Monday, May 2, 2016

Marijuana laws — you've got to be joking

       Eeyore's Birthday Party has come and gone in Austin again without scads of arrests. This is testament once again to the fact that our nation's marijuana laws are silly.

Not just silly. Sillier than your Aunt Vidalia on the wacky weed.

If marijuana laws were serious, the nation's jails this week would teem with newly incarcerated humanity. Oh, the humanity – and ambient smoke – since another 4/20, the day when millions of Americans annually flaunt the ever-absurdity of marijuana prohibition.

We're not sure why 4/20 became a day of peaceful pothead disobedience. Peaceful -- well, there's an understatement.

Not sure about the significance of Eeyore's birthday in Austin, either. Just call it pretext for April's inhale-abration to continue.

Oh, and it's only 344 days until April 14 and Austin's next Marley Fest – peace, love, reggae, and nobody getting arrested for doing something for which nobody ever should.

So tell us why some sad sack somewhere in Texas this week will get smoked -- six months (two ounces or less) to a year in jail depending on how someone in power tips the scales.

It's worse in Oklahoma: an abominable year in jail for any amount whatsoever.

This for a substance now legal in four states and the District of Columbia, and legalized for medical use in 24 states.

This for a substance the federal government is studying as a potential aid to veterans who suffer post-traumatic stress.

This for a substance that increasing numbers of former NFL players say should be legal for treatment for their lingering ills as an alternative to addicting and debilitating opiods.

This for a substance, or the oil from it, which even the Texas Legislature this year authorized for the treatment of epileptic seizures.

Stop this reefer madness. Putting people in jail for marijuana is idiotic and destructive. Foreclosing medical applications of marijuana is inhumane.

` Federal laws about marijuana are caught in a time warp – a 1970 time warp. That's the year Congress declared it a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin and PCP and LSD.

Here's the result of that decision: untold commerce and riches for organized crime.

The old "gateway drug" canard owes itself to said classification. The only reason pot has any connection to other drugs is because its illicit status puts it on the same shelf and hence in the pusher's repertoire.

In 2013, after one year of pot legalization in Washington state and Colorado, Time magazine reported that those developments had cost Mexican drug cartels $1.4 billion.

Where did that money go instead? Into those states' economies. Colorado reaped $76 million in tax revenue from recreational and medical marijuana in 2014.

But don't let anyone convince you that this is about money. This is about decriminalizing something that shouldn't be a crime.

Racism is at the root of marijuana prohibition, the 19th century notion that invaders from south of the border were inserting it into our idyllic culture.

From those roots, laws against marijuana, and drug laws in general, have been used to oppress and imprison the poor, particularly people of color, for indulging in the same practices as their more fortunate white brethren.

How harmful is marijuana? No one can call it harmless. However, it can't hold a candle to the pathology of addictin to alcohol and nicotine. Of course, producers of said vices can be expected to campaign hard to keep pot illegal.

I've never smoked – anything. The idea repels my bronchioles. However, the notion that smoking an herb would put you in the slammer is more repulsive.

The fact that people who hurt can't use it to ease their pain, depending on where they live, is even more repellent. And silly.

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Trump, Cruz and the exchange rate for ‘mean’

Ever since his rise from political obscurity in Texas, observers have used words for Ted Cruz like "smart" and "shrewd."

Watching him on the campaign trail, I'm thinking, "Not so much."

Here's how smart Ted Cruz is. His "New York values" snideness in the pre-Iowa debate, which helped him win a whole eight delegates there, won him exactly zero delegates in New York. Indeed, in one precinct he got fewer votes than Ben Carson, now in a witness protection program somewhere.

We hear such words as "shrewd" and "smart" for how Donald Trump has handled all that daddy money of his. Watching him on the campaign trail, I'm thinking, "Not so much."

Someone who is going to spend a whole bunch of that money on becoming president would do a better job of building bridges, instead of walling off people, races, classes -- you know, people he would be elected to serve in the most unlikely event that he were chosen.

Should he get the nomination, Trump will be the least-liked nominee in history. That's a good reason why a lot of Republican leaders are planning to be somewhere other than Cleveland when the GOP awards that honor.

Understand, this nomination stuff is still speculation. Trump could come very close and not get it. Here's one reason he wouldn't: Pure meanness. Trump was so brutal in his treatment of Marco Rubio that the latter says he will withhold all of his delegates through the first ballot. The way things look now, it could be just enough to derail the Trump Train.

As for Cruz, no question, he has turned in a bravura performance getting hard-right tea party types to show up at caucuses and exalt his name.

However, when it comes to appealing to any other demographic — and we know the tea party to be basically a Glenn Beck quilting klatch — he is as unfit to appeal to a national demographic as Curt Schilling is to receive the next ESPY Humanitarian Award.

What is it with people like Cruz and Trump — and their Mother Teresa figure, Sarah Palin — that compels them to insult whole groups, even whole regions, of people? I can tell you it's not the compulsion to lead a nation.

Trump's handlers this week, with a nomination looming on the horizon like the last Stuckey's in this time zone, said he will be refining his demeanor to project a broader, softer, more presidential self.

Um, have they watched any TV news and late-night programming in the last eight months? Did they watch the debates? Did they hear their charge the next day, promising not to bore his audiences?

If there's a Good Donald, he is locked in a dressing room while Bad Donald performs every day, and I mean every day. Such branding would not be more deeply embedded if the GEICO gecko shared a bunk with you.

Meanwhile, you might have heard or noticed that Cruz, too, is also on his own image-burnishing campaign, showing up on late-night TV to show off his humor and humanity.

This is going to be a trick. The man's singular endeavor as a U.S. senator has been to shut down the national parks. He's been called the most hated man in the Senate. In Sen. Lindsey Graham's phrasing: "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you."

A word further on Cruz. It was a stunning achievement when the hard-right life force of the Texas Republican Party elevated him to the Senate over more moderate rivals. However:

As Cruz's appeal has been only to that segment, that white, intensely insular slice of society, and as Texas increasingly is more diverse and less insular, Cruz offers Democrats their greatest opportunity in decades to take a Senate seat and begin the inevitable process of turning it blue.

Smart men seeking to represent many wouldn't be so mean.

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

National fetish is double-barrel menace

The current Texas Monthly is a special issue – a .38 Special, if you will. It's about guns.
Page after page, see and hear about Texans and their rods. A cover shot and photo gallery show people and their beloved rifles, carbines and sidearms. See former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson pose with his Colt .45 like one might a trophy walleye. If one could peer down that barrel, you'd bet one could see into the man's soul.
Artist Matthew Diffee depicts what he saw and heard at a San Antonio gun show. One quote: "We sell freedom implements and other bunker supplies."
Ah, freedom. In a bunker.
I understand how a few readers might see it differently, but one must ask how this form of fetishism took root.
After all, a firearm is an appliance that shoots a projectile. I have a toaster. It shoots toast.
Precedent set, we can look forward to Texas Monthly's "Toast" issue. For the photo gallery, I offer to pose with my Sunbeam 2-Slicer. We are inseparable. My slogan: "Toast -- the taste of freedom."
No one should take this as a criticism of gun ownership. My father had a service revolver, making him one among millions. One distinction: He was openly disdainful of any group that, like the NRA, would make the gun the Golden Calf of our time.
Once again: A rifle is an appliance. So when something called the National Rifle Association can be considered Washington's most powerful lobbying arm, one wonders what power the National Waffle Iron Association could wield.
The other day legions of petitioners called on the Republican Party to allow the open carrying of firearms at the national convention this summer in Cleveland. Fortunately, the Secret Service expressed its reservations.
As a fallback, petitioners could ask the Secret Service to allow the brandishing of blenders and food processors. Therein lies the solidarity of a great cause. I'll yield my Cuisinart when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.
None can dispute the utility of rifles for trophy-hunting possum or nutria on a river bank. However, it is necessary to wonder how one's gun has become the extension of one's self.
As a child, I never questioned why Davy Crockett called his rifle "Old Betsy," but I am quite sure he didn't plan to marry her. For some of those portrayed by Texas Monthly's cavalcade of exhibitionism, one wonders if nuptials were performed.
The line is, "Guns don't kill people." True in the abstract.  However, guns are more likely to kill when their owners have transformed them into Pixar characters. The term is "anthropomorphizing." Webster's will explain that for you.
I understand how guns are "part of our heritage." So, too, is the butter churn. I understand how guns have "preserved the peace." So, too, have handshakes.
The problem, of course, is that firearms kill thousands of Americans every year. In sum, and inarguably, guns don't make this a safer place ("keeping the peace"). They make it far more dangerous than – say, oh, just about anywhere where run racks aren't treated like communion candles.
Reasonable gun regulations that would save lives are thwarted by unreasonable parties. Meanwhile, gun industry proxies terrorize lawmakers into doing their bidding.
I am the first to acknowledge that I would react violently if government knocked on my door to take away my toaster. However, I've told myself that's an overreaction. Considering how little has been done in 30 years to alter the proliferation of appliances that kill in bunches, maybe the bunker I had planned for my front yard would be overkill.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.