Tuesday, July 30, 2013

GOP to Latinos: We are solidly pro-tortilla

  Comprehensive immigration reform is a winner — comprehensive, path-to-citizenship reform.

  Drones-in-skies, three-layer walls, "no amnesty," end-of-discussion reform is not a winner.

  We know this not just because poll after poll says it, as Politico reports. We can know this because Congressman Mike Coffman suddenly is talking about compassion.

  Coffman is a heretofore hard-right Colorado Republican who generally has run on his military pedigree in "war on terror" times. Now he is running as a neighborly guy who speaks Spanish (he'll have you know), and who supports "compassionate" immigration policies. 

  He's said so in an op-ed pieces, and to a central-casting-selected, mostly Latino audience before which he hablo-ed himself to near exhaustion. He's saying so in TV commercials. 

  One might say that "compassion" and multilinguality have always been in Coffman's repertoire. Maybe so. What actually happened, however, is that redistricting of his suburban Denver-area district meana quite a few more Latinos than before.

  This could apply to quite a few congressional districts in this land of ours. In Texas, for instance, between the last two censuses, three of four new residents were minorities, and nearly nine of 10 of those were Hispanic.

  The Spanish word for elephant is elefante. Right now Latinos' general antipathy toward them is the elefante in the room for Republicans.

  Ask Texas GOP operative Steve Munisteri about this. Robert Draper did for a scintillating piece in the current Texas Monthly. Munisteri said surveys of Latinos show "they view the Republican Party as hostile to the Hispanic community."

  In the same article, San Antonio mayor and 2012 Democratic National Convention keynote speaker Julian Castro said this ill will is all about policies, not window dressing: "The days are gone when George Bush saying a couple of lines in Spanish was enough to woo the Hispanic community."  

  Understand, this is not just about one issue, like the tea party's hardline obstruction of immigration reform or the "your papers, please" policies in Arizona, Alabama and more.

  It's about vote suppression. A panel of federal judges said Texas' voter I.D. law imposes "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor and racial minorities."

  It's about redistricting intent on marginalizing minorities. (Republicans in affected states don't even need to pretend they are fair-minded after the Supreme Court struck down the pre-clearance component of the Voting Rights Act.)

  It's about efforts to cripple Head Start, and to put property tax cuts for the wealthy ahead of funding of public schools.

  It's about painting Spanish-speaking citizens as second-class citizens, and angling toward elimination of bilingual ballots.

  Relative to that, some history about passage of the Voting Rights Act: Congresswoman Barbara Jordan managed to get her state, Texas, and a few others tagged for pre-clearance not just because of their repression of blacks, but because the absence of bilingual ballots which effectively excluded many. Congress agreed that this was tantamount to the literacy tests of Jim Crow.

  As Gary May writes in his book Bending Toward Justice, Texas state lawmakers were furious about this, as were several Texas congressmen, but Jordan pressed on with "an energy reminiscent" of Lyndon Johnson himself, who had hitched his legacy to civil rights legislation.

  True, most of those Texas lawmakers were Democrats. However, since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, their brand of politics has migrated to the GOP, as it has throughout the South. Since then, the path leading to Republicans' low approval ratings among Hispanics is quite clear.

  El partido del elefante may speak the language when propitious, but as Hispanics become increasingly significant politically, it will be hard for the GOP to paper over where it has trod before. 

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Suicide or cunning self-preservation?

  It's not often that one finds one's self eulogized while still emitting a pulse. That's what happened, though, the other day in an amazing compilation in The New York Times. The subject: death by self-infliction of the Republican Party.

   The amazing thing was that all of the eulogizing was being done by Republicans. Jeb Bush. Bob Dole. Bill Kristol. Norman Ornstein.

  Say what? Well, let Mike Lofgren, longtime Republican aide on Capitol Hill, say it. With a bent that is hard right and hardening, the GOP is "becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult . . ."

   Or as the Times' Thomas Edsall put it, the GOP appears intent on "ideological suicide."

   Too harsh? You decide. It was Jeb Bush who said that his father and Ronald Reagan would have a "hard time" getting nominated today, something seconded by former GOP front-runner Dole.

    What these leading Republicans say is true. And, yet, what explains recent analyses causing Democrats' hair to stand on end — the prospect of a 2014 Republican Senate takeover? 

   The Democrats clearly came out of 2012 as the party with a future — more acceptable to a nation of difference, of Latinos, of blacks, of gays and lesbians, of working stiffs.

    So how could the Senate possibly flip? Easy: The states where Democratic incumbents are most vulnerable — Arkansas (Mark Pryor), Louisiana (Mary Landrieu), Alaska (Mark Begich) — and those in which Democrats are retiring, Montana (Max Baucus), South Dakota (Tim Johnson) without viable replacements from their party, have all been predictably red states.

    The GOP needs six seats, meaning the Democrats may have to win in places where victory isn't assured, like North Carolina and West Virginia.

    The 2012 results project good times for Democrats long-term on a national stage. But on a regional basis, the GOP remains better than OK. Why?

    The reason is that we have two types of red states:

    In the South, generations of grievance against the party of Lyndon Johnson continue to prevail (as Johnson himself predicted) 50-plus years after passage of the Civil Rights Act.

     At the same time, in the sparsely populated West and sections of the Great Plains, we have many voters devoutly insulated from the concerns that brought, say, a Barack Obama to the stage.

    These voters may be connected to their neighbors, but as to the world, particularly a world of difference, too many are connected by cable, or satellite, or Rush Limbaugh. Information? Trust Fox News, and local newspapers that regurgitate provincial biases and worldviews.

   When the tea party-controlled U.S. House voted to strip food stamps from the farm bill, those who did so knew they would face no flak back home. Largely because of redistricting, their districts are safely Republican, ruled by white-flight suburbs; or in rural districts, they are ruled by land barons and Bill O'Reilly.

    Food stamps don't fit into those worlds; poverty doesn't, either. People of color? If they haven't been gated out, they've been gerrymandered out. 

    So we can understand why Ed Rogers, who served both Reagan and George H.W. Bush, writes that the House is governed by "ideological purists who think every issue and vote is black or white."

    His party, he says, has "lost the art of governing in Washington." Instead too many in the House have mastered the art of self-preservation in deference to starkly homogenous constituencies.

    And, so: Yes, the demographics of the nation are trending Democratic in a big way. The demographics of Congress (including the Senate), meanwhile, are trending toward something more insular and intractable.

   And you thought that was impossible.

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


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Just another day for George Zimmerman Nation

    We can't know exactly what happened when Trayvon Martin died. We do know, however, the answer to that infernal chicken-egg riddle the NRA uses to mesmerize policymakers.

    The answer: Guns kill people. Period. End of riddle.

    George Zimmerman says he wouldn't have done anything differently. That depends. Let's say that he left his handgun on his dresser that night, then . . .

    He would have done differently. He would have listened to the police dispatcher and not pursued the black youth in the hoodie.

     But Zimmerman had his gun. So, he set off to investigate. If that gun wasn't his license to play policeman, Florida law determined it was his license to kill.

    Post-verdict, the court returned the gun to Zimmerman, so we are that much safer today.

     Florida, one of 22 states with a Stand Your Ground-type law, presumed that its people would be safer with such a statute. Sorry, reports the Centers for Disease Control. States with those policies have seen a 7 percent increase in homicides. Just curious: For statistical reasons at least, does Trayvon Martin count here?

   Ah, but the George Zimmermans of Florida, or their kin, aren't the ones who'll  get killed . . .

   Not so fast, say researchers at Emory University. A gun in the good guy's hands (that's George Zimmerman, sayeth the court) is far more likely to kill someone in his own home or his self than to ever ward off intruders or 17-year-olds bearing Skittles.

     Still, George Zimmerman Nation believes in the safety implicit in that gun, even if carrying it is the very worst mistake of Zimmerman's life. 

     On the flip side of tragedy: Zimmerman now reigns as a patron saint of people just like him. I'm thinking of those who rushed to buy ammo and guns when Barack Obama was elected president. Or rushed to buy guns and ammo when he was re-elected. Or rushed to buy guns and ammo when the slaughter of first-graders in Newtown, Conn., moved the nation's needle ever so slightly toward re-examining America's gun culture.

    In truth, it's steady as she goes in George Zimmerman Nation.

    The day of the verdict, the garage of a man in Aurora, Colo., caught fire, causing the discharge of some 4,000 rounds of ammunition. What a waste. He'll buy more.

    Aurora, you'll recall, is where last July a gunman with hundreds of rounds of ammo shot up a movie theater, killing 12 and wounding 58.

   The day that the jury found for Zimmerman and his gun, a 15-year-old girl's birthday party in Hamilton Township, N.J., was interrupted by gunfire. Oops. Another teenager dead.

     So, you're right, George Zimmerman Nation. You're absolutely right. This wasn't about race. This was about a gun toted by a man who should never have been in a position to make a lawman-style determination about another in the dark of night. But instead of being on the bedroom dresser, the gun was on George Zimmerman, licensed by the state of Florida. And so he pursued.

     After Texas authorized concealed-weapon permits in 1995, a neighbor of mine who had gotten a call from down the street went running past my house, shirtless, shoeless, gun in hand, to settle things. His bare belly protruding over his belt buckle, he was the vision of armed readiness. Thank goodness he didn't fire upon reaching his destination. Indeed, as I recall, the police didn't come, either, as no one called. Must have been a false alarm.

     Stay vigilant, George Zimmerman Nation.

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

Abortion: one moment, five words

   As with a lot of people across the country, Wendy Davis is my new hero — she who for 11 hours stared down an armored column of oppression on the Texas Senate floor.

   I know Sen. Davis won't be offended, however, to hear me say that she's not my foremost pro-choice hero.

   That person is an individual I never met, one who made me rub my eyes and see the abortion debate anew in five words.

   He was a college student who many years ago saw fit to sit alone in silence outside a surging, swaying, hymn-singing anti-abortion rally in Waco, Texas. He held a simple handwritten sign carrying these five words: "Abortion is a medical necessity."

    Five undeniable words. Five words that should start every discussion about this.

    Sen. Davis used a lot more words, each necessary, in her filibuster against proposals to craft the nation's most oppressive anti-abortion policy.

     More importantly, she brought thousands to the Texas Capitol to put a collective human face on the matter at hand, which is the wrong-headedness of inserting government into the most private of medical matters.

    Yes, medical; and this should need no explanation. The protest back in Waco was about the Planned Parenthood affiliate's offering abortion services, "a first" at the time. But the fact is and was that every hospital that delivers babies performs abortions out of medical necessity. No, this was no "first."

    Ah, but these were "abortions of convenience." The community had never had any of those before, except for the rare daughter who could afford a plane ticket and hotel room. She got one. But that was different.

    It fascinates me, and should amaze anyone, that people for whom "government is the problem" is a guiding tenet believe that government is the solution here.

   And is it? And how so?

   If an abortion is medically necessary, with whom does a doctor consult — which agency? — when deciding to "murder" a fetus?

   If every zygote is a human being, when is an (allegedly) spontaneous abortion — a miscarriage — not a calculated one? Trust in government to ascertain this.

   Curiously, because they hold the birth control pill to be abortive (as it occasionally causes a fertilized egg to not reach kindergarten), true "pro-lifers" oppose that, too. However, I saw a study that shows the woman's body to be a far greater killer of fertilized eggs. Eighteen percent of all fertilized eggs are expelled naturally.

    God's plan? Government's job to investigate? Menstruation or homicide?

    Rape or incest: In no other context does state-mandated gestation seem so oppressive. So rare, too, right? Then again statutory rape is less rare — the 21-year-old with the car and the semen, the 16-year-old with the glassy eyes and the womb.

   Rape? Prove it, little girl. And how long will the trial last? And how large will the little girl's belly be before a state with a rape or incest exception would grant it? Sorry, too late.

   Let's give Texas Republicans credit here for saying that rape and incest are simply "get over yourself" matters when ordering a victim to grin and bear it. So much simpler, right, guys?

    Against this, Sen. Davis stood for 11 hours, making stomachs grumble, making the red-state armored column stand idle as the clock moved.

    Up above, supporters of reproductive justice chanted and cheered. Outside, legions gathered.

    Each of those people now surely had realized he or she had been quiet too long.

    It's time to start talking about how government can't do what otherwise devout "less government" types say it ought.

    If you are among those who haven't been talking about it, start that long-needed conversation with five words. Then talk some more.

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






Monday, July 1, 2013

Jim Crow's spiffed-up, presentable heir

    It's understandable that conservatives, from Chief Justice John Roberts to chief pundit George Will, today think of racism as a thing of the past — a "post-racial" society, this is.
    After all, Jim Crow molders in the grave — he of the dirty dungarees, the night rides, the venal proxies in elected office.
   It's too bad that those who presume to have the nation's pulse on these matters don't notice how Jim Crow's great-grandson J.R. — J.R. Crow — sustains his great- granddaddy's influence. Dungarees? He is now dressed for success.
    Wholly respectable and harmless, ensconced away from harm in a lovely gated community, that's where J.R. resides these days.
     Racism? What? Gone are segregated lunch counters, literacy tests, and calculated intimidation of black voters in the South.
    Pose this question, however, to Congressman John Lewis, bloodied while marching for civil rights in 1965.
    "Voting rights are under attack in America," Lewis said on the House floor — and not just the other day after the Supreme Court tossed out Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act: He said it in 2011 amid a flurry of vote-suppression efforts by Republicans.
    Which is how Jim Crow's heir runs the enterprise today — that, and redistricting efforts that zealously would marginalize voters of color if not for the Voting Rights Act.
    Quite a sight — the near-frantic urgency with which Voter I.D. bills were pushed in advance of the 2012 election. Proponents have yet to produce evidence of voter fraud to counter Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe's depiction: "an expensive solution in search of a problem."
   Why have so many judges found problems with these laws? Because they impede the votes of minorities and the poor — as intended. Right, J.R.?
    In Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy, University of Delaware historian Gary May points out that
long before Jim Crow, oppressive majorities employed ways to curb voting by select groups — immigrants and Jews, and of course women. "But the African American experience is unique," May writes. For though blacks were expressly granted the vote via the 15th Amendment, in the South, forces conspired at every turn to undermine their voting rights.
    And now? Barack Obama's ascendance, among other political achievements by blacks, serves to endanger the gains made, writes May. After all, if a black can be president, why is the Voting Rights Act necessary anymore?
    One of the gains May attributes in part to the Voting Rights Act is the rise of the Republican Party in the South, prophesied by Lyndon Johnson. When in the glow of civil rights victories, he told an aide, "We have lost the South for a generation."
     Demographics alone testify to the fact that we need the Voting Rights Act as never before.
     Watch how redistricting is done. Both parties know where the votes are. They are color-coded. And not in red and blue — try white, black and brown.
     Observe efforts to deprive some Americans of the vote by prohibiting bilingual ballots. Multiculturalism is a pet peeve of J.R. Crow, who won't acknowledge that unilingual ballots would be direct descendants of Great Granddad's literacy tests. Meanwhile, the individual costs attached to some Voter I.D. measures share the lineage of poll taxes.
     The Supreme Court majority says Congress could reauthorize the Voting Rights Act to be nearly as potent as authorized in 1965, if more so.
     However, with today's increasingly reactionary House, where redistricting has parceled out votes to provide invincible Republican districts, that prospect is as likely as J.R. Crow's demanding that his children be bused to inner-city schools.
     Some things respectable people just don't do.
     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.