Monday, August 26, 2013

Bloviators and finger waggers

   One could imagine Louie Gohmert getting away with this back when medicine shows toured by wagon wheel and information traveled at the speed of horses' hooves.

   Surely, however, not now when information travels at the speed of — the Internet, for gosh sakes.

   There he was, however, on multiple televised occasions, saying that under the Affordable Care Act, "the poor guy making $14,000" is "going to pay extra income tax" if he cannot afford health coverage.

  The Republican congressman said it on ABC's "This Week." He said it to Fox News' Sean Hannity. And it's total bunk.

  In fact, the working-poor individual Gohmert describes would be eligible for free health coverage — Medicaid — in the states that have expanded the coverage.

    In those like Gohmert's Texas that foolishly haven't expanded Medicaid, the man Gohmert describes would be eligible for significant subsidies to pay for insurance. Even then, one who couldn't afford it would could get a hardship exemption.

    Don't believe this? Check Just pinch your nostrils and search "Gohmert."

   Meanwhile, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is on a medicine show tour telling people that the advent of national health coverage is dragging down the economy.

   Well, let's see. Here's what Time magazine says: "The U.S. is making a surprisingly strong comeback," calling it "the great untold story of 2013."

    Now, don't anybody tell Sen. Cruz. How would he know that the Federal Reserve Board's 2014 forecast is for 3 percent to 3.5 percent growth, with the attendant jobs and higher incomes?

   The improved economy isn't just manifested in the bullish stock market. It's also in the housing market, and, oh, yes, in declining federal deficits.

    And, guess what? The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said the health care reforms will reduce the deficit further. Additionally, as Cruz championed defunding the plan, the CBO said that doing so would drive up the deficit.

  How would the law pay for itself and more? Through tax hikes for high-end health plans, penalties for those who ignore the individual mandate, sliding-scale premiums for those who enroll, and reforms that will cut spending on Medicare.

    Now we return to Gohmert's claims about poor people's paying more. If he understood the law he assails, and if he were true to his tea party creds, he actually would assail as well the poor guy who stands to get federal health coverage under this plan. Oh, my. String up that freeloader.

    However, those very people who stand to benefit from Medicaid expansion are in limbo in 19 states that refuse to play along. Even Republican-controlled states like Arizona and Florida saw the futility of waging ideological war when thousands of their citizens would receive health coverage. They will expand Medicaid.

   The fact is, even in states like Texas that have refused even to facilitate the health exchanges by which the working poor can shop for low-cost, subsidized health insurance, the "poor guy" Gohmert mentions will benefit immensely.

    Starting Oct. 1, that individual can buy a qualified health plan under the law. To do so, rather than having to pay more in income tax, he would receive a significant tax credit.

    All told, the guy making $14,000 a year can expect to have health coverage for almost nothing — $280 a year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

     Scream about that, Congressman Gohmert. It's something for nothing — except working one's tail off at a minimum wage, that is.

    So even in states governed by the types whose alternative to "Obamacare" is "NoCare" "and "IDon'tCare," the Affordable Care Act is going to help the little guy. What a charade it is from the Louie Gohmerts and Ted Cruzes of this land to say they are on that man's side.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:





Monday, August 19, 2013

Criminally negligent physical education

   Did it really take the American Medical Association to tell us this? The AMA has pronounced childhood obesity a disease — also, that boiling water scalds and wood splinters.

   On a "self-evident" scale of 10, this is an 11.

   Just as clear in the 21st century, and backed by statistics is the fact that poverty is obesity's handmaiden.Central culprit are cheap fast food and snacks that supplant healthier fare.

   As much as we should worry about the poor child with pencil-thin arms, by far the bigger issue in our country is too-big children.

   What children eat is only half the problem, though. What they do with their time is far more serious. Vigorous exercise can mitigate just about anything a child can ingest. (What becomes of the child's teeth is another matter.)

    For this reason, initiatives like Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign couldn't be more important, not just because they motivate children to get off their duffs, but also because they propose that adults do something to avert the catastrophe signaled by the fact that one in eight children enters school obese.

   One really positive indicator: Nine states now require recess at the elementary level. The negative? Forty-one states don't.

   If you say, "That time could be better spent on reading, writing or doing math problems," be advised that the hissing sound you hear is lucidity leaking out your ears. (In the words of a one-time 8-year-old in my home who searched for a synonym for "crazy," you are "out of sane.")

     I vowed long ago never to forget what it was like to be a child. It is insane that school districts so devalue the function of fresh air and physical activity, particularly when states continue to heat up the "accountability" pressure cooker.

    Which brings us to the structured activity that comes with physical education.

     Any parent whose children have completed 12 years of schooling knows of good P.E. teachers and horrid ones.

     The worst seem to operate in secondary school. There, too often the obligations of coaching overshadow any other function. It's a common symptom, particularly in regions where football is king.

     It is not physical education to roll basketballs or volleyballs out on the floor and retreat to one's chalkboard or scouting reports. 

    While a few students happily will occupy themselves physically in said fashion, I had a son who whiled away his wholly unsupervised, unscripted high school P.E. period playing chess in the bleachers with a friend (they had fashioned the chess pieces from pieces of notebook paper).

    Physical education? It was a scene from Stalag 17.

   If the school wasn't going to engage them in physical activity, these kids could have used it otherwise — a captivating elective, maybe. Regardless, a parent have much preferred that one's child be doing something aerobic and fun in P.E., and should demand it. 

    One reason why I so strongly advocate for P.E. and recess is that both were so important to my education. In 12 years of schooling I was exposed to every imaginable sport, from those that would present themselves in varsity form — basketball, track and field, gymnastics, wrestling — to those that didn't: speed ball, mush ball (indoor softball), volleyball, and, yes, dodge ball. Every activity left us huffing, puffing and engaged.

    By the time I was through with high school, in P.E. class I'd tried my hand at every gymnastics apparatus, every track and field event, and much more. I had a greater appreciation for athletic activity in general. P.E. helped me become an active adult. It serves me today.

     What activities are your schools encouraging for your children? If your answer is "couch surfing" or "Grand Theft Auto," start screaming.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It's education, dummy, not ventriloquism

 It's all in the eyes.

 Think back to the great teachers you had. What do you recall? Eyes that bathed a classroom in attentiveness, in wisdom, and when appropriate, in mirth.

  Now, think of a puppet. The first thing you notice is the not-human eyes.

  I hate to say this, with all the "best intentions" and "best practices" afloat, but what policy makers too often have in mind when they "do" education is puppetry.

   And so back to school we go, back to age-old challenges and "new," "improved" long-distance, top-down mandates.

   How to generate higher test scores? Will "merit pay" move the needle? What about school uniforms? More charter schools?

   The infatuation with charter schools is particularly curious. Basically, here's what's special about charters: They have fewer state controls. Well, Mr. Puppeteer, if that makes a difference, why not loosen the strings that jerk traditional public schools and their teachers hither and yon?

     How about fewer tests? Less paperwork and busy work? How about less homogenization?

     Innovation is a virtue in most workplaces. Why not in the classroom?

    On this vast front, two remarkable things recently came out of Texas, that proving ground for the overreaching, over-promising, test-infatuated monster that became No Child Left Behind.

    The Texas Legislature this spring voted to require fewer state tests. This, in the parlance of addiction, is one step on the path toward ending dependency.

   Lawmakers also loosened core requirements, relieving high schoolers of having to take four years of social studies, and giving them some — gasp — choice.

    When members of the state school board said it was their duty to direct school districts on how students should exert this taste of scheduling freedom, State Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock, who chairs the House Public Education Committee, said those are decisions for — gasp – local school districts to make. 

     In Florida, lawmakers decided that — gasp — one size doesn't really fit all regarding high school graduation. Florida now has an alternative pathway to a high school dipoloma not tied to such a college-level requirement as advanced algebra.

     These are developments that rightfully should take one's breath away in an era of regimentation and standardization.

     But let us not celebrate too profusely, for the quest to make education a puppet show goes on unabated.

    Washington, for instance, remains an agent of group think and forced marches. Dollars attached to the "Race to the Top" initiative have coerced 45 states to embrace the Common Core standards promoted by the National Governors Association and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    On paper, Common Core sounds harmless and even elevating, but it's all in the execution. Policy-makers have shown that they just can't "reform" in moderation. They have to make every new initiative a gleaming, chariot-strewn production of Ben Hur.

    One aspect of the Common Core is an emphasis on reading and writing as they relate to the work force. That sounds unobjectionable.

    Then again, one of the problems in the "age of accountability" is how the literary arts (reading, writing) have been reduced to monotony by test-prep exercises. The more students see reading and writing as chores, as work, as little more than tickets to a paycheck, the less they will read for pleasure and inspiration. And we will lose.

   The metrics of all "school reform" should be the extent to which teachers can teach, in the ideal sense, and students can be inspired.

   Scientists have identified a phenomenon called the "ventriloquist effect," in which one perceives that a sound one hears is coming from some place other than the perceived source.

    That's what's happening in America's classrooms. The teachers' lips are moving, but the sound supplied is from beyond the door. That's a novelty act, folks. It's not education.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:  

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Obamacare Apocalypso Dancers

  Sarah Palin spun the applause meter at the 2008 Republican National Convention when she quoted Ronald Reagan:

  "You and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."

  One wonders what the meter would have read if Palin pointed out that Reagan said those words to warn against the freedom-hating menace of Medicare.

  Let's imagine "our sunset years" without Medicare.

   The other day, President Obama told fellow Democrats they are on the "right side of history" with the Affordable Care Act.

   Looking back to Reagan's "sunset" line, within history's scope, how wrong could one be? And today?

   Before adjourning for a month, the U.S. House affirmed its status as American history's most ineffectual legislative body when it voted for the 40th time to abolish or gut the Affordable Care Act.

    Fear this, America: On Jan. 1, the most important consumer protections in U.S. health-care history will become law.

   No longer will insurers be able to discriminate against people because of pre-existing conditions, where they work, or what their genders are.

   Most importantly, hospital bill payers won't be paying for services for so many uninsured Americans, as health insurance will not only be the right it always should have been, but will be an obligation. It will be duly subsidized, understand, because health-care dollars are better spent on the front end, the preventive end, than at the dying end, and in the emergency room.

    Let's hear it from the "anti-freeloader" chorus for this, folks — the "no free lunch" crowd, the "boot straps" crowd. Why exactly would this crowd have been stubbornly protective of the status quo, which includes the highest cost of health care in the civilized world, in large part because of the uninsured showing up at the ER, driving up everyone's hospital bills and insurance premiums?

      The effort to repeal "Obamacare" flies in the face of the positive indicators already developing around it.

    Consider the recent projection from the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees that lower costs have extended the life span of the Medicare trust fund. The Affordable Care Act is credited in part for already holding down the cost of Medicare Advantage.

   Consider this eat-my-words admission by Obamacare critic and Forbes columnist Rick Ungar about rates submitted by insurers under California's new health exchanges, "I was indeed shocked by the proposed premium rates . . . far lower than what I expected."

  What about the now-delayed employer mandate, portrayed as a costly job-killing cataclysm in the making? An Urban Institute study finds "the law leaves large businesses' costs per person largely untouched and reduces them for small businesses."

    In The New Republic, Noam Scheiber comments on the panic besetting tea party devotees as the benefits and protections of the Affordable Care Act kick in and present themselves on the horizon.

   "If you want to appreciate how truly incorrigible conservatives are on the subject," he writes, "I recommend watching them grapple with the early news about Obamacare implementation, which has suggested the program could work better than anticipated.

     "It's a bit like watching a speculator learn he's bet his life savings on a failing company — which is to say, chock full of denial and elaborate self-delusion."

    Back to that memorable Reagan line warning about government taking a new role in health care: As we all know, Medicare sucked the freedom right out of our lungs, making America weak and unwilling, with its leeching seniors and workers expecting something for nothing.

    Oh, wait. That hasn't happened. This is a great country, and when it covers millions more of us against health catastrophe, it will be greater.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: