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.