Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Do the math: ‘Thirders’ have taken over GOP

A lot of Republicans are hoping Donald Trump will go away, and here's why he won't: The Thirders aren't going away, either.

Understand, the Thirders aren't a lot of us -- just a third -- but being the life force of the Republican Party, they are enough to run it. That's a take-away from the announced retirement of Speaker John Boehner. He is conceding the House to the forces of GOP wackery.

We used to know the Thirders as Birthers, but we've come to see that they have, um, diversified.

         The term "Thirders" is my own. It came from polls that show a solid core of right-wingers resistant to any factual assault: polls consistently showing that one-third of Americans don't believe President Obama was born here, polls showing that about a third of Americans believe him to be a Muslim.

Anything they can believe about the man, the Thirders will rationalize. Did you hear about the poll showing that one-third of Louisiana Republicans blamed Obama for the poor federal response to Hurricane Katrina – three years before he became president? Did you hear that three years into implementation, a sizable portion of Republicans still believes "death panels" are built into the Affordable Care Act?

Did you hear that Obama will abolish the 22nd Amendment to make himself president for life? I hear this from Thirders who believe it. It would be a trick, considering what it takes to amend the Constitution, but Thirders know Obama is planning it.

It should be no surprise that Donald Trump, the Thirder with the most hair and most money, is leading in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

It should be no surprise that Ben Carson also is doing well among the Thirders, and Ted Cruz still thinks he can secure their heart

George Will is not a Thirder. He writes that, with his anti-immigrant appeals, Trump wishes to "turn America into a police state in order to facilitate ethnic cleansing." Yikes.

Charles Krauthammer is not a Thirder. He calls Carson's assertion that a Muslim should not be president not only contrary to the First Amendment but "morally outrageous."

          Article VI of the Constitution says: "…but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."  This matters not to Thirders.

All of this is to point out the mathematical truth that these candidates' popularity is based on the heartbeat of a fringe of America's fringe.

Let's do the Thirder math: If we assume, as polls show, that Republicans and those who lean that way are about 45 percent of voters, and if Trump and Carson are supported by roughly 20 percent of them apiece (new CNN poll), that means that they are supported by 9 percent apiece of all of us. If 11 percent of Republicans fall for Carly Fiorina's increasingly fact-challenged claims, that's about 5 percent of us. If Cruz is supported by 5 percent of Republicans, that represents 2.25 percent of us.

Is Marco Rubio a Thirder? He made quite a play the other day. He implied that women get abortions for a piece of the profit alleged to Planned Parenthood from the sale of fetal tissue. That claim — illegal profiteering — is one that rafts of investigations and investigators have failed to prove.

Let's say such irresponsible claims are a reason why Rubio now has 11 percent support among Republicans (having gained Thirder street cred). That's, once again, 5 percent of us.

Add the cumulative support of Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Rubio and Cruz, and you've got – what did I say? – just about one third of Americans, spectacularly resistant to anything approaching reality, and ready to vote that way.

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

Name game that stains the land

"Ahmed" is every bit as American as "Joe."

"Hussein" is every bit as American as "Shaughnessy" or "Flannery" or "McGill."

Need this be said? Now, of those bigots who consider Irish-Americans to be lesser forms of Americans: They are oafs and nincompoops.

Worse, they are un-American. Irish-haters hate America.

Oh, wait; you were expecting this commentary to be a defense of the Muslims among us? Actually, that is unnecessary. The preamble to the Declaration of Independence reads that all of us are created equal. Who needs a review?

           Donald Trump, for one. Sarah Palin, for two. Ben Carson, for three.

Trump doesn't owe Barack Obama an apology for smirking and shrugging when a supporter said the president is a Muslim and "not even an American."

No, Trump owes humanity an apology. So does Carson for saying a Muslim shouldn't be president.

Palin? What can be said for a hopeless case of intellect-lock? She felt that the world needed her to defend the actions of Irving, Texas, officials who handcuffed, arrested and suspended from school Ahmed Mohamed, the mild-mannered teen who brought a homemade clock to McArthur High.

          Palin said they acted "reasonably." No, taking such actions after determining the device was no bomb was not reasonable.

We know what this is about: It's not the boy's inventiveness; it's about his name.

Yeah, 14-year-old Ahmed is a threat, with his high grades, bright eyes and brighter ambitions to be an inventor.

A 2012 study by Partnership for the New American Economy found that more than 75 percent of patents at the major patent-awarding universities had at least one foreign-born inventor.

There's one problem with this rationalization as pertains to Ahmed, though: He is no foreigner. He is as American as you, as me, as any old Joe.

Ahmed's father, Elhassan, came here from Sudan three decades ago. He started a business. He raised a fine and smart family.

He is, however, a Muslim. That apparently is a problem.

So said the questioner whom Trump refused to correct when saying Obama is "not an American." The man followed up with, "How can we get rid of (Muslims)?"

It is stunning that a man who seeks to represent all American citizens as chief executive would not take a moment to denounce, or at least distance himself from, the horrible racism in those words.

But that's not been Trump's shtick, not from the moment he launched his campaign by broad-brushing undocumented people as murderers and rapists.

What makes Trump popular with a certain, increasingly solid, segment? It certainly isn't his policy positions. An Associated Press analysis calls them "glaringly undeveloped."

Let us trace back every original word attributed to candidate Trump at this point. Let's search for anything that hasn't appealed to rank ethno-centrism. You can't find much. Throw in sexism, and we've just about got Trump's general appeal covered.

It was odd that in the CNN debate some of the Republican candidates took shots at Chief Justice John Roberts. Odd because it was Roberts who, in voting with the majority to invalidate a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, implied that this nation is in a post-racial era.

A recent poll finds that 43 percent of Republicans believe Obama to be a Muslim. Unbelievable -- first that they would still think this to be true, second that it would matter at all if Obama were. What this says is that Justice Roberts is wrong.

Post-racial? You jest. Racism afflicts this nation just as it did when slave ships sailed, just as it does wherever people are hated because of things beyond their control – their names, for one.

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

Monday, September 14, 2015

To them, climate action represents 'system threat'

        If Ben Carson reads one word of all the information he just got about climate change, he should immediately end his candidacy for the Republican nomination.

Carson, who serenely floats through his campaign on clouds of hard-right truthiness, the other day said he'd seen "no overwhelming science" of man's involvement in climate change. To that, California Gov. Jerry Brown mailed Carson a zip drive containing the exhaustive United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the matter.

Brown asked Carson, a neuro-surgeon, to "please use your considerable intelligence to review this material."

What a waste of postage. Carson dare not, unlike John McCain, actually educate himself based on what 97 percent of climate scientists say.

In the 2008 presidential race, McCain stated up front that global warming is real and man-caused. Somehow he got nominated. Similar statements are a means of disqualification today, even with eight more years of accumulated evidence.

For a GOP candidate to acknowledge what most scientists say is impermissible now, apparently. For 2016, the Republican core constituency has assumed the state of knowing only what its adrenal glands tell it.

The interesting thing is that today's GOP not only covers its ears and hums loudly on the matter of climate change but also appears resistant to basic, common-sense, long-range policies like energy conservation.

Put aside the climate issue, if you dare. Consider the fact that future generations will be hard-pressed to survive on declining reserves if we stay on a hyper-consumptive course. If President Obama says it's right to conserve energy, conserving energy must be wrong.

Climate aside: Pollution is pollution. Every initiative to confront climate change means fewer deaths due to grime and toxins sucked into people's lungs.

        Sure, forget the climate, if you dare. Alternative energy is good for the economy. Combine solar and wind power with retrofits for energy conservation and the building of energy-efficient structures, and you have jobs, jobs, jobs.

         Oh, and for those who say that ambitious energy-conservation goals are not doable, consider that California is on track for renewable sources to represent 33 percent of its energy consumption by 2020.

         What is the resistance to all of this? It's smart (presumably what Ben Carson is); it's healthy; it's good for us economically; and it very well could save the only planet we inhabit.

         The denial syndrome was explained in a 1994 analysis pertinent to the desire to crawl into an ideological shell to ward off change. Lead author John Jost, a New York University psychologist, offered the term "system justification" for why reasoned and reasonable measures can be resisted mightily by many.

Australian columnist Lissa Johnson, herself a psychologist, explains that "system justification theory" helps explain the set of irrational rationalizations which "protect people from harsh realities" – like sea level rise, like glacial depletion and corresponding drought, like monster storms related to higher ocean temperatures. Just like that.

The ominousness of a reality we don't want to imagine represents what these researchers call "system threat" – and that's simply the notion that change can't possibly be good for anyone. Facing change with eyes wide open is a means of acknowledging it is real.

And let's face it. Whether it be the humanity of gays and lesbians or the fact that teens have sex, whether we order them not to, these are realities with which some of us don't wish to deal smartly.

That applies even to smart people like Ben Carson. When the specter is "system threat," being willfully dumb can be the smart course of action, depending on the primary.

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

Monday, September 7, 2015

As world turns forward, don't march backward

CNN does less news and more retrospectives these days. Hence, one would have been excused to assume it was showing another century in China the other day.

Missiles nose to tail, soldiers goose-stepping, China was parading every ounce and centimeter of its military might. And for what?

In observing the anniversary of World War II's end, China took the unusual tack of acting like a military behemoth for the first time in years, and to remind itself how much it still hates Japan.

There was much to hate about imperial Japan and what it did to China in the 1940s, but that was 70 – seven-oh – years ago. How could relations still be frozen? Let it go. Let it go.

Could we say the same about 50 years of threats and political stasis with Cuba? Could we say the same regarding the drum-beating and chest thumping denouncing a multi-national effort to curb Iran's nuclear designs?

Yes, we could. Time delivers to mankind new opportunities to move forward. When we see daylight, it is irresponsible to not consider new possibilities.

We moved on in mending relations with Japan, with Germany, with fascist Italy, with Vietnam. It is to President Obama's credit that he's the one to see it was time for a change with Cuba.

As for Iran, it is no longer the nation that held American hostages for an interminable stretch. Its people are more westernized than ever and more amenable to what the rest of the world offers.

The "great Satan" rhetoric is the pretense of hardliners for whom bellicosity is power. The same, of course, applies to hardliners here at home. What a fascinating dynamic it is to see these two camps – enemies -- solidly united. They should exchange hugs.

Meanwhile, young Iranians, and young Cubans, want nothing more than the new day that comes with historic change.

So, does the Iranian deal make the world less safe? One has trouble understanding how, since rejecting the pact would be a signal to Iran that a peaceable resolution is unattainable.

Colin Powell said that on a Sunday news program, stepping forth to support the Iranian agreement. Meanwhile, on another channel, Dick Cheney had no real rejoinder when an interviewer observed the extent to which crushing Iraq's regime empowered Iran, while the latter sped up its nuclear program.

No, Mr. Cheney, what we did in Iraq did not make the world safer. It only reshuffled dominoes of domination and introduced the shards of regional fragmentation. Anyone who thinks that we could bring anything but cataclysm to the entire region by doing the same to Iran is dreaming.

It is ironic that one of the most forward-sounding voices of reconciliation in our nation's history is Dwight Eisenhower, who hated war "as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity."

Eisenhower also said the world "must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect."

Warlike actions do nothing more than empower those on the other side who talk up war. Actions of engagement and conciliation stir the desire of those on the other side who simply want peace.

Say what you will, but the collapse of the Soviet Union came because of the thirst of its people to have some of the things that we have in the West. Among the fruits of "glasnost" were influences like American TV – yes, like "Dallas."

Sure, we talked tough. We built our military arsenal for the worst. But ultimately, what caused a warlike empire to crumble was more peaceful intentions, and the Earth's turning toward a new day.

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

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Just desserts for GOP’s ‘Southern Strategy’

        "This is going to be felt for years."

My politically prescient son had just watched Donald Trump toss Univision's Jorge Ramos from his press conference and a Trump supporter tell Ramos, "Get out of my country." Ramos is a U.S. citizen.

And so it goes.

You've heard of a charm offensive. What the GOP has waged thus far relative to the Hispanic vote in 2016 is not that.

A harm offensive?

In launching his candidacy, had Trump worn a hockey goalie mask, revved a chain saw and told Latinos, "Taste this," his actual opening lines would have been less threatening only by degree.

Some of his rivals feigned dyspepsia at what he said. Then it became clear that Trump had struck a chord with the GOP base. Subsequently, his rivals recalibrated their tuning forks.

Nothing else explains the cluster flub of GOP candidates assembled around amending the U.S. Constitution to prohibit "anchor babies."

Afterwords, realizing how many Hispanics were offended, Jeb Bush, the Latin crooner, explained his own thought process by implying that Asians are the real problem. Scott Walker went back and forth and back on the matter, before talking about walling off Canada. That idea he walked back as well from the tip of his tongue to the back of his brain.

Rick Perry committed truth when he called the birthright citizenship matter "inconsequential" in the big picture of immigration.

The mortal threat to you and me incarnate in American newborns of foreign parents is reminiscent of Republicans' claims that the nation is awash in voter fraud -- mostly by brown-skinned people, of course. They say this despite exhaustive and expensive probes that show the assertion to be flatworm-thin.

But it's clear that GOP "ballot security" aims are driven more by partisan gains than about anything that would sanctify the ballot. As more than one federal judge has observed, the real result has been to make it harder for poor people to vote, particularly poor minorities.

As many observers have pointed out, some officials in the Republican Party may be bothered by the signals Trump sends to people of color, but these are conditions of their own making.

This all goes back to the successful race-based appeals of the so-called Southern Strategy by the Nixon administration, which sought to gain favor with Southerners angered by the civil rights gains engineered by Lyndon Johnson.

In case anyone thinks this is empty polemics, Nixon aide John Erhlichman made GOP objectives as clear as a bell. He said that a "subliminal appeal to the anti-black voter was always present in Nixon's statements and speeches."

Johnson knew the power of such an appeal, and said his party had "lost the South for a generation" by going up against Jim Crow.

Despite professed "big-tent" aspirations, the party of Nixon has never really changed course. Now antipathy aimed at brown people is the fuel that would make it the party of Trump.

What my son was saying about long-term ramifications of today's Republican rhetoric was akin to what Johnson was saying about Dixie. The debacle of the Trump candidacy is going to imprint something deep in the minds of minorities regarding GOP antipathy toward them as their numbers and electoral clout grow.

"What goes around comes around." It's coming, thanks to the Southern Strategy. A party so inclined for so long can't change, even as the country's demographics change around it.

Is Trump a sensation? Not really. The support he can tout today has little that is organically different from that which won George Wallace 32 electoral votes in 1968 and Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond 39 electoral votes in 1948.

Each needed a few more votes to dictate the future of a great and diverse nation.

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