Monday, December 29, 2014

Oldies from Status Quo Singers on Cuba and more

   The Cuba embargo sounded like a good thing in 1960. So did the hula hoop, and Bobby Darin.

   You can still find a hula hoop, but it has long since stopped being state-of-the-art childhood fare anymore -- except maybe in Cuba, where the 1959 Chevy remains king of the road.

    Sadly, life for those one our nearest island neighbor has been in a frozen state since then, since the aluminum can was a revolutionary development.

   It took 54 years for an American president to state the obvious: The ongoing state of relations with Cuba was serving no one, except maybe its oppressors. And so 14 years into a new century, at Pope Francis' urging, Barack Obama agreed. It is time for a change.

   No, it isn't, says Sen. Marco Rubio. Agreed, says House Speaker John Boehner. Give it another half century.

   The Status Quo Singers cannot step back from their resistance to change and see how doing things differently – with travel, commerce, technology and western cultural influences -- is the most effective means of tearing down the oppressive system they denounce.

   It worked with the Iron Curtain.

  Oh, sure; we've been led to believe that the Soviet Union collapsed under its own weight, and under Ronald Reagan's heft. That's too convenient.

  Indeed, author Leslie Woodhead asserts that rock 'n roll may have been key to it all. In her 2013 book, "How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin," she writes, "During the 70 years of totalitarian rule in a society where culture always had the power to drive social change," western influences like jazz, dance and rock "had a seditious force." (And don't we in America know it.)

   Lest we oversimplify, don't forget the role of American TV as well. Upon the 30-year anniversary of the arrival of J.R. Ewing and "Dallas," editors of Reason, the libertarian journal, credited the availability of the night-time soap in Warsaw Pact countries with seeding people's carnal desires sufficiently as to bring down the Soviet empire.

  "If the United States is interested in spreading American values and institutions, TV reruns may go a lot further than armored personnel carriers," wrote Reason's editors. By the way, they have also urged an end to the Cuban embargo.

  What we've been doing there doesn't work. Won't work. Indeed, it's every bit as inhumane as the regime it's intended to combat – so say Amnesty International and most international human rights groups.

   Americans should want Cuban young people to have everything we have, foremost being Internet access – clearly craved even more than 21st century automobiles.

   Actual human harm aside, what we've been doing with Cuba represents as much a quest to stop the march of time as to facilitate it.

  Look around and see much the same on many fronts courtesy of the Status Quo Singers. They would like nothing more than to return us to 1959.

   Ah, those were the days -- when same-sex relations were a crime in many states; abortion, too. And the birth control pill had yet to seed a national moral crisis. (That would come in 1960.)

   Those were the days when communities and states in the South didn't have to explain segregation to anyone, much less the Justice Department.

   Those were the days before the Environmental Protection Agency prevented our captains of industry from using waterways and lakes as their personal sewers. Heck, the term "smog" hadn't even been coined yet. And didn't we breathe easier?

   A new year arrives. As it does, we ponder the political prospects of the Status Quo Singers as they seek to hold off change for another election cycle.

   Keeping things the same as they've been with Cuba for 54 years is very much in tune with those who, if they knew what destruction would ensue, would have denied the Beatles' entry at the airport in 1964.

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Monday, December 22, 2014

No offense, but happy holidays

  If a war on Christmas actually exists, it began with Bing Crosby and a Jew.

  Crosby and composer Irving Berlin didn't mean to wage war on Christmas. They meant to have a hit song. "White Christmas" was that.

  In a PBS documentary about Crosby, biographer Gary Giddens calls the song, the most popular recording of all time, the first to secularize Christmas.

   Imagine: A Christmas song where snowflakes are the central actors, where a season of good will can be rationalized just because it feels right. And among those feeling it — what? A Jewish composer?

   Yes. But Berlin wasn't the only one. He was among several Jewish composers writing popular Christmas songs:

  "White Christmas." "Let It Snow." "I'll Be Home for Christmas." "Silver Bells." "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire."

    Lauren Markoe writes about this for Religion News Service: 

    "In their music and lyrics, Jews captured Christmas not only as a wonderful wintry time for family gatherings, but also as an American holiday."

   An American holiday. A warm and welcoming holiday.

   In those terms, the greeting "Happy Holidays" isn't the affront that some make it out to be — a season co-opted and corrupted by the masses.

   Sorry, but the holidays as practiced here are a manifestation of us – a nation of difference.

   When I hear that the secularization of Christmas is a problem, I think the man after whom it was named would come up with bigger problems.

   Over-commercialization is a problem. And let's face it. For just about every day of every year, commerce is the closest thing to a national religion we have. But talk about an amazing concept: For one day, Christmas shuts down even commerce.

   Yes, Christmas is a great invention. I don't care what pretext you use. If it's your pretext to have something with cinnamon and butter in the oven at this very moment, it's a great thing.

   The other day I was sampling a particular sugar cookie, and appreciating the fact that this particular taste is made for one particular observance, one time only, and hooray for that.

   If Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa — name it — is a reason for scattered families to assemble, miracles not possible except for this time of year, that's sufficient "reason for the season."

   If it's cause for people to greet each other with general decency, even when the decency is wholly secular and "holiday"-related, and when a guess isn't necessary as to which greeting would offend, a season that inspires "Happy Holidays" is a very good thing.

    The song "From a Distance," written by Julie Gold and popularized by voices like those of Bette Midler and Nanci Griffith, isn't a Christmas song, but it could be.

   Gold's masterpiece observes that at any moment, from a distance we aren't a bunch of rivals or enemies, warriors or worshippers in clashing colors. We are tightly bunched and at peace.

   Imagine how, from a distance, the smattering of lights that grace each neighborhood over the holidays, whether they be from front-yard nativities, or inflatable Santas, or Menorahs on window ledges, all merge to provide communal fields of sparkle.

    "From a distance you look like my friend even though we are at war.

    From a distance I just cannot comprehend what all this fighting is for."

   On such a note: That secularizing tune, that American tune, "White Christmas," was released in 1942 -- the first and worst year for our forces in World War II. By all accounts, Crosby's song was a major morale builder. Homesick soldiers of every creed and ethos felt as one singing along.

   Whatever the season means to you or me individually, I invite you to appreciate and celebrate what it means to all of us collectively.

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dimes to dollars, money best spent

   'Tis the season. Long before "holiday giving" became a catch phrase, a group sought to slow down America's No. 1 infectious killer, one penny at a time. So began Christmas Seals – the campaign which in 1907 set out to conquer the "white plague."

   A few readers will guess what that plague was, or is. Most won't.

   Indeed, visit the Christmas Seals website and see that the plague — tuberculosis – is but a turn-of-the-century footnote. The National Lung Association, which launched Christmas Seals, now focuses mostly on lung cancer, asthma and emphysema. By the time this century rolled around, TB effectively had been tamed on these shores.

  Yes, just a footnote, except that with all the attention given to Ebola of late, do you know the second greatest infectious killer in the world? That's tuberculosis. You read it corectly. Nearly eradicated here. Ravaging continents "over there."

   At the height of the Ebola scare, I heard from James A. Holcombe, professor of biochemistry at the University of Texas, who observed of the hysteria, "People have trouble 'scaling' and understanding probability" when it comes to real and perceived threats.

    "In a world of 7 billion people, it is trivial to find hundreds (thousands?) of atrocities on any given day. Such events are, unfortunately, fodder for media outlets . . . I worry that many fail to see the difference in the size of the landscape on which these unrelated reports are occurring."

     Meanwhile, few Americans know that TB keeps killing on a grand scale. And why? Because there's nothing sensational about it.

     TB, for instance, is a major cause of death among people with HIV. It takes them when AIDS has ravaged their immune systems.

    Speaking of AIDS: It used to be sensational, too. But few Americans, bottle-fed on televised hype, happy talk and political spin, know this sobering fact: AIDS is the No. 1 infectious killer on the planet.

    Ah, but 'tis the season. In that spirit, let me spread a little good news. Better than good: It's stunningly good:

    The United States, which can't seem to get its act together to deal with any matter that doesn't involve military drones, has done a positively herculean job confronting AIDS, TB and malaria.

    Michael Elliott, CEO of the international advocacy group ONE, says the fact that the $50 billion our country has committed over the last 10 years has saved more than 7 million lives overseas. The leadership and the credit are shared by two administrations – Bush and Obama. 

    U.S. contributions have made the work of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria one of the most amazing stories in the history of human interaction.

    When it comes to tuberculosis, two players have been key, and both are regular punching bags for America's political right. The first is the World Health Organization. The second is the United Nations – yes, that tea party villain — whose service arm, UNICEF, has shouldered the lion's share of providing affordable prevention and treatment. It is effective in part because prevention and treatment of TB is relatively inexpensive.

    Such efforts wouldn't be possible without the Global Fund. An unsung hero in helping the fund is RESULTS, a no-nonsense non-profit that focuses on global poverty and its causes. I invite you to Google RESULTS, then ask yourself if a government supported by you would do well to follow its advice aimed at needs domestic and international.

    Christmas Seals — as with the March of Dimes in its battle against infantile paralysis — is a great American success story. But no one presumes that piles of pennies and dimes alone could have done what the two hoped to do. Government had to get involved.

   Of course, if government isn't about saving lives, maybe we should do what some poorly informed people ache to do and just shut her down.

    Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, December 8, 2014

A nation of generalizations

   Police did not kill Michael Brown. One policeman did.

   Black people did not burn down buildings in Ferguson, Mo. A few idiots did.

   It is our sad nature to assign the acts of one, or of a few, to the many (see: Islam) and that's one reason why we appear to be going nowhere when it comes to racial harmony in this country.

  The other day while police escorted students from Denver East High School in a peaceful protest over events in Ferguson and Queens, N.Y., a motorist inadvertently slammed into four officers, critically injuring one.

   Police asserted that a few students cheered the accident. Denver Post reporters on the scene said they heard nothing of the sort. Nonetheless, Fox News reported, "Denver high school students protesting recent civilian deaths involving police chanted "Hit him again!"

    Whatever the case, by all reports, most of the students – of many colors -- behaved just as peaceful protesters should. They were aghast.

    What happened in Denver and wherever police do their jobs brought home the collective sacrifice they make, the collective dangers they face.

   The destruction in Ferguson and at a few other protests around the country brought home the fact that a few idiots can succeed in distracting the easily distracted masses from the justifiable grievances others seek to address.

   One of the under-reported stories of the civil rights movement was the extent to which Martin Luther King Jr. went to keep people peaceful and peaceable in the protest marches he led.

   In fact, King pulled out of a much-anticipated march in Memphis just as it began when a few hooligans started breaking windows. He didn't want his movement associated with idiots. Of course, opponents of the movement quickly supplied the linkage between King and the worst kind of behavior. So, too, with the destruction in Ferguson.

   When the TV scenes show flames, it's easy for those who aren't there to assume the worst about generally peaceable people.  So, too, of course, in generalizing about police.

   That doesn't mean the protesters don't have a legitimate grievance. They do indeed.

    I spoke to an African-American in Central Texas who likes to customize cars and who has a dazzling set of wheels. He constantly gets stopped by police -- the quintessential crime of "driving while black."

  No one who doesn't share his pigment can understand the added dimensions this man's life assumes simply by stepping out the door.

  As to injustices, when I read John McWhorter's words, "Black bodies are devalued," in Time magazine, I didn't think of Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin. I thought of the frantic search in the summer of 1964 for Mississippi civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and James Chaney – frantic only because Goodman and Schwerner were white.

  When dredging creeks and ponds looking for the three, whose grisly deaths shocked the country, searchers found a succession of unidentified black bodies. What had sealed victims' fates? Registering to vote? Whistling at a white woman? No calls for justice would ring out on their behalf.

  Back to King. Though he and his fellow protesters faced horrific indignities at the hands of police, at some point police became allies in the movement by making it possible for participants to carry out what King wanted – calculated nonviolence. That's all we can hope for some day in this land – that "the few" on either side will become fewer still. Fewer cops will shoot first or otherwise use excessive force. Fewer protesters will see communal outrage as reason to break and enter.

    Maybe that day, because of King's successes and the example his movement set, fewer of us will be in our neutral corners on matters of race, and all will be outraged about pointless violence.

  Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Learning is not a political process

   Maybe the most insidious modifier in the ongoing disservice we call education reform is "outcome-based."

  As in, "To make students voracious readers, use this method."

  As in, "To prepare students for four-year colleges, use this method."

  Usually "outcome-based" methods are described as "evidence-based." Bring out the charts and graphs.

  "Outcome-based" sounds like the modus of industry or agriculture and the processing of raw materials. Of course, that sounds just fine to most education reformers, with their corporate, top-down philosophies.

  "Outcome-based" requires "input," and treats all students as equals or at least similar, so all that is necessary is an "evidence-based method" on which experts agree. Of course, too often the experts aren't the ones doing the teaching. 

   I have my own term for this costly and misleading folderol: destination education.

  In destination education, policy makers mandate that from wherever point students might have started, all will end up at the same destination. That, of course, is readiness for a four-year college.

   The destination spiel is very focused on core requirements, and for its adherents, "raising the bar" is the ultimate virtue. If some students ultimately can't scale that bar, say by bombing out on college-level algebra, we don't look to flawed logic. We blame teachers.

   So let's take a moment to consider and identify the logical fallacies behind the "destinations" built into "outcome-based" education reforms.

  The 'higher-math' destination -- As drawn out by policy makers, our approach to math looks right past how difficult basic math is for some students, as well as the fact that some people will have no use for higher math in their lives and careers.

  Once, after writing a column denouncing school reformers' algebra-at-all costs overemphasis, I heard from a math teacher. I expected him to challenge my premise. Instead, he affirmed it vigorously.

  What had happened in the heavily mandated quest to get all students to stay on track for college-level algebra, he said, was that some students didn't get the emphasis they needed to perform basic math.

  Some students do just fine on the state's time and arrive at the destination in time for college. Some students, he said, needed twice and three times the amount of time spent on basic math. If held to a destination timeline, he said, a teacher is powerless to make up the difference. The result isn't stronger math skills but weaker ones, and students who are completely frazzled as they are nudged up the line -- this in a full-throated quest to end "social promotion."

   The "good college" destination – Two logical fallacies bear on this matter. First, though a high school diploma rarely will get a person ahead, not every young man or woman needs a four-year education. Two years at a community college or technical school are all that many need to move into lucrative, in-demand jobs.

  Second, the premium attached to a "good college" does not make it a good buy, considering the unbelievably high cost of attaining a diploma.

  Baylor University, for instance, long has advertised itself as an affordable private college. I'm sure it can trot out charts to say that remains the case, compared to other private schools. But with an annual tuition of $34,480, even with generous financial aid, Baylor is excluding a lot of promising young people.

   Regardless, it is false to assume that people with degrees from, say, a Sam Houston State, or a Florida Atlantic, or a Northern Arizona after two years of, say, Pima Community College, are in any way disadvantaged. And a student may have more opportunities on a smaller campus than on a sprawling, prestige university. It's about education, not a designer diploma.

     Let's get our heads out of destination education. Learning is not a political process. It doesn't translate well on a PowerPoint. Charts and graphs may entertain certain policy makers, but they rarely enlighten anyone.

    Education comes down to one educator and one child. That's it. Let teachers do their jobs.

     Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Just 'cause 'sweet' is its first name . . .

  I realize that we in the media constantly ladle concerns on top of worries. You are worried plenty, for instance, by news that Black Friday at most major retailers now will start at 5 a.m. July 5.

  Today, however, a much greater concern presents itself. It has to do with holiday-themed ice cream.

  It used to be that holiday-themed ice cream was limited to little Christmas tree-shaped forms adorned with fossilized green coconut, trimmed with red dye No. 2. Life was simpler then.

  Now? A west coast ice cream company has unveiled an array of holiday-oriented flavors, headlined by – clink your spoon on your serving dish -- "Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey." That's right. And that's not all.

  Along with turkey, Portland-based Salt & Straw has not one but two stuffing-based ice cream flavors:  "Rosemary Hazelnut Stuffing" and "Cranberry Walnut Stuffing." (Warning: Do not prepare inside turkey at any oven temperature.)

  As, um, interesting as these flavors might be, one of the company's holiday-themed flavors is so obscene as to be filtered from computers at public libraries under the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2001.

  The flavor of which I speak: "Sweet Potato Casserole with Maple Pecans."

  First, the thought that precious pecans and maple bled from America's finest trees would be shed for this abomination is, well, abominable.

  Second, the thought that sweet potato could be employed not only as a side dish but as something masking as a dessert is, well, way past palatable.

   I know that this has been tried before. I've been handed what was advertised as pumpkin pie, something I love, only to see through the trick. I researched the matter before what was actually sweet potato pie went down my gullet.

   That is not going to happen, ever. For as I've written often, and will write again: I ate sweet potato once. Once.

   Ever since I was handed the wooden spoon of the pundit, I have endeavored to inform people about the sweet potato and the fact that, though people may eat it, it is in all truth inedible. I know this to be a fact, because my taste buds told me this more than 50 years ago. It seems like yesterday.

   This is a challenging public information campaign, because my fellows in the media continue to mislead the public. Witness the recent story in Parade magazine reporting that sweet potato pie is "gaining ground" in popularity with pumpkin pie. Right. And among favorite composers, Slim Whitman has supplanted Lennon-McCartney.

  Everything about the sweet potato is a lie. Its supposed nutritional value? It barely compares to fresh-cut alfalfa. Tree bark beats it hands-down, and tree bark, with a little fresh-cut alfalfa thrown in, would make a better smoothie.

  The thing is that it now appears we can't contain this red menace even if it were confined to side dishes, buried under sediments of marshmallow cream. That sweet potato would now infect our confections just tells me how important my public-information campaign remains.

  I have never been against sweet potatoes. I'm just against eating them. I put in a plug one recent autumn for sweet potatoes' service as dog treats. I did report, however, that if one were to administer them raw to the average dog, or at least mine, one would want to have bathroom air freshener or Gas-X on hand.

   I have recommended sweet potatoes for many things – for use as building materials, for one. Slather on a little concrete mortar or stucco and you've got a wall of sweet potatoes. George Washington Carver heroically made ink and plastic with sweet potatoes. A great American he was. And so I aspire to be.

   To that end, I'm telling you that sweet potatoes aren't for dinner, or dessert, or any other form of human consumption, least not down the hatch.

    Now, which stuffing would you prefer with your Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey?

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Guess who's (not) coming to dinner

    The Indianapolis Star has apologized, but surely some of its readers ask: Why?

    The cartoon that it published carried the sentiments of every American who is horrified – horrified, I tell you -- about President Obama's directive on deportations.

   Drawn by Gary Varvel, it depicts a white family whose Thanksgiving peace is jolted by a brown-skinned family climbing through the window just in time for turkey.

   It quotes those about to be preyed upon:

   "Thanks to the president's immigration order, we'll be having extra guests this Thanksgiving."

    Yeah, Star. Why apologize? Isn't this how many feel, that freeloaders are sliding their chairs up to our table?

    Thanksgiving? Don't let anyone lead you to believe that the holiday has something to do with sharing or inclusion.

     Sure, someone is going to say that the first Thanksgiving was different, but that's socialist revisionism. The Pilgrims weren't going to smoke that pipe. The victors write the history. The victors get the drumstick.

     All right. Enough irony, delicious though it is.

     What a sparkling analogy Varvel offers for the empty and mostly racist claims made about the people who will benefit from Obama's executive order. Almost everything said is cartoonish hysteria.

     "There goes the neighborhood!" An interesting claim, when the people in question have been in the neighborhood for years, working hard, serving mankind and bothering no one.

     "Horning in on dinner!" By and large, the people that this order benefits are more than able to feed themselves. They have worked their fingers raw to put food before their own families.

    "Drug runners and terrorists! Killers and thieves!" It's right to be concerned about criminal activity. But the beneficiaries of Obama's directive are roofers and yard workers. They make hotel beds. They clear half-cleaned plates off white-clothed dining-room tables. And don't forget their role harvesting the food springing from America's cornucopia this Thanksgiving.

   Obama's directive is about people who, by and large, couldn't be more hard-working, more respectful. Indeed, they are the least disruptive demographic of any group ever. That's what it means to live in the shadows.

    "Amnesty!" Obama has it right: What we have had, minus any action by Congress, is a de facto amnesty. Supply your own exclamation point. Members of Congress can bluster all they want. Even if they had executive power, they wouldn't be in any position to deport 5 million people, equivalent to a city twice Chicago's size.

   The Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would have done much of what the president wanted. It would be law today if House Speaker John Boehner had allowed a vote on it. He didn't, because he didn't want to challenge the fit-throwers of the hard right.

   Allowing the undocumented individuals in question to come out of the shadows has immeasurable benefits. For one, if pointed toward citizenship, they can cease being part of the underground economy. They can pay taxes, help pay for Social Security, help finance the public schools their children use, and the infrastructure that gets them to jobs others refuse.

  "Obama is lawless!" No, the absence of any reasonable response to an untenable situation is lawlessness.

   Last week Sen. Ted Cruz was leaning on his blow horn, saying that Republicans should block every Obama nomination in response to the president's deportation directive. Cruz was reminded that, for instance, blocking a successor to much-reviled Attorney General Eric Holder would mean two more years of Holder.

   All that the tea party patriots in Congress have done by blocking any and all bipartisan action has been to guarantee that the things they decry have remained as is, the immigration mess included.

    Until Congress acts like a governing body, it will be up to the president to make the choices that deal with the deportation situation and others.

  Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What we need, what we want

    Watching the indescribable sacrifices of America's infantry in the trenches of World War II, legendary war correspondent Ernie Pyle made a plea in print.

    Pay for enlisted men overseas made no distinction between those dodging bullets and those in the typist pool. That was wrong, he wrote. Those with mud on their faces deserved additional combat pay.

    Pyle didn't assume anyone would hear his plea, but Congress did. A combat bonus was enacted mere weeks after he suggested it.

   In a similar vein, I wonder if anyone in Congress was listening when new Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald said that the VA health system needs 28,000 added medical professionals to respond to runaway needs.

   Yeah, fat chance.

   Maybe someone in Congress was listening, but since McDonald hails from the executive branch, again: Fat chance. It doesn't matter if veterans' care is on the line. Republicans on Capitol Hill have a feud to wage and scores to settle.

   Whatever number is needed, and some Republicans say McDonald overstates it, vouchers and privatization aren't going to patch the holes that caused the VA wait-list scandal.

   When it comes to battle, it's, "Go, go, go." Then survivors return home, and it's, "Take a number." Over the last 11 years we wouldn't haven't blinked twice to send 28,000 bodies to Afghanistan or Iraq. But 28,000 added medical professions to help heal the returning? Can't do it.

  You say the VA is too costly? Ah, but we spent $1.57 trillion to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without a cheap peep from today's deficit hawks. That includes $92.3 billion this year when, for all intents and purposes, on both fronts, the war was over.

   That we can spend so much on war yet run from what it costs to mend the resulting wounds indicts us as a society, and reveals many of our policy makers to be shysters.

   There is spending we need, and spending we want.

    Many -- too few, unfortunately -- questioned the need to roll tanks into Iraq. Well, there's no questioning the need to help the wounded war veterans. Yet out of political expedience we will figure out ways to prolong their suffering.

   It's just a fact of life that often our needs as a nation are set aside for the "wants" of political forces.

    Back in the '80s, with Ronald Reagan leading the charge, Congress passed a massive restructuring of the tax code. It flattened rates. It closed loopholes. And what did Reagan and Co. do with the revenue freed up by these measures? Use the money to reduce the deficit? Help schools, highways, waterways? Heck, no.

   The measure was revenue-neutral by design. To do anything else would be to feed the beast: the federal government.  So from tax reform there would be no gain whatsoever to the commonwealth, except for happier returns for those at the upper reaches of the tax code.

   Indeed, if those lawmakers had wanted to, they would have erased the federal deficit entirely at that historic moment. But they didn't. The anti-government crowd needed the deficit to continue to say we couldn't afford to help those who needed a little extra help.

   Wants and needs: They needed that deficit in the campaign to asphyxiate that which the Roosevelts, Kennedy and Johnson had wrought.

    Today we are told we can't afford to provide subsidies to Americans who previously had no health insurance. We can, however, afford to build whole cities overseas to wage war, to clothe, to feed the people we send. We provide the world's best battlefield triage, because those who wage our battles need our support.

    Those who should come home after the battle? Well, a nation must watch its spending.

    Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Democrats hit by Newton’s apple

    The political Einsteins are flexing their brows over Nov. 4: They cite President Obama's failure, Dems' fecklessness, Republicans' vision and efficacy, Mitch McConnell's savoir faire. Egads.

   Sports fans: Is there anything more grating than The Wave? Imagine one that is confined to those in the box seats.

   Celebrate they can. Yes, stretch those legs and those arms. The Superior Dance is in order.

   However, let's not overanalyze that which can be explained with two theorems – one in political science and one in physical science.

   The physics first: Newton's third law says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    Action: The nation elected Obama twice, smiting those who demonized him from the moment he first strode on-stage.

     Reaction: To these bitter defeats, one should have expected fulsome off-year responses. We've now seen two. Why expect anything else, especially from a GOP base that never even accepted this president's legitimacy as an American? Reaction is what reactionaries do.

  Now for the political science theorem, which goes thusly: In a low-turnout election, the advantage goes to the antis, the angries, the negatory vote.

  Simply put, when few people vote, the ones who have a blood oath to do so will, and those who have no grievance won't.

   Low turnout? Not only was it low, it was historically low -- an estimated 37 percent of registered voters -- the most pitiful turnout since 1942. (And just what GOP chieftains wished for.)

   There seems to be some disagreement as to whether to call this a wave election. Some analysts say, no, it's just what one can expect, certainly not a tidal endorsement of a party on the "outs" nationally. The distinction is immaterial.

    Call it a wave.

    Hauling Isaac Newton back into the discussion, nothing else could have been expected. For when it comes to action fit to unleash a tidal reaction, Obama and the Democrats issued one of asteroidal size in 2010: the Affordable Care Act.

    Big? It's the biggest health-care initiative in our history. Medicare was for seniors. The ACA is for young and old. Medicaid is for the poor. The ACA is for those with enough money to live but not enough to afford health coverage.

   Controversial? Nothing this seismic could come without angst and anger, and quite a few screw-ups. Name your game-changing national adventure -- World War II, the space race, the civil rights movement – each had its debacles and disasters, and of course political trials.

   Indeed, the political ramifications are uncannily reminiscent of what emanated after Congress eviscerated Jim Crow with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.

   Lyndon Johnson acknowledged that he and his party lost a lot of political capital to the forces of social stasis and obstruction. After Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan exploited antipathy to such federal audacity, that anger became a political force unto itself. And so it remains.

   Speaking of political capital: As Johnson did with civil rights, what Obama has done with health care has benefited people with almost no political coin, while infuriating those with every advantage imaginable.

   So, too, Obama has done by standing up for gay rights. So, too, by deferring deportation of children of undocumented individuals. So, too, by challenging big oil and big coal in favor of alternatives that don't enrich those who've called the shots politically since the Rockefellers

    As with 2012, the 2014 election was a tip of the top hat to that grand old tradition, now embodied by the Koch brothers.

    A wave? Oh, yeah. A comeuppance for an activist president? Indeed.

    History will say that this is the price of a historic action. As for the next general election, when far more Americans are paying attention, we'll await history's verdict.

     Longtime newspaper editor John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, November 3, 2014

Choosing who gets to choose, 2014

  It's been 14 years since the victors in a dramatic election proved that the people's will could be wholly secondary to lawyers' arguments.

  It wasn't until 2001 that Bush v. Gore officially was settled by a single vote in the Supreme Court. But the precedent of setting aside a whole bunch of democracy for expediency's sake was well-established by then.

  We could belabor the inequities in the Electoral College which awarded the presidency to the man in second place. We could belabor all things Florida, its votes ultimately awarded like the services of a slave on a crate.

  All of those things are 14 years of torrent under the bridge. We are left with today.

  Give immense credit to the party that won that 2000 race. Today's GOP is 14 years smarter at ways to make sure expediency always beats out democracy.

   Comedian Lewis Black emotes: "Elected officials shouldn't get to choose who gets to choose elected officials." Ah, but of course they do, and will.

   Consider North Carolina, which cut back on early voting, affecting the potential participation of 2 million voters.

   And Florida. In the Sunshine State, scientists have determined that merciless voting lines are a good source of sun-imbued Vitamin D. Long voting lines are actually good for you.

  Then there's Texas and a restrictive voter I.D. law a federal judge said clearly was designed to undermine the turnout of blacks and Latinos. That was before a divided U.S. Supreme Court let Texas' abominable law stand for this election. Dissenting, Justice Ruth Ginsburg likened the law to a poll tax.

   True, there were victories in democracy vs. expediency. The Supreme Court threw out a voter I.D. measure in Wisconsin that was like a frozen maze from the mind of Stephen King.

   All of these measures are framed as confronting voter fraud. Based on exhaustive Republican investigations, voter fraud has been shown to be nearly as much a threat to the commonwealth as a Ricky Martin comeback tour.

   We are advised that without these measures, illegal aliens will swing elections. No they won't. Illegal aliens don't come to this country to swing elections. They come to swing hammers on our storm-torn roofs, to change our bed sheets, to wash our dishes, to mow our lawns, to harvest our veggies. Shame on the fear-mongers who use this weak pretext to turn voting into an obstacle course.

   The architects of vote suppression aren't afraid of illegal aliens' voting so much as having an accurate assessing of what all Americans think. They know what the thinking is at the country club, and that suits them just fine. They seek to leave it at that on Election Day.

   Then we have states like Oregon and Colorado, which have gone all-in on the notion of having all in – as many voters as possible, that is.

    Oregon and Colorado have all mail-in ballots. They have same-day voter registration. Yes, one can register on Election Day. This is something the power structure in North Carolina could not countenance. It revoked the practice this year. Expediency first, understand.

   Not surprisingly, we have heard attempts to portray these liberalized voting laws as recipes for disaster. Fox News siren Megyn Kelly told viewers that Colorado law allows just anyone to print a ballot on the computer. No, it doesn't. The print-out ballots in question are for overseas and military voters alone. And what is wrong with it anyway if secure means are devised to make that possible? Nothing, that's what.

  Colorado and Oregon are showing that more is better when it comes to democracy. But "more" is not what today's vote suppressors want, if it means more voters. They want to choose those who choose them.

  Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Never a more stark difference

   The dictionary has nothing more extreme than "extreme." No "extremer." No "extremest." So "State Sen. Dan Patrick" will have to suffice, if you're talking extreme politics, as opposed to extreme cold, extreme heat or extreme disinterest.

    Sadly, despite the fact that he's nearly been shut out in endorsements by the state's major newspapers, one can't find an objective observer who doesn't assume that Patrick is about to become Texas' second most powerful man. And while "second most" is a matter of debate, considering the lieutenant governor's power in Texas, "most extreme" is beyond debate.

   I bring up Patrick as he illustrates once again a truth not appreciated by those who eschew politics in 2014, even to the point of not voting. I've heard way too often the statement, "Not a dime's worth of difference" between the political parties. It was always wrong. It's never been more so. And it's so in his race, where the extremely capable and thoughtful State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is the one with the "D" by her side.

   Patrick? He comes from the ranks of the rankest – the sweaty studios of right-wing talk radio. He rose to chair the Senate Education Committee, where he's shown no hesitance to cut off in mid-sentence citizens who came to testify. Yes, just like the man he always aspired to be, Rush Limbaugh.

   How did Patrick arrive at this point, standing on the brink of assuming staggering power? He did it by assuming the homemade banner of the tea party, the new life force of the Republican Party.

   And it is a force. Rather than wielding sticks, clubs and torches, it has a real political arsenal, supplied by the gun lobby and the Koch brothers, to name a few of many. One lesser-known contributor to tea party activities, as reports Huffington Post, is Big Tobacco, at least according to a study by the National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Health. Google it.

   For those of a progressive bent who have a hard time thinking of one thing for which to commend the tea party, try this: Whereas once Republicans fielded some squishy-soft types to compete with squishy-centrist Democrats, it has become easier than ever to distinguish between the two parties. Honestly, I can think of no moment in time like this.

  Look to Colorado, where Gov. John Hickenlooper is in a tight race with Republican Bob Beauprez. The latter has made it clear he would like the state to claim federal lands, and to barter away those it sees fit.

  Hickenlooper has been accused of being indecisive. If true, he's still taken some very gutsy positions, like signing a bill authorizing same-sex civil unions and  a package of gun measures after the horrific shootings of theater-goers in the Denver suburb of Aurora. This, of course, has caused the gun lobby to shift into "rampage" mode. In a low-turnout election, an NRA spawn called the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners managed to recall two state senators who voted for those bills.

   Another thing Hickenlooper did was sign on to the historic expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. We need not engage in conjecture as to what his opponent would have done. No Republican who wants to hold office would dare embrace something so vile and evil as to be facilitating health insurance for millions of Americans who had none six years ago.

   The ACA unto itself is the key policy distinction that renders the two major parties distinct. So, just stop with "not a dime's worth." Those who go fishing on Election Day on that basis clearly haven't thought enough about these things to be helpful to the enterprise our founders thought up and our fathers fought for.   

  To those with bamboo poles on their shoulders: Enjoy the fragrance of what ends up on the dock.

  Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Let’s all get scared, America

   "The only thing we have to fear is . . . Let's face it, folks, I'm scared spitless."

   So said Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.

   Well, OK, he didn't say that. FDR lived through the Great Depression, endured polio and world war, but somehow he didn't live in fear, like we do in 2014.

   How serious is the Ebola crisis? So serious that if something isn't done soon, the census of talking heads that burst into flames on cable will exceed that witnessed at the height of 2010's "War on Christmas."

  How much of a threat is ISIS to America? So serious that if something isn't done about it, Sen. Lindsey Graham spontaneously will revert into a pile of charcoal.

  Seriously, Ebola and ISIS are grave international concerns. Every one of us should be knowledgeable about them.

  But should Americans be scared, as any number of self-dedicated noise-makers would have us be? No.

   Have you noticed that the fear factor in American politics never really dips below Code Red anymore?

   We are to fear grimy, germy Central American children dropped at our doorstep in desperate, heroic gambits by those who love them.

   We are to fear Muslims in general, because, well, ISIS and al-Qaida are Muslim. And we've seen what they do.

   We are to fear black teens in hoodies, particularly when they are bigger than they were in their elementary school photos. And, well, what else but menace could one possibly ascribe to a tall black male in a hoodie?

    To address this threat and more, we are all well-advised to arm ourselves and "make my day" if necessary. And why can't we have side holsters like Wyatt Earp did? After all, someone might drive up blaring a car stereo, or use a cell phone after the movie previews start, and we'll have to respond.

   Listen closely, and understand that fear is what motivates great gobs of our society and a lot of public policy.

   Fear drives education choices and many attempts at school policy.  School vouchers, aka "choice," are advertised as "opening up competition." Actually, they are a ticket for families to associate with those who, in private and church schools, reflect the homogeneity they crave.

  Fear drives flight from diversely populated cities, exporting wealth to the suburbs, while the cities provide most of the services that make life in the suburbs viable. Fear and myth drive "school accountability" initiatives that demonize inner-city schools while exalting those out in the 'burbs that are so amazingly skilled that somehow every grade-schooler arrives in a sparkling SUV.

   Back to Ebola. Granted, that's a jarring transition.

   Our hospitals already had problems worthy of the kind of inquiry that possesses the 24/7 sirens of "medical news" at the moment. In 2011 alone, the Centers for Disease Control reported 722,000 cases of hospital-acquired infections. In the 75,000 of those cases, the patients died.

   The newswise difference, apparently, is that those victims had "our" infections, and those things get passed around. Ebola comes from distant, sweaty bodies on the Dark Continent. Ebola isn't "ours." It's "theirs." Once upon a time, AIDS was depicted in similar ways.

    Ebola's death toll on these shores is 26 fewer than what one gunman exacted in one flurry of fire in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. It is 11 fewer than what one man with an AR-15 (purchased at a local sporting goods store) and 6,000 rounds of ammo (bought online) exacted in an Aurora, Colo., theater.

   One would wonder — say, if one were from another culture — why nothing is done culturally to address the dangers that come at the end of a gun. But, of course, that culture itself is bred of fear of "them" and what "they" do. It's why George Zimmerman, for instance, felt police were insufficient to police his world.

   In sum, and in all honesty, what we have to fear is — well, fear itself.

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Reason to re-celebrate sanctity of marriage

   They warned us.

   The picture in the paper showed two 60-something women, embracing and kissing, having just been pronounced spouse and spouse.

   As I looked at the photo, I felt it: a rumbling, crumbling sound. Earth tremor? Landslide? The arrival of unwanted company?

   Conservatives warned us that legalized same-sex marriage would tear asunder the American family, destroying our society, our culture. Now same-sex marriage is legal where I live in Colorado, and the familial destruction – oh, my.

   My wife looks at me differently. So do the dogs. The cats don't care.

   Actually, the cats have it right. The dogs? They are always confused.  In truth, my wife still thinks I'm the same well-meaning putz she married almost 30 years ago.

   Nothing has changed in Colorado – nothing – except that some people who have been loyal partners for years can now become legal partners. (We will be on the lookout for men marrying their dogs, or their five-irons, as Focus on the Family has advised will happen.)

   The U.S. Supreme Court refused to act on a lower court's ruling that overturned same-sex marriage bans in several states in the West. So those two loving, graying life partners? They're legal.

   So too with two teary 30-something women pictured in the same newspaper after marriage vows, and with their two joyous children. It's a touching family portrait.

   Yes, this is about rights, not about preening politicians or pious pastors. It's about equal treatment. It's not about Red State stasis.

   The only unfortunate thing about what the Supreme Court did was that it didn't settle once and for all, and for all jurisdictions, that legal same-sex marriage is the law of the land.

  This means jurisdictions like Texas, Arizona and Florida are more like rogue nations now, camping out beyond the boundaries set by the Constitution.

  We really didn't need the courts to explain how wrong this is. Long before the constitutional argument began to gain momentum, the public health argument was undeniable.

   We had a disease – AIDS – that raised the stakes for stable, faithful sexual relationships. The very people who wanted to portray AIDS as a "gay curse" succeeded in blocking the best means possible of promoting safe pairings among those they blamed for the epidemic.

   AIDS was never a gay disease, of course. Shame on those who plied hysteria and myth to make it so. Shame, too, on those who still refuse to see that society benefits when people of any sexual orientation embrace and practice monogamy.

  Speaking of myth: We're told that having two mommies or two daddies is damaging for children. Not a trace of evidence supports that. What hurts children is lack of nurturing. In an age of single-parent households, doubling up on the love can only be good.

   Nonetheless, expect more demagoguery from politicians who denounce human rights for human beings who happen to be gay, lesbian or transgendered. A few years ago, with little else to campaign on in his quest for re-election, Texas Gov. Rick Perry went on a tour promoting a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, this though it was already illegal in Texas.

   It was one of the greatest, and phoniest, grandstand plays I've ever observed. I wonder now how it would play today for Perry to campaign for, as the courts have observed, the unlawful and unequal application of the 14th Amendment. "Keep the 14th for us," would be his rallying cry.

  No, people, this is not a time to bemoan the collapse of anything. It's time to celebrate on behalf of two key quality-of-life matters: (1) monogamy, (2) equal treatment of the law.

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

‘Twould be lovely to whitewash history

   A controlling school-board clique seeks to sanitize the teaching of American history — scrub away unsightly blemishes like racial oppression and women's liberation. Should be a piece of cake, right?

   Sure, except that the students find out about it and voice their outrage loudly.

   Result: The national media pays attention. The clique has cake on its face, wide eyes poking out through white frosting.

   What? Who knew students wanted to think, and not be spoon-fed empty educational calories? Indeed.

   Machinations by a slate of conservative schemers on the Jefferson County School Board in Denver's suburbs have caused this. And it's not just a few students. It's hundreds. And the walkouts haven't just involved uppity high-schoolers. Middle-schoolers have walked out, too.

   They have two demands that are worth the fight: (1) We want history classes based on true history; (2) We want policy makers to treat our teachers with respect.

    Most school boards are populated by people who buy into the concept of public schools and simply want what's best for them. As one whose sons were educated in public schools, I marveled at the fact that these boards rarely if ever got politicized. Considering the voting-day apathy that too many parents exhibit about school governance, such bodies are always ripe for takeover by political hit squads.

   Such has been the case at the state level in Texas. Hard-right Republicans, some being homeschoolers openly antagonistic toward public schools, rode into office years ago on the State Board of Education. Instead of a body that supports public education, the board became a ideological star chamber where politically vetted "experts" about everything from "creation science" to dry-cleaned social studies (gender equity being a tool of the devil) got a chance to impact what would get taught.

   This wasn't just a "Texas" story, either. As the second-largest bulk purchaser of textbooks behind California, what Texas requires of its textbooks dictates what publishers will do nationwide.

   The fact is that the story about the uproar in the quiet Denver 'burbs isn't just a "Colorado" story, either.

   The three Republicans became the controlling bloc a few months ago in a low-turnout vote for the Jefferson County School Board. Immediately they set out to do what, sadly, elected Republicans do: They treat teachers as "guilty until proven innocent" on trumped-up charges of "low standards" and "refusal to reform." They treat charter schools and "choice" as God's gift to schooling, regardless of any evidence that said claims have a thimble-full of veracity.

   And in this case they got juiced over a Republican initiative to strike out against changes in the AP U.S. history course. Conservatives say it is weighted down with those dreaded Rs: "revisionism" and "relativism."

  In actuality, the AP revisions are aimed at upper-level cranial activity, also known as critical thinking. This is something, Texans may recall, that the state GOP platform has said will not be countenanced.

   Well, the Republicans on the Jefferson County board proposed to review the history curriculum so as to teach students the "benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights," and purging things that promoted "civil disorder." And what did they get? Civil disorder. The students won't stand for it.

   Predictably, the targets of the protests assert that the students are being "pawns" of the teachers union. This has made the students even more furious.

   Response from the controlling clique: Rather than protesting, the students should have been in class for proper spoon-feeding.

   I cannot express sufficiently how proud I am of those students who are standing up for what education is and should be. When will more people stand up against those who don't get it?

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Eric Holder's heroic tenure

  "In respect of civil rights," wrote Justice John Harlan, "all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful."

  Well, at least that's so on paper.

  In reality, it's not true for the penniless, for the working poor and transient, for those marginalized over skin color, religion, nationality, disability or sexual orientation.

  That is, unless people step up to make it true – people with innards of iron and hides titanium-tough, people like Eric Holder.

  I dare say Holder will go down as the most reviled attorney general in our history, and for one thing only: No one has ever so challenged power on behalf of the powerless.

  Whether against voter suppression, against police brutality and profiling, against discrimination of all kinds, Holder, beheld with great bloodlust by the Fox News set, has done more than any predecessor to adhere to the first 14 words of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence.

   Let's acknowledge that in taking office with the Obama administration, Holder had a low bar to clear in the area of civil rights. Under George W. Bush, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department was a devil's playground.

   Yes, Holder vs. Alberto Gonzales is an unfair fight. Oh, my. Compare Holder instead to Robert Kennedy. Again, no contest.

   Kennedy would show great compassion and courage ultimately, but as attorney general, he was ultra-cautious in the face of unfathomable oppression in the South. By contrast, when Holder hit the ground, he wasn't running. He was digging in against injustice.

  A year into office, he sued Arizona over a law that essentially had codified the profiling of brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking people in the name of immigration enforcement.

  In challenging state bans on same-sex marriage, Holder and his boss have done more for the rights of gays and lesbians than any duo in history.

   Whereas too often attorneys general have played to the law-and-order crowd in the face of overzealous police acts, Holder has been steadfast in speaking up for the individual who has no nightstick, no Taser at his disposal.

  Holder also has offered a counterpoint to the increasingly punitive way we treat juvenile offenders. He recently announced an initiative to reduce the incarceration of children and to start getting ahead of whatever problems await them beyond adolescence.

  But the area where Holder has been boldest and most needed is in voting rights. There, he has been a guard against politically motivated voter-suppression efforts that have the marks and motivations of the poll taxes and literacy tests of a bygone age.

  When the Supreme Court tossed out Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, Holder resolved to hold states' feet to the fire when voter I.D. laws disproportionately affected minorities. He subsequently sued North Carolina and Texas on those very grounds.

   Amid all this, Holder, like the president himself, has endured what Urban League president Mark Morial called "nasty, unfair, spurious attacks." To that, we must observe that Morial clearly understates. It was the same and worse, of course, when Martin Luther King Jr. set out to challenge the conscience of a nation.

  Shirley Chisholm, this nation's first black congresswoman, said, "Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth." It can be said that while members of Congress have occupied suits and suites, biding their time between elections and recesses, the hyper-proactive Holder has been paying his rent.

  Upon Holder's announcement that he will retire once a successor is in place, Sen. Ted Cruz said Republicans should block interminably any successor Obama should nominate.

   I'm trying to think why this should bother me. Those who like to see justice translated from paper to reality should be happy to not let Holder leave for two more years.

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ocean tides have come to testify

   One of the most fascinating events I've ever experienced was a climate conference several years ago at the University of Texas.

   There I observed the constant struggle between science and the special interests that have but one task to achieve: seed doubt about the science.

   I saw Texas-based climate scholars say what the vast majority assert about greenhouse gases and global warming. They were followed in rebuttal by figures who, by appearance, had boarding passes in their pockets and airline peanuts on their breaths.

    Read all about them in Naomi Oreskes' "Merchants of Doubt." Its subtitle: "How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming."

  However, let's imagine a climate conference years from now in a prominent Florida coastal city. A climate scholar speaks. An industry hired gun speaks. Same old song and dance. Then, in a dramatic counterpoint, the ocean speaks – surging right into the auditorium.

   One problem with today's debate is that moments in time, temperature-wise, can be cherry-picked for propaganda effect. Hence, climate deniers can always point to something that seeds doubt about what most climate scientists say is beyond doubt.

  A steady rate of sea-level rise is not something one can cherry-pick. It's not just rising, but rising at an "increasing rate," says the National Ocean Service.

    Says astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Over decades "we are talking not inches, not feet, but tens of feet. It's going to redraw the maps of the world, unless we do something about it."

   The key factor is melting ice. "Can't be," say the deniers, employing fifth-grade logic. "Ice melting in a glass of water doesn't cause the level to rise." Well, that's not the issue, boys and girls. The issue is depletion from ice-covered lands like Greenland and Antarctica. Most recently, data from the European CryoSat-2 satellite affirm these concerns.

   Deniers point out that global warming has moderated over the last decade, but that's misleading. And that, of course, is the objective. If compared to 20 years ago, Earth's temperatures are higher. And even with the so-called "hiatus," the planet just had its hottest summer on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

   Deniers say the "hiatus" is proof that warming can't be linked to carbon levels. After all, the Global Carbon Project reports they are at an all-time high.

   The truth is that varied factors are at play in climatic conditions. A pair of researchers from the University of Washington and the University of China assert that a key factor moderating climate in the face of rising greenhouse gases is a distinct ocean current in the Atlantic which is "devouring heat" and storing it at unprecedented depths.

   Their point: Nothing has changed, big-picture-wise, regarding the greenhouse effect being observed.

    Believe that, or not. NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Forest Service, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Medical Association and countless other scientific bodies believe it. Even the Vatican says this is a critical issue to face directly and actively.

     So, too, with the 400,000 people who Sunday jammed the streets of New York City for the People's Climate March — a spectacle observed in 166 nations — a literal sea of people concerned about what actual seas might do if we continue to ignore Earth's signs.

    As Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, "The good thing about science, when a consensus of experiment emerges, is that it's true, whether you want to believe it or not."

   Tragically, however, it's hard for earthen elements to get a word in edgewise when politics and lucre – industry's frantic stake in the status quo – are ever ready to occupy the microphone.

    Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Yes, it's a tax — and hooray for that

   I'll never forget Sen. Phil Gramm, the staunch fiscal hawk and self-proclaimed budget-balancer, telling me how it was just fine for the Reagan administration to enact the nation's largest peacetime military buildup without raising taxes to pay for it.

  Borrowing, he said, was the American way. "You do it for your house, don't you?"

  And so we did, to spend the Soviets under the table in the '80s, to secure Kuwait militarily in the '90s and to pulverize and reconstitute Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s. And we didn't find the revenue for trillions of dollars more of what we as a nation decided we needed, or wanted, to do.

    So it should be with a sense of relief, and not that same old derision, that readers should behold something they probably didn't know existed related to the Affordable Care Act.

   In policy-maker speak it's called a revenue device. In reality, it's a tax.

   Wait? Something many of us will pay? The answer is yes, and hooray for that.

    Included in the ACA was a tax on health insurers and makers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Call it a windfall profits tax. These corporations were, after all, going to be beneficiaries of a massive public-private quest to insure more Americans.

   That tax, which takes effect Sept. 30, is projected to raise $116 billion over the next 10 years and help pay for subsidies available through state health exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid. Other key revenue devices have been savings in Medicare reimbursement and taxes on so-called "Cadillac" insurance plans that benefit the wealthy.

   Yes, I know. This seems so alien: actually paying for something the nation decides it needs. You would think we would try the same thing with highways, bridges and endless wars.

   Not surprisingly, with insurers underwriting the effort, opponents are attempting to revoke the tax.

   And it's not surprising to see breathless reports such as USA Today's recent headline, "Who's paying new Obamacare tax? You" It sounds very scandalous.

    The report pointed out that states themselves will pay some of the tax, as they contract with managed-care providers for Medicaid, and those providers are on the hook.

  That means the headline is true. This is a broad-based tax for which costs will be passed on to me and thee.

   Sure, such a tax sounds surreptitious verging on wrong. But let's face it. This is the way we raise revenue anymore, wrong though it is. What would be right would be using our progressive income tax system to pay for what government does rather than with backdoor means such as excise taxes.

   So, call it what you will. A tax. A broad-based tax. Say it with me. Breathe in. Breathe out.

    "The tax on health insurers is a small price to pay for helping to extend health coverage to 25 million more Americans without increasing the deficit," writes Paul Van de Water, an analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

      It is scandalous that over the last quarter century the nation has been entranced by a something-for-nothing mentality pitched by so-called fiscal conservatives who were simply postponing days of reckoning.

     What we have endured are deficits by design by people who, on the altar of senseless tax cuts and blank checks for the military, would gut the support system for America's less fortunate.

    Well, now we're helping some of those less fortunate with their health insurance. And, oh, and by the way, last month the federal deficit, at $119 billion, was down 13 percent from last August, the lowest in six years.

   Phil Gramm, now retired and comfortable with his federal benefits, would be the first to say, "That's not how we do things around here."

    Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Monday, September 8, 2014

Cease fire in cafeteria food fight

   Back in the '70s as a reporter for the college newspaper, I went to a faculty nutrition expert for a story about hunger in America.

   Sounded relevant, right?

   Well, "hunger" had barely escaped my lips before the professor turned the pretext of my visit around.

   Not to dismiss hunger, he said, but the nation had a bigger problem in the works: obesity.

   How prophetic he was, way back then before "low- fat" and "high-carb" were even in our vocabulary, way before losing pounds was grounds for a reality TV show.

   That prescient professor's words come to mind when I think of Michelle Obama's crusade for leaner, livelier children. She has latched onto the central health issue of our times, and good for her, and for us.

   She has campaigned with Carrie Nation vigor for healthier school lunches and the purging of junk food from schools.

  The first lady's intentions are true and her objective righteous, but something about her campaign brings me back to the initial topic that took me to that college professor: hunger in America.

  Principally, I'm concerned about mounds of celery sticks and the truckloads of baked squash going into the dumpster when kids decide they'd rather starve than eat the "healthy foods" that new federal initiatives are dishing their way.

  The first lady is defending with vigor the tight restrictions on school lunches in the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. However, reports from school cafeterias indicate a lot of students are opting for hunger rather than what's healthy.

  Critics say the standards have resulted in less participation in school lunches. As a supporter of school lunches dating back to the first steaming tray I carted to my table in first grade, this troubles me.

   Similarly troubling are reports of staggering amounts of food thrown away when children turn up their noses at it. For, what would be a nutritionist's dream can be a second-grader's nightmare.

   Sure, it's not good for children to have excessively fatty and sodium-saturated foods for lunch. It's worse, however, for them to have no food at all.

  Naturally, this has become a partisan tempest. Republicans in Congress want to jettison anything that smells of Obama, of course.

   The first lady vows not to give an inch. But she should.

   I think of school lunches a little like I think of public schools themselves: magnificent in concept, but susceptible to crippling dictates from afar.

  Against a backdrop of childhood obesity, initiatives that take away anything sweet or salutary — special-occasion cupcakes, for instance — smacks of the mentality that says it is schools alone that must solve all the social ills of our world. Get real.

    Just as teachers should not be expected to be social workers, neither should schools be expected to be fat farms.

    However, if unhealthy food is our focus, let's acknowledge the role of profit-first policies by which school cafeterias have become proxies for fast-food corporations. Those venders make big bucks dishing out fare for which the term "nutritious" is considered an affront.

    If federal guidelines can dislodge these players from the scene, then much good will have come from them, with more nutritious lunches and less profiteering at children's expense.

    Nonetheless, the first lady needs to retool her pet initiative to focus first on getting children to eat. That was the case with the school lunches I remember. They were hot; they were wholesome; they had vegetables; they had good entrees; they had dessert. Result: We returned to class without the sound of cats serenading in our bellies.

   Oh, and after lunch we had recess, something else the school micromanagers would take away to carve more time out for tests and test prep. Daily physical activity is something the first lady advocates with the same vigor; so again, good for her and us.

   What children eat day and night is a very valid concern, but it's foolish and wrong to assign to school lunch the weight of the world.

   Long-time newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:  

Monday, September 1, 2014

‘Overkill’: A 21st century term for inexcusable policing

  When fire hoses sent black bodies skidding and writhing along the sidewalks of Birmingham in 1963, a lot of white people, high and dry, nodded, "Well, if that's what it takes to keep the peace . . . "

  And so it goes, 51 years later: different police-tactic horrors, but the same nodding of the self-satisfied and oblivious.

  Here's what also remains the same: the construction of straw men to allow the unaffected to dismiss the grievances of the affected.

  When blacks marched in the South for basic human rights, the barkers of the status quo pointed to the influence of "agitators" like "known Communist" Martin Luther King Jr. Today, hear similar commentary aimed at Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

  You know: "Those people" wouldn't have a grievance if people like King, and Jackson, and especially Sharpton, didn't show up to tell them they had one.

   Also: "Sharpton gets face time when a white cop kills an unarmed black teen. Where is he when blacks kill blacks in Chicago?" Jon Stewart made note of that throw-away claim, one being trotted out on Fox News; then he rolled tape of Sharpton in Chicago urging an end to that violence.

  What we are witnessing, whether in the robo-cop responses in Ferguson or those of the at-a-distance, "oh well" chorus, is the same mentality that objectifies those on society's margins. Black Americans couldn't possibly have grievances. Don't we have a black president and Affirmative Action?

  Yes, blacks have grievances, and too often they involve overzealous police.

  Whether the situation is the offense known as "driving while black," or the tragedy in which an unarmed black youth dies at an officer's hands, black Americans cannot help but keep count.

  In Ferguson, Mo., we have a textbook example of how not to keep the peace – one that should cause observers to choose another term for that old standby, "police brutality." Try "police overkill."

  It's not just that an officer shot and killed Michael Brown. It's that when the situation called for calm and conciliation, the police became the 7th Cavalry.

  HBO's John Oliver made hay of the Ferguson cops dressed in military gear, replete with camouflage. Camo? "If they want to blend in with their surroundings, they should be dressed like a Dollar Store."

  It would have been a lot more efficient to sweep the street of protesters and "Guantanamize" them as enemy combatants.

  Overkill it was, whether the "combatants" were Ferguson residents or members of the media. In sum, the powers-that-be acted like rank amateurs instead of the professionals they are hired to be.

  Maybe the most irresponsible thing the Ferguson police did was release the video in which Brown appears to rip off some stogies in a convenience store. This the nation saw before ascertaining anything real about the situation that led to his death.

  This video, of course, is used by some to justify what happened to the young man. The video leaves little doubt that Brown broke the law. Then again, in this country's history, many a young black man faced the ultimate penalty -- hanging from a tree branch, in too many cases -- for a petty offense.

  Blown out of proportion by the media? Not a chance. What happened in Ferguson fully merits national inspection and introspection. One important consideration there and elsewhere: a scandalous paucity of minority police officers. Ferguson, a majority-black town, had only four black officers on a force of 50.

  "When trust is absent," writes Time magazine's David von Drehle, "It leaves a peculiar vacuum that feeds flames rather than starves them."

  Some law enforcement agencies arm themselves for war when they should be building trust instead. The result: police overkill.

  Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: