Thursday, November 26, 2009

Invasion of the Red Menace

Over the river, through the woods, to my house they go.

Sweet potatoes.

Up the interstate, along the Front Range, marched up the sidewalk, ringing at the door bell.

Sweet potatoes.

The horror.

This being our first Thanksgiving back in the brisk Mountain West, where the holiday actually nudges up to the bounds of Currier & Ives propaganda, we are having a favorite aunt come for dinner. She is bringing sweet potatoes.

Living where she is, Colorado, and having not had the advantage of the informational campaign I waged for a quarter century in Central Texas, she still harbors the impression that sweet potatoes are food. I think we have convincingly impressed upon the reading public that said assertion can only be swallowed under a layer of marshmallow cream.

And I'm no fan of marshmallow cream, either.

Let me backtrack a few lines and acknowledge that sweet potatoes are fitting food. Livestock finds them quite appealing. And my dogs like sweet potato treats. They also will eat june bugs.

All along, in addition to advising people about the chief falsehood about sweet potatoes — that you can eat them — I've striven to make my commentaries positive. Positively pro-sweet potato, I am. I have told readers of all the ways you can use sweet potatoes in ways other than putting them in your mouth and asking your esophagus to do what God never intended of it.

I tried that once. Once.

Pro-sweet potato? Yes, I yam. Who brought to readers' attention the many new and exciting uses for sweet potatoes, such as using them in mill tailings to help remove arsenic from gold mines? As George Washington Carver is witness, I've touted sweet potatoes' utility in making ink, and plastic, and ethanol. Vicious correspondence from the United States Sweet Potato Council did not acknowledge as much, but should have. I'm all for growing sweet potatoes if they can wean our dependence on foreign starches, just as long as people understand the truth. I mean, you can make lighter fluid with dinosaur carcasses, but you wouldn't want them for dinner.

To that end, it's time to trot out, by request from so many, the annual recipe that best employs the specious tuber (and harms no stunt animals in the process):

Young's Sweet Potato Barbecue

Take 6 bags of potatoes.

Take one bag of cement mortar, add sand and water.

Stack potatoes in four contiguous walls of about four feet high, using trowel to apply mortar affixing each in place.

When four equal walls have been built, let dry.

Obtain iron grill, place on top. Using lit charcoal briquettes, cook large T-bone steak on grill.

How much more pro-sweet potato can one be? I'm so pro-sweet potato that when Aunt Sandy brings her side dish to our house I will graciously allow her to place it out on the deck for serving purposes, while we dine inside.

No, not in the house. You realize that, just sitting, steaming in the casserole dish, cooked sweet potatoes are emitting molecules into the air, molecules which glom onto human skin, hair follicles, walls, upholstery and carpet — deep, deep in the carpet fiber.

I realize that large numbers of Americans have not received my informational message, so I will endure. Wednesday's New York Times, for instance, has a commentary by Jessica Harris calling sweet potatoes "a culinary reminder of our national history and deserving of a place at the Thanksgiving feast."

Not if one brave man can alert a nation first.

John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Not about race? Prove it

   If 5,000 Canadians froze to death trudging across the snow fields of northern Minnesota to find work, how would you respond?

   Would you say, (a) "They deserved it. They broke the law." (b) "What a horror. Pass the french toast." (c) "We need to build a wall."

   That many people have died since the mid-'90s in America's merciless southern borderlands. Our response: (d) all of the above.

    A group aligned with the Catholic Church, calling itself No New Deaths, has chosen another response: water and supplies, and lifesaving intervention for people crossing the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona. Two years ago, a pair of No New Deaths volunteers faced a federal felony rap for doing so. The charges ultimately were dropped, but their story raised the question: Is American compassion dead of dehydration when it involves these people?

     No, not Canucks. Mexicans.

     A reasonable individual, one who draws a harder line on these matters than I do, took pains to say, "This isn't about race. It was about respect for the law, about public safety," and, of course, public costs. All are legitimate reasons to want workable immigration reforms.

     Those concerns are shared and appreciated by Jennifer Allen, executive director of the Border Action Network — except that rather than aligning itself with wall-builders and Minutemen, her organization is on the side of humanitarian groups like No More Deaths.

     Her message: If it's not about race, then why can't we have workable reforms that reflect social realities?

      Reality: The need for the labor provided by undocumented workers is self-evident. Anyone in the Southwest who has his roof replaced has heard none but Spanish words overhead amid a gritty, sun-scorched task.

       Reality: No matter what walls we build, no matter what law enforcement response we provide, the demand for such labor will draw people across the border.

       Sure, numbers have declined with the draconian crackdown seen in the last two years, including the imprisoning of thousands. But no penal or structural response is going to resolve the problem — just as you can't curb illegal drug trade without curbing demand.

      When Allen talks of "comprehensive immigration reform," she's not using the language of the wall-builders and the private detention center contractors.

      She's saying this: It's time to get real about labor realities. Dramatically increase the number of H-1B visas so people can work here legally. Make that a ticket to legalization if the person abides by the law and carries out the compact of citizenship.

      Many people who are galled by illegal immigration point out that their own ancestors came legally, sometimes after long waits. The problem now is that such considerations are in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security, an agency sworn to shut off cross-border traffic. Few Mexicans, therefore, have any realistic hope of plugging into the system and meeting the compact in question. Yes, that means no chance to honor the rule of law.

      Allen's organization supports legislation poised for unveiling soon that would put the task of setting the numbers of H-1Bs in the hands of a newly formed labor commission. Its determinations would be based on the realities of the moment, and would vacillate accordingly.  The commission would look at the efficiency of the naturalization process so that people who would give their lives to clean our hotel rooms, repair our roofs and harvest our fields truly would see a reason to play by the rules. In the process, they would be contributing through taxes to the benefits, like public schools, they would receive.

       Allen's response to people who want to see immigration laws mean something once again, and for a shadow population to buy into the responsibilities inherent, is: "We want the same things."

      On the other hand, if one's base desire is to tamp down swelling numbers of brown-skinned people, it's easy to understand why immigration reform comes down to taller walls, border troops and arrests even for humanitarian acts.

       John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail:


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Who gave away the moon?

 It's not "'Jon and Kate Plus Eight Attorneys." It's not, "on 'Oprah,' Sarah Palin unveils her road map for world peace."

 That an American probe just discovered water on the moon is not big news, judging by what one hears. Still, you'd think we'd be hearing a lot about it.

 I'm not talking about the fact that water on the moon raises any number of questions and possibilities about what's out beyond Earth's gravitational pull. I'm talking about the fact that water's presence on the moon means that we  — Americans, vanguards of free enterprise and planned obsolescence —swiftly could be getting down to exploiting the moon for every ounce and drop of its commercial potential except for one thing:  Someone 40-plus years ago blew it.

 Yep. Just as they did with the Panama Canal, they gave away the moon.

 I know what you were saying when you heard the moon has water. You were saying, "Get those snow machines blowing. Ski lodges. Hot tubs. Expedia, book me a suite at Marriott by the Sea of Tranquillity."

 Maybe you were thinking of vast mineral opportunities, with water to feed slurry lines criss-crossing the once-uncrossed moonscape.

 At minimum, you were thinking of at least six dozen Starbucks. Admit it.

 Not so fast. (Don't you hate it when someone tells America, "Not so fast"?)

 In 1967, Congress signed onto the United Nations Outer Space Treaty. What it said was that no country can own the moon or the planets or wherever we might plant a corporate logo in outer space.

 Not only that, but the treaty prohibits us from deploying nuclear weapons on the moon and other celestial launch points. Fudge.

 Where is/was America's outrage? Where is Glenn Beck when we need him? Where was he in 1967? Probably bawling his eyes out over something juvenile as he prepped for a career.

 The Outer Space Treaty stands to be a major roadblock to any number of designs on the moon, such as colonization – all right, condo-lization. It would mean that whatever our intrepid entrepreneurs wanted to do, once the sky really is no limit, they would have to clear with Ethiopians and Poles.

 That doesn't mean mankind couldn't do something ambitious with the moon. It just means that, for instance, KBR and Halliburton couldn't do it via no-bid contract. This just doesn't sit right with Americans who've abided by the old adage, "What's good for General Motors is good for the galaxy."

 Imagine the possibilities in running the moon as we've run our world in recent years. We could contract out lunar security to the private army hired by Xe – formerly Blackwater Security. It could guard against other nations – China, for instance — landing on lunar soil (our soil) and setting up snow-cone stands at predatory prices.

 Write tax laws accordingly, and the moon could be the most attractive off-shore haven in the solar system — corporations fleeing Earth's surly bounds and setting up home offices roughly the size of a body-piercing kiosk at the mall.

 This could be our chance to show the world that we really aren't completely inept at nation-building. Many of us once were certain that if we reduced Baghdad or Kabul to a moonscape, we could create new nations over there in our own image. Well, so it didn't work. Well, here's a more manageable moonscape.

 We have the know-how. We have the venture capital. We have big rockets. And the moon has water.

 So, that age-old question for those who wish the rest of the planet would go away: How can we get out of that treaty?

John Young writes for Cox Newspapers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A short 'pro-life' quiz

   You know a Republican primary is approaching when, like leaves falling in the wind, candidates drop nuanced positions on reproductive rights and lie prostrate before blustery anti-choice absolutists.

    That's the case in Texas, where Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison seeks to return home to redecorate the governor's mansion. Thematically, to that end she has air-brushed from her political portrait a somewhat gutsy and moderate voting record on abortion rights.

   The senator's two-syllable spiel now is that she is "pro-life." Next question. Pressed, she'll say the National Abortion Rights Action League gives her a next-to-rock-bottom ratings on related votes in the Senate. Next question.

    In Colorado, the presumptive front-runner among Republicans, former Congressman Scott McInnis, once the national chairman of of Republicans for Choice, says now that he is simply "pro-life." No nuance. Next question.

    No shadings of gray, either, from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose flexings of moral certainty cause hard-right groups like Eagle Forum to swoon.

     Pro-life, eh? It's amazing to hear supposedly thoughtful people dismiss an issue of such consequence with one prefix, one hyphen, and one word. We shouldn't let them get away with it. "Pro-life" is one of the emptiest propaganda terms of modern times. Sorry, folks, but no candidate who uses that term to sum up what he or she stands for should be permitted a "next question" without answering a few more. 

      Whether you support abortion rights, or want the procedure banned, or want something in between, you should demand more from a policy maker than an empty and basically gutless phrase.

     To that end, I've devised a short quiz to test the innards of those who seek to end questions by saying, "I'm pro-life."

      Question 1:

       Do you oppose abortions (a) in all circumstances, period; (b) except in cases of medical necessity; (c) except in cases of rape and incest; (d) except in cases of medical necessity, as well as of rape and incest?

        If you answer (a), you are dismissed further from the discussion, because you are beyond discussion, so fixated on prenatal life that you have rationalized away the life of the woman.

         Question 2:

         If you would allow abortions only in cases of medical necessity, how do you propose that government enforce the law? You should know that a physician has only probabilities as guides when determining if a woman's life is gravely endangered by gestating to term. What government agency would you create to guarantee that each procedure met the criteria?

        Also, we must presume that inquests would be required for each (alleged) miscarriage, which could of course have been physician-caused. Please suggest an agency for that.

         Question 3:

         If you would ban abortion except in cases of medical necessity, rape and incest, how would you enforce the latter exceptions?

         For those who would grant such exceptions, but who claim the "pro-life" tag: How would you sculpt a law so that a rape or incest victim didn't relive her horrors on the delivery room floor? Would you require her to press charges and identify the assailant? Could we try the assailant in sufficient time to allow a safe abortion for the victim? The clock ticks. The abdomen swells.

          Really, candidates. I want to hear you explain these matters. As for those blithe absolutists, like Gov. Perry: You would require a rape victim to carry the rapist's child. Really? So easy for you to say.

          I'll give rhetorical credit to the absolutists when they claim the term "pro-life," except they have no idea, and don't want to know, how enforcing their morals would cause suffering, despair, and acts of desparation.

       On said subject: No contradiction is more visually impaired than "parental consent" laws that disregard the fact that when a teen gets pregnant, she is the parent.

       So. Pro-life? What do you mean? Unless you explain what you mean, and how exactly you would write law to enforce what you mean, you trivialize that which you seek to sanctify. That would be life.

     John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail:


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Church of the Almighty Dollar

    In case you missed it, Allen Stanford is to be a knight no more. The Texas quick-buck baron is going to have his knighthood stripped by Antigua and Barbuda.    

  Quite a fall for the guy — Sir Allen to you and me. He'd be a saint if a Caribbean nation were so empowered. As it were, the next best thing it could do was shelter him from taxes.

   If what we're reading holds true, Stanford, awaiting trial on charges of running a $7 billion ponzi scheme through his offshore bank, is one twisted piece of driftwood.

   His former finance chief, James M. Davis, recently pleaded to fraud-related charges in a Houston federal court. In the process he revealed fascinating things.

  For one, Davis said Stanford spent $200,000 to buy off an Antiguan bank regulator. Included: $8,000 for two tickets to the 2004 Super Bowl in Houston.

   Also, Davis said Stanford conducted "blood-oath brotherhood" loyalty ceremonies to enjoin insiders against revealing the dealings that finally brought U.S. investigators in waves to salty and once-secluded beaches.

   It's odd that Stanford would have brought bodily fluids into the equation, when all he had to do was bring out the Bible that he and his company exalted.

   Starting meetings with prayer. Bowing heads with new clients. These things, reports Bloomberg News, were business as usual for the Stanford Financial Group.

   Well, yes. Stanford was a good Baptist boy. He met Davis when they were roommates at Baylor.

   And isn't that the way? How often do we hear about godly board chambers that are really greed-ly board chambers, looking for any way to avoid rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's?

   How often do we hear about sods raking in 10 figures who claim their Christian faith drives their every movement and fills every moment? Too many times. What version of the Bible is up on that corporate shelf? Surely it's not the blunt Bible that says, in Luke, "You cannot serve God and wealth."

      It's rather amazing to hear how tuned-in some Christians are about isolated admonitions in the Bible, say about sexual orientation, while feigning deafness per Jesus' repeated insistence on forsaking riches.

     Now, one could certainly justify amassing great wealth upon the urgings of saints like Adam Smith and Milton Friedman. But not the man who said "Sell your possessions and give to the poor." It's so much more soothing to turn to Friedman's, "Boost your possessions and move offshore." That's why so many love him.

     We are in the midst of a national debate about how, or whether, to close the abominable gap that leaves 40 million Americans without health insurance. We appear frozen at the prospect of making it slightly less profitable to be the health insurance middle man, as profits are the only imperatve, the only truly American virtue, we know.

     We are frozen at the thought that insuring all Americans will carry costs with it, as if building highways, invading other nations and subsidizing a host of industries with tax shelters doesn't. Of course it costs. We choose to spend our money that way.

     We have been told by any number of groups and politicians that this is a "Christian nation," whose policies should reflect as much. They don't mean it. The last thing they would ever want would be a nation that shuns the amassing of wealth and weapons, and concentrates instead on matters divorced entirely from fleshly functions and philosophies that divide.

  Regarding the knight from Antigua: How much different is he, really, from so many who put profits above all else while claiming to adhere to a set of saintly principles?

   Not so different.

   John Young is a syndicated columnist. E-mail: