Tuesday, March 27, 2012

These mouths fit to be tongue-tied

   It's the oddest form of echo. Not a retort. Not a reasoned rejoinder. The only way we can describe it is in terms of speech pathology. Listen, and explain it to me.

   Fox News host Geraldo Rivera says the issue in the Trayvon Martin tragedy is the hoodie he wore. So compelling is this, so reasoned and researched, that he gets invited on with Bill O'Reilly to restate his, um, theory.

   Newt Gingrich calls it "disgraceful" when President Obama speaks about how he feels, as a black man, to contemplatie the so-sad-as-to-sicken Trayvon tragedy.

   Meanwhile, right-wing players search the Internet for tragedies involving black-on-white victims to say, "Yeah, but what about this?"

   Why do these people even have a need to speak?

   Because they can't control themselves. It's speech pathology.

   We'll call it the two-step stutter. Step one: Hear something that would appall reasonable people (particularly if many are liberals). Step two: Twist your mind in amazing ways to find some way to change the subject and turn the table on liberals.

    Step one. A true outrage: Rush Limbaugh calls a woman a "slut" for asking to participate at an all-male Capitol Hill discussion about women's health care. Even Limbaugh acknowledges he went over the line.

    Can Limbaugh's apologists leave it at that? No, they have to pile on Sandra Fluke. She's no average citizen, you know. She's a, a —  you know — a feminist activist. And she's no spring-break coed. She's, she's 30 years old. Some "student."

    (It never occurred to most of us that Fluke's age might incriminate her, but right-wing email threaders want you to know. Thanks for the big scoop, Matt Drudge.)

    Oh, and what's more: You think what Limbaugh said was bad. You know what sexist things Bill Maher has said? (Run tape, Fox News.)

    This is relevant how? Does Limbaugh gain frequent defiler points based on what's said on cable?

     Regarding the Limbaugh matter, all that has happened in recent days has been the free market of ideas coming down on his high holiness in a way he's exploited it for years. The difference: Reaction to what he said has caused more than 100 advertisers to pull their money. To all those big on "freedom," this is called the freedom of association. 

     Limbaugh should have picked someone else to pick on. Gingrich and Rivera should have chosen topics other than Trayvon Martin. Ah, but they couldn't help themselves.

    What we've been hearing for quite some time is not an adult conversation. It is the discourse of the jungle gym: "anti" commentators upside down, hanging from their knees — blood rushing to their heads —  saying something, anything, to hear themselves emoting.

    Say what you will about Obama's policies. He always manages to come across as an adult.

    But, oh, Obama's public political adversaries are so flush with hatred for him, so consumed, they forget who is watching them as they toss pea gravel on the playground.

    Who is watching? Voters, that's who. Women, in the case of Sandra Fluke. Minorities, in the Trayvon Martin horror. Do these blowhorns have a shred of common decency in them to know times when silence might become them? Are they so aflame in their political passions that they can't hear how they really sound?

    And, no, the Trayvon story isn't just a story because he was black. It's also a story because he was young, and armed only with Skittles. It's a story became of vigilantism, and Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law — legislation served as a catered delight for the National Rifle Association in state after state. The law made it possible that Trayvon would die without any means of us ever knowing what "menace" he represented in that gated community, and without criminal charges.

     Cold. Soulless. Out of touch. Blind to anything other than one's own pitiful agenda. That's what I call a person who ponders that boy's death and finds something in it to make the president the bad guy.

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Welcome to the face of insanity

      It says something that we haven't a proper term for what likely caused Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to do what he is accused of doing over there — the land where we sent him to war.

     If we just call it insanity, we risk implicating war itself. And that can't be.

     War is valorous, clear-eyed. If you blink at its potential and purpose, you've sold out. You hate your country.

     Post-traumatic stress disorder? That can't be the term for Bales' acts, we say, because — well, he hadn't yet hung up his helmet, his night goggles, his command. He wasn't post-anything when he is said to have killed 16 Afghan civilians in the middle of the night.

     Notice that some of the theories allege drink, as if grasping for something more sensible than 100-proof psychosis.

     It's amazing to see the extent that we attempt to parse the unfathomable in rational terms. He's a bad seed. He's a rogue soldier.

     Face it. This heavily armed, mentally and physically wounded soldier simply lost it.

     What do we do about it? I'm hoping that we (the military court) will acquit him on that basis, the basis of insanity — PTSD.

     I have an ulterior motive in hoping that such a defense works for Bales, and it has nothing to do with him, or with the Afghan war-athon. It has to do with something back home: the death penalty.

     This comes to mind because of a letter to the editor I read from a World War II veteran straining to explain the actions of someone else who seems to be the essence of the bad seed in the mold of Bruce Willis movies: Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, convicted last year of ordering subordinates to participate in a string of "thrill kills" against Afghan civilians.

     The World War II veteran whose letter I read mentioned his own lifetime battle with PTSD, and ventured how wartime strains might have warped the 26-year-old Gibbs' psyche.

     I admit having trouble wrapping my mind around such a plea for Gibbs, his acts being so calculated. But the PTSD defense seems to fit in the Bales case, the rampage being so spontaneous, so deranged.

     My real reason to pull for a successful PTSD defense for Bales, though, is to change attitudes back home — wrap the flag around, if you will, the insanity defense.

     In the last 30 years, in a blowback to celebrated cases like those of Reagan assailant John Hinckley, successful application of the insanity defense has become as rare as the Triple Crown in horse racing.

      One eight-state study found that the defense was used in only 1 percent of criminal cases, and only 26 percent of that 1 percent succeeded.

      Certainly when it comes to murder, that can't possibly reflect reality. We don't want to believe it, but people do simply go out of their skulls and kill — even if momentarily.

      That the insanity defense is effectively null and void is one good reason to abolish the death penalty.

      A society that rejects insanity as a defense for murder has lost its own ability to differentiate a right from a wrong.

     The other good reason to abolish the death penalty is the irrational assumption that government can always get guilt and innocence right.

     The irony: Distrust of government is one of the tenets of conservatives, the very people so inclined to salute the death penalty.

      In two areas — waging war and executing people, these same people would assert that government is inerrant.

      At minimum, if more people rise up to state that war is insane, and that it can result in insane soldiers and blame their acts on that, maybe we can acknowledge the same among civilians who kill, a fact that is undeniable.

      Here's hoping the trial of Sgt. Bales will demonstrate as much, and that his example will slap right-thinking Americans into seeing criminal insanity in a new, even patriotic, light.

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Don't need no stinkin' health insurance exchange

   "We don't need a government health-care plan to be able to solve the problem," quoth Rick Santorum. "What we need is a process in this country where people will have an opportunity to go out and use their resources."

    Tell that this couple, Mr. Ex-Senator.

    A few years shy of Medicare, the husband and wife face these costs for health insurance: $578 a month — "the cheapest program possible" – with $3,500 individual deductibles. All told, their out-of-pocket costs are $10,000 a year and rising.

     I know about this because of emailed exasperation from the female half of this couple after she read that Texas had refused to set up its federally required health insurance exchange program.

     Texas is one of nine states, Florida being another, sandbagging on the requirement of the Affordable Care Act to make the cost of health coverage less crushing. The exchanges increase competitive pressures on insurers as customers shop for coverage online. Federal subsidies are attached for those most in need.

   Gov. Rick Perry put the kibosh on any progress toward an exchange system in Texas until after the Supreme Court rules on the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama's presidency goes before the voters.

   The other states freezing the ball in defiance of "Obamacare" are Republican-controlled. Until their calculated defiance ends, their uninsured are effectively without a country, at least as pertains to what Congress did to address those Americans' needs in 2009.

    What these states are opposing is the essence of a painstaking compromise. Whereas a single-payer system would save untold suffering and crippling costs — just visit Britain, Canada, Germany, name it, to know how — those like Obama who campaigned on doing something about swelling seas of uninsured came up with the insurance exchange concept, built around private insurance.

    Ah, but millions of uninsured persons be damned in GOP-controlled states. Let them find the "resources" to fend off catastrophe — and of course provide profits to keep the middle man happy.

     America: One nation, of, by and for the middle man. The little man be damned.

     It's true that no one knows how things will shake down when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, just as no one knew what would emanate with Social Security and Medicare. But despite the criminally inflated assertions that the act is a job-killer and more, the fact is that a lot of people are benefiting as we speak.

      In Florida alone, data from the Department of Human Services reports that seniors on Medicare have saved $142 million on prescription costs in 2011. This comes from the closing of the "donut hole" in the Medicare Part D drug benefit, affecting 238,362 seniors in the Sunshine State alone.

     Those who are getting as much as a 50 percent discount on prescriptions under this change had better hope that the Supreme Court's right wing does not prevail when the court considers the Affordable Care Act next week.

    Back to the Santorum approach to health care, which is for Americans to just find jobs and make enough money to have it:

    The Washington Post reports that more than a quarter of the people who have found jobs in this recession — one caused by blue-sky deregulation and Reaganomics — have had to settle for temp jobs that have no benefits.

    Things are not getting any better in the big-boxed, outsourced marketplace as states like Texas and Florida play partisan games. In my state, Colorado, employer-provided health care coverage have declined from 64 percent of Coloradans to 58 percent — that's over a span of only two years. Imagine the situation 10 years hence.

     And imagine the costs to each of these working families. After all, Medicaid is for the poorest Americans. The uninsured are people who make too much for Medicaid.

     Basically, what we have now is resistance from people who have what they need — health insurance, often including Medicare — and who don't want to consider what it costs for those who have none.

     "I guarantee you the antis have never had to pay for their own insurance, doctor visits or medicine," said the Texas woman, boiling over with frustration as her state poses again to not be a part of the union.

    That may be a figurative claim, but take this one literally: It, and the political party ruling it, is not part of the solution.

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Women will be heard in 2012

  President Obama made one too few phone calls last week.

  The one he made was smart and important, offering support to Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke in her courageous stand for smarter policies about women's health.

  Obama's next phone call should have been to Rush Limbaugh, just to say thanks, and to say keep it up;. Keep demeaning women, Rush. Convince more and more they've been abandoned by your political party.

   This must grate, but: Every word Limbaugh utters on this subject makes it that much more likely Obama will be returned to office. Women will make it so.

    Don't believe it? Since December, Obama's approval ratings among women have jumped 10 points, according to an Associated Press/GfK poll.

   As for Limbaugh, bailing advertisers have reached double-digits as waves from a social media storm lap up against his chalky edifice. We all know Limbaugh likes to hear himself talk. However, even he might not appreciate the extent to which his words —  "slut" and "prostitute" just his headline terms for Fluke, a bright and gutsy young woman —  report like 10 million whip cracks on Twitter and Facebook.

    This is a problem for Republicans, for as whatever Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum aspire to be, Limbaugh is their party's de facto co-chairman, sharing the gavel, as always, with Roger Ailes and Fox News.

    Republicans in Congress helped this situation along by excluding women like Fluke from hearings on legislation that would have allowed insurers to opt out of a host of women's health measures, contraception being just the most obvious.

    Meanwhile, Romney and Santorum debate over how many angels can balance on a birth control pill.

    Much was made of the alleged political damage Obama inflicted on himself with the health insurance mandate, since adjusted, that drew Catholics' scorn over the issue of church-run institutions and contraception.

   Sorry, folks, but the very votes Obama might have lost were already lost to single-issue voters who won't countenance a pro-choice president, no way, no how.

    The actual political effect of these discussions, in fact, is just the opposite. The more Republicans act as adversaries to family planning — particularly contraception — the more they hurt themselves with women, who live the issue daily.

    To most women, contraception should never be an issue at all, no more so than mumps vaccine.

     A license to wanton, unwed sex? The birth control pill has a lot more uses than avoiding pregnancy — to reduce menstrual pain, to treat excessive bleeding, to treat migraines. Rush, this is one battle from which you should have excluded yourself. But the Democrats thank you for imposing your largeness into it, bursting in the picture like the Kool-Aid man — you know, like you want the government to do in women's reproductive decisions.

     Abortion? In a stinging commentary in the Denver Post, Lisa Wirthman writes, "It's precisely because we don't provide federal funding for abortions that we must invest in public funding for contraception." True.

     Yet, Republican legislatures make sport of targeting Planned Parenthood, the nation's go-to agency for family planning for the poor. Why? Because some affiliates perform abortion.

     To judge from the actions of statehouse adversaries, abortion is illegal. No, it isn't, and women are indebted to entities like Planned Parenthood that make sure the option is available and safe.

      Back to contraception and insurance: Twenty-eight states require insurers to cover it. That's right. Obama's mandate is more the norm across this nation than the exception.

      It's smart. It's cost-effective. (Alternative: First obstetrics, then pediatrics.) It allows women to decide how many mouths they will feed. Oh, it also prevents abortion. Period.

      But just keep talking, Rush, Mitt, Rick, John Boehner, MItch McConnell. Though not parties to your conversation, women are listening.

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