Monday, December 30, 2013

Stepping sanely into a new year

   We walk upright. We have a foot up.

   At least that's how it looks on paper.

   In practice, I'm alarmed to report that we act like a bunch of gambusia. And they breathe through gills.

  Also known as mosquito fish, gambusia have a lifespan of two years. A hiccup. No problem for them; they are so busy breeding they pretty much don't care.

  Breeding aside, we do other things to pass the time. Unfortunately, many of those things don't point toward the sumptuous lifespans advertised for those who are upright, have opposing thumbs and expansive cranial regions.

  Consider, for one, the problem with the habitual wearing of ultra-high pumps – high heels. Podiatrists point to crippling conditions, from neuroma (painful thickening of toe joints), to capsulitis (inflamed feet), to hammer toe (what happens when toes are jammed for too long into a too-confining space).

  For these very reasons, The Washington Post reports $3.5 billion is spent each year on women's foot surgeries.

   No need to gang up on the ladies. As a new year begins, most of us examine habits that would make it appear we are racing those tiny, hyper-sexed fish to death's door.

  Those range from the low-hanging fruit of FDA admonitions and Breathalyzer blows, to the fudge rolls around our bellies.

    Probably no stronger evidence exists of a collective death wish than the growing tendency of drivers to obey their smart phones rather than the rules or contours of the road.

   Similarly, we have birthed a generation of pedestrians who can't put one foot in front of the other – that is, unless their smart phones instruct them.  For those people, a collective New Year's resolution: Look up. Look around. Not everyone is going to be looking out for you.

  We seem sentenced to live life faster and faster, with ever more useless information each day. What's the fate of your favorite TV duck- call philosopher, I ask? Oh, and by the way, do you know your neighbors' names?

  This thought leads to some big-picture concerns as the Earth completes another solar revolution.

  I appreciate the sanity implied in Pope Francis' statements that the veneration of profit, held up by our society as the only universal good, isn't so good.

    Some of that message has been contained in President Obama's dogged initiative to conserve energy and find alternatives to Earth-depleting, Earth-spoiling kinds of energy, profitable though their addiction may be.

  The twin imperatives of a profit-driven system are (1) that growth is always good, and (2) bigger is always better. Sorry, folks. That's not so much a philosophy as a pathology.

   As Thom Hartmann writes about the once-great Mesopotamian empire in The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, there's another word for the pathology of hyper consumption: conquest.    

     From commoners to kings, the people of ancient Mesopotamia thought their way of life was superior to all others, writes Hartmann. "But although things looked good for a time, they didn't realize it wasn't sustainable: It only worked as long as they had other people's lands to conquer."

    Of course, conquest takes many forms, whether it applies to multi-national corporations or voracious and militarized nation states. The driving principle in all such cases is one of acquiring power and wealth at others' expense, and at the cost of precious and finite resources. Sometimes that spells war.

    In 2014, let us come to understand that the highest order for each of us is to do that which is sustainable and real.

    To that end, let us find alternatives to habits which endanger us, hurt or diminish others, or make our toes hate us.

   Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013: When the conversation changed

  It was a bad year for the president, some would say his worst.

  The nation was divided to the breaking point. It seemed nothing went right for him in 1862.

    And yet, Abraham Lincoln, his proxies being pummeled on the battlefield, rose above it to bring about a fundamental change regarding a most basic human need.

   In Lincoln's case, that need was education. That year he signed the Morrill Act, transforming this from a nation with a permanent have-not class to one in which all could aspire to higher education.

   Reading about what many historians consider Lincoln's worst year, I thought about 2013. Even his friends say it couldn't have been worse for Barack Obama. We know what his critics say.

  However, they don't write history.

  History will show that 2013 was when America's conversation about health care changed. The nation started the excruciating, jarring shift from the status quo —  with a permanent have-not class — to something better.

  Yes, we know Congress had that conversation in 2009 and 2010, passing the Affordable Care Act. But it wasn't until 2013, with the individual mandate kicking in, that the rest of us had that talk.

  Whatever is being said now, even if obscenity-laced, is good for the country, because it's about what the nation needs.

  Want to vent about Good. The more outrage, the more quickly its problems will be addressed.

  Want to talk about the fact that some states will deprive millions of Medicaid available in other states? Good. Maybe those millions will vote.

   Want to say the president misled about unintended loss of coverage for many? OK. Say it. Say, "He lied," if you wish. But understand: The ACA is in place for people who lose their coverage. Before 2013, millions lost their insurance each year, with nowhere to turn.

     Back to 1862 and the Morrill Act, which created land-grant colleges in the states: It didn't apply to the Confederacy, which declared it didn't belong to America anymore. After peace reigned, that changed and the former breakaway states benefited as well.

    Right now, in similar fashion, the potential of the ACA is blunted in red-state America, not just on Medicaid expansion, but with states having refused to set up their own health care exchanges to help their citizens shop for coverage.

    But I have two examples from such states that illustrate the ACA is working even in hostile environs.

    Take a woman in Texas who used to drop her individual health insurer (with premiums slated to go up 27 percent), and ended up with coverage at half of the projected cost, with a lower deductible.

     Easy? No. "It took several tries, and I had help." Now she knows how it works. She knows that if the plan she just purchased is insufficient or gets too costly, she can shop around with many more options than before. To her, "It's the American way."

    Meanwhile, a woman in Florida whose pre-existing condition — breast cancer — made coverage crippling, reported that because of the ACA her premiums went down and and her deductible will be cut by three-fourths.

   "For those who disparage Obamacare," she wrote in a letter to the editor, "do some research and stop believing the naysayers who have insurance and are blessed with good health."

     Sticker shock ahead for some Americans? Absolutely. Disruption of coverage? We've seen it.

     But 1 million Americans have signed up at this point, meaning there's no turning back.

     The conversation has changed. Whereas once America was resolved to the forever-inequitable status quo, it is figuring out how to address a new, fairer, reality.

     And history will show that it happened in Barack Obama's worst year.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus is black, and . . .

   What would you expect from this corner but a spirited defense of Megyn Kelly?

   Aside from being blonde, she is paid to convey truth per memo from Fox News management. So when declaring as "verifiable fact" the racial makeup of Santa (and Jesus!) to be white, like Fox News management., she is simply securing her job. Get off her case.

   The person who has no defense: that teacher in Rio Rancho, N.M., who told a dark-skinned student the same thing:

   Get real, kid; Santa Claus doesn't come in your color.

    As for Kelly: Too much attention has been directed at the baselessness of her claim. Truthfulness is a high bar her employer has never deigned to ascend. Why demand it now?

   It's pointless to observe, as Jon Stewart did, that the original St. Nicholas was most likely a Turk, making him closer in appearance to TNT's Charles Barkley than Fox News' agent of mirth Karl Rove.

   But those are facts. And, well, consider the news source.

   What I cannot imagine is a teacher in New Mexico saying Santa is an Anglo.

   Early in my career I ran a newsroom in a lovely place called the San Luis Valley. Though titularly in Southern Colorado, culturally it is an annex of New Mexico. And so it was that the Santa figure to whom my first son gurgled his first-ever Christmas wishes was not Megyn Kelly-tinted.

    Pancho Claus, they called him. His white beard hung low, betraying a hint of black scrabble. His belly was not so round. But he was jolly and elf-like, and brown-skinned. 

   It is sad to scandalous that a teacher in a richly diverse environment such as New Mexico would say what that one did.

   Yes, sad; but as an editor once told a young Virginia O'Hanlon in an editorial in the New York Sun, some people "think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds."

   The most inspiring vision of Santa I've ever seen was in a mall in Waco, Texas. A friend named Melvin Rueffer, who is deaf, clad himself in red suit and white beard for just a few minutes each holiday season. For a specially arranged audience, he subbed for a hearing Santa. Then he and a small procession of deaf children communicated, by hand, the little ones' Christmas wishes heard in sign.

    I've seen a plus-sized woman show up at  a school pageant as Santa. I've seen a 12-year-old (big for his age) in the same role. No one assembled a panel on Fox News to say, "That's not factually correct," or to say, "See? The war on Kris Kringle continues."

    Yes, Virginia, Santa is black. Yes, Virginia, Santa is brown. Santa has slanted eyes. Santa is Cuban. Santa is Filipino. Santa speaks Vietnamese and Cajun.

    (Sorry to alarm anyone, but just like those pernicious ballots that some Fox News viewers believe to be an abomination, Santa is multilingual.)

     Santa bats right, throws left. Santa bats left, throws right. He is a machine worker. He is an attorney. Santa works the docks and the fields, the night shift, the morning shift. He is in the union and in management. Santa is on unemployment. In too many cases, Santa's unemployment has expired.

    Santa is a he. Santa is a she. Santa is a she who used to be a he, and vice versa. 

    Santa is you, me, us. That's what makes Santa such a great concept.

    Santa wasn't invented by Coca Cola. Santa wasn't born on 34th Street. As that sage editorial writer once wrote back to that little girl, Santa is wherever "the heart of childhood" beats.

   And that is as "fact"-based as this debate needs to be.

   Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Where discrimination still takes the cake

  Discrimination is a thing of the past. It's sooo 1964. Right?

  So why did a Colorado judge just make a ruling regarding discrimination and wedding cake?

  Because discrimination isn't a thing of the past. It's soooo 2013.

  The Masterpiece Cake Shop in Denver was more than willing to take Charlie Craig's and David Mullins' money when they ordered a cake last year. However, when the owner found out that the two were legally wed in Massachusetts, and they wanted a celebratory wedding cake, he said, in effect, "Your money's no good here."

   See? It's so 2013.

   As did the cake shop owner, this discrimination is justified by people who, Bibles in hand, will flip past pages and pages of teachings about love and Golden Rule-living to find one bookmarked line in Leviticus.

    Thank goodness for the American Civil Liberties Union. It advocated for the Craig and Mullins before an administrative judge, who ruled against the cake shop. If you set up shop to serve humanity, you had better have good reason to refuse any of its members.

   You may say that's unfair; this is a proprietor's prerogative. So said the owners of the Greensboro, N.C., Woolworth's in 1960 when refusing to serve persistent black students. Hence began one of the most amazingly organic chapters of the civil rights era: confrontation-based desegregation of lunch counters.

   Something similar is happening in America all those 53 years later. This year four more states legalized same-sex marriage, making the total 13. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to swallow the argument that the Defense of Marriage Act did not violate the 14th Amendment's equal protection provision.

   Oh, Robert Bork, where ye be?

   Most Americans don't remember Bork, but legal principles for which he stood are worth a trip down Memory Lane.

   When nominated by Ronald Reagan in 1987 to serve on the Supreme Court, he came as a symbol and standard-bearer of "strict constructionism." We can be assured that he would not have sided with the court on gay marriage.

   Bork testified that the intent of the 14th Amendment, adopted in 1868, was to provide protections for emancipated slaves, and no one else. Not women. Not Latinos. Not the disabled. And certainly not homosexuals.

   To use the 14th Amendment to make a protected group out of any other kind of person would be pernicious "judicial activism," he said, and conservatives said. "Amen."

   The Senate's refusal to confirm him represented the biggest victory in generations for those who understand, rightly, that the Constitution is a living document.

    And so it lives, even when discrimination still goes down for many people like good Kentucky bourbon.

    It is worth remembering that many in Congress who had been dragged into the 20th century to support the Civil Rights Act (passed in 1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) at first had no intention of making the latter expansive enough to serve all potential victims of discrimination. Then a guileful Texas congresswoman, Barbara Jordan, obtained wording that protected the rights of Spanish-speaking Hispanics and immigrants of all stripes in the voting booth. The bill required bilingual ballots where necessary. Jordan convinced enough people in Congress that allowing local governments to do otherwise would result in de facto literacy tests.

   And strict constructionists wept.

   Now, shades of 1964: Congress is debating passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — ENDA, workplace protections for gays, lesbians and the transgendered.

    You might say its chance of passage compares to that of North Korea's Kim Jong Un being named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

    You might say this is so because the House has done nothing whatsoever for three years, so why change?

    More likely, it is because pernicious and foul discrimination remains comfort food for many Americans. Yes, in 2013.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Worshippers at Church of the Immaculate Profit

    War on Christmas alert:

    In this season as we gather for our most cherished tradition, who stands ready to serve as an agent of its besmirchment?

    Who but Pope Francis.

    And we thought he was on Christmas's side.

    That most cherished holiday tradition? Spending money, lots of it, and making profits, lots of them.

    The pope has called that into question, and with it the spirit of Christmas as we practice it. And just as the fist fights had commenced.

    Granted, when he said that "unequal distribution of wealth inevitably leads to violence," he wasn't necessarily talking about Black Friday brawls over bath towels. He was talking about economic inequality.

     But what the pope had to say wasn't all about matters that make a few rich and so many poor. It also was about the "idolatry of money." Indeed, he called unfettered capitalism a "new tyranny."

     He might as well have plugged Snoopy between the eyes at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

     The subversive comments are contained in his "Evangelii Gaudium," described as the platform for his papacy. And let us say, the pope let 'em — er, us — have it.

     He denounced "the absolute autonomy of markets," particularly when the poor lose out relative to those whose ungodly riches and interests are ever pre-eminent.

    Wait. A tyranny of free markets? That can't be. Anyway, isn't this the freedom implied in Genesis? You know: "Be fruitful and multiply"? Well, it depends.

    Recent comments by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the maverick Vermont Independent, sound a lot like the pope's. Instead of the poor being Sanders' chief concern, however, he is thinking of our planet.

  He speaks of "hyper capitalist" conditions, where policies even promote efforts "to privatize water, for God's sake."

   Relative to hypercapitalization's sway, he points to special interests' successful resistance to addressing fossil fuels' role in climate change. Industrial and political forces hold sway against even incremental responses. Why? Because in our value system, profitability is next to godliness.

   To those who reject the science of climate-change causation: Even if you are right and the science is wrong, reducing pollution, conserving fossil fuels, and being better conservators of the Earth are all right. "Drill here, drill now," is about making something that is already scarce even scarcer. Energy conservation is about extending the life of what we have.

   "Conserve" Is the root word of "conservatism." Unfortunately, as pertains to economic matters in a state of hyper capitalism, "conservative" has come to mean "profit-driven."

  Gordon K. Durnil, in his 1996 book, The Making of a Conservative Environmentalist, expressed frustration at getting fellow Republicans to see the health costs associated with pollution when calculating whether environmental initiatives might be worthy.

   In a debate over a state GOP platform, Durnil recalled being on the losing side of a clash over what a "cost-benefit analysis" meant. He maintained that "cost" should include general health costs. The winning side in the debate simply wanted to know what a particular policy might cost business (or taxpayers).

    How will the Affordable Care Act shake down ultimately? Will it mean higher premiums for some? Extra government subsidies? Better not, say those who see costs in only one way, the corporate way.

   What about the benefit (and avoided costs) of millions of previously uninsured Americans getting preventive care? What about the benefit (and avoided costs) of these people's needs being met by primary-care providers rather than ER staffs?

    These conditions carry incalculable costs. We avoided addressing them for generations. Why? Because, as Pope Francis explains, our system is built on inequality, and material gain is valued above all else in a tyranny that is money-driven.

     Talk about raining on our holiday parade.

      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: