Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dispatches from a police state

  PHOENIX — News that someone had painted swastikas on the Capitol Building with refried beans surely has assured the ruling majority therein that it is on to something.

  Round up the usual suspects.

  It's a crime, you know. But, then, frijoles can wash off.

  What the legislature and governor have done here will last lifetimes, even if the courts kill it, as is likely. So was expressed in the anger and tears of Latinos of all ages, but most strikingly the young, who staged a vigil outside the Capitol, expecting the worst and being so rewarded.

   The governing majority in the statehouse has effectively made it questionable to be brown — as in the question: "Your citizenship papers?"

   With Gov. Jan Brewer's signature Friday, Arizona police shortly will be required to pursue suspicions of illegal status. Illegal immigration is now a crime under state law. So is the hiring and-or knowing transportation of an undocumented person.

   So, brown people will have to carry documents.

   Gov. Brewer and the new law's proponents say that's not so. We all know it is.

    No criterion other than brown skin could provide grounds for suspicion about one's citizenship in the environment that spawned this awful legislation. Speaking Spanish? That, too. Being brown, speaking Spanish and offering to do just about any brutal task for a pay check? Yes.

    Brewer says police will receive sensitivity training. The state will not practice racial profiling. This is as convincing as North Korea saying it will bring Disney World to Pyongyang.

    Oh, what a tragedy it is that the political process in Arizona is what is clearly behind this odious gesture. Brewer, a generally moderate Republican, may believe in this measure with all of her heart. But the truth is that had she vetoed the measure it would have assured her defeat to a harder-right foe in a looming GOP primary.

     The Arizona Republic, no shill for lefties, pleaded with Brewer to become a profile in courage and moderation.

     In an editorial, it summoned images of the "Chandler Roundup" of 1997, when local police demanded proof of citizenship and ended up handcuffing scores of American citizens: "SB 1070 opens the door to the return of those brutal neighborhood-dividing days."

      The bill's author, State Rep. Russell Pearce, used one of the oldest propaganda techniques in the book when he said that opponents were "against law enforcement, our citizens and the rule of law."

       Actually, that would make the state's police chiefs "against law enforcement," for they opposed the bill.

       One Arizona chief to whom I spoke phrased his concern thusly:

       "I want my officers to have choice and discretion. I want them to be able to prioritize a call rather than to have to handle the undocumented subject because they can now get sued by someone who doesn't think they do it well enough . . .  I also want a victim, after her husband has knocked out her front teeth, not to be afraid to come to us without being afraid of hearing 'Let me see your papers first.'"

       You see, most police see their first job as keeping the peace. What stands to become Arizona law just made it much harder.

       One can understand the concerns of many in a state that's literally at the barricades on this hot-button issue. Comprehensive, meaning clear-headed and compassionate, immigration reform is needed for the very reason that demagogues and extremists can so exploit the matter in a leadership vacuum. Barack Obama rightly decried Arizona's new law, just as he called again for common-sense immigration reforms.

    Brewer will say that the state's frightful overreaction will push Wshington to provide the kind of border enforcement her state needs.

    It sounds reasonable, except for the gun now held to the head of a brown-skinned hostage,  who is a citizen like you and me, but unlike the rest of us, will be forced at that gunpoint to prove it.

      John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's why we have a Supreme Court

   "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me — won't get fooled again." — George W. Bush

     So many times they fooled us — so many times that the Bush library in Dallas could have a wing devoted just to deceit.

     Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once told a questioner "we know where they are" — "they" being the weapons of mass destruction he could never produce once we invaded and overwhelmed Iraq. Now we find out the truth behind another Rumsfeld statement.

     In a 2005 radio interview, he said the detainees at Guantanamo, "all of whom were captured on the battlefield," are "terrorists, trainers, bombmakers, recruiters, financiers . . . would-be suicide bombers."   As it turns out . . .

    Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, has stated under oath that Rumsfeld, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney knew that the "vast majority" of prisoners held in the "war on terror" were innocent, and that the White House did nothing even when convincing evidence showed as much.

      Wilkerson's sworn statement supports a lawsuit by a Guantanamo detainee who was held for five years without charges after being snatched from his apartment in Pakistan. Among other atrocities at Guantanamo, Adel Hassan Hamad says he was forced to stand for three days without sleep or food until he collapsed.

      Now, you're saying, why kick this dead steed? Leave our W. alone. Let the courts sort out this "fog of war" thing. It's all yesterday's news.

      Ah, but the courts are what make a subject like this not only relevant but absolutely of this day.

      President Obama is about to nominate someone to replace the very definition of a conservative jurist.

      Wait, you say. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, though nominated by Gerald Ford, has been with the "liberal wing" of the court for — for forever.

      But there it was in a Time magazine profile, Stevens: a "classic example of conservative common-law judging." Meaning what?

      It means that Stevens has sought always to balance the functions of the executive and legislative branches. That is in contrast to so-called — meaning mislabeled — conservatives on the Supreme Court who have been dedicated to increasing executive power.

       Fortunately, Stevens was on the majority when the Supreme Court ruled that the Bush administration's treatment of detainees violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions.

       Of course, this ruling launched denunciations of justices "concerned with terrorists' rights." We hear you, Liz Cheney. But as Wilkerson has testified, the administration had no grounds for broad-brushing the guilt of its detainees.

      Just as was the case with the individuals terrorized in Abu Ghraib, many — most? — of those at Guantanamo are or were simply people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

       Now, you tell me: Is it not the function of the law to try to ascertain these facts?

       Or is that the function of the politically juiced executive branch?

       And so we seek a new Supreme Court justice. I am thinking that we want one who, like Stevens, is not afraid to be denounced as "supporting terrorists" when a ruling is aimed at finding truth and administering true justice, rather than responding to the impulses of the harried crowd. That's what a judge does. Isn't it?

       Now, put yourself in Obama's shoes. Suppose you could nominate a jurist who would give you more power, as did Bush's picks. Why not pull that trigger? The legislative branch be damned.

I guess you don't do that because you remember the excesses of the past, of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld; of Oliver North and Richard Poindexter; of Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Liddy.

         Choose another conservative like Stevens, Mr. President.

         John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Springtime for the camo fringe

    Who remembers? Who remembers the type of person we were all looking for 15 years ago on April 19, the day someone blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building?

    We were looking for suspicious-appearing Arab-type people, and viewing them with concern, be they groping the produce at the supermarket or reading the daily news on the park bench. They all looked suspicious anyway, so surveillance was tough.

    Who imagined that the person who masterminded the Oklahoma City bombing would a man who had the complexion, hair cut and general political inclinations of, say, Glenn Beck. Maybe 40 pounds slimmer, but . . .

   No, Beck didn't get credit for inspiring this. Before his prime-time time. Fudge. Bomber Timothy McVeigh's prime motivator was "The Turner Diaries," a book depicting a violent rebellion and the overthrow of the U.S. government.

    At the time, recall, the militia movement was at a high pitch in pitching tents, eating freeze-dried, and expending ammo at rapid rates against imagined enemies. Then the movement lost its steam, or ran out of kerosene. Maybe it lost its mojo, or found friends in Washington with people like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney swearing to find us some external enemies to fight.

    Don't look now, but:

    The militia movement is back, and Beck, Sarah Palin and loogie-launching Tea Partiers are part of its life force. Can you spell synergy? Don't bother. Just lock and load.

    This week The Daily Oklahoman, in the city where the federal center fell, reports, "Tea Party members and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a volunteer militia to help defend against what they say are improper infringements on state sovereignty."

    The idea is for the legislature to officially recognize such an entity.

     Granted, such a figure as Oklahoma state Republican Party chairman Gary Jones dismisses the notion, saying these people "just want a megaphone."

     Yes, and what's a Glenn Beck for?

      Jones might think a state militia is about as nutty as an army of men without pants. Not so State Sen. Randy Brockton. The Republican is running for governor and says such a militia is authorized by the Second Amendment.

      The founding fathers, he said, "were not referring to a turkey shoot or a quail hunt. They really were talking about us having the ability to protect ourselves against each other." And, he adds, "from an overreaching federal government."

       So: militias in which Americans fight each other, and the federal government. Now, that sounds like a "more perfect union."

        You will recall that Tim McVeigh's day of infamy was staged on the second anniversary of the fire that ended the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco. Back then, followers talked of the second coming of David Koresh and what devastation he would render. Today, you cringe to think of nutcases pondering the apocryphal return of Tim McVeigh.

      After the Branch Davidian incident and Oklahoma City, camouflage became a growth industry. End-worlders and anti-government types started hauling canvas and canned beans in search of hills -- even in Texas and Oklahoma, which don't have so many of those (hills, that is).

      As one who plied the newspaper trade in Central Texas at the time, I recall commercials for an army surplus operation that sold everything for the survivalist set, including camo diaper covers for the tots and camo loin cloths for the Mrs.

      You know what? It was sad, silly and dangerous then. Fifteen years later, it is no more edifying.

      You can look it up. "Edifying," that is.     

    John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Public flogging of teachers continues

    I blame my mechanic — the fact that I don't change my oil often enough, don't check my tire pressure regularly, and don't know my carburetor from my glove compartment.

    I'm sure you will agree with me that my mechanic is solely to blame for any malfunction of my car. It can't be that I invest too little in it, or that I take only passing interest in its interests — that is, until it doesn't motor me to every chosen destination.

   We need new accountability standards for mechanics. Assemble the lawmakers.

   I'm serious here. Just about as serious as some policy makers are about education.

   Those policy makers, and the citizens for whom they posture, blame teachers for all the ills of the schooling machine.

    It couldn't be any outside influences that affect learning — not the inattention of parents, not whatever roiling events outside school walls might make it difficult to learn, not too-crowded classes, not administrators and policy makers who don't really get what teachers do.

        Something very detrimental to learning has been happening under the guise of education reform for nearly two decades. Americans have been convinced that standardization is education. They have been convinced that the way to "excellence" is to treat children's minds like one treats tomatoes during canning season.

     In the process, too many Americans have swallowed the propaganda that those who don't buy the standard (King James?) version of school accountability employed by state after state don't support excellence.

     In Florida a pitched battle rages over one more quest to reduce education to tomato paste on the butcher block of standardization. Reformers seek to pin teacher pay increases to test scores. The bill would require school districts to set aside 5 percent of their entire budgets starting in 2011 for "performance" pay increases. If they have any leftover money, they could use it to develop new tests, like end-of-course exams. Otherwise, they would have to give it back to the state.

     The bill also would essentially rewrite the rules for teacher contracts. And in telling districts how they can pay teachers, it would wipe out considerations like advanced degrees and experience.

     The most offensive thing about this is that it's not really about education. It's about a political vendetta. The party of Bush and Cheney and Limbaugh and O'Reilly has had it out for "teachers' unions" from the day some marginally educated focus group said the term was disparaging enough to be gold.

      So, we have people stepping up saying they know how to "fix" education. Even if they confuse teaching with conveyor-belt work. Even if they consider Sarah Palin learned.

       Ah, standardization. I once heard a person say, seriously, that if only schools would be like the Army, our problems would be solved. You see, all enlistees have to learn how to assemble a rifle. Have to. And will.

      But, then, education isn't training. Education is a higher quest. Or, so we once assumed. Unfortunately, our political system has instituted a concept of schooling that casts students across a sea of bubble-in questions.

       You say teachers oppose assessment? That's the most ridiculous claim of all. I have a book that has 450 pages of really great assessments — classroom exercises that show if students are using critical thinking skills. It has activities which can make school fascinating and truly challenging. No one craves assessments — quality, diagnostic assessments — more than a teacher, or at least the vast majority of true classroom professionals.

        The same goes for most mechanics. But I'm  holding mine accountable for my inattention. If my oil pan ends up empty, heads will roll down at the shop.

    John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.