Tuesday, January 28, 2014

GOP has terrible niche it must scratch

This just in: John McCain -- too liberal for the Republican Party.

Guilty as charged, and as pronounced last week by state committee members of the Arizona Republican Party. They voted to censure the state's senior senator, and is anyone surprised?

McCain's crimes: insufficiently pure thought, and collaboration with the enemy. Firing squad to be assembled at dawn.

McCain's chief offenses, said a state party spokesman, were backing immigration reform and "supporting funding" for the Affordable Care Act.

Really? Supporting the ACA? No. McCain opposed it. What he did say in 2013 was that tea party extremists who sought to shut down the government over it should cool it.

The voters had returned President Obama to office, McCain observed. Like it or not, that counted for something - plus the fact that the ACA had been law for four years.

Far be it for these fingers to parse Arizona's pulse. Nonetheless, let me be the first to predict that this matter - the state party's denunciation of McCain -- will weigh on voters like dust impedes wind: not at all. McCain should send these loud galoots a thank-you note.

We are seeing a "Lord of the Flies" moment in the party of Eisenhower, Goldwater, Ford and Dirksen. About the only things that separate today's tea party petulants from the tenor of William Golding's blood-lusty boys are shirts and shoes.

The tea party's crowning achievement thus far has been to shut down the government, for the second time in two decades, a gambit that succeeded mainly to remind voters how much they like government.

Granted: In their impervious, locked-down, locked-up, gerrymandered districts, some in Congress need not worry about how their tactics and rhetoric are received by your basic scientific sampling of American voters. You'd think their party would, however.

Speaking of being weighed down: In a recent post in The New Yorker, Frank Rich extends his sympathy to today's Republican Party over the fact that certain voices have become its own, and they aren't the types that win national elections.

The first is Fox News. Fox's ratings are robust within the niche it cultivates with its highly calculated appeals to white conservatives, but it's anathema to a broader, diverse constituency. It's something that concerns Fox News not one wit. But it should the GOP.

Add the voices that dominate A.M. radio. Actually, "dominate" is insufficient for the condition. That part of the dial has become what C.B. radio was in the '70s: relevant only to listeners who know each other's handles.

Hearing a political message that they desire makes these listeners feel better, but Rich points out that the central premise pumped out by right-wing broadcasters is a myth.

Rather than being victimized by "lamestream" media, Republicans, when in power nationally, were enabled and bolstered by the media establishment. Does anyone remember Operation Iraqi Freedom? Those media, Rich writes, were "the GOP's best friend for several generations. ABC, CBS and NBC nightly news worked for GOP presidential candidates - convincing voters to see elections through a wide prism."

Rich continues: "Conservatives delighting at the influence of their favorite talk show hosts and the decline of the mainstream media have missed this crucial modern political lesson: The GOP fared best in presidential politics through a nationalizing lens - not narrow-based ideological appeals."

Yes, it's a serious marketing problem when Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ted Cruz, Louie Gohmert, Sarah Palin and those Arizona state GOP committee members are the faces and voices of the enterprise.

Explain to me the viability of an organization that offers itself as a national player but is too narrow to countenance the likes of a John McCain. Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Putting squeeze on nation's I.Q.

Football being the fixation of the nation right now, let's employ a
gridiron analogy to understand what's become of society's most
important pursuit.
 The issue: helmets and brain injury. Ostensibly built to protect the
brain, impervious to destruction, helmets allow players to use their
heads as weapons.
  Elsewhere, what are we doing with our heads? Political forces don
ideological helmets, collide at ramming speed, and cause national
brain damage.
  This is true in just about every endeavor that involves the mind. It
is true in elementary schools, in high schools, in colleges, in
laboratories, in libraries, in textbooks.
   What do I mean?
   — The recent budget agreement in Congress will kill scores of
proposed research projects under the National Institute of Health. The
principal culprit: last year's sequestration, which cut NIH by 5
percent, cuts which the budget deal will not restore.
   — In state after state, college costs are soaring because, in state
after state, even before the economy took a swan dive, states figured
out that they could start sticking collegians with more of the costs
of what they had subsidized generously for generations.
    The place where I got my diploma, Colorado State University, saw
undergraduate resident tuition increase by 55 percent from 2008 to
    It's true that colleges' own unconscionable bracket creep shares
the blame for this. But the way state policymakers have hung college
students out to dry is shameful.
    It is sickening to hear the exceedingly well-fed complain about
tax burdens (state and federal tax rates that have barely been nudged
for decades), when college students buckle under jaw-dropping debt --
this as they enter anemic job markets.
   — Meanwhile, in the public schools where supposedly we are doing
everything we can to get children ready for college (wink, wink),
state budget writers have stuck it to them to pay for blue-sky fiscal
policies and tax cuts that benefited, naturally, those who least need
   In states like Texas, Arizona and Florida, it was as if lawmakers,
instead of hoping for rain, were counting on drought – drought like
the economic free fall of 2009-2012 – to really stick it to public
schools and, of course, those dastardly teachers unions.
   — At the same time, while conspiring at every turn to divert tax
dollars to for-profit charter schools or church schools through
vouchers, people who don't really buy into the function of public
schools have ceremonially dropped educators into the scalding crucible
of school "accountability."
    A short history reveals that these spurious initiatives sprang
from the minds of fiscal conservatives who recoiled at increased
school funding and federal programs like Title 1. They decided that if
schools were going to get more dollars, educators were going to take
new policy instructions from above and afar. Hence, corporate-style
reforms that equated standardization with education and competence
with excellence.
    — How else are helmeted ideological warriors waging war on the
nation's mind? Look at textbooks, where for a generation the religious
right in Texas has treated the State Board of Education as its most
strategic beachhead. That's smart. Texas is the nation's second
largest purchaser of textbooks behind California. What Texas says,
most book publishers adopt.
  Brain damage. In 2012 the Texas Republican Party approved a platform
plank opposing the teaching of "critical thinking skills," which
platform writers equated with "behavior modification" and interfering
with "parental authority."
   Not widely known was that this was in the same platform: "Since
data is clear that additional money does not translate into increased
achievement and higher education costs are out of control, we support
reducing taxpayer funding to all levels of education institutions."
  Never mind that "data" is plural. Never mind data, period. Never
mind the damage. What matters is ideology, that helmet.
    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, January 20, 2014

A message to johnyoungcolumn.com nation

  If Stephen Colbert and Fox News can have a nation, so can we. When johnyoungcolumn.com was launched about five years ago, I didn't even know an email list function was possible. Fortunately, web designer Josiah Spence did, so we have can have weekly interaction by email. From the start, I've never known how many people make up this list. I don't plan to know. You may be it.


  For those who wonder: Starting from a grand total of zero when I retired from the Waco Tribune-Herald in 2009, this column now is carried in 13 newspapers including the Austin American-Statesman, The Progressive Populist, Liberal Opinion Week, the Vero Beach Press Journal, Stuart (Fla.) News, Corpus Christi Caller Times and the Sierra Vista (Ariz.) Herald. Some publications pay; some don't. Regardless, self-syndication is no ticket to wealth.

   That's why we've set up a "donate" function, to help defray costs. If you'd like to participate, go to johnyoungcolumn.com, and click on "donate" up at the top of the page. Using the secure services of PayPal, you have two options: a one-time donation, or an ongoing "subscription." If you would like to send a contribution in the mail, email me at jyoungcolumn@gmail.com for my home address.

  Regardless, if you are part of the "nation," your only  obligation is let me know what you're thinking down the road, as we need more of that — thinking —  in this new year and beyond. Thanks for reading.

John Young

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Disagree with military brass? How dare he?

From the moment Lloyd Bentsen uttered it, none could disagree with his televised jab that Dan Quayle was "no Jack Kennedy." Few remember, however, that in ascending to the presidency, Jack Kennedy had his own damning comparison. He was no Dwight Eisenhower.

It took a disaster at the Bay of Pigs, and then resolve in the Cuban Missile Crisis, for Kennedy to find his inner Eisenhower.

Ironically, a big part of being "like Ike" was having the fortitude to listen intently to the generals -- and reject their advice.

So, too, apparently with Barack Obama.

In Robert Gates' new memoir he criticizes the president, and Vice President Joe Biden, for their open skepticism of the mission they inherited in Afghanistan.

The assumption his political enemies would want you to make is that, you know, Obama is soft, and ignorant about military matters, and not inclined to "support our troops."

That slur Gates takes pains not to employ. However, he writes disapprovingly of the feeling that Obama did not trust the brass on the wisdom of further digging in on Afghanistan after an initial surge.

It should seem to all involved that skepticism and detachment in the face of ribbons, stripes and metallic chest jewelry is exactly what a commander-in-chief should model.

Apparently Biden has been most vigorous in criticizing an open-ended anti-insurgency role that's exceeded a decade. He has asserted that our military would be better focused on anti-terrorism. That meant less of an emphasis on Afghanistan, with its minimalized al Qaida presence, and more emphasis on Pakistan, Yemen, or wherever its leaders could be isolated and confronted.

Whatever the case, let's acknowledge that terrible things have happened in our history when commanders in chief listened too intently to those whose function is to activate the war machine.

Kennedy did not ask enough tough questions when the CIA engineered the futile operation at the Bay of Pigs. When the ragtag invasion force was crushed by Castro, Kennedy's military advisors wanted the nation to jump into the fray full force and engage Cuba militarily. Kennedy said no.

When missiles were discovered in Cuba a year later, the brass again wanted to invade. Gen. Curtis LeMay criticized a naval blockade as weak tea. Not invading Cuba, he said, would show weakness to the Soviets and encourage them to move militarily on West Berlin.

It turned out that in Kennedy's measured and steely response, he could not have been more right. If LeMay and militarists had their way, the world war that so many feared could have been set in motion.

Fast-forward to this century and the hysteria that led to the invasion of Iraq. It is curious to hear Gates talk about political motivations in Obama's military decisions, when the Bush administration's rush to war – "Why now?" "Ah, heck, why not?" -- had all those markers.

Gates wrote admiringly about Bush's "passion" about said matters, and said he was disappointed to see Obama's lack of it. This should not surprise anyone. Obama ran for president opposing U.S. military adventurism.

So is this lack of "passion" a criticism of Obama? Or is Congressman James Clyburn right when he observes that the attitude for which Gates criticizes Obama is right out of Eisenhower's playbook -- he warned future generations against the power of the military industrial complex.

We call it the Defense Department, but in the years that preceded this president, it was not that at all. In Iraq, we went to war not because we had to but because we could.

Our military must be devastatingly effective when situations demand. But a demanding military should never drive situations. Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The real reefer madness

   Sixteen years on, I can't forget the joint Will Foster showed me.

   You wouldn't, either.

   That joint — the jumble of tissue at the midpoint of his index finger — was so bulbous and discolored as to be screaming to exit his skin.

   Foster has severe arthritis afflicting his extremities. But when I saw him in 1998, he had a bigger problem on his hands.

   He was in prison for 93 years for growing pot. No joke.

   A first-time offender. An honorably discharged veteran. Didn't matter.

   Another thing I remember from our conversation: Rather than having and addiction, Foster cultivated the marijuana because he didn't want to get addicted — to codeine and other painkillers. He said he didn't like how they left him groggy and unable to be a responsible parent.

   No matter. Pot is pot. Next defendant.

   Well, America, it matters. This the madness our parents should have warned us about — the incalculable expense of pursuing and prosecuting people for a beer-buzz indulgence; the disrupted lives; the suffering of families; the pain. So much pain.

    It was a blessed day in Colorado Jan. 1 when lines peaceably formed to purchase pot legally at state-licensed vendors. The nation will be twice blessed when Washington state does the same.

   This is what most Americans want. In 2013 for the first time the Pew Research Center found a majority of Americans polled, 52 percent, support pot decriminalization. More pertinently, 72 percent said that prosecuting pot offenses wasn't worth the cost.

   But there's that addiction component. Not  to codeine, not to THC, but to law-and-order bombast, to penal overkill. And, of course, to that standby crutch: good old hypocrisy.

   "Do as I say, not  as I did."

   New York Times soft-right pundit David Brooks didn't use those words, but he spoke for a red sea of hypocrites when he wrote about his own experience with marijuana and then explained why, though he never paid the price, others should if caught.

   He pointed to the "moral ecology" of the nation and said that decriminalization in Colorado and Washington state undermines it.

   I can't disagree with Brooks that smoking pot, as he did as a teen, "isn't something to be proud of," and that "stoned people do stupid things." Being stoned yields stupidity. Stupidity is not a crime. (Or our prisons would be packed with most of the performers who fill the nightly lineup on A&E.)

   It is important to point out that as with much of the criminally excessive drug war, minorities pay excessively for pot prohibition. 

   An American Civil Liberties Union analysis found that, though their pot usage rate generally is comparable to that of whites, the pot arrest rate  for minorities is vastly higher. 

   Some people will dismiss this and say that few people go to prison for pot any more. That's not the point. Being arrested and charged with any crime is a costly, wrenching matter. It is one more way we create a criminal class.

     It is said that crime does not pay. But in fact, it does — for the penal industrial complex that treats human beings like farm commodities.

     So, is Will Foster rotting in prison all these years later? No, he isn't. He was released in 2001 after three attempts at parole and an appeals court ruling reducing a sentence it said "shocks our conscience."

    That — three years for medicinal weed — wasn't the end of his nightmare. After moving to California, he was arrested on a minor parole violation and sent back to Oklahoma. All told, those joints — the nasty nubs Will Foster called fingers, cost him four years of his life.

    Madness. Yeah, that's what you'd call it. And, whether or not policy will ever reflect it, most Americans would prefer that it end.

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