Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Weed vs. 'white lightning'

  Everyone has experienced the oddness of meeting up with a long-lost acquaintance after many years, only to find impressions downright strange.

  So it is with me and marijuana.

  At least the smell of marijuana, that is.

  Though long an advocate of its legalization, I've never inhaled it, except in the ambient sense.

   This is no Clintonian dodge. I don't smoke, haven't smoked, won't smoke — anything.

  Even the thought of directing smoke down this ol' windpipe makes me gag.

   That doesn't mean I think the smell of pot smoke isn't heavenly. I do. Or at least I did.

   One of the odd impressions of a nonsmoker, now that recreational pot is legal where I reside, is that it doesn't smell like it used to.

   I used to associate the aroma of cannabis with rock concerts and laid-back gatherings. The smell made me smile.

   And now? It's less earthy and more skunky. Today's pot is stronger, or so they say. My nostrils agree. It's more stout to the snout.

   Whatever the case, Colorado and Washington State are getting acclimated to a new ambiance. It's about time.

  A new day? The Denver Post now has a marijuana beat writer. Each issue advertises a staff blog called The Cannabist.

  All of this might alarm you, Bubba, but what I'm seeing out my window affirms what was always evident to me. Pot's no crime.

   That hundreds of thousands of lives are derailed and disrupted every year by pot-related detours into the criminal justice system is indefensible. 

    Pot's prohibition is one of many examples of how so-called conservatives are far from libertarians they claim to be. Indeed, they are addicted to the most costly forms of state authority. They deride "big government," but venerate it when it comes with bulging prisons and insatiable military machines.

   Anyone who ventures into the new territory of legalization has to be concerned about having more stoners, but at its root, simple, 40-proof hypocrisy underlies this prohibition that's still the law in 48 states. (Encouraging: Several states, Maryland the latest, have dropped possession of small amounts from a felony to a misdemeanor.)

   In those states, weed is a vice and "white lightning" is nice. It's an obscene double standard when one way of mellowing out is a jailing offense and the other is the communion cup of lawmakers and lobbyists.

   Add the physically addictive nature of the latter, the abusive and dangerous behaviors associated, and there's no question in the world which of these vices is more destructive.

    Now, get ready for this:

    Two things have happened since Colorado legalized recreational pot. One, the state is already raking in millions of dollars in tax revenue from regulated pot sales. The governor's projection: $70 million in Year 1.

    The state gets that money. Who doesn't? Organized crime — the neighborhood pusher, the killer cartel.

   Second, and most importantly, by and large, one can tell no difference. The state hasn't seen a surge of pot-related DWI cases. It hasn't seen a surge of people testing the prohibition on toking up down on the corner. It really hasn't seen anything different. I take that to mean that most pot smokers were lighting up regularly before this happened.

     What's also happening is that law enforcement and the courts aren't expending limited resources enforcing an unjust law. 

     Heck, it's a conservative's dream: If you really support less government and free enterprise, you support what Washington and Colorado just did.

     We know, of course, that today's authoritarians can't control their urges, whether it be their addiction to tough-on-crime slogans, to prisons, to military might, to firearms, to the never-ending quest to carve Bible verses into government walls.

   Other states will join Washington State and Colorado in the years to come. Rest assured, however, a wide swath of proud red states will continue to imbibe in the old hooch.

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

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

GOPs 17.2 percent solution

   As of mid-March, the nation’s rate of uninsured had declined to 15.9 percent from 17.1 percent in December.

  We can’t know exactly where the rate stands now, but it’s lower. And, well, the nation’s Republican leaders will not have that.

   They will do everything they can — and credit them for having done everything they could — to get us back to the good old 17.1 percent days.

   Seventeen point one, of course, won’t be good enough. We can trust that the GOP partisans cannot — will not — rest until the nation’s uninsured rate is at least a percent of a percent higher than that.

    Yes, the 17.2 percent solution.

    Hear the call to arms: We must reverse the reversal of the uninsured rate by any means.

    We went to the Supreme Court appeal for that. We succeeded in part by relieving states of having to treat all working poor equally under the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid.

    We shut down the government to stop something that had been the law of the land for four years. Admittedly, the only thing that accomplished was to highlight Sen. Ted Cruz’s penchant for children’s literature, but our cause was just.

   We must not, cannot, have government making it possible that more Americans have health coverage this year than last.

   Granted, we will feign outrage that in the process, some Americans had their policies canceled. (Privately, we will do the Snoopy dance in celebration.) Granted, because of the ACA, all of those people have an option to be covered still.

   We still like the good old 17.1 percent days better. Back then, when one had one’s insurance policy canceled, one’s options were squat. And we liked it.

   That’s why 17.2 percent is our goal, because less is more when it comes to the annoying needs of the uninsured.

   Don’t believe this? Set aside the desert mission to blow up the ACA. Look at the budget proposed in Congress by Rep. Paul Ryan.

   If his proposal were to become law, dramatic cuts would hit Medicaid and subsidies to help Americans buy health insurance — $2.7 billion over 10 years. Presto — fewer insured Americans tomorrow than today. Now, that’s sweet music. Sing it, Sen. Cruz.

   Now, you might think of Medicaid as just a gravy train for the undeserving. Apparently you have not studied the creature you curse. 

  The biggest chunk of dollars Medicaid disburses — nearly two thirds; look it up — isn’t for “welfare moms.” It’s for grannies and granddads in nursing homes.

   It’s tough love, you might say, but the pain someone else’s elders suffer would be worth it to get things back to what they once were, back in the 17.1 percent days.

   Speaking of health care, we’ve heard a lot from ACA’s sworn enemies about how it stole billions from Medicare. (Factcheck.org says there’s a big difference between “stealing” and saving billions of dollars. In fact, it says the savings built into the ACA will prolong the life span of the Medicare trust fund.)

   Well, if the foes of ACA are the protectors of Medicare they pretend to be, then they should be alarmed by the Ryan proposal, also trotted out in the 2012 election, to block-grant Medicare. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at the time said that the long-term restrictions built into that proposal would cost seniors an average of $6,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses.

   All of this represents a longing for a return to things as they were, when seniors didn’t depend so heavily on the government. Those were the same halcyon days when a national health insurance program for the working poor was a silly dream.

   Don’t rest, GOP, until we not only are back to the the 17.1 percent sweetness of yesteryear (2013), but a percent of a percent more.

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













Monday, March 31, 2014

When every sperm is sacred

    Regularly I drive past individuals praying out in front of Planned Parenthood.

    Supplication being a private thing, one can only imagine what appeals they direct skyward, out there in the cold and wind.

    I like to imagine that they are praying that all women, regardless of income, have access to safe and affordable contraception.

   I imagine that is not likely.

   Most likely, they not only oppose the abortion that their signs and placards decry. They also oppose birth control that would avert unwanted pregnancies — and abortions.

   In many cases, this even includes opposition to the condom, with all those sperm laid to waste. Oh, the humanity.

    I admit grudging admiration for this form of studied absolutism, even if it is so far removed from America’s cultural realities as our highways are from hay wagons.

   I am reminded of a 2012 Gallup poll in which 82 percent of Americans said birth control was morally acceptable.

   Check that. That was 82 percent of Catholics saying as much.

   Yes, Catholics.

    This may explain why two key Colorado Republicans have had changes of heart recently on the issue of “personhood.”

     U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman both have dropped their support for a personhood amendment that abortion foes perennially place before the state’s voters, who each time shoot it down by large margins.

     Gardner is seeking the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Mark Udall. Coffman is in a tight race in a newly redrawn swing district. 

    Both acknowledge that the amendment they once supported in lockfstep with social conservatives is poison for the masses. It would prohibit contraception that might cause a fertilized egg not to implant.

    Once again, points for absolutism to those who want to give zygotes Fourth Amendment rights, but most Americans understand this to be folly. Truth be known, most people who say they oppose abortion would acknowledge they can’t pretend to be so rigid.

   Any candidate who claims to be “pro-life” should have to explain the extent to which he or she would go in getting government into the gestation process. What exceptions would be permissible under a law of his or her design?

    Rape? Incest? Life-threatening medical or psychological circumstances? In each case, which “life” takes precedence?

    Those who say “no exceptions” haven’t practiced obstetrics, and haven’t been raped.

     Speaking of practice, that’s all it is, shadow boxing, when politicians mouth “pro-life” nothings, though they have no personal investment into the matter, or no womb, as it were.

    Considering how broadly the public accepts contraception, it’s amazing that we continue to have discussions like the one before the Supreme Court about Hobby Lobby’s right, as a corporation, to refuse to carry health insurance that covers contraception.

    Birth control aside, this is one more extension of the spurious “corporations as people” spiel used to undermine campaign finance laws.

    Rights are reserved for people. If corporations  have religious rights, the workplace can be their temple. They can require morning and afternoon prayers, restricted diets. To do otherwise would violate their faith. But, of course, Hobby Lobby doesn’t do that. It hires people of all faiths. What gives it the prerogative to cherry pick and reject components of basic, broadly accepted health coverage?

      Some Republicans have made fools of themselves for playing the Limbaugh Bully Game about contraception coverage. The birth-control pill isn’t a license for, as Mike Huckabee sneers, women who “can’t control their libido.” The pill is basic health maintenance, providing for a smooth regulation of a menstrual cycle, for one thing.  

      As the change-of-heart Colorado Republicans are acknowledging, this is a losing game for political absolutists. Hooray for the Obama administration for not shrinking from this court challenge.

     The issue in the Hobby Lobby case is the “personhood” of employees and the 21st Century definition of health care.

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