Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dear Tea Party: Keep talking

       Submitted for your approval: In this "Twilight Zone" election year, Democrats are thinking they might snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat.

       They're right. It's increasingly likely, and increasingly they can thank the jaws of the Tea Party.

       Nationwide, and in state capitols, what was looking like a tremendous whuppin' put on smug Ds doesn't look so tremendous anymore for the Rs. Why?

       Because as TPTs — Tea Party types — supply whatever energy the GOP has, not to mention increasing numbers of nominees and oil tankers full of radioactive rhetoric, voters in the middle will grow increasingly nauseated. It's already happening.

      "Victory" for Democrats,in this case, doesn't mean gaining more seats in the Senate and House. That's not going to happen. Victory means simply keeping operational majorities.

      Considering the economy, and the rule of thumb about off-year elections, keeping control of both houses would be a huge achievement.

       Right now the Tea Party is doing all it can to make that possible. Consider this from right-wing, venomously anti-immigration former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, a Tea Party rock star:

        "The greatest threat to the United States today, the greatest threat to our liberty, the greatest threat to the Constitution of the United States, the greatest threat to our way of life, everything we believe in, the greatest threat to the country that was put together by the Founding Fathers is the guy that is in the White House today."

         Tancredo got a big ovation for this, appearing before a rally for Tea Party-blessed U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck. Initially, Buck distanced himself from Tancredo's statement. In two days, however, both Buck and his rival for the GOP nomination, Jane Norton, were parroting the line.

         GOP candidates suddenly are doing whatever they can to appeal to the right fringe, and why not? They see who's winning their primaries: People like Kentucky's Rand (Don't Want No Stinking Civil Rights Act) Paul and Sharron (Armed Insurrection Against the Government, Anyone?) Angle in Nevada.

        A few months ago, battle-bruised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was highly vulnerable in Nevada. Then the GOP nominated Tea Party darling Angle and, presto, Reid's poll numbers started to climb.

         In Republican candidates' frantic efforts to outflank each other on the right and to appeal to Tea Party anti-government types, they are soon to be reminded that general elections are won at the margins — meaning, at the center.

          Yeah, and who provides the new face of the GOP but Tea Party types putting Hitler's mustache on Barack Obama. A socialist? A Nazi? Satan's vessel? Of course, he is all of the above. Sell that to political centrists and independents.

         Now, it's possible that the Republican Party might find someone to represent itself in 2012 who appeals to that center and those independents. Right now, Sarah (The Refudiator) Palin is the face of the national party. Good luck selling her brand of competence.

      Back in Colorado, Tom Tancredo — who once said we should bomb Mecca should Muslim-linked terrorists use a nuclear weapon — just announced he is running as a third-party candidate for governor.

       Just about every analyst, except for Tancredo himself, believes that with his brand of extremism, he is unelectable statewide, and that his candidacy is a kiss of death for whoever becomes the state GOP nominee. Ah, that Tea Party energy.

       As for the national picture, the ever-clinical (as opposed to cynical) David Broder pictures the calamitous presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater and the extremists — "kooks and cranks" — who came to personify Goldwater's base of support.

        Just keep talking, keep frothing, Tea Party. Hitlerize the president. Denounce the NAACP. Demonize immigrants. Turn off every black or brown voter from Portland to Providence, Duluth to Brownsville.

      Oh, and put up candidates like Palin, Paul and Tancredo. In a tough political stretch, down-in-the-dumps progressives couldn't ask for better pick-me-ups.

       Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

About an unadoptable dog

    Having known her for as long as we have, we understand why the Waco animal shelter didn't bother to give her a name. While all the other dogs had names assigned to pique a potential suitor's interest, the card on her holding pen read, "Unadoptable."

    We took her anyway.

    I don't know why we did. We already had two dogs. But we had already gotten to know her, just beyond arms' reach, in our front yard. The dog we'd met out there, however, wasn't the one cowering in the corner of the pen.

    The one we had met was a playful pup who, wherever she came from, always managed to have something stolen in her possession — a boot, a foam ball.

     That's why, once she became ours, we named her Bandit. That surely was 10 years ago. I honestly don't know, just as I don't know Bandit's age or breed.

      For all that time, the mystery that was Bandit vexed us, though she was a wonderful pet from Day 1 in all ways.

       Except: the leash. She wanted nothing to do with it.

       Put a leash on her, and she would freeze. We always assumed that this was either because of a mean past owner or because of the way she ended up in the shelter at the long end of an animal warden's dog grasper. We had actually attempted to lure her into our back yard way back then. The dog catcher beat us to her.

       How serious was she about not budging at the end of a leash? When we moved from Waco last August, I had to carry her — 70 pounds plus — from the back yard to the rented moving van.

       There, for the next 24 hours, she was a statue on the floor next to me as I drove. She wouldn't eat. She barely drank. She barely blinked. When we spent that night in a motel, she spent the night in the cab. I honestly worried that I might find her dead the next morning. That's how traumatized she appeared.

       Things have changed.

        For one thing, Bandit has become a house dog. You talk about a development. In Waco, in addition to a big back yard, she had a laundry room in which to stay dry. But no way, no how, could we get her to come into the kitchen. In her new home, with brisker winters (OK, fence-high snow), we decided to force the issue. I picked her up, all 70-plus pounds of her, and put her inside.

        She spent the first day and night only inches from the exit. We put a blanket down for her. At some point, whatever influences bore on her before, Bandit decided that inside was an OK place.

       That landing reached, our next interest was, somehow, getting her to go on a walk. (Heck, she hadn't been to a veterinarian but twice in all this time. By review: She wouldn't budge.) At this point we must acknowledge the role of two puppies rescued from a pile of them near Abbott two springs ago. Sadie and Lucy go wherever they want. If they're on a leash, it's literally so. And if they see a leash, or hear the jingle they associate with it, they are as enthused as Bandit has been intimidated by the leash.

       So it was a development beyond gargantuan a few weeks ago when, having watched the puppies venture out, Bandit let Becky put a leash on her and lead her out the door — all the way onto the front porch. That was far enough.

       Actually, this small step was a giant leap for dogkind.

       The other day we decided, what the heck, let's take all three for a walk. Bandit did not buckle. She strode forward. She didn't freeze. She walked. She kept up. She strode from house to house, head high, part of the family, part of the neighborhood, part of an expanded universe.

      It only took 10 years. Some things are worth the wait.

      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young resides in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@wacotrib.com.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Don't shove Fox in my face

Another merchant has lost my business, this time a barber. And it’s unfortunate, because my hair and I are in the market.

I’d love to hand someone money to manage what fiber remains on my head, but I won’t sit there and endure a forced march through the brain of Glenn Beck in the process.

That was the case the other day when my locks were placed in the care of a generally competent cutter, and the rest of me had to join a studio audience bathing Beck in starry gazes.

Since the barber has no notion that such an imposition would be excruciating to many, I won’t be back.

In how many places have you, a captive audience, been so exploited? To whose twitchy-eyed, market-driven indoctrination where you exposed: Bully Bill O’Reilly? Pretty boy Sean Hannity?

Having Fox News crowbarred past my eyelids has happened while giving blood, while downing a burger, while waiting for a physician.

You may love said exposure, and good luck with that.

You may be saying that when I get my hair cut I want TV news that fits my liberal slant, like CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, PBS, BBC, all of those.

Actually, no. When I get my hair cut, I don’t want to watch oil being belched from the brine, or soccer fans losing their minds, or even the face of LeBron James scratching his beard about all the hubbub.

The fact is, I just want my hair cut. I don’t want the TV on at all.

The imposition of television has become one of the information age’s most annoying and counterproductive conditions. For one thing, in most cases the television peeking in over your lunch partner’s shoulder can’t be heard. And if it’s loud enough to be heard, it’s intruding into every conversation.

Airports are the worst abettors, and the most problematic since airports are generally more serene than the average restaurant. Also, people have a longer wait time to be cordoned off in an information tunnel supplied by a cable network.

Yes, generally it’s CNN, not Fox. But as clear-headed and agenda-lacking as CNN may be, it’s still offensive.

I want silence. I want to read. I want to think.

How many of you out there have sought refuge from TV’s incessancy in an airport or hospital waiting room? I know I have (sometimes having to move again because someone three seats away wanted to share business or intimate life details with the person in his cell phone earpiece.)

Having a music video instead of news does not make unrequested TV less intrusive. I’m no fan of Brooks and Dunn, sorry. You wouldn’t want me making your musical selections, either. Talking Heads, anyone?

Sports is probably the least objectionable thing to have on the screen, and is something that people can tune out more easily if they desire, say in a restaurant. Still, whatever happened to silence and eye contact?

My point: Be you a merchant, airport manager, doctor, mechanic, whatever public/private space you command, let me choose what channel my brain is on. You have no right to be fingering my remote.

More people need to start complaining about this. In a place where I’ve donated liberal amounts of blood, I informed the staff that if I was going to bleed for the greater good, I would not do so listening to a Fox News right-wing foot soldier

And if no one listens to you, or can’t hear you over the TV, walk out.

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

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lawyers, guns and money

     Disregard the trail of blood they've wrought, the cumulative protection falsely assigned them. Say this much about guns: At least they allow certain folks to get specific about "freedom."

      Surely I'm not the only one who's noticed. Those who get most melodic about "freedom" trail off into mumbles on lyrics they've never really taken to heart, and that's most of the stanzas.

      Fourth Amendment? Ditch it on a hunch. First Amendment? This is a Christian nation. Don't read that "establishment" stuff too literally.

      "Liberty" clause? A plaything of permissive judges. Right of privacy? A left-wing invention.

       Ah, but the Second Amendment? Guns? Now we're talking freedom. Suddenly we have a bunch of William Wallaces — each a Mel Gibson in skins. Freedom!

       This is mostly theatrics. And, like American cinema, it's mostly box office-driven. Here's the truth: The gun rights that are at the cusp of judicial dialogue are more a manifestation of market forces than any founders' wishes.

       A large body of what the forefathers would consider "arms" are off limits to anyone but the military (um, militia) and the police, with little debate.

      That brings us to "arms" at arm's length, particularly those easily bought, easily concealed, with virtually no range, no hunting function, the lifeblood of gangs, carjackers, drug runners. The question isn't, "Why would anyone seek to regulate them?" It's, "How could any policymaker just look the other way?"

      Here's how: market forces. Or, more appropriately, the "ka-ching" as each of these deadly little ingots passes from maker to merchant to the street.

      The gun lobby is just another industrial special interest, like oil, pharmacy, agriculture, mining, autos. Each will be served. Government will serve it.

      Even with progressive sorts in control these days on Capitol Hill, leaders who will openly challenge the gun lobby grow fewer and fewer. And why should they? What power have reasonable citizens unto themselves, when the opposition is an economic juggernaut — not just an industry itself but one with an industry-fed lobbying titan in the National Rifle Association?

     But here's the thing. Even the NRA believes in gun control. If not, metal detectors would not be arranged at the entrances of gun shows.

     So, too, with state capitols under the sway of lawmakers frantic to license more and more to conceal-carry, and in more and more venues. If they think guns equal safety, why don't they allow just anyone to bring a firearm to their respective offices to exercise his or her, um, constitutional rights of free expression? Mumble. Mumble.

     Just about anyone can begrudge the veritable coin toss that fell in favor of gun rights when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that cities couldn't prohibit law-abiding citizens people from owning handguns. What does the Second Amendment truly say about that? Reasonable jurists can disagree.

      But even in its most sweeping decision ever about gun rights, knocking down cities' ability to ban handguns, the Supreme Court acknowledged government's authority to limit who can sell guns and who can buy them (no felons, no juveniles, no adjudicated mental patients). Government can still dictate where guns can be carried. That's all gun control.

      Chicago followed up the court ruling by imposing the nation's strictest gun law. You can have a gun, as the court orders, but you must register it with police and get training. Gun shops are banned, too.

      Under the law, Chicago will continue to comport itself under the assumption that a heavily armed population isn't safer than the alternative.

      An assault on freedom? Hardly, if the quest is freedom from gun violence.

      The NRA says that people who can't take their firearms for a stroll are less safe than the alternative. Something about that trail of blood, however, keeps presenting itself — a trail gleaming red not because of freedom but because, let's face it, in this country commerce trumps all other pursuits.

      Former Texas newspaperman John Young resides in Colorado. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com