Four Jill Richardson columns


THEIR VIEW

By Jill Richardson - Guest Columnist



The Press Is Essential, Whether Presidents Like It or Not

If you want to make journalism better, subscribe to your local paper.

The U.S. has a robust, free, and fair media. No wonder that makes Donald Trump angry.

Trump has such notoriously thin skin that some have taken to calling him Trumplethinskin. His staff says he watches TV and reads the news obsessively, looking for praise for himself.

And we know, in part, exactly what Trump is watching. Why? Because he often tweets about exactly what just appeared on Fox News, right after it airs.

Just to get this straight, the leader of the free world — the most powerful man on the planet, with the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus at his disposal — is getting his information about the world from TV, like the rest of us.

What’s more, he’s often getting it from pundits instead of from unbiased journalists. While fewer of us seem to notice every day now, there’s a difference.

The job of a journalist isn’t to give his or her own opinion. The job of a journalist is to inform readers of the unbiased truth — after it’s been carefully fact-checked.

Each of us has opinions — on immigration, on security, on the climate, and so forth. A good journalist will inform readers of the facts of the issue, who stands on each side of it, what the government policy is, and how they’re carrying out that policy.

The best investigative journalists also discover inconvenient facts that the powerful don’t want the public to know. For a president who only wants positive coverage, this may not seem like a good thing. For the rest of us, it’s vital to our democracy.

Recall Nixon and Watergate. He was brought down by two journalists — Woodward and Bernstein. Did Nixon like those journalists? No. Were they true American patriots helping to safeguard our democracy? Absolutely.

Sometimes journalists mess up. It’s true. I once wrote an article I don’t think I fact checked well enough. It was years ago, long forgotten by everyone else, and it still bothers me.

A journalist’s credibility is all he or she has. Your record of finding and writing the truth is your personal brand. Likewise, a newspaper’s accuracy is its brand. All it takes is a gaffe or two and your readers can’t trust you anymore.

When I’ve been in recent conversations among journalists about how to deal with Trump’s attacks on the media, everyone’s given the same answer: We’ll do our job. We’ll be as professional as possible.

As for Trump’s term “fake news,” Americans should know where that term came from. In the lead up to the election, there really was fake news. A lot of it came from teenagers in Macedonia who made up stories that would get lots of clicks from Americans to generate ad revenue.

Truly fake news stories are dreamed up by people with no desire to inform the public whatsoever. Many are published in obviously bogus outlets online. There’s no comparison between that and even the shoddiest journalism published in mainstream publications.

No matter who’s in power, any American leader attempting to discredit the news media or pressure it into favorable coverage is dangerous. Telling Americans that nothing we read can be believed except for what a single politician and his acolytes say leaves our country open to corruption and other abuses by those at the top.

Whatever its faults, the American mainstream media is excellent in many ways. But if you want to make them even better, there’s a way: Subscribe to your local paper. And believe in good, solid, unbiased reporting as a vital ingredient in a healthy democracy.

Feeding One Kid, Starving the Family

Trump just donated his pay to the Park Service, which would be great if his budget didn’t starve the rest of the government.

Imagine a parent who starves his children and fails to do any number of basic parental duties, but then buys one of his kids a healthy meal.

Well, that’s good. Great, really. But it’s not enough. An act of goodness directed at one child cannot feed an entire starving family.

That’s essentially what Trump has done by donating his first paycheck, $78,333, to the National Park Service.

Don’t get me wrong. Our national parks sorely need the money, and I believe this might be the very first thing Trump has ever done that I approve of.

But consider the bigger picture.

The National Park Service is one starving child among many. Trump’s paycheck will go to maintain our nation’s historic battlefields, and they alone are $229 million behind in overdue maintenance.

In other words, Trump’s paycheck covered 0.03 percent of their needs for old battlefields alone. He’ll get some praise and a nice tax rebate for his trouble. Meanwhile, his budget proposal advocates cutting some $1.5 billion from the Interior Department, which houses the National Park Service.

His budget metaphorically starves other government agencies too, and quite literally starves homebound seniors who rely on Meals on Wheels, which he wants to eliminate.

Trump’s budget slashes funds for nearly every government department except for three: Veteran Affairs, Homeland Security, and Defense.

The Environmental Protection Agency alone loses nearly one-third of its budget if the plan passes Congress. The State, Agriculture, Labor, Justice, Health and Human Services, Commerce, and Education Departments are also big losers.

What will go away if these departments are forced to operate on the limited funds allocated by Trump?

Will the Department of Agriculture reduce food stamps to hungry families? Or will it cut conservation programs? Or agricultural research? Which of those would you eliminate if you had to choose?

And here’s the thing: Although the cuts in these departments are large in percentage terms, they’re quite small (by government budget terms) in dollars.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s 31 percent budget cut only saves $2.6 billion. The largest savings come from cuts to Health and Human Services, with a budget reduction of $12.6 billion.

That may sound enormous, but it pales in comparison to the massive $54 billion Trump wants to add to our military, which already spends over $600 billion a year.

Imagine our nation with one-third less environmental protection. What will those cuts mean? What would you sacrifice? Clean air or clean water? Which pollutants are you willing to live with in the environment?

A memo from the Environmental Protection Agency outlines what the cuts will look like. It’s a long list. Say goodbye to the entire program for climate change, programs on indoor air quality, a program on radiation protection, and so on.

Gone with them are jobs. Hundreds of jobs. Didn’t Trump say he was going to be “the greatest jobs president“?

In short, when you hear Trump applauded for donating his salary to the Park Service, be happy. He did a good thing. But then put it in context.

He’s busy dismantling our government as we know it, and his donation is less than a drop in the bucket to make up for what he’s destroying.

Jeff Sessions Thinks Pot Is as Bad as Heroin. That’s So Wrong.

If that were true, maybe my little brother would be alive.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently called marijuana use a “life-wrecking dependency” that is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

Really?

If that were true, maybe my little brother would be alive.

I don’t know the full story of my brother’s drug use. He kept it a careful secret from our family. I can only piece together the details from his autopsy and what his friends told me after his death.

My brother had a severe anxiety disorder, with daily panic attacks. If you’ve never had one, all you need to know is that people often respond to their first panic attack by calling 911 because it feels like they’re dying.

He went through that every day.

In a better world, he would’ve gone to therapy and sought appropriate medical help. But he didn’t. Deep down, he thought he was so awful that all a therapist would do was confirm that he was a repulsive freak who deserved no love. He couldn’t face that.

As a teenager, he found a Band-Aid for his anxiety: marijuana.

It wasn’t healthy. It didn’t address the root of his problems. But it provided some comfort and it got him through the day.

He smoked pot for years. He preferred it to alcohol, although he drank too. His friends told me he dabbled in other drugs as well. But mostly he liked marijuana.

In his first year of college, he was arrested for marijuana possession. He was given two years of probation and kicked out of school. That probably didn’t improve his prospects any.

At age 23, my brother did heroin for the third time in his life. His friends knew, but our family did not. He didn’t answer his phone for five days after that. Then his landlord found his body.

I’ve known people who use marijuana recreationally and medicinally for years. I’ve known cancer patients who rely on it to quell their nausea over the months I’ve watched their bodies waste away.

I had a friend who smoked it daily while double majoring at an elite university and then reduced his habit while pursuing a PhD at Stanford.

I know people who smoke it casually and rarely, just for fun, but with no interruption to their lives.

And I’ve known people who don’t smoke at all, but suffer from alcoholism, slowly killing themselves legally.

The people I’ve observed who had pot habits that harmed their lives all had underlying problems, like my brother’s anxiety. Their drug use was a symptom. They needed treatment, not punishment.

Many others used pot either medicinally, to relieve nausea, anxiety, or pain, or they used it recreationally without much interruption to their daily lives.

One could smoke an entire field of marijuana, as my brother probably did, without dying from an overdose.

The same could not be said of heroin, which killed 13,000 Americans in 2015.

My baby brother, my best friend in the world, a kid who was hurting so bad on the inside he was looking to anything he could find to relieve his pain, died alone in his favorite chair, just the third time he ever tried heroin.

My brother would’ve had a hard road ahead if he’d lived. He needed years of therapy, and recovery would’ve been painful and difficult.

But the same isn’t necessarily true of others. Each person who relieves pain with marijuana instead of opiates takes a path that won’t lead to a debilitating addiction and potentially a deadly overdose.

The attorney general is wrong. Pot is a relatively mild and harmless drug compared to deadly, addictive heroin. Treating users like criminals is a threat to their safety — and so is perpetuating the lie that some drugs are no less harmful than others.

Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs

Trump is using sympathetic out-of-work miners as a cover for what is really just a handout to dirty industry.

When Barack Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, Scientific American used his own words to criticize it for not going far enough.

“There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change,” Obama said. “The science tells us we have to do more.”

Scientific American analyzed the Clean Power Plan and agreed, concluding that Obama’s plan didn’t go far enough, and would fail to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Now, Trump is dismantling even that. Obama’s insufficient effort to address climate change is gone with a stroke of Trump’s pen.

The plan was to go into effect in 2022, reducing pollution in three ways. First, by improving the efficiency of coal-fired power plants. Second, by swapping coal for cleaner natural gas. And third, by replacing fossil fuel energy with clean, renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

Trump claims the plan puts coal miners out of work. But it hadn’t even been implemented yet. In reality, cheap natural gas and the use of machines instead of people to mine coal are responsible for putting far more miners out of work.

In other words, Trump is using sympathetic out-of-work miners as a cover for what is really just a handout to dirty industry.

Meanwhile, Trump is cutting job training programs for coal country. Given that, it’s hard to believe he cares at all about jobs for coal miners.

And, with a surge in cases of fatal black lung disease among miners in Appalachia, anyone who truly cared about miners would preserve the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which helps coal miners get black lung benefits.

In short, Trump’s killing of the Clean Power Plan is a handout to dirty industry with no regard for the well-being of coal miners. And it’s putting us even further behind in our efforts to leave the next generation a habitable planet.

A better leader would find a way to promote clean forms of energy while simultaneously creating good jobs for Americans. Of course, that’s exactly what Obama’s one-time “green jobs” czar Van Jones called for, and the Republicans hated him.

But the fact of the matter is that climate-smart policies create jobs. They create jobs retrofitting buildings, manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines, innovating to create more efficient batteries, and discovering the best way to upgrade our power grid.

It seems that, if we installed a wind turbine near the White House, Trump could single-handedly provide the nation with clean energy from all of the bluster coming out of his mouth.

In the meantime, catastrophic climate change is as much of a crisis as ever, and the clock is ticking.

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THEIR VIEW

By Jill Richardson

Guest Columnist

ReachOtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

ReachOtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by OtherWords.org.