Monday, February 29, 2016

All right, then, Mitch; the people will have their say

        Like blowing out that last birthday candle, Mitch McConnell is going to get his wish.

For the remainder of 2016, no one will occupy the seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia. No concession will be made to a lame-duck president. That nominee won't get a sniff of a hearing room.

Such joyous Republican news comes with an advisory, however:

Enjoy the cake, the balloons and the party hats, Mr. Senate Majority Leader, because in your revelry and obstinacy you increase the odds that when a new year dawns we'll address you as Mr. Senate Minority Leader.

Meanwhile, on another significant political front, your latest gambit (Sen. Harry Reid terms it "obstruction on steroids") is going to help more Americans understand why they need an experienced consensus-seeker rather than a hotel-suite bomb-thrower for president.

Back to the Senate and the court. It is quite magnanimous for Republicans to say, as McConnell did, that voters "should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice." That, of course, they did, in electing Barack Obama to appoint justices. They did it once, and they did it again.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Al Franken suggested that the GOP leaders appear to have enacted a new rule to "lop off the last year" of a presidency.

Franken added, "If only the American people had a voice in deciding precisely how much we should shave off a president's term."

Of course, we have that option. It's called a constitutional amendment. Go for it, suggested Franken. Put that one before the voters. Let them speak.

Here's what Washington Post columnist James Hohman predicts the voters are going to say this year: Blocking Obama from doing his job is going to make it more likely that Republicans will lose the Senate.

"Assuming the president picks a Hispanic, African American or Asian American – bonus points if she's a woman – this could be exactly what Democrats need to re-activate the Obama coalition that fueled his victories in 2008 and 2012," writes Hohman.

The fact is that this year the Senate is there for the Dems to retake after an off-year election in which just about every contested race with a Democratic incumbent was in a state that had gone red in 2012.

This year seven Senate incumbents face challenges in states that Obama won twice -- Florida, Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The Democrats need to win five of them and then prevail in safer states where their incumbents are on the ballot.

None of this is a sure thing, but Obama stands to have a mighty poster child – the Supreme Court nominee soon to be introduced -- to show the nation that things need to change and the GOP way of obstruction and division is not the way.

All the while, that nominee will be a sympathetic victim of politics most venal. That nominee will be seen as a political martyr.

One scenario many people don't seem to consider is that this attractive, willing, able nominee could remain, waiting patiently, judiciously, right through the next election -- to be re-nominated by Obama's Democratic successor.

That would be the ultimate nightmare for those who, like McConnell and Ted Cruz, put partisan bloodlust over every other concern they might have had in Congress. At that point, hara-kiri might be in order.

Based on this scenario, McConnell goes down in history as the Senate majority leader who failed in meeting his No. 1 legislative objective (depriving Obama of two terms). Then he helped lose the Senate, hence failing ultimately to block that still-nominated Obama Supreme Court nominee. Oh, and he helped elect a Democrat to hold the White House well into the 2020s.

This is called reverse obstruction.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, February 22, 2016

The pope said what about whom?

      Before discussing what Pope Francis said the other day, let's discuss one of the most Christlike things a U.S. president has done lately.
     That was when President Obama brought soothing words to an American mosque, words like, "You're not Muslim or American. You're Muslim and American."
     Marco Rubio, the junior robot from Florida, said the visit was meant to "divide the country." Within the next 30 seconds, we can be certain, he repeated it.
     In the event of a Rubio presidency, I'm curious which Americans he would seek to represent — which Americans he'd soothe with a visit, and which ones he would shun.
     Traveling through Africa recently, Pope Francis said, "Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters." He can say that because he is not on the Republican primary ballot.
     It's the same reason that he could say the other day: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian."
     This was framed by the media as an attack on Donald Trump. True?
     Amid the expected tumult, the pope appeared to say, "If the sandals fit, wear them." However, he said he meant not to single out any one person.
     Of course, just as rapidly as the press made the assumption, Trump jumped to affirm it. Yes, just like him.
     The comedy in Trump knows no bounds. Most comically, in his furious response to the pontiff, he referred to Christianity's being "consistently attacked." Christianity attacked by whom? The pope?
     Well, not to disappoint anyone, but I'm here to take Trump off the hook. As Pope Francis said, he didn't single out anyone. He was talking of a whole mess of wall-builders and their deafening bellicosity. That means you, Ted Cruz. That means you, Marco Rubio.
     That means demonizing Mexicans or Muslims, or desperate Central Americans or Syrians. That means never considering quantum shifts in relations with Cuba and Iran that would make this a more tolerant and amiable planet. A wall is a wall.
     It could be said that the hottest seat in hell is reserved for those beneficiaries of great fortune who would deny the same to others. Cruz and Rubio were both born to refugees but now refuse to see the very same life-or-death circumstances bearing down on others.
     Trump rides the wave of anti-immigrant hysteria while an immigrant bride rides his arm down the escalator.
     Once again, Pope Francis didn't mean Trump in particular when saying what he said. He meant everyone who would be inspired by Trump's words: "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." The "they" of course, means Mexicans.
     The pope didn't mean anyone in particular, except anyone who would gobble up such words and pooh-pooh a papal proposition called brotherhood.
     What does it mean to be Christian? We all should know what it means. By and large nothing in the political process bears any resemblance.
     That said, it is mystifying that Cruz, who stands out in the GOP field for what the Washington Post's Dana Milbank calls "utter nastiness," could be considered the supposed choice of America's evangelical Christians. How so?
     When President Obama shed tears on the dais after one more mass murder, commentator John Pavlovitz wrote something sure to send Cruz supporters into conniptions. He wrote that Obama's presidency has been "more Christian than his critics will ever admit."
     Obama, like few other American leaders, has "championed justice, equality and the inherent dignity of all people in a way that closely mirrors the stated mission of Christ, certainly as much as any politician on either side can claim," wrote Pavlovitz.
     I know: Trump, Cruz and Rubio would prefer that Pavovlitz, like the pope, would stop being so literal, particularly about that brotherhood stuff.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, February 15, 2016

Democracy in Antonin Scalia’s world

           A photo widely shared upon the death of Justice Antonin Scalia is a reminder of what the stakes are when we vote for president.
The photo shows a beaming Scalia and a beaming Ronald Reagan, who nominated him. It shows then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who couldn't be happier with the pick.
The Constitution sets almost no requirements for those who serve on our highest court. In fact, they need not even be attorneys. It certainly doesn't prohibit rank political sharks from attaining such a pivotal station, someone like William Rehnquist.
Sure, Rehnquist had considerable judicial experience when tapped for the court by Richard Nixon. He had clerked for the court and served as assistant attorney general. However, Rehnquist had really earned his stripes as a cutthroat Republican operative.
In his home state of Arizona in the 1960s reported the New York Times, Rehnquist "helped plan and direct a poll-watching program that was intended to block what Republicans called illegal attempts by Democrats to win elections by bringing large numbers of unqualified black and Hispanic residents to the polls shortly before they closed."
Unqualified? How so? At the time, Arizona was one of few remaining states still applying a literacy test to voting. That became illegal with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Fast-forward 50 years, when Scalia, Rehnquist's ideological heir, scored one of his great career achievements. He and a one-vote majority managed to gut key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
This made possible the continuation of egregious state efforts at "ballot security" laws, measures calculatedly designed to reduce voter participation by minorities.
As U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos observed, Texas' so-called voter security law had an "impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans."
Justice Scalia did not see it that way, or at least didn't think the federal government needed to be policing this matter any longer through Justice Department pre-clearance of voter I.D. and redistricting schemes.
He called the Voting Rights Act antiquated. Indeed, he said it had become a "racial entitlement."
Racial discrimination is ancient, implied the court majority. The court affirmed this even as Republican schemers made every effort to achieve exactly what Judge Ramos said they were doing – writing laws that discriminate against racial minorities.
With the 2015 ruling, states could keep playing by the Rehnquist rules.
Whatever else can be said about Scalia, without question he was one of the most politically driven justices in history. If you shared his politics, that was fine with you. If you are black or brown, not so much. 
In 2012, when dissenting with a court majority that overthrew Arizona's abominable law allowing police to ask a brown person's immigration status, thereby institutionalizing racial profiling, Scalia used a stunning comparison. He wrote longingly for the days when states controlled their own populations -- not only with their own immigration laws but also laws to "restrict the travel of freed slaves."
Memories. Ah, those good ol' states' rights days.
The irony of all of this is that Scalia (and Rehnquist) talked a good game about democracy, about how the courts should not override the will of the people as enacted by state legislatures. 
The problem with the rhetoric of justices like Scalia and Rehnquist is that they backed efforts to make democracy less representative of society in its sum – that sum including many colors, origins, faiths, incomes, sexual orientations, and more.
Democracy? They fought to keep this democracy a tool of the privileged and already empowered. And isn't that what the founders intended?
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

What money won’t buy, and what it will

        Jeb Bush didn't exactly get skunked in Iowa. But, well, his 2.9 percent showing meant – let's put the calculator to it, as political savant Nate Silver did: The $14.9 million he spent on advertising alone there meant he harvested one vote for every $2,844.

It would have been better for Jeb to have spent it all on corn.

We've been led to assume the contrary, but in presidential politics, as the Beatles once sang, money can't buy you love.

The two super PACs Karl Rove assembled to influence the 2012 elections raised a stunning $175 million and accomplished almost nothing.

Indeed, that year PACs on both sides spent $14 billion. In the presidential race, all that gold didn't move the needle. Barack Obama entered the 2012 campaign with a 3-point lead in the polls. He won with a margin of, yes, 3 percent.

When it comes to presidential politics, money can buy you time (Ted Cruz). Money can get you in when uninvited (Donald Trump). Money can scare off some competitors (George W. Bush, 2000). But it may be the worst investment outside interests could make.

Now, if you want to spend your money in ways that will influence policy, buy a member of Congress -- or the state Legislature.

Is it possible to oversell the role of big money in politics? No, not at all. Money talks. Charles and David Koch are sitting in their lair right now dangling $250 million in support for the survivor of the GOP sweepstakes, and that survivor is likely to do exactly what they say.

It is odd to hear Cruz say that his campaign is a "grassroots" effort when $15 million of his super PAC's $38 million comes from one source: West Texas fracking moguls Dan and Farris Wilks.

The Wilks Bros. may have no higher expectations about Cruz's presidential chances than you or I, but they do know now that they have bought their own senator. 

This senator has a post on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. In other words, the Wilks have purchased their own committee seat now, and they know it. Beats a stadium luxury box all to heck.

So, yes, money matters – a lot. Aside from the gerrymandering that has left so many in Congress in racially identifiable fortresses, money from special interests has sculpted today's Congress into an institution with public approval ratings ranking somewhere between chiggers and ragweed.

Jack Abramoff, who went to prison for bribing congressional Republicans on behalf of Indian tribes' casino dreams, says the bribery is so brazen that no one would see it as anything else.

We have "gifts" rules, you see. However . . .

Well, let's let Abramoff explain it to "60 Minutes":

"You can't take a congressman to lunch for $25 and buy him a hamburger or a steak or something like that. But you can take him to a fundraising lunch and not only buy him that steak, but give him $25,000 extra and call it a fundraiser."

That's how Washington is run, and it all bubbles up in policies that benefit those with the extra millions rattling around in their petty cash (or petro cash, as it were).

Those policies protect the oil industry from telling us what chemicals get pumped into the ground and to dodge controls on pollution that to poisons the Earth and its atmosphere, and causes an earthquake or several hundred. Let us hear an "amen," Sen. Cruz.

Money. It doesn't matter except when it does.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, February 1, 2016

'Hand on the Bible' time for these climate deniers

On behalf of a planet and its species, I'm asking a certain Texas grand jury if it still has time on its docket.

I speak of the Harris County grand jury that turned the tables on hucksters who conspired to paint Planned Parenthood as a law-breaker.

Instead of indicting Houston Planned Parenthood, the grand jury indicted two conniving videographers. David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt now will be tried for painting a lie about Planned Parenthood with their video-editing toys.

Those of us who applaud this decision, just as we applaud the amazing work of Planned Parenthood, hereby ask the grand jury to consider another case. This, too, involves the same types of players: skilled ideological hit men.

I got the idea from a piercing Washington Post commentary by Robert Brulle, professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University.

Brulle says guileful energy industry players who have seeded so much doubt about climate change and man's role in it should be investigated.

"Just as Congress investigated the efforts of the tobacco industry to dupe the public into believing its products are harmless," he writes, "we need a full and open inquiry into the conduct of ExxonMobil and the other institutions whose misinformation campaigns have delayed our efforts to address climate change."

This is a smashing idea. One problem, though: The entity Brulle wants to do the investigating is itself an ecological crime syndicate: Congress.

Forget congressional hearings. We need a criminal grand jury. Harris County, our planet calls.

Brulle points out that, nearly 40 years ago, ExxonMobil officials were aware of the problem of carbon-loading in the atmosphere and launched legitimate scientific inquiry into the matter.

However, in a few years an industry coalition decided that rather than give weight to such science, its goal would be to make sure that "recognition of uncertainties (of climate change) becomes part of 'conventional wisdom.'"

So, how can we pull off this criminal inquiry into how Big Oil and other vested interests harmed the planet and derailed action because the money was too good to do otherwise?

No problem regarding any venue question. Houston is located on Planet Earth. Enough said.

No problem projecting real or potential harm, or finding victims. Name a species whose fate is not tied to climate conditions

However, there's no need to focus on polar bears or Eskimos. Houstonians will do. There city is where the chickens will come home to roost in the Lone Star State if sea levels rise as projected.

A study in the July Science magazine says that historically sea levels rose at least six meters – more than 20 feet – in periods when temperatures rose only 1 to 2 degrees. According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2015, the warmest year in 156 years or record-keeping, had an average temperature 1.65 degrees above average.

Coastal Houston, we have a problem.

That sounds flippant. It's no joke, however, to island nations like Micronesia, Antigua and Maldives, all facing "serious threat of permanent inundation from sea-level rise" according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Add to those locales New Jersey's shore, based on what happened in Hurricane Sandy and winter storm Jonas.

This is a crime against man, a crime against nature. Convene a grand jury. Ask a devoted climate denier to swear on the Bible. Tell the court, Sir, how certain you really are that "business as usual" isn't doing what science is telling us.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: