Monday, August 24, 2015

Cripple government, then call it ineffective

       While many observed in horror as a mothballed high-country gold mine shared an egg-yolk yellow stream of poison with three states via the Animas River (and the San Juan River 100 miles downstream), I thought of another stream -- a river of air.

        Years ago I flew with a Baylor University pilot/researcher who was tracking the plume of ozone and hydrocarbons from the petrochemical hive along Houston's ship channel to show how the gunk ended up time zones away.

Said dynamics are no revelation. Japan bathes in China's air pollution. Colorado's front range this week is obscured by smoke from  wildfires in Washington State and Idaho.

Environmental devastation is not a local matter. It's a collective concern. To the extent that it is a national matter, we need a robust and effective Environmental Protection Agency.

Don't tell this to the ideologues (job description for the 2016 GOP presidential soapbox derby?), who blithely speak of its abolition. So, too, with the controlling Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee. In June they voted to cut the EPA's budget by 9 percent, as if the nation's environmental challenges had receded with human progress.

            Reacting to the EPA's role in the eco-disaster from the venting of wastewater at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo., Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said the EPA should be "held to the highest standard." No argument here.

           One would despair, however, waiting for Smith and fellow congressional Republicans to hold themselves to similar "highest" standards in helping the EPA do what it must.

           Instead, the Republicans want to cripple the agency.

           TV images coast to coast shared the disgusting ribbon of pollution from Gold King – "yellow boy" is what miners call a waste plume of dissolved iron. So presidential hopeful Ben Carson hopped a flight to the banks of TV cameras along the befouled river.

(The photo op happened to coincide with a fund-raiser with hyper-wealthy donors at Jackson Hole, Wyo., a plane hop north).

           Such eco-concern from you, Dr. Carson. Such a fertile moment to denounce government and the EPA.

The disaster was the agency's fault. No question. The company contracted to inspect the mine had miscalculated with heavy equipment. Presto: disaster.

          The fact is, however, that countless abandoned mines are shedding toxic juices every moment, a cumulative disaster that dwarfs the more photogenic one.

          Competing ideas are offered to address these problems. Gutting the EPA's budget, however, could not possibly be the most effective one.

          The EPA, in fact, had tried to get ahead of the problem. For 25 years it advocated designating Gold King a Superfund site, meaning we'd get serious about an environmental menace.

Local officials fought it. The stigma of being a Superfund site would drive away mining investors and tourists, they said.

But, you see, all things are connected in this ecosystem. When a mine threatens whole regions, its cleanup is our problem, not that of a few profit-seekers and provincial politicos.

What we see with the current political fusillade aimed at the EPA, rightfully in this case, is that old game that makes government failure a self-fulfilling proposition.

Remember how the congressional Republicans self-righteously bemoaned the difficulties in launching Suddenly they were concerned about people getting health coverage. Yeah, right. If they had their way, no one at all would be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Let's face it: One segment of our political world is dedicated to befouling government. Then it can say, "See? Reagan was right. Government's the problem."

By the way, while the EPA was trying to do something about the Gold King Mine, Congress was taking its August recess.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The anti-choice disinformation war

In the hyperbolic chariot race waged by Republican presidential candidates, we can report the first breastplated contestant to have thrown a spoke.

That would be the supposed moral standard-bearer of the field (of mankind?), the estimably sainted Ben Carson.

Carson can talk the talk of the GOP base, like saying the Affordable Care Act is worse than slavery, like saying that abortion is the No. 1 killer of black people. (Don't trot that claim past the American Heart Association, by the way.)

Carson knows this to be a race where facts are phantoms before thundering hooves of fury. But the other day an inconvenient truth presented itself on the dusty track, and Carson stood exposed.

It turns out that Carson, a neurosurgeon, did research in the '90s using aborted fetal tissue. This is something that he and fellow GOP candidates have denounced to the edge of hoarseness.

It was useful to see Carson squirm. Research using fetal tissue has been done for decades. The National Institutes for Health funded $76 million in said research in 2014 alone. Discoveries have contributed to the fight against a host of killer diseases -- polio, rubella, chicken pox, Parkinson's and more..

Republicans have tried to make an issue out of videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials violating the law against profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. No evidence yet shows that Planned Parenthood did anything other than seek to recoup costs.

Meanwhile, no candidate has taken a breath to consider the fraudulently covert (illegal under California law) way the videos were obtained, not to mention editing which removed parts in which Planned Parenthood officials say the nonprofit does not profit from selling fetal tissues. To do anything else is illegal.

Let us understand, though: Facts are way past secondary to those who would make it illegal for a woman to end a pregnancy, early and safely.

Hence we have assertions that abortion causes breast cancer (bounce that claim past the American Cancer Society) or PTSD, and that most forms of birth control cause abortions.

All are elements in a disinformation war emblemized by the propagandists' masterful handle "pro-life."

Defunding Planned Parenthood, as the Republican field wants to do, could not be more out of touch with the reality of what Planned Parenthood does more than any other organization: help low-income women not get pregnant. Most Americans understand that. Why doesn't today's brand of Republican?

Anyone who truly wants to have fewer abortions should support contraception. Let me alter that sentence and take out the "should." Anyone who really wants fewer abortions supports contraception.

Just what exactly does the statement "fewer unwanted pregnancies" mean to you?

As for abortion services, one would assume from today's political rhetoric that abortion were illegal. Exactly when did that happen?

Back to the use of fetal tissue to save lives: The controversy is reminiscent of efforts and policies that blunted embryonic stem-cell research. A minority of Americans convinced George W. Bush to prohibit federal funding of it, not only driving embryonic stem-cell research overseas but also delaying developments that could have saved many lives.

In that context as in others, anti-abortion politics as practiced are far from "pro-life." They are pathologically focused on harassment of those who do the most to help people in need. Among those shunted aside in this battle are people with life-threatening illnesses and poor women who want to make smart decisions about their bodies – decisions that would preclude having to face the abortion dilemma.

So, crack those whips beneath your plumes and brass helmets, GOP candidates. Stir those crowds with your pageantry. Meanwhile the rest of us will proceed to deal intelligently with real-world health-care challenges and tough decisions.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, August 10, 2015

On the couch: Discuss that ‘PC’ problem of yours

Donald Trump is a misogynist. If not, he's determined to win the title.

This guy is gunning for the finals of American Chauvinist Ninja Warrior. The last obstacle will melt before him and his bare chest, and that obstacle will be a "she."

On the morning after his coming-out debate performance, Trump didn't just double-down on his response to Megyn Kelly's question about his Twitter trail of female put-downs. He quadrupled-down. She's a "bimbo," he re-tweeted. So what's left to say?

This guy called whom a pig?

But, alas, sexism is not the sole subject of this commentary. And, I regret to inform The Donald, neither is he.

I do credit him for today's topic, which came from his boorish retort to Kelly. It was this:

"The big problem this country has is being politically correct."

This drew loud applause from Republicans assembled.

What I want to know is: Why is "PC" your problem, GOP audience ? Please recline on the couch while I take out my notepad, because this terminology has fascinated me for some time.

I realize that "political correctness" means many things to many people. Depending on what the meaning is, one could consider it a serious problem, I guess.

Is it "politically correct" simply to go along with the political flow of the moment? If so, then, "PC" amid the "war on terror" meant flag pins all around and saluting, Fox News-style, the invasion of a country on trumped-up pretexts. It meant believing, or saying, that one could wage war on "terror."

"Politically correct"? Maybe it is dangerous to leave the last word on this matter to Webster's – that's what dangerous academics do – but Webster's defines the term as the condition of agreeing that "people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people."

If that's "the big problem in this country," as Trump asserts, our problems really are quite small.

I was pleased to see how Webster's frames the matter, because it's what I've always held "PC" to mean – hardly an epithet.

That definition of "PC" rejects the employment of stereotypes: the degradation of women, the dismissing of ethnic minorities and non-Christian faiths.

And come to think of it, all of that is what has boosted Trump to his titanic two-digit support among Republicans. I can think of nothing else.

Hear those who decry political correctness most emphatically: Stereotyping is what made America great. What this country needs to revisit is some time-honored preconceptions.

Being politically correct means not calling whole groups of people thugs, murderers and rapists based on acts of a few thugs, murderers and rapists.

Being politically correct means seeing all persons as equal regardless of sexual orientation.

Being politically correct sees no war with Islam, though some people who call themselves Christians spoil for it.

Speaking of Christianity, to my ear, and based on Webster's definition, being "politically correct" is exactly what the Golden Rule – Matthew 7:12 – denotes. It is impossible to generalize about others when the assignment is to treat each as one would treat one's self.

We can understand why Trump has a problem with political correctness, because to set aside generalizations and stereotypes is to make one subservient to one's own desires and fears. As Trump said in the debate, he has no time for that.

Now, I can understand why some find "PC" to be mealy-mouthed and touchy-feely. But why could it cause any American's blood to boil?

Please explain, dear GOP audience member. Explain how a robust denunciation of "political correctness" fits in with that line in Matthew.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

'I do hope that doggie's for sale'

One would say that the good outweighed the bad for Ted Cruz last week, and the bad was horrid.

In the Senate, he was openly scorned by fellow Republicans for his routine and rash showboating. That included calling Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar.

Cruz. blazing a culinary trail this week with "machine-gun bacon," was excluded from the conference committee on the defense appropriations bill, a veritable mackerel across the face.

Ah, but on the other hand -- the hand that makes the bacon -- Cruz got by nicely.

Texas fracking moguls Farris and Dan Wilks think more highly of Cruz than Republican respondents in the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. It shows Cruz at 9 percent. The Wilks brothers donated a staggering $15 million to Cruz's super PAC.

This is a means of saying that while getting accustomed to the presence of Donald Trump for a good long while, so should establishment Republicans expect the Baconator to be around on the presidential trail for a while.

In today's political climate, staying power is more important than popularity. And money is staying power.

Combine the fracking brothers' booty with $11.1 million from hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, and Cruz now has staying power.

What might these big donors want for their offerings? Maybe a pronouncement that earthquakes in Oklahoma and North Texas are good for the economy?

"How much is that doggie in the window? The one with the waggly tail?"

It's a precious rite: buying one's own pet presidential candidate.

The influence of individual mega-donors has never been more acute. Right now more than half the money in the presidential race is from donors who have given at least $100,000.

Oh, and most likely what will be done with that money is absolutely illegal. The law prohibits a candidate from "directly or indirectly" coordinating the spending of a super PAC.

Fred Wertheimer, former president of Common Cause and now president of Democracy 21, points out that the law in question could be enforced if the Federal Elections Commission were not a "dysfunctional, paralyzed agency."

In the infamous Citizens United ruling of 2010, the Supreme Court ruled "outside groups" like these to be benign.

Federal Judge Richard Posner stated the obvious, however, when he said that "from a corruption standpoint," there is no difference between funds to a super PAC associated with a candidate and direct donations to him or her.

Jimmy Carter had it right the other day when he called this the era of a "new oligarchy with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nomination for president."

I've heard people say that making rules about how much people can donate, and how candidates can spend their money, is a violation of basic freedoms.

They say it's the Wilkses' right to plunge their petrodollars into an odds-on flameout like Cruz, and the rest of us should bug out.

Sorry, but elections are a communal act. They have rules. Having rules that limit individual and corporate donations not only are reasonable but imperative -- if we are to vest power in the hands of people other than billionaires.

This is not an outlandish presumption. A New York Times/CBS News poll found that 85 percent of respondents – almost nine of 10 -- believe that fundamental changes are needed in the way campaigns are financed.

A bill before Congress effectively would shut down the super PACs that allow a few to buy their way into the making of public policy with unlimited donations.

This may be the biggest policy decision facing our lawmakers, and they are looking the other way.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: