Monday, January 25, 2016

Anti-Saloon League rides again in new forms

   At the height of Prohibition, columnist H.L. Mencken proclaimed, "There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more."

   He was right. Though single-issue politics had held sway over public policy with the 18th Amendment, the result had been exactly what proponents feared.

  This did not deter the full-of-itself Anti-Saloon League from exerting the influence that resulted in Prohibition.

    The single-issue influence made such figures as Wayne Wheeler and Howard Hyde Russell king-makers, as they could deliver hundreds of thousands of votes, mostly of pious Protestants.

   Lest we think of the Anti-Saloon League's power as fleeting, the 18th Amendment was the law of the land for 13 years before sanity took hold and Americans could toast Prohibition's end.

   Today we see the same single-issue clout with the National Rifle Association. Like the Galactic Empire of "Star Wars," it can unleash a veritable clone force to assail anyone who dares suggest even modest reforms.

   Hence, though most Americans support such measures as universal background checks, such policies will go nowhere.

   However, if we are to identify a modern-day heir to the Anti-Saloon League's single-issue pathology, it is the religious right and its devotion to fighting reproductive rights.

   We aren't just talking about anti-abortion politics. We are talking, really, about forces devoted to making sure that the sex act has a punishment phase. Call it the Anti-Sex League.

   Observe efforts to gut the infrastructure that allows women to avoid unwanted pregnancies and therefor abortions. Observe efforts to foist the fraud of "abstinence education" off as sex education.

   What could motivate Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to yankfunding from Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast for HIV testing and prevention services?

   It's the same mentality that caused Abbott to pull Planned Parenthood from the list of the state's Medicaid providers.

   All any of these steps do is undermine public health. Smart. Very smart.

   We are to presume that all of these steps are linked to Planned Parenthood's dedication to preserving women's right to legal and safe abortions. In that regard, we can see symmetry with Prohibition's unintended consequences.

   Anyone alive in the dark days before Roe vs. Wade knows that if one had the means to have an abortion, one had one. That was as plain as day, and Roe or not, it will not change. The question is who was so empowered or so prohibited.

   Back during Prohibition, as Mencken wrote, the drinking, and the hypocrisy, did not stop. Chief among hypocrites was President Warren Harding, who supported Prohibition, but who had his own substantial stash of booze for his own entertainment.

   The Anti-Saloon League, as with the anti-abortion movement, advertised its cause as protecting human life. However, countless Americans died from alcohol poisoning from illegal hooch, because – yeah – people were going to drink despite what the government said.

   (Hmm. Sounds like the deadly back-alley abortions of pre-Roe, for whatever Bible-thumping policy makers may say, people are going to have sex, and abortions.)

   It is amazing that the Republican Party, which has made "liberty" and "less government" rallying cries, would be so devoted to the intrusive and presumptive state actions that a ban on abortion would require.

   Yes, just like Prohibition.

   Let us take heart with knowledge that Harding's hypocrisy and the clout of the Anti-Saloon League finally withered. Franklin Roosevelt ran and won against the forces that gave us Prohibition. His words upon inauguration: "What America needs now is a drink."

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, January 18, 2016

'Action bias' does little to help public schools

The first day after the end of the NFL regular season has come to be called Black Monday -- when many a team with a losing record generally fires its coach.

This suits the urges of the owner who has promised a winner to the fans, though he didn't produce players who can win. Blame the coach. Don't blame the owner.

The Cleveland Browns in the last 25 years have had 13 coaches. It makes no sense that all of them were inept. Indeed, one of them, Bill Belichick, has won four Super Bowls with another employer.

A study of this knee-jerk practice finds that rather than improving, it's more likely that a team that fires its top leadership will do worse. Such are the wages of the syndrome called action bias – the "do something" tendency that gets institutions nowhere.

"Teams talk about the need for 'fresh energy' and 'new leadership' and a clean slate," writes Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim in a piece on action bias.

When I hear those phrases, though, I don't think of football. I think of public schools.

I think of good people constantly shuffled away, good institutions turned upside-down, in a quest for a "new team," a "new emphasis," a "new focus."

Action bias has been a trademark in the age of so-called "school accountability." Policymakers with only a marginal grasp of education issues sow fear and disruption to show voters they will "do something."

A lot of great football coaches -- Tom Landry, for one -- were given the opportunity to fail, with stability and long-range goals the objective. School principals today have such luxury in these days of corporate-style school policies – corporate in the form of hostile takeovers by policymakers who often are ideologues who don't even buy into the concept of public schools.

But if the carnage and disruption wrought by constantly reshuffling school administrations defies logic, even more illogical are policies that would close whole schools down for chronically low test scores.

Yeah, blame a building. And let's blame AT&T Stadium for the Dallas Cowboys' hideous 2015 season.

Texas State Rep. Harold V. Dutton says, "Closing a public school campus for being low performing makes about as much sense as getting rid of your car because it is simply out of gas."

I've seen this happen in Texas. I saw an inner-city Waco neighborhood lose what for generations had been its most important asset, a history-rich secondary school. I saw black and brown students bused to far-off schools with more crowded classrooms – over what? Over numbers.

The solution in that instance wasn't to vacate those historic and treasured walls. It wasn't to fire the principal and to ship the teachers to other campuses. The solution was to make the most of the opportunity – yes, the opportunity – to serve the students in that neighborhood where they lived.

Explain to the jury why all of the schools that face these sanctions are in inner cities. Is it because the walls of those buildings sap individuals of their will to succeed?

It's always fascinating that the "failing school" crowd, that which thinks public schools are flawed and hopeless institutions, never acknowledges that somehow public schools do a pretty peachy job out in the suburbs where all the children arrive at school in shiny SUVs and where computer screens glow each night in just about every bedroom.

In those shiny suburban schools, by the way, you are likely to see stability among leadership. Principals there, for some reason, have a tendency to perform exceptionally. They are great, in fact. Go figure.

No, Mr. Owner, you can't blame the stadium for the team's performance. The coach? Firing him might be the stupidest thing you can do. It's all about the players (students and parents), and it's about the resources you have committed to excellence.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Two dangers: One watched closely; the other (guns)? Not so much

           They are so profuse as to encircle the globe, so lethal that even mutual enemies agree they must be monitored and limited.

If you are thinking the "they" refers to firearms, you aren't thinking the way some policymakers are.

    No, we speak of a threat that draws undivided attention: the matter of orbiting interstellar hardware – loose nuts, bolts and more. It's called space debris.

    On space debris you get bipartisan and international cooperation.

  On firearms? To To many disgraceful lawmakers, guns are commerce alone, and hence should be left alone. However, the two matters are quite analogous.

  Not to discount the danger of space debris. One loose sprocket speeding in orbit can destroy or impair anything in its path. But the only person we know space debris has killed is that poor headless soul in the movie "Gravity."

Meanwhile, guns kill so many: innocent children, innocent adults, people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is anywhere.

         What do we do about it? Mostly, we bury.

Before discussing the clear and present danger of misused guns, understand how seriously our government treats a problem you probably didn't know exists.

In January 2007, China destroyed one of its own satellites with a missile. This event disrupted a worldwide moratorium on the use of anti-satellite weapons. The United States had used them. The Russians had used them. However, the resulting debris, the smithereens from the destroyed satellites, threatened and continues to threaten space programs, including other satellites.

NASA has cataloged all the space debris it can identify and is tracking roughly 500,000 pieces of "space junk" that can kill.

Now, back to the real killers, firearms: How cavalier can lawmakers be about these killing devices? So cavalier that the Republican Congress has prevented the Centers for Disease Control from studying their public safety dimensions.

Guns as lethal debris? We should treat them as such. See them around the globe in the hands of marauding bands and the criminal element. As long as we look at the matter as King Commerce or "my rights over everyone else's," nothing can be done to curb their misuse.

We have taken serious steps to curb drunk driving. We have managed to stop poisoning children with toxic paint to toxins in toys. What about the guns that make it into their tiny hands?

Much attention has been devoted to President Obama's call for universal background checks, something that eight of 10 Americans support. Less attention has been drawn to his directive to study "smart gun" technology, to make a gun so that only the owner can operate it. Not a thief, not a child, not the Taliban.

The president mentioned the technology of, for instance, using one's fingerprint to activate one's firearm.

As a citizen, I want that for every gun. I should have a say on this matter, and so should you. As a group – American taxpayers – ours is the world's largest purchaser of firearms, both for our military and law enforcement.

The federal government should insist that any firearms it purchases have "smart gun" features.

This is called a marketplace solution. If guns find their way into the hands of people who are not supposed to fire them, they shouldn't fire. The same applies to cars and keys.

This inititiave is a way to reduce the blood spilled daily on the most violent planet in the solar system. It deserves bipartisan support like no other threat one can imagine.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Monday, January 4, 2016

With ‘open carry,’ gun lobby gets what it wants: more fear

When I was 10 I had a yo-yo. It was blue with marbled streaks of silver. At school we weren't supposed to have yo-yos. But what's the point of a yo-yo if one can't show it off?

So I empathized with those who came to the Texas Capitol on New Year's Day with fancy toys openly displayed on their hips and shoulders, from AR15s to the latest from the minds of Glock. Joyous they were. The fourth-graders had finally taken over.

Pursuant to a newborn law, Texas had just joined the "open carry" movement.

After their Capitol demonstration, a bunch of the open-carriers convened at a nearby Subway. This meant other customers stood inches away in line from all that firepower. It must have made them feel safe. Would you like chips with that?

Well, of course it didn't make those customers feel safe. It made them feel ill, and just before lunch.

No clear rationale exists for open carry. Having a concealed weapon, as the law already allowed, is and was sufficient to meet the supposed safety needs of those possessing deadly implements.

The reason we weren't allowed to have yo-yos at school was one part distraction and one part peril – the fact that occasionally someone knocked out a tooth doing an Around the World.

The problem with open carry is a lot more than the distraction. It's about safety. That's why police organizations have been so critical of this development now employed in any state where the gun lobby has sufficient sway.

Colorado is one of them, although Denver went to court successfully to preserve its right to prohibit open-carry. Its legal battle proved fortuitous in view of recent events in Colorado Springs.

A woman there called police to report a man walking in the street holding a rifle. The dispatcher told her that based on open-carry law, that wasn't illegal. The woman called back a few seconds later screaming. The man had shot three people dead.

The problem is obvious. People cannot know if someone has ill intent when openly packing heat. This would apply to an emissary from ISIS just as with someone from the Methodist Men's Club.

Armed civilians are not police. Consider that incident in Waco recently -- no, not the one when bullets flew and blood flowed at a biker-gang clash. Consider what happened in a Waco-area Walmart parking lot when a woman fired upon a man who snatched another's purse. She missed. Bystanders tackled the thief.

The woman is immensely lucky that her shot hit no one. Instead of being indicted on a deadly conduct charge as she was in December, she could have been charged with the death of one of those heroic bystanders with her vigilantism.

It's not illegal to be an idiot in any state, but it can be fatal nonetheless.

This brings up the point that bothers most of us who look at the open-carry moment with disdain. The people most likely to exhibit their arms are those most of us least want openly armed.

The objective of policing is to keep the peace. Open-carry laws make that job harder. Nonetheless, I have to quibble with Kevin Laurence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association in his words of warning regarding the new law, with police uncertain how to enforce it. (For instance, should police request a gun permit of someone openly displaying his firearm?)

Said Laurence, "The biggest emotion going on out there is confusion."

No, the biggest emotion, wrought by policy that compromises public safety to placate special interests, will be fear.

          Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: