Soap Box

The Ministry of No Information

To the editor,

The Trump administration has halted, without explanation, the routine practice of reporting the current number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, the AP and United Press International report. The new secrecy will make it nearly impossible to estimate the true cost of nuclear weapons, to show adherence to arms control treaties or to pressure other nuclear weapons states to disclose the size of their arsenals.

The secrecy decision was revealed in an April 5 letter from the Department of Energy’s Office of Classification to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). Hans M. Kristensen, director of the group’s Nuclear Information Project, said the FAS regularly asks for the information and that it’s been made public for decades.

“The decision walks back nearly a decade of U.S. nuclear weapons transparency policy – in fact, longer if including stockpile transparency initiatives in the late 1990s,” Kristensen wrote in an April 17 memo, according to the AP.

There is no national security rationale for keeping the number secret, Kristensen told the AP, adding that it is “unnecessary and counterproductive.”

“This is curious,” he reportedly said, “since the Trump administration had repeatedly complained about secrecy in the Russian and Chinese arsenals. Instead, it now appears to endorse their secrecy.”

In April, the Pentagon halted its public disclosure of how much of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban, adding to a long list of progress reports from the war that are now being kept secret.

John Sopko, U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, told the New York Times, “We’re troubled by it.” Keeping Sopko’s reports secret means, “The only people who don’t know what’s going on and how good or bad a job we’re doing are the people paying for it,” he said. Sopko and some in Congress have access to some of the information.

The new restrictions on public information about the 18-year-long occupation of Afghanistan are in addition to the October 2017 halt to disclosing Afghan military casualties, its performance assessments and anti-corruption efforts by the Afghan Ministry of Interior, David Zucchino reported May 1 for the Times. Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the paper, “There is no reliable way to know who is ‘winning’ or the level of stalemate.”

Today’s increased military secrecy follows the March 2018 announcement by the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) that it would no longer post the public calendar of upcoming missile tests and will keep the testing classified. The schedule will only be made available to Congress, the Seattle Times reported. Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, director of the agency, which spans 14 time zones and employs more than 9,000, reportedly said his test results will be made available after launches.

Expanding military control of information continues a pattern. Since June 8, 2002, the Pentagon has been allowed to keep secret all key missile defense test results. The military’s blanket classification of performance data was imposed following the disclosure of scientific evidence of a string of failed, faked and fabricated results, and after the FBI began an investigation into fraud and cover-ups inside the program. Then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also waived all procurement oversight rules for the agency, laws designed to keep federal programs on budget.

With secret test data, secret schedules, and an unaccounted, bottomless budget, the MDA’s mission impossible – “hitting a bullet with a bullet” – has wasted over $200 billion since 1983. Other military impossibilities, like victory in Afghanistan or winning at nuclear deterrence, have cost trillions. They appear guaranteed to gobble up billions more as long as Pentagon censorship is allowed to hide the facts.

– John LaForge, Co-Director of Nukewatch, writing for PeaceVoices

Drug prices are out of this world

To the editor,

Republicans and Democrats can all agree that our health-care system needs an overhaul. North Korea and Iran may be threats to our country, but there is no bigger threat to our survival than our pathetic attempt to provide health care for our citizens.

Even if you are lucky enough to have adequate health care, you most likely have friends or family who do not. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand so that we do not have to look at the ugly truth. American citizens are not receiving adequate care for everything from diabetes to heart disease. Our politicians tell us it is a complicated issue that cannot seem to be solved. We made it to the moon why can’t we care for the precious lives of our citizens?

My 20-year-old daughter is suffering from our broken system. She has an extremely unpleasant illness that should have an easy and inexpensive solution. She lost her insurance because her father changed jobs. I am so grateful that she does not have a life-threatening illness like cancer but what is happening to her is very disturbing.

My daughter has an infestation of round and pin worms and the medication for this is $4,000 in the U.S. The same medication is under $50 in Canada and Mexico. A digestive doctor in Durango recommended to me the Canadian website If my dog were affected by these same parasites the medicine would be $22. The insurance companies and big pharma are our parasites stealing our money, health and quality of life.

I hope this information will help someone or even save someone’s life. Pharmaceutical companies are not powerful in our neighboring countries. On average a drug that costs $1,000 in the U.S. is as low as $10 in Canada and Mexico. I am so angry and frustrated, we are allowing companies to make huge profits off our suffering. No company should make ridiculous profit from someone who is sick or dying.

I am no longer going to support our pharmaceutical companies. I am going to order all of my medicines from Canada. Canada offers the exact same medicine from the same manufacturers. I often ask myself, “Why would these companies want to find a cure for cancer, MS or Alzheimers?” The answer is they have no incentive to do so.

I am moderate politically and have been against more government involvement into our lives. However, I will no longer support a candidate who doesn’t feel as passionately as I do regarding our health-care system.

Preventive medicine and lowering drug costs are just one part of the solution. A nonprofit “insurance” is another solution. Amazon and Walmart have talked about making this happen. Keeping the government out of the solution would be ideal. Mega rich people like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and the Walmart family are just a few examples of those who could help make this happen. A third option would be to incentivize doctors and medical researchers to keep people well instead of profiting from illness. Let’s put Mars on hold until we cure cancer, stop preventable diseases and provide health care for all Americans.

– Jennifer McCoy, Durango

Help educate tomorrow's leaders

To the editor,

International Student Exchange (ISE), a nonprofit organization, is looking for volunteer families to host international high school students in the coming academic year. Host families can expect to gain a new family member, experience a new culture, create lifelong friendships and make a positive impact locally and globally. High school classes will start soon and interested parties must apply immediately.

ISE is looking for host families in the Durango, Bayfield, Ignacio and surrounding Four Corner areas. Host families are responsible for three meals a day and providing a bed. A student may share a room with a same-sex sibling that is within four years of age. The family should welcome the student and treat them as a member of the family. The students are not just guests and are expected to help with household chores just as your own kids would.

The international exchange students are between the ages of 15 and 18 and come from countries such as Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Thailand, Brazil, Italy, Norway and others. “The exchange program focuses on bringing the people of the world closer together while educating the leaders of tomorrow through student exchange,” Wayne Brewer, CEO of International Student Exchange, says. American teenagers can also study abroad through International Student Exchange.

The deadline to match students with families is Aug. 31 and families can select an international student based on shared interests, hobbies, gender, etc. Family screening includes a background check, an in-home interview and verification of personal references. The international students are English-speaking and have their own spending money. Americans provide the caring environment, room and daily meals.

For more information about hosting, please contact Chris Talleri, your ISE local area representative at (970) 759-0325 or email at If you are ready to apply or for more information about the agency you may go directly to

– Michele Blunt, ISE regional manager, via email

A viable health-care crisis solution

To the editor,

When listening to Democratic candidates discuss health care, it’s important to hear what they mean as opposed to what they say. Michael Bennet, who is sponsoring Medicare X, talks about the benefits of a public option. When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was being negotiated and the public option got nixed, it was in part because a public option undercuts insurance and pharmaceutical company profits. The idea is that those who can’t afford the phenomenal premiums currently being charged by the industry could “buy in” to Medicare ... the public option ... at a much lower price. If a public option is such a good thing, why is there not a public opportunity for every American, cradle to grave, to have comprehensive health care? That’s National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA)!

One of the problems with the ACA is that coverage was mandated for every American, yet there is no limit on premiums (and therefore profits) that insurance companies can charge. Similarly, there is no cap on drug prices, and no government negotiating for Medicare drug pricing. A public option would have been much more affordable.

Imagine comprehensive care for every American, including dental, vision, preventative and mental health care and prescription medications. Health care is possibly the biggest problem we face in America today; it underlies many of our other issues, including stagnant wages because of employer health care costs, bankruptcies, drug and alcohol addiction, and infectious disease outbreaks, to name a few. NIMA is the only viable solution to our health-care crisis.

– Dr. Lauri Costello, Durango

It's up to us to protect public lands

To the editor,

Two recent Telegraph articles about public lands issues (Silverton scoping on travel plan, June 13; and USFS rule change, June 27) bring to attention the ongoing problems with “public input” and federal agencies following (or not) policies/rules coming from congress or the current administration.

On the BLM side of things, Elijah Waters was quoted in the Silverton scoping article as saying; “Roads & trails on public lands are very important to the economy of Silverton and SJ County.” This is the same BLM official who post-Silverton Mountain Guides scoping on expanding/changing the “pods,” or areas where Silverton Mountain could take its helicopters to heli-ski, ignored the vast majority (85 percent) of public comment on the issue to approve the expansion (perhaps following “economic” benefit analysis?)

Which leads to the other Telegraph article, and whether a Forest Service rule change that would allow “categorical exclusions” would further limit or exclude public input, that then might lead to further “economic or extractive” impacts on our public lands. So as far as I can tell, giving USFS or BLM officials any more leeway in deciding for themselves what is in the best interest of the public is not advisable, as they are already influenced by the whims of Washington politics (just think about the Village at Wolf Creek) and may not even take into account the input the public does give them (think about SMG and heli-skiing). We need to keep the public in “public lands” debates as much as we can.

Democracy is messy and not as expedient as less representative forms of governing. It’s a price worth paying to help preserve what’s at stake of being lost (wildlife, quiet, wilderness, roadless areas ...). Speak up and be heard. And call them out when they don’t listen, and act against or try to weaken set policy by supporting those who monitor public lands issues (think local nonprofit environmental orgs.)

– Tim Thomas, Durango