Tuesday, June 29, 2010

They want walls, not reform

     The crazed, blazing rhetoric gets confusing.

      Barack Obama has done too little about the economy. Obama has done too much. Two opposing critiques, same set of mouths.

      As in: Obama is pro-big government and anti-business. Oh, but of course, he's in the pocket of big business. (You know, BP.)

      As in: Obama has done nothing about border security. Oh, and the gall of that guy sending National Guard troops to the border . . .

      I realize some people fault our president for being a little detached and clinical. But admit: Sometimes he appears to be the only sane one in the room.

      This seems most acute when the subject is immigration, with at least five states talking about adopting Arizona-style crackdowns.

       Obama is assailed for preparing a court challenge to the Arizona law. Aside from being the right thing to do against something that guarantees racial profiling (at issue: not the rights of non-Americans but of brown-skinned Americans), it's also something you'd expect the executive branch to do.

       If it happened during the Bush administration, the latter would have challenged it in court. Think not? Just when did you ever see the Bush administration cede executive-branch power?

       Another reason one could be certain thereof is that Bush didn't do demagoguery on immigration. For one, he appreciated the cross-border and interracial realities in his home state. For another, he knew what the labor in question labor meant to the economy, particularly in the land of cotton, cabbage and pinto beans.

      Whatever the case when comparing two presidents on on issue, here are some useful facts to share with someone who says this president has done squat about illegal immigration.

       — The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents, twice what it had in 2004.

        — Obama has requested $500 million in emergency border security funds, in part to add 1,000 border agents and operate two more aerial drones.

        — An Obama administration initiative with Mexican authorities has resulted in 2,266 drug-ring arrests over the past 22 months.

        If the threat of drug runners remains high, here's a figure that could be attributed to the work of both administrations on illegal immigration in general:

        For the third straight year, last year border arrests declined. No, it's not because border guards were twiddling their thumbs. It's because border traffic has waned, partly because of the U.S. economy. Or so reports the Wall Street Journal.

         Oh, but aren't illegal aliens pouring in at unprecedented levels? And isn't that why Arizona had to do something now, something dramatic? No. And no.

         In bad economic times, Arizona's initiative was driven by hard-right, angry-white politics. When Gov. Jan Brewer enacted the law, she essentially had two choices: (1) Sign it; (2) Sign her political death notice. Why? A Republican primary is coming up next month. Brewer, generally a centrist, was dead politically if she projected the slightest lack of zest for this raw-meat offering.

          So, back to sanity, and Obama's quest for comprehensive immigration reform. The opposition is, uh, opposed. Why? For one, said faction refuses to acknowledge the humanitarian and utilitarian aspects of a shadow population both peaceable and productive.

          Comprehensive reform would do what is right and reasonable. It would legalize as many of these people as possible. It would involve more flexibility in granting temporary work permits.

         We need it, but political demagogues need the "illegals" more, need the anger, need the fear, need to paint this president as a pansy. In a nation that owes its unique nature to many nations and many tongues, the only language that speaks to the people ablaze this summer is that of the wall.

          Former Texas newspaperman John Young, who resides in Colorado, writes for several newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

World didn't end; neither did Big 12

   Oil seeped from a hole in the Gulf's heart. State budgets continued to bleed from the worst economy since food riots. The Afghan military ordeal officially became Vietnam-long. And what was America talking about?

   Football. And not even the World Cup brand, which at least was about to be played.

   America was talking about where major college teams would be playing football two years from now.

    Yes, football, where colleges will spend more to advance an inflated cowhide bladder along an artificial pasture than for just about any other pursuit — like curing cancer or AIDS, or finding ways to get us out of our fix with earth-destroying fossil fuels.

     That said: If the University of Texas right now wanted to build another palatial football practice facility, as if it needed one, all it need do is set up a kissing booth.

     President William Powers, the UT regents, and athletic director DeLoss Dodds could raise millions by setting up shop for a pucker. They could expect slobbery busloads from Waco, at the least.

     UT officials decided to keep the Big 12 intact by not selling out to the high-bid Pac 10. Hoo-rah. Boola-boola. I thought I was gonna die.

     Well, not really. But I did think something serious would befall my body or mental state if I heard one more breathless, hysteria-driven projection about the future of college football depending on what UT did.

     My fault for paying attention, I know: But how many miles can the media run on raw speculation? The Big 12 was deader than Francisco Franco, we were told. Deader than disco. Up to half its schools were going to make like contestants in The Great Race, sprinting west for TV-package gold. Except for A&M? Maybe? Probably? Inevitably? Wagons east?

     The high comedy: Colorado takes the leap to the Pac 10 and the money. It calls it "another large quest in our athletic and academic success." Academic? Ahem. These words are uttered one day after CU loses six scholarships for dismal ratings under the NCAA Academic Progress Report.

    Amid all the speculation, never was it clearer what sport spins the NCAA's turbines.

    How possible that, with six Big 12 six schools courted by the Pac 10 and others sought by the Big 10 and SEC, perennial basketball juggernaut Kansas could be left a porch orphan?

    Baylor, with big-time success up and down the line in all sports but football — we're talking Elite Eight in men's and women's basketball this year, national champions in women's basketball in 2005 and men's tennis the year before — was deemed a no-hoper in the conference-busting mad scramble.

    No one stood to lose more. Baylor and Waco wear Big 12 status like pawn-shop jewelry. To be knocked down a peg, to have to commune with the — eeww — SMUs, and Rices, and North Texases of the world once again: Well, a God of mercy would not allow it.

    But so said the advance obituaries, busily chiseling the tombstone: The Big 12, dead in the Year of Our Lord 2012.

    In all of this, I'm wondering if a little deathbed inspiration might have visited some Baylor high-rollers. For 2012 is also the year they set as their target to reach top-tier status among universities, the prominence of Big 12 status adding a golden shimmer to it all.

    Dating back to the presidency of the controversial Robert Sloan and the inception of the master plan coined Baylor 2012, an air of ruthlessness pervaded, with  "intentional Christianity" edicts and a publish-or-perish component.

    Sloan is gone, but the heavy-handedness persists, most recently manifested when Baylor severed official ties with an active and effective but independent-minded alumni association.

    After Baylor saw its Big 12 status salvaged with some help from its rivals in Austin, and with frantic lobbying in the Capitol, the general consensus was that everyone pulling together made it possible for a good thing to continue. Would that the same lesson applied to Baylor governance. Maybe new President Ken Starr gets it: We need all the friends we can get.

     With hysteria whipping up fears, someone stepped outside of the moment and stopped a stampede that would have changed the college sporting world.

     Now, what other worldly concerns have we?

     John Young, a former Waco newspaperman based in Colorado, writes for several newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Truth, and myth, and health care

    We don't know this to be unprecedented. The girls generally have demurred in the public eye. But one of the Bush twins now stands guilty of committing truth.

    Or heresy, to those who think health care is a privilege of being born on a proper plot of ground. Those people also will say health care is to be earned with hard work. Tell that to uninsured, hard-working Americans. 

     The deniers are wrong, and young Barbara Bush is right. She said in a Fox News interview that "health care is a right" and she's glad President Obama managed to pass health care reform. Undoubtedly it triggered a Level Orange security alarm at Fox Roger Ailes Party Line Plaza.

       After graduating from Yale, young Barbara helped found Global Health Corps, whose mission is to bring "health equity" to the U.S. and across the globe.

       Regardless of what antigovernment types will say, health care — immediate, quality care — is treated as a right in our country, at least in the ER and at scenes where ambulances converge. If not, bodies would bloat on our streets unattended after car accidents. So, too with those who would suffer cardiac arrest on the sidewalk but who couldn't produce an insurance card in their moment of mortal peril.

       Health care also is treated as a right for anyone who shows up with less-than-emergency needs at the ER.

       Our problem, until Obama, is what little we'd done to help the millions of uninsured Americans stay on top of their needs through doctors' visits and preventive care. Until Obama pressed toward meeting his biggest campaign promise, the ER was our answer to the problem of health care for the uninsured.

       The result? With much help from Fox News's rogues gallery, it is much misunderstood. AARP, aware of how many people have swallowed salty foam as truth, has done a great job explaining this to anyone else wishing to examine it. Check it out at aarp.org. Click on "health care reform." 

      In an exhaustive Q&A using questions from the public, AARP shoots down silly canards and politically juiced overstatements.

      For instance, will this legislation let some bureaucrat decide if one is too old for surgery?

       If that were possible, says AARP, the American Medical Association would not have endorsed it. It quotes AMA president James Rohack, a Texas cardiologist, as saying the organization "was very firm that we don't want someone making decisions who . . . does not know the patient."

        How will the law affect taxes? Nothing of this magnitude comes free, explains AARP, but most of the taxes fall on wealthier Americans — an extra 0.9 percent (for a total of 2.3 percent) in Medicare payroll taxes on earned income above $200,000 a year or above $250,000 for married couples. Very modest.

       In fact, the bill already is addressing a health-care equity issue. Seniors whose Medicare prescription benefits were zeroed out by the so-called doughnut hole are receiving $250 checks to make up the difference.

       No one, Obama included, was completely satisfied with what emerged from the legislative process and became law as health care reform. But one thing leaders in Washington did, to their everlasting credit, was pronounce what we already knew to be true: Health care is a right.

      Either we provide for it the wrong and most costly way, the ER way — up to now the "American way" — or we make it possible for all Americans to get ahead of their needs the smart and more cost-effective way.

       The other option, of course, is to just use a street sweeper to remove the bodies fallen by the wayside when the free market fails them.

John Young resides in Colorado and writes for several newspapers. Jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Longer school year? Try fewer wasted school days

    The children are out, frolicking in the green — summer stretched before them like the promise of youth.

     And some people want to shut them indoors again, want to batten the hatches, pass out more sheets with bubbles, return them to their crouches.

     Those people would include the nation's top dog on education matters, and any number of policy makers who just can't keep their grubby hands off our schools.

    In this case, they call for a longer school year.

    "Summer learning loss" is the problem, and it's "devastating," says U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, making it sound like polio or tuberculosis. I'm thinking a young man named Kerry Martin would beg to differ. I bet he'd say the loss of summer vacation would be far more devastating.

     I'm only guessing what Martin would say, because we haven't met. I've only read a great piece of commentary he wrote in the Denver Post about insanely test-heavy school policies. He's a student at Cherry Creek High School. His complaint was about resources and energies squandered.

    "Colorado education struggles to pay for the bare necessities and must choose some necessities over others . . . The whole time, the massively wasteful CSAPs still drown out everything that is actually educational in  schools: science, history, art, sports teams, teachers."

     CSAP is the state standardized test, Colorado's end-all, be-all, a condition sadly replicated across the country in the cult ritual called school "accountability." The young man's point was that for good students like him, and even for average students, it's a waste of time.

     No one every thinks about how standardized testing is a lead weight around the ankles of students, particularly those already at or above grade level, those who could and would use their brain power and time better in becoming the scholars and leaders we need to thumb-wrestle with China in the global economy.

       Tragically, much of these bright students' time, and that of their teachers, is spent on state tests that are really motivated and engineered to assess those below grade level, as is all of the emotional energy behind the school "accountability" movement.

        How much time are we talking about? A master teacher in a Texas grade school complained to me that 16 full days of instruction time were lost to standardized testing and benchmark testing (school district tests to see if the teachers keep up with the state's essential elements.)

        A comparable drain is experienced in every state, thanks to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Some people like Arne Duncan wax poetic in praising standardized testing. People like that master teacher and a great student like Kerry Martin call it the worst thing that ever happened to education. I'm with them.

        If anyone would listen, they'd understand how standardized testing is a drag — not just the boring sort, but the sort that drags students down, causing them to shoot low, or at least for the mean — passing — rather than shooting high as their creative energies take wing in vibrant classrooms.

         Kerry Martin knows the state test isn't there to help him learn more. It's there to put the hammer to teachers and administrators and to bring the bottom quartile of his classmates up to someone's idea of competence.

         Those who talk about "global competitiveness," if they think today's "accountability" is their principal weapon, don't know what they're talking about. Standardization isn't education. Competence isn't excellence. And today's state tests can demonstrate nothing more. By definition, they're for everyone, and not everyone is Kerry Martin.

      Without question, some children need extra schooling after it gets green. Summer school is a valid concept for those with special needs. But . . .

       Kerry Martin might, as would I, consent to a longer school year if it actually meant real education, rather than more time for testing and test prepping.

       As it is, the school year is obviously long enough, because states find so much time to stop just about everything to tell children to hunch over their desks and fill in bubbles.

        Take away the promise of summer for that?

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

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mosque near Ground Zero? How — American

   The Internet thread contained that familiar aroma of pasture patties. Did you know, it said, that a mosque was going up at the very spot of the 9/11 attacks?

   Well, not exactly. This was just the first of a string of anti-Muslim, anti-Barack (Hussein) Obama fallacies, or at least just enough fact mixed with innuendo to beat truth into paste.

   Did you realize, it said, that, "this country (founded as a Christian nation) can't have our national day of prayer," but the White House sponsored a Muslim Day of Prayer last September in the nation's capital?

   Where to start?

   Muslim day of prayer: Happened. White House had nothing to do with it — except that the organizer had been so heartened by President Obama's entreaties to Muslims and Muslim nations that he organized an event in Washington "because we love America." Guess what? Thousands of Muslims showed to express that sentiment.

   National Day of Prayer: Geeze, folks. It went on as it has for generations. Obama participated by issuing a proclamation, though talk radio's myna birds said he shot a hole its heart — and the whole of religiosity in America — by not having a public prayer service in the East Room, a la George W. Bush.

   Why is it that people believe America's faith in God to be so fragile that it needs a government stamp on it, like bananas or pork cutlets? And anyway, isn't government "the problem"?

    Back to that thread about Islam and that "mosque at Ground Zero": False. Two blocks away from where the twin towers once stood is close, yes, but — it's a big city. What else is two blocks from Ground Zero? Souvenir shops? Brokerage firms? Hot dog stands?

     The Islamic center is endorsed by a long list of officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and —  wait.

    What the heck is the issue here? Has Islam been outlawed? Have we new permitting obligations in a nation that previously forbade laws respecting the free exercise of religion?

    The people screaming last week at the hearing of a Manhattan board, which then widely endorsed the Islamic center, really should hear themselves.

     Few slurs are uglier than to associate other believers with the sins of a few. A cadre of Islamic militants flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Fact. That it reflects on the peaceful practices of Muslims at home and around the world is as ugly a statement as one can make — every bit as ugly as blaming the whole of Christianity for the Ku Klux Klan and the Crusades.

      The real point to make about all this folderol is that what these Americans are saying about Muslim Americans is as anti-American as it gets.

       How many immigrant success stories do Americans need to grasp the fact that diversity is one of this nation's greatest strengths, not to mention its defining characteristic?

       Obama makes conciliatory gestures toward Islam. This is wrong? Manhattan makes room for an Islamic center. This is a "slap in the face" for the 9/11 victims and survivors? How so? You mean something that inspires camaraderie and trust between people of different faiths isn't going to make this a more trusting, less terror-prone world in tiny increments?

      We know we have enemies. As Timothy McVeigh is (was) our witness, they aren't confined to any religion. At some level, people must acknowledge that we don't make the world safer by making more enemies.

      Let's stop figuring out ways to hate each other and figure out ways to coalesce around something we can all agree upon. The fact is that in September thousands of Muslim Americans showed up at the nation's capital to say exactly that. Did you know?

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