Thursday, May 28, 2009

These bogus arguments have lost their roar

These bogus arguments have lost their roar

Just in time for summer movies, but most likely headed straight for DVD:

Dick Cheney stars in Land of the Lost Arguments.

Also wearing loincloth in starring roles: Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, with not so much as a cameo by George W. Bush. He's not even mentioned in the credits.

This Land of the Lost is advertised as a horror tale. It is so overacted and contrived, however, that audiences asked to suspend belief are simply guffawing.

A signature of the movie is the once-fierce dinosaur Ignoramus, a creature that will fall for anything. No suspense: In the movie, it falls.

Cast into the wilderness with their clubs and politically worn appeals, the shrinking band of ideologues seeks to stir us with these warnings that once sold to target audiences:

Waterboarding works (if we did it).

Hard to keep track: Did we torture, or didn't we? W. said we didn't. Cheney is saying we did, and we liked it! And the terrorists sang like canaries, only they didn't.

FBI interrogator Ali Soufan testified to the Senate that he was having success interviewing Abu Zubaydah with traditional methods when CIA officers intervened and, against his protest, began "enhanced" means that, Soufan said, caused Zubaydah to clam up.

A CIA interrogator interviewed by ABC News disagreed, saying Zubaydah gave important information. However, former FBI Director Robert Mueller told Vanity Fair he doubts the information prevented any attacks.

As to the veracity of admissions given under torture: One-time Navy Seal and ex-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura told Larry King, "You give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders."

Our methods saved thousands of lives.

See Mueller's comments above. Also ask Matthew Alexander, Air Force interrogator, as Salon's Glenn Greenwald did.

Alexander performed 300 military interrogations in Iraq. He said, "We heard day in and day out from foreign fighters that the No. 1 reason they came to Iraq to fight was the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

"When they saw pictures of other Muslims being tortured and abused by U.S. soldiers, it was enough to convince them to travel to Iraq and give up their lives for a noble cause," Alexander said.

What we did to them is peanuts compared to beheadings they've done to others.

"Them" is the operative word, there.

A declassified report obtained by the ACLU about Abu Ghraib quoted a former military police commander on the scene: "It became obvious to me that the majority of our detainees were detained as the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and were swept up by coalition forces as peripheral bystanders during raids."

He said that perhaps one in 10 of the security detainees "were of any particular intelligence value."

Yeah, but we really stuck it to "them."

Closing Gitmo will put terrorists in our backyards.

You mean like Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, World Trade Center bomber Zacarias Moussaoui, shoe bomber Richard Reid — each seen roaming our streets, er, confined for life, in Colorado's federal Supermax unit?

Of all bogus arguments . . .

The same people who told us we could invade two countries, occupy them, rebuild them, inoculate them with democracy and remake the Middle East are saying we can't safely incarcerate a few hundred men with names we can't pronounce.

Sapped of credibility though they are, the Land of the Lost Arguments warriors still plug on. But this is a new day. Thanks to their excesses, Americans once again are reminded why we have international law. It's not just so that sissified foreign interlopers can call ticky-tacky fouls.

In the last scene of Land of the Lost Arguments, Sean Hannity finally backs up his Fox News brag that he can withstand waterboarding. Unable to shut his mouth, he swallows his own words and drowns.

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A sublime voice for choice

Honestly, I don't think they've been paying attention.

I speak of the folks who still appear to take President Barack Obama for a soft touch. Babe in woods. Doe in headlights. One step from the doorstep of "community organizer."

They haven't been paying attention. Maybe because they don't want to see what's evident. The guy is good. Reagan as The Communicator? Obama asCommunicator Salvation, voice of a more progressive nation.

He goes to Notre Dame. A cable news talker says, "A tough day ahead for President Obama." Oh, really? You mean because anti-abortion protesters will show? Heavens.

Well, in the phrasing of a previous White House passer-through, bring 'em on. Those who think a few graphic placards and slogans can win the day when this guy has the microphone are, once again borrowing a staple of bygone days, misunderestimating this guy.

Consider the anti-choice commentators, who, seeing only what they believed, gave Obama failing marks.

A "sign the pro-lifers are slowly winning," wrote Ramesh Ponnuru of Obama's Notre Dame speech. "He didn't try to make the case for his view on abortion and other issues. He just pled for civility and the search for common ground."

That's a concession? Obama spoke for a nation with a plea to "stop reducing those with differing views to caricature."

A caricature unto itself is "pro-life." Often it needs explaining when said "pro-lifer" is pro-war, pro-death penalty and anti-human rights as pertains to homosexuals.

Another caricature, in the same bag of propaganda tricks, is "pro-abortion," which we are told our president is.

Actually, he addresses the imperative to reduce the numbers of abortion through birth control and adoption.

Somehow, not wanting to foreclose the option through law makes one "radically pro-abortion." Not where I live.

This is like saying someone is "pro-kiddie porn" by supporting free speech.

In three words, former President Bill Clinton came closest to expressing America's communal sense about abortion: "safe, legal and rare." So has Obama, and in a voice that makes people appreciate that leaders can represent a diverse nation and do justice to diverging impulses.

Many who claim to be "pro-life" by and large don't really want to explain to what extent they'd interfere in a woman's reproductive rights or when they'd back off.

In cases of rape? How do you define rape? Statutorily?

Incest? That's some claim to prove and to place on the shoulders of a scared victim.

Medical necessity? What tribunal would judge a doctor's judgment call?

So even when a recent poll shows that 51 percent of Americans call themselves "pro-life," most have no idea what the term could or would play out in the real world in terms of policy. Most of those 51 percent of Americans probably say they believe in a less intrusive government. But no government policy could be more intrusive than to order a pregnant woman to gestate, no matter the circumstances.

Oh, no. Obama not only did well at Notre Dame, he rose above the moment. He embodied the respectful and knowing face of people who are pro-family, pro-morality, pro-children and pro-choice.

If you saw something else, well, you weren't watching.

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

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Another definition for 'crazy'

AUSTIN — Cherry is her name.

And once upon a time, well . . .

"I went crazy — really crazy."

She says it with a smile. She is tending the kitchen at Southpointe, a residence for people with various disabilities.

Once upon a time, she was a hard-working contributor to society. Then a chemical imbalance beset her brain. Her working rounds became the sidewalks of Austin.

Like so many others.

Fortunately, she had family that helped her. And she had some savings to go with Social Security disability. Because of that, she has an apartment here.

An indicator of Cherry's stabilized mental health is that she knows how lucky she is.

Others like her are sleeping on grates, or bunking in unlicensed boardinghouses. Many are in the two-fisted grip of a mental illness and alcoholism or illegal drug abuse. Every one of them could have her placid demeanor and optimism.

"This is really nice here," she says. "They need more of these." Yes, ma'am.

What we do, or don't do, for severely mentally ill individuals is a scandal. One of the rarely discussed scandals is the lack of housing assistance.

If you're born with a mental disability or injured severely, society is going to take care of you. The alternative? Um, freezing to death in a wheelchair on the street corner?

People with mental illness can be every bit as disabled — hiding in the shadows, or from them; speaking to specters.

One big difference, though: A mentally retarded person gets 100 percent publicly funded housing, support and training. A mentally ill person gets nothing beyond that $674 monthly Social Security check.

Indicative of this is the fact that Southpointe is an ICF-MR — an intermediate care facility for the mentally retarded. But seeing a need, the Mary Lee Foundation, which operates it, freed up a few units for the mentally ill as well. One problem: It comes without the public assistance available for other disabilities.

Rare is the publicly funded program like New York City's Project Renewal. The city and state jointly invest in housing and care for the mentally ill. Many stabilize, find jobs, live life.

Across the country: just the opposite. The mentally ill wander the streets. They end up behind bars and in mental hospitals — in and out and in again, over and over. Taxpayers' money down the drain.

Policy makers can't fathom paying for ongoing support and housing yet will spend gobs to jail and hospitalize them.

Two generations ago, rightful outrage was summoned about the warehousing of the mentally ill. People who were locked up in "snake pits" saw the light of day.

One problem, says Marilyn Hartman, whose son has a severe mental illness: Policy shifted "to the other extreme: no provisions for anybody." Confronting this matter is about more than medication, she says. Central to the issue is "long-term, permanent housing" with services like those at Southpointe.

Hartman's son, a Yale graduate, was hospitalized 13 times over three years after being diagnosed. In the six years he's been living at Southpointe, he hasn't needed hospitalization.

Actively involved in the Austin affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, she has urged lawmakers to see the savings inherent in helping the mentally ill keep out of jail and the mental hospital.

Southpointe has been a salvation for her son, Hartman says. It's the whole package of support for the mentally ill, including therapy that gets some back into the workforce. But it's not free or cheap.

When it comes to housing the mentally ill, most policymakers don't get it. They don't see that permanent housing, with support, for the mentally ill is cost-effective. It helps people recover. It reduces demands on jails and mental hospitals.

You've heard the old definition of insanity — doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. That's what we do when mentally ill people go from jail, to the mental hospital, and back to the street. Yeah, that's crazy.

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

Sunday, May 17, 2009

When I say 'hate crime,' you say . . .

This is not just a threat to the American way of life. It threatens the "very survival of freedom."

So says former grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke.

Tell us, Brother Duke. What is it? Unauthorized eavesdropping? The abolition of habeas corpus? Martial law under the Patriot Act?

Actually, no. The threat to our very freedom is something called the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act.

The bill broadens the definition of a federal hate crime to one targeting homosexuals or transgendered people. It is named after the college student beaten and left to die, bound to a Wyoming fence post, by two men who posed as gays.

An act aimed at offenses like this, say Duke and other fringe characters like Operation Rescue's Flip Benham, threatens our freedom and the First Amendment. They have mounted a march on Washington and a "gathering of Christian leaders" (ahem) to stop it. Godspeed, voyagers. Let us know if any of your First Amendment rights are stripped in the process by homeland security.

The bill in question, S.909, certainly wouldn't do that, unless you decided to take a mighty rod to some people with gender-identity issues to instill the fear of a wrathful God in them.

Oh, but the bill is much worse, says Benham. It "expressly forbids any language that might be perceived as 'hate' by the homosexual community. This makes illegal every word in the Bible."

Well, I flipped though S.909. Here's what I found: "Nothing in this act shall . . . prohibit any constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct or activities (regardless of whether compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief) . . ."

This bill is not about faith or free expression. It's about violence, violence aimed at a group of people to imprint mortal fear in them, much as the cross burnings and lynchings of Brother Duke's forebears did with Americans of color.

You may object to hate crimes as a legal concept, being a crime compounded by the mind-set of an offender. But if you say it's a case of the state enforcing an unconstitutional "thought crime," know that the penalties for any number of criminal offenses are made more severe based on the intent of the offender. Indeed, that's the difference between manslaughter and murder.

Really, what's at play here is absolute, unmitigated hate masquerading as Christian love.

It's the kind of hatred that would cause Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx to stand on the House floor and call the hate crime against Matthew Shepard a "hoax." You see, she says, it was just a robbery.

It's the kind of venom that would get a hate merchant like Duke engaged in the issue, to say that including "sexual orientation" in a hate-crimes bill would make it a hate crime to slap a pedophile.

I'd like to see a prosecutor try that legal tack. No, Brother Duke, I'm thinking this "threat to our very liberty" is all in your calcifying skull.

Oh, and by the way: Pedophiles come of all sexual persuasions, including yours.

Your anti-S.909 literature, Brother Benham, quotes Jesus ("Have I now become the enemy of the truth?") and says, "Is truth hate?"

Does God hate homosexuals? Or were homosexuals (like you and me, as Genesis says) formed in God's image?

My opinion: The last person for whom you people speak is Jesus Christ. The "truth" you express is hate. Constitutionally protected, I might add, but hate nonetheless. It must be. You are so stirred by it to look right past the intent of something aimed at acts of violence to find a "threat to our very freedom" in it.

Freedom to do what, Brother Duke?

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

Friday, May 8, 2009

Want a global emergency? Observe the ice

Someone in Texas has died from a scary-sounding flu. Have we closed the state yet?

I mean, really. What are those people doing in the streets of Maypearl and the tractors of Hartley County when they could be duct-taping their windows?

Really. When has such emotional and informational energy been exerted to less informational benefit?

Information: There is influenza in the world. Flus cannot be contained by borders. People travel. They breathe and use their hands as instruments. Advisory: Wash hands. Continue to breathe.

I don't meant to dismiss a real public health concern. But, really: Are we so aching for a global crisis that we'll take a cough and make it whooping cough?

If you're aching for a global crisis, here are two stories that fit the term. Really.

* A 270-square-mile section of ice — about the size of New York City — broke off from the Antarctic ice shield last month.

Well, it's just ice. It has nothing to do with people. But, wait . . .

* Drought-stricken India has been rocked by a grisly and climbing toll: deep-in-debt farmers committing suicide. First reported byThe New York Times three years ago, the toll has reached the thousands.

The story behind that story, believe it or not, is ice. Really. Himalayan glaciers are the key source of India's irrigation and drinking water. Those glaciers are shrinking in a steady and scary fashion.

I know that some readers are poised to attach "hoax" to the assertion that man's pollution is the key variable in this true global crisis. They sound absolutely certain. They might be able to cite a scientist who doubts the claim. Finding one doubter is good enough for them, for two doubters make a movement.

Congress, fortunately, and now with the prodding of a dead-serious president, finally appears on the verge of putting this country back in the leadership role on global climate change that it has punted away.

Real actions to curb carbon emissions are needed sooner, not later. Dr. Rajendra Pachuari, who chairs the International Panel on Climate Change, said if the United States doesn't set the pace with its own substantive reductions before 2012, "that will be too late."

Pachuari — sounds like one of those exotic, hate-America nags we must endure on the BBC. Actually, he's a George W. Bush appointee.

On the table right now in Congress is legislation that is downright ambitious. We'll see to what extent money and industrial interests sap Congress of its will.

What climate-change groups are urging, and what is possible in this Congress, is a cap-and-trade system under which industries would be required to buy permits for carbon emissions. That means they can decide for themselves whether it is cheaper to pollute or to spend the money to reduce pollution.

Under the measure supported by climate-change groups, cumulative carbon emissions nationwide would be cut between 25 percent and 40 percent through 2012. This would be in tune with targets adopted by international climate negotiators in 2007.

Critics call this a back-door carbon tax. Call it whatever you wish. You see, when you put a cost on pollution, you give someone an incentive not to do it.

This country needs to face two realities: (1) the health ramifications of overdependence on fossil fuels, of which global warming is just one consideration; (2) the increasing scarcity of such fuels and the need to make alternatives cost-effective.

You may believe global warming to be a hoax, but let's all acknowledge that when we address carbon emissions, we address all of the above issues, to our benefit.

These concerns make something as fleeting as a flu outbreak almost laughably inconsequential.

Maybe if we gave climate change an exotic, infectious-sounding name, it would draw attention. Dodo influenza. How does that sound? It could work. The difference is that global warming doesn't just affect those who don't wash their hands.

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Adventures in conformity, GOP-style

When Sen. Arlen Specter left the Republican Party for the Democrats last week, "good riddance" was uttered near and far, particularly on the AM radio dial.

Specter was a RINO —Republican in Name Only — said partisan puritans. He was pro-choice. He supported the Obama stimulus package. The party is stronger for the purging of him and his ilk, they said.

Yes. And a team that's stubby-legged and pasty-faced will reach the NBA finals.

Actually, the correct answer: no. The GOP is not stronger. In fact, it's a lot weaker, and not just because a skinny-legged senator with much seniority took his game elsewhere.

It's weaker because of Rush Limbaugh. It's weaker because of Karl Rove. It's weaker because of rhetorical bombs and bombast. It's weaker because warring words, rather than consensus-seeking actions, have come to define it.

While the Democrats have a speechwriter's dream, Barack Obama, serving as their face, and the nation's, the increasingly minority party has the cigar-chomping Limbaugh serving as its own.

Obama projects hope and competence. Limbaugh projects bile and comeuppance.

While Obama projects healing and inclusiveness, Limbaugh thrives on divisiveness and innuendo (yeah, let's blame illegal aliens for an alien strain of flu, if we can't blame Democrats).

Once upon a time in politics, this worked. Wedge issues did their job. That's why Rove had a job in the White House.

Increasingly, these days, wedge issues simply drive centrists away.

Specter long was a target for refusing to play the hyperbole games of the religious right. If you aren't for banning abortion, something most Americans say they don't want to do, then you are "pro-abortion."

Actually, most polls show Republicans are decidedly ambivalent about how far they want government to go relative to reproductive rights.

If you think gays and lesbians have human rights by virtue of being human, then you "want to tear down the family," says the GOP party line.

Say what you will, but a recent Washington Post poll found that 49 percent of Americans support gay marriage (a 13 percent surge over three years), compared to 46 percent who don't.

A poll by the same paper found only 21 percent of Americans identifying themselves as Republicans. Maybe the Republicans need to identify themselves with other things.

They didn't identify themselves with fiscal responsibility when they were in a position to act it out in Washington. They put tax cuts and military spending first, and everything else last.

Now they're talking about debt and runaway spending. But when in a position to do something about it, they pooh-poohed deficits. They were like CEOs of leveraged businesses who were turning just enough profit to keep their bonuses coming.

Meanwhile, the Roves and the Limbaughs kept hammering at those old wedge issues — immigration, abortion, gay rights — and more and more political moderates who once felt comfortable in the Republican Party started feeling queasy.

For the lack of someone to lead it away from its baser impulses, the party of Eisenhower, Goldwater, Dirksen, Rockefeller and Taft has become the party of Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Beck and Boortz.

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