Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Box tells ex-convicts: 'Don't apply; if you do, lie

        Before discussing a sensitive subject, let us recite the Rotary Four-Way Test:

"Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?"

I'm not a Rotarian. I just like the Rotary Test for conduct.

If our actions met that test, this would generate no argument: As President Obama has done with federal hiring, every state should "ban the box" that effectively blocks an ex-convict from being considered by employers.

For those who think this is just one of those bleeding heart liberal fixations – Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders being strong supporters – Gov. Chris Christie signed a similar order for New Jersey, and Republican Sen. Rand Paul is one of several conservatives who've joined Democrats in supporting legislation that would seal the records of prior offenders.

If we can't ban the box, employers should step up to the plate and resolve the problem that it represents.

The box doesn't promote truth. It encourages a lie. The box isn't fair. It's presumptive and arbitrary. The box doesn't build goodwill. It shuts a door.

Without question, banning the box would meet the fourth part of the Rotary Test: It would benefit all concerned.

The Senate measure would prohibit employers from making applicants state up front if they have criminal histories.

Naturally, some employers want that prerogative. They'll say it's an efficient way to weed out undesirables.

Yep, presumptive.

Some employers say that marking the box doesn't mean automatic rejection. To a person trying to rebuild his or her life, though, it says one thing: "You need not apply; or if you do, lie."

As a teacher at the community college level, I can't tell you how many students I have met who were once behind bars.

They have committed themselves to personal reclamation. It pains me greatly -- and it should pain you, too -- to think that I would have pumped up these individuals' expectations about getting an education, only to have their hopes blocked by a four-sided shape joined at right angles.

The Colorado Center on Law and Public Policy says one in four Americans has some level of criminal history. Those who think the box affects few aren't thinking.

Not surprisingly, various business groups oppose a ban on the box, saying that it's unnecessary government meddling. But then, so are worker-safety measures and the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We follow those measures because, as the Rotary four-way test insists, it is beneficial for everyone.

The "box" prevents people from making good on their pledge to themselves, their states and their families to do right by society upon parole.

If we consider just one ex-felon and how a good job would make a difference, we cannot possibly rationalize how the box works.

Take away that man or woman's employment opportunities and you take away his or her family's hopes for betterment. What about the children and the role modeling that a fresh start for a parent can mean?

Block that parent from meaningful employment and we cast his or her children into a foreboding alley of uncertainty and bad choices.

Banning the box is the best way to disrupt the cycle of crime and to combat the poverty that normally sets it in motion.

If we are serious about doing something about that cycle, we will take this sound and smart move. Anything else fails the test. 

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Monday, May 16, 2016

How Ted, Mitch and Marco helped T-Rex emerge as a monster

That was pretty snarky of TV's Samantha Bee to enlist Michelle Branch to retool her 2000 hit "Goodbye to You" as "Goodbye to Cruz."

However, when Branch sang of Ted Cruz, "I wanna punch you and ignore you at the same time," let us acknowledge that she spoke not just for effete liberal entertainment types but for many of Ted Cruz's Republican cohorts in the Senate.

It is quite a resume-topper to be known as the most hated man in the least-liked public institution in America.

        Now to add another distinction to the vita, and we hate to break it to the senator, but he's most certainly a key figure responsible for making Donald Trump so popular.

        No, that can't be. Listen to the senator.

Last week Cruz decried Trump's ascendance and said that "everyone responsible" for it "will bear the responsibility going forward."

         The words sounded defiantly gallant. However, they also sound like someone in denial, someone who doesn't understand exactly what Republican primary voters were and are rejecting.

         He wants to blame others, but per the mess in which the GOP finds itself, Cruz has played the role of Dennis Nedry, the wonk in "Jurassic Park" who unlocks the pen that enables the T-Rex – T for Trump -- to run amok. Oh, then Nedry gets devoured by a dilophosaurus.

        Call this an overstatement if you will, but what Republicans have done – or not done, as it were -- in Washington over the last eight years has made it possible for just about any billionaire in a suit to offer himself as a better alternative.

  If Trump can be considered post-partisan, and he can, Cruz embodies the partisanship that GOP voters rejected this primary season.

  It's one thing to be an obstructionist. Sen. Mitch McConnell pledged to be one every day in every way when Barack Obama became president. Sen. Cruz, joining in the fun when sent from Texas in 2012 as the Great Tea Party Hope, raised those stakes. He offered his services not just as obstructionist but as a master destructionist.

  The great pelt on Cruz's wall remains his role in shutting down the federal government for 16 days in 2013. Or shall we say pelts – those of all the people whose livelihoods, benefits or government services hung in limbo while he and the tea party held the government hostage.

Trump's success, despite the frantic efforts of Republican leaders, can be seen as blowback against the GOP, particularly its brand of do-nothingness in Washington.

  Lest we dogpile on Cruz alone, consider how Marco Rubio, for one, helped make Trump the nominee. Rubio is a man seen as a leading light at the start of the campaign, but who crumbled on the stump and ultimately lost by a landslide in his own state.

  However, there was to the story. Far from being a groundswell of support for Trump, the Florida primary was a beat-down administered by back-home voters furious over Rubio's failure to do his job in Washington.

Rubio had no rejoinder to the fact that he had a certifiably miserable attendance records in the Senate. Challenged about this responded in fine do-nothing fashion, saying that nothing could be accomplished in the Senate.

Let's just say that McConnell, Cruz, Rubio and the rest of the Inactivity Players have done a pretty miserable job of casting themselves as suitable stewards of the republic.

Theirs is the kind of leadership that has made it easy for a plurality of GOP primary voters to take T-Rex out for a walk in the park.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

GOP’s boat ride into darkness

"The horror. The horror. . ." – closing lines from "Apocalypse Now."

I didn't think of contrasting the Republican Party's current situation with Francis Ford Coppola's movie masterpiece until the New York Times editorialized about Donald Trump's ascendancy and the Republican Party's "trek into darkness."

"Apocalypse Now," based on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," is about a mission to take out a commander in Vietnam's deep jungles who has gone off his nut. GOP tacticians now face the sweaty reality that, unlike in the movie, they botched the mission.

Talk about brutal reviews:

"To say Trump is bad for the Republican Party is like saying a flood is bad for your basement" – USA Today.

We don't expect "fair and balanced" from Huffington Post. However, it's a footnote for history books that the mother of all news blogs in 2016 has begun appending all HuffPost-generated stories about Trump with the following editor's note:

"Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims – 1.6 billion members of an entire religion – from entering the U.S."

To which Trump will say: "Yes, and . . . ?"

Into this, let me introduce a parlor-game question for those seeking to wrap their heads around this political moment.

The question: Is Trump as its nominee worse for the Republican Party than Trump as president would be for the country?


Understand, even now a Trump presidency is no more likely than when it was when he was firing people on NBC weeknights. But let's just hypothesize, here.

If we do hypothesize, it's clear that Trump is worse for the Republican Party than for the nation as president. And the latter would be a horror.

The reason for this is that, as the nominee, Trump inflicts damage on his party every day with every word and gesture, like his #CincoDeMayo! "I love Hispanics" tweet showing him and a taco bowl. Holy frijoles.

By contrast, a lot of what Trump says he'd do as president – all right, most of it -- he can't do.

Take, for example, his vow to "open up libel laws" to allow newsmakers to sue reporters.

If Trump knew a thing about press law, he'd know that the Supreme Court set a very high bar for lawsuits by newsmakers in Sullivan vs. New York Times in 1964.

The court said that, absent of "actual malice," news organizations couldn't be sued over statements about public figures. The court said that to do otherwise would be to stifle an inquisitive, if fallible, press.

He can't overturn firmly established press law unless he "fires" the Supreme Court.

Neither can he do all sorts of things he's said he would, like build the Trump Wall – at least not without money from Congress. (Oh, I forgot. Mexico is going to pay for it.)

True, Trump's cinder-block dream might be possible with a tea party-controlled Congress. However, as we speak, his presumptive nomination is sapping the Republicans of their chances of holding onto the Senate.

Indeed, Politico says that with Trump atop the ticket, something considered unimaginable – flipping the GOP-controlled House this year – is far from a flight of fantasy.

No question: Trump is far more dangerous to his party than to the country he wants to lead. The latter is true, in part, because polls indicate how few Americans want him to lead them, and, in part, because even if he were elected we have separation of powers and finely honed checks and balances.

Someone should have informed the man before he decided to run.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.