Sunday, May 15, 2011

GOP's abortion contradiction

     The bumper sticker plants a kisser right on certain ideologues' chrome.

     "Explain how you can be pro-war and pro-life."

      Yes. How to be flag-pin proud when "shock and awe" kills and terrorizes Iraqis young and old, then chain one's self to laboratory doors to prevent the disturbance of a frozen, discarded pre-embryo?

      Or, how can one care about the preborn, yet fight that which sensibly extends lives of the post-born, something like the Children's Health Insurance Program.

      These are contradictions no rational person can deny. Irrational persons are free to do so, however, and do so knowing it's the best way win a Republican primary of late. These are not conservatives in the libertarian mold of yore, but authoritarians who need government to do their bidding.

     No greater paradox exists in American politics than the party of "less government" seeking to force a woman with an unplanned pregnancy to grin and bear it. Right of privacy? Shut up and gestate.

    In the absence of that power, the "less government" party would, in Indiana with Gov. Mitch Daniels' signature, force a doctor to provide a state-prescribed explanation of the procedure based on ideologically skewed assumptions.

     In Texas, the "less government" party makes it law that women seeking abortion be told of a link to breast cancer, one that the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society call specious.

     Where have you gone, Barry Goldwater?

     Goldwater favored abortion rights. His reason was simple, and simply libertarian: Government has no business interfering in such a matter.

      Additionally, Goldwater also couldn't have been more contemptuous of the religious right, saying "religious factions will go on imposing their will on others." Those factions say that abortion is against God's laws. But writing laws that comport with Sunday sermons can get complicated.

     The Pew Research Center reports that 54 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Sadly, however, the anti-abortion minority monopolizes the discussion.

   Give most Americans a chance to explain why they don't want to ban abortion and you have a cogent argument. First is the issue of problematic pregnancy that threatens a woman's life and health. Second are those that result from rape and incest. Third are the desperate extremes to which women in crisis have gone before.

     "Pro-life" propagandists will say medical necessity and rape/incest are but distractions from the issue of "abortion on demand."

    Actually, no. The next time someone claims the "pro-life" label, ask if he or she would insist that a rape victim carry the assailant's child. If the answer is, "Well, no," ask how government would adjudicate the matter.

     Would a rape conviction be necessary for the state to allow the procedure? How quickly could a trial be assembled, as the rapist's spawn swells the victim's abdomen?

     How would government determine if an abortion was performed out of medical necessity? How would government determine that a spontaneous abortion — a miscarriage — wasn't "abortion by demand"? Obviously, the "less government party" wants a lot of government in dealing with this single issue.

     Lately, as in Indiana and various venues, the quest has been to defund Planned Parenthood. Interesting.     Though some Planned Parenthood affiliates perform abortion (in privately funded facilities in accordance with federal law), all Planned Parenthood affiliates perform services that prevent the need for abortions.

       What happened to the type of Republican who once said, "If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter"? 

    That was George H.W. Bush, long before the Bush brand was co-opted for political purposes by "conservatives" who would have given Barry Goldwater the bum's rush.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How not to be a one-term wonder

   In the news business, advance obituaries are written even for public figures in the best of health. Because you never know.

   So, those who gleefully predicted Barack Obama's early demise last November can still hold onto their frantic tomes. Because you never know.

   However, what happened in the Pakistani night a few days ago was not the stuff of "one term and out," if "Mission Accomplished" is something to which voters hold their leaders. And we recall from 2004 that the claim can be effective even if later rescinded.

    Not that they desired to see American servicemen's lives squandered in a botched raid, as with Jimmy Carter's 1980 Desert One debacle. But, let's face it: 

    The hate-Obama automatons would have danced a robot jig had such a disastrous fate visited our Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, or if an empty-handed mission had embarrassed the nation in the world's eyes.

    It didn't.

    So, wow. In so many dimensions, what a daring call, and what a result.

     What a reminder of the stakes of governing, as opposed to the stakes of posturing, and throwing spaghetti at the refrigerator door to see what sticks.

     What buffoonery we now recall. Two weeks ago Donald Trump was actually still getting mileage, and points in Republican polls, with his pathetic birther inquisition.

     And few could be less deserving of a rostrum on the day after than Sarah Palin. Yet at a "salute the troops" fund-raiser, she praised George W. Bush for his role in killing bin Laden and didn't mention the man who made the call that carried it out.

      Palin will always be able to rouse a crowd. But that audience seems vastly more marginalized. And, heck, it was only a matter of months ago that Glenn Beck was ruling the cable airwaves and tea parties were going to rule the world.

    Nothing that happened over the last few days in Pakistan assures Obama's re-election. One thinks back to George H.W. Bush after the triumphant return of American service personnel from driving Iraq's forces out of Kuwait. At the time, who could have imagined that Bush would be politically vulnerable?

    However, the resonance of a military victory faded almost immediately. Bush lost to a relatively unknown governor from Arkansas.

    I distinctly remember an economic oddity in 1991 as American troops paraded home, a footnote that said more about Bush's political viability than anything else even after the roaring success of Desert Storm.

    The story: For one moment, the American balance of trade deficit had evaporated. For a moment, the United States had a trade surplus. Why? Because we had essentially contracted with the world community to do the dirty work in Kuwait: our services there sold for billions of dollars from countries like Japan, happy to watch from the sidelines. To use a benign analogy, we had provided pest-control service. To use something more blunt, we had become a mercenary nation. We invaded for pay.

    Bill Clinton didn't campaign against Bush as a military mastermind. He came talking about retooling an economy that was being routed by Japan. He didn't talk about outer-space missile shields. He talked about technology that could translate into jobs.

     And, so, how does Barack Obama avoid the fate of George H.W. Bush, who lost his bid for re-election on the heels of a stunning military achievement? He turns away from military achievements.

    He convinces Americans that the end is near in Afghanistan, that troops are coming home, that a political process has supplanted a military process.

    He counters GOP efforts to gut domestic spending by proposing deep cuts in military spending. He contrasts the imperative of confronting needs at home with those world-policing obligations to which Americans have been saddled for decades at a price beyond imagining.

     How does Obama become a two-term president? He convinces Americans that we can make more than war.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

‘Know the cost of war’? You joke

   Amid the endless flotsam — the thin lubricant that to the Internet is what plasma is to corpuscles — you will find on YouTube a stunning commentary by Isao Hashimoto, one without so much as a word.

    In time-lapse across a darkened map of the world, the Japanese artist shows every nuclear blast from 1945 to 1998.

    In the process, we see a one-time superpower, the Soviet Union, effectively blow itself out. Yes, a suicide bomber. And just as the Berlin Wall is consigned to wet tissue in 1989, the nuclear blasts start petering out, rolling to a stop at 715.

    Staggering, yes. Except that the United States over those 53 years staged 1,032 blasts, two for keeps.

    Watching this, one naturally thinks of poisoned water and soil, and of course poisoned relations between nuclear powers.

     Who, however, thinks of dollars? The first two hydrogen bombs cost roughly $1 billion apiece. That would be $26 billion today. Let's see: times 1,032 blasts for science and show. Gulp.

    The Brookings Institute's estimate is that we spent $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons from 1940 to 1996 — exceeding total federal spending on education, employment, social services, agriculture;, the environment, general science and space research, not to mention natural disasters, law enforcement and energy production.

    Many will say it was money well-dealt, that we spent the Soviets into submission. What one cannot defend, regardless, is the proposition how we as a society have refused to pay what it cost.

    Back in the early 1990s I asked Sen. Phil Gramm to defend the Reagan years borrowing to fund the largest peacetime military buildup in history. Gramm compared it to a mortgage on a house, and called the result well worth borrowing to do so.

    What Gramm was really saying was that America had bought more government, more military might, than he and his supply-side compatriots were willing to pay for. with taxpayers suitably appeased. And the federal debt soared.

    We remain on that path. President Obama offered a modest course correction — to end the tax breaks for America's wealthiest that were penned into law by George W. Bush. Obama had to backtrack in January when Republicans took control of the House.

    I said "modest." Obama's proposal was way too modest. Every American of every income should be paying more in taxes, now and for the foreseeable future, to pay for the military might and missions to which they consented over the last 30 years.

    Was the killing of Osama bin Laden worth the investment in arms and intelligence? Then pay for it. Don't slough it off onto today's kindergartners.

    When the president reported bin Laden's death, he conveyed many truths about a frayed sense of unity, about selfless individuals serving us overseas. One thing he said, however, that was pure falsehood, that today's Americans "know well the cost of war."

     Please. Only tiny speck among us knows war's cost — those who have bled overseas, those who have served tours and multiple tours, and of course, their families.

     The rest of us? It's all been a video game, and not even one that took the commitment of a quarter. It's been a free pass at the arcade.

      If, as Sen. Gramm said, this military might has been worth every penny, then it is worth paying for it — now — by every American, and for the long haul.

      Back in 1987, not long before the weight of military adventurism helped drag to a halt the Soviet experiment, Mikhail Gorbachev said, "We can't go on living like this any longer."

       How much longer can the Soviets' former nuclear rival continue on the same pace? And if we can't slow the pace, how will generations to come pay for all the bombs we bought?

       Former Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: