Monday, September 20, 2021

Requiem for an anti-vax evangelist

          What kind of science did Bob Enyart peddle?

          Whatever the strain, it killed him.

          It wasn't cross-over equine science – the wonders of horse dewormer. It wasn't Clorox tonic or one dose too many hydroxychloroquine.

          It was just anti-vax, anti-fact quackery.

          On weekly broadcasts of his "Real Science Radio" program, initially contrived to promote biblical "creation science" – you know, dinosaurs coexisting with man -- Enyart went in all directions that didn't intersect with actual scientific inquiry. That included his takes on vaccination, mask-wearing, evolution, climate change and sexual orientation.

          Along the way, the Colorado-based evangelist even mocked AIDS victims, pronouncing their fates just desserts.

          On-air during that epidemic, Enyart, whose day job was to be pastor of Denver Bible Church, yucked it up like Rush Limbaugh in reading the obituaries of AIDS victims and playing a sliver of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust."

          Fast-forward to now. Enyart joins a startling list of five conservative talk-radio hosts – tally courtesy of the Washington Post -- who inveighed against vaccines and masking, and have died from COVID-19.

          No better testimony to what medical professionals tell us.

          With Donald Trump setting the tone, we have entered a period where people who know nothing about science lead others into harm's dark corridor.

          All they have to do is search online and find their predispositions or suspicions, affirmed by fellow agents of speciousness. Agents who, like Trump, have contributed to many deaths.

          One can see why, after putting a search on for "COVID vaccinations" and "fertility," many women forgo shots. They can find an "expert" like former Pfizer executive Michael Yeadon, who says vaccination causes infertility.

          It's a dangerous situation when virology must compete with Google-ology.

          Yeadon also disputes the science affirming asymptomatic carrying of the virus, while asserting that people who've had the virus are not vulnerable to its variants. Let's just say that dozens of studies have shown otherwise.

          Claims like this have led almost one-third of all unvaccinated people to believe that the shots cause infertility.

          This despite maternal medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine jointly urging that pregnant women get vaccinated.

          Obviously we have two populations regarding what epidemiologists now call the "pandemic of the unvaccinated."

          The first is people who have long resisted vaccines, possibly because they had a bad reaction from one. The second is people who've never given the matter much thought. Now, with their very lives on the line, they are letting someone else do their thinking for them.

          These are the kinds of people susceptible to Nicki Minaj's ridiculously irresponsible tweet about a man in Trinidad getting swollen testicles from the shot. It was debunked at the speed of sound.

          A survey by a consortium of research institutions including Harvard University found that 20 percent of Americans believe at least one false claim about the COVID-19 vaccine.

          And so we have players like Tucker Carlson and others in the Fox News clown car constantly raising doubts about the vaccines, even while Fox News requires employees to reveal their vaccination status.

          We have Ron "What Me Worry?" DeSantis standing by silently as a speaker at one of his events states that the vaccines alter our DNA.

          And we have Bob Enyart, dead because he took his own advice.

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

 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Minority rule wrecks us

            Only in the Supreme Court does the majority consistently make policy in Washington.

            And most of that majority was nominated by presidents who got fewer votes than their rivals.

            A solid majority of Americans – 58 percent today (Gallup) -- consistently opposes a ban on abortion. Yet a majority on the highest court appears poised to end that constitutional protection.

            In the Senate, the minority rules unless the matter involves the budget. Senators from that minority don't even have to read Dr. Seuss or the D.C. phone book to stop legislation. They just have to put a marker on it. Shy of 60 votes, it's the end of discussion.

            Climate change. The Electoral College. Gun sanity. Voting rights. The Affordable Care Act. LGBTQ rights. Based on national polls, it's difficult to find a single controversial debate in which the majority of Americans supports the Republican obstructionist position.

            Now we have the ridiculous situation involving vaccinations and masks.

            Infections among an unvaccinated minority, much of its vigor ideologically motivated and clustered in red states, swamps hospitals and causes harrowing choices reminiscent of the darkest days of the pandemic.

            Meanwhile, a vocal anti-mask minority, swooning to panderers like Florida's Ron DeSantis and Texas' Greg Abbott, is all too happy to put school children at risk. This is what passes for "pro-life" in 2021.

            It's a continuation of the criminally irresponsible behavior of the previous president with his super-spreader events, his mocking of medical experts.

            Hey, hey, MAGA freak; how many kids did you infect this week?

            OK. Put the pandemic aside.

            What about other vital needs? What about protecting voting rights from scheming partisans?

            What about treating gun violence as the public health issue it is?

            What about getting serious about the overheating of our planet – the wildfires, the super storms, the death rattle of our waterways, western reservoirs and aquifers?

            Minority rule means we will do little about protecting ourselves from natural disasters while letting the minority protest that fixes are too expensive, as the wealthy and the poor maintain their positions.

            And so we must end it.

            -- The filibuster must die. We must put a stake through its heart. As it is, the Senate has become a statue in a ratty park.

            As Adam Jentleson writes in his anti-filibuster manifesto Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of Democracy, Republicans in the Senate are "are out of step with the direction of the country," yet are "consistently able to impose their will on the majority."

            If we can't kill the filibuster, the representatives of the bill-killing minority should be required to march to the front of the Senate chambers and attempt to talk a bill to death, to literally gum up the works of our democracy as the nation watches.

            The filibuster should not be a push-button convenience. It should force a bill's opponents to stand before the nation and state their case for blockading government "by the people."

            They should have to talk and talk until they collapse or expire on the Senate floor. No food or water. Stand. Don't sleep. No cots allowed. No restroom breaks.

            -- We should neuter the Electoral College. I know it can't be ended via constitutional amendment due to the supermajority requirement. That's why more states should join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact to award their electoral votes to the popular-vote winner. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have done so.

            -- Should we expand the Supreme Court? Biden has authorized a commission to study it. Nothing is sacrosanct about nine justices. The Republicans chose to ignore the traditional process when President Obama had a nominee. Why should Democrats honor tradition now?

            We must break the minority party's grip on a nation that should be governed by the assent of the people.

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

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Road to Kabul via Saigon

            Like Afghanistan, Vietnam was a bipartisan debacle.

            From Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon to Ford. Wait. Ford?

            Gerald – yeah. The "accidental president" was the one who, like Joe Biden, made the call to end a futile and interminable war, then presided over the chaos that followed.

            As a presidential candidate, Richard Nixon illegally used back channels to subvert the Paris Peace Talks so that once elected he, not Lyndon Johnson, could claim to have delivered peace.

            Instead Watergate delivered us from Richard Nixon. So the job fell to Ford.

            Is Vietnam relevant as we consider where we've been and what sent our troops home on a one-airstrip airport in Kabul?

            Absolutely. In both wars, policy makers turned the civilian business of war-making over to the war machine.

            Just one more surge. One more offensive. One more infusion of troops. One more set of talks. One more hill. One more valley.

            In both Vietnam and Afghanistan our troops and tax dollars propped up feckless leaders.

            Mainly, however, in both we thought that we could forcibly import our essence to a social system allergic to it.

            We were misled and hoodwinked by the war machine, by embedded contractors for whom war wasn't hell but one helluva investment.

            Oh, by the way, guess who wasn't? Joe Biden.

            As Barack Obama points out in his new memoir, Biden wasn't a latecomer to the ranks of those who thought we should cut our losses in Afghanistan. He was a resolute contrarian when Obama begrudgingly let generals win debate after debate.

            In the wake of what has transpired, a parade of the rock-ribbed and ribboned commanders have blasted the decision to end this war. That sounds familiar to those of us whose very lives hung in the balance as successive administrations tried to devise an honorable end to a quagmire.

            Lucas Kunce, a Marine veteran of Afghanistan who is running as a Democrat for U.S. Senate in Missouri denounced "a parade of officials who basically were spending the last 20 years selling people on this idea that the 20 years, the $2 trillion and the 2,500 lives were worth it. The only so-called 'experts' are people who were part of that effort."

            The events of recent weeks – the Taliban's stunning swelling to the fore – is reminiscent of the Tet Offensive of 1968.

            That's when the forces of North Vietnam demonstrated with cunning and courage that whatever force the U.S. supplied, they were going nowhere.

            If one based everything on body counts, the bottom line for our generals in Vietnam, U.S. troops kicked butt in Tet.

            So why a turning point in our ultimate defeat? Simple. Tet demonstrated that while our government sought to negotiate a way out and save some sons, these fighters weren't going anywhere.

            Just like the Taliban.

            Fifty years ago this summer I was awaiting the fruits of the Selective Service lottery. I was spared conscription by a blessedly high draft number. Before that lucky roll of the drum, my peers and I read about the government's policy of "Vietnamization" – trying to get the South Vietnamese to fight their own war while young American fought as their proxies.

            Didn't work. Sound familiar?

            It was sobering, back in 1971, to think any of us might be sent with the expressed mission of being the last to die in that war.

            The final days of the Afghan engagement were also an American-crafted disaster. The disaster is far from over.

            Biden and his advisers completely underestimated the extent to which Afghan soldiers would stand up for their country. Now we know: Whenever we left, they would fold.

            How about ten more years to find that out? Twenty?

            If the generals and congressional hawks had their way, we'd still be there – and in Vietnam.

            Fifty years on.

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

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Stinkin' rotten stupid COVID politics

            Tetanus. Polio. Measles. Mumps and rubella. These are vaccinations Texas required of my sons before they started school in the '80s.

            Over the years, Hepatitis B. Chickenpox and Hepatitis A were added to the requirements.

            Ten years ago the Texas Legislature appended meningitis to the list.

            These vaccinations are required unless parents fill out extensive forms every semester for a religious exemption, or if they fill out even more extensive forms to obtain a medical exemption at the start of every school year.

            Why not require vaccination for the virus now overwhelming Texas hospitals and cutting a swath of tragedy through the South?

            The only legitimate "why not" at the moment is that children under 12 are not eligible.

            The other, "why not," tragically, is stinking, rotten, outrageous, stupid politics.

            A Republican Legislature added meningitis to the required protections. That was smart. Interestingly, I don't recall meningitis killing Americans by the hundreds of thousands and circling the globe with deadly variants.

            What's the difference now?

            Stinking, rotten, stupid politics.

            It's the kind of politics that would lead a Republican audience to boo Donald Trump – Donald Trump! – for speaking favorably of life-saving vaccines.

            How can these people call themselves pro-life? Of course, they do.

            Stinking, rotten, stupid politics are at play as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threaten school districts if temporary policies require students to wear masks.

            It is unconscionable that ideologues who otherwise preach "local control" fight like hell against that very thing as schools seek to keep children – and their families – safe.

            But of course, this is all about stinking, rotten, stupid politics.

            I teach on a college campus. Every individual is masked. It is not convenient. It's a hassle. But it's the price paid for staying healthy and convening face to face.

            The price too often paid for the absence of face coverings, and of course the absence of vaccinations, is gruesome, lingering death or long-term disability, and huge medical bills.

            This shouldn't take a judge. All it should take is the word of health professionals. However, when a state judge told DeSantis he couldn't bar schools from mandating masks, he said mask mandates are "reasonable and consistent with the best scientific and medical opinion in the country." That means DeSantis (as with Abbott) is unreasonably following his own base political instincts at the expense of public health.

            The Florida judge also pointed to two court cases in which individual rights were limited by their impact on the rights of others.

            "Freedom of choice" is the anti-mask, anti-vax line. This does not compute when the matter is contagious, deadly disease.

            To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes: Your freedom ends where my sinus cavity begins.

            Back to vaccinations. Last week Abbott issued an edict that local governments could not require vaccinations. He said that such a matter has always been the responsibility of the state. Fair point.

            He did, however, recommend that the Legislature, now in special session, discuss whether or not to add COVID-19 to the required vaccinations.

            Ten years ago the addition of meningitis to the list was largely uncontroversial and passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Now, scandalously, the GOP is pushed around by anti-vaxers.

            And so, we won't get our hopes up.

            The other day the man who was my family doctor in Texas wrote this on Facebook:

            "Vaccinated and masked with an N-95, I walked through HEB noting that 95 percent of patrons were not masked. Then I sadly realized that one or two of these mask-less individuals may die of COVID-19 over the next six weeks.

            "Oh, what would Charles Darwin think of us today? Evolutionary biology is playing out for all of us to witness and experience."

            Evolutionary biology driven by stinking, rotten, stupid politics.

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

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Republicans have sworn off the future

            This just in: The author of "The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future" says he never said global warming was a hoax.

            That would be Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who still is not interested in doing anything about the problem, even if it isn't a hoax, which is how he, or someone, describes it in the title of the 2012 book that bears his name.

            He is among growing ranks of Republicans cited by The New York Times who now acknowledge climate change. Still, admitting climate change exists is scary enough for these latecomers. They want to do nothing about it.

            Well, not nothing, exactly. The Times reports that Republicans are inclined to "prepare communities to cope" with a climate situation that saw the hottest July on record, with thousand-year drought conditions, unspeakable storms, and wildfires without precedent.

            There's "future" implied by the word "prepare," but as Sen. Rick Scott, the Florida Republican, told the Times on actually mitigating that which threatens the planet's future: Nah.

            "I'm not doing anything to raise the cost of living for American families," he said.

            You mean like what a thousand-year drought might do for food prices? Like what superstorms and sea-level rise do to Florida condos?

            "Nah" is what most Republicans said to President Biden's ultra forward-looking infrastructure bill, which the Brookings Institute calls a "generational investment" in making this country "more inclusive, environmentally resilient and industrially competitive."

            We don't need such a thing if it will raise the vending-machine price of Goobers.

            I read the other day about a proposal to build a high-speed rail line in Texas from Dallas to Houston through College Station. A judge recently threw out a suit to stop it when foes sought to forbid eminent domain.

            The odds against high-speed rail in Texas remain great with future-averse Republicans running the show in the state Capitol.

            Reading about this proposal, my mind flashed back almost 30 years to when Texas went through exhaustive hearings on a proposed high-speed rail line along the Interstate-35 corridor, a major Texas traffic artery that's clogged throughout much of the state. Texas would have that rail today had a Republican legislature not forbidden public dollars from going to the project.

            That's tragic/comic irony when one considers the figurative gold bricks being smelted together to expand an I-35 that will be overmatched the moment it is completed.

            The definition of bad government is addressing only today's needs and not acknowledging that today becomes tomorrow by sunrise.

            Rail improvements and expansions are part of the Biden infrastructure plan, and good for our future. Yes, most of us remain tied to pavement, but millennials and younger Americans are falling out of love with automobiles.

            Colorado, with a Democratic lock on governance, is accelerating long-delayed notions of higher-speed rail traffic on the Front Range to deal with horrific traffic congestion on its own crucial artery, Interstate 25.

            Right now the leading candidate is a state partnership with Amtrak for a 191-mile north-south route using available track. It would be modeled after the rail line linking Milwaukee and Chicago in a joint arrangement between Wisconsin and Illinois.

            Enough with the "People won't ride trains" dodge. Times are changing, whether stick-in-the-mud policy makers want to admit it or not.

            It was just 12 years ago that a start-up named Uber changed the face of transportation in America. It's easy to see in Colorado's future an Uber-to-Amtrak-to-Uber-and-back night in the big city from where I live 50 miles from Denver.

            By the way, passenger traffic on the Milwaukee-to-Chicago line has paid for nearly 90 percent of its operating costs.

            And guess what? For that we get less pollution, and that region's highways get less congestion, with less gasoline used, all good things.

            The sad thing about climate deniers and climate-action sandbaggers is that, firmly established science aside, measures to deal with climate change are all good on dozens of dimensions. 

            They save finite energy sources. They extend the lives of aquifers, rivers, reservoirs and beaches. They save forests. They save money. And they generate economic activity.

            The problem with too many Republicans is that, in their quest to preserve yesterday ("Clean, beautiful coal") they don't dare look past today.

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

Sunday, August 15, 2021

'COVID slide' is the least of our concerns

            Across many years living in Texas and commenting on education, I often railed against homeschoolers.

            Not homeschoolers in general, just the ones sitting on the state school board. Yes, people with no stake in our schools -- even outright antipathy toward them -- governing them.

            Which sounds way too much like the Legislature.

            Well, let me say this: My sons are done with their schooling, but if they weren't, and if their health were in any way subject to today's red-state gubernatorial antics, I'd have stacks of teaching materials on my desk right now. The boys' new homeschool year would start with PBS.

            We all know that one of the essential elements of the K-12 experience, particularly the K part, is microbial immersion. But COVID-19 isn't just any microbe.

            Scandalously, some Republican policy-makers are not treating this as a health crisis but as a Be-Like-Trump posturing fest. No parent should allow his or her child to serve as a political petri dish.

            Without question, the best education takes place face-to-face. Masks help facilitate that amid a pandemic. And, yes, Rand Paul, the consensus of epidemiologists is that masks make a big difference.

            But reckless attitudes toward COVID are not the subject of this commentary.

            It's about education and the ridiculous term, "COVID slide."

            First off, ever since the nation got fixated on standardized tests -- Texas once considered the "cradle" of that -- school policy in too many instances has been locked in on baseline training, not education. How many basic things can we train students to do?

            The end result has been to conflate excellence with competence.

            We've also been fixated on a conveyor-belt model: students flowing by at a state-set velocity as assigned criteria are implanted in their brains.

            Well, last year the conveyor belt slowed down for a pandemic.

            In some education corners, that has caused a panic over the "slide."

            Colorado just got its state test results and – ack – as the Denver Post announced on Page 1: "Virus clouds state scores."

            The headline should have said, "Of course virus messed with test scores; relax, people."

            Of course test scores would sag when education is disrupted as it has been for more than a year and a half. Remote learning is viable for many. It isn't for others.

            In an ideal world in the midst of a pandemic, those who wanted remote learning would have it. With the reduced numbers on campus, schools could have the space and resources to have the utmost protection for face-to-face learners. That would include masks, Governor.

            Regardless, the notion that because of COVID-19 today's students are going to emerge unprepared for life or higher education is absurd.

            Repeat after me: Education is not about checking a set of boxes. Education is about curiosity, enthusiasm, finding one's passion, exploring one's gifts. It's not about "what" so much as "want."

            Do you know the definition of "faculty"? Look it up. Defining it as "an underpaid person assigned to drill criteria into young brains" is just an aberration.

            Look up its synonyms and find words like "power," "capacity," "potential." Education is about those things.

            One of the worst things that has emerged from school "accountability" is the notion: "There's not enough time in the day." Not enough for recess or physical activity. Not enough for story time or show and tell.

            Under the conveyor belt approach, schools have been fixed on quantity over quality, and in a factory there's only so much time to meet one's quota.

            Teachers: Your enthusiasm, your passion, your caring pace – these are going to make for an educated populace. And there's time for that, even amid a pandemic.

            I'm rooting for schools that operate at their own pace, and for cities and school districts that fight politicians bent on undermining their decisions that would keep children safe.

            As for microbes, let us do our best so that our little ones acquire them at the measured pace of their raw-nosed forebears.

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

 

 

Monday, August 9, 2021

They would not lie for him

            It is possible to low-ball even Donald Trump's threshold for corruption.

            I did. When reports showed he sought to extort Ukraine to torpedo Joe Biden's candidacy, the assumption – my assumption – was that Trump had demanded an investigation of his most-likely Democratic rival.

            Wrong. What Trump wanted, as revealed by his (second) impeachment trial, was for Ukraine's president simply to lie for him.

            Say there's an investigation. Just set up some cameras and say it. That'll do. I'll take it from there.

            Ukraine's president refused to lie for him.

            We find out this very dynamic was as play in Trump's bullying of the Justice Department after getting shellacked by Biden by 7 million votes and 74 electoral votes.

            According to several reports, Trump pressured acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to report, in words dictated by Trump, "significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states."

            Notes from Rosen's deputy contained this from Trump: "Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me."

            But Rosen refused to lie for him. So did Rosen's predecessor, William Barr, on Trump's search for someone, anyone, in Justice to say the election was stolen. Ultimately Trump left that up to big-bellied thugs in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

            "Lie for me, please" was the gambit at play in an hour-long call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State George Raffensberger pleading for him to find a way to show that Trump had won the state, pressuring him with, "I just want to find 11,780 votes." Just 11,780.

            Raffensberger refused to lie for him.

            Trump demanded fealty to him, at the expense of truth and democracy, when he summoned Michigan Republican leaders to the White House to block certification of his 154,000-vote loss of that swing state.

            Ever heard of Aaron Van Langevelde? He refused to lie for Trump as well.

            Though pressured by fellow Republican leaders, the member of the Michigan Board of Vote Canvassers voted with the two Democrats on the board to certify those votes. Since then the Michigan GOP has remove him from the board.

            Warning to any Republican elected official who won't lie for Donald Trump.

            Watch Wyoming Republicans eviscerate Liz Cheney in the congressional primary to come. Watch Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger go down. They will not lie for Trump.

            They will not stand for Trump's behavior. They believe he bears responsibility for the terrorist rampage of Jan. 6 incited by the Big Lie. This disqualifies them from office, sayeth today's GOP.

            The "Lie for me" dynamic doesn't apply simply to the 2020 election.

            The New York Times reports that Trump's demand that scientists play his game of denial on climate change resulted in a massive void.

            Trump's appointees "undermined federal studies, fired scientists and drove many experts to quite or retire."

            They left because they refused to lie for him.

            So, who will?

            This week we read reports that Trump's political organization has raised $82 million.

            That's real money, apparently, but raised on a false pretext. And isn't that a surprise?

            Trump raised much of it by telling supporters they needed to contribute to his challenge of the "steal" of the 2020 election.

            Only a fraction of that money has gone to said challenge, which effectively is over. The rest has gone to Trump to do what he wishes.

            I have an educated guess about where a great deal of that money emanated. The New York Times reports that last year when Biden announced a major climate-change initiative, Big Energy ramped up online advertising and other spending to counter Biden's message, with Facebook reaping $10 million in new ad dollars.

            Who is guessing with me that a lot of the booty Trump has reaped out of office comes from these very players?

            Rest assured, someone can be found who will lie for Donald Trump.

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