Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In 2012, something money couldn’t buy

        A review of 2012 found reality television continuing to consume the medium like typhoid. Or, more appropriately, like mononucleosis ravaging a freshman dorm.

        You might call it all flotsam — but I'm here to report that one reality show truly proved instructive. I speak of "The Really Biggest Loser."

        Not to be confused with the show about how obese people sweat their cares away, "The Really Biggest Loser" featured a short stack of fat cats who spent millions on an election. To their astonishment, they found that they couldn't buy America.

        Not you, Sheldon Adelson. Not you, Harold Simmons. You neither, Bob Perry. Nor you, Bill Koch, or David Koch, or Charles Koch.

        In our system, we're told that everything has a price, even the American system itself. These contestants set out to prove it.

        Each competed valiantly. They shed dollars, not by the bucket but by the tanker truck — and they lost.

        They did, however, provide America with first-rate television, or a least the part of America in all those battleground states Mitt Romney lost — billions of dollars worth of attack ads, so well-spun, so gripping, so futile.

         Karl Rove didn't spend his own money, but he has to be considered in his own category. His super PAC American Crossroads spent $300 million to buy America, and it got? Squat.

         The lineup for "The Really Biggest Loser," was set early in the game. USA Today reported last February that 25 percent of the super PAC money amassed to influence the 2012 elections came from five individuals. All were Republican.

         At the time, No. 1 was Simmons, the Dallas billionaire who had donated $12 million to Rove's group. Back in 2004 it was Simmons who spent $3 million to get the claims of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth before the public in a bid to torpedo the presidential run of John Kerry.

        Bob Perry, the Houston homebuilder and another "Swift Boat" bankroller, was listed as No. 3 of the super PAC super donors by USA Today.

        It is entirely understandable that these individuals figured they could buy America. After all, Simmons and Perry pretty much have had Texas tied in a shiny red bow for those they've supported over the last 18 years. Rick Perry owes builder Perry (no relation) a lot for last-second bundles that set him on his governor-for-life path, give or take a presidential dalliance or two.

       So, in 2012, all of these big guns had a bead on Barack Obama, and what did his campaign have?

       It had its own deep-pocket donors like labor unions and movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg. But here's the odd thing: As Time magazine reported in naming Obama its Person of the Year, the president's campaign did a stunning job of raising money in small increments. That's right — $690 million of Obama's $1 billion in donations came not in drawing rooms, ski chalets or boardrooms but online. 

        "In a campaign that super PACs were supposed to dominate, Obama's operation proved that many small efforts were more powerful than a few big ones. No one in either party thinks campaign finance will ever be the same."

        So, who is "The Really Biggest Loser"? That's actually an easy call.

        Not only did Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino owner, rank No. 1 in donating $34.2 million to Romney and supportive groups according to Politico, he gave $10 million to the PAC that bankrolled Newt Gingrich in the primaries.

         Adelson's money allowed Gingrich to float a host of attacks on Romney, including the line of questioning about the activities of Bain Capital, something that Democrats would employ.

         In roulette terms, Adelson let it ride on the wrong number, and then tried to win it all back with house money.

         Yes, Mr. Adelson, you are "The Really Biggest Loser." Winner? The American political system.

         Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:         


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

U.S.A.: No. 1 with a bullet

  Barely attentive to anything that would prevent such horrors — Newtown, Aurora, Tucson — we are entranced by the gripping accounts and vigils and memorial services afterward.

  We reflect on compelling examples of courage and calm like the teacher who herded her students into the closet and occupied them with Crayons and paper as shots rang out.

  If we wanted fewer horrors, rather than more gripping reading and broadcast material, we could find other stories worth our time.

  Like the one about whoever manufactured the bullets sprayed throughout Sandy Hook Elementary: Tell us about the process he used to construct ammunition designed to break up inside the body of a first grader.

  It's a special kind of bullet, made for killing killers, but available to those who would kill innocents. And that, apparently, is just fine by America.

  Hundreds of rounds were on and beside the body of the Newtown killer. Tell us about the means by which one would acquire that ammunition. Tell us about the multi-round magazines used in Newtown and Aurora and Tucson. Explain their sporting and self-defense purposes.

  Did you notice once again the calls not to politicize America's latest gun massacre? Let the families grieve, goes the line. Prayers are in order, not any actual discussion of public policy that might save lives.

  And when we run out of prayers and accounts of heroism and tragedy, we can get on with doing nothing.

  I'm thinking, not so this time. This time we are going to have an actual policy discussion and not be deterred by the mere thought of stirring the National Rifle Association and assorted gun cultists into action.

  A chilling irony: The day before the Newtown murders, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who had deferred on any discussion of new gun laws after the Aurora theater massacre, said that sufficient time had passed since that event to open up discussion about gun violence and what the state can do about it. This was top-of-Page 1 news in the Denver Post.

   A Republican lawmaker was aghast. "The governor (a Democrat) has built this perception as a moderate," he told the Post. "I think this changes the perception."

   So immoderate, so radical — to even speak about our gun culture and the people it kills.

   Add them up. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has. Since the Tucson shootings in January 2011, America has endured 72 mass shootings.

   Add them up. America loses 32 lives a day to gunfire. Over a year, that's 11,680, or more than three 9/11 attacks. At this very moment our government is doing something at countless points of contact to prevent another one of those.

  According to the Brady Center, America's homicide rate is 6.9 times higher than 22 other high-income, high-population countries combined.

  Try to pick apart the circumstances to demonstrate that tougher gun laws would have no bearing on Newtown's suffering. That's not the point, but that's the gun industry's ruse.

   As President Obama said in his remarks from Newtown, it is beyond the pale that the nation would accept this bloodshed and just move on with daily commerce, including the unfettered sale of military-style weapons.

   One key policy matter raised after the Tucson shootings will get new life: limits on high-capacity magazines. Thirty-round clips fed the AR-15 that killed so many at Sandy Hook Elementary.

   No civilian needs that firepower. Sadly, our discussion has been driven, or blunted, by those who amazingly say they do. It's a little bit like the debate over lifesaving stem cell research, stopped by a micro-minority of Americans.

   It's radical to talk about stricter gun laws? It's radical to look anew at military-style weapons, their ammo and their capacity? Get real, America. What's radical is to allow them to go uncontrolled. What's radical, to the point of pathology, is that until now this was a policy vacuum of which policy makers dared not speak.

   Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The amnesty mandate

    Until now, the last clear mandate coming out of a presidential election was in 1932 when voters demanded of Roosevelt: End this Depression. And make it rain while you're at it.

    Notice I said "until now," and that should raise eyebrows. In this divided, divisive political landscape, how could anyone attach a clear mandate to any national election?

    Well, we can make such a projection now. All we have to do is listen to what Republican commentators are saying about immigration.

    George Will: "Most voters already favor less punitive immigration policies."

    Charles Krauthammer: "Promise amnesty right up front. Security at the border with guaranteed legalization."

    Sean Hannity (Sean Hannity?!): "You control the border first. You create a pathway for those people that are here — you don't say you've got to go home."

      Welcome, guys, to a sane national immigration strategy.

      Let's understand: By and large Republicans wouldn't be saying this if the candidate of "self-deportation" had won the White House. It would be all systems go for hardliners and foreigner loathers.

      What these commentators acknowledge is that the current GOP strategy undermines efforts to gain Latino votes. It is not clear that any of them actually believes the nation should do as they suggest simply because it is right. 

       GOP strategist Mike Murphy expresses it in a Time magazine commentary: "We repel Latinos, the fastest growing voting group in the country, with our nativist opposition to immigration reform that includes offering a path to citizenship."

       Yep, says Krauthammer. Mitt Romney made a big political mistake, general election-wise, when he chose to "go to the right of Rick Perry" on immigration to win the love of right wingers,  tea partiers and primary voters.

       Yes, but what about offering amnesty to hardworking individuals and their families because it is right?

       Leave that up to Barack Obama to say it in June, when he put a hold on deportation for children of undocumented individuals of long standing.

      "It's not amnesty. It's not immunity. It's not a pathway to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix," said the president. What it was under the circumstances, with Congress obstructing all else, was "the right thing to do."

     Krauthammer sneeringly called it the "perfect pander." Yeah, it's all about politics, not at all about logic, logistics, or any whiff of social justice.

     Whatever the reason for Republicans' post-Nov. 6 concessions on immigration, let's use it. Use a broad offer of amnesty as a fulcrum toward fundamentally comprehensive immigration reform, Mr. President.

     Use your 70 percent support from Hispanics Nov. 6 to push Congress to revisit the DREAM Act. Get Sen. Marco Rubio to the White House kitchen table, and with him arrange for the GOP votes it would take to make it happen.

     It's a new day on the immigration front. Consider what's happening in Colorado,  Indiana, Utah and Idaho. Each has a bipartisan coalition that has issued compact urging Congress to include a pathway to citizenship as part of the solution to a seemingly intractable political problem.

     Can't support these initiatives because they are right and proper? Well, then, do it simply on the basis that they would be good for the economy.

     A recent study rejects the assertion that immigrants take Americans' jobs and depress the economy.     

     "Immigration is not a zero-sum game when it comes to jobs, writes researcher Matthew Denhart." With these people's skills, their ambition, their buying power, "immigrants help grow the economy; they create more jobs for all of us, rather than stealing jobs that natives otherwise could fill."

     This mirrors George Will's nod to the all-American notion that immigrating — "risking uncertainty for personal and family betterment — is an entrepreneurial act."

     What bleeding-heart organization is this Denhart fellow flacking for anyway? What pie-in-the-sky, antibusiness, anti-American think tank has him on its payroll?

     That would be a recent entry into American think-tank arena: the George W. Bush Institute.

     Republicans are coming out of the woodwork to support the right thing, Mr. President. Nov. 6 was your day. Seize this one.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John  Young lives in Colorado.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Campaign contributions in a cup

  This is brilliant. And to think it came from the folks who made the mess in the first place.
  The mess is the buying of our government. I can't believe that Republicans in Texas and Florida have come up with the solution.
   That solution: urine samples.
   This may take some explaining, because what these politicians really want is for subhuman recipients of food stamps to aim at a Dixie Cup.
   The brilliance of this idea was contained in a commentary in the Austin American-Statesman from Republican Arlene Wohlgemuth, former Texas state representative, who wrote, "Requiring people who receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits to be drug-free" will guide them on the straight and narrow path.
    Good idea, said a reader of this column, who imagines that other recipients of welfare — corporate welfare — could use said guidance.
    "How about the state drug-test the officers and directors of the corporations that receive public largesse like the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Major Events Trust Fund?"
    I second the motion. Surely people like Wohlgemuth would embrace this for the same reasons why they want to flag welfare mothers' bodily fluids.
    And that — testing corporate welfare recipients — takes us to how we bring an end to the pernicious matter of corporations buying government.
    For you see, when government subsidizes big business, so do the businesses subsidize people in government. Texans for Public Justice recently found that nearly half the companies awarded $439 million in Texas economic-development funds gave almost $7 million to Gov. Rick Perry's campaign or the Republican Governors Association.
     Nice arrangement. Taxpayers pay corporations, which pay the governor to keep his job secure.
     OK, you may not see this as nice. You might see it as simple graft. You'd like to see it stopped. Here's how we do it: urine samples.
     Remember Newton's third law of political physics:
     "For every action in the political sphere, such as a campaign gift or obsequious perk, is an equal reaction, such as the kissing of a contributor's ring finger (or other extremity), followed necessarily by outright taxpayer subsidies."
     Knowing this to be a law, we can finally end the problem.
     In addition to requiring drug tests of industrial welfare queens who get something from government, we require a drug test from everyone who donates to a politician expecting something. Every time. And we require a drug test for every lawmaker who receives these gifts. Every time.
      This is going to work.
      Understand, great endeavors begin with small steps. In Florida, testing of welfare recipients detected drugs in only 2.6 percent of them. Hey, it's all dollars and humiliation well spent, say Sunshine State policy makers.
     Texas knows where they're coming from. Though it has cut back on virtually every other school endeavor, it has spent millions testing prep athletes for steroids. It has caught almost enough violators to field a six-man team.
     Texas loves tests, whether they be in a cup or in the oppressively standardized minds of Pearson Education Inc. (another big political contributor).
     Some will say that testing Pearson corporate officers for drugs is counterproductive, since they always show up for work, and you can't say the same always about recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
     All we are saying is, give drug testing a chance — to prove its worth on the political corruption front.
    A donor will think twice if when buying a politician he has to spill evidence of what was fueling his system the night before. The same for a politician who accepts his gifts. And anyway, as Wohlgemuth appeals, don't we want our elected officials and their lobbying benefactors showing up sober for work every time the gavel sounds?
     She observes that the Texas Motor Transportation Association supports drug tests for drivers.
     "If you want to get a job driving trucks in Texas, you can. But you have to pass a drug test first," she wrote.
     My thoughts exactly. That's why we must start drug-testing political donors and those who accept their gifts.
     We don't want elected officials driving our government under the influence.
      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: