Monday, February 23, 2015

Islamophobes chasing their tails

  OK, let's hear the president explain it, again.

  "Some call this evil Islamic radicalism. Others, militant jihadism. Still, others Islamo-fascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam."

  Now, discuss.

  We know what you'll say, Rep. Louie Gohmert. You'll say these are the words of a toady of Islam.

  We know what you'll say, Rudy Giuliani. You'll say it's the over-parsing of a water carrier for an alien culture: a man who doesn't love this culture, this country.

  And that would be a very disrespectful thing for Mr. Giuliani to say about George W. Bush. It was Bush who offered the above quotation about fighting al-Qaida. Indeed, he was meticulous in making it clear that this nation was not fighting Islam. It was fighting evil.

   It wasn't controversial then. Why now? Well, of course, now would be when Barack Obama is saying exactly the same thing about ISIS.

   Obama? Well, that's a different matter. Ask Gohmert. The Texas congressman says Obama, if not a sworn agent, is being advised by the Muslim Brotherhood. Didn't it figure? You do know what his middle name is, don't you?

     As for, "Obama is a Muslim": Even if it were so – and at times I wish it were, so that we could all be straight on what venal priorities drive a few of us – let the rest of us agree on one response: "So what if he were?"

   This pitiful claim long ago got as monotonous as a Xarelto commercial, side effects ranging from bleeding gums to wound secretion.

  Oh, yeah, Obama is a double agent for Islam, and that's exactly why he just requested war powers to fight ISIS.

   Oh, yeah, Obama is squishy-soft on beheaders. He hasn't ordered a bombing raid on ISIS in at least an hour and a half.

   Is there a more tiresome word than "tiresome"? Until we find it, that will have to do for trolls like Gohmert and the once-estimable Giuliani.

  And when we find that word, let's also attach it to those who want us to believe that the enemy is not some dirt-bathed band of masked mass murderers but the Muslim faith itself.

   To which, an appropriate question would be: If Islam is the enemy, what do you propose? After all, we have a few million Muslims living among us in studied peace, supporting every principle for which this nation stands.

   "Islam is the enemy"? Those of you who insist it, suggest your strategy: Pogroms? Internment camps? Forced re-education? Bible readings from mobile loud speakers?

   The sad thing is, it's not just country simpletons – folks who've never met a Muslim -- who want to make Islam the focus of the anti-ISIS offensive.

    Former Bush foreign policy aide Peter Wehner, now with something as high-minded as the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told The New York Times that Obama's great care at not making Islam the enemy when talking about ISIS is "self-deception."

    No, it isn't. We don't make Islam the enemy because it isn't – because ISIS is as much an enemy of Muslims as it is the rest of us. Why else, in short order, would Egypt and Jordan send war planes after it?

   "Our allies in the region are out there every day saying, 'This is not Islam,''" former Obama counterterrorism aide Daniel Benjamin told the Times. "We don't want to undermine them."

   If the objective is to take down bad guys, it's generally preferable to have lots of good guys on your side. To have good people on your side, it's advisable not to insult their faith. But if that's no problem to you, Louie, go ahead and score political points by appealing to raw bigotry.    

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, February 16, 2015

Dwarfed by one Himalaya of a lie

  As any track athlete knows, after training at high altitude, distance running at lower levels barely shocks the system.

  This explains, in part, why I've not read up much on the lie attributed to NBC's Brian Williams. It was a behemoth, apparently. I just can't bring myself to know any more about it.

  For one, a few years ago I resolved to ride out the media phenomenon of the moment – the big, bigger, "biggest" story that didn't affect me.

  This all started with the Michael Jackson child molestation trial. There was a lot to hear, of course, but I resolved not to hear a word of it until it was over.

   There's so much one could know these days, about Bill Cosby's accusers, about Justin Bieber's latest delinquency, about Bruce Jenner's gender. I could be alarmed/intrigued about each -- if any of it had any effect whatsoever on my daily life. So, too, with Williams' chopper whopper.

  The other reason why I don't care about Williams' lie is where it resides on the scale of falsehoods in this century: not very high.

  What interests me is that many of the people most inflamed by what Williams said are the very same people who weren't bothered by what Donald Rumsfeld said in 2003.

  Asked about weapons of mass destruction used pretextually to roll tanks into Iraq, Rumsfeld said, "We know where they are. They are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad."

  Sure they were. And the Iraqis had acquired the means of building nuclear weapons. So said President Bush. And Iraqi intelligence had met with a 9/11 conspirator, said Vice President Cheney.

  A few years later Rumsfeld was confronted in public about his "we know where they are" claim. He said he hadn't made it up, that he had identified "suspected" sites of WMDs. Of course, the videotape trail made that just one more lie on top of a whole pile of them. A mountain of lies. An Everest. An Annapurna.

  What it took each day for the Bush White House to keep its web of fabrication intact right under our nostrils is one of the great logistical feats of any century. In the media glare of an information age, it was a veritable moon shot.

  So, using the analogy of high-altitude training, let us say: The pretext that led us to war in Iraq so built up our capacity to endure untruth that it may take decades for some of us to be outraged again.

  If Williams' lie had resulted in people dying, I might be sifting through the facts right now. Then again, if we didn't demand the truth surrounding a war that resulted in the deaths of 4,493 of our sons and daughters, and over half a million Iraqis – well, I'm not sure what to do with Williams' fable.

  It's interesting, too, that many of those demanding Williams' most excellent scalp and blasting his network are those for whom Fox News is a model of credibility.

  In fact, there's barely a follicle's worth of difference between Williams' claim about being on a downed helicopter and Bill O'Reilly's 2008 claim to have been in combat. No, he hadn't, he admitted when a caller pointed out O'Reilly's lack of a military record.

  O'Reilly clarified, more or less, that as a journalist he'd been "in the middle of a couple of firefights in South and Central America." A couple, Bill? Central or South? Or both?

   No matter. Fox wasn't about to sanction blustery Bill. Because, well, unlike Brian Williams, credibility really isn't Bill's game.

  You might say he and Fox had no shame. You might also say that along with the rest of us, when it came to parroting untruths that led this country into war, they'd been to the mountaintop in 2003, and it was all downhill from there.

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Egads — an equal-opportunity Internet?

  Comcast did not invent the Internet. Neither did AT&T. They just hitched rides on it.

  All to the betterment of mankind – I might add, unless mankind is crossing an intersection and an oncoming, texting 19-year-old driver is oblivious to the color red.

  Therefore, consider this commentary not a slam on big telecom companies. It's a plug for all who use the Internet.

  The announced support for "net neutrality" by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is being hailed by supporters of an open Internet as one of the biggest developments since hypertext.

  And speaking of things hyper: um, Sen. Ted Cruz.

  As a devoted water carrier for just about anything big, except the government variety, Cruz has joined Big Telecom as denouncing Wheeler's decision as oppression most foul. Cruz, indeed, has called the notion of net neutrality "Obamacare on the Internet."

  What, Senator? Not, "This is ISIS out to behead all ISPs"? Come on, Senator. You can make this modest proposal even more horrifying, can't you?

  So, what is net neutrality, a concept embraced by President Obama? Fundamentally, it's about treating the Internet as a utility that treats all equally. It's not to be a plaything of the powerful and better-connected (you know, a plaything like Congress).

  At stake is whether Internet service providers can put a premium on speed of data delivery that only a few customers can afford – a "fast lane" to be constructed for mega-players that can pay a premium.

   Much of what's at stake is speculative – particularly Cruz's hyperbole. Opponents of net neutrality call it rank government interference that could stifle innovation. Other opponents say that it could result in tariffs and taxes on online activity. Wheeler's statement -- in advance of a commission vote where his position likely will prove decisive -- made it clear that the government's role as he would enforce it doesn't involve taxes or tariffs.

  On that note, let's understand who created the Internet. We did. We the people funded and authorized the Pentagon experts who devised it to facilitate unfettered and decentralized communication in times of military crisis.

  They devised it, then set it free for the use of everyone with the means of accessing it. Increasingly, that literally means everyone.

   Like television, like radio, like cable, like anything that relies on phone lines, frequencies, power lines, coaxial, fiber optics or broadband in backyards, a government role is inherent and necessary.

   By and large, government's instincts have been excellent in regulating all of the above. But we've seen when free-marketeers can mess things up.

   Such was the case with deregulation under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It removed restrictions against monopolies that basically resulted in clear-cutting of independent radio stations by mega-corporations – a debilitating wave of homogenizing and downsizing.

  Without question, it was the worst thing ever to happen to radio.

  Would net neutrality result in a neutered telecom industry? Only in the scare tactics of those who wish government to just not govern.

   Comcast and AT&T may be big, but their interests do not supersede that of the general public when it comes to a free and lightly regulated Internet.

   Listen to the argument against net neutrality and hear echoes of the argument against campaign finance laws. We are told that campaign cash is an expression of free speech, and that big donors are entitled to their clout. But as with the Internet, elections are a government-spawned enterprise, and it is not at all unreasonable for government to set limits on what it authorizes in the interest of self-government.

   Corporations are people? No, and the Internet isn't proprietary, either.

   The Internet is ours, just as elections are ours, unless laws about either are written by and for the highest bidder.

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, February 2, 2015

You will not refuse the Tar Sands Mafia

  The economy is on the rebound. Oil prices are down, down, down. So, what's with that Putin face, Punky?

  It's bad. It's bad. So say analysts who point to all that oil-patch activity now screeching to a halt. It's a calamity. Oh, the humanity.

  Bad? Tell that to the average motorist. Gasoline prices halved from six years ago save the average household $750 a year. If Saudi Arabia wants to keep up current production, prices will fall further, and won't we all be sad?

   All right. Whatever gasoline's price, it has always been too cheap -- with environmental costs, government subsidies, and our troops' dying in oil-producing lands. Yes, that cost. 

  Cheaper gasoline means less conservation. That's the most pertinent of the mixed blessings from dropping prices.

  However, let us consider whom the plummet in oil prices hurts the most. No, not Jed Clampett with a pumper in his backyard. No, not the fracking operation plumbing the Barnett Shale.

  Those harmed the most by today's oil prices are the Tar Sands Mafiosi: the Trans Canada Corp. and Koch Industries.

    Trans Canada pawed its way to black gold way up north in the sumptuous boreal forest of Alberta, B.C. Since then, it has sought to build a pipeline to the Texas coast so that it can ship the result to places unknown.

  To make its case that this corporate whim is a national imperative, over the last 15 years Trans Canada has spent roughly $7 million lobbying Congress

   Let's acknowledge that's a pittance to Koch Industries. Reuters reports that Charles and David Koch, who have pledged almost $1 billion to swing the 2016 elections, have a hand in nearly a quarter of the tar sands oil being imported into this country.

  So, did we say that low gasoline prices are bad? Well, yes. Ask the Koch brothers. Tar sands are costly crude.

  Not only that, but they are dirty crude. The dirtiest we know – not that said matter concerns Trans Canada and Koch Industries.

  Processing the gunky, glumpy bitumen in question is very energy-intensive, so intensive that it uses almost as much energy as it produces. In fact, by 2020 the processing of the tar sands oil is projected to emit as much carbon pollution as all the cars and trucks in Canada. Adding insult to the planet is that the tar sands are strip-mined.

  But the cost factor is what we can all hope to harness in stopping or slowing this eco-catastrophe. Remember the expected synfuels explosion of the 1970s? Big Oil pulled the plug on the processing of oil shale into petroleum because of the relative cost.

   If the low cost of oil right now is causing fracking operations to fold, one can imagine the damage this imposes on costly tar-sands operations.

  Oil is dirty by nature. Fracking for oil is dirtier – with its excessive use of water, its emissions of methane, hydrocarbons and dust. But harvesting tar sands is the dirtiest.

  The actual and environmental costs of these forms of oil development should serve as motivation to continue to do what President Obama has done more than any other American leader – push for clean alternatives.

   This might shave profits for the tar-sands dons, but judging by their expense accounts for influencing poor environmental policy, they don't seem to be hurting.

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: