Sunday, February 27, 2022

A plunderer needs a pretext

            "Denazification and militarization."

            Vladimir Putin cites such reasons in his bid to crush a neighbor nation.

            Nazism – those frightened masses cramming the exits to Poland. Militarization – those hunting rifles dusted off to confront invading tanks.

            "Nazism" in a peaceful democracy with its Jewish president.

            At this point, please forgive me for having taken a mental detour. When I heard "Nazi," for some reason "antifa" came to mind.

            Antifa – that menace seeded conspiratorially among the masses cramming American streets demanding racial justice.

            Antifa – a superior pretext for pepper balls and rubber bullets in Lafayette Park, for Donald Trump's demand to send enlisted personnel into the streets of America. (Fortunately, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mark Milley resisted.)

            Plunderers need a pretext.

            Those who rioted in the halls of the U.S. Capitol had one Jan. 6, the biggest lie in American history – a lie so big that history books will assign it capital letters – Big Lie – so big it will need no further explanation.

            How many times did squawk jocks at Fox News sprinkle "antifa" into reports of those horrors without a shred of evidence? Countless. It was TV coverage someone of Vladimir Putin's ilk would love.

            So, too, with reports of a deadly brown-skinned caravan assaulting our nation from the south – "terrorists," "anarchists," MS-13 in its ranks. Not penniless, destitute, hopeless. Not mothers and fathers and their little ones.

            As pertains to Ukraine's subjugation, let's just say that Putin mouthpiece Dmitry Peskov may well have ceded his role to Fox News' Tucker Carlson and to Trump himself ("genius,"  "very savvy").

            A plunderer needs a pretext.

            One could say this applies in many red states right now as they roll tanks over voting rights.

            The Brennan Center for Justice calls Republican "ballot security" measures, ratcheted up for years, a "solution in search of a problem."

            Texas Gov. Greg Abbott knows this. As attorney general he attempted to show that voter fraud was rampant. He came up with about as many examples as playoff wins by the Dallas Cowboys this century.

            Enter Donald Trump and the Big Lie. Enter Trump's assault on mail ballots. Ah hah! A pretext!

            Pursuant, as governor, Abbott signed a law that has caused massive delays in the delivery of mail ballots for primary elections. It's completely pointless. It's confusing, and it's motivated entirely by a Big Lie.

            Among Republican targets in this offensive are those evil things called ballot drop boxes – made of metal, secured from the elements and thievery. Too many of them. Too much convenience. Drive-through voting? Oh, no. Convenience is the devil's playpen. Voting must be more difficult, says the red ministry.

            One lie after another after another.

            As we observe in horror what prevarications and paranoia have wrought from Russia, one must feel for the Russian troops sent in to kill next of kin and to destroy a historic capital city. For what?

            Putin's forces differ only by degrees from the big-bellied rioters who stormed our Capitol, convinced by their leader of the outright theft of an election – a leader who said he'd march with them to the Capitol and then who retreated to his TV room to clap hands and nosh at the buffet table.

            For now we can only hope that in the world's reaction and in the popular resistance, Ukraine becomes, in the words of commentator Max Boot, the "ulcer for Putin" that Afghanistan was for his predecessors.

            So, too, should Americans stand up against the Big Lie and its purveyors, and fight like hell whenever the bogus pretext guides public policy.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Sunday, February 20, 2022

How we cater to couch commandos

            Adam Lanza just wanted a sporting chance.

            He had only so much time to kill once he entered Sandy Hook Elementary. His schedule had been pinched by having just shot his mother dead.

            What's a tormented individual to do?

            Remington Arms had the answer: the Bushmaster XM15-E2S .223 caliber AR-15 style killing machine.

            Twenty-six dead, including 20 first-graders, in a fleet matter of minutes.

            For good measure he'd also brought along a 12-gauge shotgun, a Glock 10mm handgun and a Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun.

            So much killing to do, so little time, before police arrived and he turned a barrel on himself.

            He needn't have weighted himself down. As the National Rifle Association will assert approvingly, to get it all done, all he needed was that AR-15-style piece, smartly accompanied by 10 30-round magazines.

            All of this spells good commerce – the American way, the sporting way, the couch commando way.

            "Couch commando" wasn't in my vocabulary until reading reports of the $73 million settlement in the suit by parents and living victims of the Sandy Hook massacre, having sued the maker of the murder weapon.

            In a sly end-run around Republican laws to exempt gun manufacturers from liability, the suit focused on the merchandising of the weapons in question, how the pitch for the weapon wasn't about self-protection (ahem) or even sport (ahem). It was about titillation.

            As the plaintiffs demonstrated, it was an appeal to "troubled men," embodied in the Remington slogan, "Consider your man card reissued."

            In recent years we have spent a lot of time dissecting the thoughts of killers for whom a gun in hand completed those thoughts.

            George Zimmerman. Kyle Rittenhouse. The father-son team that killed Ahmaud Arbery.

            These more celebrated cases aside, we now have a growing trove of incidents involving right-wing head cases for whom rage percolates, with arms amassed for just the right time.

            The Anti-Defamation League calls it the growing problem of "troubled perpetrators."

            ADL attributes at least 333 deaths in the U.S. over the last decade to right-wing extremists.

            Ah, that he-man license. When investigators studied the online activities of James McLeod, a Colorado man who killed five before police took him down, they found he resided in something called the "manosphere," described as a "toxic masculinity subculture" based on "revenge fantasies."

            Then there is Matthew Coleman, a New Mexico QAnon adherent who killed his two children because he was convinced his wife had passed on "serpent DNA" to them.

            Let's face it. Only a fine line separates that kind of lunacy from that espoused by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green and her gun-toting cohort in Congress, Lauren Boebert, both of whom resisted restrictions against packing heat on the House floor.

            Not only are our gun laws tailored to the whims of the certifiably deadly, in the Age of Trump the Republican Party has become so dominated by the extreme right that clearly dangerous individuals like these are on our payroll.

            Aside from having a gun-themed restaurant where waitresses worked with pistols strapped to their sides, Boebert's only claim to fame before a Republican-dominated district elected her was that she confronted Beto O'Rourke at a campaign rally over his vow to get AKs and AR-15s out of the gun stream.

            Beto's cause is righteous. Convenience for couch commandos isn't the intent of the Second Amendment.

            By the way, Remington has taken the Donald Trump route to rehabilitation and to further filthy lucre. It twice filed bankruptcy before reorganizing and announcing plans for a new Georgia factory.

            It doesn't make the Bushmaster anymore, but trust in Remington to always have titillating options when a troubled man comes to call.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:   

Monday, February 14, 2022

Social justice isn't microwavable

           When he said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," Martin Luther King Jr. was as serious about patience as he was about persistence.

            Patience: a hefty ask in a tormented year like 1968. But at least the word "wait" was in our vocabulary then. We don't do that in 2022.

            Today every calculation is instant and uses zero-sum math.

            By that math, the House's advancing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to be stopped by a Republican filibuster, is nothing at all.

            Technically this is true. Historically? No. Mark that effort. Mark it as a crucial step in the right direction – impeded by the very forces that blocked civil rights and voting rights for generations.

            Expectations are a problem in 2022, though. We are used to having our popcorn in seconds, the answers to all questions in the palms of our hands.

            The polls show, barely a year into his presidency, Biden's having to contend with that. It's "Joe vs. the Microwave" – whether on voting rights, inflation or the pandemic.

            Patience be damned.

            But let's review a few things.

            Quick. Without that smartphone, tell us what major civil rights Supreme Court ruling happened in 1944. That's OK. I couldn't answer the question either until perusing a civil rights timeline.

            We aren't talking about 1954 (Brown vs. Board of Education). We speak of Smith vs. Allwright, 10 years earlier -- a death blow seemingly dealt to vote suppression: the abolition of the "white primary" in the South.

            Before the ruling, primaries were entirely up to the parties, which could decide who (and what color) could vote. As pertained to the vote, so much for those "unalienable rights" of the Founders, and of the 14th Amendment (1868) and the 15th (1870).

            The thing is, Smith vs. Allwright did not end discrimination at the ballot box. It simply added to the challenge of installing "legal" barriers to equal representation.

            Those barriers – poll taxes, literacy tests, outright violence and intimidation – endured for a generation.

            Be advised: Americans then who were hoping for an enlightened Supreme Court to ride to the rescue on voting rights were disappointed then as they are now. Even after Brown vs. Board of Education, I doubt anyone siding with King and his cause held out much hope for salvation by the highest court.

            No. The hope for an end to discrimination and voter oppression rested solely with those assigned to make the nation's laws: Congress.

            This is where one of the central cudgels of systematic racial oppression came into play: the filibuster.

            A rather quaint delaying tactic dating back to the mid-18th century, it has become a monster. And as Adam Jettleson writes in "Kill Switch" (from the insider term for the filibuster), at least through the '60s "the only issue it was deployed against with any consistency was civil rights."

            With that obstacle looming at every step whenever civil rights came to the fore, Lyndon Johnson's cajoling enough members of both parties to pass both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act has to rank as the greatest legislative achievement since Lincoln shepherded the 13th Amendment to slavery's end.

            Let the record state that the very same arguments the losing segregationists used to oppose Johnson's measures – you know, about federal overreach and "states' rights" -- were dusted off this time, too. Sparkling oratory, New Segregationists.

            Is a Johnson- or Lincoln-style coalition-building possible in 2022? No, it is not -- not when one party is the party of Trump, who owes his place in history to Jim Crow-style appeals to white grievance.

            But, again, the action by this Congress – House advancement of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act – is a marker. It's not going away. It's a point on the nation's timeline from which to keeping advancing when conditions allow.

            It's possible that retrograde voices in the Supreme Court will deal one or more blows to voting rights this year. It's possible that Democrats will lose one or both of their majorities these mid-terms.

            That just means that a party that better reflects the nation will have to retool, regroup, win the day and move the marker another step in the right direction as it did in 2020.

            Or maybe the Republicans' odious and corrupt leader will help Democrats make a successful case to voters this time like he did when last atop the ballot.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Sunday, February 6, 2022

Institutional racism? Here’s a tip-off

           (The following contains discussion of race and basketball. Contact authorities where required by law.)

            The Washington Post recently published a piece about the 75th anniversary of the NBA. Headlined "How the NBA sweeps away its early history," it more suitably could be titled, "When the NBA couldn't jump."

            You see, as illustrated, the NBA's early history was all short shorts and white, white legs.

            To be honest, the pictures in the Post were more revealing than the written history. Check out that team shot of the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons. Now that's a whiter shade of pale.

            And the Indianapolis Olympians? They put the "paste" in "pasty."

            It's demonstrable that white men can, in fact, jump, or what's a Dwight Stones for? But nothing defined the early game like the splendor of man soaring below the rim.

            There wasn't room for those who might soar higher.

            By Republican standards, racial discrimination of this and other kinds is so ancient as to not count anymore. So let's not discuss it in school.

            Sure, let's not, though the institutional racism that underpinned the early NBA was emblematic of just about any pursuit in the land. Woody Guthrie's anthem mentioned "your land," "my land" and "made for you and me." To which black Americans interjected, "You don't really mean me." Guthrie did. But broad swaths of this land didn't.

            If one digs below the epidermal, white pushback against that indefinable thing called "critical race theory" is about two other words that might get uttered: "institutional" and "racism."

            It's taking umbrage at the assertion that any of our institutions still have white supremacy or separatism as a life force.

            Needless to say, the United States has a long history of problematic race relations and injustices that have visited people of color.

            Not to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but "institutional racism" is not that hard a case to make considering the actions of some police forces or of a major political party that panders to aggrieved whites and consciously targets people of color with voter suppression laws and gerrymandering.

            Let's lay money on odds that Republican censors will make sure that Isabel Wilkerson's "Caste" is not on any high school reading list in affected states.

            Wilkerson's theme is that race is a social construct for a peculiarly American form of oppression dating back to slavery.

            Slavery was all about business, but combined with the concept of birthright for those arriving in the 15th and 16th centuries, the color of those in chains became, what Wilkerson calls, "a birthmark" that "ruled them out of the human race."

            A major contributor, she writes, was Christianity, another institution none dare besmirch. But the biblical "curse of Ham" long ago led some believers to assert that slavery was God's plan for certain of Noah's descendants. Look it up. Wait. First check with the authorities.

            "Caste is not hatred," Wilkerson writes. It's about order. India has its own caste system. The Nazis had their own and – as Wilkerson documents – modeled it after America's.

            OK, the subject was basketball. When the NBA started in 1949 it was all white, though two preceding leagues nosed up to integration before backing off.

            Those who consider racism dead and buried don't dare consider the ripple effect of all those young and soaring hoopsters of color who didn't get that opportunity, and the younger ones who didn't have the role models. It applies in every occupation or profession we know, and that includes policing and politics.

            So I have a simple test by which to affirm or disprove assumptions about that institutional racism which, we are told, doesn't exist anymore. Ask it yourself: Does my Legislature look like America?

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: