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: