Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Of 'death panels' and animal behavior

My dog Lucy is frantic for light beams. Shadows, too.

In the morning, she patrols the sunlight-splayed kitchen, watching for reflections from a wrist watch, or from a juice glass exiting the cupboard. She will skid across the tiles in pursuit when the refrigerator door handle flings a reflection across the floor.

It used to be that Lucy did this all by her lonesome. Lately, however, her sister Sadie is paying attention to the light beams, and to the shadows cast from Lucy's tail. More curiously, so is Star, one of our cats. Assembled as a gang of three, they watch the floor.

What we used to have in the kitchen was one kooky dog. Now, what we have is a movement. Sad to say, this reminds me of present-day politics.

Consider a recent story in the New York Times about the option of end-of-life counseling in effect when the federal health care plan kicks in with the new year.

What got spiked in the legislation as the result of contrived right-wing disinformation — the rabbit scream of "death panels" — has been inserted in the legislation by the Obama administration.

It's as reasonable as could possibly be: Medicare will pay physicians who advise patients about options for end-of-life care. Those patients may then use that information to draw out "do not resuscitate" orders so as not to extend their suffering needlessly at the end of a feeding tube or ventilator.

Now, it's one thing to say Medicare shouldn't reimburse for a service like this. But to take it and assert that somehow it means Big Brother will be dictating who lives and dies is, well, kooky.

Of course, Sarah Palin and numerous Republicans made swift routes to microphones and their Twitter lecterns to shout "death panels." Like the dreaded lights on my kitchen floor, the claim made heads jerk — that is, for that breed of Americans wholly receptive to any sinister inference made about Barack Obama.

But, my goodness, what an important thing to promote: clear-headed discussion with an expert about end-of-life matters. You'd think those who wrung their hands into powder over the end-of-life saga of Terri Schiavo would want more discussions that make matters clear. But, no, they choose demagoguery over this simplest matter: choice. Some people just can't stand that word.

A representative of LifeTree, which describes itself as a "pro-life ministry," told the Times it was concerned that the new policy would "encourage patients to forgo or curtail care, thus hastening death."

Well, you know, that's the whole point of a DNR request. Does LifeTree wish to remove that option?

What's amazing is that despite the crystal-clear intent of this policy, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that one-third of Americans still believe the whole "death panel" spiel. This is reminiscent of a recent Onion headline: "One in five Americans believes Obama to be a cactus."

It's also reminiscent of a commentary by Michael Ventura citing a "plague of ignorance" abroad in the country. Let us assign Palin as Patient Zero for this strain, she for whom the toughest question imaginable from Katie Couric was, "What magazines do you read?"

The fact is, like the three animals chasing light beams in my kitchen, you can convene one-third of Americans around just about any notion if it fits into the narratives of Fox News, Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann.

In 2010 a lot of commentators looked at those types and — against a backdrop of apathy and economic malaise — thought they represented a movement that reflected what America was thinking. No they didn't. They were just the most frantic.

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wait — year of the nice guy?

   Time Magazine's nod to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is one of the most deliciously odd "Person of the Year" choices in its history.

   Not because Zuckerberg isn't consequential. As one whose network links 550 million people, he is consequential beyond imagining. What's so odd about the choice is that he seems like a genuinely nice guy. And, let's face it, 2010 will sign off as one of the meanest years in memory.

    After all, Time's runner-up was the Tea Party, one of the most rabid popular movements of our time. In this case we speak not of the rabidity that comes with rabid fans or rabid stamp collectors. We speak of the snarling, foamy kind, the "call animal control" kind.

    This was the year of vicious commercials, from campaign assaults by anonymous moneyed sources to the meanest product pitches ever. (The doctor tells a wide receiver his knee is mush; but, hey, it cost nothing to drop him from his fantasy team on his smart phone. Har.)

    How much meaner could it be? The No. 1 Republican in the U.S. Senate has set as his No. 1 legislative goal: "for President Obama to be a one-term president."

    Who would have thought that Obama would turn the other cheek and bargain with the GOP on tax cuts and unemployment aid, signing the bill with that senator, Mitch McConnell, over his shoulder? The fact is that despite the vitriol swelling around him, Obama has showed himself to be one of the nicest presidents we've known. Too nice? The "first female president" — in Kathleen Parker's nicely sexist jab.

   Don't look now, but Obama's numbers have surged for playing conciliator. Two new polls show that against major GOP contestants to take his job, at the moment, it's no contest.

     Still, 2010 the year of the nice guy?

     Time's Lev Gross came prepared to profile the Zuckerberg who is portrayed as petty and conniving in the movie, "The Social Network." He found someone who, though the movie took great liberties, rented several theaters so employees at Facebook could see it.

     This is a man who, though he's made billions, took his family to the Universal Orlando Harry Potter attraction and bought himself an Ollivander wand. And a Slurpee?

     OK, this is also a young man — 26, for gosh sakes — who truly plows his field with the silver blade of altruism. He recently donated $100 million to Newark, N.J., schools.

     His only real criticism of the movie is that it portrays cynicism, and not "the actual motivation for what we're doing, which is, we think it's an awesome thing to do."


     Maybe it's not so odd that Time recognize someone like this. We turn the page to a new decade — The Teens? — from a decade whose name we dare not designate. We spent 10 years spinning our wheels in ideological dust and debris, much of it in a sand storm of our making.

     I look at Zuckerberg and I see post-ideological America. No, not someone who has shed social concerns, but one who is focused mostly on the doable, and on doable things that matter.

    Zuckerberg is the anti-Mitch McConnell: not interested in making things a little more impossible, but one probing what's possible.

    Zuckerberg is driven not by what's best for the GDP, as most of America's public policies have been for a generation, but what's best. Period.

    Sure, Facebook, as with the Internet itself, has superficial dimensions, as does the cult of self-infatuation and distraction that surrounds so much of what is offered as an advance of the digital age.

    But let's face it. The devices and networks that array themselves are the horizon to which the world is turning, and you might as well look to what a new day delivers. I say it's delivering power back to those who believe you can change the world not by being calculating and vicious, but by being smart and nice.

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Scrooge-iest season ever

   If this doesn't toast your heart's cockles: The congressman said we couldn't afford to extend unemployment benefits through what in economic terms is one of America's harshest winters.

   At the same time we could afford, he said, to extend tax breaks worth billions of dollars to America's wealthiest. For them, "harsh winter" means Vail, Squaw Valley, Key West.

   And his expressed concern in so doing? The children.

   "If we don't act soon to get spending under control, we will be leaving our children a country in far worse shape than the one we inherited," wrote Florida Congressman Tom Rooney. He was responding to a Scripps Treasure Coast newspapers editorial blasting him for backing tax breaks for the wealthy while opposing further unemployment aid.

     He said the $12 billion cost of the unemployment extension was not offset with spending cuts. He also said he has, ahem, $4 trillion in spending cuts in mind to offset lost revenue from the tax breaks — they'll cost only $700 billion over two years — now ready to survive in a deal with the White House that extends help for the jobless.

     When you hear people like Rooney say things like concern "for the children," you think of the Dickens tale of the wicked miser who found Christmas in the specter of ghosts. Except in the case of the scared-right Ebenezer Scrooge, it wasn't an act.

      How many budget cycles did Republicans vote — yeah, plead — to raise the debt ceiling under George W. Bush? That would be eight. How many wars did the Republican Party finance off-budget? That would be two.

      Over how many years did the Republican Party vigorously dispute the damage of deficit-by-design policies dating back to Ronald Reagan? Reagan, by review, fired his first budget director for the offense of using a calculator and explaining the red numbers showing up for generations to come.

     Whose deficit is this, anyway? Not Bill Clinton's. Not Barack Obama's, except in the case of billions of stimulus dollars that an independent panel of economists credited for averting a second Great Depression, with 16 percent unemployment. And many economists don't think it was vigorous enough.

     Forget about that, though. We are tuned into a high-frequency squeal performed by tea party fantasists. To hear them, Obama promoted the stimulus for one reason: to transform America into post-Bolshevik Russia. Their ear-piercing bleatings are background music to one of the Scrooge-iest political seasons ever.

    Republicans have blocked the DREAM Act, under which children who have been in this country since age 16, and who finish two years of college or serve in the military, can become citizens if their parents came to America illegally. Republicans call it a "nightmare." Yeah, boy. College-educated, service-oriented people who not only buy into the American dream but who add to America's potential. What a terrifying prospect.

     Republicans blocked a bill to provide medical care to rescue workers sickened in the remains of the Twin Towers post-9/11. The GOP says the $7.4 billion measure isn't paid for. This would make sense if the very same party had suggested ways to pay for the military response to 9/11 in Afghanistan and for contriving a military response in Iraq around the same events.

      As such, what these deathbed converts to fiscal discipline have conjured during hurtful economic times is hypocrisy beyond imagining. It is a hypocrisy mushroom cloud. This is the fiscal hypocrite's Manhattan Project, the double-standard to end all double-standards.

      But mostly it is mean. It is miserly. And it is just what a lot of voters in November asked for. It's the Scrooge-iest.

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


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thoughts of an ex-bell ringer

    The red kettle beckons outside the store, and a sad tension grips me. Sad, because it used to be that whatever spare change rattled in my pocket would go into that kettle, drawing a cheery thanks and a smile. And who couldn't stand some of that action?
     I forgo it, however. That's sad. Until Salvation Army treats all Americans like the equal people the preamble to the U.S. Constitution prescribes, my spare coin is holstered.
     It's sad because Salvation Army does much good. That's why a decade or so ago I agreed to stand outside a store and ring a bell. That was, however, before Salvation Army's policy of discrimination against hiring homosexuals became common knowledge.
     That's not a policy or philosophy I want to support.
     Salvation Army is extremely up-front about it: "Differentiation of the sexes is a part of the divine image in the human race" says its website. It says that people who have a same-sex orientation deserve love. But, ff if they show their own love in a homosexual fashion, and refuse to renounce said actions, they are "ineligible for Salvation Army soldiership."
      To hear the organization rationalizes this form of discrimination, one can see how bad laws can contribute to the marginalization of people otherwise equal in the eyes of the law. (See Jim Crow.) It's no abomination to be gay, the site says. Just don't act on it. "Those who will not or cannot marry" must observe "celibacy and self-restraint," it says. A couple of generations ago in certain reaches of this land, it was perfectly OK to be a black man as well, just not to escort a white woman.
      I'm reminded of the law in Texas that banned homosexual acts, until it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. It gave Texas lawmakers license to smile upon just about any form of discrimination against homosexuals, for if they were "practicing," they were breaking the law. Yes?
       So, too, with prohibitions on gay couples marrying, a situation in which religious sensitivities supersede equal protection of the law. You know; that's in the 14th Amendment.
        Now the Pentagon, with most servicemen and women in assent, says it's time to stop discriminating against gays and lesbians. Sadly, at least one of the major parties is possessed of the philosophy that someone who is honest about his or her homosexuality must be "ineligible for soldiership," aka the Salvation Army.
       Sorry, folks. John McCain can talk 'til blue in the face and not explain how the current discriminatory military policy can be defended by the law of the land.
       One reason the armed forces are ready to move on with this change is that, ultimately, the courts are going to force the issue — just as the courts said the real crime in Texas was a law that made people criminals for how they acted in the privacy of their homes.
       The bottom line of this discourse is that it's none of anyone's business. How is it that a party built on the principle of less government and less government intrusion could sway so heavily for intrusion and discrimination? OK, that's easy to see. As with ol' Jim Crow, it's always been politically profitable to be a manifestation of prevailing prejudice and a barker of fear and taboo.
       You don't need to tell me that the Salvation Army does good things. I manned a kettle once.
       The segregated diners of the South sold grub that pleased many. They were pillars of their communities. Ultimately they were influenced by reasonable people to practice the notion that all men were created equal — under God.
      I'll ring a bell for that principle.
      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Profiling those who would profile

    I was told once that I strikingly resembled a Walrus. Not the marine mammal. Not the leader of the Beatles. I was, said an acquaintance, the spitting image of pro golfer Craig Stadler — known in his sport as the Walrus.

    I blinked and protested. Stadler is squat and chubby. Except for high hairlines and mustaches, we have no similarity whatsoever. Yet in this person's eyes, we were twins separated at birth.

     That's just one way of saying that a measure increasingly offered as the answer for airport security or border security is coo-coo-cha-choo.

     That measure is profiling: Single out those who look a certain way. Frisk them. Question them. Let the rest of us board the plane or walk the streets of Arizona in peace.

      Tell that to a journalist friend of mine. He has a full, dark mustache, a big head of black hair, and was told once that he looked like Saddam Hussein. No, he said. I'm a mama's boy from El Paso.

      If some people's suspicions prevailed, he'd be questioned not only at the airport but on Any Street in Arizona.

      We are told that Arizona's law authorizing police to question the immigration of people based on vague suspicions isn't about profiling, that it expressly forbids it. But, let's face it. Arizona lawmakers only papered over their desire to profile because, don't you know, politically correct elitists from Namby-Pamby Land won't allow it.

       Despite whatever legalese Arizona employs, if the new law clears the courts it will do exactly what proponents wish: profile brown-skinned people. It's exactly what some people want.

       If any pretense to the contrary was employed by supporters of profiling, it was shed in recent days with the uproar over heightened airport measures. From out of the woodwork en masse came the voices of profiling: Decide on what types of people to look for, and turn them inside out.

      This would exclude the young and the old, we're told. Not said, of course: The types of people excluded would be the profiling proponents themselves, because they have pale-to-ruddy skin and are registered at the Elks Lodge.

      Certain people have no problem with profiling when they assume they wouldn't be on the receiving end of it. If they had the features of a marginalized population, they would feel very differently.

      But that's always been a feature of a certain political brand which sells well with a large chunk of the American electorate.

      We saw the appeal when Tea Party darling Sharron Angle sought to win the Nevada U.S. Senate seat with commercials concocted of hate, paranoia and 100 percent pure, unadulterated racism.

      We saw it in the cyber-hysteria surrounding plans for a Islamic community center that has been embraced by its city, New York, and its immediate neighbors.

      We've seen it in efforts to institutionalize one faith at the expense of all others. The organization Concerned Women for America says it promotes Biblical values. (This month: "It's patriotic to say Merry Christmas.") As such, it has asserted that though our president "claims the Christian faith and invokes the name of Jesus," he has troubling familial associations with Islam — you know, split allegiances.

     Actually, a leader of this nation should have split allegiances, supporting all faiths under America's banner, and none over the others.

     A leader of this nation swears to uphold a Constitution that, despite a history of atrocities, now has us enjoying a remarkable period of symbiosis between faiths and ethnicities, factions that by all rights could always be at war.

    Sadly, some Americans take this peace for granted. They believe that a few simple indignities aimed at certain Americans would be harmless, since they wouldn't be those harmed.

      As such, those who with bad policy would shatter a gentle social contract — synthesis within difference — are more dangerous than any of those from whom they would demand citizenship papers.

      Blasphemy? Go ahead. Frisk me.

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Micro potatoes vs. sweet potatoes

    The first Thanksgiving celebrated survival and agrarian guile. With the help of charitable natives, the pale-skinned aliens were able to exhale and rejoice, having made a life on and with foreign soil.

      So it is with my family this past year. We did much the same, survival-wise on alien land, even if this technically is native soil for us. So, we celebrate.

      We were just your typical foreigners from Texas when we arrived over a year ago. Though two of us had been born here many harvests ago, we walked lightly, with wide eyes, on the newfound plain.

      Now we've had a full complement of Rocky Mountain seasons, and have done what settlers do — settled.

      One thing we did this year that was totally foreign to us was grow food.

      Never did a spare moment allow something like that back in Texas. Most of the time was devoted to growing children. Yes, Becky planted trees in the yard in Waco. We grew geckos on the window screens. We birthed generations of kittens in our hedge. Not exactly agriculture, though.

      Planting a garden wasn't my idea, understand. Becky and Rob sprung the notion with spring. Then they tilled the Colorado soil.

      In a small patch out in our big back yard, they grew spinach, broccoli, carrots, pumpkins, green peppers and more. And in a particular nod to her roots in Southern Colorado, Becky planted potatoes.

      She had some expertise to tap, having driven a spud truck during a long-ago harvest in Monte Vista, having flagged crop dusters one summer, and having had a fanatical gardener of a father.

       My father was pretty much the same — a maniac — about gardening. I pretty much stayed away from it unless a stray baseball found its way into the pumpkin patch.

         Hell, I couldn't tell you how a potato was conceived and/or born. That is, until this year. Now I know. It's amazing!

         And get this. You pull 'em out of the ground and — after you wash the dirt off and boil or bake or fry 'em — you can eat 'em. Kid you not.

         At this point, having read the heading of this entry, you are saying: "OK, get to it — the yearly slam on sweet potatoes. Come on; get it out of your sorry system."

         Well, here's the thing. I still hate sweet potatoes, just as much as I did, oh, 48 years ago or whenever the orange matter first invaded my gullet. I would never make that mistake again.

         But having witnessed the horticultural miracle of potato birth, I am in a much more charitable mode toward tubers in general this harvest time.

         I'm going to tone it down and instead evangelize for something wonderful: micro potatoes.

         It has never been true that I've been anti-sweet potato. I'm definitely pro-sweet potato. I'm just not pro-put-in-your-mouth-and-swallow-sweet potato. I tried that once. Once.

          I have brought many good purposes for sweet potatoes to readers' attention: ink, ethanol, plastic, dog treats, food for livestock. I reported on the use of sweet potato peelings to attack poisonous mill tailings up in the hills of Colorado — yes, one poison leaching out another.

          This Thanksgiving I'm just going to focus on something positive, on 100 percent edible wonders coming from this green Earth: teeny, tiny potatoes.

          When we grew our first crop of potatoes, we figured they'd come out looking like, oh, what comes through Wendy's drive-through window, minus the chives. A few potatoes of in our garden did. But a whole bunch of them didn't. Some were no bigger than grapes. Some were the size of peanut M&Ms. All were potatoes. All were delicious.

          We didn't let so much as one go to waste. Boiled or fried in their little skins, they were tiny star shells of flavor. The taste treat gave us pause. We wondered why we never saw tiny potatoes in the store. Were we to believe that at major potato farms these teeny potatoes just went back into the soil or got reduced to starch? What a loss to humanity.

           The other day I was pleased to see a package of tiny potatoes at the store. Latter, when I googled "tiny potatoes," I found recipe after recipe — even an industry term for them: fingerlings.

           As you can see, I have managed to distract you entirely from the orange side dish you were contemplating for this year's Thanksgiving feast, you who remain resistant to the simple message: Sweet potatoes aren't meant as food, at least for those of us who dine this high on the food chain.

           But micro potatoes, yes. True food. Nature's  surprise.

           It almost makes one want to be out at the garden plot and observe when the season arrives and the potatoes are mating.

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Black Friday's too-appropriate name

       My waning sense of incredulousness was gnawing on a TV commercial for a brand of artificial hip — you don't just get those off the rack, so "ask your doctor" — when the news guy came on and told us about Black Friday.

       The story: Many will shop. All the news that's fit.

       What passes for information in the information age: Reporters dispatched en masse to report what everyone expects, and it'll be "breaking news." Just watch the bottom of the screen. It will say so.

        Someone will trot out numbers. They'll interview the guy running the toy train shop. How's it going?

        It's going to be obscene.

        Bad economy? Just watch us. Train that insta-cam on the action. Someone will say the day's haul is disappointing, but that someone is living in a surreal world. In most of the rest of the world, what Americans do on a day like this is cause for gasps, not unlike what we do when cable news shows what a tidal wave does to a village near the equator.

         More power to us. Buying power, that is. Consumption is next to godliness, if we are to understand the analyses of most business pages and politicians (at least the ones who most recently won).

         I won't be joining them, and don't think for a second it's because I'm  a holiday hater. For the adult life of me, I can't shake the anticipation and general appreciation of the holidays, emotions that colored so much of my youth — the kind that had me wrestling with my brothers for a Sears Christmas catalog fresh from the mail box.

         No, I insist on loving Christmas. But Black Friday is one of the saddest developments ever relative thereto.

        Wait, you say. People have always rushed to the stores on the day after Thanksgiving. That's the day for all those bargains, the start of the Christmas rush. True. 

Ever since the pilgrims started getting their provisions at big-box superstores, it's been America's biggest shopping day.

      Fact is, nothing is new about Black Friday except for the name, and it offends me.

      It does not convey holiday cheer. It conveys cutthroat consumption. More than that, it carries the notion that getting the gifts that make people happy is a mission, and not joyful in the slightest.

       You're saying that the "black" part isn't about the absence of mirth. It's about business. Profit. Feel better?

        Hardly. This sense that we are duty-bound to consume on this day because, well, because the news guy says it, should offend everyone.

        When did it become "Black Friday"? In the annals of pop culture, nothing has ever emerged from nothing like the capitalistically cold moniker. One day it was just the big shopping day after Thanksgiving. The next day it was Black Friday and on everyone's lips, like "war on terror," except in this case we hadn't been attacked. We'd just put down our forks.

          Jumping on this were the bored media. Nice headline fodder: Black Friday. Built for bold letters.

          Because of those bold letters, we stand in long lines, press at plate glass and throw elbows for 10 percent off on a robot dancing Mickey — at a price that, even with the discount, approximates what Granddad used to pay off on his house one month at a time.

          I won't be in the mob. I'll continue to think highly of the holidays, however, because they generally make me think of soft lights, quiet times with people who reinforce my notion of goodness, and a connection to times of innocence.

          Black Friday isn't my idea of that. If you are hell-bent for that artificial hip of your dreams, however, go for it.

           Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Climatologists vs. smoke blowers

   Snow blessed Colorado's Front Range last week, roughly a month later than normal. This was not a surprise in what is shaking down as the warmest year on record.

   Even less surprising is the forecast: dry — not just in precipitation, but in any hope of Congress addressing the No. 1 issue facing the planet.

    Any climatologist will tell you not to put too much stock in temporal temperatures when the big picture is the issue. We will have our early blizzards, late deep freezes, oranges sprouting icicles.

    Other indicators are not so temporal — like the incessant, insatiable gorging of pine beetles in the Rockies. The only real remedy: a week or two of 40 below zero where they dine. That isn't coming any time soon.

    Another indicator: reddish summer snowpack way up high, from the dust of increasing desiccation — soil erosion, desert expansion — around the globe. Dirt blown from another hemisphere leaves a telltale film. The ruddiness causes the snow to absorb heat more readily. Summer runoff accelerates.

    Those things have nothing to do with when noses will grow red in Fargo or Tampa. The symptoms up high are the real deal, the real story. The earth is warming, Bubba.

     I may not be able to convince you. Every time my fingers sing this tune, I can expect to be lectured electronically that global warming is a myth. Period. Someone will mention concerns about global cooling back in the '70s. Someone else will cite a list as long as Macy's Parade of scientists who dispute global warming. Check it out, they'll say — the Petition Project. Actually, I have checked it out. It is the work of a bare percentage of actual earth scientists, fluffed up by the names of many who have other areas of expertise entirely.

      The doubters don't want you to know this: The American Geological Institute polled every earth scientist in its Directory of Geoscience Departments who doing actual research on the climate. It found that 97 percent agree global warming is real, and that human activity plays a role.

      Now, 700 climate scientists in the American Geophysical Union have committed to shed clinical anonymity and take that message public whenever and wherever.

      This is going to put new demands on a mobile strike force financed by industry, one so nimble that it inspired Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway's new book: "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming."

       I observed these scientists-to-go at a climate conference a few years ago at the University of Texas. They tumble off another jet plane with charts and graphs in hand, thundering down to the microphone just in time to get their allotted rebuttal. Then they'll pop up at another conference the next day, and on Fox News that night. The per diem obviously is good, and the face time can't be beat.

         These practitioners were hoping the other day that the U.S. Senate would fall into Republican hands so that Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma — he says global warming is a hoax — could again chair the Environment and Public Works Committee. Inhofe had that mighty fulcrum for four years until a Democratic majority supplanted him in 2007. In that period, he made sure that the handful of credentialed doubters who have helped keep an entire political system in denial had a ready microphone under the brightest lights.

         Whatever they say, the truth lies up there in the snow, with less of it being forecast in the winter ahead. A winter is temporal, of course, but so is humanity under certain circumstances.

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How the money machine rolls

     Marva Beck told a reporter that her first priority as a new state representative is a tougher voter identification law.


     Not, say, to help Texas schools address ever-accumulating and costly state mandates? Not to better serve the mentally ill? Not to dig the state out of its Texas-sized hole in addressing its transportation needs?

     No, the Centerville Republican will go to Austin banging pots and pans to ward off something that rarely presents itself in real life: the threat to the republic that is illegal voters.

     Don't believe that this is a partisan red-state herring? Don't rely on me. Ask Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott. He did a full-court press to catch illegal voters a couple of years ago. He ended up prosecuting not quite enough of them to have a full-court game of basketball.

     Voter ID efforts stir Republican politicos to song, though they affect average citizens almost not all all. A learned response is that for the GOP it's more about suppressing the participation of a class of voters that trends Democrat  — the poor, the black, the brown — than actually preventing illegal acts.

     I remark on the general puniness of Beck's top priority because she just staged a tremendous upset. The political novice defeated seven-term state Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco.

     A tremendous effort by moneyed interests successfully targeted Dunnam, leader of the House Democrats. Beck, wholly obscure outside of her Leon County environs, became the vessel to place the TNT in Dunnam's loafers.

      Another reason to remark on this is that Beck's victory so clearly epitomized those across the state and nation, where money spoke every bit as loudly as voting blocs.

      No offense to the fine folks and livestock of Central Texas, but there's not $1.5 million worth of political real estate in House District 57, which Beck now will represent. That's how much money was poured into it by both candidates.

      And while Beck will claim to have staged a door-knocking grassroots revolt, business-interests behemoth Texans for Lawsuit Reform paid for spreading much of the manure — nearly $600,000 worth of it, according to the Texas Ethics Commission. Among other things, this booty helped finance a succession of glossy direct-mail missives seemingly without end. Not cheap.

      Money. Money. Money.

      Nationwide, $4 billion was spent on drilling messages into your brain, mostly through TV. Eduardo Porter in the New York Times calculated that the price of a vote — $33 in an already obscenely costly 2008 campaign, went up to $43 this time.

      "Democracy Now" host Amy Goodman is one who ever has her eyes on the prize of justice for all — in contrast to those who think what's best for the country is to keep marginalized people down. An advocate of public campaign financing and free candidate air time, she points out a truth: "Media corporations are making such a killing . . . Yet the broadcasters are using public airwaves."

      Who was paying for all of this? On national scale, it generally was anonymous donors, dominated by corporations and unions.

      Before this Congress wheezes to a halt, it needs to go strong to the hoop on a bill that would take away this mask of anonymity and make major players stand for the attacks they finance. This interest should cut both ways. In fact, one Republican, new Sen.-elect Mark Kirk, R-Ill., has said he might support the Disclose Act, which would lift the veil on now-nameless campaign funds.

       As for Texas: It is more in the spell of big money than ever before. People without means have less of a voice than ever before. Achingly obvious transportation needs have less of a voice than ever before. Teachers have less of a voice than ever before.

       Now, let's go out and find us some illegal voters. Gotta be some out there somewhere.

       Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Not a lick of difference — yeah, boy

This is for those in the "not a lick of difference" camp. Yes, you folks in the squishy, independent center, and you folks of the so easily disgusted left.

This is also to you relatively progressive candidates who campaigned as if — yes, 'twas not a lick of difference.

Yeah, boy, there's a difference, and we're about to dine on it.

We're going to see it in the golf-tan visage of House Speaker John Boehner, who rose to power basically by, um, well, doing nothing. Really. The guy could have been writing "Seinfeld" episodes that never aired. Now, he's on the cover of news magazines.

We're going to see one of the most marginally qualified U.S. Senate candidates ever in Kentuckyian (by way of Baylor University) Rand Paul, who at least has the right pigment to say the Civil Rights Act is obsolete.

We're going to see newcomers in Congress like Central Texas' Bill Flores — an oil company executive, natch. Ol' Bill finally made good on Republicans' take-Texas-government-hostage, hook-or-crook redrawing of districts twice with one census. Finally, that GOP boulder fell in the path of wily, hardworking, nimble 20-year veteran Chet Edwards.

We're going to see more of old comers like Rep. "Smokey Joe" Barton, he who never met a polluter from whom he wouldn't take a dollar. With the GOP the House majority again, Barton no doubt will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee as he was doing when he invited contributors to take a seven-hour train ride from Fort Worth to San Antonio at $2,000 a head. Raised over $100,000.

You might remember Joe as the one who called it a "shakedown" when President Obama told BP it was going to pay for the oil-spill catastrophe in the Gulf.

Be prepared for people like Barton, Boehner and oil man Flores to do all they can to undermine the most far-sighted makeover ever of America's energy policies — a veritable moon shoot declared by Obama. But of course. Those initiatives undermine the very enterprises that paid so much to get these guys into power.

We recall at this moment how "not a lick of difference" served the purposes of presidential candidate George W. Bush. He convinced many in the squishy center that he was a centrist. Good one, George.

Dick Cheney took that blessing as a mandate for industry to write energy and environmental laws.

I have to take a moment here to grouse that presidential candidate Al Gore got so locked in on lock boxes and wonkery that some squishy centrists, independents and disgusted lefties actually had reason to wonder if a lick of difference distinguished he and the W.

And now we've had an election where a lot of Democrats went around trying to convince voters they were no such thing, or any thing meaningful whatever. This, though every election is won at the margins, and the only way to enthuse anyone outside your base is to explain why he or she ought to be enthused.

At least I saw one Democrat, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, win by pointing out that Tea Party darling Ken Buck was a foe of reproductive rights and in dozens of ways too far right to represent a centrist state.

Unfortunately, a lot of the time I saw progressive candidates who could have drawn out such contrasts cede language of the debate to that of the Republican front organization called the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Not a lick of difference. Yeah, boy.

The opportunity for Obama: He has two years to show us. The difference, that is.

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Progressives' sound of silence

   Dukaki — n., pl.; (1) progressive politicians vaporized at the polls for campaigns in which they chose not to tell voters what they stand for; (2) Candidates who go out with no bang, only whimpers.

   We start this discussion with a fact: The stimulus bill worked. USA Today veritably screamed it in an editorial last week. An independent panel of economists, including those on retainer with Republicans, said as much.

   Democrats, have you said as much? I can't hear you.

   True, what Washington and the Obama administration have accomplished has not restored the nation to the rosy-cheeked complexion it had before two wars waged on credit, the wages of uncontrolled funny money in lending, and whatever else "running government as a business" wrought when we contracted it to Bush-Cheney Corp.

    But, tell me this: Which phrase have you heard more often:

   (1) Obama's bloated stimulus program failed;

   (2) The stimulus bill created 2.7 million jobs and saved millions more.

    No contest. You've heard claim No. 1 more often, by multiples of, maybe, 1,000 — though it's a lie.

    Indeed, what the president and a Democratic majority in Congress did was prevent a second Great Depression. So says Mark Zandi, one of John McCain's own go-to men on economic policy.

      That's not all. The stimulus bill's heavy focus on state aid regarding public necessities like education prevented countless layoffs in school districts and state agencies that serve us every day.

     The daring effort to rescue automakers kept 1 million Americans working.

     Sure, you can pick at it any way you want: It was indiscriminate spending. It was too timid. Indeed, Nobel economist Paul Krugman continues to shout his face blue saying the latter.

     Whatever the case, here's what Zandi and others said: Without the sum of the efforts, including the rescue of banks, our unemployment rate would be 16 percent instead of where it is today, hovering at 10 percent.

    Every American ought to know this, that the dollars borrowed this time went to provide jobs for us and our needs, rather than to, say rebuild bridges and water systems our bombs blew up in elective warfare.

     Every American ought know how Obama and the Democrats directed an astonishing chunk of the stimulus outlay — $94 billion — to alternative energy and energy conservation in ways that will be paying off long after this Great Recession is consigned to history books.

     Back during the Great Depression, federal dollars went to make-work projects on such niceties as improving national parks. Good for us. Better for us:  In this recession, public dollars went to match private investment — $2 from investors for every dollar we spent, for instance, in cleaner energy and more energy-efficient structures, with a massive retrofit of federal offices.

     In the latest Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson has a checklist of the Obama administration's accomplishments, and comments from historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Douglas Brinkley. They say the obvious: In the midst of economic times that rarely have been tougher, Obama has put more progressive "notches on his belt" — in Goodwin's words — than anyone since Lyndon Johnson.

     Who is proclaiming this success? Democrats seeking re-election? Progressives? The silence is suffocating.

     One person admittedly late to the game is President Obama himself. However, on his trips to several states last week to boost the efforts of fellow Democrats, he sounded the charge that progressives should heed and that a lot — a majority — of Americans want to hear. He sounded like a fighter.

     Guess what? From that short, vigorous effort, the most recent Newsweek poll shows Obama's favorability jumping 6 points, up to 54 percent. You know, sometimes it pays to show some passion. Progressive candidates: Are you fighters? Or are you Dukaki?

     For goodness sakes, people. Stand up for what you believe in, and speak out against the din that threatens to return this nation to the days when oil executives wrote environmental laws and Enron was the nation's business model.

     Yes, candidates, I'm talking to you. Then again, you voters — you who have memories longer than a 30-second attack ad — you've been sitting on your tongues, too.

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thank God and Zenith for 'mute'

     My wife expressed alarm that the mute on the TV remote is being unresponsive, or at least slow on the draw. I suggested that the problem is simply structural fatigue.

     A mopey mute is a serious matter right now. Put in personal terms: Through Nov. 2, if viewing TV — baseball and football most pertinently — the remote is my only protection from that one decisive political hammer that will cause my head to split apart like a jack-o-lantern flung from a horseman.     

     Doesn't matter the party. Doesn't matter the issue. The human brain can take only so many accusations.

      Zenith is credited with developing the first TV remote control in the 1950s. Sure, that was 60 years ago, but I must acknowledge this to be a relatively recent revelation from where I sit. Sure, throughout the '80s and '90s, we had a remote in our house, but for most of that time it was the VCR's, and therefore with no mute function.

      When the blessed mute became a way of life for us, I realized how effectively we were circumventing the misleading appeals any number of political thugs and merchandizers were purveying. (See: "War on Terror.")

      Now we are in the throes of a campaign stretch where unprecedented amounts of anonymous cash are directed at midterm elections. The claims are presented under the names of organizations we've never heard of and which one can assume are headquartered on the disk drives of party schemers. And their appeals — have they ever been more outlandish?

      Sadly, we know they work. In their incessancy, they drill their way into voters' crania.

      The result: People who are highly discriminatory consumers when choosing, say, margarine or bleach, become slobbering zombies at the polls, sawdust seeping from their ear canals.

      Now, in case you are saying, "I don't remember it being this bad before," and someone says, "Well, you just don't remember" — the fact is that you're mind isn't playing tricks on you.

       The tricks being played on your mind are coming from a swelling tide of anonymous corporate donors.

       The Supreme Court gets credit for this.

       Its ruling last year effectively equating money with free speech, lifting controls on corporate campaign contributions, bequeathed upon the land more loose campaign cash than ever before for an off-year election.

        The same anonymous and unchecked forms of untraceable campaign loot that gave us Watergate are back in currency. By review, the forces of Richard Nixon did their dirty tricks with $22 million in secret donations. One can only imagine what favors were exchanged, and to what political and public policy ends.

       So, the issue is on two planes: first, the plane of politics and policy; second, the plane at which messages intersect with the inner ear and render the human brain to the watery consistency of the Hawaiian finger dish known as poi.

       Against this, we have two chief allies. The first is Common Cause, the organization that sprang out of the Watergate era and committed itself to rooting out the corruption that comes with unrestrained campaign gifts. The second is the TV remote — principally "off" and "mute."

       Common Cause is pushing Congress to pass the DISCLOSE Act, requiring corporations and unions to publicly stand by the content in the ads themselves — "just as candidates for Congress must now stand by ads financed by their campaigns."

        After a round of unchecked, anonymous campaign dollars, policy makers must take the initiative and force companies to fess up.

        In the meantime, we, the consumers must protect and conserve our neural tissue. The impulse starts at the brain, channels through the wrist, and ends at the finger. The mute. Yes. Give these shameless barkers the finger.

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Out of homelessness' depths

DENVER — Actually doing something about homelessness seems like the stuff of fifth-grade essays or beauty queens’ answers of 25 words or less.

But it takes more than 25 words for Mike George to explain how he sank into the social chasm that nearly left him a corpse on the pavement.

It took more than 25 words for someone from an initiative called Denver’s Road Home to get him to think he could turn his life around.

Mayor John Hickenlooper, in his run for governor, could impress voters by pointing out the success the city-spawned initiative has had. But that would take more than 25 words air time. And he’d be the first to admit how many others had hands in something that’s gone from impressive to stunning.

In five years, the city effort has found jobs for 5,200 homeless people. It claims to have prevented over 5,500 families from becoming homeless. A vast network that includes new units for people without homes, referral for jobs, and drug and mental health treatment made this possible. It is collaboration with a capital “C” fit for Colorado’s flag.

Mike George wasn’t going to be homeless long back when Jerene Petersen from Denver’s Road Home engaged him in conversation. He wasn’t long for the streets, because he was dying. The military veteran had had a heart attack and suffered from congestive heart failure. Age: 44.

“Between sleeping outside and in dirty, abandoned houses, in alleyways, and in and out of jail, pretty much eating anything you can get your hands on — malnutrition, exhaustion — there’s wear and tear on a body,” he said.

George was homeless for 21 years, dating back to the loss of a job and family trouble in his Alabama home. He described the self-perpetuating nature of the problem. No address? No phone? No references? No bed? No bath? No job, pardner. He didn’t start out with a drinking problem. A drinking problem found him, though. Pain needed dulling.

“It’s hard to feel human when the world looks at you like you’re a disease,” he said.

His talk with Petersen, then a member of the Denver Street Collaborative, was where a life-saving turnaround began.

“For the first time in a long time, someone wanted to sit there and have a cup of coffee with me,” he said. He agreed to investigate what Denver’s Road Home offered. And like pulling someone out of a collapsed mine, the life-saving process began, slowly, delicately.

Exchanges like that between Petersen and George wouldn’t have happened without many other conversations involving the city, downtown merchants, charities, churches, and the federal government.

Amber Callender, executive director of Denver’s Road Home, said one of the keys for the initiative has been providing what it calls “permanent supportive” housing for the homeless. The effort has a goal of 3,000 units over 10 years. It is now nearly 2,000.

How possible? Federal dollars, for one, including funds from the 2008 stimulus package and through Housing and Urban Development. Denver’s Road Home, a creation of the city, has matched the public funds with a staggering charitable haul: over $46 million, with Mile High United Way being a key player.

Of that $46 million, $1.5 million came from Rick Schaden, founder of Quiznos’ Subs. The first shop in his restaurant empire, at the corner of 13th and Grant, is across the street from what once was a place where out-of-town state lawmakers stayed within walking distance of Colorado’s gold-domed state capital. Over time, it became the home of pigeons and rats. Mercy Housing, a national nonprofit which fights homelessness, bought the 1927 boarding house with $1.5 million from Schaden’s foundation and big help from Fannie Mae and Denver’s Road Home. Its 66 units serve formerly homeless people, each in various stages of moving toward self-sufficiency.

Driving Denver’s initiative is an appreciation of the cost of homelessness, and the benefits of stopping the cycle.

Federal figures show that each homeless individual ends up costing a community $40,000 a year in services ranging from incarceration to emergency room treatment (Mike George’s heart attack) and more.

It costs roughly $15,000 to house and direct someone toward services that could turn his or her life around.

After leaving the alleys and stairwells behind for detox, and then transitional housing and counseling at a place called Cherokee House, Mike George’s next big step was when he got a job at the Aurora Veterans Home as a staff resident.

Now, to awaken each day is not to face a nightmare in broad daylight.

Four years after a conversation with a person representing a community that decided to care, he said, “I’m still pinching myself.”

It started with a conversation that, by necessity, had to exceed 25 words.

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

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Of grease catchers and super heroes

     The man in the good suit and great hair came expecting to make a sale: He prefaced it with, "I know you care about children."

     He was talking about education, and since I wrote about it a lot, he figured, well . . .

     It turned out that the man cared a little less than he and his full-color literature implied — literature promoting school vouchers. He talked of "failed" public schools, and of this glossy opportunity for children to escape. But I solicited his reaction to this premise:

     "If we had the policy you prescribe, would public schools not be reduced to the function of grease catchers for those left behind?"

      "Sad to say," he shrugged, "that's already the case."

      I know we're supposed to praise Davis Guggenheim's new film Waiting for Superman. We who care about children, that is. But, wait.

     The film compels audiences to root for students hoping to be delivered from their neighborhood schools to super-heroic charter schools. It depicts teachers unions as agents of decay and statism, and entrenched bad teachers as the root of the problem.

     It depicts uber-dedicated parents. It doesn't depict parents who don't give a damn. Parents are always the component that proponents of "market-driven" education solutions never mention. Involved parents are the real X factor in student success. Also, there's the self-selection factor: the parents putting their children where they want, and exclusive schools turning away whomever they want.

       Face it. For good reasons, vouchers have failed to gain traction, making charter schools the latest flavor of the month.

        As with private schools, some charters are great. But Waiting for Superman acknowledges that only about a fifth of charters produce "amazing results." I'm thinking, even with their problems, even with the challenges they can't slough off onto anyone else, public schools bat that average.

      Whatever the percentage, the dance with charter schools is full of contradictions and rhetorical dishonesty. The New York Times' Gail Collins reminds readers of Texas' irresponsible pedal-to-the-metal creation of charters in the '90s without a hint of accountability to the taxpayers. I observed the land rush with a wince, as bad charters trundled out onto the plains, creaky wagon wheels underneath and canvas flaps overhead.

       It didn't matter that dozens were fly-by-night operations that left educators and children stranded. Never have I seen "throwing money at a problem" so vividly depicted — and by Republicans.

       The travesty about policy makers who see charters as a salvation is that the very element that they advertise — schools' freedom to be innovative when relieved of many state mandates — is a denunciation of requirements the policy makers themselves have passed and treat as sacrosanct. These are people who never saw a standardized test they wouldn't salute.

       The traditional public school in 2010 is imprisoned by a system that won't let teachers breathe to teach. It struggles under top-down demands every moment of every day. Sometimes the system is so oppressive that teachers in low-performing — read, urban — schools must teach from scripts supplied by the "accountability" industry.

        Just wondering: Is that the environment families seek to flee in their search for Superman?

        If so, what does that say about the people who so hype the promise of charter schools?

        It says that if we want to address the challenges of public schools, we need to ease up on the mandates and let real education commence in all of our classrooms.

        Sadly, Americans somehow have been convinced that standardization is education, and that competence is education. And they elect policy makers maniacally bent on enforcing these principles under the guise of "school accountability."

         Meanwhile, they contemplate whatever gimmick they can conjure to render the heavy lifters, the workhorses of public education into grease catchers.

        Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.             


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Whistling past the bean field

      The 2004 film "Day Without a Mexican" conjured a moment when a mystery fog spirited away all of California's Latinos, and then imagined how the state would fare without that industrious labor force.

      Assessment: not well.

      Not so fast, asserted Megan Clyne in National Review, a publication whose mission is to comfort America's most comfortable.

      Though the movie focused on all Latinos, not just the undocumented kind, Clyne focused on the latter, of course. She asserted, for instance, that an illegal workforce prevents many producers of fruits and vegetables from modernizing and mechanizing, obviating the need for dirty brown hands.

       It's true that innovations continue to relieve producers of the need for labor. But crops that easily bruise, and the list is long — apples, asparagus, beans, blueberries, melons, grapes, oranges, sugar beets, tomatoes and more — need hands.

        This brings us to what Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert said before an ashen-faced congressional subcommittee last week. Basically, he said that one would have to be especially — even insanely — motivated to do what U.S. farm workers do.

         As for him, when he picked beans and corn for a brief spin as part of the United Farm Workers' "Take Our Jobs"  campaign, Colbert discovered to his consternation that "most soil is ground level," with the requisite stooping.

         What the UFW is seeking, and what Republicans on Capitol Hill are blocking, is passage of the AgJobs bill, which would grant temporary legal status to illegal immigrants working as farm hands, the status becoming permanent if they continue to work on farms for a specific period of time.

        The National Review crowd may cover its ears and hum real loud, but the truth is that an illegal workforce largely is the difference between fruits and vegetables getting to our plates and rotting in the ground.

         It also is, as Colbert pointed out, one thing that keeps production here that otherwise would move south of the border. Ah, but considering how amenable certain free-market types are to outsourcing jobs overseas, maybe this is not a concern.

         Americans will do these jobs, they say. Maybe. Then again, how many Americans do the producers need?

         An Associated Press analysis showed that in the first six months of this year, California farmers posted ads in unemployment offices for 1,160 farm worker positions exclusive to U.S. citizens and legal residents. So, how'd that go?

          Of 233 who inquired, only 36 ended up getting hired, or deigned to take the offer.

           It was unfortunate to see the blank faces when Colbert appeared with, in-character act aside, a very important and valid message. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, went on Fox News, naturally, to call it an "insult to the intelligence of the American people." Maybe he hasn't seen any of Glenn Beck's work lately.

           President Obama has been pushing for a sane and comprehensive immigration reform package that provides for a flexible approach to the nation's labor needs and makes it possible for more such industrious, productive individuals to find ways to reach citizenship.

         On a related front, Republicans are vowing to mount an effort to amend the Constitution to prevent citizenship for the children of illegal aliens. They want us to believe that this is an inducement that brings swarms of people from across our borders.

         You think? Princeton University demographer Douglas Massey disagrees vehemently. He told Associated Press that in 30 years studying Mexican immigration, he's never interviewed an immigrant who said he or she came to the United States to obtain citizenship for children-to-be.

         No, they come here to work: an odd reason to be demonized.

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



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Taking it right to anti-choice zealots

      Sure, I might have missed it. Since reality TV started chewing its way through the television schedule like a weevil in a cotton boll, what's to watch?

       Nonetheless, I'm confident I have seen something on TV rarely if ever tried by Democrats: A candidate is going right after his opponent's attempt to inject government into the private decisions of women.

      Commercials of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) assail his opponent, Ken Buck, for advocating a "fetal personhood" amendment to the state constitution. More pointedly, the commercials have women doing the assailing.

      Cumulative message: How dare (Buck) want government to interfere in my personal decisions?

      Here's how he dares. To win a Republican nomination anymore, a candidate must swear allegiance to the religious right and to hard-line anti-abortion positions. That includes opposing common forms of birth control, and of course blocking embryonic stem cell research.

      Ah, but now Buck, a Tea Party favorite who defeated the GOP establishment choice, is softening his stances as the nominee. He says that though he would prohibit abortion even in cases of rape and incest, he doesn't want to amend the state constitution.

     The "personhood" amendment he backed could prohibit more than prototypical abortion. It also could prohibit birth control like the IUD and the birth control pill, both of which can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall.

      Buck's staff now says the candidate wants to focus on the economy. Interesting.

      Why run from this, Mr. Hard-Right Candidate?

      Better question: Why haven't progressives run to the studio to hammer on anti-choice zealots for these positions?

      The whole palette of issues plied by social conservatives gives the lie to the American right's rhetorical underpinnings. Tea Party "less government" placards aside, the hard right is not interested in a hands-off government. It wants an in-your-face government. It wants organized school prayer. It wants to censor the Internet. It wants government to side with Leviticus on sexual orientation.

     And don't be deceived. The Tea Party movement is a religious right movement. Right, Sarah Palin? Right, Christine O'Donnell?

     In Alaska, some say the GOP primary victory of Tea Party choice (and Christian right hard-liner) Joe Miller over U.S. Senate incumbent Lisa Murkowski was driven by economic issues. Actually, turnout for Miller was pumped up by an anti-abortion parental notification bill on the ballot. Murkowski lost by a razor-thin margin in large part for being one of the few pro-choice Republicans in the Senate.

     Well, that's what winning GOP nominations has come down to. What about winning general elections, something we're told Republicans will do in great numbers in November, the Sword of Yahweh cutting giant swaths?

     Interestingly, establishment Republicans are doing everything they can to tone down the whole social issues thing. This week when House Republicans issued campaign agenda, they deliberately edited out any references to red-meat social conservative issues, particularly abortion.

     Progressive candidates should not let them shove these matters aside. Why? Because these are mainstream concerns of centrist voters, particularly women in the case of abortion. Sure, these voters are concerned about jobs and GDP. They also are interested in fundamental matters of freedom, a word we are to assume the Tea Party has copyrighted.

      Let's talk, and force GOP candidates to talk, about the abortion issue, because it dramatically portrays a so-called "anti-government" movement with corrupt logic verging on fraud.

      It's time to go right after those who hide behind "pro-life," the weakest and weasle-iest label in American politics.

      To what extent are you "pro-life," Mr. or Mrs. Politician? Would you have government mandate a rape or incest victim to gestate to term? If, in moderation's sake, you want to leave a rape/incest loophole, how would you adjudicate whether either offense occurred? What about abortion out of medical necessity? What government entity would determine that, as the woman and doctor stood by?

     Every anti-choice politician should be challenged in just such a way. And why? Because it cuts to the core of the big-government authoritarianism peddled as "conservatism" today.

     Sorry, Tea Party, but Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan are not your patron saints. Your founders are Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones. What drives you is what put them in fancy cars. You want government to run people's personal lives.

     The placards say "less government." That depends on what kind of government you want less of.

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


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Making most of a hollow shell

     Looking back, I must have written 10,000 words about that old building on East Waco's Clifton Street. It was a decrepit nursing home at one time. Then McLennan County converted it into a makeshift juvenile detention center.

     In the '90s it got upgraded and expanded. That meant young detainees would have recreation and classroom opportunities, and wouldn't have to, among other things, relieve themselves in plastic jugs after hours. It was a disgrace.

     Ten years later, the county acknowledged that demand had outstripped the renovated building. It  built a new place where children in trouble could get some counseling and intervention this side of the Texas Youth Commission.

      For years, the old building sat vacant while some of us suggested ways to use it, like providing juvenile drug treatment.

     Then two years ago, good people — and I mean the best — found a use for a hollow shell: establish a triage and respite center for people with psychiatric emergencies.

      Long before this was possible, I had watched these people push the boulder up the hill, straining on behalf of a voiceless constituency. At last, they stood at the top of the hill, sweat-stained but rewarded.

      Now, in a case of mountaintop mining for budget dollars, the state of Texas is threatening to take the ground out from beneath their feet.

      It would happen if Gov. Rick Perry and state budget writers dynamite away 10 percent of spending from the Department of Human Services and subordinates like the Waco-based Heart of Texas Region Mental Health-Mental Retardation.

      Barb Tate, executive director of HOT MHMR, is the very last person from whom you will ever expect hyperbole. So when she uses "devastating" repeatedly to describe the proposed cuts — more than $1 million for her agency over the biennium — believe it.

     The first victim under her watch, she said, likely would be the psychiatric crisis center established in 2008 with a grant from the Legislature and much local collaboration. 

      This would be — yes, devastating, and costly. The on-site respite serves an average of 28 people a day, keeping them out of mental hospitals, and emergency rooms, and jails. Anyone who deals with any of those entities knows how much they cost all of us.

     The other function of the center is to do triage for people brought by police or family when someone is talking suicide or conversing with phantoms. The center handles six to 10 such cases daily. A person might need hospitalization. Or he might  just need to get back on his medication and then into a clean bed, maybe his own.

       The really scary thing about the proposed budget cuts, said Tate, is that in addition to $90 million that would be yanked from community mental health centers like hers, $44 million would be stripped from state hospitals, where beds routinely are at a premium.

       The sad thing about this is that most policymakers, and Texans, simply shrug their shoulders and say nothing else can be done. The economy, you know.

        That rationalization could not be more false.

        Texas is a state of great resources with pitifully little social spine. Its policies are captive of players like the Texas Business Association and the national Citizens for Tax Reform. If Rick Perry is a little less tan than normal when returning from an out-of-state jaunt, understand that he is fresh from another blood ritual with CTR's anti-tax high priest, Grover Norquist. Earning national street cred as an anti-tax crusader has been one of Perry's chief missions as governor.

         We are told that Texas faces a $21 billion budget deficit next biennium. Considering the state of the economy, none should be surprised. But critics have pointed out for years that the state operates with a structural deficit based on a regressive tax system that barely reflects its economy or taps its immense wealth. 

         A few years ago, under the guise of "school finance reform," the state managed to make things worse. Republicans pushed through a one-third property tax cut without sufficient ways to offset it. It was typical blue-sky policy by people who would never plan for a day when skies would turn unforgiving. In agriculture, such foolery is called eating the seed corn.

        We've seen the same thing in Washington. Politicians who borrowed to pay for two wars led us into a near-Depression. Now that the need for federal action at home is great, debt accumulated in the best of times prevents us from meeting crucial needs in bad times.

         In Waco, they did a magnificent job doing something with that hollow shell on Clifton Street. Now they are at the mercy of fiscal stewards who have sculpted a hollow shell of a tax system. If Texas had a social spine, it would finance good deeds that serve people in need and save money in the long run.

          Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.