Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Aggie who wrote the book -- on global warming

Andrew Dessler is as dispassionate as an academic should be — except about things he knows to be beyond dispute. In the first sentence, first chapter, of The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change, that passion shows through.

"Of all the environmental issues that have emerged in the past few decades, global climate change is the most serious, and the most difficult to manage. It is the more serious because of the severity of harms that it might bring."

The book, which the Texas A&M climatologist authored with Edward Parson of the University of Michigan, is one of the nation's leading college texts on the subject.

It's advertised as a "guide to the debate," but Dessler doesn't go so far as to assign each side of the debate equal weight. He leaves no doubt that industrial-era pollution is contributing to Earth's heating.

Certainly, how rapidly climate change might occur and how it will affect life on the planet are matters of conjecture and projection. He does not for instance, blame global warming for the recent spate of killer gulf storms.

But relative to the central issue, carbon dioxide emissions, Dessler says no one should be cowed by any number of distractions. Take the claim that cattle flatulence is just as significant a factor. Methane is a greenhouse gas, yes, but "carbon dioxide is the dominant greenhouse gas by a factor of four." Additionally, what cattle emit will dissipate after 10 years. The CO2 we are adding to our atmosphere is there for our lifetime.

Don't be comforted, he said, by cherry-picked data, such as the fact that last year was the coolest in a decade. A "temperature anomaly" chart shows a spike of 1.3 degrees in water surface temperatures since the 1900s, after a relatively constant stretch of 300 years.

For anyone who thinks 1.3 degrees to be a pittance, Dessler points out that the Ice Age was precipitated by a 5-degree drop. And if today's pace continues, a 4-degree rise over the next century is not out of the question, with coastal areas submerged and life-sustaining freshwater sources like the Himalayan glaciers decimated.

"We'll look pretty stupid in 100 years if we essentially destroyed the world while we were arguing about tax rates, jobs, Bernie Madoff and rescuing the stock market," he said.

Not surprisingly, Dessler, a Harvard graduate, occasionally finds pockets of doubt in Aggieland.

One time he faced a hostile audience of petroleum engineers. "This was a crowd of academics who were accusing me of fraud," he said.

However, he said, by and large people get it. Even the Texas Legislature now is talking about it, and not in the denial mode modeled by Texas' Aggie-in-chief, Rick Perry.

Bills range from capping the state's CO2 emissions to cashing in on the business of carbon disposal. Ah, money to be made. Now the climatologists are talking Texas' language.

Dessler is openly disdainful of the economic scare tactics used by the "do nothing" crowd.

That crowd said, for instance, that dramatic measures to curtail the chlorofluorocarbons eating away the ozone layer would carry catastrophic costs. Wrong.

What those measures brought about was innovation, another word for economic development.

"Once people realize there's going to be regulation (of greenhouse gases) there's going to be innovation," he said.

"Climate change is tougher than other issues, but there's a lot of evidence that people exaggerate the costs of the solution to scare people into inaction."

The question: Will we say, "Ah, let's adjust to a warmer planet"? Or will we say, "Let's adjust our economy and our consumptive lifestyles to lessen our imprint on the planet's future"?


John Young's column appears Thursday and Sunday. E-mail:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Don't sit on that sword, Governor

Addressing the state's newspaper executives Monday, Rick Perry might have been wearing a coonskin cap and leaning on Ol' Betsy. Or he could have been Col. Travis drawing a line in the sand.

To Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's joust that he's wrong to turn down half a billion federal dollars in unemployment aid, Perry parried: "The last thing we want is Washington coming down here and telling us how to run our state."

Bravo. Perry has always walked the walk of independence. Like in 2003, when Congressman Tom DeLay left his duties in Washington to hang out in the state Capitol for days, even hand-carrying versions of the congressional redistricting bill that paralyzed the Legislature. We called ol' Tom Texas' shadow governor back then, and Rick his lapdog.

The real shadow governor was the previous one, George W. Bush. For him, Perry made sure nothing would happen in Austin that session until the GOP had several more congressional seats.

So, here we are, and our Col. Travis — it's all in the clothes — just drew a line in the sand so tight to his boots he risks his toes.

Texas' unemployment insurance trust fund is running out of money. Hutchison asserts that to replenish it, the state might have to raise employers' taxes. So, she says, take the money.

Perry says the strings attached would require the state to raise taxes on employers when the stimulus dollars cease.

Tom Pauken, Perry's own man running the Texas Workforce Commission, says that needn't be. Lawmakers can accept the money and let an expanded state program expire when federal funding runs out.

More than 111,000 Texans are projected to lose their jobs this year, more than the population of Waco proper. Perry says he has bigger principles in mind, like independence.

State Sen. Steve Ogden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he can easily swallow his Republican pride and make good use of the federal stimulus funds flowing to the state.

Texas will be accepting school dollars, highway dollars, health care dollars.

No, this isn't about independence at all. It's about political theater, something apparent from the start in the declarations of a handful of Republican governors convening in Washington last month. Though they would accept the lion's share of stimulus dollars, they'd draw the line at unemployment aid.

The question wasn't, "What's best for our hurting citizens?" It was: "Where can we strike a pose? And who's with us? Perry? Aye. Jindal? Aye. Palin? Aye. Barbour? Aye." Then all went back to their home states with party-supplied talking points.

Yes, this is the way it works — not addressing the needs of those who hurt, but posing to suit men in suits.

When is it ever about the people in need?

When is it about the growing millions in this nation who have no health insurance — 6 million workers added in the last decade? When is it about nursing home residents in our state whose savings are gone and who are at the mercy of skinflint Medicaid reimbursement rates? When is it about citizens with mental illness left on society's fringes? It's never about them. It's about posing.

Meanwhile, back in Austin, something encouraging is happening — something almost too good to be true. The Senate initially has OK'd a bill to end the partisan paralysis associated with redistricting. It would create a bipartisan, independent commission to redraw congressional districts.

That would be mighty good for the state, but not the party in power. Yet legislation author Jeff Wentworth says Perry "wants to sign the bill."

Come on, lawmakers. Let's give him the chance to show he's serving us.

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dress for success? In Texas, wear pads

Dress for success? In Texas, wear pads

In basketball, they rate guard play by a turnovers-to-assists ratio. In football, they use interceptions-to-touchdowns to rate quarterbacks.

I propose we start rating schools on their football-coach-to-guidance-counselor ratio.

If we did, we'd start improving our turnovers/assists ratio. Assists: when we actually help a student figure out where he or she wants to go and he/she gets there. Turnovers: when we drop the ball and the child drops out or drifts through without a clue.

State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, observes how, amid all the nouns and verbs, we actually do little to help students make informed choices about the future.

He visited a high school in his district and found, to his amazement, only eight guidance counselors for 3,200.

"With a 400-1 student/counselor ratio, how do we provide adequate guidance for college education?" he asked.

He said that for all the talk of college and career preparation, beefing up and enhancing school counseling is the "low-hanging fruit" with which Texas could make a big difference, if it cared.

Take Anytown High and compare the high school counseling staff to the football staff. There you have it: your priorities. Yes, these coaches teach. Most of them do great jobs motivating and counseling student athletes. We need to emulate that success.

What would be the effect if, as with its athletic staff, a high school hired teachers who also would wear hats as career guidance counselors, just like those who teach and coach? What if those teachers/guidance counselors, as with coaches, were assigned to a subset of students (call it a squad), and followed them with gridiron zeal as they navigated the high school years?

The Legislature right now is coming up with reforms to better align K-12 instruction with what colleges need. Included is a pathway to being certified "college-ready" by passing end-of-course exams in upper-level math, English, science and social studies.

On the other hand, some students could get a diploma with the "alternate performance standard" without those skills. Their high school diplomas would make them "postsecondary-ready," which proponents say would mean ready for community college or technical school. Critics call it "remediation-ready" or "not worthy."

Their concern is the prospect of creating a caste system and pegging students, particularly minorities, as rejects because they don't meet a standardized classification for "college-ready." Yes, as if every career needs advanced algebra or the ability to digest Anna Karenina.

Critics of the end-of-course certificate have a very valid concern. Texas once again is putting the outcome measure (a standardized test) ahead of the desired outcome.

The sad irony is that schools do so little to make students think beyond the test and the system being set up to peg them for success or failure.

Result: Too many children are motivated to stay in school by aversion to punishment (truancy laws; losing one's driver's license) rather than any inherent or intrinsic rewards they can conjure.

We need coaches for them — people who, beyond the classroom, tell them, "This is where you're heading," or, "There is a great place beyond these walls," or, "Just keep your options, kid. Don't let anyone sell you short. You are in control."

We know — just look in the football game program — how many people we have on staff to coach the linebackers and nose guards of tomorrow. How many people do we have on staff to guide the future optometrists, welders and Web masters?

How many people do we have to encouraging that very smart kid who can't picture herself in a traditional career and doesn't think school does a thing for her?

We need coaches for them. What is your school's turnover-to-assist ratio?

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Friday, March 20, 2009

When a young man's muse aligns with melody

A few thousand people will read these words along with you. Hopefully, impressions will linger. I've not got my hopes up too high, though.

For said expectations, I'm just not in the right creative endeavor.

I've had people recite to me a line I wrote weeks or even years prior. But never could they hum it.

Nothing I've ever written has stalked people in their sleep, moseyed along throughout a workday in the backs of their skulls, or shown up in the shower.

Something my son just did does that.

He put thoughts to music, and joined them on a CD. He put a striking cover on it, and put information on the Internet.

I can't get it out of my head, or figure how it got assembled in his.


Who invented song?

I mean, really? Who was the first to conjure up tune, then attach wisdom or wackiness to it? It was at least an eon before Rodgers and Hammerstein were a glimmer in the Great Conductor's eye.

You might say, well, song is simply an extension of the wolf's howl, the owl's hoot. Yes. But who put "Hey, Macarena" in the howl? (Say five times real fast.)

Who put the bop in the bop-shoo-bop?

I'm flummoxed. I stand in awe at people who do.

It's one thing to be a musician. My mother was one, a church organist all her adult life. (She thought I was a musician, too. She gave up after I started hiding in a ditch when the piano teacher showed.)

For all the music she played, if she ever composed anything, I'm unaware.

So she would be rubbing her eyes and clapping her pianist's hands to think that, though the musical acumen skipped a generation, it has not even skipped a beat.

And the next generation contains a real composer.

Our eldest just finished his second CD. The first was a pretty darned impressive effort with a classmate at Waco High School. OK, I was slack-jawed then, too.

The newest, the Austin-inspired "Judges' Hill," is being plugged on the Internet at under the artist name The Man in the Moon. The artist is talking to his videographer younger brother about ways to bring selections to YouTube in moving images. Paging the ghost of Al Jolson . . .

Did I say "stalked in one's sleep and the shower"? This newest creation has a haunting song inspired by New York, "Big City" ("It's up in the air/it's under repair"), that visits me in my slumber.

Our cats like it, too. When my son was home for Thanksgiving, he had just received by e-mail his finished songs from the studio as MP3s. Apparently, the cursor of the family computer was poised over "Big City" when he retired late that night. Early that morning, one of the cats stepped on the mouse. There was the sound of our (sleeping) kid singing at, oh, 5:30 in the morning.

Having graduated from the University of Texas almost three years ago, he is well-armed to march into varied high-dollar professional pursuits. But music is what he pursues.

Knowing him, I understand.

So many things are doable. Music is one of those things with the most panoramic of envelopes. It has no ceiling, no finiteness. It is all challenge.

Like other forms of artistic expression, it is both primal and futuristic. It's all derivative. It's all original — unless a judge pronounces it otherwise.

All I know is I can't do it. I can barely hum.

We shall thank our stars that someone does it. Then again, being the creatures that we are, as long as we have stars, we will have songs sent their way.

John Young's column appears Thursday and Sunday. E-mail:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stamped as 'college material'?

In NBC's series "Friday Night Lights," a pampered high schooler goes into a senioritis death spiral. Why? She's suddenly realized that with her middle-of-the-pack grades, the two Texas-college color schemes of her dreams — burnt orange and maroon — are out of the question.

It's hard to sympathize. Every student in this state with an eye on college knows, or should, about the rule that has guaranteed admission to the top 10 percent of high school graduating classes.

It's a rule lawmakers are poised to dramatically alter this week, partially because an underbuilt college system has placed too much of a premium on two primo universities.

But something else is happening in the statehouse this week about college admissions, and it has nothing to do with percentiles.

It has to do with — ah, man, you guessed it — standardized testing.

Doesn't everything come down to that? And isn't that wrong?

Whether they would be tacitly or directly influenced, college admissions are among the less-discussed subtexts of ambitious legislation to revamp Texas' school accountability system.

Two measures, House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 3, portend major, and in many cases very welcome, changes. Among the good:

* De-emphasizing the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in promoting students. Under the new approach, TAKS scores would supplement other, broader criteria.

* Judging schools on a "growth model" tracking improvement, rather than today's "gotcha" approach that doesn't acknowledge different starting points based on economic advantages and disadvantages.

* Better aligning what colleges require and what high schools produce.

All of that is good, unless we get into a mode of standardizing what "college material" is. That would be bad. There's evidence in this well-meaning legislation that it would result in exactly that, to the detriment of some promising students.

At issue is the use of high school end-of-course exams to certify a student as "college-ready."

Pass the end-of-course exam for advanced English and Algebra II, and that's your prize under an "advanced high school program," according to the legislation. The bill also calls on the state to develop such exams for social studies and science. They would be used to give a state-certified endorsement of college readiness, as well.

Those who didn't take advanced English or Algebra II, or who couldn't pass the end-of-course exam in either, could still graduate but with the "alternate performance standard," meaning "postsecondary-ready" (candidates for community college or technical schools). What critics say it really means is these students would be "remediation-ready" — aka, "not worthy."

Wait a minute. What about the young man who can master the complexities of a circuit board but who is knock-kneed putting his words in prose? What about the young lady who is the next great novelist but who crumples into a heap in the face of algebraic equations?

I'll guarantee that I had an "advanced high school program," but one that was loaded toward English and journalism my senior year, with no math. Would that have made me not "college-ready"?

Some minority advocacy groups fear an "apartheid" system, with the top-10 rule in jeopardy and end-of-course exams assuming such weight. They warn that the Algebra II end-of-course test itself could marginalize staggering numbers of Hispanic and African-American students, making them think they aren't college material.

It is true that Texas colleges spend too much time and resources on remediation for students who need help in math or English. But let's acknowledge that it's a pretty good investment if it results in the first college graduate in a family's history.

It's one thing not to reinforce the privileges of the pampered when we want students ready for college. It's another to admit that for some, no matter how worthy, college is the last place they ever thought they'd be. We should think bigger for them.

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dave's trophy: suppressing the vote

A fable:

Good-guy Dave was a steady sort. He wasn't prone to excess. To that end, he saved his nickels and dimes. One day he counted all of his change: $503.

Dave thought of the needs facing his family: a rusted-out water heater, a creaky A/C window unit, worn brake pads in the family's second-hand car.

He told his wife he was off to spend the money. All day she wondered what vital need he had addressed.

In town he passed a taxidermy shop and fell in love with a moose head in the window. He bought it for $495 and change.

"We need a new water heater and brake pads," he told his flabbergasted wife. "But this handsome head over my mantel everyone will see."

The next day she left the idiot.

I'm not going to call Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst an idiot. But for a good guy, he has just spent his political currency on a wacky impulse buy: Senate passage of the so-called Voter ID Bill.

All this time, six years as the chamber's presiding officer, he's been carefully storing up political capital. Now, to address a crisis no one can really identify, he has bought himself a moose head.

You think when you become a statewide elected official you will reach that moment when you put it all on the line — do it for something that will make a great state greater, or at least replace its brakes.

For Dewhurst, apparently this was that.

He announced at the start of this session that he would set aside the so-called rule of 21 — requiring two-thirds consent in the Senate to get a bill on the floor — to vote on a bill requiring photo identification for voters.

That issue might stir you as you imagine illegal aliens and dead Democrats on the loose and voting. But the issue is so overblown as to have blown up in Attorney General Greg Abbott's face.

Abbott launched a massive dragnet to find voter fraud, using a $1.4 million federal grant. Result: In the whole state of Texas, 23 million strong, which we all like to say is like a country, Abbott prosecuted 26 people for voter fraud — most for illegally voting by mail (A photo ID would have achieved what in these cases?)

Twenty-six. Mon dieu. Can the republic endure?

For this crisis, Dewhurst dumped a long-standing Senate rule into the Rio Colorado and occupied an entire day of proceedings, stretching into an all-night affair.

Whatever reputation of statesmanship and bipartisanship he might have established, Dewhurst showed that he could be a good Republican operative just like Gov. Rick Perry.

Voter ID, like the second-time-in-a-decade congressional redistricting that paralyzed the Legislature in 2003, is an initiative straight from the GOP home office in — uh, it used to be Washington. The Grand Caymans?

Just as redistricting was meant to harvest more congressional seats for the Republicans, voter ID is meant to produce fewer Democratic votes. Poor and elderly people are those most likely to lack the photo identification this bill would require. They also are more likely to vote Democrat.

Throughout Dewhurst's tenure he has shown reserve and just a touch of detachment about the hyperpartisanship which so often beset the Texas House, and that which has driven our governor.

He blew it all last week.

Now, it may be that stopping the Senate dead for this bill was the highest use he thought could come from Texas' most respected deliberative body. But I'm thinking basically that Dewhurst came into this session thinking he wanted a set of nostrils to display to fellow partisans.

All for the greater good of the great state of Texas.

John Young's column appears Thursday and Sunday. E-mail:

Friday, March 13, 2009

De-exorcising science

In The Exorcist, the 1973 film that made Linda Blair a star and caused pea soup consumption to plummet, a man arrived at a house with a black bag and a Bible to drive out evil spirits.

But what does one bring to undo an exorcism? Comparable tools, actually.

Barack Obama swore on Abe Lincoln's Bible.

This on the day Obama arrived at a White House that for eight years beheld science much like an allergist does black mold.

What we witnessed at the start of the George W. Bush presidency was an exorcism. Though consecrated by men of the cloth like the late Jerry Falwell, by and large it was orchestrated by and for big business.

For one, it would not acknowledge the truths and consequences of policies that bumped against the limits of the planet and its ecosystems. Examples:

* In 2006, nonscientists in the White House edited out congressional testimony from the Centers for Disease Control about the effects of global warming.

* In 2003, the White House sought to muzzle the top climate scientist at NASA.

* In 2001, it altered biological findings from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service about effects of oil development on caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

* It ignored findings about what a pedal-to-the-metal approach to snowmobiles would do to Yellowstone Park's air.

One must admit, however, that the then-majority party's problem with science wasn't simply a devotion to greasing wheels for big business to roll across our land. Some of what it did was to make shameless and unconscionable offerings to the religious right.

Consider the concerted effort to link abortion to breast cancer, a connection disputed by the American Cancer Society and other cancer advocacy groups.

The Republican-dominated Texas Legislature wedged the specious claim into an "informed consent" law whereby women seeking abortions are to be force-fed it. Yes, by decree of Texas: misinformed without one's consent.

Right now, the Texas State School Board is debating whether to, as Republican chairman Don McLeroy wants, require high school science classes to consider claims about gaps in the fossil record that would suit creationists' assault on evolution theory.

McLeroy is a dentist. He's also a creationist. It's a peculiar algorithm by which we turn to a dentist rather than to biologists when deciding how to teach biology.

That's the equation Obama wants to change. Under the new calculation, we would be guided by science, rather than guiding science where our religious beliefs want it to go — like the young-Earth belief shared by creationists.

Emblematic of where the other approach took us was a $2.3 million federal grant, when the Bush administration was young, to study the power of prayer.

It started out in assessing whether prayer could help resolve a woman's fertility issues. You'll be surprised to know it proved inconclusive.

Meanwhile, when actual experts had actual scientific proof about reproductive matters, the administration ignored them.

The Food and Drug Administration gave an exhaustive review to over-the-counter use of Plan B, the "morning-after" birth-control pill, and gave it an unqualified endorsement. The Bush administration stalled with all its might before finally giving in. We are left to wonder how many unintended pregnancies, and abortions, could have been prevented in the interim.

Almost no empirical evidence shows that abstinence-only programs in schools avert pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease in comparison to comprehensive sex education. But don't expect evidence to stand in the way of dogma, which is always more aromatic.

The irony is that Bush popularized the phrase "sound science." Based on his practice, what he meant was science that sounded as if it could fit within one's political, religious and economic belief systems.

An oxymoron, in other words.

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Citizen Stanford and his many influential friends

If Allen Stanford ever took the notion to seek elected office, you can bet your first-born child he'd have had TV ads identifying himself as a "small businessman."

You can bet that those in Washington who consumed — and returned in kind — his many good graces would say they responded to the needs of a "small businessman."

Never mind that the Mexia native stands accused of constructing a $50 billion Caribbean business around phony money. He was a small businessman right here on the streets of Waco, and so the ads would say. Maybe that's how he'll plead to a judge.

Stanford had a fitness club and a burger joint in our fair city, but would become an international financier where fields were greener, at least for taxable purposes.

Though he took his assets to another land entirely, that didn't mean he lost interest in his homeland. Indeed, he was interested to the tune of $3.3 million spent lobbying Washington.

You can bet your second-born child that he would describe his interest as "good government" rather than self interest.

And you can bet that members of Congress who accepted flights on Stanford's corporate jets would cite the same concern.

Actually, U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions told the Dallas Morning News that the objective of trips with his wife were, figuratively, to sift through the sands of whatever matters concerned "the entire Caribbean basin." Whatever.

The fact is, Stanford wanted more from Congress than for members to do fact-finding in the surf of his adopted island of Antigua. He wanted to block legislation aimed at curbing money laundering. He succeeded for a while.

Among his allies were sandy-beaches guests like then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Sen. John Cornyn and Sessions, each being utterly sensitive to any and all things Caribbean.

These trips weren't financed directly by Stanford but by an organization called the Inter-American Council. It's just that he supplied 85 percent of the council's revenue.

DeLay knows that game. At the height of his power, he created a charity called Celebrations for Children. The Washington Postfound it to be not so much about helping children but to be a slush fund for soft-money political contributions.

Back to the legislation that small businessman Allen Stanford was trying to block. He succeeded in 2000 when Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, then chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, applied the kibosh.

After Sept. 11, the quest to monitor off-shore bank accounts became more compelling to Congress. Language that Stanford had opposed was written into the Patriot Act and became law.

Speaking of losing battles in Congress, Stanford and his ilk lost another when Democrats took over Congress, and DeLay was indicted and resigned, ending a political empire predicated on back scratching and campaign cash for kindness.

In 2007 under new leadership the House adopted an ethics law that bars members from accepting free trips on private planes.

This is not to say that Democrats didn't enjoy the good graces of the small businessman from Antigua by way of Mexia. Stanford paid for a candidate forum at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and contributed $500,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in one year alone, 2002.

Rest assured, it was all in the interest of good government on behalf of a small-business man.

John Young writes for the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald. E-mail:

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Class warfare? No, inequities vs. needs

"Class warfare."

"Largest tax increase in history."

Get used to these words. If President Barack Obama's tax policies come to fruition, his political foes will wring those phrases for every hint of potential.

We know they will, because those are the same words used to assail what Bill Clinton did with taxes.

And, we were warned that if Congress allowed Clinton to do it, well. . . . Let Phil Gramm explain it.

"We are buying a one-way ticket to a recession."

Yep. That's what it was way back in the dark days after the "largest tax increase in history." You recall: such a fiscal cataclysm that swelling federal coffers from a robust economy actually allowed our government to buy back some of its debt.

Key point never mentioned by the critics then: Clinton didn't raise taxes on Americans in general, just the wealthiest. George W. Bush reversed that, awarding billionaires ungodly gimmes from a Washington increasingly starved for cash — something that happens when you wage two wars at once.

Obama said on the campaign trail that he would return to the general tax policies of the Clinton years. But for the sake of doing what we must, Congress has to go further.

That, Obama says he will — to deal with the millions of Americans who have no health insurance.

The administration proposes to raise $318 billion over 10 years toward that end by ending an inequity in the tax code that — I know this will shock you — benefits the rich.

Current tax law gives wealthy Americans more bang for the buck when they itemize deductions. If you are making $250,000 a year, you get roughly $700 more back for your $10,000 worth of deductions than in the next tax bracket down. Obama's proposal would close that gap.

Foes will call this "class warfare." I guess that would apply. With a tax code so tilted to one side, as a member of the middle class I say, "Let's get ready to rumble."

So, is it a better use of tax dollars for them to be frittered away for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans through unequal tax treatment, or to construct a health system whereby every working American can have affordable health insurance? Discuss.

Speaking of inequity: With the future of Social Security in doubt, and with tax fairness finally back on the table, we no longer can justify a regressive payroll tax for which only the first $102,000 of one's income is taxed for Social Security — FICA.

That means every penny of those of us who don't make $102,000 gets taxed for FICA, but those who make millions pay a ridiculously low rate by comparison. Obama has said he wants to lift that cap.

Oh, and when people tell you that low-income Americans don't pay any income tax, they generally gloss over the fact that everyone pays that payroll tax.

When the issue is raising taxes, often what we are talking about is seeking equity to pay for things this country needs.

Obama says he's not going to raise taxes until the economy is better. At some point, though, he should tell the Phil Gramms of society that, you know: Y'all were wrong then. You are wrong now.

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald. E-mail: