Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tea party vision: an America in pieces

   If one could paint a portrait of America under the leadership of today's fiscal disservatives, it would be the sorry scene in the Skagit River 60 miles north of Seattle.

   There, a section of the bridge conveying Interstate 5 soaks like a tea bag tossed in the brine.

    I wonder how many anti-tax types are screaming that a key Northwest conduit is crippled. Give them a few seconds and they'll pin the matter on President Obama, ask for a special prosecutor.

    Thousand one, thousand two . . .

    If the picture of a shattered bridge is unsightly, consider this: a chart produced by the Federal Reserve Bank showing total public spending on construction. It has dipped to a 20-year low.

  Now, this spending level might seem prudent, public debt and all that. But if prudence is or ever was a byword for today's fiscal disservativism, be reminded: The last time public domestic construction dipped dramatically it was at the height of two wars that resulted in some $140 billion in infrastructure investment — in Iraq and Afghanistan.

     I've heard the 2009 stimulus bill depicted as full of pork. Maybe it was. One thing ot say in its defense, however, was that it paid for things on these shores, rather than on locales rent to pieces by "shock and awe." 

    Back to our continent and the bridge over — or, now in — the Skagit:      

    The Federal Highway Administration last year listed it as "functionally obsolete." But, then, it is just one of tens of thousands so classified. Worse: About 66,000 are "structurally deficient."

   Two years ago Obama proposed doing something about this national condition: $50 billion for infrastructure projects, $10 billion to create an infrastructure bank, under the Rebuild America Jobs Act. Did someone say jobs? In Washington state alone, where that bridge sits in the drink, the bill would have created 9,600 of them.

    A Republican filibuster blocked this measure in the U.S. Senate, though it had majority support.

     Would it have driven up the deficit? No. It would have been funded by a seven-tenths of a percent tax on people making over $1 million. Those dollars are so much more important, you understand, for people who have more than they need than for America to meet its needs.

   "If you are locked into an ideology that government is bad and ineffective, you have a stake in proving that to be the case," writes former Sen. Gary Hart in The Huffington Post. "As always, it is up to the American people to decide what they want. But we must make up our minds. We cannot have a government that works by electing those who want it not to work."

   Obama is accused of being a socialist. Some joke. Philosophically, he is more like Eisenhower than Stalin. Eisenhower knew how crucial America's infrastructure was to its future. It became his signature. Similarly, energy conservation and alternative fuels, every bit as crucial, have been one of Obama's.

    Eisenhower also knew that every dollar spent on arms and armies was a dollar taken away from every other American need.

    Today's deficit hawks were silent as dime-store props as the nation spent itself into a Soviet-style hole last decade in its military adventures. Then they went ballistic when a new president acted on his campaign promise to insure working-poor Americans against health catastrophe.

     Fortunately, in 2012 Americans did not buy the bridge that Mitt Romney was selling which would have resulted in tea party control of all things fiscal.

     Still, as Hart says, we must choose — between a society that has the resources to meet its needs or, as the anti-tax set would do, one that simply ignores them.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:



Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Didja hear what Obama did? Didja?

    Is that Anthony Crispino I've been hearing tell us what horrific things President Obama has done? I think so.

   Crispino — Bobby Moynihan's "Saturday Night Live" "second-hand news" character — knows everything except for everything.

   "Didja hear the IRS interrogated the tea party?" I hear Crispino say. "Yeah. It's true."

    It doesn't phase Anthony at all when reality interjects, Seth Meyers-style: "Actually, Anthony, the IRS interviewed leaders of tea party groups that sought tax exemption."

    "Oh, yeah. It was interrogation," says Crispino. "And you know how I know? The Army was involved."

     How so, Anthony?

     "'You heard that Obama sent in this general."

     You mean the IRS inspector general?

     Ah, whatever. For this news cycle, parody is sitting in for reality. Those people constructed to believe the worst about a good president will construct stories you wouldn't believe. And shouldn't.

    Didja hear that the White House had the House cloak room wiretapped? Well, yeah, you read it on the Drudge Report.

    Except: After Congressman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., birthed the claim on right-wing radio and it circled the globe as "truth," Nunes said he, um, misspoke.

    The sad thing: The reason such scandal scavengers can get any mileage out of such baselessness at the moment is because the FBI has to defend something truly odious — subpoenaing assorted Associated Press phone records, which included the main number for the AP in the House press gallery. See? The cloak room.

    That's not wiretapping. That's not even close. Still, the FBI's actions provided an opening through which pink elephants could fly.

    In the same way, the Internal Revenue Service has provided a monster opening to the Anthony Crispinos of the world by having given extra scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax exemption.

   Understand: Scrutiny is exactly what taxpayers demand. Tax-exempt non profits shouldn't be partisan fronts. But taxpayers demand evenhandedness, too. The IRS has disgraced itself and disserved the nation.

    Did I mention pink elephants? Former Reagan speechifier Peggy Noonan let 'em fly when she used hearsay and sour grapes from a few Republicans to report that the IRS had audited them as Obama-style payback.

    Leave it to The New York Times' Nate Silver, the Einstein of political probability, to analyze Noonan's claim down to raw hysteria. Statistically, he points out, it is a certainty that many in America's 1 percent will get audited. Get used to it, rich white folks.

     Regardless of administration, D or R, he wrote, "The probability of being audited is highest for high-income taxpayers." He observed that 12 percent of individuals who made more than $1 million were audited last year. 

    But seriously, now. No joke. No pun. No giggle. This IRS stuff is a serious matter.

    The fanciful claims now afloat by anti-Obama balloonists are exactly why what the IRS did was wrong and stupid. Americans should be able to trust their government to treat each of them equally. Doing anything else inflates those hot-air rigs ever-ready to launch.

    In The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin writes, "The real scandal — is that 501(c)(4) groups have been engaged in political activity in such a sustained and open way."

   The tax code has been abused by players on both sides of the political spectrum. An aggressive, effective — and most important, credible — IRS is crucial.

   The tea party claims to be nonpartisan. I will claim to have shattered the Olympic long-jump record in fourth grade. Let the tea party's spawns prove the claim if they are to be tax-exempt. I cannot prove mine, unfortunately.

   As Obama has made clear, the IRS made a horrible blunder — one that makes it more difficult to do a difficult job.

   What it also did was give all those Anthony Crispinos out there a reason to tell stories you wouldn't believe.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Coverup for you to probe, Senator

    Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., says the "coverup" surrounding the tragic incidents in Benghazi is "bigger than Watergate, bigger than Iran-Contra, bigger than the Pentagon Papers."

    It's interesting that Inhofe doesn't mention another matter that didn't make his top four. It involved allegations of weapons of mass destruction, talking points planted in the press and weekly news programs about a "mushroom cloud" looming.

    It involved linking Saddam Hussein to a terrorist attack on America. It involved sending men and women to war.

    Sen. Inhofe wants more about events that caused the deaths of four Americans.

    Four-thousand, four hundred and eighty-eight Americans died in events triggered by that matter he doesn't mention.

    Throw in the 2,977 killed when unheeded warnings bore out about the 9/11 attack.   

     We did not hear Sen. John McCain calling for a Watergate-style probe into those matters like he now does about Benghazi. I wonder why.

    That said, I disagree with Democrats who say this pageant of indignation is all about tarring Obama and, of course, Hillary Clinton. That's just not true.

    The truth is that Republicans are pursuing their ongoing mission in Washington: "Do everything in our power so that our government can't govern, so help us God."

    Not a word above should be taken as dismissing the horrific screw-up that was Benghazi, the paucity of security despite warnings, the mixed signals from the White House afterward. Horrific. Screw-up.

   Then again: A Nixonian coverup? As I recall, Watergate consumed months and years and reels and reels of White House tape. If the Obama administration was papering over something, you'd think it would have stuck with its story more than 19 days before changing its explanation and calling it a terrorist attack, as Clinton did Sept. 20.

     If this was telling tales so as not to undermine Obama's re-election — the reframed explanation gave voters a month and a half to decide for themselves. But, whatever you say, senators.

    While we're at it: The administration unambiguously sought $1.80 billion for embassy security, construction and maintenance for fiscal 2012. Too much, said House Republicans. They cut it by $331 million, after cutting the request by $128 million the previous year.

    Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who sits on the House Oversight Committee on Benghazi, said the U.S. consulate didn't meet the "basic, minimum standards." Asked later, he defended putting clamps on embassy funding.

    "We have to make priorities and choices in this country," he said, tough budgetary times and all.

     With that in mind, Rep. Chaffetz, here is something for your committee to study, and you'll be excited to know it comes with a coverup:

     A 2012 study by the bipartisan Congressional Research Service that found that while resulting in more income inequality, the Bush tax cuts didn't boost the economy. It simply increased the federal deficit.

     The coverup? Republicans quashed it. Didn't want it muddying the 2012 dialogue. Didn't want Mitt Romney to have to wrap his ideas around debunked economic theory. Talking points, you know.

     The GOP wanted everyone to think of the deficit as Obama's baby, even if spending in his presidency rose at a slower rate than under Bush. (That's not a Democratic talking point. That's from

      Yes, Congressman, an investigation. Let's investigate how foolish fiscal policies so strapped this country that it couldn't do what you now say should have been done: protect our brave diplomats.

    Let's investigate how a strategy of strangulation has worked so well that paralysis is what we call motoring in the nation's capital.

   You so want to have an investigation. Give this one your best shot. It beats governing.

      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Unelected, untouchable, uncontested

   From reports, the entrance was what one imagines of a drug lord who isn't used to waiting for a table in Guadalajara. Only this was in Washington.

  Stepping out of the elevator, a wedge of body guards shoved people out of the way, one pinning a cameraman against the wall.

  "You don't have jurisdiction here," the cameraman protested.

  But of course, the National Rifle Association sets his own rules. Mr. Big had come to lecture Congress last January. Wherever he — and you — may be, you will get out of Wayne LaPierre's way.

  Doesn't matter if a vast majority of Americans don't buy what he shills. He will meet his quota on Capitol Hill.

  Of course, what he does is hardly unusual. The NRA is one of any number of entities that comport themselves as their own branches of government, and whose officials govern their own protectorates. It's all about money.

  Speaking of acronyms: More and more Americans are coming to know GEO, as in GEO Group Inc., the Florida company that runs more than 111 for-profit prisons and penal facilities.

   Recently a GEO executive, Thomas Wierdsma, was found civilly liable for "outrageous behavior," including attempts to pressure U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials to deport his immigrant daughter-in-law when her marriage to his son soured.

   You know: "Half of our prisoners are federal. I'll get ICE on the phone."

    Don't expect these developments to hurt GEO's business. With $1.48 billion in revenues last year, it has reached Halliburton-esque critical mass, profit- and power-wise.

   So much liquidity has the company that it offered to plunk down $6 million for naming rights to Florida Atlantic University's new football stadium. 

   That idea was nixed after a public backlash. Rest assured, GEO will find good ways to spend that money, possibly convincing state and federal lawmakers that prison cells are good for the economy.

   Nobody elected GEO, but know that it has power beyond the founders' imagining, even that of Thomas Jefferson, who warned about the "aristocracy of our monied corporations." Power? GEO has power over thousands of prisoners' every breath.

   Maybe it makes sense to privatize trash hauling, or streetlight repair. It doesn't make sense to privatize life-or-death matters (See Hurricane Katrina). But when bigness is next to godliness, too many policy-makers simply bow to the GEOs of the world and proclaim, "At your service."

   Big oil, the pharmaceutical industry, big insurance, all have managed to engorge themselves while blunting the public interest when it comes to policy. For one, Americans would be paying less for over-the-counter drugs if pharmaceutical makers hadn't prevented the government from negotiating prices under Medicare reforms.

   Each of these players serves much like Russia or China in the U.N. Security Council. Whatever a body might wish to achieve, they carry a one-vote veto.

   Unelected. Unaccountable. Grover Norquist has the pledges of most Republican members of Congress, along with governors and state lawmakers, to do what he says, which is to never raise revenue for any purpose.

   How did Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform gain its power? Silly question. As a lobbying arm funded by corporate interests like big tobacco and big oil, it spends millions to elect candidates who kiss Norquist's ring and to smite anyone who backs away from the no-new-revenue pledge. The group spent $16 million on the last election.  

   "Conservatism, my foot," said Bill Moyers about Norquist's hold on politicians' souls. "It's all about the money."

    And so we return to the unelected sheiks of the gun cartel, their flowing gowns, their gusher-style fiscal resources. As in the sand-blown Third World, politically they control whole provinces. They are the law, because they have the guns, and the money. And who will stand in their way?

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: