Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On the run, on campaign trail: the defiant ones

        Fugitives from the law. Desperate. Defiant. Hiding out in plain sight. Won't go down without a fight.

We thought the two New York prison fugitives were a tough case. Now come the fugitives from the historic U.S. Supreme Court pronunciations on marriage equality and the Affordable Care Act.

Where to flee? Canada has national health coverage and same-sex marriage. Mexico has – Mexicans.

Become boat people? Set sail to where homosexuals are demonized as before? It's a long boat ride to Sudan. Head to a paradise where health coverage is the least of government's concerns? Zambia is not accepting refugees.

In other words, these toughs will be out in the countryside, particularly in the countryside of Iowa and of course New Hampshire, acting – you know, defiantly.

         They probably wish they could run as individuals with their own nuances, but to appeal to the hardest hardliners, to "appeal to the base," on these matters they are chained at the ankles to religiously righteous indignation: Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, George Pataki . . .

          Apologies. We have exhausted this week's ink supply.

          Well, all right. If you must, please insert Rick Perry.

          This is crowd-sourcing at its worst, that is, for the Republican Party. For the Democrats, it couldn't be better.

          Marriage equality: It is not good to be known as the party that thinks the Fourteenth Amendment applies to only some of us. Ask young Americans. More tellingly, ask young Republicans.

          Health care: It is not good to be known as the party that looks at the progress attributable to the Affordable Care Act as if it never happened – as if it didn't take the nation's uninsured rate from 18 percent to 11.9 percent in two years.

          Relying mostly on info food pellets provided by Fox News, conservatives will point to those who lost coverage when the act rolled out. What they won't acknowledge: Unlike when employers dropped coverage before ACA, today's health exchanges mean those impacted actually have affordable fallbacks.

          Despite these matters, hear these people's reactions:

          Ted Cruz says Americans should elect the Supreme Court, like in Texas. That's the ticket: high-dollar campaigns heavy in pre-justice. As with Congress, the Koch brothers purchase a court.

          Mike Huckabee calls for "biblical resistance," apparently unaware that the Ku Klux Klan already copyrighted the term.

          Rick Perry, a demagogue on same-sex marriage much of his political life, calls homosexuality tantamount to alcoholism. No, it's not. But when unchallenged, sophistry can be addictive.

          Bobby Jindal says, ""If we want to save some money, let's just get rid of the court."

          These are elected officials, mind you, people wearing good suits. They aren't people with scaly skin and knee-length beards, holding doomsday signs on the sidewalk.

          The response is loud. Listen closely, though, and hear the echo of irrelevance.

          Sure, the protestations appeal to these candidates' religious-right base. But as a national presence, they appeal to a dwindling congregation.

          Regarding marriage equality, Stephen Colbert couldn't have said it better: "Wow, history moves fast. It's hard to believe that gays achieved full constitutional personhood just five years after corporations did."

          Let us acknowledge that slow movement is better than the "never" today's GOP hopefuls and their core constituents wish for. Unlike history, they will not be moved.

          So out in the countryside they go, jogging, jangling, lock-step. They say they revere the Constitution, but they say they won't abide by what the Supreme Court interprets it to say.

          Remember the fight to keep Jim Crow alive. It took decades, but history would not be unmade.

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Possession is nine-tenths of racism

  How could someone hate a person simply because of dark pigment? Based on our history of racial progress and regress, it's simple.

  Racism mostly is about entitlement, about power, about privilege. And this key point: In our country it's about a victimhood that never really happened.

  Racism is nine-tenths possession. The remaining one-tenth is simple alienation.

  Before the Emancipation Proclamation, white America owned black Americans. When slaveholders could no longer do that, they constructed a fear-based, possession-based social franchise that still remains in place in too many jurisdictions.

  Fear of people of color remains one of the most compelling political appeals, though it is packaged more smartly.

  It was fascinating how vigorously conservative politicians bent themselves to downplay or avoid the race angle in the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Yet how clear could that angle be? So, what was their aversion?

  A lot of politicians, particularly in the South, owe their power to white fear of black (and, increasingly, brown) people. The Southern Strategy of Nixon and Reagan was a winner, is a winner. You ride with a winner.

  The winning appeal: They're coming after what we have.

  They want to subvert our culture. They want to move into our neighborhoods. The courts forced them into our schools. We fled them for our own. This is a fundamental battle. Our very way of life is at stake.

  Listen to the words of ownership. When one of "them" rises to power, like Barack Obama, the theme becomes: We must take our country back.

  Listen to the rationalization about flying the Confederate Flag. "This is about our heritage." Yes, it is. Define "our."

  Ask a black American what that flag represents. It's certainly not equal rights. But let's face it; many people with power — whether economic or social — don't want equal rights.

   What is "truly bizarre," writes Corey Robin in his book, "The Reactionary Mind," is "a ruling class resting its claim to power on a sense of victimhood."  That's exactly what we have. That's the victimhood that would drive a mousy 21-year-old white man to wear pro-apartheid patches, spout racist slogans and shoot dead nine people in a black church.

  Ah, the church. How could anyone who claims to be Christian ever countenance the marginalization of minorities and the promotion of reactionary designs?

  Two days after the Charleston shootings, Republican presidential candidates gathered for the Faith and Freedom Coalition's annual meeting in Washington. One would have thought that in the wake of Charleston, as the candidates lined up to claim Christ to be central to their personal journeys, the subject of racial conciliation would be front and center. Wrong – not with abortion rights and same-sex marriage to rail against.

  Sadly, racial conciliation isn't good politics on their side of the equation. In the carnage at Mother Emanuel, first they would have to admit that the motive was racism, something communicated, like anthrax. Instead, let's attribute it to some guy's mental problems.

   These voices dare not make the crime one for which others share culpability.

   This is not just about shaggy racist slogans and odious symbols. More serious is governance and politics, the way we divide ourselves and apportion power through race-based redistricting.

   In said environment, Republican leaders can shrug when a federal judge says Texas's voter I.D. law calculatedly undermines the votes of people of color.

  Throw in the brown threat of immigration. Oh, yes, brethren. Racial fears remain the coin of influence in how this nation runs — and as it runs from discussing the pathogen that still courses through its veins.

  Equality? Don't kid yourself, kid. Racial equality for many Americans means surrendering a cherished possession: unquestioned superiority decreed at birth.

   As Corey Robin writes, "What equality ultimately means is a rotation in the seat of power." Pretty scary.

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

Monday, June 15, 2015

For the Way-Back Gang, it is because it is

  What makes a conservative conservative?

  Aversion to reality, that's what.

  Don't jump on me for that assertion. Blame University of California-Berkeley researchers. A few years ago they did an analysis of the conservative psyche. Among other things, they deduced that what underlies the conservative mindset is "intolerance of ambiguity," otherwise known as being resistant to "cognitive complexity."

  In fourth-grade language? The researchers found that conservatives cannot handle change. And as change is a defining feature of reality, that's a problem.

  This matter came to mind the other day when the Obama administration took Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Certain conservatives threw a fit.

  Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both reached back three decades to the evidence used by the Reagan administration to cite Cuba for helping arm communist insurgents in Africa and South America.

  That may have been the case in 1982, but the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found almost no evidence of any such thing for quite some time. Nonpartisan Factcheck.org finds Cruz's claim that Cuba is "a leading sponsor of state terrorism" to be baseless.

  Reality is a problem for the ambiguity-challenged. In this case, reality removes one key reason why, as Cruz and Rubio assert, we shouldn't normalize relations with Cuba.

  This resistance to reality applies to any number of things conservatives would like to prevent, such as changing our indefensible health care system or the atrocious disparity of wealth in this country. (Then again, the Cal-Berkeley researchers also found a defining feature of conservatives to be "an endorsement of inequality.")

  But back to the self-fulfilling nature of the Cuba-terrorist connection. Whether or not it exists today, conservatives hold it tightly as a reason — any reason at all — to block change in U.S.-Cuba relations.

  It reminds me of a debate in Texas in the '90s. State lawmakers were considering a hate-crime law, and some conservatives didn't want it to apply to homosexuals. Some lawmakers said that a reason not to do so was Texas' law prohibiting same-sex relations. Well, in 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out that law, invalidating one plasticized reason Texas used to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation.

  Even as a Supreme Court ruling approaches that legalizes same-sex marriage, rest assured that homosexual relations would still be a jailing offense were it not for the court's shooting down the state's Texas' sodomy law 13 years ago. You see, having a stone-age proscription fit for Russia or Uganda was just what the Way-Back Gang in Austin needed at the time to blunt change and end all arguments. Those were the days.

  This is in keeping with another trait the Cal-Berkeley researchers identified that accompanies conservatives' problems with ambiguity: "a need for closure." If conservatives can rationalize one answer to all questions, such as being able to cite a ridiculous law, they can render moot any and all questions.

  The death penalty meets the conservative need for closure. Even if people who die at the state's hand ultimately are shown to be innocent, or if they were developmentally disabled or insane when they committed their crimes, at least the state can say the case is closed and we can move on.

  The main thing about what we know to be conservativism is its very nature in beating back change. As the Cal-Berkeley team observed, conservatives are "comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white."

  The press release about the study referred to a statement by George W. Bush that would make him a folk hero to that core demographic: "I know what I believe, and I believe what I believe is right."

  That pretty much says it all -- not so much as a pencil shaving's worth of ambiguity. And complexity? Let's ban that.

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A pothole: the tea party national monument

        My shocks were shocked. My struts, too.

I was headed down I-25 north of Denver when, with the force of an albatross across the face, a tremendous pothole presented itself. Fortunately, I had hands at 10 and 2. I was obeying the speed limit. Even at that, for a moment, hugging my lane with vehicles on either side of me became a harrowing task.

Having been so jarred when I least expected it – on the state's most heavily traveled thoroughfare -- I began to think about public policy. I should have expected it.

States increasingly are in the throes of anti-tax initiatives and partisans who care more about strangling government than providing for public transportation, public safety, public education, public health, public anything.

They want taxes cut. That is all.

In Colorado, a better name for potholes is "TABOR holes." The acronym stands for the 1992 voter-approved Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which tied the hands of policymakers regarding spending.

TABOR prevents revenue from growing faster than the rate of inflation and population growth without voter approval. It forces the state to refund extra dollars when the state treasury is flush.

Though they haven't repealed it, voters have tempered TABOR, and these days they seem to show buyer's remorse for it.

Public disrepair crosses boundaries. In state after state, highway maintenance is set by the roadside while doctrinaire anti-tax politicians and religious-right missionaries shunt aside any discussion of how to address key infrastructure concerns.

In the children's book "Onion John," an oddball hermit lives in a shack decorated with discarded bathtubs. He calls them stunning sculptures of holes in the ground.

Holes: They are what define and describe the fruits of this strain of fiscal policy.

I'm coming to understand that anti-tax demagogues admire potholes in the same way  — as magnificent sculptures of government inaction.

"With the nation's economy at its healthiest since the Great Recession," reports Associated Press, "a surprising trend is emerging among the states – large budget gaps."

No mystery. Whether the economy is good or bad, today's Republican policymakers are committed first to cutting taxes, and spending. Eight years ago economy went bad. So did the revenue stream. The economy has improved. But instead of filling in the holes they left, these politicians cut taxes even further.

Now, in Kansas, under the reckless leadership of Gov. Sam Brownback, schools that were cut to the bone are essentially having to sacrifice bone marrow. At least eight Kansas school districts ended this school year early to save money.

Texas never really recouped revenue punted away on the altar of a property tax reduction in 2007. Supposedly a new state business tax would compensate, but the state was left with a structural deficit (it can't have a real deficit, by law), which meant that school districts had to make tremendous sacrifices.

In truth and in effect, schools are the piggy banks by which  false claims of fiscal prudence can be made.

Oh, and right now the Lone Star State, with pressing needs in infrastructure and public education — both higher ed and K-12 —  sits on $18 billion in unspent dollars. That includes an $11 billion Rainy Day Fund with which anti-taxers who rule Texas refuse to part. The savings they promised property taxes, which are under local control and weren't theirs to promise, have saved homeowners little to nothing.

R.G. Ratcliffe, writing for Texas Monthly, observes that the Rainy Day Fund at this point is the "equivalent of a mason jar buried in the back yard."

Yes, that is what they call fiscal responsibility these days, particularly where anti-tax, anti-government fundamentalism holds sway. First, you dig a hole. Then you admire it.

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

Monday, June 1, 2015

It's your right to have a few sticks of TNT on your hips

And now a word from the Dynamite Owners of America – DOA:

Wake up, America. At this crucial time in our nation's history, our freedoms are under fire as never before. That's why we must fight to protect our absolute, clearly defined, Second Amendment right to bear high explosives.

         The sad truth is that we who would tote a few simple sticks of dynamite to our favorite coffee bar are not afforded that right. All freedom-loving Americans should ask: Why?

           It is clear that the founders meant dynamite when they said "the right to bear arms shall not be infringed." Look up "arms" in the dictionary. Is it limited to firearms?

          Those men of vision did not say "guns," or "submachine guns," or "surface-to-air missiles." They wrote the Constitution to be a living document. They meant for "arms" to never be construed as ever, in any way, restricting law-abiding Americans' right to possess and display the most lethal weapons of whatever day would come and whatever circumstance, say going to Biology 101 at Any Campus U.S.A.

           As for dynamite: Check your history books. It has been used for generations for a variety of purposes, including fighting enemies, and oppressive governments. The founders knew the strategic import of destroying a select bridge or enemy headquarters to advance the cause of liberty.

           Dynamite is not just for fighting off occupying forces and invading armies. For us at DOA, dynamite is our sporting weapon of choice. Take fishing. You'd be surprised how many crappie will float to the surface with one well-placed charge.

           Dynamite is completely safe in the hands of a trained sportsman/patriot. At our recent DOA convention we had a show of hands. Ninety-three percent of our members had theirs.

          Yes, dynamite is safe, sporting and protected by the Constitution -- yet when it comes to expanding weapon-holders' rights, dynamite owners sadly are marginalized.

          We were alarmed to see the Texas Legislature passing so-called open-carry legislation – legalizing the open display of handguns – without giving dynamite any consideration.

         Granted, lawmakers were cowed. Consider the proponents who, bearing AK 47s, forced their way into offices of a Texas legislator who opposed open-carry. Later the leader of the group posted something on Facebook about hanging legislative opponents "on the tree of liberty." Now, that's one sick Pomeranian. But we like his style.

         Like the open-carry movement, we at DOA believe the flaunting of dynamite is vital to keeping the peace.

         Let's say one of our members were at a Texas restaurant that specializes in beer, wings and exposed privates. Let's say heavily armed and disagreeable biker gangs convened there for sundry purposes. Don't think for a second that a few sticks dangling from a DOA member's belt wouldn't stop any disagreement.

         If it didn't, one flick of a Bic would avert any conflagration in a flash.

         Sure, dynamite is used in terrorism. But don't blame the dynamite. Blame the terrorists.

         We are joined in our plea for the open carrying of dynamite by the Grenade Fanciers of America and the Congress of Nitroglycerine Hobbyists.

         The historical militia role aside, laws limiting the possession of high explosives deprive munitions hobbyists of a peaceable hobby. How many of you know the feel of a few smooth cylinders in your hands, candy-apple red, packed with ammonium nitrate, wired to a sleek timing device? Ooh, clean.

         Much fun awaits when one takes a son or daughter out to the dynamite range to blow up ground squirrels or natural gas lines. What we at DOA want is for more Americans to experience that thrill up close, but not too close.

        Yes, we at Dynamite Owners of America support the absolute, unfettered, no-exceptions right to bear arms. Ninety-three percent of our members have theirs.

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