Tuesday, October 30, 2012

All together now: ‘If I were president

     You can't always get what you wa-ant.

     You can't always get what you wa-ant.

     But if you don't take some time to make up your mind, you'll get what you detest.

     Apologies to the Stones.

     No apologies to the Nader voters in Florida who elected George W. Bush in 2000.

     They voted their conscience, and facilitated their worst nightmare.

     Voting for the "lesser of evils" is exactly that, voting for less evil.

      It's only rock 'n roll, but it's also the truth: You can't always get what you want.

      I wanted a lot from President Obama's leadership that I didn't get. I wanted troops out of Afghanistan the day before yesterday. I want them out tomorrow.

      I wanted more leadership about immigration, about climate change, about gun carnage, about corporations' influence over just about everything. I should be furious at Obama, not wholeheartedly in his corner, which I am.

     This is wholly rational, and I'll shout it from this corner without apology. Why? Because of what's in the other corner: Grover Norquist. The National Rifle Association. The religious right. Fox News. The Koch Brothers. The Minutemen.

      Revulsion for said components drives many of my columns, rather than praising anyone in particular. Recently, observing as much, a Republican  asked, "Really, what are you for?"

      The question caused me to write down a list of things I'm "for" — in fact, what I  would do if president — the intention being for us to compare notes.

      Having so committed myself, I realize that every American should do the same at a time like this, and vote accordingly, choosing which of the viable options is closest to enabling what would happen if he or she were in the Oval Office.

     If president, I would:

     Tell the truth about deficit spending: For more than a generation we've bought more government than we wanted to pay for, and we should pay more — every one of us, and immediately — so as not to ask our children and grandchildren to do it.

     Chastise Americans into investing as much in peace as in war. For instance, I'd advocate to have school children study the art of conciliation as intently as their history books extol missiles and muskets.

     Make conservation our official energy policy, and in that way, with demand plummeting, let the free market take care of all else, including gasoline prices and OPEC's urges.

     Lay out for the nation the actual costs (lucre for middle men) of relying too heavily on the makers of profit for our health care.

     Remind Americans of two things at every turn when the issue of abortion flares: The best means we have of preventing it are (1) contraception and (2) comprehensive and smart sex education.

     Campaign for gay rights, including gay marriage, in the same way Lyndon Johnson campaigned for civil rights, and Martin Luther King Jr. campaigned against bigotry.

    Point out that standardized tests aren't a way to boost the performance of public schools but to hobble them.

    At every point, put a human face on the need for the DREAM Act, and on the dilemma faced by young people whose parents came here illegally and would have nowhere to go, even if we forced them. This is their home, after all. I'd also crusade for a streamlined path to citizenship for those who, though here illegally, work every day for America's betterment.

     Denounce the cost — in dollars, cents and human potential — of the insane, futile and ultimately counterproductive drug war, which only succeeds in filling prison cells and making creepy goons into wealthy goons.

      Tell Americans it would be my objective as president to have fewer inmates in our prisons than resided there at my inauguration.

      Shame so-called men and women of faith into worrying as much about the poor and the disenfranchised as they appear to worry about sex and sexuality.

     Those are things I am "for." It's clear to me which side leans in the directions I support. What about you? You can't always get what you want. However, if enough of us talk about those things that matter most to us, as opposed to those things driven by corporate influences and money bags who buy air time, maybe we'd get what we need.

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








Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tea party's ship of tools

   "His political platforms were only the wings of a windmill . . . His celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman."

   Sinclair Lewis' line in It Can't Happen Here describes a fictitious candidate who leads a populist-tinted corporate takeover of America. In other words: a tea party dream.

    Lewis could just as well be speaking about Allen West, Ted Cruz, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and any number of love interests of America's extreme right this election season.

   West, the Florida congressman, famously announced he "heard" that 80 members of Congress, give or take, are Communists. Well, OK, then.

   He said more recently that the "Forward" slogan of the Obama campaign is shorthand for a "Soviet Union, Marxist-Socialist theme." Well, thanks for alerting us.

   Cruz rocked the Republican establishment in Texas when he won the GOP U.S. Senate nomination in a contest with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Among other things, Cruz has ranted about a "dangerous United Nations plan" (the Rio Declaration sustainability principles) by which the U.N. would dictate the abolition of American "golf courses, grazing pastures and paved roads." I know I'm gripped with fear. How 'bout you?

    Akin, the Missouri GOP Senate choice, has educated us on the difference between rape and "forceable rape," the latter resulting in magical uterine responses that prevent impregnation. 

    Add an "amen" to Mourdock, who defeated six-term Sen. Dick Lugar for the Indiana Senate nomination. Mourdock this week said that if a women is impregnated by a rapist, the resulting child would be "something God intended."

   What do these clanging cymbals have in common? They share adoration of the tea party, and corporate backers, of course.

   Collectively for the GOP, they are a portrait of what President Obama has observed of the once-moderate Mitt Romney. Like his party, he's had "an extreme makeover."

    Well, you betcha. These are heady times for Americans who found their voice in the voices in Glenn Beck's head.

    Listen to West and Akin, both already in Congress, and know how thin the line is between national elected office and sleeping on a grate.

   The only problem for the GOP is that moderate Americans are in fact listening. In state after state, tea party-backed candidates have blown Republican chances to gain ground.

   It happened in Nevada in 2010 where a vulnerable Sen. Harry Reid turned back scary tea party wonder woman Sharron Angle.

   The GOP rightfully should have taken the U.S. Senate seat in Colorado the same year. However, instead of nominating very-electable former lietenant governor Jane Norton, it chose tea party-backed Ken Buck, who lost to vulnerable Democrat Michael Bennet.

    Tea party favorite Christine O'Donnell defeated former Delaware Gov. Mike Castle in the '10 GOP primary for U.S. Senate, then opened her mouth once too often, much like Mourdock and Akin, and got trounced by Democrat Chris Coons.

   The race in Florida between West and Democrat Patrick Murphy is one of the nation's most interesting. Murphy, a Republican repulsed by West's extremist statements and the rightward drift of his party, switched parties to take on West in a newly drawn district.

    In Texas, where the GOP's grip on state government is monolithic, everyone assumes Cruz, U.S. solicitor general under George W. Bush, is a lock against very solid Democrat Paul Sadler. That may be the case this time, but like the other extreme voices increasingly being rejected, Cruz offers an opportunity sooner rather than later for Democrats to take back the Senate seat previously held by moderate Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, and before her that centrist of centrists, Lloyd Bentsen.

    Right now the tea party thinks it hung the harvest moon. What it doesn't realize is how many voters' ears its wolfen howl is hurting.

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Two fighters, two posers

  The heavyweight bout was already won Tuesday night when the president turned to his rival, looked at only him, and delivered a knockout blow:

  "The suggestion that anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive . . . That's not what I do as president. That's not what I do as commander-in-chief."

   Believe what you will about that, but when President Obama was done chastizing Mitt Romney about politicizing recent horrifying events in Libya, it was only Obama in the ring. Romney was left sprawling, dazed and drenched in bystanders' beer in the second row.

     The second presidential debate was about what it means to be a president, and for the loser, what it means to be a spectator.

     It was odd that Romney would prosecute the line that Obama misread events early on in Benghazi and mispoke the next day — odd because it was Romney who embarrassed himself rushing to score political points to pronounce the president a sop to America's enemies.

     It continues to be bizarre that Romney follows the Limbaughesque "apologist" line against someone who oversaw the end of the war in Iraq, the killing of Osama bin Laden and cohorts galore, and who also helped facilitate the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi. The next debate is on foreign policy. Romney had better take another tack.

    For now, score it a rhetorical comeback for Obama, paced by Vice President Biden's fiery performance Oct. 11. Unlike the first debate, the president showed up as a fighter, his opponent as a dancer.

    In the vice presidential debate, Biden's most devastating punch came after Paul Ryan talked about the crippling debt Washington has accumulated, you know, because of President Obama.

    Biden shot back deftly and powerfully. As a senator, he had watched Ryan and fellow Republicans unblinkingly "put two wars on a credit card."

    Folks, if Romney-Ryan really thought the deficit was crippling, they would admit, as does the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission, that new revenue has to be part of the solution. The budget approach Romney embraces is to cut taxes, cut domestic spending, increase defense spending, and hope for brighter days.

   Meanwhile, how many opportunities do Romney-Ryan to be evasive and disingenous about the tax loopholes they say would close to make up for lost revenue from their tax cuts?

    What is certain to happen with the tax cuts they advocate is that either the deficit would rise dramatically or Washington would be forced to slash such programs as student aid, Medicaid, housing and environmental protection.

    But, of course, defense spending would go up.

    We've heard all this before, from Reagan through Bush. The only time Washington actually balanced the budget was under Bill Clinton.

    Clinton, by the way, raised taxes on America's wealthiest. We were warned by Republicans at the time that doing so would lead to economic Armageddon. Um, not quite. Make it instead the first time in decades the United States actually bought back some of its debt. And the economy hummed.

    George W. Bush became president with "surpluses as far as the eyes can see," and left with a economy on life support, two wars and a debt accumulated with reckless disregard. Deficits, quoth Dick Cheney, didn't matter.

   What was Paul Ryan saying then? Where were those mavens of fiscal outrage, today's tea partiers? Most likely they were holding devotions in Fox News' amen corner. 

   Whether the issue is protecting America's interests abroad or truly caring about its fiscal fate, the last two debates have revealed the GOP ticket to be less like fighters for what's right and more like impostors in shiny shorts.

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



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Word associations for a winner

   Head bone's connected to the neck bone. Shoulder bone's connected to the arm bone. Arm bone's connected to the thumb bone. Thumb bone's connected to the "mute" button.

   This election has been a pain in the neck bone.

    To win our hearts, the dueling sides cumulatively have spent enough to build gated communities on Mars.

    All that, all the grave and grim narrators, all the stirring images, charts, graphs, and . . . Not a line sticks in my mind except this:

    In a locally produced commercial — yeah, one of those — a bespectacled "grandma on the street" says this about a Republican congressman: "He's more like Rush Limbaugh than you and me."

    The ad looks like it was done by the high school Audio-Visual Club, but that's a great line — the clearest statement about what's at stake Nov. 6.

    Understand, until a few days ago when Mitt Romney showed he could debate, Limbaugh was the titular head of the Republican Party. We'll see how long it takes for Rush to reclaim the throne.

    My wager: It will be as long as it takes for Barack Obama to decide "punching bag" isn't a good look for him. That would be their next debate at Hofstra University.

     To do that, the suggestion here is that the president emulate the grandma on the curb. Practice some name association.

     Romney did it in the first debate when he mentioned Solyndra, the failed solar firm that defaulted on a federal loan. A favorite of the Fox News smoke machine, the name is dropped often to obscure the tidal turn to alternative energy and conservation built into Obama's 2009 stimulus bill. One year later, Time magazine termed it truly transformative: "the most ambitious energy legislation in history."

    But, hey; give debate points to Romney. We knew full well the sound bite would make it onto Fox News.

    If Obama wants to reverse fortunes in the next debate, he needs to drop some names. This should not be hard.

    If "Solyndra" was a one-word jab, two words by Obama would be even more powerful.

    "Tea party."

    They are the most important words in the election. Romney may portray himself as a moderate. Whatever he may believe, if elected he will be a mount, a vessel, for the most strident conservative movement since the days of night riders and Red scares.

    George W. Bush came to government posing as a moderate, too. He became a vessel for neocon schemers with wars to wage. We know what war the tea party wants waged. It's against everything government does that doesn't directly benefit those holding the antigovernment signs.

     So, Mr. President. Say "tea party." Say it repeatedly. Remind moderate Americans who the real opponent is.

     Then drop these words: "Scalia." "Thomas." "Alito." Don't be shy. Remind Americans of these stakes. This will help get some progressives to put down the pout, act like citizens and vote, if nothing else, to blunt the gestation of an intractably authoritarian, "corporations are people" Supreme Court.

    Two more words: Grover Norquist.

     Mr. President, point out the no-new-revenue pledge Romney made to Norquist, he who would delight to see federal government "drown in the bathtub." Who runs America? People? Or Norquist? We know the answer Norquist would like. It's run by the corporations that furnish him his plush headquarters and all that walking-around money.

     Don't forget to mention G.W. Bush, too. Though the Republicans call him yesterday's news, with their trickle-down "solutions" to our fiscal straits, everything old would be new again. As a bonus: On the foreign policy front, that could include another war with another oil-rich Middle Eastern country.

     Drop names, Mr. President.

     Though the effort goes on to brand you as a radical, foreign, out-to-destroy-America type, you're more like most Americans than Rush Limbaugh will ever be.

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

For schools, 'spring' coming

  You wonder: How possible?

  Some crazed idealist immolates himself in the square. A small, hapless group of protesters makes the case against suffocating oppression. Protests get bigger. A general jumps ship here. A lieutenant jumps ship there. More protests emanate.

  And suddenly, stunningly, "school accountability" as we once knew it, and feared it (though we dutifully fed it), has been stormed and stoned and stomped under freedom's feet. Granite walls tremble.

   All those days as we watched protesters in the streets of Libya, Syria, Iran and Egypt, we wondered: Who could get so riled up?

    We see it now. We see it in the Yemen of the Fed-Up Spring, that being the revolt against educational oppression in the United States.

    It's happening in the place where it all began, and where the end would begin — where people power flowered, or more pertinently, parent power: That would be Texas.

   See it in organizations like Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (tamsatx.com) pronouncing: "We see what is happening in our children's classrooms: too much time spent on standardized tests; too little time left for exploring and creating."

   See it in a resolution signed by 520 Texas school boards that couldn't be more blunt: Standardized testing "is strangling our public schools and undermining any chance that educators have to transform a traditional system of schooling into a broad range of learning experiences."

   See it in the defection of former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, calling the increasingly stifling combo of standardization and penalization "a perversion" of school reform's "original intent."

    Add to the dissidents Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken: "Why should we 'stay the course' of an overly prescriptive curriculum and a high-stakes testing system that haven't delivered on (their) promises since they were first put in place in the mid-1990s?"

    Why? Why? Why, ahem, because that's how we do it, say state lawmakers, tugging at tight knots under their chins.

    Emerges school reform architect Sandy Kress to assure the populace that all is orderly if not well. Kress is known in royal circles as archduke of accountability.

    He's not elected, but as a proxy for authority dating back to the Bush dynasty, his tone is that of a sacred gong. (Of course, his credentials as a lobbyist for testing giant Pearson mean that no door will shut on him in Austin. So, hear ye.)

    Kress trots out an army of easels: test scores that most surely will assure the masses that in fact, on this course we best stay. And now, let's round up the dissidents.

    But wait. The masses ask: While cutting education dollars in every imaginable way, the state has spent $450 million over five years on testing and top-down regimentation. For what? The Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis (cloakinginequity.com) says any truth to Kress's claim of "closing of the minority achievement gap" is tempered by the fact that "overall student performance lags."

    Such grand results. Were they worth the cost? Worth the loss of freedom (once known as local control)? Worth the loss of classroom inspiration? Worth the loss of great teachers?

    Yes, say the "accountability" autocrats. Why? Because they say so. 

    It you've followed our narrative, this is the way brutal regimes fall — regimes deaf to the masses and attentive only to their authoritarian itches.

   This is how "school accountability" falls — not just in Yemen, er, Texas, but in state after state (states which by and large want the heck out from under the yoke of the dynastic No Child Left Behind).

    You wonder: How possible?

    Simple. It begins out in the street and ends up shaking granite walls.

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