Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Campaigning to be our next Hoover

    "Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement."

     Hands now: How many of you wish that voters had taken President Herbert Hoover up on the words above, shared with Congress in 1930?

     Matters would become so bleak, that depression earning a capital D, that Hoover's Republican predecessor, Calvin Coolidge, professed "nothing to give ground to hope — nothing of man."

   Then came hope in the form of a man with useless legs but no other signs of resignation.

   Yes. Hope. It was what Franklin Roosevelt brought to American kitchen tables. A few generations later amid dire economic times, "hope" was candidate Barack Obama's catchword.

    Hope. I've seen the "Dope" bumper stickers. Slick. "Hopey Changey." Cute.

    And yet: Take a look around. How hopeful would the nation be now if voters had handed this economy in 2008 to another Hoover?

   The economy is growing again. Last year it added 1.9 million private-sector jobs. That "private-sector" modifier is pertinent, because under Obama's predecessor the most prodigious job creator was war and its wares. (Bush became the first president in history to have the growth of government-sector jobs outpace private-sector job growth. Under Obama the federal workforce has declined by 280,000. )

     Mitt Romney calls Obama a "jobs killer." Actually, most of the jobs lost under Obama disappeared in his first year in office.

     And Obama was left with the assignment: Do something.

     His predecessor had stepped on the debt pedal to finance two wars and rounds of unnecessary, ineffectual across-the-board tax cuts. Then — hmmm — the economy tanked. Trickle-down magic, it was.

    Before Obama grabbed the firehose for stimulus measures that many economists called too little, too late, Bush had already turned the spigot, authorizing $1.6 trillion in stimulus spending.

     The nation, and its new president, were dug into a deep hole, fiscally and financially.

     Now, let's imagine — and this will take some imagining — that today's tea party stalwarts awoke in 2007 and rose to oppose the debt monster when a Republican administration was stoking without a care. Let's say today's no-spending, no-matter-what, do-nothing Congress arrived four years early. What would the government have been able to do to address the economic death spiral of 2008?

    Uh, nothing.

    Would the tea party and its newbies in Congress have thwarted any attempt to stimulate the economy and to avoid what many warned was the beginnings of a second Great Depression? You can bet your "Who But Hoover?" campaign button they would have.

    I'm not sure any of us wants to imagine where the economy, and the state of job creation, would be now if that were the case.

     Obama pushed initiatives to invest in infrastructure and schools to help the economy. He also engineered a deathbed triage for the auto industry — something that not only salvaged automakers but also its domestic web of suppliers.

    "Socialism," cried the fiscal fundamentalists. Rest assured, they would have denounced Obama the same if he'd let the industry dry up and drift overseas.

    Oh, and the loans to automakers have been paid back. And, while we're talking about self-financing matters, how about the way that Iraq oil money paid for the war we waged in 2003?

     Back to the Depression: I'm thinking about how the tea party types would have contested Roosevelt's creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration, and how much poorer the nation would have been if so impaired. It didn't happen.

    Three years ago this nation came very close to experiencing the hopeless days that left millions in despair and made Hoover a pariah.

    These days are not so hopeless, unless you get your history on a bumper sticker.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Those red-state family values

  "I wonder what his ex-wife is thinking, knowing she put him over the top in South Carolina."

   My wife, who said this, wasn't being serious, of course.

    Who could profit from his ex-wife telling a national audience about him making a teensy weensy request: to mess around on her? This just before a primary in Bible-thump country?

    No one. Not even Newt Gingrich. And yet . . .

    Marianne Gingrich's TV testimony didn't seem to hurt the man at all. Based on exit polls, it didn't appear to undermine his appeal to so-called evangelical voters. It didn't seem to hurt him vis-a-vis women voters.

     We are left to assume that a definition of "family values" holds sway in red-state South Carolina — and in Dixie itself? — that differs greatly from that once presumed.

     Sanctity of marriage? You jest.

     Honor thy wife? Depends.    

     Thou shall not commit adultery? On which days? How about if the life mate is under the weather? Cranky? How about bedridden?

     I believe this is called — and correct me if wrong — moral relativism.

     If that's the case, if it's all relative now, why do red states and the voters who call the shots carry on with the "sanctity of marriage" mumbo jumbo to prevent gays and lesbians from taking holy vows?

     If monogamy is a joke as modeled by Gingrich, why should his supporters care about this marriage institution, anyway?

     This is all confusing, I know, but it shouldn't be. From Ronald Reagan, to Henry Hyde, to Bob Livingston, to Bob Barr, to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the sanctity-of-marriage, family-values party has never been much of one, rhetoric to the contrary. Now, apparently, all pretenses are gone. And what a relief for pretentious prowlers like Newt Gingrich.

      We all knew Democrats were reprobates, deviants, people who never met a marriage they didn't want to destroy. Republicans? No way.

      It's been 20 years now, but my ears still ring from attending the 1992 Republican National Convention at the Houston Astrodome. That was the one where the term "traditional family values" was uttered every other tightly scripted line. Well, admit it. That is so 20 years ago. Right, GOP?

      So, once again: If red-state voters, among whom Gingrich has climbed the charts even after his ex-wife's revelations, are so finished with defending the sanctity of marriage, why can't they give up that pious baloney about gay marriage and say, "I do"?

      Washington state is about to become the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage. A group of 70 mayors affiliated with the U.S. Conference of Mayors supports the same. We can trust that most of them aren't in the South, or in the red swath across the nation's midsection so predominated by Republican sensibilities. You know, the "real America."

      I ask again: If sufficient numbers of Republicans are willing to have their standard-bearer make a mockery of marriage, why not let gays and lesbians in on the wreckage?

    Here's why. Those Republicans who like a candidate with disposable morals, who'll ditch a wife or two to suit his lusty ways, are afraid. They're afraid of what same-sex couples might bring to the table. No, it's not immorality that concerns them, since morals are disposable.

     They are afraid of the fierce devotion, the true spirit of monogamy, that committed gays and lesbians bring into this equation. What a way to spoil a free-love party. Keep those freaks out at all costs.

     The Seventh Commandment is for squares, and is certainly not an electability consideration for strident anti-government politicos. Amen.

      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Let Mitt be . . . what exactly is Mitt?

   The best line so far in the 2012 presidential derby? This from Joe Klein:

   "Authenticity is rapidly becoming a euphemism for simple ignorance. (Herman) Cain was authentic; Sarah Palin was authentic. Elitists — people who have actually studied complicated stuff and become experts at it — are phonies. Just ask Rush Limbaugh."

    Klein was contemplating the ongoing challenge for Mitt Romney in coming across as human, not humanoid.

    His point: Romney has a lot going for him — education, experience, smarts — but "authenticity"?

    It's odd that anyone would comment on Romney's genuineness, when; well, consider . . .

    Authentic? Serial adulterer Newt Gingrich professes his Catholicism.

    Authentic? Rick Perry, he of ballot security schemes that purge the poor, says Virginia "disenfranchises voters" because it won't bend rules to let him on its primary ballot.

     Authentic? Rick Santorum pontificates on evil government health care. And, um, his parents worked for the VA, and he grew up on VA hospital campuses.

     Still, this authenticity thing is a real concern for Romney, as it was for one other Massachusetts governor of note.

     What is Mitt about, except one who for eight years has been offering his hair for national office?

     Disquieting (if you are a Republican) similarities seem to exist between Romney and Michael Dukakis, the squat Massachusetts governor who out-vagued a very puny Democratic field in 1988. Dukakis became short work of George H.W. Bush.

    Republican voters want to fall in love with Romney, just as Democrats wanted to fall in love with Dukakis.

    Are voters destined to find in Romney, as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, that "when you get there there isn't any there there"?

     Believe or discard: Like Dukakis, Romney is running on his resume. And like Dukakis, Romney is also tapping the potency of vacuousness in not saying much that will get him in trouble with any constituency.

     Will it work in the general election? Sure, it could. But it probably won't. Romney is going to have to show that there is a "there there."

     What was telling about Dukakis was that the only time his anemic candidacy started to show any traction with voters was when he started showing some red corpuscles and stopped running from the "L" word, something he had dodged vigorously.

      Seemingly tied to that formula (made in Massachusetts?) Romney has been expertly dodging any number of matters throughout a very successful primary quest. Consider the debate when Santorum said he agreed that states should have the right to ban birth control.

    Romney, given the chance to state his position, evaded most expertly, leading a lot of people to ask, "Really?"

    Wrote Miles Mogulescu in the Huffington Post:

    "Now, it might be easy to dismiss Santorum as an extremist outlier and assume that a President Romney would never do the same. But as Romney's evasive response . . . makes clear, that would be a profound mistake."


     At this week's debate in South Carolina, Romney was similarly slippery when Santorum pressed him about federal law allowing allowing ex-convicts to vote if they completed their sentences. Romney's evasiveness was particularly odd because a pro-Romney ad attacked Santorum for voting for the law in the Senate.

      So, this is Romney's authenticity problem. It's not whether or not he can summon a "ya betcha" to win the adoration of Palin's moose-killing set, or whether as a businessman he can pull off the "The Herman Cain Show." It's what in fact he is about, policy-wise, principles-wise. It's about how long it will take for voters to figure that out, and/or whether Romney will figure it out in advance of when voters  decide for themselves.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

So howl the hounds of gerrymandering

   Whenever she sees gratuitous spending, my wife thinks like a dog-cat lover. She thinks of the animal shelters that money could build.

   Don't look now, but whole cities of animal shelters are being expended in legal fees by states across the country to promote and defend something Americans least need: noncompetitive, lock-cinch, party-rigged political races.

   It's happening in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court this week heard a Republican appeal to court-ordered maps for Congress and the Texas Legislature.

   It's happening in Arizona. The state Supreme Court intervened to keep the Republican governor from tampering with a nonpartisan redistricting commission.

    It's likely to happen in Florida. There, majority Republicans in the Legislature aren't happy with constitutional revisions meant to take politics out of the process.

    State lawmakers whose party has a controlling majority long have exerted as their privilege drawing districts that cement themselves and their kind into power, even if the districts look like barbells and mud puppies.

    It truly is one of the gravest conditions facing representative democracy as we know it. Democracy is not representative when lawmakers have no legitimate opposition on Election Day.

     Here's another problem with these practices, circa 2012: The population growth necessitating additional seats in Congress in these states is coming mostly from minorities, particularly Latinos, who are mostly Democrats. To figure out ways to contrive additional safe seats for Republicans based on this demographic surge requires even more grotesquely proportioned districts.

     And it contravenes the Voting Rights Act when minorities' ability to elect people is crushed in said fashion.

     The Supreme Court, in the Texas case, is asked to side with the politically driven Legislature against a federal court that drew up districts more hospitable to minorities, more competitive in general, and more in keeping with the Voting Rights Act.

     With relish, Texas Republicans will point out that the worm has turned, that the Democrats gerrymandered as well when they had a lock on power for generations. True.

     One should acknowledge, however, that toward an actual system that reflects democratic ideals, nothing truly representative can come of this.

     Pamela Powers Hannley, writing in Huffington Post, observes that, "To the world, Arizona is a firebrand red state solidly controlled by Republicans." Yet voter rolls show a 30-30-30 split between Republicans, Democrats and independents.

   "How could all of this happen?" she writes. "Gerrymandering."

    Arizona voters thought they changed this. They created an Independent Redistricting Committee, which indeed last month issued more competitive maps than majority Republicans want. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and legislative leaders have tried everything they can to derail it this process, including the ouster of the commission's chairwoman, later reinstated by the state Supreme Court. The majority party in Arizona isn't through trying to circumvent what voters intended. Believe it.

     In Florida, voters amended the constitution to make redistricting less partisan, and districts more competitive. This apparently is an untenable notion to majority Republicans and Gov. Rick Scott. They are seeking to overturn the new rules. The battle lines lead, of course, to court.

     In the Texas case, the U.S. Supreme Court is going to decide if what the Legislature wants best expresses the people's will. Of course, it does not. It's what a majority party wants.

    If allowed to, Democrat or Republican, that party will do anything it can to prevent voters from actually influencing elections, no matter how many animal shelters it expends fighting the public good in court.

      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Of coal plants and meth makers

   Let's say your neighbor spent his working hours cooking methamphetamine.

   Let's say that instead of cooking it in the basement, confining lethal fumes to his home-sweet four walls and his two incinerated lungs, your neighbor cooked meth as one would a backyard brisket: over your fence.

   Let's say that, nauseated by the fumes, you complained to the sheriff (who happened to be on the take from the meth dealer).

   Let's say the sheriff granted that breathing meth-lab fumes is bad for you, but said the economic activity generated by the next-door business had to be weighed.

   "What you propose — shutting down this enterprise — is a jobs killer," let's say the sheriff said. "No can do."

   Welcome to the policy morass that has allowed utilities to spew deadly toxins over millions of backyard fences without a care. Hint: The policies have never been driven by breathers — until just the other day.

     That's when the Environmental Protection Agency, after two decades of deliberation (read: stalling), finally set forth some protections fit for its name. By 2016 coal-fired utilities would (1) install scrubbers to limit airborne poisons like mercury, cadmium, arsenic and nickel, (2) convert to another fuel like natural gas, or (3) shut down.

    This evoked exactly what one would expect. Republican U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, who calls global climate change "a hoax," called the rule a "a thinly veiled electricity tax" that would hurt jobs.

    On the campaign trail in Iowa, Rick Perry said that as president he would go after the EPA with a veritable pickax, "audit every regulation that's gone forward since '08, and if it kills jobs versus help create jobs, it's gone." 

     Listen to discourse in the GOP presidential race this year and hear the yearning for the days cataloged by Upton Sinclair in the The Jungle and Rachel Carson in Since Silent Spring — where commerce ruled over all, where labor and environmental standards were matters for industry to dictate. Hear Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and, of course, Michele Bachmann call for dismantling the EPA. And in its stead? Well, state or local control, of course.

    Now, come on, folks. Let's ponder what these people are saying. Really. 

     Local and state control? What happens when state lawmakers are on the take from polluters?

     Also, what happens when pollution from one state threatens the health and welfare of another next door?

     Days after the EPA issued its new mercury rule, notoriously recalcitrant states like Texas got a stay in court on another key EPA edict,  the "cross-state emissions rule." Under it, sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions in 27 states would be considered to have no boundaries when shared across state lines.

     As with the decades-long stall against mercury controls, this court victory was seen as buying polluters time to plug along with antiquated technology, even if they had the means to do the right thing.

     This is all dictated by dollars and cents for those calling the shots in each state capitol, and we aren't talking about elected officials or the people who elect them. We're talking about industry.

     Jobs? Actually, jobs come from supplying technology to clean up utilities.

     No, this is about the politics of stasis, of entrenched special interests having their way. It's the politics of convenience vs. the quest for sane and economical alternatives to things that kill us.

     Face it. The old-technology power plant, the never-easing dependency on fossil fuels, the blindness to pollution's pathologies — whether to individuals or the planet itself — is the face of the political conservative next door.

       Longtime Texas  newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.