| PostIndependent.com

Cepeda column: Backlash against Castro spotlights America’s double standard for people of color

CHICAGO — As I was chatting with the young man ringing up my purchases at a big-box store last week, he forgot to scan the microwave in my cart. I told him that although I would love his mega corporation to give me a free appliance, I’d be paying on this day. We shared a chuckle.

Moments later, the greeter stopped me at the exit and asked to check my receipt. My husband, who is white, said to me, “What are the chances that the greeter would have checked your receipt the one time you accidentally hadn’t paid for a big-ticket item?”

I glared.

My response to his naive comment was: “Only someone who rarely gets asked to validate a purchase would say that — I almost never get out of this store without having my cart items checked against my receipts. Do you want to guess why?”

I don’t usually have to play a spirited game of “Spot the White Privilege” with my husband or sons — they’ve seen the disparities in how we’re treated in countless situations.

It’s everyone else — those who aren’t in a group that our president encourages his fellow white citizens to look upon with suspicion or plain outrage — who needs double standards and inequities pointed out.

Here’s the most annoying one of the past week: the uproar over former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro’s so-called attack on former Vice President Joe Biden during last Thursday’s presidential debate.

In a stunning case of projection by everyone from political commentators to “straight” news reporters, Castro was accused of ageism for questioning if Biden was backpedaling his Medicare stance. At issue was whether Biden would require those who want Medicare coverage to have to “opt in” to the plan or if they would be automatically enrolled and have to “opt out” of the program.

USA Today declared Castro’s end of the back-and-forth an “attack” as did Politifact, MSNBC, The Washington Post and countless other media outlets.

Several of those stories included quotes from scandalized innocents who couldn’t bear to witness a youngster “talk back” to an elder, on a debate stage.

Paul Begala, who served as a senior aide to President Bill Clinton, tsk-tsked, calling Castro’s questioning a “cheap shot.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick called the instance “unnecessary.” The Democrat added: “There are differences in how the candidates view their policy choices and their policy proposals, and that is all fair game, but it doesn’t have to be trivialized.”

Fellow presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota piled on: “I just thought that ‘this is not cool.’ … I thought that was so personal and so unnecessary.”

Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill.

The exchange wasn’t even all that heated, frankly. But when Castro uttered the words, “Are you forgetting what you said just two minutes ago?” the commentariat clutched its pearls, because it assumed ill will that Castro never explicitly voiced, and subsequently denied. “I wouldn’t do it differently. That was not a personal attack,” Castro told CNN the next day.

Would anyone have even blinked had former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke or South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg couched their comments similarly?

It’s doubtful. So much candidate-to-candidate pushback has gone on for the past few months that most people hardly notice or care when it happens.

I’m here to cheer for the Latino backlash to the non-Latino backlash against Castro, which clearly illustrates that the moment a person of color fact-checks someone in real time, they will have projected onto them sinister intentions, unfair play and aggression.

Mayra Macías, executive director of Latino Victory Project, which has endorsed Castro and works to get Latinos elected to public office, told NBC News that Castro’s role in the primary campaign has been to push the conversations deeper and hold candidates accountable. Macias noted that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has done it time and again, without scandalizing the masses, as have other candidates.

“When a brown man is calling out a prominent white man, why is there this backlash that I don’t think would have happened if Sen. Sanders was the one telling Vice President Biden if he forgot?” Macias said.

The answer is clear: A double-standard against brown people.

In this country, people of color hold certain places in the collective mind. If they aren’t criminals, they are subservient; glorified if they “work hard” to overcome systemic racism to scratch out a living.

Rarely are they perceived as smart, energetic and powerful.

All I can say to that is: America, get ready for your worldview to be rocked.

Esther Cepeda’s email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.

Micek column: There is always hope

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Fighting back tears, her voice cracking, Jackie Bieber had a simple message for anyone who’s thinking about taking their own life:

“There is always life,” she said. “There is always hope.”

In May, Bieber’s 25-year-old daughter, Shawn Shatto – apparently egged on by a ghoulish online community that provided her with step-by-step instructions on how to kill herself – died by suicide in York County, about 40 minutes south of Harrisburg.

And when she hesitated, when she had second thoughts, they pushed her to follow through, telling her death was the only escape.

“Disgusting. Appalling. Unacceptable.” Jackie Bieber barked out the words. Her husband, Chip Bieber, holding a framed photo of their daughter, stood at his wife’s side in the state Capitol rotunda.

Appalling? That doesn’t even begin to cover it.

There’s no collection of adjectives that adequately captures the trauma of losing a child – especially when, as the Biebers believe, anonymous faces lurking online steered Shawn Shatto on her tragic course. The case remains under investigation, authorities said.

This week, Pa. state Rep. Dawn Keefer rolled out legislation that she hopes will prevent such future tragedies. She’s calling it “Shawn’s Law.”

If it’s eventually approved by the full Legislature, and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, the proposal would allow prosecutors to impose additional penalties on those who encourage or instruct others on how to take their own lives.

Right now, the state punishes such offenses, depending on their severity, with a second-degree misdemeanor or a second-degree felony. The former carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and $5,000 in fines; the latter is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Keefer’s bill would increase penalties in cases where the victim is aged 18 or younger or suffers from an intellectual disability.

Just days earlier, in the same spot in the Capitol rotunda, anti-gun violence advocates and their legislative allies, called on lawmakers to pass extreme risk protection orders, which they are say are a critical tool in preventing gun suicides.

Both events come as Pennsylvania – and the rest of the nation – observes Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

And while it seems cliche to say it, it bears repeating: It’s not enough to have just a month devoted to suicide prevention. This is a discussion we should be having every day, around our dinner tables, in our school classrooms, our church, mosque and synagogue meeting rooms, or even around the office watercooler.

In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide, data shows. About half of those deaths were by firearms. Think about that number for a minute: That’s an American small town’s worth of people getting wiped out every year.

During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Hardball” this week, Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., spoke movingly of the need to allocate more resources to mental health treatment and suicide prevention. Earlier this year, Wild’s partner, Kerry Acker, died by suicide.

“Every community in our country has been touched in some way by major mental health challenges,” Wild said during in June during an emotional speech on the floor of the House. “Removing the stigma cannot just be a slogan. We need to make it real through our actions.”

Shawn Shatto’s death, along with the deaths of hundreds of thousands of others across Pennsylvania and the nation, is vivid evidence that suicide spares no one – regardless of class, race, education, or income.

It also matters how we talk about the issue, the language we use to describe it, by not saying someone “committed suicide,” which implies criminality, but “died by suicide,” which helps lift the stigma associated with the act.

That’s also the aim of a resolution, sponsored by Pennsylvania state Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, that cleared a state House committee this week. Her father, a firefighter, died by gun suicide when she was 13.

All of that’s important. Keefer’s bill and O’Mara’s resolution are critical. But so are the little steps.

That’s reaching out a hand to those who are in pain, those who are struggling, those who are feeling the pull of the shadows, and reminding them that they’re never, ever alone.

That we remind them, as Jackie Bieber said, that there is always life. There is always hope.

An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at jmicek@penncapital-star.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.

Toussaint column: Kicking my bucket list to the curb

I’d walk out to support the worldwide climate strike, but I work from home. I doubt that standing on my front lawn in small, rural Carbondale would have much impact.

I do, however, intend to continue a “strike” of sorts, one I started two years ago when my former minister, the Rev. Florence Caplow, mentioned that for climate reasons, she had stopped flying.

Florence’s remark led me to discover that one round-trip flight to San Francisco, where I have business interests, produces 0.782 of a ton of climate-killing CO2. If I fly, I not only exceed the annual personal “CO2 budget” recommended by the Swiss nonprofit MyClimate.org, I also more than wipe out all the good I do all year by driving a plug-in electric hybrid, producing electricity from rooftop solar panels and eating a largely meat-free diet.

Nowadays, like Florence, I take the train instead.

While researching ways to support the Sept. 20 youth-led climate strike, I learned that during 2017, roughly 1,270,406 people were flying at any given moment; that’s around 10,000 planes continuously aloft. And every round-trip transatlantic flight emits enough CO2 to melt 30 square feet of Arctic sea ice.

Those facts have largely convinced me to kick my bucket list — at least the travel portion — to the curb.

The notion of a “bucket list,” popularized by a 2007 Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman movie, has become an internet meme. So much so that you can Google the “top 10 bucket list” items. Among them: getting a tattoo, swimming with dolphins, seeing the Northern Lights and visiting certain exotic places.

While I’m too needle-shy to aspire to a tattoo and don’t have courage enough to skydive (as George H.W. Bush did on his 90th birthday), I actually have engaged in many of the top-10 bucket list activities: taking a cruise, running a marathon, getting married, whitewater rafting and visiting the Grand Canyon. Indeed, having worked in the travel industry, my old passport carried stamps from Haiti, Jamaica, Guatemala and Morocco (a bucket list locale), among other exotic places.

I credit travel for opening my eyes to how beautiful, complex and interdependent the world is. Sailing through a fjord, touching a coral reef and skiing on a volcanic glacier awakened my sense of wonder. I began to understand how lucky I was to be born in the U.S. when I saw families in a Caracas favela living in cardboard refrigerator boxes. It’s one thing to read that ebola jumped from Liberia to Dallas in a matter of hours, quite another to experience how short a flight from Africa to the U.S. really is.

Last week, Carbondale musician Jimmy Byrne, who had recently hosted a block party on global warming, mentioned a painful irony to me: Those who most keenly grieve about destruction of the natural environment are those who have traveled. This isn’t just an inconvenient truth, it’s an agonizing oxymoron. The people who are most in pain about the bleaching of the Great Barrier reef are those who have seen it and touched it.

People like me are quite literally loving the world to death.

Although air travel is relatively cheap (because dollars don’t tally the cost to our children and grandchildren) it’s a privilege enjoyed only by first-world people. The Guatemalans trying to enter the U.S. via the Rio Grande aren’t traveling to broaden their worldview; they’re fleeing because their homeland no longer gets enough rain to grow crops. Their kids are hungry. The villagers of Shishmaref, Alaska, who voted in 2016 to relocate their town, weren’t out to improve their real estate. They had to move because the coastline was melting and their homes were falling into the sea.

Since I first heard bouzouki music in “Never on Sunday” more than 50 years ago, I have wanted to visit Greece. But now I’m thinking I won’t be visiting Athens — never on a Sunday, never at all. Acid rain and air pollution are eroding the Parthenon, and the ancient city of Corfu is one of four Greek UNESCO sites threatened by sea-level rise. Do I want to add to that?

Perhaps I should heed the advice of Medium author Jacqueline Moore, who opined that most bucket lists are “self-centered — selfish, even — and an utter waste of your commitment and determination.” Why? Because most bucket list items are expensive, “gone in 60 seconds” and make “absolutely no lasting contribution to the world.”

Moore recommends instead creating a “legacy list” of actions “that will live on and continue to make a difference.” Items like teaching someone to read, helping out in a local school or animal shelter, coaching sports, lending a hand in a hospital or volunteering for a conservation problem.

I’d like to volunteer to help conserve Mediterranean sea turtles, but maybe I should join the Front Range Pika Project instead.

Nicolette Toussaint lives in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.

Hong Kong stands athwart an increasingly nasty regime

HONG KONG — Lee Cheuk-yan, unlike most Americans, remembers and reveres Lane Kirkland, a hero of the first Cold War. During 16 years as leader of the AFL-CIO, 1979-1995, Kirkland gave crucial support, both material and moral, to Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement in Poland, where it was an early tremor in the political earthquake that ended European communism. Here, in this island city at the other end of the Eurasian land mass, a city that has become a flashpoint in Cold War 2.0, Lee is lending support to a fluid, shapeshifting protest movement that has no Lech Walesa.

This lack is a strength and a weakness. The movement has no leader with whom the local government, which is an appendage of Beijing and hence of the Chinese Communist Party, might negotiate. Fortunately, however, a movement without a head cannot be easily decapitated, which otherwise probably would be Beijing’s default position.

This thought experiment became the premise of a 2018 novel (Chloe Benjamin’s “The Immortalists”): If you knew when you were going to die, how would this change how you choose to live? Hong Kong’s young people, from whom come most of the demonstrations’ participants and energy, know that the clock is ticking for their city. It is 22 years into what was supposed to be a 50-year grace period. In 1997, Britain ended 156 years of responsibility for Hong Kong, transferring it to China.

So, just eight years after the Tiananmen massacre, there began what was supposed to be half a century of Hong Kong’s exceptionalism preserved, after which the city might be gracefully melded with a mellowed mainland. Just 22 years later, this hope has been as refuted as the 1989 hope that the massacre would be followed by a less authoritarian, because more secure, Beijing regime.

Lee was in a hotel overlooking Tiananmen Square when the tanks rolled in. He later organized Hong Kong’s memorial museum, which is overseen by the same organization that facilitates commemorations every June 4. As a human bridge between the first Cold War and the next one, he knows that this city today is not like East Berlin in 1953, or Budapest in 1956, or Prague in 1968. In those places, people who were in despotism’s firm grip rebelled and quickly learned how firm the grip was. Hong Kong is spectacularly vibrant and prosperous because it perennially — since 1970 — holds the top position in the Economic Freedom of the World rankings.

When demonstrators here have waved colonial-era flags and shouted “Reclaim Hong Kong,” they were not nostalgic for colonial restoration. Rather, this was largely a cry for the status quo.

Largely, until now. Now, however, less and less. As a young Hong Kong woman studying in Boston recently wrote in her college newspaper, “I am from a city owned by a country that I don’t belong to.” Residents of this city, especially young residents, are decreasingly likely to think of themselves as Chinese rather than as Hong Kongers. In 1997, 47% of residents were “proud to be a citizen of China.” Now only 38% are. Among those 18 to 29 years old, 55% have a negative opinion of the Beijing regime, which has sown discord and is reaping disaffection.

The 1992 United States-Hong Kong Policy Act commits America, as the State Department notes, to “promote Hong Kong’s prosperity, autonomy, and way of life.” Its “way of life” is a multifaceted condition that rests on freedom and universal suffrage. A recent Hong Kong demonstration called for passage by the U.S. Congress of legislation that would impose sanctions on mainland Chinese or Hong Kong officials who abridge the city’s freedoms, and it would require annual review of the special economic privileges Hong Kong gets from America. This would make U.S. relations with Hong Kong more like those with Taiwan, which receives substantial U.S. military and other assistance to buttress its independence, even as U.S. policy adheres to the prudential fiction that Taiwan is something it will not soon, if ever, be — part of “one China.”

But Hong Kong could become yet another casualty of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which made many Americans comprehensively skeptical of U.S. attempts, in the words of President John Kennedy’s inaugural address, “to assure the survival and the success of liberty” around the world. Hong Kong, however, unlike Iraq, has a vibrant democratic culture and civil society. What is required of U.S. policy is not “nation building” but sustaining the reality of a polity that, without claiming or seeking nationhood, simply refuses to be absorbed into the domain of an increasingly nasty regime.

George Will’s email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

Carney: Hunting brings so much more to the area than ‘single-use tourism’

Paying attention to the Post Independent’s opinion page is often difficult for me because of how busy each day can be throughout the school year. However, Lindsay DeFrates’ column on Sept. 10, “Our visitors must become more than single-use tourists,” really struck a nerve.

Usually, I enjoy reading Lindsay’s columns because she’s a very thoughtful person with views that often align with my own. That wasn’t the case when reading her latest column, though, where she came off as elitist, complaining that tourists aren’t doing enough in the area, like getting to know the people and the stories within our town.

The part that bothered me the most was the outright attack on hunters, writing that they’re just here for the perfect shot and a nine-point buck to take home to display on their wall.

It’s not just Lindsay, it’s the general line of thinking surrounding hunting in this area that bothers me as a whole. There’s so much more to the hunting industry for this area outside of hunters walking into the woods with their guns, bagging big game, and leaving. Quite frankly, it’s flat-out false and irresponsible to claim such in a column.

Growing up, my dad, brother and I would head to the mountains in central Pennsylvania to our small camp that my grandfather owned. We went up there to get away from the world and to just hunt and fish during the spring, summer, and fall.

We didn’t have a lot growing up, but my dad spent quite a bit of money heading to the mountains every year, especially during hunting season. We went out to eat, bought groceries at the local family-owned farmer’s market and bought wood at the Amish farms, helping to support their business.

We didn’t necessarily go up to the mountains for “single-use tourism.” There’s so much more to heading to a remote location to hunt than just being a tourist and bagging game.

I can’t speak for other tourist groups, but hunting is one of the largest, if not the largest, single draw to Colorado, right up there with recreational marijuana and skiing. When hunters come, they come in waves, and usually bring plenty of cash with them.

In our area alone, mule deer and elk are open game to hunters with a valid license and tag in Game Management Unit No. 42 and No. 43, as well as No. 421 and No. 521 in the Flat Top wilderness area north of Glenwood Springs.

Unit 41 alone generates more than 20,000 big-game hunting licenses every year, according to a study commissioned by the Thompson Divide Coalition. That’s just in one unit.

That large number of licenses means people will pour into the area in search of a trophy buck or elk, which in turn generates revenue for the valley as a whole. If in search of big mule deer, Carbondale is the place to go, while the White River National Forest near Rifle is home to the largest elk population in the world.

According to the group Hunting Works for Colorado, roughly $465 million is spent annually on hunting within the state. An estimated 259,000 people hunt in Colorado each year, of whom 115,000 are out-of-state hunters.

Hunters spend $221 million on trip-related costs in Colorado and another $185 million on hunting equipment, according to research compiled by the group. That’s roughly $1,800 spent by each hunter per year in Colorado, which translates to $292 million in salary and wages, while supporting 8,400 jobs and paying $51 million in state and local taxes. That causes an overall ripple effect of $763 million for the entire state.

Colorado hunting season generated more revenue for the state than recreational marijuana sales, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

As Gary Miller, the owner of Miller’s Dry Goods in Rifle once told me, “Hunting season is Rifle’s tourism. It’s really what has historically brought people to town. Thirty-five years ago when I was researching buying this business, I wanted to know why October and November were big months, and it always turned out to be because of hunting season.”

You see, hunters don’t just come to the area to bag the big game and go home. Sure, what’s available to them in this area in terms of big game is a big reason they come, but they’re out in the community interacting, going out to eat after long days in the woods, grabbing a drink at the local watering hole, spending money on lodging, etc.

There’s not much more they need to do. Thinking that they need to learn the town and its people is silly. How often do people go on vacation to meet people and learn about the town they’re in? The whole point of a vacation is to get away from your everyday life and relax, not go out of your way to educate yourself on the area.

As residents of this area, we shouldn’t care if people learn our history or who the important townsfolk are. What we should care about is the revenue generated and the jobs that the tourism industry props up year-to-year, considering we’re a tourist town.

And, by the way, there’s really no better way to “appreciate how complex and beautiful the world” is, as DeFrates wrote in her column, than sitting in the woods waiting on that ideal big game to walk by. It’s just you and nature, which can make one feel pretty small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, allowing them peace and quiet from the hustle of the everyday world.

Really, all it comes down to people educating themselves on the complexities of hunting and what it does for our region, rather than complaining to the high heavens that hunters (and other forms of tourists) need to be more than single-use tourists.

Josh Carney is the sports editor of the Post Independent. Josh can be reached via email at jcarney@postindependent.com

Semro column: Long-term care — a perfect storm?

There may be something of a “perfect storm” on the horizon for long term care in this country. Like hurricane forecasts, we’ve seen this storm coming for a long time. We’ve seen it building and we know how powerful it could be.

The key elements of this storm are demand, cost, financial security and most recently the availability of the long term care workforce.

To begin with, the United States is facing a demand for long term care that’s historically unprecedented. There are currently more than 70 million baby boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964, living in the U.S. Every single day, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65. In 10 years, one-fifth of the country’s population will be 65 years of age or older

Seventy percent of Americans over 65 live with multiple chronic health conditions and will probably require long-term care at some point. Today, there are about 6.3 million adults over the age of 85, the age range where people are most likely to need long-term care. That number is expected to triple, reaching 19 million by 2050.

The demand for home care, assisted living and nursing homes could well outstrip the current supply. That will be especially true in rural areas, where 25 percent of Americans over 65 live and where long-term care facilities and home-care providers are becoming ever harder to find.

The second element is the cost of long term care. According to the 2018 Genworth Cost of Care Survey for Colorado, the current median cost for full-time home maker services is over $57,000 a year ($25/hr.). Full-time home health aides cost around $59,000. Assisted living facilities average $48,000, and the annual median price for nursing-home care ranges from $94,000 to $108,000 depending on whether you want a private room.

Eight years from now, full-time homemaker services are projected to average $77,000 a year ($34/hr.). Assisted living will increase to $64,500 and nursing home average costs will jump to $127,000 to $145,000.

The third element of this perfect storm is the financial security of this country’s aging population. According to 2018 data from the Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, baby boomers and older Americans have an average of $274,910 in savings. Unfortunately, half of that population has saved less than $24,280. For those people, professional long-term care services would obliterate those savings in a few months. Even for those with more money stashed away, long-term care costs would have a substantial financial impact.

But it doesn’t end there. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, average out-of-pocket spending on health care alone, for people on Medicare, was over 40 percent of the average Social Security check.

On average, boomers and older Americans are more than $110,000 in debt. A third of home owners over 65 are still paying off a mortgage. That debt averages around $80,000. And 2.8 million Americans over 60 years of age still have unpaid student debt.

Bottom line, private pay long term care may be financially out of reach for a substantial number of older Americans. Once the savings are gone, that population will be dependent upon Medicaid and other social safety nets.

Finally, there’s the problem of the caregiver workforce. For many, long term care is delivered informally by friends and family. Most are unprepared for that role and lack the training necessary to care for someone when their condition worsens. At some point, private pay long-term care has to fill the gap.

Unfortunately, there may not be enough caregivers in the future to meet the need. In 2018, the median hourly salary for a home health aide was around $11.57. That’s about $8,000 more a year in salary than the federal poverty level for a family of two. About 88 percent of domestic caregivers don’t get paid time off, sick leave or health insurance. Over half of domestic caregivers rely on some form of public assistance. Roughly a quarter of these workers are immigrants.

With a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, long-term care providers may not be able to attract enough workers to meet the demand. And employee turnover rates, which have always been high in this industry, will make that problem even worse. According to the research organization, PHI, the long-term care sector will need to fill 7.8 million jobs by 2026.

We have a closed circle developing here. The demand for long term care will continue to grow at an unprecedented rate. In order to maintain a workforce, caregivers will need to be paid more. That will increase costs that a large portion of the aging population will be unable to afford. And in rural areas the problems will be even worse. It’s time for all of us to pay more attention to the storm that’s coming our way.

Bob Semro of Glenwood Springs is a former health policy analyst for the Bell Policy Center, and a legislative and senior advocate. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com

Durst column: Football cliches and the Democratic primary

Got an embarrassing admission here. I was scheduled to summarize the Democratic candidates debate last week, but also had a deadline about the opening of the football season, and they kind of got mixed up together. Don’t you hate it when two things vie for your attention at the same time? Must be what’s making Donald Trump so irascible.

Of course, when you get right down to it, the two do have quite a bit in common. Both politics and football are sports that don’t finish until there’s blood on the field. You cannot comment on either one without your trusty basket of cliches. And the losers are forgotten as soon as the contest is over (if not before).

So apologies all around and here goes:

Joe Biden. This crafty veteran comes to play every day and always gives 110 percent, but you can’t help but suspect some of those unforced errors early in the season are going to come back to haunt him.

Elizabeth Warren. Everyone knows she always brings her “A” game and is making plays on both sides of the ball, but now it’s gut-check time and she needs to put the rock in the house.

Bernie Sanders. Not only does he believe that winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, but also, that louder is better. This old war-horse has been there before and knows what to do; the question is does he still have what it takes?

Beto O’Rourke. He comes to play every day, dealing with one debate at a time, proving to all the fans in the stands that he can play with the big boys. And girls. Or will he toss his long-shot personal ambition aside and take one for the team?

Andrew Yang. He matches up well with the Democratic message and talks a good game, but now its time to punch it in. The only worry is whether his giveaway strategy will help or hurt over the course of a grueling schedule.

Pete Buttigieg. His back is up against the wall with lousy field position and is looking at 4th and forever, so it might be Hail Mary Time.

Kamala Harris. The momentum may have shifted, but she has proven over a long career that she won’t be denied, as we saw when she threw her game plan out the window to concentrate on running it right up the middle and is knocking on the door.

Amy Klobuchar. It’s a game of field position and she’s got some room to operate, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to who can score the most points and how bad she wants to run to daylight.

Cory Booker. You can’t stop him, all you can hope to do is contain him. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quit.” Other words he’s unfamiliar with are “victory,” “triumph” and “harpsichord.”

Julian Castro. With his back up against the wall, he left it all on the debate stage, never pulls his punches and demonstrated he believes the best offense is a good offense.

But let’s hope none of them relax, because Tom Steyer has shaken off plenty of would-be-tacklers, isn’t running out of money any time soon and appears to be en fuego. Its obvious the man came to play.

Will Durst is an award-winning, nationally acclaimed columnist, comic and former sod farmer in New Berlin, Wisconsin.

Purcell column: Our cursed 2020 campaign: ‘F-bombs away!

Some presidential candidates, past and present, sure have cursed up a storm.

The Washington Examiner notes Julian Castro said the “BS” word on HBO, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan called on Republicans to “get their ‘s-word’ together,” Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard used the “b-word” to describe President Trump, and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told a group of activists that “if we are not helping people, we should go the ‘f-word’ home.”

Then there’s the queen mother of today’s cussing campaigners: Beto “f-bomb” O’Rourke.

He has used the “f-word” as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction, interjection — pretty much everything but a dangling participle, whatever the “h-e-double-hockey-sticks” that is.

O’Rourke has been struggling in the polls since Mayor Pete “Trump ‘P.O.’d’ our allies” Buttigieg stole his thunder. O’Rourke’s cursing appears to be a ploy for attention, which is all it’s getting him.

I agree with political observers who cite two reasons for the increasing use of salty language.

Emma Byrne, author of “Swearing is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language,” tells Smithsonian there is a science to why we curse. She says “peppering our language with dirty words can actually help us gain credibility and establish a sense of camaraderie” — if it’s done properly.

She distinguishes between “propositional swearing, which is deliberate and planned, and non-propositional swearing, which can happen when we’re surprised, or among friends or confidants.”

O’Rourke’s swearing comes across as contrived — a sign of weakness from an unserious candidate trying to make headlines.

That brings us to the second reason for politicians’ increasingly salty language: President Trump, who, according to Factba.se transcripts, has cursed publicly at least 87 times since 2017.

The thinking is that Trump’s “everyday Joe” cursing has lowered the bar for political discourse, but that other politicians emulating him fail to understand that he’s a master of non-propositional swearing, which — at least among his supporters — may actually boost his political status.

When Trump curses, says Byrne, it comes across as a “sign of honesty” from a non-politician who “tells it like it is.”

It’s enough to make a Trump opponent curse.

Trump certainly isn’t the first president to use profanities. Time reports that after a Revolutionary War battle, George Washington “swore … till the leaves shook on the trees.”

During the 1948 election, President Truman acquired the nickname “Give ‘Em Hell Harry” — at a time when “hell” offended no small number of Americans.

Once his now-infamous tapes went public, President Nixon turned out to be a master of naughty words.

And Lyndon Baines Johnson — perhaps our most gifted presidential user of curse words — had a reputation for verbal obscenity.

In the past, political leaders cussed in private, not in public. Today, though, it’s not just politicians swearing more — it’s everyone.

A 2017 study by San Diego State University psychologist Jean M. Twenge showed a dramatic increase in cursing, which she attributed to America’s growing individualism, “a cultural system that emphasizes the self more and social rules less.” She explained that “as social rules fell by the wayside, and people were told to express themselves, swearing became more common.”

That doesn’t bode well for our cussing politicians. The more that they and everyone else use taboo terms, the less taboo those terms become — and the less impact they have.

If the use of salty language in our increasingly strident political discourse troubles you, here’s a key takeaway from the 2020 campaign season:

We’re all cursed.

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom at Tom@TomPurcell.com.

Micek column: Beto was right on call to confiscate guns… mostly

What if Beto O’Rourke was right?

The former Texas congressman enraged the right and netted himself something that sounded an awful lot like a death threat when he vowed during last week’s debate to ban (and apparently confiscate) AR-15s and other assault weapons favored by mass shooters.

“Hell, yes, we’re going to take away your AR-15, your AK-47,” the former Texas congressman said during Thursday night’s Democratic primary debate in Houston.

Critics immediately pounced. In a single, emotion-charged sentence, O’Rourke appeared to confirm the most feverish fears of the NRA and other gun-rights extremists — that the government really is coming for their guns.

“My AR-15 is ready for you, Robert Francis,” Briscoe Cain, a conservative state lawmaker from Texas, snarled on Twitter, using O’Rourke’s full name, Robert Francis.

It was exactly the sort of reaction you’d expect, and it may also have been exactly what O’Rourke was hoping for, since he’s been doing a slow fade in the polls. And now we’re all talking about him again.

But what if, putting aside the debate stage theatrics, O’Rourke was right?

I’m going to argue that he mainly was.

It’s long past time for America to again ban these weapons of war, which were illegal to purchase from 1994 to 2004. And one of the best ways to get them off our streets is through a nationwide buyback program — not through any sort of confiscation program, which would surely lead to unrest.

And, as PolitiFact notes, “in raw numbers,” researchers at New York University’s medical school found that mass shootings decreased when the ban was in effect and rose afterward. In fact, “the death toll from mass shootings went from 4.8 per year during the ban years to 23.8 per year afterwards.”

Last week, Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who’s pushing an expanded background checks measure in the Senate with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, said O’Rourke’s call to confiscate these weapons was “an awful and extreme” idea that would derail any efforts at “commonsense” reform.

I disagree with Toomey on that count. Surely the world’s greatest legislative body is capable of, as the saying goes, walking and chewing gum at the same time.

Congress can conduct a debate on both expanding background checks and a potential assault weapons ban.

Toomey is right, however, that the kind of mandatory buyback envisioned by O’Rourke, and based on a similar program in Australia, more than likely would not garner the votes for passage. A voluntary program, however, just might.

Momentum for an assault weapons ban is growing in the House. Assuming it can whip up the votes, the chamber’s Democratic majority should pass a ban and then drop it in the collective laps of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Donald Trump.

Obviously progress is likely to stop there, but the House could then force both of them to explain their inaction to the rest of the country when we’re inevitably having the same discussion again after the next mass shooting.

The passion underlying O’Rourke’s comments on Thursday, the rage he felt after two shootings in his home state in less than a month left so many dead and wounded, is understandable.

It’s the same inchoate rage that so many of us feel as we watch these scenes of carnage unfold on our television screens with mind-numbing regularity. It’s the same anger that so many of us feel when calls for action inevitably fall on deaf ears in Washington and in our state capitols.

So maybe after the fury over O’Rourke’s comments dies down, we can all consider the fundamental truth behind the Texan’s comments on ABC’s debate stage.

It’s an assault on common sense that we haven’t banned these weapons. And the time for action is upon us.

An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at jmicek@penncapital-star.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.

Across the Street column: Accountability for Colorado schools and districts

The department of education assesses how well our students and schools are performing in two ways. First, students are measured through achievement exams called the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Second, schools and districts are evaluated through a different measure, performance frameworks.

Colorado schools and districts receive performance ratings to let them and their communities know how well they are doing. These frameworks are called the District Performance Frameworks (DPFs) and School Performance Frameworks (SPFs). The overall ratings are based on achievement and growth on state assessments, along with postsecondary measures such as graduation rates, drop-out rates, college entrance exams and college matriculation rates. The ratings help the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and the State Board of Education (SBE) make decisions about how to help struggling schools. At our September board meeting, the department introduced the preliminary performance frameworks ratings and how they may be adjusted this year to align with legislation passed in the 2019 session.

To simplify designations, schools are rated using the following terminology and colors: Performance (green), Improvement (yellow), Priority Improvement (orange) and Turnaround (red). At a glance, parents and community members can see how their schools are performing. More importantly, it informs the education department of the schools in the orange and red zones where additional support may be directed. In the past, this was known as “turnaround” status or on the “accountability clock.”

Because some schools have been on the “accountability clock” over five years, the terminology has been changed to “performance watch.” This allows for schools to exit the clock only following two consecutive years in a higher category.

From this year’s achievement results, we know that only 40% of our third-graders are reading at or above grade level. Then why in our recently released preliminary performance ratings are 84% of our schools rated as “Performance” or “Improvement” (green or yellow) and 7% in the “Priority Improvement” or “Turnaround category” (orange or red)?

Shifting some of our “growth” measures within part of the frameworks may provide us with a better picture of improving accountability. That will be the decision the state board will be making at an upcoming board meeting.

I’ll leave you with an example I found of how the word accountability can be used in a sentence. “There must be clear accountability of the expenditure of public money.”

Joyce Rankin is a member of the State Board of Education. The Department of Education is located across the street from the Capitol. “Across the Street” will appear monthly.