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: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.