Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Woe, Arizona

  PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Progressive, vibrant, inclusive, this northern Arizona city seems a refuge from the "them vs. us" rage rattling a state under the political control of hard-liners.

   And yet, even Prescott can't escape it. The race question. White vs. brown. Them vs. us.

  That's what it was when a mural painted on the side of an elementary school drew acidic darts from passersby and a city councilman cast his tongue into the turmoil.

   The mural, at Miller Valley School, features children of varied lineage in a motif that celebrates a new way of sustainability. If it has a dominant color, it is green.

    But recently the artist was working overtime on the mural, particularly trying to lighten the face of one figure on the sign, the dark face of a Hispanic child. The school district line was that he was asked to brighten all the faces. It said the matter was most definitely not about race.

    Maybe so, but that's not the impression artist R.E. Wall got from those catcalls.

    And then there was City Councilman Steve Blair, who complained on a radio show about a "black" face so dominant on the mural.

    Rest assured, Blair's discomfort isn't necessarily about black faces. In another setting, Blair lobbied to have a Spanish-language census street banner removed so that Prescott wouldn't be portrayed as a "Spanish" community. A recall effort has been launched against Blair.

    Too much can be made over a few reckless words. Prescott need not feel shame. However, with increasing regularity, hard-right leaders in this state are seeking to commandeer the multihued canvas which is the reality of the Southwest.

      In Tucson, school officials are refusing to videotape Mexican studies classes so that state officials can see what's going on in them. Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law in May prohibiting classes designed for students of a particular ethnic group and which stir resentment or thoughts of insurrection — you know, Mexican takeover.

      Tellingly, as with Arizona's SB 1070, which veritably guarantees racial profiling by police (while prohibiting it, of course), this policy is driven by hard-right partisan politics.

      Brewer may believe in her heart that SB 1070 is the right thing to do. If she had any qualms about what it might do to inflame Latinos, however — well, with a Republican primary coming up, she knew that vetoing the bill would have guaranteed her political demise.

     Ah, and a key driver of the Mexican studies controversy is state Superintendent of Instruction Tom Horne, who just happened to have been running for attorney general in Tuesday's primary, which he led by a narrow margin on the morning after.

     Brewer, victorious in the primary, and Horne are poised to reap their political rewards. Meanwhile, Arizona is a sea of open wounds.

     An exodus of startling proportions has thrown schools for a loop. The Arizona Republic featured a wrenching story about students returning to one Phoenix elementary school to find scores of their friends missing, as great numbers of undocumented families have fled the state. This might sound like a taxpayer bonanza. It also could result in school closings over time, particularly harming Latino neighborhoods. One sidelight of the story is the school's advisory that in addition to bringing school supplies, students also bring emergency contacts in case their parents should not show up at the end of the school day.

      Of course, it goes without saying that said provisions needn't apply to those students whose skin is pale.

      Whether it's over Muslims planning a community center in Manhattan, a school mural depicting skin deemed too dark, or Mexican Americans needing documentation to walk their own streets, our politics are taking an increasingly ugly and stratifying turn.

      As for Arizona state officials, with their prying concern about "divisive" classroom studies: They need to turn the video camera on themselves.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. E-mail:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bicycles, underwear, one-world government

    When I read about bicyclists going out for a night ride in nothing but their underthings, it did not occur initially to me that the United Nations was behind it.

    That was before Dan Maes, the Republican nominee for governor of Colorado, convinced me it was so.

     Forces of darkness and one-worldness are behind these night riders in their BVDs. Maes, a product of the Tea Party movement, surely would say as much.

     He has Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper pegged, for instance, as a one-world plotter over Denver's quest to encourage bicycling.

     The "well-disguised" idea is to "convert Denver into a United Nations community." This is part and parcel of Denver's participation in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Says Maes, it all spells a threat to our freedoms.

        How so? Well, look at where I live, Fort Collins, which like Denver is one of 600 U.S. communities that have joined in the international sustainability effort, considering it a great thing locally and globally.

       Fort Collins is where in July a local bike club staged its Buck Moon Underwear Ride.

       OK, so how does this event bear on the state or our liberties? This: Except for control by outside forces, or the full moon, why would barely garbed bike riders cast off into the Colorado night? Consider us all warned. Without vigilance, all shall be stripped (almost) bare of their liberties.

        All the while, I've been admiring how Fort Collins people love their bicycles, how the city has bike paths galore. It turns out that ours is a city pedaling oppression, and Dan Maes is not alone on this.

         A local woman affiliated with the so-called 9/12 movement challenged Fort Collins for joining the U.N.-linked green effort. She even passed petitions to recall a Fort Collins City Council member for violating the oath of office by ceding free will to U.N. environmentalists and global warming theorists. For reasons inexplicable, the effort came up a few signatures short.

        Back to Denver, which under Hickenlooper, Maes' Democratic rival for governor in November, has arrayed 400 red bikes around town for rent.

       Yes, red. Moscow red. Beijing red. Better-off-dead red.

       Here you were thinking: great idea — less pollution; less gas guzzled; healthier people. Well, it's just what the forces of one-world earthiness and near nakedness want you to think.

       And here I was thinking: In Fort Collins, it's great to see average people get on bicycles just to get somewhere. (No offense to enthusiasts in Day-Glo Spandex and wind-tunnel helmets, but I like the notion in the new motto: "Bicycling: Not just for torture.")

       But, then, I wasn't thinking. That's Dan Maes' department, along with Tea Party adherents, from whose legions he arose out of total and wholly deserved obscurity.

        You may think it's nutty that Maes calls Denver's bicycles a harbinger of oppression. Whatever the case, it is the kind of talk that's becoming the GOP party line.

        The Tea Party in 2010 is what the Christian Coalition was for Republicans in the 1980s and '90s: the life force. Remember that Pat Robertson, who says prayer can reroute hurricanes, won one GOP presidential primary and outpolled George H.W. Bush in the 1988 Iowa caucuses. 

         Now we have people stirring the GOP's cocktail like congresswoman and Tea Party heroine Michelle Bachman. She wonders aloud why swine flu outbreaks seem confined to Democratic presidencies. And, there's Sarah Palin, whose endorsement — of candidates, or of zero-points Scrabble words — has become the party's most dear currency.

       Mark their words. If the Obamas and Hickenloopers have their way, we'll all be chafing on our bicycle seats, in our skivvies, in the dark, under a full moon.

       Don't laugh. It happened right where I live.

       Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hate and its media cheerleaders

     Great moments in media-abetted hatred:

     1890s — L. Frank Baum, who would later pen "The Wizard of Oz," writes editorials in the Aberdeen (S.D.) Saturday Pioneer calling for the extermination of native Americans. He calls them "a pack of whining curs." Two weeks later, federal troops massacre hundreds of Sioux camped at Wounded Knee.

     1920s — Henry Ford's corporate publication, the Dearborn (Mich.) Independent, launches a series targeting the "international Jew" as the "world's foremost problem."

     1930s — A racial lynching is pooh-poohed as a "demonstration" by the Salisbury (Md.) Times. Fiery H.L. Mencken of the Baltimore Sun, pointing to the "simian" behavior of muted local authorities, observes that, yes, it's a demonstration — "of what civilization can come to."

     1940s — The internment of Japanese Americans, says a San Francisco News in an editorial, is "the best possible way for all Japanese to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States."

      2010s — A mosque planned two blocks from New York's 9/11's Ground Zero is a "recruiting tool for domestic extremists," says Rush Limbaugh. Fox News' Glenn Beck labels it the "Allah tells me to blow up America mosque."

      Isn't it fascinating? The more things change, the more hatred doesn't.

      Throughout the history of racial and ethnic hatred on our shores, its barkers have always had good reason. After all, militant Native Americans challenged our manifest destiny. Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The blacks who got lynched had broken laws, or were lawfully accused. The Jews, of course, were and are seen by some Christians (see: Beck, Glenn) as communally culpable for a noted offense committed one day long ago in Jerusalem. 

      And, of course, the Muslims — well, they attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001.

      So, yes — the hysteria over a mosque in New York, hype stirred for ratings and/or political advantage by Beck, Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and assembled protesters, fits perfectly in the annals of this land of the free.

        They can't be bothered by the fact that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the key leader behind the proposed mosque in question, wrote a book titled "What's Right With Islam is What's Right With America" and said after 9/11 that Islam must "define its 'American-ness,' that is, adapt to the American culture."

       He's exactly the type of American whom assorted demagogues like Gingrich, and demagoons like Beck, say are nowhere to be found: Muslims who speak out about their love of America, Muslims who denounce terrorism. Of course, those Muslims are plentiful.

        Palin says she's all for religious freedom, just so it's "down the road." What a stateswoman. She's all about our better instincts, don't you know?

        A sign at the anti-mosque protest read, "You can build a mosque at Ground Zero when we can build a synagogue in Mecca."

        Do these people hear themselves? If they did, they would hear the totalitarian tones what make Iran so Iranian, Saudi Arabia so Saudi.

        What makes America America is the very thing these people are protesting. They can't stand it.

        Good on the people of New York, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for embracing the fundamentally American message inherent in authorizing the mosque where it will be.

         Beck likes to trot out the words and images of America's founders to festoon his circus act. Here's what one founder said about the kind of government Beck apparently can't hack:

         "Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us."

        James Madison said it: words that fortunately, gloriously, and amid atrocities to the contrary, are carved in the annals of a land of freedom.

        Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. E-mail:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

About making an honest dollar

     "YOU can be a millionaire and never pay taxes," Steve Martin would tell audiences, repeating for effect.

     "You ask: Steve, 'How can I be a millionaire and never pay taxes?"

      "First, get a million dollars . . ."

      Martin's punch line? If the taxman inquires about not paying taxes, simply say, "I forGOT."

       The point, of course: The easy part of being a millionaire for most of us is getting a million dollars. "Most of us" would include Rick Perry and me.

       I won't divulge where I got my million, but we've been reading of late that Perry got a big chunk of million from a land deal that made no sense at all.

       Well, maybe it made sense to someone who was interested in rewarding Perry for being Texas' presumed governor for life.

        Unlike in Steve Martin's bit, the issue isn't that Perry paid no taxes on his lucre-ative transaction. The issue is that Perry bought a nice plot on Lake Lyndon B. Johnson's Horseshoe Bay for a super-nice $150,000 below market value and sold it for a super-duper $350,000 above market value. Sale price: $1.5 million, netting $823,000 profit. Super.

       Another issue may have been that, as the Dallas Morning News reports, Perry's profit was "enhanced by a series of professional courtesies and favors from friends (and) campaign donors." Among those friends cited: Sam Jaffe, owner of Horseshoe Bay Resort. The News also reported that Jaffe was an investor in an airline company that was lined up in 2006 for a grant from the Perry-controlled Texas Enterprise Fund. Portending to bring jobs to Texas, Sino Swearingen Aircraft Corp. actually ended up laying off people, and rescinded its bid for a state grant.

      Being the humble millionaire that I am, I won't pretend to cast aspersions about how Perry got his million, like, say, Democratic challenger Bill White has been doing. All I can say is that I hope the money was accrued by honest means, like, say, how the Wyly brothers — Charles and Sam — of Dallas did it.

      True: Right now the Securities and Exchange Commission is saying the billionaires cheated to make oodles, not only transferring assets to overseas tax havens but masking their ownership of certain companies and engaging in insider trading on their stocks. But when you've got Carl Sagan money like th Wylys do — billions and billions — decimals get misplaced.

       Surely the Wylys can explain away these concerns — the  $550 million in undisclosed gains alleged by the SEC — and get back to being good citizens who help Republicans hold power.

       Should they not, a lot of Republicans will have tainted money on their hands, and they don't want that. Key recipients: Texas congressmen Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling. Hensarling managed to pay the bills between being an aide for Phil Gramm and ascending to Congress by being a vice president of Maverick Capital, the hedge fund founded by Sam Wyly.

        Hensarling later would receive generous campaign contributions from the Wylys, who were truly prolific in that arena. They also were among those who footed the bill for the "Swiftboats for Truth" campaign attacking John Kerry's war record. Truth about the Wylys' earnings is now what the SEC seeks.

         Oh, and Rick Perry harvested $352,500 in campaign booty from the Wylys in the last decade, while he fended off every challenger and any doubt that the Texas governorship is his for life.

        Like I said, for a few of us, the easy part of being a millionaire is getting that million. After that, it's all about serving our fellow man to the best of our ability and maintaining the highest ethical standards as we do what we do with all that money.

       Sure, some people may profit from the virtues of proximity to power. But that happens elsewhere. Rest assured, nothing of the sort happens in Texas.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado.