Monday, February 1, 2016

'Hand on the Bible' time for these climate deniers

On behalf of a planet and its species, I'm asking a certain Texas grand jury if it still has time on its docket.

I speak of the Harris County grand jury that turned the tables on hucksters who conspired to paint Planned Parenthood as a law-breaker.

Instead of indicting Houston Planned Parenthood, the grand jury indicted two conniving videographers. David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt now will be tried for painting a lie about Planned Parenthood with their video-editing toys.

Those of us who applaud this decision, just as we applaud the amazing work of Planned Parenthood, hereby ask the grand jury to consider another case. This, too, involves the same types of players: skilled ideological hit men.

I got the idea from a piercing Washington Post commentary by Robert Brulle, professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University.

Brulle says guileful energy industry players who have seeded so much doubt about climate change and man's role in it should be investigated.

"Just as Congress investigated the efforts of the tobacco industry to dupe the public into believing its products are harmless," he writes, "we need a full and open inquiry into the conduct of ExxonMobil and the other institutions whose misinformation campaigns have delayed our efforts to address climate change."

This is a smashing idea. One problem, though: The entity Brulle wants to do the investigating is itself an ecological crime syndicate: Congress.

Forget congressional hearings. We need a criminal grand jury. Harris County, our planet calls.

Brulle points out that, nearly 40 years ago, ExxonMobil officials were aware of the problem of carbon-loading in the atmosphere and launched legitimate scientific inquiry into the matter.

However, in a few years an industry coalition decided that rather than give weight to such science, its goal would be to make sure that "recognition of uncertainties (of climate change) becomes part of 'conventional wisdom.'"

So, how can we pull off this criminal inquiry into how Big Oil and other vested interests harmed the planet and derailed action because the money was too good to do otherwise?

No problem regarding any venue question. Houston is located on Planet Earth. Enough said.

No problem projecting real or potential harm, or finding victims. Name a species whose fate is not tied to climate conditions

However, there's no need to focus on polar bears or Eskimos. Houstonians will do. There city is where the chickens will come home to roost in the Lone Star State if sea levels rise as projected.

A study in the July Science magazine says that historically sea levels rose at least six meters – more than 20 feet – in periods when temperatures rose only 1 to 2 degrees. According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2015, the warmest year in 156 years or record-keeping, had an average temperature 1.65 degrees above average.

Coastal Houston, we have a problem.

That sounds flippant. It's no joke, however, to island nations like Micronesia, Antigua and Maldives, all facing "serious threat of permanent inundation from sea-level rise" according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Add to those locales New Jersey's shore, based on what happened in Hurricane Sandy and winter storm Jonas.

This is a crime against man, a crime against nature. Convene a grand jury. Ask a devoted climate denier to swear on the Bible. Tell the court, Sir, how certain you really are that "business as usual" isn't doing what science is telling us.

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

Monday, January 25, 2016

Anti-Saloon League rides again in new forms

   At the height of Prohibition, columnist H.L. Mencken proclaimed, "There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more."

   He was right. Though single-issue politics had held sway over public policy with the 18th Amendment, the result had been exactly what proponents feared.

  This did not deter the full-of-itself Anti-Saloon League from exerting the influence that resulted in Prohibition.

    The single-issue influence made such figures as Wayne Wheeler and Howard Hyde Russell king-makers, as they could deliver hundreds of thousands of votes, mostly of pious Protestants.

   Lest we think of the Anti-Saloon League's power as fleeting, the 18th Amendment was the law of the land for 13 years before sanity took hold and Americans could toast Prohibition's end.

   Today we see the same single-issue clout with the National Rifle Association. Like the Galactic Empire of "Star Wars," it can unleash a veritable clone force to assail anyone who dares suggest even modest reforms.

   Hence, though most Americans support such measures as universal background checks, such policies will go nowhere.

   However, if we are to identify a modern-day heir to the Anti-Saloon League's single-issue pathology, it is the religious right and its devotion to fighting reproductive rights.

   We aren't just talking about anti-abortion politics. We are talking, really, about forces devoted to making sure that the sex act has a punishment phase. Call it the Anti-Sex League.

   Observe efforts to gut the infrastructure that allows women to avoid unwanted pregnancies and therefor abortions. Observe efforts to foist the fraud of "abstinence education" off as sex education.

   What could motivate Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to yankfunding from Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast for HIV testing and prevention services?

   It's the same mentality that caused Abbott to pull Planned Parenthood from the list of the state's Medicaid providers.

   All any of these steps do is undermine public health. Smart. Very smart.

   We are to presume that all of these steps are linked to Planned Parenthood's dedication to preserving women's right to legal and safe abortions. In that regard, we can see symmetry with Prohibition's unintended consequences.

   Anyone alive in the dark days before Roe vs. Wade knows that if one had the means to have an abortion, one had one. That was as plain as day, and Roe or not, it will not change. The question is who was so empowered or so prohibited.

   Back during Prohibition, as Mencken wrote, the drinking, and the hypocrisy, did not stop. Chief among hypocrites was President Warren Harding, who supported Prohibition, but who had his own substantial stash of booze for his own entertainment.

   The Anti-Saloon League, as with the anti-abortion movement, advertised its cause as protecting human life. However, countless Americans died from alcohol poisoning from illegal hooch, because – yeah – people were going to drink despite what the government said.

   (Hmm. Sounds like the deadly back-alley abortions of pre-Roe, for whatever Bible-thumping policy makers may say, people are going to have sex, and abortions.)

   It is amazing that the Republican Party, which has made "liberty" and "less government" rallying cries, would be so devoted to the intrusive and presumptive state actions that a ban on abortion would require.

   Yes, just like Prohibition.

   Let us take heart with knowledge that Harding's hypocrisy and the clout of the Anti-Saloon League finally withered. Franklin Roosevelt ran and won against the forces that gave us Prohibition. His words upon inauguration: "What America needs now is a drink."

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

Monday, January 18, 2016

'Action bias' does little to help public schools

The first day after the end of the NFL regular season has come to be called Black Monday -- when many a team with a losing record generally fires its coach.

This suits the urges of the owner who has promised a winner to the fans, though he didn't produce players who can win. Blame the coach. Don't blame the owner.

The Cleveland Browns in the last 25 years have had 13 coaches. It makes no sense that all of them were inept. Indeed, one of them, Bill Belichick, has won four Super Bowls with another employer.

A study of this knee-jerk practice finds that rather than improving, it's more likely that a team that fires its top leadership will do worse. Such are the wages of the syndrome called action bias – the "do something" tendency that gets institutions nowhere.

"Teams talk about the need for 'fresh energy' and 'new leadership' and a clean slate," writes Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim in a piece on action bias.

When I hear those phrases, though, I don't think of football. I think of public schools.

I think of good people constantly shuffled away, good institutions turned upside-down, in a quest for a "new team," a "new emphasis," a "new focus."

Action bias has been a trademark in the age of so-called "school accountability." Policymakers with only a marginal grasp of education issues sow fear and disruption to show voters they will "do something."

A lot of great football coaches -- Tom Landry, for one -- were given the opportunity to fail, with stability and long-range goals the objective. School principals today have such luxury in these days of corporate-style school policies – corporate in the form of hostile takeovers by policymakers who often are ideologues who don't even buy into the concept of public schools.

But if the carnage and disruption wrought by constantly reshuffling school administrations defies logic, even more illogical are policies that would close whole schools down for chronically low test scores.

Yeah, blame a building. And let's blame AT&T Stadium for the Dallas Cowboys' hideous 2015 season.

Texas State Rep. Harold V. Dutton says, "Closing a public school campus for being low performing makes about as much sense as getting rid of your car because it is simply out of gas."

I've seen this happen in Texas. I saw an inner-city Waco neighborhood lose what for generations had been its most important asset, a history-rich secondary school. I saw black and brown students bused to far-off schools with more crowded classrooms – over what? Over numbers.

The solution in that instance wasn't to vacate those historic and treasured walls. It wasn't to fire the principal and to ship the teachers to other campuses. The solution was to make the most of the opportunity – yes, the opportunity – to serve the students in that neighborhood where they lived.

Explain to the jury why all of the schools that face these sanctions are in inner cities. Is it because the walls of those buildings sap individuals of their will to succeed?

It's always fascinating that the "failing school" crowd, that which thinks public schools are flawed and hopeless institutions, never acknowledges that somehow public schools do a pretty peachy job out in the suburbs where all the children arrive at school in shiny SUVs and where computer screens glow each night in just about every bedroom.

In those shiny suburban schools, by the way, you are likely to see stability among leadership. Principals there, for some reason, have a tendency to perform exceptionally. They are great, in fact. Go figure.

No, Mr. Owner, you can't blame the stadium for the team's performance. The coach? Firing him might be the stupidest thing you can do. It's all about the players (students and parents), and it's about the resources you have committed to excellence.

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