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Will column: Apollo 11’s achievement still dazzles

WASHINGTON ­— Thirty months after setting the goal of sending a mission 239,000 miles to the moon, and returning safely, President John Kennedy cited a story the Irish author Frank O’Connor told about his boyhood. Facing the challenge of a high wall, O’Connor and his playmates tossed their caps over it. Said Kennedy, “They had no choice but to follow them. This nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space.” Kennedy said this on Nov. 21, 1963, in San Antonio. The next day: Dallas.

To understand America’s euphoria about the moon landing 50 years ago, remember 51 years ago: 1968 was one of America’s worst years — the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy assassinated, urban riots. President Kennedy’s May 25, 1961, vow to reach the moon before 1970 came 43 days after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to enter outer space and orbit the Earth, and 38 days after the Bay of Pigs debacle. When Kennedy audaciously pointed to the moon, America had only sent a single astronaut on a 15-minute suborbital flight.

Kennedy’s goal was reckless, and exhilarating leadership. Given existing knowledge and technologies, it was impossible. But Kennedy said the space program would “serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” It did. The thrilling story of collaborative science and individual daring is told well in HBO’s 12-part “From the Earth to the Moon,” and PBS’s three-part “Chasing the Moon,” and in the companion volume with that title, by Robert Stone and Alan Andres, who write:

“The American effort to get to the moon was the largest peacetime government initiative in the nation’s history. At its peak in the mid-1960s, nearly 2% of the American workforce was engaged in the effort to some degree. It employed more than 400,000 individuals, most of them working for 20,000 different private companies and 200 universities.”

The “space race” began as a Cold War competition, military and political. Even before Sputnik, the first orbiting satellite, jolted Americans’ complacency in 1957 (10 days after President Dwight Eisenhower sent paratroopers to Little Rock’s Central High School), national security was at stake in the race for rockets with ever-greater thrusts to deliver thermonuclear warheads with ever-greater accuracy.

By 1969, however, the Soviet Union was out of the race to the moon, a capitulation that anticipated the Soviets’ expiring gasp, two decades later, when confronted by the technological challenge of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. By mid-1967, a majority of Americans no longer thought a moon landing was worth the expense.

But it triggered a final flaring of postwar confidence and pride. “The Eagle has landed” came as defiant last words of affirmation, at the end of a decade that, Stone and Andres note, had begun with harbingers of a coming culture of dark irony and satire: Joseph Heller’s novel “Catch-22” (1961) and Stanley Kubrick’s film “Dr. Strangelove” (1964).

Photos of Earth taken from the moon were said to herald a global sense of humanity’s common destiny. Osama bin Laden was 12 in 1969.

Stone and Andres say Apollo 11 was hurled upward by engines burning “15 tons of liquid oxygen and kerosene per second, producing energy equal to the combined power of 85 Hoover Dams.” People spoke jauntily of “the conquest of space.” Well.

The universe, 99.9 (and at least 58 other 9s) percent of which is already outside Earth’s atmosphere, is expanding (into we know not what) at 46 miles per second per megaparsec. (One megaparsec is approximately 3.26 million light years.) Astronomers are studying light that has taken perhaps 12 billion years to reach their instruments. This cooling cinder called Earth, spinning in the darkness at the back of beyond, is a minor speck of residue from the Big Bang, which lasted less than a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second 13.8 billion years ago. The estimated number of stars — they come and go — is 100 followed by 22 zeros. The visible universe (which is hardly all of it) contains more than 150 billion galaxies, each with billions of stars. But if there were only three bees in America, the air would be more crowded with bees than space is with stars. The distances, and the violently unheavenly conditions in “the heavens,” tell us that our devices will roam our immediate cosmic neighborhood, but in spite of Apollo 11’s still-dazzling achievement, we are not really going anywhere.

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

Durst column: Greenwashing the White House

In a recent speech by the president, the former golf resort magnate claimed his administration had done more for the environment than any other presidency, ever. Yes, he did. He said that. Out loud. He trotted out some facts and figures and studies to support his wacky assertions and managed to convey a deep condescending concern with a fairly straight face. Well, a fairly orange face. A very organic color for a Florida fruit.

Donald Trump called himself an environmentalist. And reporters reported it. And viewers saw it. And listeners heard it. And absolutely nobody stood up and said, “No, no, no, no, no. You are not an environmentalist. If you are anything, it is the exact opposite of an environmentalist. This is crazy talk and cannot be allowed to continue or the fabric of reality will be forever torn and tentacled monsters will descend from holes in the sky.”

You know what this means, of course: that we have officially passed through the looking glass. Trump the Environmentalist. It’s delusion spiced with confusion caused by contusion. This man must be stopped before he hurts himself and/or us. Someone get one of those white canvas jackets with the way too long sleeves that tie off and buckle up in the back and put it on him. Soon. Please.

The 45th POTUS has undoubtedly been the single worst thing to happen to this planet’s climate since that asteroid killed all the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. This is the guy who said wind turbines cause cancer and wildfires can be prevented by sweeping under trees. He is to Mother Nature what alligators are to nests of baby ducks.

He bragged about gains in air and water quality made by regulations he has subsequently gutted and claimed credit for clean air statistics based on scores compiled before he was elected. He pulled us out of the Paris Accords, stripped scientific climate data off government websites, rolled back over 80 Obama-era environmental regulations and called climate change nothing but a Chinese hoax.

His first director of the EPA was an oil lobbyist, and the new guy was a coal lobbyist. You can’t make stuff up like this. It’s the Environmental Protection Agency, not the Environmental Plunder Agency.

And you know that if his good buddies in the fossil fuel industry asked, he would gladly open up drilling anywhere: in the Arctic, in Central Park and on his daughter’s forehead. Well, Tiffany anyway. Donald Trump promoting the environment is like an avalanche petitioning for trees. Like the Demon Barber of Fleet Street advertising with customer testimonials. Like William Barr talking about justice. Adolph Hitler endorsing a Holocaust museum.

And why has the man who declared bankruptcy six times undertaken this sudden 180-degree, vertebrae-snapping turn with the attempted greenwashing of the White House? Very simple, it’s all about the red versus the blue and winning the next election. With more than a little green for money involved.

His base doesn’t matter, they wouldn’t care if he outlawed shade. But someone on Team Trump must have informed the president that kids and independents consider the environment a major issue and his regressive policies and ludicrous denials and stubborn refutation of science may have electoral consequences come next November.

Oh my god. Imagine that. Actual consequences. Nah, you’re right. Never happen.

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

Semro column: Transparency needed in West Slope health care prices

Health care often costs more in rural areas than in other parts of the state. And in rural Colorado, the west slope frequently has the highest price tag. Right now you’re probably thinking, “Gee, thanks for telling me that, Captain Obvious.” If you’ve ever gone to a doctor, had an MRI, a CT scan, or spent any time in a hospital out here, you probably already know that.

But sometimes it’s important to have real data that actually shows it. And when it comes to health care costs, having access to actual price data has always been the biggest hurdle. Not too surprisingly, the health care industry has done everything possible to keep that data locked up and out of sight for decades.

Recently, the Center for Improving Value in Health Care (CIVHC) put an interactive map on its website that compares prices for 11 common health care services across nine different regions in Colorado. Out of those 11 services, the west slope has the highest prices for six of them. The rural east slope has the highest prices for another three. And the lowest prices are in Pueblo, Boulder and Colorado Springs. Lower prices in Boulder are especially interesting since that region has one of the higher cost-of-living indexes in Colorado.

The following 2017 prices come from CIVHC’s All Payer Claims Database, or APCD. They include all charges for a specific procedure or service, as well as any professional, facility or ancillary fees associated with that episode of care.

Once again, what’s interesting is how these prices vary by region. The median price of a breast biopsy ranges from $2,280 on the east slope to $5,760 on the west slope. That’s a price difference of 153 percent. Hip replacement surgery ranges from a median price of $28,170 in Boulder to $47,940 on the west slope. That’s a price difference of 70 percent. Knee arthroscopic surgery varies by 182 percent, with that procedure costing $4,510 in Colorado Springs and $12,470 on the west slope.

It’s important to remember that those high prices are a big reason why the west slope has the highest health insurance premium rates in the state. The more your care costs the more you pay in premiums. That’s hardly rocket science. Maybe finding out what health care costs is the first step toward bringing down premiums, co-pays and deductibles. How can you control ever-rising costs unless you know what prices actually are and how they’re set?

And that’s the problem. This pricing data comes out in drips and drabs. For example, the interactive website map only reports on 11 procedures. That’s a drop in the bucket.

In 2010, I lobbied for the legislation that created the APCD data base. After it passed, I served on the APCD Advisory Group and CIVHC’s APCD Data Release and Review Committee. From personal experience, I know that this database has shined an unprecedented light on health care costs in Colorado. But, it’s nowhere near enough!

Back in 2010 when we were trying to pass this legislation, the health care lobby fought to limit the number of procedures that the APCD could report on. Thanks to the health care lobby, the vast majority of claims data that CIVHC collects on hospitals and health care providers has to remain confidential and it’s subject to non-disclosure provisions. For a time, the APCD couldn’t report on data from a complete zip code because the lobby was worried that prices for a single hospital in a rural zip code might be accidentally revealed.

Bottom line, the state legislature needs to revisit the APCD and expand its data collection parameters. The legislature also needs to start the ball rolling on other proposals to mandate health care price transparency.

No matter where you want to go with health care reform, Medicare-for-all, public options, or free-market solutions, transparency is a place to start. And transparency must include pharmacies and prescription drug prices.

In a health care system with very minimal competition and little or no consumer influence, we have to find alternatives that approximate those market controls. Public reporting that lists, compares and ranks health care prices across providers might be one of those alternatives.

Increased transparency will make it much more difficult for some hospitals, care providers and insurance companies to continue operating the way they do now. And the way some providers operate explains why a lot of health care prices on the west slope are so much higher than anywhere else.

I’d also suggest to hospitals and care providers that this long-term price growth is unsustainable for the industry, especially in more rural communities. It’s time to publicly identify and formally recognize those providers that keep prices down while maintaining a high quality of care. And it’s time to incentivize high-cost providers to replicate what the lower-cost organizations are doing right.

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

Guzzardi column: A new summer brings predictable exploitation

Summers come and go. And some are more memorable than others — better weather, extraordinary family road trips or exciting new adventures.

But for decades, all summers have one sorry common denominator — the continuation of the State Department’s Summer Work Travel (SWT) program. Despite compelling, irrefutable evidence that SWT harms job prospects for young American workers, the program keeps on ticking. When those young U.S. workers lose employment opportunities to international students, they miss out on the chance to earn money they could use to pay college tuition, develop on-the-job experience or pay down their debt load.

In brief, here’s how the decades-old SWT program works. The State Department, under the guise of initiating valuable cultural exchange between international nations and the U.S., provides J-1 visas to young foreign nationals. The J-1 visas provide employment authorization. So, right off the bat, the program is problematic. The more international kids who compete for a relatively small pool of summer jobs, the more difficult it becomes for U.S. youths to find jobs — Economics 101, supply and demand.

But where the equation gets completely thrown out of whack is when an employer considers that his J-1 workers are not subject to a minimum wage requirement and that he isn’t legally obligated to pay their Social Security, Medicare, and federal and state unemployment taxes. Nonpayment of these taxes that would apply to Americans is an employer bonanza. And little (if any) federal oversight of the SWT has allowed unscrupulous employers to work their international employees’ fingers to the proverbial bone without overtime or regard for their personal safety.

The list of J-1 abusers is long, and ranges from big corporations like Hershey to small Myrtle Beach tourist joints. The international students have not only been cheated out of their rightful wages, but the promised comfortable accommodations have not been delivered. Instead, the J-1s, thousands of miles away from their Eastern European, South Asian, Central American and Caribbean homes, are often housed in inadequate, dangerous apartments or cheap motels.

The latest SWT bad actor, Grand America Hotels & Resorts, has a shameful history of hiring and exploiting foreign labor. In 2014, Grand America paid a $2 million fine to the Department of Homeland Security for employing illegal immigrants who used fake names and falsified documents to get their jobs. An employer like Great America, with its documented criminal record of violating U.S. employment laws, should, by definition, be excluded from the SWT program. But, as mentioned earlier, the State Department doesn’t concern itself with SWT oversight.

To the surprise of no immigration analyst who has studied the SWT’s disgraceful pattern for years, when the State Department allowed Grand America to participate in the so-called foreign exchange program, one of its workers reported in a federal lawsuit filed against the company that he and others were routinely plied with energy stimulants so they could work 16-hour shifts. The maximum work week allowed under SWT guidelines is 32 hours.

In 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that President Trump’s administration was considering reducing the number of visas issued under SWT. Two years later, the same old, same old remains the status quo even though the SWT could be quickly ended, and no one would miss it. The winners are the cheap labor-addicted businesses who cry foul and predict bankruptcy whenever their sources of pliant workers are threatened. Other winners include the unscrupulous placement agencies that charge thousands of dollars in fees to naive international youths, and make promises they can’t meet.

The losers are the unsuspecting foreign workers who anticipate a cultural experience but get instead a rude awakening into quasi-slave labor. Also on the short end are U.S. students who want to work, and foolishly expect that the federal government will protect their best interests.

Unfortunately, the government has proved time and again that it can’t develop a visa system that works on Americans’ behalf or end a program like the SWT that it knows is a dismal failure.

Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at jguzzardi@pfirdc.org.

Polman column: Trump’s racist tweets — a foretaste of toxic 2020

White racism was at the root of Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy, and so it will be again in 2020. Either we decisively reject it at the ballot box, and thus begin to salvage our pluralistic values, or we can acquiesce in the slow death of the American dream.

The only thing that’s shocking about his racist tweets — demanding that four congresswomen of color, four U.S. citizens, “go back” to the countries they came from — is that anyone in America still has the capacity to be shocked. This racist has been operating in plain sight ever since he relentlessly lied, year after year, that the first black president wasn’t really an American. Ever since the early 1970s, when he was nailed by Richard Nixon’s Justice Department for refusing to rent apartments to black people. Heck, he’s still refusing to apologize for demanding that five black kids (the so-called “Central Park Five”) be executed for raping a white jogger, even though they were exonerated nearly two decades ago.

Trump has drawn a firm line in the sand: Are we racists or are we not? Fundamentally, the 2020 campaign may be our last chance to decide what kind of people we want to be. We already know what Trump’s base wants. We already know what the elected Republicans want, as their predictably contemptible silence made clear.

But that leaves the rest of us. Trump, by impulse or design, is daring us to prove that we are better than our most despicable instincts.

His attitude isn’t new, of course. Granted, the rant directed at the four congresswomen (“you can’t leave fast enough”) was perhaps his most virulent; Douglas A. Blackmon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning expert on race says that Trump “is now invoking the white supremacist mentality of the early 1900s, when anyone who looked ‘not white’ could be labeled as unwelcome in America.” But consider this critique of Trump, written on a previous occasion:

“His ascent was fueled at its core by racism that was at worst endorsed, or at minimum tolerated by a plurality of Republican primary voters. They greased his path to power. They share the responsibility for his trashing of our highest values, for the toxic poison he has injected into the body politic.”

I wrote that — 18 months ago — when Trump trashed immigrants of color by saying, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” If you’re not too numb, you may remember that. Trump hasn’t changed a whit since, except for the worse. Character is destiny, his was forged long ago, and not even the decisive loss of the House in the 2018 midterms has shaken his resolve that bigotry should be big on the ballot in 2020. Are we sufficiently stoked to prove him wrong? Will Democrats be sufficiently enlightened to set aside their usual ideological squabbles and unite to reject racism?

The fundamental challenge we face next year is to live up to this American ideal:

“We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation … Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier… It is bold men and women, yearning for freedom and opportunity, who leave their homelands and come to a new country to start their lives over. They believe in the American dream. And over and over they make it come true for themselves, for their children, and for others.”

President Ronald Reagan doesn’t resonate anymore within the Trumpist GOP, and any contemporary Republican who’d dare talk that way would probably be trounced in a primary. But for the rest of us, may his words be a lantern in the darkness on the pitted road to 2020.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at WHYY in Philadelphia and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.

Across the Street column: Get your kids started reading at your library

Shh……

Have you visited your local library lately? If you haven’t, you may want to check out some of the many things you can do there. Besides great books, movies, music, internet and computer access, you will find lists of news, activities and community events posted in many of our local libraries. In some areas of Colorado, libraries are community centers. They host community events and lectures.

You can also visit libraries online. I recently connected online with my local library and found a link to a site where a viewer can input a favorite author and find recommended similar authors and suggested books. In many cases, this is based on people checking out books throughout the library system. It’s a lot like movie rental stores of the past where you could put in the name of a movie, and the computer screen suggested other movies that you might like “If you like this movie, you may like….”

Children’s books may also be organized similarly. The books are usually grouped by age or grade level. First-graders get excited about any book they can read, but as students progress, they tend to select books with topics having a more personal interest. You can find, for example, the most popular books currently being read by sixth-graders.

Reading. It’s the most important subject taught in school. If you can’t read well, your chances of success in life are significantly reduced. The most important thing a parent can do is to read to their child, and this hasn’t changed. But now the systematic, scientific approach or scope and sequence of learning to teach children how to read has been proven to be more successful. So what does this mean to our public school students, adults, parents, grandparents and anyone interested in reading?

Senate Bill 19-199 Reading to Ensure Academic Development — or the READ Act — requires that kindergarten to third-grade teachers use evidence-based practices of the science of teaching reading in their classrooms. The bill also provides for community members to be informed of the legislation and learn about some of the reading foundations included in the READ Act.

Beginning in August, when students return to their classrooms, I’ll be traveling throughout the 3rd Congressional District sharing the READ Act and what it means in your community. Watch the event board in your local library for details.

It continues to be an honor to serve on the State Board of Education representing the 3rd Congressional District.

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.

Under the Dome column: Skipping the bad stuff, focusing on the good

Recalls, special sessions, petitions, campaigns, Tweets, Facebook, CNN, Fox news. Yikes, let’s go fishing. Sometimes it’s just overwhelming.

Madison talks about factions in politics in Federalist 10, and we’ve always had quarreling factions in American politics, but it seems that right now we have enough friction between factions to start a forest fire (at least there are no big actual forest fires yet this year).

I debate with myself about what to talk about in the many town halls and civic meetings where I get to choose the topic. I usually lose the debate and try to cover everything (a mistake). What’s more fun though is to skip the bad stuff and talk about the good. Or at least the things I’m doing that I think are good.

I’m continuing as the co-chair, with the commissioner of education Dr. Anthes, of the Education Leadership Council. It’s a bipartisan council made up of educators and stakeholders from across a broad spectrum with the mission of guiding the future of education in Colorado. We had a significant influence on bills in the 2019 legislative session, including two that I sponsored along with bipartisan members of both houses. The Reading to Ensure Academic Development — or “READ” — act passed both houses unanimously (unusual to say the least for a big expensive bill). We plan to continue the council with emphasis on four areas; reading, early childhood programs, transition to higher education and community involvement.

I believe we made significant steps during the session to lower health care costs, a major issue in western and rural Colorado that I’ve been working on for years. The reinsurance bill will reduce the costs of individual premiums by over 25% starting next year based on supporting actuarial analysis. Reinsurance is just a band-aid on the Affordable Care Act and underlying costs, so we have to continue to work on the cost issue.

Bills and resulting actions on transparency, enacted with the cooperation of the Colorado Hospital Association, will help both state programs and group policy purchasers, and allow individuals to shop for the best quality service at the best price. And the issue is not the same across the state. We find significant variations between geographic areas because of access and utilization. Local cooperatives, like the Summit County initiative, can use transparent data to negotiate with providers. I’m looking for good news as the reinsurance program kicks in and local cooperatives take the lead to provide quality health care access at a fair cost.

I’ll be going into my sixth year as a member of the Joint Budget Committee. I’ll keep advocating and voting for rural and western Colorado as we start up the process in November. We’ve had several exceptionally good budget years, and I’m concerned that we have overcommitted going forward, but we have added most of the new funding to roads and schools. We will be budgeting about $40 billion, approximately $13 billion of which is from income and sales tax. That’s a lot of money, but there’s less flexibility than we would like because of federal programs and other programs in existing law.

Joyce and I will be on the road when we don’t have to be in Denver, so we hope to see a lot of our constituents this summer.

“Under the Dome” appears on the third Tuesday of the month. State Sen. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, is in his first term representing Senate District 8, which includes Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt and Summit counties.

Stroud column: PI.com en Espanol, and a shift in my editor role

A couple of things maybe jumped out at Post Independent readers this past week, one involving a new online feature and the other a classified display ad, which also is listed online.

First, you may have seen the ad seeking a new Post Independent editor and wondered what’s up with Stroud — or maybe not.

In any case, yes, after nearly a year-and-a-half in this position, I am taking a “step back” in the profession I’ve chosen for my life’s pursuit.

But I’m not going anywhere.

In addition to the chief editor’s position, we are creating a managing editor/senior reporter position. This is the role I will be moving into come mid-August.

As much as I’ve enjoyed being the lead editor of your community newspaper, I’ve come to the realization that my true passion is reporting, writing and telling stories about the people and organizations that give heart to our local communities.

This new position will allow me to write on a regular basis again, with a focus on business and education, while also helping lead the newsroom and our other reporters as more of an on-the-floor editor.

I look forward to getting back into the community — and out of the office — in this new role, from which I will also be working to build the Tuesday Business and Thursday Education sections of the Post Independent.

If you have any ideas on how to improve these or any other sections of the newspaper, please continue to provide feedback, as many of you do already.

We continue to hear from readers who say they enjoy and appreciate what we are doing with the Post Independent these days, which is ever-evolving as we strive to connect with more readers and remain relevant.

Which brings me to another new Post Independent feature and our online announcement last week — in Spanish — that all stories posted to our website [postindependent.com] can now be converted to Spanish with one click of the mouse.

Many thanks to our digital engagement editor, Natuza Olen, for moving this project forward. It has been a long time coming, and is just another way that we, as the information source for Garfield County, can provide useful news and information to even more of the people who live here.

To preface, I must point out that this is a work in progress and we will continue to make improvements to this new bilingual feature.

The automated translation plugin that we are now using is anything but perfect. It tends to jumble words, making for improper Spanish sentence structure, and it randomly translates people’s names and other proper nouns.

But it’s a start, and is in recognition that there’s a large segment of our population that we can be informing more effectively.

According to the most-recent demographic data, close to 30 percent of Garfield County’s population is of Hispanic or Latino origin — Hispanic meaning of Spanish-speaking descent, whether that’s Mexico, Argentina or Spain; and Latino being specifically of Latin American descent, so anyone coming from south of the U.S.-Mexican border.

Likewise, a growing number of local businesses throughout the region are owned by Hispanic entrepreneurs.

A good portion of this population is perfectly fine reading our stories in English, and in many cases Spanish isn’t even their first language.

But for those who want to read what we offer in Spanish — or maybe brush up on their own bilingual skills — this is just another way to do it. Call it learning.

More importantly, it provides at least the option for those among us who do speak and read Spanish as their first language to obtain news and important emergency information in a timely manner.

To read the postindependent.com in Spanish, just click on the tab that says “Spanish” in the upper right-hand corner of our home page.

We also hope this will be the beginning of other new language features to come, including a possible Spanish-language e-newsletter and possibly some select stories translated into Spanish for print.

John Stroud is editor of the Post Independent.

Micek column: A play on Trump and leaked cables, in one act

(Ext. 10 Downing Street, nighttime. The lights of London shine in the late evening. Revelers wander in and out of pubs. Big Ben stretches imperiously against a July sky. Inside No 10, a phone rings.)

Ministerial Aide: “No. 10, may I help? Mhmhmm … mhmhmm … He called him what? (raucous laughter). Okay, yes, right, I’ll tell her.”

(The aide disconnects the call,shakes his head,and presses a button.)

Theresa May (groggily): “Do you know what time it is?”

Aide: “Yes, Prime Minister, I apologize for the lateness of the hour. But you’re going to want to hear this one. It’s our man in America, ma’am, the ambassador, Kim Darroch. Well, it appears that there’s been a leak of some diplomatic cables to the Mail on Sunday.”

May (suspiciously):”Which ones?”

Aide: “Well, you know the ones, ma’am. The ones where he called the American president “inept” and “insecure?” And the White House “dysfunctional?”

May: “Oh, right, those. Well, he wasn’t wrong, was he?”

Aide: “Oh, no, ma’am. Of course, not We’ve known that since Day One. It’s just that, well, President Trump, is on the Twitter again. And he’s throwing all of his toys out of the pram. He’s in a right snit.”

May (wearily): “What did he say this time?”

Aide (consults laptop, reads, his eyes twinkle with amusement): “Well, Prime Minister, he said that Sir Kim is ‘a pompous fool,’ and a ‘very stupid guy.’

May (laughs): “‘Stupid guy?’ Isn’t this the same president who said the American rebels captured airports during their adorable little ‘revolution’ all those years ago?”

Aide: ‘Yes, Prime Minister. But there’s something worrying. He says the American government won’t work with Sir Kim anymore because of his candor. They seem to want him fired.”

May (exhales heavily): “Really?”

Aide: “Yes, Prime Minister, that’s exactly what the American president said.”

May: “Hmmm … remind me, would you, what has President Trump said about other countries and their leaders?”

Aide: “Would you like the exhaustive list, Prime Minister?”

May: “No, no. We’ll be here all night. Just give me the greatest hits. Pretend we’re on ‘Top of the Pops.’”

Aide: “Well, there was that time when he called Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada ‘dishonest and weak.’

“Then, there was the row over him calling Mayor Khan of London “a stone, cold loser,” who was “foolishly nasty” to him over his visit here in June “And, of course, there was that whole thing about him dismissing ‘s**thole’ countries.’”

May: “Oh … right. That one. Where did you find all these? It’s not that American humor newspaper, what is it? ‘The Turnip,’ is it?”

Aide: “It’s called ‘The Onion,’ Madam Prime Minister. And no, all of this really happened. The American newspaper, the Washington Post, which I believe President Trump also mocks because it’s owned by that Bezos chap who’s richer than he is, ran a whole list of insults by Trump and his diplomats this week.”

May: “Wait, American diplomats have been rude overseas too?”

Aide (taps more keys, brings up the Washington Post story): “Oh, absolutely Prime Minister. You’ll recall the U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, Pete Hoekstra, said video of him saying there were parts of that country that were ‘no-go’ zones because of ‘the Islamic movement was ‘fake news.’ The Post reported that Dutch journalists filleted him at his first news conference over his false claim and demanded an apology.”

May: “Anything else?”

Aide: “Oh yes, ma’am. The Post reports that the American ambassador to Israel,David M. Friedman, and the White House’s Mideast Peace Envoy Jason Greenblatt, were … ahhh … ‘filmed using hammers to break into an archaeological site under Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.’”

May: “Wait? What? Are these career diplomats doing this?”

Aide: “Oh, no, Prime Minister, no career diplomat would be that crashingly dumb.They’re political hacks. Both were former lawyers to President Trump.”

May: “And they were fired, course?”

Aide: “No, Prime Minister. Both still have their jobs.”

May: “And yet Trump doesn’t want to deal with Sir Kim?”

Aide: “Yes, Prime Minister.”

May: “All right, draft up a resignation letter, and have Sir Kim sign it. Make it look convincing. Add something flowery like, “The professionalism and integrity of the British civil service is the envy of the world. I will leave it full of confidence that its values remain in safe hands.”

Aide: Yes, Prime Minister. Absolutely. But we’re really not going to fire Sir Kim for being right about Trump are we?”

May: “No, of course not. Don’t be absurd. We’re going to wait a respectful period of time and then do what anyone would do to reward an employee who does their job well. We’re going to promote him. Ask Sir Kim how he feels about being our man in Bora Bora, would you?”

Aide: “I’ll get right on it, Prime Minister.”

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.

Will column: To defeat Trump, Democrats should nominate Bennet

WASHINGTON — With a disgust commensurate with the fact, Michael Bennet, the Colorado Democrat, says that during 40% of his 10 Senate years the government has been run on “continuing resolutions.” Congress passes these in order to spare itself the torture of performing its primary function, which is to set national priorities. Bennet is too serious a person to be content in today’s Senate, and if Democrats are as serious as they say they are about defeating Donald Trump, Bennet should be their nominee.

The painfully revealing first phase of the Democratic presidential sweepstakes culminated with two remarkably efficient debates. This phase clarified the top four candidates’ propensity for self-inflicted wounds. When replayed in Trump’s negative ads, what they have already said might be sufficient to reelect him.

Bennet checks a requisite number of progressive boxes: He is impeccably (as progressives see such things) alarmed about the requisite things — the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, climate change, Mitch McConnell, etc. And he has endorsed — perfunctorily, one hopes — other candidates’ gesture-legislation to “study” reparations for slavery (Sen. Cory Booker) and for same-sex couples who lived in states where same-sex marriages were legal but who could not file joint tax returns before the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (Sen. Elizabeth Warren).

Bennet has, however, refrained from frightening and mystifying voters with plans (Sens. Harris, Warren, Sanders) to eliminate their private health insurance. Or with nostalgia for forced busing that shuffled children among schools on the basis of race (Harris). Or with enthusiasm for the institutional vandalism of packing the Supreme Court. Or with disdain (expressed by advocating decriminalization of illegal entry) for the principle that control of borders is an essential attribute of national sovereignty. And because Bennet, 54, was 8 when Joe Biden came to the Senate, Bennet has not had to conduct a Bidenesque Grovel Tour to apologize for deviations, decades ago, from today’s progressive catechism.

If, as Bennet believes, the Democratic nomination competition has become “more fluid,” it is because Harris, Sanders, Warren and Biden have imprudently spoken their minds. And they probably are not done shooting themselves in their already perforated feet.

Unlike them, Bennet has won two Senate races in a swing state that is evenly divided between Democrats, Republicans and independents. He can distinguish between what he calls “the Twitter version of the Democratic Party” and the “actual” version.

Bennet’s father, a descendant of a Mayflower passenger, earned a Harvard Ph.D. (medieval Russian history), and was an aide to a U.S. ambassador to India, and later worked for Democrats Hubert Humphrey, Ed Muskie and Tom Eagleton. Bennet’s mother, who survived the Holocaust by hiding in a Warsaw suburb, reached New York — via Stockholm and Mexico City — where her parents opened an art gallery. The city was the center of the postwar art world, and they did well. Bennet says that in second grade he won both ends of the competition to see who had the oldest and newest American family branches.

He edited the Yale Law Journal, became an associate at the Washington firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, then prospered working for a Denver investment firm before entering public service, which included four years as superintendent of Denver’s public schools, in which 67% of the pupils were poor enough to be eligible for free or subsidized lunches.

Bennet believes that Trump is more a symptom than a cause of political dysfunction, and he regrets that “the capitalists have lost control of the Republican Party,” which now is controlled by Trump cultists. China’s perfection — and exporting — of the “surveillance state” makes American democracy more important, and therefore its current degradation especially alarming. American politics has become a dialectic of “preemptive retributions” of “do it to them before they do it to us.” Trump’s politics of “I alone can fix it” has, Bennet says, “stripped the American people of their agency.”

In his new book (“The Land of Flickering Lights: Restoring America in an Age of Broken Politics”), he quotes Thucydides on the civil war in the city of Corcyra: “With public life confused to the critical point, human nature, always ready to act unjustly even in violation of laws, overthrew the laws themselves and gladly showed itself powerless over passion but stronger than justice and hostile to any kind of superiority.” Such hostility is the essence of populism. Fortunately, the Democratic field includes one person familiar with Thucydides’ warning and who is unafraid to assert its contemporary pertinence.

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