Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gay rights are like Dad's sideburns

   Anyone who experienced the '60s will know this: that there actually were two '60s.

   The first is routinely illustrated in film — flower power, long hair, Age of Aquarius, protests, all that.

   The second Sixties — what most of us experienced — wasn't any of that.

    Protest was as foreign as borscht. Long hair, too. Bell bottoms? Nope. Most everyone, including the average teen, was straight-legged and short-cropped.

    If you want to see how people dressed and comported themselves in "the '60s," look at what was happening in the '70s, principally with Dad's sideburns. They were growing long.

     Don't believe me? Haul a few snapshots out of the shoe box. 

     The '70s were when so many of us came around to the '60s, the styles, the sensibilities, the rightness of key causes — antiwar, civil rights, environmentalism.

     The '70s was when bigotry truly became marginalized, for instance. It didn't happen in the '60s with bloodied heads on a bridge in Selma or the slaying of Dr. King in Memphis. It took time, like those sideburns.

    So it is in 2013 with this increasing marginalization of bigotry: the surge behind gay rights.

    Speaking of decades: America has done a complete turnaround on this matter in 10 years.

    In 2003 only 37 percent of Americans supported gay marriage, with 55 percent opposed. Now? Fifty-five percent support it according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, while 36 percent say it should be illegal.

    Hence, either the Colorado Legislature just made a bold affirmation of equal rights by legalizing civil unions, or it is whimping out in stopping short of legalizing gay marriage.

     Then again, that will come, like Dad's sideburns, as have equal treatment in the military, and the elevation of high-profile gay and lesbian policy makers like Minnesota Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

     President Obama put it rightly, that this is simply the Constitution speaking — the document that tea party types say they so venerate. Ah, but they were absolutely slobberknockered by the announcement of Republican leading light, Sen. Rob Portman, that he now sees the 14th Amendment as supporting his gay son's right to marry whom he pleases.

   Hillary Clinton said it, that homosexuals deserve the "rights of citizenship . . . personally and as a matter of law."

   The Boy Scouts pledge duty to country. What about the basic tenet of equality that underpins it? Interestingly, the effort to overturn the Scouts' ban on homosexual members was sparked by gay Eagle Scouts who've had to live a lie about who they are.

    The Scouts' resistance to this basic principle of fairness and inclusiveness will fall, as have so many other barriers in our nation's existence.

    It's true; not everyone's dad grew his sideburns out and wore flared slacks in the '70s as the social contributions of the '60s became a part of us. Some people would never give an inch below the ear.

    Enough dads eventually did, however, to be a follicular referendum that became a rout one decade later. The same thing is happening today on rights for gays and lesbians. Simply put, more and more people are realizing it is right.

   Welcome to this side of history.

   Longtime newspaper editor John Young lives in Fort Collins. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Big, bad talk-show audition

   Listen to Dan Patrick destroy his guests. Try to get a word in edgewise; he'll not only cut you off, he'll slice you into cold cuts.

   Patrick is a Houston radio talk-show host. To catch his act, however, you don't have to give his AM ratings a bump, something I'll not facilitate. Just catch his act as he cuts the legs off citizens at the Lege — the Texas Legislature.

   I don't know if on the radio he is the same samurai seen on a recent video. Surely not.

   Surely if "goon" is one's day job, one puts on different clothes before heading off to serve as a state senator, which Patrick is.

   In a hearing on his bill to prevent school districts' enlisting Planned Parenthood for sex education, Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, was beyond abrupt — unless someone came to agree with him.

   Patrick's bill is typical off-the-deep-end stuff from one who wouldn't dare acknowledge the holistic scope of what Planned Parenthod does to help women avoid the very thing — abortion —  he uses to demonize the agency. The bill is propaganda incarnate.

   Video on rhrealitycheck.org shows that the last thing Patrick wanted at his hearing was such a point to be raised, much less any actual discussion of his bill's merits. He had already decided those.

    You might think of such behavior as unusual and unseemly. I see it as too usual, also known as a trend.

    A whole bunch of people in public office these days want a talk show. They want to be Rush Limbaugh. They want to be Sean Hannity. They want a time slot on Fox.

   They aren't interested in parsing truth. Their target audience doesn't parse.

   Sen. Rand Paul, for example. He held up confirmation of CIA Director John Brennan for many hours to hear the chime of his own voice.

    Paul's stated concern was the use of drones, one I share — except that in no time he was talking about U.S. drones shooting citizens in the streets and burger bars of America. Senator, if that ever happens, please hand me the Bushmaster with the high-capacity clip. We have a government to overthrow.

    Ted Cruz. Fox News. They rhyme. Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman, now MSNBC morning host, expressed disdain that the Republican freshman senator comes across as "willfully ignorant" in his absolutism about gun rights. This, though Cruz himself testified on behalf of gun restrictions as Texas solicitor general.

     But, Joe, Cruz won the tea party's casting call in winning his office. He is not going to disappoint his public.

     Allen West. Now there's a Fox News darling. 

     West became a tea party super hero by claiming that bunches of Democrats in Congress are Communists. No facts; no evidence; no nothing. It didn't matter. It doesn't matter.

     Speaking of the fair-and-balanced folks. David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt, in their book, The Fox Effect, point out that Fox News put so many Republican presidential aspirants on its payroll that it might have stunted the anti-Obama field when people like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin had to decide whether they wanted to give up show biz for a run.

     You see, everyone wants a talk show. Everyone wants to be Limbaugh, and Hannity and Dan Patrick. They're not so interested in governing as in talking, and interrupting if necessary, and having their audience say, "Amen."

     "If you combine a lack of a sense of humor with an absence of humility and then stir in a cup of self-righteousness, you are definitely not working on a recipe for cooperative achievement," writes The New York Times' Gail Collins. She is talking about Ted Cruz, but could be referring as well to all those who've answered the tea party's call for auditions.

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


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fiscal disservatives, designer deficits

   You wondered if tea party Republicans cared about the little people. You should have heard those in Washington plead for victims of a federal austerity horror.

    White House tours: canceled.

    Colorado's three GOP congressmen were voice-raw over this. They had promised tours to vacationing constituents. Sequestration squelched that.

    Oh, the humanity.

    Understandably, and subsequently, these caring lawmakers have no larynx left for truly desperate people in their snowy state. In the face of sequestration, agencies that serve homeless families are poised for cuts from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for domicile assistance. Laryngitis aside, this is of no concern to fitfully ensconced tea party constituents.

     Observe the magic of "across the board" cuts so blithely and regularly recommended by those who think government can do only wrong (unless it is invading other countries).

    Speaking of blithe: That word described most fiscal disservatives as the sequester arrived. Eighty-five billion dollars in automatic, indiscriminate cuts? No biggie.

    A great howl came up, however, with the now-halted release of illegal immigrants from federal facilities. Then again, just what does "across the board" conjure to you? Does it not involve Immigrations and Customs? And if not, why?

    Would you, Mr. or Ms. Lawmaker, like your "I Am Utterly, Totally Irresponsible" T-shirt in XL or XXL?

    Of course, almost from the word "go" for sequestration, the Republican House was quickly trying to figure out a way to feed the military beast, for we know not a shred of fat lies within.

    But enough about the absurdity of automatic cuts of any kind. Let us focus on the insanity of one party's fighting with all its might to defend the nation's most comfortable citizens while the nation's least comfortable try to keep their fingers from freezing.

    Let's also reflect on tax policies that consciously painted the nation into a corner of red ink, the architects' knowing that at some point those designer deficits would be, or would appear to be, untenable.

    And since no one likes to raise taxes, even if federal revenue as a share of GDP is the lowest since the days of "Howdy Doody" and Roy Rogers — well, the fiscal disservatives pledge to fight any revenue enhancement to the death.

    What's amazing is that President Obama is simply playing off the tax recommendations of his 2012 rival. Mitt Romney, you'll recall, wanted to close tax loopholes that unnecessarily benefited the super-wealthy. Oddly, though he railed against the deficit like a good Republican should (now that Republians don't hold the White House), he didn't intend to use so much as a dime of the revenue raised to cut the deficit. He and Paul Ryan would use the difference to lower tax rates.

    That old voodoo. Then again, for some it never gets old.

    Over and over and over again since the days of Reagan, Republican-inspired tax cuts served to facilitate growth — in the national debt. All along that path, the fiscal disservatives yawned. Didn't matter if we were waging wars — plural. Didn't matter if times were good or bad or in-between. It was always time to cut taxes.

    Under Reagan, a certifiably ambitious revamp of the tax code could have raised sufficient revenue to wipe out the deficit. Not a chance. It had to be revenue-neutral.

   So, here we are, trillions in the red, and of course this is the fault of the Democrat in office — for whom deficit spending was the only option to confront one of the saggiest economies since the Pilgrims landed.

    The economy is dramatically better. The stock market is putting up Miami Heat-like numbers. The jobs picture is improving. And now? Sequestration and forever fiscal crises endanger middle-class public-service jobs like those of teachers, first-responders and more.

    But don't forget those hurt worst: Americans, out in the cold, tour maps in hand.

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The $750 billion rip-off

   What the March 4 Time lacks in its explosive expose about the hospital industry is a face.

   A perspiring face. A blinking, flinching face. 

   Dear do-nothing Congress: You say you care about things that affect everyday Americans. Well, then, find us such a face.

   We need someone on whose thieving visage we can focus, like that of Charles Van Doren, paraded before a sensational congressional investigation in 1959.

    His crime? Being fed the answers that kept him winning on TV quiz show "Twenty-One."

   Scandalous? Oh, yeah. Van Doren had achieved great wealth and fame — $100,000 in winnings — even appearing on Time's cover.

   So what about the scoundrels and cheats now the focus of the news magazine? We have no faces to attach to writer Stephen Brill's assertion that hospitals overcharge Americans $750 billion per year. We need them.

   Until we know the perpetrators, they will continue to do exactly what they do — rip people off.

    Brill and Time have done the nation a service, dissecting the add-ons and overcharges faced by uninsured or underinsured individuals who, once they got the bill, wished they were dead.

   Take the cancer patient who lived just long enough to see his widow-to-be face a $142,000 bill, this after paying $30,000 toward the total.

   The overcharges are too numerous and outrageous to mention, but just consider the $25 one hospital charged for a 500 milligram niacin tablet, sold for a nickel apiece in drug stores. Or the $7 apiece that MD Anderson charged for cotton swabs used to disinfect prior to injections. A box of them can be had for $1.91.

    The hospitals say these aren't the actual costs that patients pay, only a starting point for negotiations with insurers. However, when one has no insurance, or when one's insurance is capped and can't keep up with catastrophic costs, these charges are the ending point, unless a smart and resourceful advocate can argue the bill down.

    An irony welling up in Brill's report is that nonprofit hospitals are among the worst offenders. Hence, they are swimming in cash they use to make executives millionaires, to build gleaming towers, and to buy out competitors.

    Another irony is how that evil thing called government comes up smelling like a rose in contrast to how the "free market" handles medical costs. Medicare, writes Brill, isn't just efficient, it's "ruthlessly efficient" controlling costs.

    We need hearings. We need to hear from the faceless "chargemasters" who set such scandalous prices. We need red faces and sweaty lips. Then we need to bring the hammer down on institutions that do what they do with government's involvement and hefty subsidies.

   Points out Brill, "This is not about interfering in a free market. It's about facing the reality that our largest consumer product by far — one fifth of our economy — does not operate in a free market."

    Largely because Congress caved to industry demands, the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — with the good it will do for those lacking insurance, performs little cost control. The condition is a continuation of industry-sculpted Medicare Part D, for which the government can't negotiate drug prices.

    At a time when efforts are afoot to clamp down on Medicare, Brill makes the fascinating assertion that the best thing for health care would be to expand  it — to lower, not raise, the eligibility age, with higher copays based on income.  Many of the most tragic victims of this system were people just on the cusp of Medicare and age 65. 

   Points out Brill, "The health care market isn't a market at all. It's a crap shoot. People fare differently according to circumstances they can neither control nor predict."

   So true. Now, to attach this scandal to a face.

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