary folks who never get sick until they need the undertaker, you have had your own experiences with drug price sticker shocks. And if you’re on Medicare, it takes only a few of those to reach the coverage gap.

That Medicare or private insurance may cushion those sticker shocks is no excuse for them. Remember who’s paying for Medicare and for the insurance premiums.

In most cases, these outrageously priced drugs are sole-source products. Even when there are generic alternatives, Big Pharma has been ingenious about hyping those costs too.

Although there are many players in the industry, their individual control of specific drugs means that are, essentially, monopolies.

There are rivals to the EpiPen, but Mylan still controls about 85 percent of that market, according to Bloomberg. That’s a monopoly by any definition.

One factor is Mylan’s highly successful campaign to persuade schools to stock the device, with the encouragement of Congress and the Food and Drug Administration.

The so-called “discipline of the market” is an oxymoron in a monopoly market.

That’s why price controls would not only be appropriate, but also necessary.

Price control is a powerful weapon that should be used rarely, not least because it can backfire badly. Venezuela knows that now.

But there’s ample precedent in the United States for price controls in a monopolized industry that, like pharmaceuticals, is essential to life and health.

I’m speaking of the public utilities — electricity, gas, and often water, in which effective competition would be wildly inefficient and costly.

The standard model for regulating utilities is to establish a reasonable rate of return on investment and operating expenses, and calculate allowable profit on that.

In Big Pharma’s case, companies should be entitled to credit for what they spend to develop and test new drugs. They might even spend more on the antibiotic research they presently shun as unprofitable. This is a grave issue because of the rapid evolution of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

I didn’t mention advertising.

Ours is not only the country with the highest drug prices, but also the only one where manufacturers can spend millions advertising drugs you didn’t know you needed and for which the disclaimers — how they might sicken or even kill you — command more time and space than the alleged benefits.

Given how Big Pharma usually leads the pack in campaign spending and lobbying expenses, the prospects for price controls must be rated slight at best.

But I’d like to hear what Hillary Clinton has to say on this. She’s gotten nearly $1 million in Pharma money this election cycle. That’s more than anyone else.

It would be interesting also to hear from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Bresch is his daughter.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Supreme Court nominees no reason to elect Donald Trump

Some Republicans to whom Donald Trump is the skunk at their garden party would have you elect him president nevertheless.

Mark Sanford is one. When last heard of, he was the governor of South Carolina, canoodling with a mistress in Argentina while his office pretended that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Now he’s a congressman, and he had an op-ed in The New York Times last week (Aug. 14) strongly criticizing Trump for refusing to release his tax returns.

Trump’s obstinacy “will have consequences,” Sanford said. It “would hurt transparency in our democratic process, and particularly in how voters evaluate the men and women vying to be our leaders.

“Whether he wins or loses, that is something our country cannot afford.”

Hear, hear.

But Sanford also hedged his bets.

“I am a conservative Republican who, though I have no stomach for his personal style and his penchant for regularly demeaning others, intends to support my party’s nominee because of the importance of filling the existing vacancy on the Supreme Court, and others that might open in the next four years,” he wrote.

There you have it. To Sanford, keeping Hillary Clinton from appointing new justices is worth letting everything else go to hell. The government, the country, maybe the world and certainly the court.

Trump might even nominate his conspicuous Florida cheerleader Pam Bondi.

Sanford isn’t the only Republican who has sold out for fear of a liberalized Supreme Court. That’s probably a factor with Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and John McCain too.

Independents and die-hard Hillary-hating Democrats need to pay attention. If they don’t vote for her, they could have themselves to blame for making the Supreme Court a right-wing rat hole for another generation.

Republicans want a court that would uphold their state-by-state voter suppression schemes, shut its eyes to maliciously partisan gerrymandering, and make it impossible rather than merely difficult to sue people like Trump for consumer fraud, environmental pollution and other white collar crimes.

The Citizens United atrocity would continue to leave Congress in the grip of the Koch brothers and their allied oligarchs.

Clinton vows to appoint justices who would repeal that monumentally bad Supreme Court decision.

Trump doesn’t make that promise. He does, however, assure the religious right that his justices would repeal Roe v. Wade.

Exacting such commitments from future judges is another of those developments the Founders didn’t anticipate. They had the idealistic, if naive, view that integrity and competence would govern who got appointed.

But we have to take the world as it is, and there’s no shortage of capable lawyers who have declared that Citizens United was wrongly decided. Four of the justices at the time said so too.

The court has a history of renouncing prior decisions as wrongly decided or simply no longer applicable. It trashed two precedents in Citizens United.

Although Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion more or less rationalized that full disclosure would restrain corporate election spending, that hasn’t happened. Dark money by the billions is sinking the ship of state.

And in South Dakota, the Kochtopus is fiercely fighting a ballot initiative that would require public disclosure of donors to advocacy campaigns, create a state ethics commission and provide public financing of political campaigns.

Fortunately, there are Republicans who disagree that the court is reason enough to sacrifice everything else.

John Yoo and Jeremy Rabkin, law professors in California, are two of them. Writing in the Los Angeles Times Aug. 14, they described the dangerous world we live in and warned that a Trump presidency “invites a cascade of global crises.”

Moreover, they argued, conservatives should not take Trump’s word that he would appoint suitable justices or that the Senate would confirm them.

“Even if Trump were to win in November, it is in the legislative and executive branches that conservatives will have to win their most important battles,” they wrote. “Does Trump look like the man to lead them?”

Yoo’s opposition is really noteworthy. He was the deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration who wrote the notorious memos condoning extreme methods of interrogating terrorism suspects, including waterboarding. That’s a form of torture that Trump is salivating to resume.

If even Yoo can’t stomach Trump, what does that tell us?

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Donald Trump’s America on trial in modern day ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’

“Above all, there was fear: fear of today, fear of tomorrow … fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves … Only when you understand that, can you understand what Hitler meant to us: Lift your heads. Be proud to be German. There are devils among us: Communists, liberals, Jews, Gypsies. Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.”

Those words are from the 1961 film Judgment at Nuremberg. They address an eternal question: Why do good people do terrible things?

The speaker, Ernest Janning, played by Burt Lancaster, is a former German judge on trial before an Allied tribunal for crimes he committed in service to the Third Reich.

He had been a decent man, widely respected for his legal acumen and his integrity.

Now, over the objection of his defense attorney, he insists on testifying for the prosecution.

He is explaining why he conducted a show trial of an elderly Jewish man falsely accused of sexual relations with a gentile woman, and why he determined to convict him and sentence him to death even before hearing any testimony …

It was because the future of Germany was at stake. And if a few minorities had to suffer, so be it.

The screenplay was closely modeled on actual events, including a Nazi show trial, and on the excuses that “good” Germans gave for their participation.

Turner Classic Movies showed the film the other night (Aug. 11). Whether the scheduling had to do with the current election campaign, I don’t know. But the timing couldn’t have been better.

Comparisons with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany should be made rarely lest they trivialize those monstrosities.

But there is much — too much — about Donald Trump and his campaign that resembles them.

Only the targets of Trump’s demagoguery are different. The methods are the same.

He cannot tell a truth if there’s a lie to be told. He peddles fear and capitalizes on hate. He whips his crowds into froths of rage against Hillary Clinton and against reporters whose lives, too, he puts in danger by targeting them at his rallies. The Secret Service had to see to the safety of one of them.

All across our country — in schools, on streets, at public meetings, and even from pulpits — Trump’s venom is being echoed in denunciations and harassment of Americans because of their religious faith. In New York City Saturday, an imam and his assistant were murdered execution-style on a city street. The motive remains unknown, but it would surprise no one if it turns out to be a hate crime.

The message of Judgment at Nuremberg is not that such things happen. It is, rather, in the question that Ernest Janning asks during his confession:

“What of those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies, and worse than lies. Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country …

“And then, one day, we looked around … and found that we were in an even more terrible danger.”

We should take that scene as a parable for what’s happening in the United States of America right now.

We are in terrible danger — though it appears to be diminishing — of debasing our country and endangering the world with the most unprepared, unsuited and unworthy person who has ever sought the presidency.

“I think he’s mentally unstable. I think he’s dangerously unqualified,” says former Sen. Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire, the latest prominent Republican to put country above party.

That’s what John McCain should be doing too.

But McCain still pretends Trump is fit for the presidency.

If Trump’s death threat against Clinton didn’t shock McCain’s conscience, what could?

Surely McCain knows better. Surely, so do Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and other Republicans who have mortgaged their reputations to the delusion that Trump would be better than Clinton.

Or is it just because they crave to share in the power of a Trump presidency? Do they miscalculate, as so many Germans once did, that they could control the monster they are making?

If the polls are correct, Trump will lose. But the dangerous hatreds he deliberately inflames will continue to fester.

We will all be the losers for that.

And those who know better but who continue to support him, with endorsements or money or even with just their silence, will have lost more than an election.

They will have forfeited the respect of people who once admired them.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired columnist and editorial writer for the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: When investigating payday lending, knowledge is power

The adage that knowledge is power proves itself nowhere more forcefully than in politics.

One significant reason why the lobbyists have so much power — apart from their campaign money — is that they claim to know so much more than legislators and other policymakers do.

That accounts for the explosive growth and predatory practices of the payday lending industry. For years, Congress and half the states encouraged it with poor regulation, like Florida’s, or none at all. They relied on industry-sponsored studies that glossed over the shocking numbers of people perpetually trapped by exorbitantly high-interest, repeatedly renewing their loans because they could not afford to pay off the principal and accumulated interest.

When independent studies finally proved the extent to which payday lenders were preying on military families, Congress in 2007 put a stop to that.

Then, in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown, Congress created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), armed with exceptional powers to demand facts and figures from industries subject to its regulations.

That history and some healthy results are described in “Payday for the Public,” a noteworthy article in the June-July-August edition of the “Washington Monthly,” from which this column is sourced.

After analyzing 12 million loans from 30 states over a one-year period, the CFPB found “as many as 48 percent of payday loan borrowers had taken out 10 or more loans over a 12-month period.” More than four in every five loans were being renewed within two weeks.

Acting on that knowledge, the CPFB is proposing regulations that would limit the number of loans to a borrower in a given year and require the lender to evaluate the person’s ability to repay.

The loan sharks argue their customers have nowhere else to go to meet an emergency. This is often true. But they don’t explain how it’s any more helpful to trap people in perpetual small loan debt than it was to issue home mortgages to those who really couldn’t afford them.

If this issue sounds timely to Floridians, it should. Nearly the entire Florida Congressional delegation had lined up behind a notorious bill to delay the CFPB regulations. They also wrote to CFPB director Richard Cordray, urging him to adopt the “Florida model” for payday regulation, which allows effective interest rates as high as 300 percent.

However, knowledge as power can work two ways. Aided by the internet, consumer groups put on enough pressure that the industry’s most conspicuous Florida backers, Rep. (and Senate candidate) Patrick Murphy, and Rep. (and former Democratic national chair) Debbie Wasserman Schultz have recanted their opposition to the CFPB initiative. Bernie Sanders had something to do with that.

Writing in the Tampa Bay Times July 29, Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, a public interest group opposed to the payday lobby, cited reports that the industry has contributed more than $2.5 million to Florida politicians and political parties since 2009. Nearly $1 million of that came from payday lender Amscot Financial and the family that controls it.

Small wonder, then, that so many Florida politicians have been friendly to payday lending. But they know now that the public is on to them.

The payday lending issue points up several major gaps in the public’s access to knowledge and the power that can come from it.

As author Anne Kim writes in “Payday for the Public,” Congress has gutted, over the last quarter-century, much of its staff’s research ability. That was a deliberate favor to the lobbies. The capacity needs to be restored.

Other federal agencies need fact-finding powers such as the CFPB has.

“A foundation of the American legal system,” says Kim, “is that each side in a lawsuit must have access to the same evidence base.”

Government should have access to the same data as the lobbyists.

Thirdly, we need real-time — that’s to say instant — disclosure of the sources and amounts of all political contributions and where they’re put to use. Even the Supreme Court’s monumentally dreadful Citizens United decision acknowledged the government’s power to demand such information.

But there’s an enormous amount of “dark money” sludging through loopholes that Congress, and the eminently worthless Federal Elections Commission, refuse to plug.

This is what the political candidates of 2016 need to commit to doing if they are serious about returning power to the people.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Khizr Kahn challenges a ‘morally untethered’ Donald Trump

Thousands of speeches have I heard and forgotten since my first byline 64 years ago.

Very few have deserved to be remembered nearly as much as Khizr Kahn‘s 368-word address to the Democratic National Convention Thursday night.

Eloquent and powerful in its simplicity and directness, it was timely, to the point, and to the heart as well as the head.

He spoke of his son Humayun, a naturalized Muslim-American, an Army captain who died saving his soldiers from a suicide bomber in Iraq.

Had it been up to Donald Trump, he said, “he never would have been in America.”

Then, in calm and measured words, he hurled a powerful challenge at Trump:

“Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”

He pulled it from his suit pocket.

“In this document,” he said, “look for the words liberty and equal protection of the laws.

“Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look to the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities.

“You,” he said to Trump, “have sacrificed nothing and no one …”

Unless you were watching Fox “News” (why, oh why, would you?) you could see and hear it live.

As reported by Variety, Fox “chose to cut away from the elder Khan’s speech, in favor of a series of other prepackaged stories.” One of them was a day-old clip of FBI Director James Comey‘s news conference on the ISIS threat.

It was as if Trump himself had called the shot.

But you can still hear and see the speech for yourself on YouTube and at other links neither Trump nor Fox can suppress.

It’s a personal issue with me. Cousins who had sought refuge in France died in the Holocaust because the United States would not let them come here. The State Department was infested at the time with anti-Semites. (Read about them in Eric Larson‘s book, “In the Garden of Beasts.”)

Among their pretexts: there might be spies and saboteurs among the refugees fleeing Hitler.

Does that sound familiar?

Fellow immigrants — unless your ancestors met the boat at Jamestown, this means you — all of us have been the intended victims, at one time or another, of bigots like Trump. Laws on immigration, voting, even property rights targeted specific ethnic groups of all races and religions. An anti-foreigner party nicknamed the Know Nothings was strongly influential in the 1840s and threatened for a time to infest the infant Republican Party, where its ghost stalks again.

Trump’s bigotry on that issue speaks for itself.

Khizr Kahn raised two other points that bear more discussion.

Has he ever read the Constitution? In one infamous interview, Trump denied the Constitution (in the 14th Amendment) guarantees citizenship to everyone born here. Later, he vowed to “stand up for Article Two, Article Twelve, you name it …”

There are only seven articles, along with 28 amendments. For all that, it’s one of the shortest founding documents on earth. That palm-size booklet Kahn offered to lend to Trump — I have a copy also — has only 38 pages. But even that is probably way beyond Trump’s attention span.

A larger question is whether Trump, who boasts of getting his information from television, ever reads or absorbs anything.

Tony Schwartz, the guilt-ridden co-author of Trump’s “The Art of the Deal,” for which he spent months shadowing the subject, told Jane Mayer in the New Yorker (July 25) that Trump “has no attention span.”

“This fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood,” Schwartz said. ” … It’s impossible to keep him focused on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then …

“If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time …”

What, if anything, has Trump ever sacrificed?

Like many another affluent young man, Trump escaped the draft with a series of routine student deferments. In the end, he got a medical deferment despite having been active in college sports. None of that was inherently dishonorable.

But contrast that with the suffering John McCain endured at the same time as a prisoner of war in Hanoi — the ordeal Trump mocked because McCain couldn’t avoid capture.

And consider Trump’s 1997 interview with Howard Stern in which he described the risks he had run of catching a sexually transmitted disease as “like Vietnam … better than Vietnam, a little better …

It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier,” he said.

Did it not occur to him that a lot of truly brave soldiers came home without their genitals? Or that many more never came home at all?

Or was he just being flip?

No matter. It is the unguarded comments people make that best reveals their true selves. In that unspeakably ugly moment, Trump exposed himself to be what David Brooks, The New York Times conservative columnist, recently said of him:

“He is a morally untethered, spiritually vacuous man who appears haunted by multiple personality disorders.”

And yet he might become president. God save the United States from that.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Donald Trump, Vladamir Putin and NATO — willful ignorance, or dangerous isolationism?

“Vlad, Vlad, is that you?”

“Da!”

“Donald here. We need to deal. I make great deals. I’ll send you a copy of my book, The Art of the Stea … uh, I mean, Deal.”

“I’m sure you do, Donald. What do you want?”

“Vlad, I need you to help me beat Hillary Clinton.”

“I might be able to do that Donald, but what’s in it for us?”

“When I’m president, you can have those little loser countries next door …. What do you call them?”

“Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania.”

“OK. They mean nothing to me. Like I said, they’re losers. But what can you do for me?”

“Remember your man Nixon and Watergate? What did they call it? A third-rate burglary? Well, we did better than that. Our guys are first-rate. We have all the secrets from your Democratic National Committee. They won’t look good when they leak, if you know what I mean.”

“Good to do business with you, Vlad. Let’s plan on getting together sometime. I have great golf resorts.”

“I don’t golf. I swim.”

“That too, Vlad. We stock our pools with hot women. And you can bring any friend you like.”

“Even Bashar Assad?”

“Yeah, Vlad. I might need some tips from him on how to stay in power.”

Now, of course, this conversation may not have happened. But it could have. As Donald Trump would say, how do we know that it didn’t?

What we do know is that Russian fingerprints are all over the leaked emails that convulsed the Democratic Party on the eve of its convention, forcing the resignation of Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

And it is a fact that this closely followed Trump’s threat — or was it a promise? — to destroy NATO by abrogating our treaty commitments to defend any and all of its members against any — read Russian — attack.

It wasn’t the first time he has questioned NATO’s value, so his Republican apologists shouldn’t be surprised he has now made his disdain so explicit.

NATO is one of the two reasons, the European Union being the other, why there has been no major European war since 1945. That’s without precedent in that continent’s history. Peaceful durations were often measured in months rather than years.

It was under NATO’s aegis that the United States and its allies succeeded in ending Serbia’s aggression against Bosnia. It is only NATO that presents any effective obstacle to the transparent neocolonial ambitions of Russia’s new Stalin, Vladimir Putin.

There has been nothing as rash as Trump’s undermining of NATO since the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin gave Hitler everything he wanted at the Munich conference and declared he had purchased “peace in our time.”

That turned out to be a very short time. Hitler invaded Poland, precipitating World War II and the loss of 60 million lives, merely 11 months later.

It’s not hard to imagine the terror that Trump’s words have struck into the Baltic lands that had struggled for centuries to escape Russian rule, losing their liberty in 1940 and regaining it only a half-century later, with the dissolution of the Soviet empire.

My wife and I paid a brief, enjoyable visit to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, during a Baltic cruise in May. It seemed to be a very pleasant country, inhabited by hospitable people. But as our tour guide made plain to us, everyone senses that the Russian hegemony is not yet dead.

There are only 1.2 million Estonians, which would be to the Russian bear as a field mouse is to a grizzly. Ethnic Russians comprise 24.8 percent of the population and nearly 30 percent speak Russian as their first language. Estonians with relatives in Russia have the option of holding Russian passports, as our guide said his wife does.

It was the presence of sizable ethnic German minorities in Czechoslovakia and Poland that Hitler claimed as pretexts for his aggression. It’s the same rationalization Putin applies to his poorly disguised war-making in Ukraine.

Trump’s couched his irresponsibility in the form of a threat to base our national honor — the fulfillment of a treaty commitment — on his opinion on whether member countries are paying enough for their own defense.

Estonia’s president replied promptly, saying his country has been spending what NATO requires and also sent troops to the war in Afghanistan.

“Estonia’s commitment to our NATO obligations is beyond doubt, and so should be the commitments by others,” his spokesman said.

“Two world wars have shown that peace in Europe is also important for the security of the United States,” said NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg.

Mitch McConnell, who is plainly uncomfortable with his new role as a Trump stooge, was quick to repudiate him on this issue.

“NATO is the most important military alliance in world history. I want to reassure our NATO allies that if any of them get attacked, we’ll be there to defend them,” said the Senate majority leader.

But that’s an assurance he would be powerless to keep if a president chose to ignore it. It’s the president, not the Congress, who has the power and duty to act in such an event.

In speaking as he did to The New York Times last week, Trump either forgot or chose to ignore two telephone interviews with the newspaper’s reports barely four months earlier. Asked whether he would defend Estonia in particular against Russian aggression, here is what he said:

“Yeah, I would. It’s a treaty, it’s there. I mean, we defend everybody. (Laughs.) We defend everybody. No matter who it is, we defend everybody. We’re defending the world. But we owe, soon, it’s soon to be $21 trillion. You know, it’s 19 now but it’s soon to be 21 trillion. But we defend everybody. When in doubt, come to the United States. We’ll defend you.”

Is this episode yet another example of Trump’s colossal and willful ignorance? Does it mean that at heart he’s a throwback to the American isolationism of the 1930s that encouraged Axis aggression? Or does it owe not to any ideology, however ill-informed, but only to his instinct for saying what he thinks his kind of voter wants to hear?

No matter. Any of those explanations proves that he is, as The Washington Post declared last week, uniquely unqualified for the presidency.

And uniquely undeserving.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Hey Jeb, don’t blame Donald on Barack

Better could have been expected of Jeb Bush than his op-ed in Saturday’s Washington Post, which attempted to lay the blame for Donald Trump primarily on President Obama.

Here are his words. Interpret them for yourself:

“As much as I reject Donald Trump as our party leader, he did not create the political culture of the United States on his own.

“Eight years of the divisive tactics of President Obama and his allies have undermined Americans’ faith in politics and government to accomplish anything constructive. The president has wielded his power — while often exceeding his authority — to punish his opponents, legislate from the White House, and turn agency rule-making into a weapon for liberal dogma.”

Bush did go on to blame “a few in the Republican Party,” who “responded by trying to out-polarize the president, making us seem anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and anti-common sense.”

A few?

Even before Obama’s inauguration, there was Rush Limbaugh, the self-appointed doctrinal enforcer of the GOP, declaring, “I hope he fails!”

From Day One, the Republicans’ posture was to act out Limbaugh’s base impulse —obstruct everything Obama attempted to do, undermine his successes with sniping and litigation, and blame him for every ill fortune except global warning, about which, inconveniently, they are virtually all in denial.

Mitch McConnell came right out and said it: the goal was to make Obama a one-term president. The voters did not agree.

Obama’s reward for modeling his health care reform on Mitt Romney‘s successful Massachusetts example, an individual mandate, was more than two score of Republican attempts to repeal it, extending even to a petulant government shutdown.

That was because the Republicans dread nothing half so much as legislation that might endear the Democrats to voters, such as Social Security did.

Stricken with collective cowardice in the face of Tea Party spite, the Republicans abandoned immigration reform and denounced the president for trying to achieve something with an executive order.

Although Bush doesn’t seem to have noticed, the public has. The president’s popularity towers over that of Congress, which has tanked in the Gallup poll at 80 percent disapproval. Most voters would sooner have colonoscopies than say anything nice about Congress.

Obama, meanwhile, enjoys 51 percent approval, nearly 20 points better than George W. Bush‘s standing at the corresponding point in his second term and only two points less than Ronald Reagan‘s.

But Jeb Bush still doesn’t get it. He appears to be in absolute denial as to why Republican voters were primed to reward a loudmouth, utterly unqualified anti-government bigot with the precious presidential nomination that ought to have been his.

Richard Nixon‘s Southern strategy planted the seeds. Reagan shrewdly cultivated them with his persistent denigration of our government and his dog whistles to racists.

Jeb himself is an apostle of the anti-government philosophy Trump has turned to advantage. At his second inauguration, he fantasized about emptying the state buildings behind him. That foretold Rick Scott.

The voters most susceptible to hating the government and those who lead it are those folks who feel left behind — as indeed, so many have been — and eager for simple solutions like Trump’s. He is the whirlwind spawned by two generations of Republican propaganda about big, bad government.

Jeb’s “solutions,” as expressed in the Saturday op-ed, are as simplistic as Trump’s. They’re vintage right-wing dogma.

“Let’s pursue term limits, a balanced-budget amendment, and line-item veto authority, even if that requires calling a constitutional convention of the states,” he wrote.

Only one of those, the line-item veto, is a potentially responsible initiative. The others are dreadful.

Had Alexander Hamilton been forced to deal with a balanced budget straitjacket, the United States would have been bankrupt from the outset. And its growth would have been as stymied as that of a family that can never earn enough to move from shabby rentals into their own home.

A second constitutional convention, especially one set up by the gerrymandered state legislatures, would likely make a shamble of the Constitution and especially of the Bill of Rights.

Term limits would do for the Congress what George H. Bush‘s invasion of Iraq did for stability in the Middle East.

Term limits, which took hold during Bush’s Jeb’s governorship, ravaged the Florida Legislature. Rank-and-file members became drones who dared not disobey the leaders if they wanted to accomplish anything in their eight years. It magnified the experience and influence of the lobbyists. It did not improve turnover, nor did it change the nature of those elected. It made the Legislature even more malleable in the hands of a shrewd governor, such as Bush was.

The nature of Congress is, as Bush does recognize, basically responsible for how poorly it functions. But that’s a product of the way its members are elected, rather than of how often they are re-elected. What’s wrong is not how often that happens, but how often there is no effective challenge from an opposing party.

Term limits don’t touch that. The cure is to get rid of gerrymandering and make the districting process as professional and nonpartisan as honest intentions can provide. That’s not impossible. Iowa did it. Florida’s “Fair Districts” initiatives are a good start, but only as good as the state Supreme Court’s continued interest in enforcing them.

FairVote, the public interest group founded by John Anderson, calculates that 85 percent of seats in the U.S. House are safe for whichever party already holds them. Only 4 percent are rated tossups. Thus the only action is in the primaries, where extremes tend to rule. Mark Meadows, the freshman from North Carolina who instigated the last shutdown, has nothing to fear from the Democrats. Those who live in his district cannot possibly punish his misconduct, and he knows that.

If Jeb Bush’s eyes were open to what’s really wrong with Congress, redistricting would be at the top of his list. Term limits would be nowhere on it.

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: In wake of Bob McDonnell case, Congress needs to close bribery loophole

What might have been only a run-of-the-mill bribery case became a major chapter in Florida history, and a forerunner of a recent deeply disturbing decision at the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Ft. Lauderdale labor union local wanted to dig a canal on property it owned. Seeking a shortcut, the president and two henchmen passed $1,000 in cash to a county commissioner. He was wearing a wire. The law was watching.

In April 1973, the Florida Supreme Court voted 4-2 to throw out the resulting convictions and prison sentences. The majority concluded the union would not have needed the commission’s permission after all. As there was no point in bribing the commissioner, there was no crime. Never mind the criminal intent, or the fact that at the time everyone thought a permit was necessary.

The two dissenters, Joseph A. Boyd Jr., and Richard Ervin, were the only justices who had held any political office other than judge — Boyd as a Dade County commissioner and Ervin as attorney general. They understood retail politics and the danger of, as Boyd put it, “the scurrilous peddling of one’s influence …”

“Because of personal and political connections, public officials can persuade others vested with legal authority to grant favors to people which he (sic) could not personally grant through his own single vote or through the exercise of his official duties,” Boyd protested.

The Legislature plugged the enormous hole that case created with Florida’s present law criminalizing unauthorized compensation to an official who either thinks he has a duty in the matter or tries to influence someone else.

It also led to the resignation, under threat of impeachment, of Justice David L. McCain, who had cast the decisive vote for the defendants, campaign supporters of his. Earlier, he had tried to fix the case by influencing judges of the lower court that first heard the appeal. I wrote that McCain himself had been bribed.

Boyd’s dissent in that old case describes to a precise T what (former) Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell did to earn his recently overturned corruption conviction in federal court.

He took $175,000 in loans, gifts and favors — including a Rolex watch for him and $20,000 worth of designer clothing for his wife — from a man named Johnnie Williams, who wanted Virginia’s universities to conduct research studies on a nutritional supplement his company had developed. McDonnell set up a series of meetings between Williams and university officials to help Williams.

It didn’t work. The universities politely practiced passive resistance, and McDonnell never actually ordered them to do anything. As the prosecution saw it, however, McDonnell had broken several federal laws just by peddling his influence.

But as the U.S. Supreme Court saw it — unanimously — McDonnell had taken no “action,” nor had he agreed to do so, on behalf of Williams.

“The District Court,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “should have instructed the jury that merely arranging a meeting or hosting an event to discuss a matter does not count as a decision or action on that matter.”

In reversing the conviction, the court left an opening to the prosecution to retry McDonnell. But it’s an infinitely slim one. Consider Roberts’s closing remarks:

“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful. It may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes and ballgown. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the Government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statutes. A more limited interpretation of the term ‘official act’ leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, while comporting with the text of the statute and the precedent of this Court.”

Balderdash. If “official act” is limited to something like a signature on legislation or on a direct order, that’s a loophole wide enough to drag the entire District of Columbia through it, and the Grand Canyon besides. It might even be large enough to let Rep. Corinne Brown of Jacksonville wriggle out of her freshly minted federal corruption indictment.

The Roberts opinion reflects either a naiveté or lack of concern with what it’s like in the grubby trenches of retail politics; they crawl with people eager to find and patronize influential politicians who can pull strings with colleagues or regulatory agencies.

No one on that court has any real-world experience appropriate to cases like McDonnell’s. Not since Sandra Day O’Connor‘s appointment 35 years ago has there been a justice who ever ran for any office, and she retired 10 years ago.

So there was no dissent. It took Jack Abramoff, the celebrated and repentant political fixer, to explain what’s wrong with the McDonnell decision.

“When somebody petitioning a public servant for action provides any kind of extra resources — money or a gift or anything — that affects the process,” he told The Washington Post.

That is, of course, true of campaign contributions, a million times more so. But the law recognizes a distinction — even if there is no practical difference — between money intended to elect someone and largesse for his personal use.

One bridge at a time.

Congress needs to do what the Florida Legislature did: make it a crime for someone to offer, or an official to accept, monetary favors for wielding his or her influence.

I’m not holding my breath.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: With ‘colossal liar’ Donald Trump, nightmares could become reality

Donald Trump has audacious proposals to wall off Mexico and bar Muslim immigrants, but he hasn’t said how he would stop people from sneaking around the barriers or overstaying visas.

How might he manage that? Let’s surmise one way.

He could be planning to implant every lawful resident with an identification chip like those the veterinarian offers to your dog or cat. The process is relatively painless and doesn’t cost much.

Newborns and legitimate visitors would be first. Others would have their turn in order to renew their drivers’ licenses, receive a tax refund, or show up to vote. Strategically placed surveillance devices would detect people without chips to be held for questioning.

“We have no choice,” he would say.

Stop. Roll back. This is fiction. I have absolutely no evidence that anything of the sort has occurred even to Trump. Identity chips have been the fantasy only of some folks on the far right who enjoy suspecting that their own government is out to get them.

They’re probably huge Trump fans. They’re susceptible to believing anything bad about their country’s leadership, and that’s what he trades on.

They’d better be careful, though. With Trump, one of their nightmares could become reality.

As Trump himself would say, who knows?

Stop. Roll back. I say again, this is fiction.

But it’s no more false, fanciful or outrageous than the paranoid fables that Trump persistently passes off as casually as you or I might say, “How’s it going today?”

After the slaughter at Orlando, Trump had the gall to imply that President Obama was somehow responsible.

Proof?

“There’s something going on,” Trump said.

That’s not proof.

He prepared for his campaign by flogging the birther nonsense even after all but a few certifiable lunatics had accepted the redundant evidence of Barack Obama’s native-born citizenship.

He has been digging into his party’s dry-as-dust Benghazi well by charging that Hillary Clinton was asleep rather than answering the phone when the American consulate was under attack. That’s a takeoff on her campaign question, “Who do you want in the White House when the phone rings at 3 a.m.?”

The trouble with Trump’s attempt to exploit Benghazi in that regard is that while the assault took place at nighttime in Libya, it was full daylight in the United States. The secretary of state was not napping. After verifying that she was in her Washington office, PolitiFact rated Trump’s claim “false.”

Pressed repeatedly on the insinuation, Trump finally admitted on NBC News that it might not be true.

“It happened all during the day and was going on for a long period of time — it was going on for a long period of time and she was asleep at the wheel, whether she was sleeping or not, who knows if she was sleeping?” he said.

Who knows?

If such speculative claptrap is legitimate politicking, here are a few other possibilities:

Is Trump insane?

Who knows?

Does he maintain a secret harem somewhere?

Who knows?

Does he have a fortune stashed in Russian banks, and is that why he’s refusing to divulge his income tax returns?

Who knows?

Trump continues to remind us that the Republican Party is about to nominate, for the most important office in the world, someone who doesn’t care even in the slightest whether there’s any truth to what he says.

He is a deliberate liar who’s as eager to deceive everyone in the same way he took advantage of people expecting to learn something useful from the so-called Trump University. The lesson that most learned was to not be swindled again.

And when Trump accuses Clinton of being the most corrupt presidential candidate ever, she must know what it’s like to be called ugly by a frog. Trump should look in the mirror.

He is as corrupt, if not more so, than any individual who has ever run for any office in the United States.

To tell lies and willfully repeat them after they have been exposed is a profound form of corruption.

To lure hard-working Americans into seminars on the premise that they will learn to be rich and then stiff them for ever-costlier upgrades they can’t afford is a profound form of corruption.

To habitually take corporations into bankruptcy, enriching oneself while leaving creditors and investors with little or nothing, is corruption. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, once can be the failure of good intentions. But at the old saying goes, “Fool me once, your fault. Fool me twice, my fault.”

The presidency of the United States — the leadership of the free world — is not on the order of a gambling casino or a golf course. We don’t dare be fooled even once.

Especially not by so colossal a liar as Donald Trump.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

 

Martin Dyckman: By electing pro-gun politicians, we are the ally of home-grown terrorists

What fools we are.  What willful, stubborn, persistent, incurable fools.

Americans submit by the millions to the Transportation Security Administration’s multiple indignities and inconveniences. The TSA will cost us $5.1 billion this year. We’ll fill its trash barrels with tons of cosmetics, lotions and bottled water that we can’t carry on board.

This is in the hope of preventing terrorists from committing more mass murders, such as those of September 11, 2001. And there haven’t been any more in that manner.

But that guards only one gate, while leaving another gaping.

Even as you next pose like a prisoner with arms raised or stand still for a TSA officer to wand you, some terrorist with massacre in mind could be walking into any gun shop and walking out with the means to carry it out.

That’s what Omar Mateen did last week in Florida, where no permit is needed to buy or possess any firearm other than a machine gun. Florida allows even an AR-15 or its equivalent. Such weapons were invented for use in war, not self-defense. They fire as rapidly as a finger can pull a trigger. With a technique called bump fire, a trained shooter supposedly can achieve a rate of 700 rounds per minute.

And so Florida is now the site of America’s worst mass shooting, with 49 innocent people dead and 53 others wounded, many grievously, at an Orlando night club named Pulse.

Mateen appears to have been the most dangerous type of terrorist — homegrown, out of sight of any border control, virtually undetectable.

And yet, there were warnings. His employer, a British-based security firm whose clients include the U.S. government, reportedly was told, according to The New York Times, that he spoke racial, ethnic and sexist slurs and talked about killing people. The FBI looked into him twice. Whether there was negligence is an appropriate question for investigation.

The bigger question, though, is how many more Americans must die en masse, in nightclubs and restaurants and movie theaters and churches and schools, in as few seconds as it takes to read the sentence, before we learn to prohibit the sale and possession of such weapons of mass destruction?

How many more terrorists will we arm?

Predictably, of course, Donald Trump right away scapegoated the entire Muslim community, asserting without a shred of evidence that someone must have known what Mateen intended. In fact, most of the victims of mass shootings in the United States — 621 dead, 594 injured since 1982, according to Mother Jones — were killed by non-Muslims.  Do we blame Christianity for Charleston, Virginia Tech, or for Newtown, Aurora, and Columbine? Or for the bombings and shootings, some fatal, at abortion clinics? Radicalism exists in nearly every religious faith and is the enemy of them all.

Right after the San Bernardino massacre, the Senate voted 45-54 against prohibiting persons on the terrorism watch list from buying firearms. If the list is faulty, as some senators objected, it should be fixed. But as of now, there can be no confidence that someone on that list won’t be the next mass murderer.

We’ll hear the gun lobby, doubtlessly, argue yet again that the best defense — the only defense — against the consequences of its insane demands is for everyone to have guns everywhere.

Now suppose that half the people in that crowded, dimly lighted club had weapons when the shooting began. Think about it. Many more than 49 innocent people would be dead. Even when highly trained police stormed the scene, they couldn’t be sure that Mateen would be the only fatality.

Someone posted to Facebook the other day that the NRA is America’s ISIS.

Not so. The NRA does not set out to massacre innocent people.

But the NRA and its associates in the gun lobby are indeed the allies of ISIS and of every other terrorist individual or organization, whatever its roots, where hatred is harbored against Americans because of their faiths, their origins, their race, or their nationality, or where mental illness inspires inchoate rage.

And we — you and I, fellow citizens, are also terrorism’s allies, however unwilling or unwitting me may believe we are.

We are terrorism’s allies so long as we submit to electing people to public office who are so stupid, selfish and cowardly that they would rather enact the insanities of the gun lobby than take reasonable and necessary steps to avert mass murder.

There is no sound reason why any private citizen needs semi-automatic weapons, especially not AR-15s.

Their possession and sale should be criminalized, except perhaps for gun clubs where the weapons would not be allowed off the premises.

For a fraction of what the TSA is costing, we could buy back every such weapon and pay the owners a bonus for their troubles.

The Second Amendment, of which the Supreme Court and the gun lobby have such a distorted view, was written in an age when no firearm on earth could be discharged more than three or four times a minute.

Time and technology have rendered the gun lobby’s interpretation functionally obsolete.

How many more Americans must be slaughtered before we, and our politicians, face that fact?

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

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