Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Behold, the GOP’s boulder brigade

   Did we ever tire of it?

   No matter how many times Wile E. Coyote face-planted on the cliff or came up on the underside of his own boulder, we watched for his next botched plan.

   Wile E. is a lot like an increasingly cartoonish presence on the political scene these days.

   All he hungers for is one particular carcass for dinner.

   So he spends his every waking moment positioning an anvil above the desert roadway.

   Today's Republican Party is a Wile E. bunch, and we know whose carcass it craves. Nearly six years in tongue-dragging pursuit, most of its ranks in Congress still can think of nothing else, certainly not governing.

    The sad irony is that keeping to the script of never learning, a new breed of coyote has emerged — canis deleterious — which appears even more desperate.

    Sen. Ted Cruz, tea party darling, was seen as the equivalent of those mail-order ACME spring-loaded boots that Wile E. ordered by mail — you know, to put some "sproing" in a Wile E's step. Watch that step.

    Cruz has made defunding the Affordable Care Act his signature feat. He's led fellow partisans up to the precipice — wait, this sounds familiar — of shutting down the government in order to get what they most fondly fantasize.

    Yes, and position a grand piano at the edge of the butte, just so . . .

    At times House Speaker John Boehner has feigned intention to work with the president, but with the House's latest budget gambit, we can ascribe Boehner's seven-layer tan to anti-Obama tea party patrol: hours upon blistering hours along a blinding and desolate highway.

    Probably nothing has demonstrated the cartoonish nature of this quest like the feedback from certain players on what to do about Syria and chemical weapons.

    Quoth Cruz in June: America needs a "clear, practical plan to go in, locate the weapons, secure or destroy them and get out."

     Quoth Cruz once President Obama started talking tough with Syria: "We certainly don't have a dog in that fight. We should be focused on defending the United States of America."

      Always consistent. Whatever the president says, say the opposite. And stay resolute.

      "Rushing us to war," said the very people who rushed us to a war 10 years ago based on claims they could not support.

       "Hedging and telegraphing his punches," said those who apparently wanted Obama to rush.

     He didn't, and turned to talking, to the nation, to Congress, to allies.

     "There you go: weakness," came the howling rejoinder.

     Now, look at what's happening: negotiations to secure Syria's chemical weapons (which of course don't exist; right, Mr. Assad?), as well as the hint of movement toward a negotiated peace in Syria's civil war.

     "A shell game," comes the howl. "Syria will hide them or ship them to Iran."

     That could happen. But if this deal goes through with Russian participation, and with United Nations participation, a likely-to-be-unified U.N. Security Council will be more likely to hold Assad accountable if Syria uses those arms again.

     Oh, and did anyone notice that Iran has said it is interested in making nuclear concessions to end the sanctions strangling it?

      As The New York Times' David Sanger writes, referring to Syria and Iran, "Without much warning, diplomacy is suddenly alive again after a decade of debilitating war" in the Middle East.

     Whatever the case, the lean and hungry opposition (forget that "loyal opposition"  stuff) will do everything in its power to make a case against it — if this president has a hand in it.

     Because all it wants is that bird on a platter. Th-Th-Th-Th-Th . . . That's all, folks.

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


Monday, September 16, 2013

To the extreme, in climate and inaction

In Colorado, headline writers have run out of ways to say “unprecedented.”

In the span of two weeks, the state went from unheard-of “heat day” school closures — yes, in September — to the worst floods since the mountains were under the sea.

This follows a fire season worse than the previous, each the costliest since the invention of coin. It seems residents and policy-makers can pencil in a worse one for next year, and the next.

For many years the city of Boulder had contemplated a destructive 100-year flood on Boulder Creek. Headline, Sept. 13 Boulder Daily Camera: “100-year flood.”

Our atmosphere has become a microwave oven. The Big Thompson River just had that 100-year flood, devastating Estes Park. Its last 100-year flood? Thirty-seven years ago.

Heat waves and drought not known since the Dust Bowl. Sea levels rising.

Extreme: Our weather has become that, and we are coming to know why. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's authoritative explanation: global warming.

A NOAA report says that climate change made several 2012 events more likely: U.S. heat waves, Hurricane Sandy’s flooding, shrinking Arctic sea ice, drought in the European Iberian peninsula, and extreme rainfall in Australia and New Zealand.

The 78 NOAA researchers involved in the study weren’t making broad-brush claims, either. They said, for instance, that the U.S. drought of the same period was most likely cyclical, along with several other weather events including a cold snap in the Netherlands.

Sens. James Inhofe and Marco Rubio may not want to hear this, wanting to believe that climate change is just, you know, change, but NOAA asserts that levels of man-produced carbon dioxide are behind the events linked to rapid climate change.

The scientists’ point is that these events aren’t as freaky as they appear. They are predictable because of how human activity has upset the balance of nature.

Whatever activity we are generating, when it comes to addressing this menace — the biggest story in the history of our planet — American policy-makers are inert, for the simple reason that necessary change is inconvenient.

Actually, that statement needs qualification, because one person has been doing things about it: President Obama. Not only has he directed the nation’s most significant shift to renewable energy and conservation under the 2009 stimulus bill, but he recently issued a directive for power plants to curb greenhouse pollution.

By doing so, Obama applied CPR to a dead decade regarding this crucial global matter.

The United States is the only signatory to the climate-change measures of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol not to ratify it. (Canada pulled out after ratifying.)

Some people will ask, haven’t matters already gone too far to avert the types of events we now experience? Maybe so. That doesn’t mean we don’t do what’s right regarding the pollution and resource deprivation that comes with our pedal-to-the-metal approach to fossil fuel consumption.

The Sarah Palin Pollyanna dodge is that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. But even if the greenhouse effect did not exist, and even if CO2 is harmless, what accompanies it out the smokestack and tail pipe is not.

Policies to limit fossil fuel usage are good for all living things.

Climate change is real, as real as the 100 days a year in which the gondola city of Venice now finds itself under water. Vendors there have now resorted to selling disposable galoshes to tourists.

This is the policy of private enterprise, the policy of profit today at the expense of tomorrow. Get used to it. There’s money to be had. Hey, Bud, grow some gills.

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

GOP: from ‘big tent’ to biodome

   As if what one Republican state lawmaker said wasn't bad enough, another came along to, um, second it.

  The subject was fried chicken. And barbecue. And black people.

  We need not point out the skin color of Colorado state Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, and State Rep. Lori Sain, R-Dacono. Not at all. The former made the news when, in a state hearing about poverty, she launched into an aside about the genetic health tendencies "of the black race" — the propensity toward diabetes, for one — followed by:

  "Although I've got to say I've never had better barbecue and better chicken and ate better in my life than when you go down South, and you, I mean, I love it. And everybody loves it."

  Thank you, Ms. Marble. That will be enough.

  Except it wasn't — not for State Rep. Sain.

  Despite the uproar over Marble's comments, including condemnation by the GOP state chairman, a few days later Sain presented Marble a box of Popeyes Chicken. An eyewitness overheard Sain call it a "silent protest" against all the unnecessary flak Marble had endured.

  Wow. And double wow.

  Lord forgive these two, for they apparently know not what they do; they don't hang out much with the "black race." They live in ever-comfortable neverlands ruled by the ever-comfortable. They come to the Capitol to represent the mostly white, mostly Republican bastions that redistricting has wrought.

  Sure, in concept and in oath, they are put in office to represent us. But, then, increasingly, people like them have a different definition of "us."

  In Texas, a federal panel blocked a new voter I.D. law, saying it imposed "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor and racial minorities." Ruling Republicans' response: "And, so?" The state reactivited the law one nanosecond, or less than that, after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

  In blasting a similar law in North Carolina, Colin Powell said it "immediately turns off a voting bloc the Republican Party needs."

  Quoth the GOP: "And, so?" Today's Republican Party passes these laws by promoting a feeble fairy tale: "Nation awash in voter fraud." Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe has called the whole GOP voter I.D. movement "a solution in search of a problem." 

  The real problem in the long run is one for the GOP, as noted by Powell: Black and brown people are paying attention.

  They noticed when on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech Capitol Hill Republicans effectively boycotted the commemoration on the Lincoln Memorial steps.

  Instead, GOP leaders summoned a smattering of black Republicans to dine with them in the filtered air of a banquet hall to toast and delude themselves that theirs is the definition of inclusiveness.

  After all, you know, Lincoln was one of them.

  It's not hard to think back to Republicans who stood for what Lincoln, and King, stood for: Dwight Eisenhower. Everett Dirksen. Jacob Javitz. Edward Brooke. Lowell Weicker.

   However, today with the tea party as its life force, the party that George H.W. Bush once advertised as having a "big tent" has become its own biome, encased in plexiglass, existing on filtered air.

  Fifty years ago the push for the Voting Rights Act was excruciatingly bipartisan, with lawmakers in both parties taking political hits as they rejected white statism and the Jim Crow-ing of the Dixiecrats. And now?

  With spokespeople like Vicki Marble and Lori Sain, nothing has so channeled the blissful insulation, the great white spirit of southern segregationists as does today's tea party.

  But it does appreciate good barbecue.

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

Monday, September 2, 2013

Your doctor is so dumb . . .

   One concern about having millions more Americans covered by health insurance is the relative dearth of primary-care physicians.

   Some have used that as a reason to say we shouldn't insure so many Americans. You know, those who have it ought to have it, and those who can't ought to have squat.

   A doctor shortage is a legitimate problem. However, America's pharmaceutical industry may have come up with an answer: We don't need physicians per se.

    Just listen to TV commercial after TV commercial for prescription drugs, and understand that your doctor doesn't know much of anything.

     Doesn't know about Cymbalta.

     Doesn't know about Lyrica.

     Doesn't know about Spiriva.

     Heck, your doctor must not have heard about COPD at all. Ask him or her to research it. (COPD is pretty serious, Doc. For those who have it, it's like an elephant sitting on your chest.)

     If what you are about to read in the next few paragraphs is seen as criticism of America's drug makers, that's not so. They and their TV ads are serving the national interest by instructing Americans to inform their doctors about all of these drugs and the associated and varied, and sometimes dire, side effects.

   What are America's doctors doing when they should be watching TV and learning about Spiriva, Lyrica, Cymbalta and COPD?

    Ask your doctor. Apparently he doesn't have a clue, or cable, or satellite.

    At this point you may be asking, "Hey, what became of my friend Lipitor? Why can't I turn on a TV at any time, day or night, and not see another commercial for the anti-cholesterol drug?" Good question. After all, don't people still have high cholesterol? And don't doctors need to be asked by their patients if Lipitor is right for them?

    Well, roughly a year ago, with its patent expiring and cheaper versions available, Pfizer pulled the plug on a $271 million-a-year on-air, print and online ad campaign for Lipitor.

     The company also stopped sending representatives to doctors to ask them if they per chance knew about Lipitor, occasionally offering monetary or other incentives to remind them after they left.

     Drug makers tell us that the central reason why their wares command such high prices is the cost of research and development, the patent process, federal red tape.

      A report released by London-based medical journal BMJ says, however, that drug companies spend $19 on promotion and marketing for every dollar spent on research and development.

     No one is asserting that this is a faulty business model. And by the standards of American capitalism, a business model that works is beyond challenge.

     Of course, medicine is one of those areas where actual capitalism is a stretch.  Insurers, drug patent holders and hospitals hold veritable monopoly status. The consumer has next to no choice, particularly when an elephant is on his or her chest.

    So, to make things right, are we to rely on doctors, who obviously don't watch enough television to know? Or do we even need doctors?

   Indeed, it would appear that all we need, in the "market" economy that has dictated medical care for too long, is to set the patient before a bank of televisions. Using interactive devices and an unlimited rotisserie of drug commercials, he or she could choose the remedy "right for you" and get it, push-button style, with scrip writers in Far East call centers at the ready 24/7. In a market economy, the customer is always right.

    As said, this commentary should not be taken as criticism of the pharmaceutical industry. Let us praise it. Without its long-winded commercials targeted at limited audiences (erectile dysfunction, Kiddo?), we wouldn't have the great and vast televised choices we now know.

   Without drug commercials, let's face it: The average cable-connected house would have 257 channels with nothing on.

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