Monday, August 29, 2016

Above the law? No, profiling is below it

    More sad tidings for all you "law and order" types, particularly you candidates and elected sorts who think shortcuts to order are what law entails.

   Another court has affirmed what long has been settled: police profiling is unlawful.

   One twist: In this case, the traffic-stop criterion deemed illegal and pernicious isn't the color of a person's skin but of his or her license plates.

   A federal appeals court ruled that Kansas police could not stop cars simply because they come from states with legal marijuana: Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C.

   How will Kansas keep order?

   How, indeed, with jail-cell quotas to meet and town budget shortfalls to mend.

   Granted, this could just be a matter of news traveling slowly. When the Constitution was ratified, more than one state thought it had cast the deciding vote. It's possible, then, that Kansas has yet to hear that the 14th Amendment has, indeed, been ratified -- in 1868.

   Or maybe Kansas didn't hear about something more recent, the 2013 federal appeals court ruling in Floyd vs. the City of New York that so-called "stop and frisk" tactics violated the due process and equal protection clauses of that amendment.

    One guess as to what criteria police were using in that case.

    The "law and order" crowd has much to say about Black Lives Matter. Critics portray the movement a one-trick pony, showing up only to exploit highly volatile, and often murky, cases such as the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. So focused, say those critics, the movement is guilty of inciting violence against police.

     But the fundamental atrocity that underpins Black Lives Matter isn't that. The fundamental atrocity is in lesser offenses.

     In Austin, what a police officer did to school teacher Breaion King was alarming enough – throwing her to the ground during a videotaped traffic stop. However, what echoes in that community are the words of an officer lecturing King that white people fear black people because of "violent tendencies."

     As with any gesture, it's the thought that counts.

In Arizona's Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio seems always to be one step ahead of the 14th Amendment.

    Arpaio has turned up his nose at a federal judge's dictates to remedy a history of racial profiling. Now the U.S Justice Department has taken over the case with the prospect that Arpaio, seeking his seventh term in office, could be held in contempt of court.

    A host of cities, by contrast, are taking these matters seriously.

Denver police recently unveiled a plan to record racial data for all stops made by police. This will be a useful means of making sure that "driving while black" is not a crime in Denver as it has become in far too many cities.

    So, are black people, as that Austin cop appears to believe, asking for the uneven enforcement of the law that they receive?

Data from Rhode Island, Connecticut, South Carolina and Illinois say no, that they are being unfairly singled out.

    Those states have done what Denver plans: maintain racial data relative to traffic stops. In each state, police were more apt to stop blacks than whites, though the New York Times reports, police "consistently found drugs, guns or other contraband more often if the driver was white."

    Even if the shoe were on the other foot. Even if officers' race-based suspicious were justified, unequal enforcement of the law is illegal. End of discussion. One would think.

    Long-time newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Sunday, August 21, 2016

No wonder they wanted to keep 'others' out

Lyndon Johnson's aides were n a celebrating mood the day in 1965 when he signed the Voting Rights Act. They were surprised, then, when Johnson interjected this sobering advisory: "It's also the day we gave the South to the Republicans for the rest of our lifetimes." 

Civil rights legislation indeed would serve to drive southern Democrats out of the party.

Georgia Sen. Richard Russell had predicted this in a phone chat with Johnson, who replied, "If that's the price to pay for this bill, then I will gladly pay it."

Oh, the Democrats paid. Five decades later, it's payback time.

Donald Trump, the wizard of the Republican id, can't stop inflaming and alienating people of color. A too-homogeneous party that after 2012 lectured itself in the mirror about being more inclusive has done just the opposite.

The Democrats continue to be more like the rest of the country in its many hues. The GOP continues to model itself after the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. 

Trump stands to get a mighty shellacking based on 21st century demographics. In that eventuality, he can blame what came from LBJ's pen in 1965.

But the key player in this payback won't be the Voting Rights Act, writes Politico's Josh Zeitz. It will be a less-heralded bill from 1965 supported by the same people who brought us civil rights gains and who drove away the Dixiecrats: the Immigration and Nationality Act.

What that bill did, in short, was to remove race-based considerations about the people the United States allowed to relocate here.

For most of this country's history, its immigration laws were as racist as, oh, a Klan clam bake. This bit of American history was news to me: The nation's first immigration act, in 1790, restricted naturalized citizenship to "free white persons." As the decades wore on, the abominable complexion of the law hardly changed.

Subsequent immigration overhauls simply reinforced a predilection toward European immigrants, although demands rang out at various points to keep the Italians out, or the Poles or Slavs. After all, were they really white?

Regardless, when Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965, he overturned quotas that had kept the general demographic makeup stable by controlling the inflow of "white" and strictly limiting the inflow of what the 1790 bill people deemed "other." Yes, the "others." Is any of this sounding familiar?

What were we saying about payback?

When Johnson signed the bill, he presumed that having a race-neutral approach to immigration would have a race-neutral effect on America. It didn't.

          The reason was that Western Europe wasn't having famines and land wars in 1965, and Europeans were deciding that places like France, Spain and Italy were decent places at which to remain. Their people had little reason to flee.

          At the same time, that could not be said about strife- and poverty-torn parts of the world like Latin America and Africa, from which a great preponderance of immigrants would come.

          Yes: the "others."

          As Zeitz writes, since 1965 and that stroke of Johnson's pen, 90 percent of U.S. immigrants have come from outside Europe.  Guess which political party is least equipped and least inclined to win their loyalty?

          Another demographic fact that should cause Donald Trump to toss and turn under satin sheets: First- and second-generation Americans make up roughly one-third of the country.

          As the Georgia senator told Johnson, the Voting Rights Act of '65 would cripple the Democratic Party in a politically vital region for generations.

          It's anyone's guess as to how many generations it will take for the Republican Party, now embodied by Trump, to recover from how it has ignored the demographic realities of the country.

         My guess: a long time.

         Longtime newspaper editor John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Monday, August 15, 2016

Trump enlists the trigger-finger fringe

        "I got some bad ideas in my head."

So acknowledged Travis Bickle, the sad loner-turned-mad gunman in "Taxi Driver."

         We know Travis Bickle had issues. What's happening in Donald Trump's top floor? The Secret Service, for one, wants to know.

        A study in poli sci psychosis -- that's what the man has become.

We knew Trump was an odd bolt. However, recent statements make us think that rather than auditioning for president, he's gunning for Charles Bronson's role in a "Death Wish" remake.

Take Trump's line about how "Second Amendment people" might take out President Hillary Clinton. Anyone who thinks that was about people's being good citizens, as Trump claimed, just flunked a police lineup.

Such words are not a call to citizenship, and they're not "just a bad joke," in Paul Ryan's phrasing.

We know it's no joke, not just because of the applause it engendered but because the action to which it referred is the essence of the gun lobby's claim to legitimacy.

Listen to gun-rights groups and know the inference in Trump's statement is venerated by many.

Trump need not run from his words, writes Slate legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern. In fact, the "insurrectionist" theory of the Second Amendment has become mainstream among gun-rights groups and, by extension, today's Republican Party.

Votes? We don't need no stinkin' votes. We got guns.

        Those who espouse the notion that gun rights empower the people to take down their government quote Thomas Jefferson as saying, "The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against government."

Strong statement. Problem is, it is not found among Jefferson's writings or speeches. It is an oft-repeated fabrication, fit for Joseph Goebbels' "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."

Stern asserts that no true constitutional scholar reads insurrection into the Second Amendment. That hasn't stopped Republican politicians and elected officials from bestowing unto the armed masses, as he describes it, "a tacit permission slip to assassinate political leaders whom one deems to be oppressive."

However, is this truly a mainstream philosophy or that possessed mainly by those who inhabit remote cabins that use the Sears catalog for insulation and outhouse duty?

No, most Americans don't buy it. They believe in ballots, not bullets.

Ah, but the NRA buys it. Executive Director Wayne LaPierre has written that Americans "have the right, must have the right, to take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government." To that end, the only difference between LaPierre and, say, Timothy McVeigh, or Charles Manson, for that matter, is a good tailor.

That brings us back to the NRA's role in this election, as in all presidential elections. It has committed $7 million to save the Trump campaign.

Trump sorely needs this offering. His so-called billions have proved to be yellowed Monopoly money. He has alienated rafts of dependable, filthily endowed Republican donors. It is very much looking like the NRA is his best and last friend with any real stash.

Money, by the way, is what this is all about -- money for gun merchants. Whether it's to destroy a flock of first-graders, to clear out a night club with deadly power, or to take out a duly elected leader, to the gun industry, the customer is always right. Don't let the NRA tell you it's about anything else. And right now, so as never to encumber that commerce, it's also about electing Trump.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, August 8, 2016

In Congress: the Zika Games

For the purposes of this discussion, let's think of Congress as a fetid pool of ideologues.

In frosty February, many weeks before mosquito season, President Obama foresaw an emergency and acted on it. He requested $1.9 billion in funds to combat a disease seen as threatening Americans. Time was on our side.

Came spring's thaw, and summer, and, well . . .

It is now mid-August, and Congress has patty-caked the time away as Zika cases paint a splatter portrait in red, a swarm approaching America from the tropics.

The problem is that while Republican leaders agreed to budget something -- about half of what Obama requested, $1.1 billion -- they attached riders that they knew Democrats, and the president, would not accept.

Then they left on summer vacation.

Those riders included funding cuts for Planned Parenthood. Interesting. That's one of the agencies on the front lines that would be able to help avert pregnancies for women infected with Zika. (One of those trivial matters anti-choice zealots want us to ignore is that most of what Planned Parenthood does is help prevent pregnancy.)

But that wasn't the only "poison pill" Republicans attached to what they all agreed was vital emergency legislation.

They attached wording to undo legislation to prohibit Confederate flags on federal cemeteries.

They attached wording to undo EPA restrictions on the use of pesticides over water, though the pesticides in question have no bearing on the fight against Zika.

Initially they worded the bill to partially fund the Zika fight from funds going to health-care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, and from already allocated dollars to fight Ebola.

In other words, congressional Republicans do what they always do with allocations the nation needs desperately: play ideology games.

As the summer Olympics approached, a lot of Americans were pointing derisively at what appeared to be a tragicomedy of errors, Brazilian-style, with Zika and water pollution playing prominent roles. Well, at the moment those games look pretty solid, and right now, as the Zika infections frighten Florida, the joke is on us in our inability to do something just about every one of us agrees must be done.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that, after the Democrats protested about shifting monies from the Affordable Care Act and other sources, Republicans agreed to provide all new money in the $1.1 billion bill. True. But they couldn't and wouldn't resist the politically drenched riders attached to the legislation, riders which were inviting a veto, just like the 62 times Republicans in Congress have voted to abolish the Affordable Care Act.

Mosquitoes incubate in inert water, generally in compact and isolated quantities, much like the gerrymandered constituencies to which many in Congress owe their longevity. Generally, the key to keeping that seat is to do nothing, to perform Kabuki theater rather than anything that appears to be governing.

Though the Zika threat remains without a significant federal response, something encouraging happened the other day relative to the nation's health. It didn't happen in Florida but in Kansas.

U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a major carrier of the tea party strain of political contagion and obstruction, was routed in the GOP primary by Roger Marshall, a more moderate and traditional Republican. Marshall campaigned against Huelskamp's tendency to posture and demagogue, the Sen. Ted Cruz way, rather than do anything to make things work in Washington.

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times, "A veteran Republican House member told me years ago that the safest vote was always 'no,' that it was hard to get in trouble by opposing things."

At last, however, Hulse writes that a defeat like Huelskamp's may signal "that lawmakers need to again begin saying 'yes' once in a while."

What? And disrupt a fine vacation?

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: