Sunday, April 24, 2022

Of legal weed and monkeys on the wing

         Why did Texas Gov. Greg Abbott back down and revoke the wrench he threw into truck traffic at the border?

          Because it caused produce to rot and manufacturers to gasp for precious parts?

          Because it broke the law – trade and borders being Congress' responsibility?

          Because it was the biggest black eye since policy makers had to admit Texas was not impervious to winter?

          All are theories. Here's mine: New Mexico just legalized marijuana.

          That's right. And you know what that means: Texas has some arresting to do.

          So, summon all flying monkeys. Get the dungeons ready.

          On the subject of trade, New Mexico is about to have a harvest. Texas will show though steely resolve that incarceration is its most important product.

          New Mexico is acknowledging that pot shops are a ton better for public health than people behind bars.

          Colorado came to realize this 10 years ago with legalization – voters making an end run on the Legislature with a referendum.

          No doubt New Mexicans observed the amazing commercial revival of Trinidad, Colo., the first Colorado city to its north on I-25.

          The better times are about more than weed, but it is the most obvious jolt, as any visitor will see with all the refreshed storefronts there.

          So, get ready for better times, Clayton, N.M. Get ready, Tucumcari, Clovis and Hobbs.

          And get ready, Texas penal industrial complex.

          A lot of Americans are aghast at what has happened to Texas' own Brittney Griner, the Baylor star locked in limbo in Russia for alleged possession of hash oil.

          What say, Texans? How about you, Arizonans and Oklahomans?

          The fact is, what she now endures differs only by degree from what happens in the Land of the Free.

          A few years ago, I interviewed an Oklahoma man who was sentenced to 93 years in federal prison in Texas for growing marijuana in his basement for medicinal purposes.

          His hands had grown purplish and gnarled from rheumatoid arthritis. He didn't want to be amped up on opioids to deal with it. That didn't matter to prosecutors.

          A judge finally reduced his sentence. Yet his horrible crime cost him four years of his life. How ridiculous.

          Colorado recently expunged wholesale a mass of arrests and incarcerations for crimes involving pot.

          What a waste of taxpayers' money. What a waste of human potential.

          The people who fought legalization have not been able to convince Coloradans that they made a mistake in 2012. Meanwhile, the industry produced a windfall that helped the state balance its books and pay for schools.

          Yes, legalization is good for the economy, not just because of the new business it generates but also because of the wasted law enforcement and corrections costs.

          Generations of hypocrisy have trailed the prohibition on pot, with alcohol causing far more human destruction.

          It is particularly outrageous for anyone to have a criminal record for an act that now is legal in 18 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

          Back to Texas embarrassment at the Mexico border.

          It was highly reminiscent of Greg Abbott's quest as attorney general to demonstrate that his state was awash with illegal voting. No, it wasn't.

          This time a pointless, showboating Abbott's caused trucks to stack up for miles but found zero drugs, no contraband, no illegal entrants.

          Rats! So, send the winged hordes up to Texline, to Farwell, to Pine Springs and all Texas points along the New Mexico state line. Surely someone smelling funny can get hauled into headquarters and Texans can be made to feel safer.

          Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Sunday, April 17, 2022

The shrinking tent of Trump's GOP

            "Big Tent Party." The words still ring in my ears.

            It was the 1992 GOP National Convention, which I covered at the Houston Astrodome, and the party wanted us all to know it welcomed all sorts.

            Thirty years later, the party has become, without apology, a closed society.

            The '92 convention didn't look like a big-tent affair. Almost no people of color, and ringing denunciations of the "gay agenda. But at least it had a platform that conventioneers could debate.

            The 2020 platform featured no debate and no troubling details. Whatever Donald Trump wanted, that was it.

            Speaking of discourse, the GOP just walked away from the Commission on Presidential Debates.

            The message: Anything that doesn't comport with Trump-style confirmation bias is unacceptable.

            The GOP complained about biased moderators (Chris Wallace? Martha Raddatz?). By its standards, the only acceptable journalists would be members of the Fox News toady brigade.

            Trump said the commission sided with Joe Biden when it decided to mute candidates to prevent them (meaning Trump) from interrupting each other.

            Speaking as a commission member, former senator John Danforth, a Republican, quipped that if he wanted to aid Biden, "the last thing I would have wanted" would be to prevent Trump from further embarrassing himself.

            On the closed-society front, Republicans in many states have set out to block or challenge open primaries by which independents might have a say in who gets the GOP nomination.

            Clearly this is meant to benefit the hardest-core Trumpites, the ones most devoted to the Big Lie and right-wing conspiracy theories.

            The party is doing everything possible to purge or marginalize anyone who does not proclaim "the election was stolen."

            With its authoritarian tactics and with a Big Lie as its foundation, Trump's party has become a mirror image of Putin's party. The media is the enemy? Truth is the enemy.

            After Russia's invasion of Ukraine, an interview about Russian disinformation with Peter Pomerantsev, author of the 2019 book "This Is Not Propaganda" would make anyone think of Trump.

            He said that Putin's modern-day approach to controlling the narrative in his land wasn't just to lie about what he does but to confuse commoners with claims of "they're out to get you" conspiracies. Translation: Paranoia is the friend of despots.

            Pomerantsev pointed to a "strategic message" – a "sort of cynicism that makes you dependent" on a strongman leader.

            He was speaking of Putin, but most clearly such messaging translates well in the MAGA world.

            Only Trump speaks the truth. Anyone who questions him is the enemy. Foremost are the media and all those fact-checkers.

            Trump, as with Putin, has established among his partisans that he owns truth, in essence to change reality.

            "It's a very old thing," says Pomerantsev. "By saying, 'I have power over reality,' he's saying, 'I have true power.'"

            The author is referring to Putin there, but the parallels with that other guy are most pronounced.

            Back to that Astrodome gathering where conventioneers indulged insurgent Pat Buchanan's Trump-like "culture war" rant and embraced incumbent George H.W. Bush and GOP tradition.

            After the nomination, the extended Bush family bathed in confetti, a sitting president and one to come.

            Today those still here from that '92 Bush family portrait detest Trump as one who has flouted norms and alliances, and who fomented a riot to nullify a lawful election. Their acknowledgement of these truths makes them "RINOs." Trump's party spits on them.

            In 2022 the GOP tent isn't big enough even for them.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Sunday, April 10, 2022

I pledge allegiance to her right to sit

Mari Oliver is my hero. Me and Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Abe Lincoln and so many people of consequence.

Much more consequence than, say, responsible figures at her school who harassed her because she would not recite the Pledge of Allegiance as Texas requires classes to do.

Much more consequence than the lawmakers who made it the law for her to stand and say something she didn't believe.

Theodore Roosevelt once called the questioning of authority "the first responsibility of every citizen." The high school senior did that in refusing to stand for the pledge, though slings and arrows flew.

Last week a court awarded her $90,000 for the grief she endured at Klein Oak High in Spring, Texas, when she refused to stand for the pledge.

Oliver said she refused because she doesn't believe this country guarantees "liberty and justice for all."

She also objected to "under God," as this nation isn't founded "under God." It is founded under a constitution that gives no special prerogative to believers vs. non-believers.

What the high-schooler did may make your molars ache, like Colin Kaepernick taking a knee. But as Abe Lincoln wrote, "If there is anything that links the human to the divine, it is the courage to stand by a principle when everybody else rejects it."

Texas also makes public school students recite the "Texas pledge" – 17 words including "under God." Never did that recitation make anyone more godly -- as if that ever were the state's function.

The oath says, "honor the Texas flag," something which also isn't within the state's authority. It's within Vladimir Putin's authority. It's within Kim Jung-un's authority and whichever mullah is running Iran.

The Supreme Court in 1989 ruled that the state – a case involving Texas, nonetheless -- had no say in how Americans comport themselves around the U.S. flag. The ruling protected the most unpopular protest one could make: burning the flag.

Not only did the court protect the act, it elevated the status of its protection, as it is speech in protest of the government.

Some like Donald Trump have said we should nuke that constitutional protection. The funny thing is that the "official" ceremonial means of retiring a flag is to burn it in the hands of a veterans organization. Yeah, try writing that into the Constitution.

Those who can't stand provocative statements like Kaepernick's, like Mari Oliver's, like those of Black Lives Matter, bring to mind what Frederick Douglass said about those who "profess to favor freedom yet depreciate agitation."

The whole effort to use the Constitution to scratch an authoritative itch, like banning flag burning or institutionalizing school prayer, suggests people who don't value freedom at all. They don't believe in human rights. They believe in the power of a social majority to inflict its will.

We see this increasingly in the assaults on libraries and public schools that seek to meet the needs of diverse student populations.

Those institutions are brick-and-mortar embodiments of the pluralism the founders intended.

In the recriminations faced by Mari Oliver and protesters of police brutality, we see what Harry Truman had in mind when he said, "Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures."

Kaepernick was assailed for hating his country and disrespecting our fighting forces.  Yeah, right.

We'll give the last word to one of the great warriors for civil justice and activism, author James Baldwin:

"I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Monday, April 4, 2022

So, GOP, now lying is disqualifying?

The purpose here is not to defend Madison Cawthorn.

Madison Cawthorn is indefensible

With Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert and Paul Gosar, he's a member in good standing of the Congressional National Embarrassment Caucus.

The Republican from North Carolina is 26 but acts a decade younger. This tendency got him in trouble with Republican leaders when he claimed he was invited to orgies by fellow partisans in Congress. He also threw in that they did cocaine.

Later he admitted to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy this was a lie. Said untrustworthiness caused McCarthy and other key GOP leaders to denounce him.

As stated, I'm not here to defend Cawthorn. But why penalize him for lying?

We are talking of a party that has built itself around a lie, the biggest lie in American history -- religiously, devoutly, without shame.

This is a party built to the specifications of the disgraced, twice-impeached ex-president who continues to promote the Big Lie with each sunrise.

Not only does he promote the Big Lie in word, he did so in deed Jan. 6 as the Capitol was terrorized over his calculated falsehoods.

I invite anyone who takes these matters lightly to read "Betrayal" by Jonathan Karl, who covered the Trump White House for ABC News. By the way, "Betrayal" isn't Karl's term alone. It also comes from William Barr, Trump's man at Justice once upon a time, who said that Trump's comportment Jan. 6 was "a betrayal of his office and supporters."

You want to punish someone for lying? After Mike Pence told Trump a vice president had no power to reject electors, Trump issued a statement saying Pence said the opposite, that he agreed the VP had that power.

What is beyond "beyond the pale"? That is what Donald Trump did to stay in power.

No American has committed a worse offense against this nation than to (1) convince millions the election was stolen, and (2) actively seek to subvert the people's will.

Back to young Congressman Cawthorn, who, heart and soul, completely bought into the Big Lie and spoke at the Jan. 6 rally. Isn't that a sufficient merit badge to lie about something else and stay in Republican good graces?

Cawthorn even went out and claimed that the Jan. 6 riot was instigated by Antifa. Hey, GOP. This guy has worked to gain your trust.

Then there's the oddly unfortunate case of Mo Brooks. The Alabama congressman was one stand-up dude at the Jan. 6 rally, calling on MAGA faithful to "start taking down names and kicking ass."

That ought to be enough to earn him a free lifetime pass in any GOP primary.

However, recently Brooks, seeking to become Alabama's U.S. senator, made the horrifying error of implying at a rally that Republicans should put the 2020 election behind them (!!!) and focus on elections to come.

Enraged, Trump pulled his endorsement.

Come on, man. Mo Brooks was a wholly committed Big Liar. He not only put on his camo cap and did his darnedest to incite violence. He assigned some of his own staff to help organize the rally.

So, set us straight, GOP: Who among your ranks gets shunned for lying these days? Who gets a free pass – other than the greatest liar ever to flush documents down a White House toilet?

I'd like to ask rank-and-file Republicans to name one falsehood Liz Cheney has uttered since she decided that she could not remain silent in the face of Trump's corruption and the events of Jan. 6.

Cheney is dead to the Wyoming Republican Party for one reason alone: She won't lie.

So we return to the dilemma of Madison Cawthorn and the question he needs to ask of his party leaders: Since when are y'all interested in truth?

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: