Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Natural disaster’ with human prints on it

If Tornado Alley were a battlefield, historically this time of year the cannons would be silenced. Not so this December. All hell has broken loose. The weather map has been a work by Jackson Pollock: all splatters.

It's impossible to cite a cause for such weirdness across a swath of Dixie, including killer tornadoes in North Texas. The staggering nature of the storms, however, fits into what climatologists say:

The more heat in the air and oceans, the stronger the storms. Embodying that right now is the strongest El Nino in 50 years.

Sadly and tellingly, this is immaterial to most red-state lawmakers. They are sworn to plug their ears and hum real loud when science speaks.

That doesn't just apply to evidence that far-off glaciers are dwindling rapidly. It doesn't just apply to sea-level rise. Heck, that's the coasts' problem.

No, these days Texas and Oklahoma have an even more compelling example of when "natural disaster" is recast by human hands, and it appears policymakers will hear nothing of it.

A growing chorus of seismologists asserts that a rash of earthquakes in the region is caused by fracking and deep-water injection from oil and gas activities.

Cliff Frohlich, associate director of the Institute of Geophysics at the University of Texas, who's researched dozens of quakes in recent years in the North Dallas area, told USA Today the link is "definitely established."

Members of the archaically named Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas, say evidence is insufficient to say that.

The difference between the two points of view is that one is held by scientists and the other is held by elected officials. The latter also happen to be members of a party that has made resistance to science a central feature and an election-cycle virtue.

That resistance would apply to geology and seismology, climatology, and basic biology. The latter would apply to evolution and to sex education that generally skirts the "education" part.

With its allegiance to the religious right, today's Republican Party is one which believes its elephant origins are stork-delivered.

Lest we assume that most of these policy positions are sustained by one's interpretation of the Good Book: Understand what it's really about. The Good Book calls it mammon. The oil industry calls it profit.

Ever since black gold became Texas Tea, the oil industry has spread its profit among those policymakers who help make Big Oil more profitable, or at least who get out of its way.

The strength of Ted Cruz' appeal to tea party zealots aside, one key reason why the Texas senator stands to have staying power in the Republican race for president is a $15 million donation to his super PAC from billionaire oil and gas developers Farris and Dan Wilks.

That was in July. In one fell swoop, Cruz had raised more money from two donors than Bernie Sanders had raised from an army of small donors.

Do you think Cruz as president, or senator, would be inclined to listen to the seismologists of the world on these matters? What about the climatologists?

That's right. He would plug those ears those with his fingers and hum loudly. What the senator wants to hear is the "ka-ching" of petro dollars.

He's not alone. Consider what happened in the last Texas Legislature. Republicans who talk a righteous game about "local control" of governing matters took control away from cities like Denton that would block fracking in their midst. Gov. Greg Abbott signed it with relish, and a "ka-ching" in the background.

         So it goes with those whose chief concern is the next election cycle, the next business cycle, the next call from a donor. Disaster? To miss that phone call, now that would be a disaster.

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

And good will toward – government?

Everyone knows the adjective form of "good": Good tidings. Good cheer. Good grief.

But there's the noun form, too: The condition of good or goodness. The common good. The greater good.

So we ask today: Is government any good?

To be honest, that's a silly question, considering the schools and roads it enables, the old-age pensions and medical care for those without the means. Still, with the anti-government drone so prevalent and blaring: Well, what good is government?

Here's some: Over the last four years homelessness among veterans has declined by 50 percent nationwide. That's right.

Credit goes to Housing-First, a program administered by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro. In cooperation with the Department of Veterans Affairs, it employs vouchers to get homeless veterans into long-term housing and can be used to combat homelessness in general.

Castro told Mic.com http://tinyurl.com/jykdhr4 that ongoing subsidized housing for these veterans, rather than fostering dependency, is a stabilizing condition that allows veterans "to help take the responsibility necessary to improve their lives," whether their needs are employment, education or job training, drug or alcohol treatment, or mental health.

Of course, the best way to have fewer homeless veterans is to have fewer wars, particularly the elective, speculative type. (That government-as-the-problem thing.)

But what about  simply solving problems? What about putting good minds behind doing the right thing?

Through the end of January we are in the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, and a lot of Americans still remain in the dark about the requirements and the benefits.

A team of very smart people enlisted by the Obama administration went on a test-marketing spree to see which of several letters to qualified citizens made them more likely to sign up for health coverage. The objective: to stop wasting effort at missives that don't pay off; to get people to get with the program.

The work of that team is getting recognized for doing good things, not only in dealing with citizens but cultivating smarter behavior by bureaucracies. Officially it's called the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team.

I hate that name. It sounds like mind control, or at least it would lead Sarah Palin to claim so. What it is better known as is the Nudge Unit, which fits it perfectly.

The Nudge Unit figures out incremental ways to govern better. After a short run, the results are very good. Not only has the Nudge Unit come up with common-sense means of doing things better, but the New York Times reports the ideas could save "millions and possibly billions of dollars."

An example was a simple message programmed into computer printers that reminds federal employees to make two-sided printing their default setting. With its success thus far, one simple flourish could save up to half a billion pages of paper a year across the government, the Nudge Unit estimates.

Another wrinkle was to text-message just-graduated high school seniors about the next steps needed to enroll in college. The messages nudged up enrollment figures by 3 percent. That may not sound like a lot, but tell that to the families involved. The cost? Almost nothing.

Right now a lot of college students are fearing lifetimes saddled by debt. Many don't know about a federal program to set payments at 10 percent of one's monthly income – paying it off, but more slowly. The Nudge Unit has proposed an email campaign to bring this matter to students' attention. A targeted effort has shown great promise.

This is called the public good. We can do better. As the program to find homes for homeless veterans shows, government can do good.

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

Who will be crowned king of the trolls?

        Charles Barkley calls Twitter "a place where fools go to feel important."

He's talking about you, Donald.

         You've built a fool's paradise, constructed in planks of 140 words or less. Like many who find that kind of fame salutary, your ambitions are destined to go no further than that.

It is somehow newsworthy that Donald Trump has stirred roughly 11 percent of our citizens into a frothy lather (support from 28 percent of Republicans polled, with Republicans representing about 40 percent of us).

The only way this is of any electoral significance is in the media's absurd horse-race fixation with polls. With what Trump has been saying, more likely that Charles Barkley will ascend to the White House, and I mean by a lot.

True: Trump has more people on his side nationwide than his Republican competitors. Ted Cruz? A whopping 7 percent of Americans in general. Ben Carson and Marco Rubio? Maybe 6 percent apiece. What dazzling phenomena they are.

With what they've been saying, all seem to have an equal chance of being president: zero.

These players are fighting with all their might to be the favorite of the right-most fringe of the political spectrum. Winning that battle won't make any of them president. But one can be crowned king of the trolls.

Let's face it, though. In the land of Twitter, a troll can live like a king.

We are left to wonder at this point if any of the above actually has the GOP nomination as his objective. Or is this simply about some traveling trophy for a one-upmanship fest in idiocy?

Trump says he'd block all Muslims from entrance.

Cruz says he'd carpet-bomb a whole region.

Carson rejects anything science says except his own.

Rubio will second that, except that he begs off because he's no scientist. But then, what do they know anyway?

Today's GOP field reminds one of the wall of one-liners on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In." Americans tuned in weekly for the predictably lame and generally nonsensical banter. Let's just say we were bored then.

A trademark line about the festivities each week on that show came from Arte Johnson, wearing a German helmet: "Veeery interesting, but stoopid."

Stupid? Is that an unfair portrait of thoughtful discourse? Well, Charles Krauthammer calls Trump's racist screeds "strategically idiotic" and ruefully exclaims that whatever becomes of Trump politically, his claims are "indelibly affecting both this race and the Republican future."

By "affecting," Krauthammer means, "fitting the party with leg irons."

Meanwhile, we are told Cruz has surged in Iowa. That's a big deal. Iowa is where the victorious campaigns of Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Pat Robertson all took flight.

Cruz, a man reviled even by Republican counterparts in the Senate, is headed – behold, a shooting star -- for the pantheon inhabited by other hard-right flameouts.

We speak of a hall inhabited by presidential aspirants Pat Buchanan, George Wallace and Strom Thurmond.

But whereas these busts are recognized in this shrine with busts alone, a whole veranda is being reserved for Trump. He would have it no other way.

For all of his life, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been a man of measured words. So, too, with his new role as essayist for Time magazine. However, regarding Trump's candidacy, he is, um, blunt.

Trump, he writes, employs "a cynical strategy of using misinformation, half-truths and deception in order to gain access to a position that should only be held by those who would be repulsed by that strategy."

Electing Trump, he adds, "would be like asking the clown at a child's birthday party to start juggling chainsaws."

Very interesting. But stupid.

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

That behind-the-scenes climate-change cabal

The arrival of the Beatles. The Civil Rights Act. LBJ's rout of Goldwater. All vied for "Biggest Story" of 1964. But another might have eclipsed them all: the Surgeon General's report definitively linking smoking with cancer.

Why so big? Well, that year four of 10 American adults smoked. Yes, this cancer thing was big news.

Now here we are in 2015. You may believe that ISIS is the biggest story in the world, but face it: If most climate scientists are right, the biggest story is bigger than that, with sea-level change, the exhausting of life-giving glaciers -- you know.

You may not believe all that, but it's sort of like the smoking debate. Either we are harming ourselves, or . . .

It's no big deal.

It is possible that the nations represented in Paris at the Global Climate Summit, all 190 of them, could be wrong along with just about every scientist who studies the climate full-time?

They could all be in it together, or so I'm told -- a big-government cabal, a freedom-killing, one-world-government conspiracy. (Among those in the cabal, by the way, is the mayor of Aspen and representatives of the Colorado ski industry. They attended the Paris conference to share their alarm about slushy, mushy, abbreviated winters.)

          Well, we can confirm the presence of a cabal, just not that one. The real cabal is described in the 2010 book and documentary, "Merchants of Doubt." In it, authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway detail two audacious campaigns:

The first was waged by the cigarette industry to inject doubt and disinformation into the inquiry regarding cigarettes' health effects, to "create a debate."

The second campaign is waged now by fossil-fuel industries to seed doubt in your mind about the human role in climate change.

In both cases, among industry foot soldiers have been scientists paid handsomely to lend their names to the cause. What would amaze most Americans is that, in many cases, they were the same scientists.

Big Tobacco's doubt-seeding effort didn't just involve scientists, though. It involved public relations giant Hill and Knowlton, for one. The PR firm advised that the only way to fight science was with science: "Scientific doubts must remain."

This involved a ton of money -- millions funneled for "biomedical research" through the Tobacco Industry Research Council. As Oreskes and Conway tell it, by the mid-1980s, the effort had hit the $100 million mark, exceeding "any other source except the federal government."

Here we are today, and Big Tobacco seems like Tom Thumb compared to the interests of the oil, coal and other industries trying to deny, derail and redefine science.

This means having researchers and testifiers on retainer. See them hustling from climate conference to climate conference.

More pertinently, though, now industry has even pricier folks on retainer: politicians.

Hear the Republican presidential contenders on the climate issue and you can see them in a 1950s board room talking about how to get more of America's youth to smoke Viceroys.

Even if smokes aren't good for you, they can't be bad for you, right? So goes the company line. The point here is that industry-beholden types need not have science on their side to say what they believe.

When a panel of scientists recently was asked to rate, without candidates' names attached, statements from the presidential field, a climate scientist from Penn State said of Ted Cruz's statements, "This individual understands less about science (and climate change) than the average kindergartner."

This distinction, of course, Cruz will wear as a badge of honor to parade before the tea party faithful in Iowa.

Yes, it's 190 nations concerned about the state of the planet, and one nation – Tea Party Nation – saying, "No big deal."

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In 'poisoned environment,' growing our own terrorists

        You bet it was political. Moments after it happened, we were all certain.

That was in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh's fertilizer bomb made rubble of the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168.

You bet it was political as well last week when a wide-eyed, white-bearded Obama-hater was charged with the deaths of three and the wounding of many, outside a Planned Parenthood clinic lin Colorado Springs.

You bet. And without question you can credit political discourse that has run so far off course as to be in the craggy ruts and roots where killers like McVeigh and Eric Rudolph would hide.

You may remember Rudolph, the "pro-life" terrorist who set off bombs at Atlanta's Olympic Park and at a women's clinic in Alabama. He is among a growing list of players in a home-grown holy war – physicians slain, clinics firebombed and vandalized.

And who's to blame? Let's see. For one, blame the con artists at the fraudulently named Center for Medical Progress. They constructed a lie via doctored video to convict Planned Parenthood of a crime that it didn't commit.

Accused Colorado Springs killer Robert Dear, who uttered, "No more baby parts," was regurgitating a line that has come from, among others, presidential candidate Carly Fiorina with claims about the aforementioned video that independent observers like Politifact labeled inflated and false.

Or maybe Robert Dear was stirred to act by the tea party Republican who represents Colorado Springs in Congress, Rep. Doug Lamborn. He's of those trying to get the most political mileage of fallacious claims of "trafficking body parts."

Last week's incident, therefore, was a confluence of pathologies all tucked into the mind of the American political right. You had a man heavily armed and isolated. Neighbors knew him for unsolicited rants against President Obama, a president so heinous as to have won a Nobel Peace Prize and to be pronounced again quite recently as the most popular world leader.

We haven't heard about Robert Dear's religious proclivities. Undoubtedly, however, like Eric Rudolph and the murderers of a total of eight abortion providers since 1993 -- and like ISIS and al-Qaida – Dear assumes God to be on his side.

You bet, this is domestic terrorism. Though we don't know which walking ideological time bomb will explode next and take many others with him or her, we know pretty well what the likely targets will be.

One problem, of course, is that our means of sharing news and information has so dramatically changed (read "hype and propaganda") that many variants of religiously righteous violence are being born.

Consider the Indiana man who, pleading guilty to setting fire to an Ohio mosque, told the judge he'd been "riled up" watching Fox News.

That's the same highly informed state of mind that motivated someone to spread feces and shred the Quran on the floor of a mosque in Pflugerville, Texas.

A Planned Parenthood official was absolutely right in describing events in Colorado Springs as the result of a "poisoned environment." The poison is a concoction of ignorance and politically motivated spin.

No spinning this: According to the National Abortion Federation, over that last 30 years over 200 incidents of bombing or arson have occurred at clinics like the one targeted in Colorado Springs. This despite what happens in the clinics in by and large is basic health care – checkups, contraception, even fertility counseling.  And the people being served are poor women.

With these things in mind, Americans should be much more afraid of a certain strain of believer in their own midst than desperate Muslim refugees who simply seek peace for their families.

Dear Homeland Security: We know the "vulnerable targets" in our homeland. They are in place to serve the vulnerable.

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


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ominous threat: cyber-tuber attacks

I was minding my own and humanity's business on the Internet when I checked my Gmail and found the most horrifying thing.

"Sensational sweet potatoes," said the email.

        Why did I click on its contents? I probably shouldn't have. The fact is that my gamble was made in the purest pursuit of journalistic truth.

The e-missive shared recipes for sweet potato pie, sweet potato fries, "baked sweet potato fritters with yogurt dipping sauce," "sweet potato parsnip and celery root mash."

As gag is my reflex, I swear I am not making these things up.

A few days later I was socializing with my kind on Facebook — that's what people do on Facebook — when one of those kinds sent me a video describing the difference between the yam and the sweet potato. (Key: A yam's skin is purple and hairy. A sweet potato's skin has no hair. It is like George Foreman's forehead.)

Did I ask for this graphic and troubling video? No.

I know all I need to know about these two dreaded angiosperms. I've known all too well since the first — and last — time I tasted sweet potato. It was some 50 years ago. It's as if it was yesterday.

I have embargoed sweet potatoes from my alimentary canal ever since. However, it seems that I cannot blockade them from my laptop.

Before the Internet, I was safe. I once had a newsroom office mate place something labeled "pumpkin pie" in my office mail box. I saw through the ruse. It was a sweet potato pie. Shortly thereafter, the police department bomb squad detonated it in a field.

I have written columns about sweet potatoes ever since I began opining for a newspaper in Texas. That's 30-plus years. In Texas, for ill-defined reasons, the orange tuber is particularly popular. Every Thanksgiving since then I have waged a lonely and gallant information campaign about one of the holiday's traditional accoutrements.

My slogan: "Sweet potatoes. You can't eat even one."

I know this is true. My tongue tells me so.

Before I came to Texas, I wrote columns for a small newspaper in Colorado. In Colorado I didn't perceive sweet potatoes to be a serious threat to mankind. I wrote, instead, about the threat posed by zucchinis. Everyone in Colorado seems to be able to grow zucchinis, and everyone seems to think they are edible. They are not.

Rest assured, I reaped the whirlwind for my conscientious anti-zucchini activism. It seemed that every time I went to someone's house my host had some dish which concealed chopped or grated zucchini. Zucchini is easy to disguise.

Not so with sweet potatoes. No one is going to sneak grated sweet potato into my casserole. No one is going to be fooling me with "pumpkin bread" that actually contains you-know-what.

Unfortunately, though my state of vigilance is high, my laptop remains ever-vulnerable.

In the 21st century, some of our greatest minds have devoted themselves to protecting this nation from cyber attack. This is one crucial function of the Department of Homeland Security. I expect to be protected.

So, senators, members of Congress, I beseech you on this national day of prayer and feasting to protect the homeland from cyber-tuber attacks. Receiving virtual sweet potato on a screen is only slightly less horrifying than a steaming red mass of the real thing.

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Behold the energy that made America

"I should have learned sushi."

So says James in a rare moment of retrospection. Most days he has no time for that. He is all forward motion.

His goal is to be an architect. Now he's working in food service and mastering English.

A sushi chef makes more than what James does at the moment. He kicks himself for not learning it while working in a California restaurant in his few first months in California. "Cowleefonia" is his linguistic attempt to master everything about us, to be one of us.

To James, every syllable counts.

His real name is Trisnawan. Born in Indonesia, like many immigrants, he chose a name here that wouldn't cause Americans to entangle themselves on their own tongues.

Hannan, meanwhile, is quiet and determined – quietly determined. She is in this country because the civil war in Yemen made her home unsafe, rocked and wrecked by a bomb out on the street.

She can't believe her good fortune that her family was granted refugee status. She looks at others fleeing her homeland, and those fleeing Syria, and shudders.

A Muslim, she is alarmed to see American politicians making a person like her Public Enemy No. 1.

Sonia and Nancy are Mexican immigrants. Catalina is from the former Soviet republic of Moldova. Amanda's Chinese birth name you couldn't pronounce, but her smile and her effervescence you'd appreciate anywhere.

These faces I address every day in classes I teach. They're all upwardly bound. Their enthusiasm and fortitude are palpable. They are "America" in the definitional sense.

These are the people who made this nation what it is. These are our forefathers and foremothers. The fact that they are in their teens and 20s and arrived at airports with luggage on rollers makes them no different from those who arrived by freighter with their belongings in burlap.

I saw Sen. Ted Cruz say a few things the other day that I hope Hannan never sees. Cruz said it was "nothing more than lunacy" to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country, as President Obama has ordered, just as other western nations are doing.

Asked how these refugees would be different from his own father, who came to America fleeing Castro's Cuba, Cruz did one more exceptional impersonation of his doppelganger, Sen. Joseph McCarthy. He used the most heinous generalizations possible.

It's one thing to allow in refugees, Cruz said; it's another to allow in members of a "theocratic and political movement" -- he described that as radical Islam -- "that promotes murdering anyone who doesn't share your faith."

Well, sure, Senator, none of us want that kind of person. But the screening process for refugees post-9/11 is, let's say,1,000 percent more rigorous than that used to admit your father. 

So, that process in place, Americans should say: Let them in. They're our kind of people.

Writing about Europe's refugee crisis, Time magazine assistant managing editor Rana Foroohar interviewed Oxford University's Ian Goldin, co-author of "Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future." Goldin calls migrants "a disproportionately dynamic labor force" in the world.

Goldin adds, writes Foroohar, that "the bravery of immigrants has its own sort of economic value."

This is not an insight that this nation, a nation of transplants, should ever need to learn or relearn. It is no historian's footnote. It is the whole story.

I have yet to ask James what his religion is, but taking a cue from Cruz, I will inquire about it should he get that sushi job, or should he come to me down the road with all the credentials he needs to design a dream home for me.

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Race to be right's anti-intellectual champion

Sure, it seems like the race for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination has been going on since lily pads were green. However, let's acknowledge that it was just June 16 when the starter's gun fired.

Or, when Donald Trump first shot off his mouth.

Trump registered in decibels and kinship with xenophobes the moment he accused Mexico of shipping rapists and murderers our way.

For a fifth of Republicans polled, he had them at "hello," and they haven't budged.

Seeing which way the derby flags were flying, the field began to bunch almost immediately at the wind of his tail in a quest to be the contender who most deftly defied logic.

Well, it's neck-and-neck now, with Trump astride Sea Bigot while Ben Carson applies the whip to a steed named Mythmaker.

It doesn't matter to about a fifth of Republicans that the "bio" part of Carson's biography is flickering up there with the Marfa Lights. The man's an "X Files" episode that TV found too bizarre to air.

It doesn't matter that he's explained away basic history (Egypt's Pyramids were constructed by Joseph to store grain) and basic science (The Big Bang is a "fairy tale," and evolution theory is promoted by the devil).

No, these things aren't campaign problems for Carson at this point. They're precisely why for about a fifth of Republicans polled, he had them at "hello."

On the right – where else would he be? Ted Cruz, well, let's see: He made a point to be at a particularly significant event the other day, a homophobe conference in Des Moines, hosted by a particularly odious preacher named Kevin Swanson.

Swanson has made a name for himself with anti-gay remarks that make the beyond-venomous Westboro Baptist Church seem – what? -- Christlike?

Swanson has said that people should attend gay weddings and hold up signs saying the happy couple should be put to death.

Cruz was in the audience in Des Moines and took the microphone to mighty applause at a conference at which Swanson said parents should drown their children rather than let them read Harry Potter.

Yes, it's one thing to appeal to conservative Christians, Sen. Cruz. It's another to sing "Kumbaya" with one who supports, as Swanson does, legislation in Uganda to make homosexuality a criminal offense.

But let's understand that this race is all about appealing to the hardest of the hard right, the encrusted core of a political party that once could be described as pragmatic and centrist at its center.

People like Dwight Eisenhower and Everett Dirksen, and later people like Bob Dole and Alan Simpson, once were nominate-able in their party. No way today, Dole will be the first to tell you.

For generations, the GOP was smart enough, by and large, to nominate people who would appeal to the political center. That's called political survival. What to call it now? It's a plunge into the tar pit.

Carson is a particularly curious case: a man of letters, and presumably of science as a surgeon — yet his proclamations are those of a traveling medicine show.

Homosexuality? He asserts it to be choice, because — look at what happens to people behind bars. That's some scientific study, Doctor.

Lack of governing experience? Carson has a lyrical way to dismiss people who know what they are doing. "The Ark was built by amateurs," he told a Colorado audience. "The Titanic was built by professionals."

Yes, he got an "amen" to that. That's called giving the people – at least one fifth of those who call themselves Republicans — what they want.

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


Monday, November 9, 2015

No more questions for the GOP field

"Welcome to absolutely the very last Republican presidential debate. We promise. I'm your moderator, Elizabeth Hasselbeck.

"Because the candidates have complained about their treatment by the media, each questioner on our panel has been selected by an individual candidate based on mutual affection and nothing more.

"Though we are here at Fox News headquarters, pursuant to agreed-upon rules, Megyn Kelley is nowhere in the building. So let's begin.

"Our first question-answer team is -- Ben Carson and Glenn Beck!"

Beck: "Dr. Carson, you are a truth-teller, man of great faith, a man of great intellect. When you say that a 10 percent to 15 percent flat tax would not explode the federal deficit as the Tax Foundation asserts, but that instead it will dynamically, indeed, miraculously, generate enough revenue to wipe out the deficit, I believe you. I really, really believe you."

Carson:  "Thank you, Glenn."

Hasselbeck: "Our next question-answer team: Sean Hannity and Jeb Bush!"

Hannity: "Gov. Bush, do you recall when Vice President Cheney convinced many Americans that Saddam Hussein was tied to the 9/11 attacks?"

Bush: "Yes, I do."

Hannity: "Do you remember when your brother convinced Congress that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons?"

Bush: "Yes, I do, Sean."

Hannity: "And you remember when your brother got that congressional resolution and we rolled tanks and bombed Baghdad?"

Bush: "Yes I do, Sean."

Hannity: "That was awesome."

Hasselbeck: "And now, the duo of Bill O'Reilly and Donald Trump."

O'Reilly: "Donald, no mushball questions from me. You know how I work. No spin here.

"So, as I understand it, Donald, you've been accused of being racist in your highly reasonable claims about Mexico importing rapists and murderers into our country, and Mexicans preying on our people and gobbling up welfare benefits.

"The truth is -- and you can verify this for me, Donald, because you know yourself best -- but the truth is you are indeed a true friend to law-abiding brown-skinned people who stay where they belong. Isn't that the truth?"

Trump: "Si. Es verdad."

Hasselbeck: "For our next question-answer team, we have Marco Rubio and "Fox and Friends" morning host Steve Doocy."

Doocy: "Marco – can I call you that? Thanks for being my question-and-answer friend. And as your friend, let me ask you: Your opponents point to a beyond-dismal, almost invisible attendance record in the Senate. You have pointed out, rightly, that you can serve your country better by traveling the country on the Koch brothers' dime.

"After all, Marco, nothing can get done in the Senate with the specter of a filibuster by the Harry Reid chorus. And of course you have the dictator Obama waiting to veto anything great you might do, with his czars and executive orders. You tell me, Marco: What the heck is a senator to do?"

Rubio: "Run for president."

Hasselbeck: "Our next candidate is Ted Cruz. For his questioner he has chosen Ted Cruz."

Cruz: "Thanks, Elizabeth. Now, Sen. Cruz, please tell us a few things about yourself."

         Cruz: "Born in America to a steelworker and a candy-striper. Despite my humble origins, I was anointed by God to serve in the Senate and ultimately the presidency."

          Cruz: "That is an inspiring narrative. Tell us about your success in government."

Cruz: "My foremost achievement was to shut down the government for 16 days in 2013. If elected president, I promise to do the same for at least four years. I ask for your vote."

Cruz: "You have my vote."

  Hasselbeck: "Thank you, candidates and panelists. We apologize to candidates Fiorina, Paul, Christie and the rest for running out of time. We also have a report that Megyn Kelley has penetrated the security cordon and is in makeup. The candidates are being taken to a secure location."

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Remarkable turn for Incarceration Nation

        It's not true that nothing gets done in Congress.

You can't have a resolution designating "National Day of the American Cowboy" and a designation of "Hockey is for Everyone Month" without bipartisan cooperation. Give our most embarrassing public institution some credit.

Sure, generally what emanates from those corridors has all the functionality of a wad of gum under a bar stool. It's not even good for display purposes. And yet, I can report that something miraculous – more miraculously, something bipartisan – is happening right now.

Without any true mandate from well-fed and oblivious constituents, players from both sides of the aisle are addressing one of America's most serious injustices.

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently voted by a lopsided bipartisan margin – 15-5 – to reverse a tragically oppressive, generation-long build-up of our prison population.

The move to reform sentencing guidelines may be the biggest story that nobody in America is talking about, except for those senators pushing the initiative, and to his immense and lasting credit, President Obama.

Obama has used the bully pulpit of the presidency to bring attention to the insanity of mandatory minimum sentences and the warehousing of nonviolent criminals.

Recently he became the first American president to visit a federal prison. Along with principled stances on immigration, gay rights and climate change, he is showing the fortitude some of his progressive allies accused him of lacking.

With the remarkable convergence of liberals and conservatives in Congress regarding sentencing reform, encouraged by principled judges and states that have liberalized drug laws, we are seeing the beginning of a much-needed rollback of the hysteria-driven Reagan-era War on Drugs.

The good news is that the population in state and federal prisons has been dropping, from a high point in 2010 of 1.6 million – the population of Idaho – to somewhere around the population of Maine, 1.4 million. That's progress.

Don't fool yourself about who's behind bars. In the federal system, more than half – 51 percent – are there on drug convictions.

            Sentencing took off like a wildfire in the '80s when lawmakers were convinced that crack (rhymes with "black") was a scourge meriting law enforcement zeal that took on the moral equivalency of war. This was facilitated under Reagan with obscene amounts of federal dollars pumped into local agencies under the scandalously named Byrne Justice Assistance Grants. Justice. Yeah.

The Byrne program also incentivized drug busts because law agencies could confiscate assets of offenders. Big money. Big money.

            Added fruit of Reagan's quill was the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, the kind of militarization of police that begat overreaches and unbearable tension in so many American cities.

          The result of all of this was a massive build-up of our prison population based on drug raps, truly a phenomenon that future Americans will view with a shake of the head, particularly when decriminalization of marijuana becomes commonplace. And, yes, that will happen.

          Well, something is happening to reverse this, and Americans need to encourage it.

          Why would a conservative support sentencing reform? For one – cost. For another – families. Yes, anyone who worries about the state of the American family need look no further than all the children left fatherless or motherless by merciless sentencing laws. What a way to raise children – not.

          Obama also is right to urge that we rethink how we treat convicts who have served their time. The notion of rehabilitation is null and void when re-entry into society means little to no chance of meaningful employment. Obama has ordered federal contractors to no longer automatically reject job applicants based on criminal records.

          Sentencing reform couldn't be more important. The wages of Incarceration Nation couldn't be more damaging. Congress can change this. Yes, it can.

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hillary would not be pilloried

   As Tim Murphy observed in piece in Mother Jones, Hillary Clinton's appearance before the Benghazi Committee lasted, among other things, longer than the Anglo-Zanzibar War, the lifespan of a female mayfly, and, more onerously, the entire "Lord of the Rings" trilogy on screen.

   And I couldn't even get through "The Fellowship of the Ring."

   To see Clinton endure it all in one take, almost 11 hours without scene changes or a stunt double — the same claims over and over, the same accusations that have been on a Fox News loop for three years – it wasn't good cinema. It was, however, illustrative, just not in the way Republicans hoped.

   Clinton wasn't exactly Mel Gibson on the rack in "Braveheart," but she was an amazing study in fortitude and forbearance in the face of withering petulance.

   Yes, Republican partisans had been planning this effort for days, weeks, months, years to undermine Clinton's presidential aims. What they made her look was – yes — presidential.

   Honestly, why was Trey Gowdy the one sweating? Clinton looked like she had stopped by for a pedicure. The South Carolina congressman, with his sharp chin and darting eyes, was right out of the "Spy vs. Spy" comic strip, minus trench coat and pointy hat.

   Here he was having his moment, his once in a lifetime, this giant magnifying glass in his moist palm. Sadly, outrageously, Hillary Clinton would not be a specimen for him.

   This is twice now in recently days that inquisitorial Republicans have tried to make villains of women who came out smelling like roses. The hearings aimed at belittling and castigating Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards only made her look sympathetic and stateswoman-like.

   A Clinton-Richards ticket for 2016? Bring them both back for hearings, and there might be a groundswell.

   Oh, yes, in both cases the Republicans have overplayed their hands, but when you have a 24-hour "news" cycle to feed to Roger Ailes, this can happen.

   Benghazi was a tragic screw-up. It was inexcusable, when we have security forces in every corner of the globe, particularly that corner, for a clearly vulnerable installation to be so at the mercy of hooligans and killers.

   But tragic screw-ups occur when we establish our footprint in so many venues where we aren't greeted like the Good Humor Man.

   The self-righteous bluster over this matter has become sickening, particularly when no such bluster was heard from the same players when false claims led a whole nation to war. Where was the investigation into Dick Cheney's fallacious "facts" about Iraq's ties to 9/11? A lot of young men and women went to war assuming them to be true.

   There was no three-year probe-athon about what the Reagan administration didn't do to protect the barracks in Beirut in 1983 when truck bombs killed 299 American and French servicemen. Maybe that's because we didn't have Fox News in 1983.

   But then, as former House speaker aspirant Mike McCarthy reminded us, this was about bringing down Hillary Clinton's poll numbers. And don't you ever believe this was about anything else.

   If, let's say, Madeline Albright, to name a Democrat, were secretary of state when the tragic Benghazi screw-up occurred, we wouldn't be having hearings on it three years later. This only pertains if the former secretary of state is a front-runner to be president.

   Now I'm wondering who else could benefit, image-wise, from a congressional hearing. How about Octo Mom? How about Charlie Sheen?

   Call Trey Gowdy or Congressman Jason Chaffetz. Set up some face time. They obviously have the time.

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

Monday, October 19, 2015

That voodoo that they do so well

        Out of the murky depths of Donald Trump's ego emerges something approximating a public policy position – or at least one that doesn't involve walls or deportations.

We speak of actual fiscal policy. And here's the thing: Of those details that aren't too vague to ascertain, factcheck.org says Trump's plan would blow up the federal deficit like few proposals before.

Trump says his plan is revenue-neutral. The tax experts solicited by factcheck.org say it would reduce revenue to the U.S. Treasure by more than a trillion dollars a year for 10 years.

Trump's proposal would cut tax rates dramatically, eliminating the federal income tax for single people earning under $25,000 a year and couples $50,000 a year, while lowering the highest income tax rate from 36 percent to 25 percent.

Trump says he would make up for lost income by closing a host of loopholes, though that's where things get vague.  As is so often the case, we are to trust in the magic of tax cuts to generate wealth and new revenue.

Sound familiar? Ever since George H.W. Bush called it "voodoo economics" under Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party has been under the spell of tax cuts as the answer to any and all fiscal needs.

What's happened? A hefty budget surplus that was projected years into the future under Bill Clinton has become a national debt without end.

We owe this to a well-established brand of political blindness. Call it fiscal disservatism.

"Fiscal disservatism" isn't a term Webster's recognizes, but it should.

The whole idea is that we strangle parts of government that we deem unworthy, like social services and health care, while building up other parts of government that still cost a lot of money – wars on multiple fronts, prisons, the "drug war," Homeland Security.

And we pay for these things how? We don't. We borrow, while decrying debt.

Fiscal disservatives say we pay too much for government, though the truth is as plain as the deficit staring them in the face: We don't pay enough. The percentage of GNP paid in taxes is the lowest it has been since the 1950s.

No need to focus on Trump entirely. Jeb Bush has his own plan that analysts say compares to Trump's – what the New York Times calls a "tax-cuts-for-just-about-everybody" plan with a projected Treasury hit of $3.4 billion over 10 years.

This would make Jeb's proposed tax cuts more sizable than those enacted by his brother, and we all know how those tax cuts made the Bush economy take off like a racehorse, and how those tax cuts paid for themselves.

Oh, wait; no, they didn't.

If supply-side economics (I like to call it faith-based budgeting – faith in the power of tax cuts) worked as advertised, don't you think we'd know it by now?

Sure, tax cuts generate economic activity (as does spending), but never enough to make up for the lost revenue needed to pay for all the government that even so-called small-government types say they need.

One would think that the tea party, which says the deficit is the greatest problem facing America, would denounce policymakers and politicians who offer only to make that problem worse.

           But these Republicans are more interested in paying less than their share of the government they bought than paying down the debt their children will inherit.

So as we approach more tea party-inspired shadow cinema over the debt ceiling, know that those who scream loudest about it have little interest in doing something real about it. For in a deficit situation, a tax cut is exactly the same as more spending. And the result is more borrowing.

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

Monday, October 12, 2015

Planned Parenthood’s PR bonanza (Thanks, Congress)

Planned Parenthood couldn't have gotten better publicity if it paid for it.

On TV: a telegenic, smart and calm executive pushed, goaded and constantly interrupted by bulldozers in suits.

In print: good information about what Planned Parenthood does, unfiltered by anti-abortion propagandists.

On Page 1 of the Denver Post, for instance, a pie chart shows Planned Parenthood services. About half, 45 percent, involve sexually transmitted diseases: testing and treating. About a third, 34 percent – 3.6 million clients – involve contraception. Eleven percent involves pregnancy tests.

Planned Parenthood also provides fertility counseling for women seeking to get pregnant. Who knew?

Well, since Congress is trying to cut the legs out from under Planned Parenthood, you should know, and now you do.

These matters, plus indignation over bullies like Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the biggest poser in that attempted political smackdown, help explain why a recent poll finds Planned Parenthood to be way, way, way, way more popular than Congress. 

We're talking about a popularity quotient, (NBC-Wall Street Journal survey) twice as high as any politician. Congress consistently polls as the least popular institution in America.

You see, Planned Parenthood actually helps people. Congress does . . . what?

           And yet more good news for the agency: The House isn't done boosting Planned Parenthood's popularity. It has created a "special committee" to investigate it.

So, yes, bring back Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards and put her before the GOP klieg lights again. Please. In the last round, Richards did her mama – the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards – proud. She did every woman proud.

If Republicans in the House were interested in less government, they would streamline the process by which they politicize hooved animals they wish to beat after death. In this case they would merge this new committee with that other thing they can't let go. Call it the Committee to Permanently Investigate Planned Benghazihood.

Even if it were demonstrated that a Planned Parenthood affiliate broke the law against profiteering fromfetal tissue – and no such evidence exists, no matter what Carly Fiorina fabricates – it wouldn't merit this witch hunt.

It certainly wouldn't merit defunding Planned Parenthood when it does so much to help women, particularly low-income women. And speaking of polls, 65 percent of Americans (USA Today/Suffolk University poll) say Planned Parenthood should not be defunded.

It is unbelievable that the sale of fetal tissue is even an issue, as it's been a staple of medical research for years. Right, Ben Carson? You in fact participated in a study involving it.

No, this is is not about that. This is about a woman's right not to have the government mandate that she gestate to term when the EPT shows the "plus" sign.

The ban-abortion minority, the anti-contraception minority, now is fully synonymous with one of America's major political parties,. It doesn't want to be bothered by life's realities when it comes to reproductive rights. It wants sex to carry a punishment phase and women to serve the sentence.

The anti-choice spin machine will denounce Planned Parenthood as America's No 1 abortion provider. The pro-choice majority (see polls above), will point out that abortion is constitutional based on decades of legal reasoning. the majority wants a reputable entity like Planned Parenthood providing that service.

Your tax dollars do not pay for abortion. That's against the law. Your tax dollars pay for STD testing, medical checkups, referral for mammograms, fertility counseling, sex education, and most important of all, preventing pregnancies — hence, preventing millions of abortions.

For shame, Congress. For shame. But keep pounding on Planned Parenthood. All you do is make it more popular.

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Symbol of surrender to the gun lobby

        A metaphor for a nation: Terrified students hustle across a school parking lot, their hands in the air.

It happened the other day at Umpqua Community College in Oregon: hands in the air. It happened at Columbine High School. It happened at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois and Central Arkansas.

It has happened at 142 schools – yes, 142 -- college, high school, elementary -- since so many children died not quite three years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary. That's about one shooting per week.

Hands in the air. The ones still escaping, the psychological victims of another gun atrocity, know not what to think, what to do, where to go – exactly like the country that would protect them.

This is the country that, as British wit John Oliver observes in wonderment, caught one shoe bomber and now requires every air traveler to shed shoes at check-in. But do anything about the gun carnage in its midst? No way. Just count bodies and pray.

We've had 986 mass shootings since Sandy Hook. Add the crime-of-passion shootings, the suicides, the drive-bys, the accidental deaths. What's the toll?

Well, let's put it this way: Just this year the gun carnage – 9,948 dead – is more than three 9/11s.

         Where is Dick Cheney when we need audacity and overreach? Where are the spare-no-expense resources? Where's Homeland Security?

This is the public safety issue of our time, and we are less proactive about protecting people from random shootings than we are about trans fats.

Arming more Americans? Arming teachers? It doesn't work. It can do just the opposite. More innocents can get killed.

This happens even when police intervene in the chaos of a mass shooting. In 2012, nine bystanders were wounded by counter-terrorism-trained New York police in an armed confrontation at the Empire State Building.

So what's the answer? Literally, it's to treat guns as the public safety matter they are, just like automobiles. The answer is to register firearms and license their owners. The answer is to prohibit or revoke permits for those unfit to operate a killing machine.

In the absence of something that wouldn't prevent gun ownership for the law-abiding but would change the reckless gun culture we've cultivated, we need to take action aimed at keeping guns out of the wrong hands.

Few Americans by now oppose the concept of background checks to prohibit gun ownership to criminals, the mentally ill, juveniles, non-citizens and more. But what happens when the background check system fails?

Democrats in the Senate have proposed a bill to close a loophole that made it possible for Dylann Roof to obtain a firearm before his shooting spree at a Charleston, S.C., church.

Called the "default to proceed" loophole, the ambiguity in the law means that if a gun dealer doesn't get back FBI background check authorization in 72 hours, the transaction can proceed anyway.

As with so much pertaining to guns in this country, the loophole exists because the whole of gun policy is sculpted for the convenience of gun owners and sellers, rather than any inclination to protect the public.

The problem confronted by the bill in question sounds like an obscure matter, but in 2012 alone, the loophole allowed 3,722 people who otherwise would have been ineligible – people with criminal records or mental health issues -- to buy their precious guns.

Back when all were filled with religion in the "war on terror," the principle was that we would do everything at our disposal to prevent further terrorist attacks.

What Dylann Roof did was a terrorist attack. What the shooter in Oregon did was a terrorist attack. For years it has been one terrorist attack after another.

We have to stop denying that we are arming home-grown terrorists. Let's put our hands down and put them to work. Let's change a culture that makes the fates of helpless people secondary to pieces of metal that propel pieces of metal through the air.

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