Tuesday, November 29, 2011

'Activist' conservatives’ judicial con

   Here's the situation coming down the stretch: The Affordable Health Care Act is winning by a nose.

   That would be the one-vote majority by which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the constitutionality of the most sweeping reform of health care since Medicare.

  A Reagan appointee, of all people, Judge Laurence Silberman, wrote the opinion affirming its constitutionality, saying the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution allowed it.

   And, so, you know what that means.

   It means that conservatives are pleading, beseeching, burning incense on altars for a little judicial activism by conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court.

   Justice Antonin Scalia, this is your cue to show us the political animal you are and always will be.

   We have been led to believe that you and your cohorts on the court's right wing are "strict constructionists" who don't bend with partisan breezes. Pardon while I sneeze.

   The drone from the right is about villainous judges who ignore the popular (legislative) will.

   If that activism is rejected by Justices Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Alito, President Obama's signature social achievement has it made in the shade.

   By review relative to the health care that was law "rammed down our throats": Obama ran for president promising reforms to insure all Americans. The Senate and House arrived at a compromise. He signed it. This is called representative democracy.

    Conservatives now beg fellow conservatives on the court to overturn it.

    That, by review, is judicial activism.

    Anyone paying attention to Scalia and company will acknowledge that such activist urges — ignoring the popular will expressed through legislation — is hardly unprecedented. The court overturning key aspects of campaign finance law in the 2010 Citizens United case is Exhibit No. 1.

    Other examples include the conservative wing of the court voting to overturn the Violence Against Women Act and the Gun-Free School Zones Act.

    Then there was a certain presidential election in 2001. The court overruled Florida's courts because — as constitutional constructionist Scalia explained — all that counting and recounting had gone on long enough.

     That, wrote Adam Cohen in The New York Times, "isn't a constitutional argument. It is an unapologetic defense of judicial activism."

     Back to the Affordable Health Care Act, which a gaggle of Republican attorneys general seeks to repeal. The argument is that the individual mandate to have insurance exceeds federal power.

     However, as Silberman points out, the Commerce Clause is open-ended. Additionally, he points out that the circuit court was ruling on "a long-established constitutional power, not recognizing a new constitutional right." This sounds like, um, strict constructionism.

     Republicans challenging the law in court want to construct, 223 years after ratification and through judicial fiat, limits existing only in their minds.

     Once again: The law in question was signed by a popularly elected president after passing Congress. This is how the system works, unless capricious judges can't stomach it.

     Honestly, sometimes it appears Republicans don't know what they want with the courts. One day they advocate court-stripping mechanisms to get judges out of the way of what they do legislatively. The next day, to block duly enacted legislation, they burn incense hoping their favored judges will get a whiff.

    The Constitution? They revere it — except when they can't hack it, and want to amend it. I am reminded of Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who from the moment he came to Washington in 2003 and got seated on the Judiciary Committee seemed to spend every moment conjuring up new constitutional amendments — against gay marriage, against flag burning, against abortion, for school prayer, for an "official" language, and most recently for a balanced budget.

   This is a document conservatives revere? Said reverence is more commonly reserved for toilet paper.

   The conservative wing may in fact bring Obama's chief legislative accomplishment crashing down. If it does, however, know what is at play: partisan judges who say lawmaking is what the legislative branch does, except when they don't like it.

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Zucchini logic with sweet potatoes

 The long campaign continues. It's not quite a lifetime long, like Gandhi's against violence. Nonetheless, many miles have passed beneath my sandals as I've advanced my theme.

  For more than a quarter century each year around Thanksgiving, I have carried out a lonely and thankless campaign about sweet potatoes. Message: Think before you eat.

  Because, surely, sweet potatoes are not for oral application.

  I know this to be true, because I ate sweet potato once. Once.

  Now, you might ask: "Why only a quarter century? You are at least a little bit older than that. Before a quarter century ago, what were you doing relative to such a crucial public issue? Wasting your words and your platform? Wasting precious time to inform humanity?" Yes and no.

   The fact is, I heard the call to inform people back in the '80s when I moved to the South and detected a veneration of (read: misconception about) sweet potatoes that I hadn't while living in the North.

  So, I started writing about this matter — this orange, stringy, steamy, often-subjugated-by-marshmallow-cream matter.

  Once again, however: What was I doing all those years before I took up this cause?

  Well, of course, I was writing anti-zucchini columns.

  This is when I lived and wrote in my home state of Colorado. I didn't write my anti-zucchini columns at Thanksgiving time, but rather earlier in the fall — harvest time for backyard-grown zucchinis. That is when armies of Coloradans parade up and down their neighborhood streets with arms full of oversized zucchinis, some as big as torpedoes.

  They have no use for all of that vegetable matter, so they go around trying to pawn their zucchinis off on friends. Whatever the intent, this is not my idea of kinship. Back when I was a newspaperman in Colorado, I wrote about it.

   The sad thing about zucchini is that when people cannot find unsuspecting victims onto whom to dump the giant cucumbers, they retreat to their kitchens to come up with recipes with which to (get this) EAT the zucchini.

   After I expressed my concerns about this in print, it seemed that not a dinner invitation went by that someone did not seek to sneak something containing zucchini onto my plate. I did not bite.

   "But zucchini is nutritious and full of fiber," I was told.

   "So are (1) tree bark; (2) grass clippings," I replied.

  Fast-forward to the present and the push for truth: that sweet potatoes couldn't possibly be what's for dinner.

  Not only are they food, but they're the "perfect food," say the apologists, "full of vital minerals."

  Yes, and so is molybdenum.

  I have to keep pointing out that I am not opposed to sweet potatoes per se, just to eating them. They have dozens of uses — ethanol, plastic, dye. Just not anything involving a fork.

   All right. So, now we live in Colorado. This summer my wife, in our small backyard garden plot, did what Coloradans do: plant zucchini. Not surprisingly, we had more than we cared to eat.

   Noticing that our dogs love fresh produce, like carrots, she decided to see if they would eat sliced zucchini when mixed with their dog food. They loved it. All of our excess zucchini went away in a flash. We did not have to show up at our neighbors' doorsteps with armfuls.

  Once the zucchini supply was exhausted, Becky looked for other vegetables the dogs might like. She was reminded that the pet store has dog treats made of sweet potato. So, from the grocery store came home an orange tuber the size and shape of a bazooka shell.

  Sliced up, it went into the dogs' meal. They gobbled it up. "At last," I thought, "I have a reason to praise the sweet potato this Thanksgiving."

 Not so fast. Almost as soon as the sweet potato went into the dogs, extremely foul gaseous aromas began to come out.

 We had to evacuate the house.

 Message: Sweet potatoes may be fit for dogs, but what emanates, at least with my dogs, may not be fit for humans  unless they have severe adenoid problems.

 The long campaign continues.

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

‘Occupy’: squatting for glory

     As they took pepper spray in their faces, I wonder if they thought about fire hoses in Birmingham, tear gas in Chicago's Lincoln Park, National Guard bullets at Kent State.

     Probably not. They thought of pain, and disbelief, the kind many felt seeing it on YouTube and on the news.

     That, and inspiration.

     The seated Occupy protesters in Portland and at the University California-Davis were doing something gallant in the face of unblinking authority. In the process they were burrowing into the nation's consciousness.

     Back when Bull Connor was brutalizing uppity "nigras," face it: Most Americans were wholly ambivalent, or on the side of Birmingham's police commissioner. They were concerned with order — you know, commerce, convenience, stability, the blessed status quo.

    So, too, today, do most Americans side with police in whatever they might do to subjugate the Occupy protesters. They wince at the methods, sure, but not the motivations: commerce, convenience, the blessed status quo.

    Back when marchers disrupted that order in the South in audacious and nonviolent defiance, most Americans were saying, "What do they want? To completely overturn all sense of normalcy? Of tradition? Do they hate America? What role are Communists playing in this?"

    Don't believe for a second that most Americans turned on the TV, saw the fire hoses crushing those people, and said, "This is unacceptable." What was acceptable, what they wanted most, was normalcy.

     What the Occupy protesters are doing right now is amazingly gallant and important, even if all they do is make people think about America's definition of "normal." The phrase, "We are the 99 percent" is already etched in history, just as striking "nigra" Memphis garbage workers made "I am a man" part of it in 1968.

    Watch and see the extent to which Occupy's graphic illustration, "America Divided by Wealth," becomes a banner. It shows 1 percent owning everything from the Pacific coast and across the Dakotas, and from the Canadian border to the Texas Panhandle.

    So, what would these protesters suggest that we do about that? Consider these proposals from a list of Occupy demands:

    They want less regressive taxation, such as an end to the cap on Social Security payroll taxes that exempts income after $102,000.

    They want to eliminate tax breaks for capital gains. They want to remove loopholes in the tax code for huge corporations which escape federal taxes.

    They want a federal tax on financial transactions involving securities or derivatives.

    Your response might be: Any of these, though they would raise revenue for what America needs, would be terribly disruptive to the status quo, one which might require sacrifices, crimping markets and affecting all Americans. The amazing thing is that somehow apologists for the status quo think that what we are doing now comes without the very sacrifices that they don't wish to visit.

    Who is going to pay for blue-sky economic policies that drove up the national debt to untenable heights? Will it be America's wealthiest with their tax attorneys? No, it will be the middle class and poor when it becomes evident that this nation can't simply cut its way to a balanced budget, something that should be obvious already. The higher taxes to come will hit those with modest means, and what we cut ("Hands off defense spending") will hit those who already hurt the worst.

    America's fiscal policy is not serving the needs of the 99 percent but those of the lenders, the traders, the insurers, the fiduciary slave masters.

    I'm not sure this is what was going through the minds of the protesters who took faces full of pepper spray, or if bewilderment and disbelief were the extent of it.

    But they have made increasing numbers of the 99 percent think that maybe what America has come to accept as normalcy is not really that. It is a form of oppression that few of us have stopped to consider up to now because, well, order is so much more efficient than justice.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Is the angry man out?

   The most amazing story of Nov. 8 was how Arizonans in a heavily Republican district ousted the state's most powerful Republican lawmaker.

   Russell Pearce, president of the Senate, was replaced by a comparably conservative Republican. The key distinction, however, may be that the man who beat him wasn't quite as angry.

    Pearce is author of SB 1020, the immigration law that tacitly made dark-skinned Arizonans suspects for a police shakedown. And don't believe for a second that would not be the case had a court injunction not left the hard-right creation to snarl and snort at the end of a junkyard chain.

   But Pearce's prideful legislative monstrosity wasn't the sole reason why he was recalled and replaced by milder-mannered Jerry Lewis, a charter school executive. As one exit-poll analysis put it, the core of Pearce's opposition cited his "divisiveness, fanaticism" and "rigid ideology" — an angry man's impulses manifested in dozens of ways.

    Apparently, what even angry Arizona voters were saying is that they don't want a lawmaker's anger to be a full-time occupation.

    Angry voters? Well, yes. And who isn't in this dreadful American slump? But anger as an appeal to voters in general is starting to show a rate of diminishing returns. Various players in the race for the Republican presidential nomination are finding that out.

     Herman Cain is so angry at President Obama that he couldn't even think through the dynamics of developments in Libya before saying the president, um, was, um, well, um, wrong doing whatever it is he did there, wherever Libya is.

     Rick Perry is so angry at the federal government for being a federal government that he can't, count, to, three.

     Enter Newt Gingrich — anger incarnate, the man who shut down government as House speaker and liked it (but didn't like it when the gambit helped re-elect Bill Clinton).

     Mean, meaner, meanest. This is electability? Check again.

     We understand that the super-angry tea party was the life force of the 2010 off-year election. So doing, the results hewed to the age-old election adage that a low turnout accentuates the negative vote. Sure did.

     We are approaching a general election when turnout will be higher. How high it is might be decisive. It remains to be seen if Barack Obama, the one who at times over the last seven months seems to have been the only adult in the room, will be rewarded for that sense of composure, or if an economy that won't be righted means anger will be decisive in ousting him.

     One point: It seems that the candidate who seems least angry in the GOP sweepstakes, Mitt Romney, is the one who keeps bobbing placidly in the water while candidates like Perry, Cain and Michelle Bachmann gasp, gulp and flail.

    Elsewhere, the anger that fueled conquest in 2010 is proving not so compelling to voters. Ohio rejected Republican Gov. John Kasich's attempt to emasculate public employee unions. Wisconsin has shown every indication that the very angry Gov. Scott Walker, who laid a big hit on public employees, will pay for it at the polls.

    In Colorado, Republicans blew big opportunities to take the governor's mansion and a U.S. Senate seat by nominating rabidly right, very angry tea party favorites instead of more circumspect candidates.

    In Nevada, the over-the-top extremism of GOP nominee Sharron Anger — er, Angle — allowed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to survive the political scare of his life.

    Don't look now, ye who wake up angry at our president, but: Obama's favorability ratings are on the upswing. More Americans are seeing him as the statesman with the public interest at heart, rather than characters like the hit man (Scott Walker), the "no" men (John Boehner, Mitch McConnell), the wolf man (Gingrich — didn't someone drive a stake in that guy?), or any number of politicians who rode a wave of venom to where they are.

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dear Mr. Do-Nothing Congressman

    Thousands of unemployed Americans got a form letter from Congress last week:

     "Dear Unemployed American: Your benefits have run their course. Sorry about that. We realize that this is the worst economy in decades and you might think we helped make it the way it is. But extending your benefits might give the impression that we are helping the less fortunate; our job description is to help the fortunate. As always, know that we are committed first to making Barack Obama a one-term president. Catch you later."

     This is not exactly the letter Evie Garza received from her congressman, but it was every bit as galling.

      Garza, an Austin resident, wrote me to say that she was ready to take to the streets along with protesters in the Occupy movement.

     "I'm ready to protest, because I feel powerless."

      Excuse her for feeling idealistic about contacting her congressmen — Republicans John Carter and Mike Conaway. She really thought that if she told them what motivated her, they'd be touched, and maybe less recalcitrant about working with the president to create jobs.

      The reason: She sent pictures of both congressmen shaking hands with her son at Camp Liberty in in Iraq. That's a pretty personal message.

      "I wrote to tell them that they should pass the jobs bill, especially for the soldiers who are transitioning to civilian life."

        She got a form letter back from Carter. "It listed why he's against the jobs bill, no surprise, but I was surprised that he didn't thank our family for my son's six years in the military."

       Welcome, back, servicemen and women. You just drove up the nation's unemployment rate. Ah, hah: something else to pin on Obama.

       Those returning service personnel — and hooray for their return — might not understand what has prevented Congress from doing a thing to make things better for them on the homeland.

     The whole thing is about resisting any means of raising extra revenue. With tea party patriots providing marching orders, Republicans say that Washington has enough money and needs no more. They say this in the face of a $15 trillion national debt that these veterans and their children and grandchildren will have to resolve.

      It is revealing that even Congressman Paul Ryan, budget wunderkind, he of the allegedly visionary deficit plan, admits that down the road the nation would have to raise taxes in some way under his plan. Not now, of course. That would constitute sacrifice. Only our nation's fighting forces are in line for that.

      If the Republican Congress really wanted to do something to help the nation's unemployed, it would have done it, because President Obama has given it every opportunity. What it wants to do is posture to its core constituency, which, by review, is not unemployed.

     Evie Garza tried to lodge her concerns the traditional way, the time-honored way.

      "That's powerlessness, being told all your life to write your congressmen, and when you do, you get a form robo-signed letter that doesn't acknowledge anything personal that might have been addressed in the letter."

      When I search for actual contributions to the common good by this, the do-nothing 102nd Congress, Google delivered me by accident to the deeds of 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron in World War II.

     These dog faces tramped around godforsaken spots of Europe after landing on Omaha Beach. The horror and heroism of D-Day was just the beginning for them. They got the job done. They came home to a supportive nation.

     How many of those returning from war this time will be greeted by form letters from leaders who were too committed to their partisan pursuits to make things more hospitable at home?

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Smart power vs. dumb power

   At first glance, nothing justified the remake of Footloose. Then again, if we examine the political landscape, whether the issue is dancing or this nation acting like an adult on the world scene, we all need to be warned of the price of provincialism.

    Know without a doubt that parochialism and regression are the itches that the tea party has scratched.

    A common  theme: The United States should cease foreign aid as a grand gesture of budget austerity. Of course, generally such claims spring from ignorance of how much the federal foreign aid represents.

    That would be less than 1 percent. The tea partiers want less than that. Ask them.

    That would result in exactly the opposite of what Time magazine describes in a report focused on the successes of the Obama State Department and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The subject: "smart power."

     The New York Times describes it as emphasizing "diplomacy and development to complement U.S. military power."

     Don't expect any of those with daggers drawn for Obama to admit he has done so much as one smart thing in the world. But Time looks at what the administration did in Libya, and: In the NATO operation that toppled Moammar Gadhafi, the State Department engineered a coalition with players as diverse as the Arab League, France and Britain, while convincing Russia not to veto in the U.N. Security Council. This, Clinton says is the efficacy of "convening power" — building up one's hand with widespread support. This is in contrast, Time observes, to the go-it-alone approach of the Bush administration, which believed that "too much international cooperation weakens America."

     Back to the issue — no, the imperative — of foreign aid.

    It's a realm in which the United States has done great things worth its proclaimed status as a beacon of reason and compassion. One such matter was a credit to the Bush administration: monetary support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Just the other day the World Health Organization reported tuberculosis at a 20-year low. The world's second leading killer, TB works as executioner hand-in-glove with AIDS amid immune suppression.

   An international player supporting this and other forms of foreign aid that deliver much good for modest bucks is the organization RESULTS. Among its causes: the amazing power of "micro credit," where tiny loans spawn enterprise and hope in the world's poorest regions.

     Nowhere is "smart power" a more apt term than in one of RESULTS' current initiatives: support for the Global Partnership for Education. It couldn't address a more pressing issue — that as many as 67 million children in the Third World, mostly girls, don't go to school at all.

   A coalition of developed nations has convened to help build schools and pressure recalcitrant governments. The United States is in the coalition, but fiscally it is sidelines-bound, embarrassing for a nation that has so much. Forces in the Congress are trying to change this for the better, but right now all we hear are voices of a regression that has convinced them we don't have the resources to help in smart ways. It would be so good for Obama to express how much a little could do in this regard (8,000 children educated for every $1 million the fund adds.)

    Don't have the resources, America? We had enough to wage two wars on the other side of the world, enough to have a military budget that dwarfs entire developed nations' budgets. At the same time, possessed of tax policies whose ultimate goal was to starve all but military spending, federal taxes as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product have shrunk to a rate not experienced since 1950.

   Yes, we we have the resources to be smart overseas. Over the last decade we have invested heavily in the utility of war. Those who now denounce foreign aid sat mute while billions of dollars flowed to that enterprise like a great river. Never once did they appear to worry about war's staggering fiscal dimensions, the debt accrued, they waitied until Obama became president.

    Smart. Not.

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