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Katy Burns: The week that was

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price AP

  • Former Alabama chief justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore has his sights on Washington. AP

  • Residents at La Perla community in Old San Juan comfort one another as the community recovers from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday. AP



Monitor columnist
Sunday, October 01, 2017

What a busy, busy week we’ve enjoyed! Or in some cases endured. Among those enduring – or trying to do so – was Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, whose articulate descriptions of her island’s overwhelming problems and pleas for help have made her a media hero in the wake of the total devastation visited on that United States commonwealth.

Days after Hurricane Maria flattened the island’s infrastructure, destroyed its lush vegetation, shut down its electrical grid and wiped out virtually all communication, water, transportation, sanitation and health systems, the mayor was leading news crews in hip-high boots through the flooded streets to point out the wreckage of Puerto Rico’s capital and largest city.

Clearly exhausted, she talked, struggling to keep from weeping, of the people still trying to exist without food, water, medicines – without real help in sight.

“I know that leaders aren’t supposed to cry – especially on TV – but we are having a humanitarian crisis,” she said. “We need help. Not later, not tomorrow. Now.”

In stunning contrast, there was video of President Trump, far removed from the ongoing disaster, in what has become his standard self-congratulatory mode.

“We’re doing a very good job, we’ve done a really great job. ... It’s amazing the job that we’ve done in Puerto Rico, we’re really proud of it.” And in case we didn’t know it, “This is an island, sitting in the middle of an ocean,” he explained. “A very big ocean,” he added helpfully.

It was as if, as is so often the case, he lives in an alternate universe.

And within days he let loose a spate of tweets about what bad shape Puerto Rico had been in even before Maria – “already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt ... to Wall Street and banks ... (which) must ... be dealt with,” as if the destruction wrought by the hurricane was the fault of the Puerto Ricans.

Who are, let us remember, as American as anyone from Texas or Florida – or New Hampshire. And they have been for 100 years, since the U.S. Congress granted full citizenship to people of the one-time Spanish territory it had acquired 19 years earlier.

It’s all been surreal.

Also surreal was the news that not only was “Judge” Roy Moore going to be the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Alabama but that the GOP political establishment was embracing his candidacy. It makes one wonder about the wisdom of even calling these the “United” States.

How can moderate-to-liberal New Hampshire – not to mention the rest of New England and the Northeast and, for that matter, most other states – be part of the same country as a place, Alabama, that wants to send the palpably nuts Roy Moore to Congress? As Moore is quick to tell anyone within earshot, he puts biblical law well ahead of constitutional law – and not just any biblical law, but biblical law as interpreted by fundamentalist Roy Moore.

In fact, he has not once but twice – something without precedent – been removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for defying the U.S. Constitution because he believed it conflicted with his interpretation of “biblical” law.

“Finally, there is a truly anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Muslim, anti-everything elected Republican for all the world to see,” said one long-time observer of the political scene. “Beyond believing that he is divinely guided, Moore doesn’t really have a governing point of view. At least not one that is applicable to this century.”

He is “an ill-informed, failed demagogue. ... An incapable crackpot.”

And the writer wasn’t a partisan Democratic gunslinger. It was Ed Rogers, the longtime Republican stalwart and ardent defender of the GOP since the days of Ronald Reagan.

But while Moore might be fairly called an unhinged extremist and lawless theocrat, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are gambling that he’ll support their precious “agenda,” which has become the end-all and be-all for today’s GOP. Good luck with that, guys.

It’s not news, of course, that a longtime complaint of Republican partisans is that poor Democrats “just want free stuff,” stuff like affordable health care and decent education. But what is news is that Republicans just want free stuff too!

They just want better, higher-priced free stuff than the poor Democratic stiffs.

At least rich Republicans – such as the privileged (if unqualified) souls making up President Trump’s Cabinet – seem to. In the last few weeks, at least three of them have been shown to indulge a hankering for taxpayer-funded charter and/or military planes. In fact, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (net worth: $300 million) commandeered a military jet to take him and his designer-draped wife from Washington to Fort Knox, Ky., to check out its gold – and watch the recent solar eclipse while they were there.

Earlier, some wiser soul had denied his request for another military jet to take him and his new bride on a honeymoon tour of Europe.

And while Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, only racked up some $58,000 in charter and military flights – including trips home to Oklahoma for weekends – he made up for it by employing a 24-hour security detail akin to that enjoyed by the secretary of defense and demanding construction of a completely sound-proof virtual telephone booth in his office. One wag compared it to agent Maxwell Smart’s Cone of Silence.

The winner of the free flight jackpot, though, is – or was, until Friday – Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who – when he’s not trying to take affordable health care away from needy Americans – had an irresistible urge to hop on a charter airplane. He racked up close to $500,000 worth of taxpayer-funded flights, with some journalistic sleuths betting the total will be closer to $1 million.

In a frantic effort to forestall President Trump’s firing him, the newly repentant Price

offered to reimburse taxpayers a whopping total of $52,000. Didn’t work.

(Let me offer a salute – likely the only time I’ll do so – to Education Secretary Betsy Devos, a billionaire Cabinet member who uses and pays for her own private plane.)

Finally, huzzahs to the king of Saudi Arabia, who magnanimously declared that women in the kingdom will finally be allowed to get behind the wheel of a car and drive. Themselves. Next year. Forward into the 19th century, your royal highness!

Oh, would this be an appropriate place to mourn the death of pompous nonagenarian and randy old goat Hugh Hefner?

Nah, I didn’t think so either.

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)