Monday, March 31, 2014

When every sperm is sacred

    Regularly I drive past individuals praying out in front of Planned Parenthood.

    Supplication being a private thing, one can only imagine what appeals they direct skyward, out there in the cold and wind.

    I like to imagine that they are praying that all women, regardless of income, have access to safe and affordable contraception.

   I imagine that is not likely.

   Most likely, they not only oppose the abortion that their signs and placards decry. They also oppose birth control that would avert unwanted pregnancies — and abortions.

   In many cases, this even includes opposition to the condom, with all those sperm laid to waste. Oh, the humanity.

    I admit grudging admiration for this form of studied absolutism, even if it is so far removed from America’s cultural realities as our highways are from hay wagons.

   I am reminded of a 2012 Gallup poll in which 82 percent of Americans said birth control was morally acceptable.

   Check that. That was 82 percent of Catholics saying as much.

   Yes, Catholics.

    This may explain why two key Colorado Republicans have had changes of heart recently on the issue of “personhood.”

     U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman both have dropped their support for a personhood amendment that abortion foes perennially place before the state’s voters, who each time shoot it down by large margins.

     Gardner is seeking the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Mark Udall. Coffman is in a tight race in a newly redrawn swing district. 

    Both acknowledge that the amendment they once supported in lockfstep with social conservatives is poison for the masses. It would prohibit contraception that might cause a fertilized egg not to implant.

    Once again, points for absolutism to those who want to give zygotes Fourth Amendment rights, but most Americans understand this to be folly. Truth be known, most people who say they oppose abortion would acknowledge they can’t pretend to be so rigid.

   Any candidate who claims to be “pro-life” should have to explain the extent to which he or she would go in getting government into the gestation process. What exceptions would be permissible under a law of his or her design?

    Rape? Incest? Life-threatening medical or psychological circumstances? In each case, which “life” takes precedence?

    Those who say “no exceptions” haven’t practiced obstetrics, and haven’t been raped.

     Speaking of practice, that’s all it is, shadow boxing, when politicians mouth “pro-life” nothings, though they have no personal investment into the matter, or no womb, as it were.

    Considering how broadly the public accepts contraception, it’s amazing that we continue to have discussions like the one before the Supreme Court about Hobby Lobby’s right, as a corporation, to refuse to carry health insurance that covers contraception.

    Birth control aside, this is one more extension of the spurious “corporations as people” spiel used to undermine campaign finance laws.

    Rights are reserved for people. If corporations  have religious rights, the workplace can be their temple. They can require morning and afternoon prayers, restricted diets. To do otherwise would violate their faith. But, of course, Hobby Lobby doesn’t do that. It hires people of all faiths. What gives it the prerogative to cherry pick and reject components of basic, broadly accepted health coverage?

      Some Republicans have made fools of themselves for playing the Limbaugh Bully Game about contraception coverage. The birth-control pill isn’t a license for, as Mike Huckabee sneers, women who “can’t control their libido.” The pill is basic health maintenance, providing for a smooth regulation of a menstrual cycle, for one thing.  

      As the change-of-heart Colorado Republicans are acknowledging, this is a losing game for political absolutists. Hooray for the Obama administration for not shrinking from this court challenge.

     The issue in the Hobby Lobby case is the “personhood” of employees and the 21st Century definition of health care.

      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Algebra II vs. Citizenship I

   What would you say if someone told you that your state’s emphasis on algebra was undermining math instruction?
   What would you say if that someone was a math instructor?
   What would you say if someone said algebra as emphasized — overemphasized — was undermining democracy?
   Well, I’m saying the latter.
   First, algebra vs. math. It sounds like a contradiction, but to hear a Texas math instructor explain it, as one did to me, it makes all the sense in the world.
    It’s something the teacher wishes policy makers — so fixated on one-size-fits-all, conveyor-style education “fixes,” would hear.
   He told me that school districts’ forced march to get students to state-set benchmarks, advanced algebra being at the end of lawmakers’ rainbow, has caused teachers to rush students through basic math. The result, he said: Far many students have only a cursory grasp of key concepts.
   The teacher said that if policy makers really wanted students to master math, they would ease up on the throttle so that teachers could better reinforce the fundamentals.
    This pace, this race, is the curse of “criterion-based” testing and top-down, rigid, “raise the bar” policies.
    When everyone has to learn the same things at the same pace, some children won’t. Period. Of course, teachers, not unmanageable requirements, will be blamed for this.
   Now, what was that about algebra vs. democracy? It’s a real duel, and democracy has been routed.
   How is it that policy makers can be so concerned about advanced math and show so little concern for students’ grasp of how things work in their nation, their state, their community?
     Recently the College Board announced that the new SAT will include questions about civics. That prospect should give educrats the quakes. By and large, our children are so bereft of an understanding of civics as to make Lady Liberty hop a boat for France.
    Let’s face it. Our leaders are just as clueless about this national problem as is your average high school grad. Maybe they fear having a new generation that actually pays attention to what they do.
   Why, sure. Where’s the relevance in all that in comparison to 5(-3x-2) - (y-3) = -4(4x + 5)+13?
   We don’t want children wasting their time finding Crimea — or Oklahoma — on a map.
   It’s not a direct equation that less emphasis on math means more emphasis on citizenship. But we could only hope.
  Fortunately, policy makers are realizing that not all students are college-bound, and not all college-bound students need advanced algebra.
   Texas has dumped a requirement that all students take four years of math, meaning more choices for those who choose a degree or career path that doesn’t require it. Florida has done the same thing. It no longer requires Algebra II for all.
   California will no longer require all eighth-graders to take algebra. Now, don’t panic, all you regimentation freaks. After all, presumably, those students still have four grades and puberty left for that. And students so inclined can still put pedal to the metal, algebra-wise.
   Somewhere one of America’s greatest college instructors is smiling over this.
   Ralph Lynn, a legendary Baylor University history professor who wrote pithy commentaries in the local newspaper right up to his dying breath, was openly derisive about policy makers’ fixation on algebra. He knew how few college graduates really needed advanced algebra. At the same time, every adult needs to know what a mill levy is and why a sales tax is regressive.
   No, I don’t assume that less emphasis on higher math will elevate the nation’s citizenship IQ. However, I will invite readers to suggest anything, absolutely anything, that would.
    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One anecdote is all it takes

   “Yeah, well I heard . . .”

   Four words just about sum up vast seas of political insight about matters that matter.

    “I heard about the schools handing out condoms.”

    “I heard about the Black Panthers intimidating voters.”

    “I heard that illegal immigrants can get Medicaid.”

     It hardly matters if the “I heard” is true, or if it is a speck of truth blown up into an asteroid. It only matters that “I heard.”

     Jon Stewart recently went nose-to-noise with Fox News for casting a net of generalities as wide as a continent based on one interview with a beach bum who said he bought lobster with food stamps. Stewart congratulated Fox News for “finding your food-stamp abuse Bigfoot.”     He then ridiculed the network for assuring appalled viewers that the nation is awash with comparable atrocities.

     Of course, all it takes is one anecdote to affirm all that a target audience wants to believe. You know, the old Reagan-era “welfare Cadillac” ploy.

   In his Bush-era book on red-state America, Deer Hunting With Jesus, Joe Bageant ruminates on that alleged welfare luxury car. A man of the heartland, he grieves to see that the intellectual lives of a vast sea of Americans “exist on things that sound as if they might be true.”

   The better, he says, for moneyed interests to blunt anything, like health coverage for the working poor, that might benefit those whose labors are so commonly exploited.

   Speaking of anecdotes, you might have heard what a disaster the Affordable Care Act is, based on a claim like the one made by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in December — that based on the cancellations of policies deemed inadequate under the Affordable Care Act, more people had lost insurance because of the ACA than had acquired it.

  That was false then. It’s particularly ridiculous now, as ACA opponents continue to cite it.

   In January, long before the glitches of were resolved and enrollment started to ramp up, a Washington Post analysis laid bare Rubio’s falsehood.

   The low-hanging fruit of rebuttal, explained the Post’s Glenn Kessler, was the 3.9 million Americans who gained health coverage in states that expanded Medicaid.

   Some people are challenging the 4.2 million signups attributed to ACA by mid-March. They wondered how many of these people were previously insured or had to switch because their companies dropped them.

  The response to this is that movement is movement. Before the progress of the last three months, at the dawn of a new year, the rate of uninsured in this country dropped from 17.1 percent to 15.9 percent. We await Sen. Rubio’s statement.

   “Well, I heard that because of Obamacare, full-time jobs have been lost to part-time jobs.”

   Not true, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of February, the nation had added 2 million full-time jobs over the previous year, while the number of part-time jobs declined by 230,000.

    Americans for Prosperity, a political hit squad funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, has targeted key 2014 races by trotting out horrifying tales attributed to the ACA.

    In one advertisement, a leukemia patient declares that her coverage was canceled because of ACA and the new policy will have out-of-pocket costs that put her life in danger.

   Well, not exactly. The Post’s Kessler found that because of subsidies, the woman will have lower premiums under ACA than before, which would more than cancel out her out-of-pocket costs. 

   One would think that in a nation awash with the desolation and despair from “Obamacare,” a pair of honest barkers like the Koch brothers would be able to find one example that would survive a rudimentary fact check.

   But, then, legitimate horrors are not necessary when all it takes is “Well, I heard . . .” For as we all know, Bigfoot is out there.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

So they took a second job

    As the deadline nears for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, two types of hardworking Americans should be furious.

    First: the working-poor millions who would be covered under expanded Medicaid if their state’s policy makers didn’t refuse it.

    Second: the millions who work second jobs mostly to pay for health coverage. That includes the 61-year-old who sacrificed most of his knee cartilage to a career hanging sheet rock. He now drags himself from shelf to shelf in a big-box retailer that, like his prior employers, doesn’t do health coverage.

    Second jobs were the story in the March 10 Time. In this case, it was about an amazing group of nerds who spent months away from home and from high-dollar roles in Silicon Valley.

    Their job: to nurse the crippled ACA web site to functionality.

    Read Steven Brill’s story about these info commandos, assembled from across the country and led by a T-shirted Google troubleshooter named Mikey (yes, Mikey) Dickerson, and you’ll root, root, root for the home team.

    That is, unless you wished, wished, wished that it all came crashing down, and you are still wishing.

    In that case, I’m sorry to report that and the state exchanges have secured health coverage for more than 4 million. Terrible news, I know.

    Oh, it looked deliciously horrible at first. As the astronauts said in The Right Stuff, it looked like this administration “screwed the pooch” when contractors rushed to the launch pad without a sufficient test run.

    Enter last October a steely band of super geeks, who would alternately understate their heroics and fully understand the stakes before them.

    Allusions to the hyper-risk of space travel are sprinkled throughout Brill’s account:

     “This is just a website. We’re not going to the moon,” Dickerson tells his cohorts.

     An “Apollo 13 moment,” is how administration point man Jeff Zients describes the dramatic effort to rescue the site.

    Throughout, these people are driven by the only option available: Yes, it will work; it has to work.

    They face bitter frustration, with system crashes at the worst possible time — like while lawmakers are hammering Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Capitol Hill.

    Finally, against a swarm of setbacks, the task force turns the tide.

    Two days before Christmas, a site that limped along for months takes off “like a rocket ship.” That day sees 129,000 enrollments.

    Along with these numbers, Time reports response times cut from eight seconds in October to half a second in January.

   All of this is to say that, well, nothing has changed for those who wish this landmark never happened. And nothing has changed for those whose states have left them hanging, in some cases their very lives swaying in political winds.

   The advent of this law comes with more than your basic, Fox News-generated animus. A lot of people are about to be inflamed because they ignored the law and will get penalized at tax time.

   Key point: Many of these people get money back from the government via the Earned Income Tax Credit. For playing roulette with their health care, possibly taxing us all with emergency room visits, unfortunately they will get less of that tax credit.

   This is a tender moment for a nation. A lot of feelings are inflamed. I liken it to what happens with heart surgery. It comes with pain, disorientation, slow healing and, presumably, a new regimen, a new reality.

   Pain: Though subsidies are going to mean health policies that will be better and lower-cost than many imagined, some people will pay more and get less. This is exactly the price of having a public-private contrivance rather than following the Medicare model.

   Disorientation: What is to come? Steven Brill ends his article by asking as much.

   “The website works. Will Obamacare work?”

    Answer: Yes, it will work; it has to work.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bazookas and the founding fathers


  The NFL hinted it would move the Super Bowl, and Apple said it could find a new place for a planned plant if Arizona legitimized discrimination most foul, most un-American, against gays and lesbians.

   In a similarly principled stand, arms maker Magpul Industries has moved its plant to Wyoming.

   The principle in question? People shouldn’t have to reload so often at target practice.

   Colorado, site of much rapid-firearm horror, was Magpul’s home until recently. Last year when lawmakers there deliberated a ban on magazines of 15 rounds or more, Magpul threatened to bolt. Unmoved, the governor and lawmakers said, “Enjoy the scenery upon exiting.”

   Opponents of a limit on such rapid-fire efficiency said this wasn’t about sporting efficiency. It was about self-protection.

   Let’s say a pack of, oh, a dozen burglars invaded one’s home. A box of 10-round clips wouldn’t do the trick. Any law-abiding American defending his home would be defenseless. It happens all the time. In Colorado we were to imagine these herd burglaries run amok.

    Funny. Not really, but when Erik Larson, in his book Lethal Passage, a portrait of the gun industry, asked a gun merchant to explain the function of high-capacity magazines, the man shrugged and said that it’s about having to reload at the range. After all, he said, “You’re paying by the hour for range time.”

    That wasn’t Adam Lanza’s concern when he mowed down first-graders and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary with a 30-round Magpul mag.

    A young gunman who killed three students at Chardon, Ohio, in 2012 wished he’d had a sweet 30-rounder on him, because when pursued by a brave football coach, he failed to reload after 10.

    But, wait: Consider this interesting rationale. One of the wise Republicans who does the gun lobby’s bidding in the Colorado General Assembly said, “Maybe it was a good thing” that theater shooter James Holmes had a 100-round magazine in his possession, because after he killed 12 and wounded 58, it jammed. See? Only 70 lives shattered.

    So much for unthinkable rationalizations. What about the one that this firepower is what the founders wanted? A civilian population armed like just any military or police force to protect its freedom.

    I hear this rationale, and I wonder why, then, just anyone can’t have a mortar, a submachine gun, a Stinger missile for plunking targets at the range. (OK, too time-consuming to reload; on the clock, you know.) Face it: The founders would have blanched at the thought.

   Instances in which lives were saved because a gunman had to reload are plentiful. Instances in which high-capacity weapons actually did what the gun lobby says justifies them are so rare as to be of pink elephant stock.

    Convenience, convenience. A burrito from the microwave. A Slurpee from the tap. A gun that fires unlimited rounds and can be bought like a scratch-off.

   If we were to hew to the wishes of the gun lobby, such transactions would be uncontrolled, as too many are.

    Colorado’s lawmakers refused to accept that. Last year they instituted universal background checks for firearms in addition to the magazine limit.

   Subsequently, the gun lobby harnessed the power of low-turnout politics and picked off two state senators with recalls. Score one for convenience.

   Not everyone is resigned to these matters. On March 13-16, faith communities across the country will show their alarm about national trends with the Gun Violence Sabbath Weekend.

   Sounds like so much talk. But when gun merchants and their policy-making caddies talk loudest, it would seem imperative that someone else offer a counterpoint.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: