Wednesday, July 28, 2010
COUNTING ON BIAS AND GULLIBILITY
It matters not what office they seek, they are running based upon their alleged past records or future intentions to single-handedly bring down the Obama administration and to reverse all of its accomplishments. We don’t understand the logic of all that, and we believe little or none of the rhetoric.
Guys and gals, that campaign rubber will only stretch so far. If your party electorate had any sense of electoral logic and ethics, they would vote for whichever of you actually made positive proposals for something good you intended to do, or related to them truthful stories of your positive accomplishments. The electorate should want to know what you favor and about your positive proposals for the good of the people. They should not be falling for whichever of you has the harshest rhetoric for the president or for one another, whichever peddles the more vile allegations, nor the one who brags the most about his religion, family values, and patriotism.
Unfortunately, the candidates who have stretched the truth the furthest, alleged the most negative things, opposed everything good that a democrat has done, promises most to undo whatever good has been done, rails the most against the taxes needed to run government and schools (and fight wars), rhetorically most fiercely opposes our own democratically elected constitutional federal government (while claiming patriotism), and then viciously attacks his own party opponents – those will probably be the winners when this piece appears.
What a shame on all of us!
This is a strange and crazy country when the candidates of one party rely primarily upon ignorance, bias, and gullibility to sell themselves to the voters, when in truth it has worked consistently against the best interest of those same common citizens. They really expect, with good reason, that the voters really do not understand their own self interest. Likewise, they count on their party media propaganda machine having done its job in creating voter bias and emotion which will favor their vicious political tactics.
How is it that a president who has proposed no program not believed by the best experts available to be in the best interest of the country could be maligned so easily and so successfully? How is it when a president who has worked several successive positive programs for the people through congress with consistent loud opposition, delaying tactics, and even filibustering from the republicans, yet is looked upon favorably only by some 44% of the people? Don’t people care about saving American jobs, propping up failing state government finances, reforming and controlling health insurance companies, reforming Wall Street bank shenanigans, protecting consumers, or any of those things?
Don’t the people of Oklahoma know that President Obama’s economic stimulus program has kept our state government functioning, our schools and colleges open, and that the state might have had to practically shut down these two years because of previous short sightedness of republican legislators in cutting taxes? Now, they are running against him? Are we all that ignorant? Are they ready to nail plywood on schoolhouse windows?
Such irrational public response can only be understood in the milieu of the meanest, most vicious, political propaganda machine ever devised and operating legally outside of some fascist or communist country. Constantly hammered by right wing talk show hosts and Fox News staff and talking heads, perhaps it is little wonder that so many Americans have become ditto-heads with unthinking minds of their own.
How else would we account for the fact that nearly 40% believe Mr. Obama was born in Kenya and is a Muslim, when all the evidence has been repeatedly put before them showing those rumors to be maliciously false? No doubt those represent more than three quarters of that 55% or so who look upon President Obama with views of less than “favorable” in some polls. (Favorable votes have been running 44% to 48%.) That is to say, most of these negative views of the presidency generate from roughly the same folk, a majority of whom are already irrationally hard core right wing in their politics.
Of course most professionals in politics understand fully that they operate in a struggle with the opposition for the minds of band of perhaps 25% to 30% of swing voters who deny having prior biases and mental commitments. Honest “leanings,” however, are hard to assess with any accuracy at all.
Perhaps the big question is: “Which voters have their biases set most in concrete?” One would have to peg that on the hard-core right wing group, since they appear impermeable to either facts or logic. These are the voters the republican political machine counts in its pockets. They are the majority of that party’s core voters, so they are the ones republican candidates must impress with the tone and quality of their ads.
This explains much of what we have been seeing on our TV stations. Ugh!
The question which remains is whether that broad center range of voters have been sufficiently gullible to the steady flow of propaganda from the right wing media. Have they succumbed to being told what is for their own good by those whose mouths are bought and paid for by other contrary interests?
Just how gullible will American voters be come next fall?
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate
Thursday, July 22, 2010
TEA PARTY DEFENDERS
This past week in its national convention, the N.A.A.C.P. passed a rather bland resolution which asked leaders and members identified with the tea party movement to disclaim those in their midst who had been engaging in racist conduct or expressions. Anyone who has observed the videos, read the signs carried, or heard the shouts of some of those attending -- or even speaking -- at tea party gatherings, should have no problem knowing that such racist incidents have actually been happening.
But the immediate response of republican leaders and tea party defenders has been to attack the NAACP as being overly sensitive or just plain racist itself. The tea party express leader has even mocked the emergence of blacks from slavery.
All this is certainly akin to raising the question: “Do you want to believe me or your own eyes and ears?” No admission of any racists among them; just attack viciously those who have spoken in any negative fashion, however courteously. That is the right wing, tea party way, of course.
It is constantly amazing to this writer how frequently spokespersons for the opposition party, especially the more reactionary and louder ones, are quite willing to ignore the clear truth in front of them and go right on uttering contradictions to what is in plain sight to all. We fear this incident is just another glaring instance of their willingness to lie baldly, with no rational protection. They count on ignorance and misinformation among the public.
Has everyone forgotten the behavior of tea party demonstrators outside the national Capitol during final consideration of the health care bill? Or, do they just wish we would all forget the attacks on entering democrats, including racial slurs and even spitting at black democrat congressmen? Such conduct is indefensible under any circumstances, yet it was done by tea party activists in the name of their group. Now they are all in denial.
Has everyone forgotten the racist caricatures, cartoons, and slogans on the signs carried at tea party rallies, and the shouts of the crowd? Have we forgotten the pictures of republican congressional leaders speaking to those tea party rallies with the racist signs and slogans displayed in front of them? Have we forgotten that republican leaders spoke in a zealous, inciting fashion to those same tea party protesters who spit at their black colleagues? Do we even remember minority leader Boehner’s speech to that tea party crowd: “Not just no, but hell no!”
Did we see and hear Congressman Tancreado, controversial anti-Hispanic activist, speaking to the tea party convention saying: “We elected Barrack Hussein Obama president because this country has no literacy tests for voters.” That statement was remindful to many of those decades in the twentieth century when black voters were kept from voting throughout the South by the use of literacy tests as a legal scam to disenfranchise them. Yet that tea party convention cheered such remarks.
The tea party’s constant, false insistence that President Obama was born elsewhere, and that he is a Muslim, is seen by many to be racially toned and religiously bigoted. It is difficult to understand why they insist on either, since both lies have been disproven. One might guess that since nearly 40% of the people believe one or both, it just might be another instance of lying for political gain among gullible voters. Maybe their party leaders should forget that stuff about giving literacy tests to others, and instead give intelligence tests to their own recruits.
Attacking the NAACP in defense of the tea party, Sarah Palin said that she was “saddened by the NAACP claim that patriotic Americans who stand up for constitutional rights are racist.” Maybe she is so dense that she does not know the difference, so to her those disorderly racist tea partiers we saw were really just patriotic Americans standing up for all our rights.
Ben Jealous, president of NAACP, has said in response to Palin and others: “We are not asking for much – just that you expel the bigots and racists among your members or else take responsibility for their actions. We will no longer allow you to hide like cowards.” In another context, Jealous said, “We are just asking that you disassociate from members who peddle racism, intolerance, and fear.”
No, that is not a lot to ask. This writer might just add the admonition: “Get rid of those loud, crude, rude, rowdy, redneck hoodlums from your midst as well.” But will there be anyone left? Well, maybe a few anti-tax wealthy backers.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate
Friday, July 16, 2010
THE ECONOMIC SOLUTION: SPEND OR SAVE?
The best advice for reconciling the question of spending versus saving may or may not be the same for the government as it is for the individual family.
One will recall that early in the Bush administration, when faced with a mild recession, families were urged to spend. Their solution was to encourage people to go out to the malls and shop. No doubt this would have been helpful for the national economy, but most doubted that this was good advice for many families already deeply in debt.
Every personal finance advisory column we have seen for some time has advocated that consumers reduce debt and save more. Plans are offered on how best to do that. Paying off personal debt, developing a three to six month cash reserve fund, and then keeping all payments current are stressed.
However, economists have NOT been recommending an analogous plan for the nation. For two years almost every reputable economist has stressed government spending to stimulate or jolt the economy back into gear. The president and his administration bought this idea, and they have pushed their stimulus plans vigorously. Progress has indeed been made.
Most economists still recommend strong stimulus plans with temporary deficit spending, warning that a “double dip” recession may hit if this is not done. However, a tidal wave of political criticism of deficit spending is spreading across the nation. Much of this is being pushed by the emotional, logically nonsensical people identifying themselves as the tea party.
These tea party types are joined, of course, by the Republican Party itself. Supporters include the usual wealthy individuals who back any and all anti-tax efforts. Anti-tax, anti-deficit hawks now include those in the upper income brackets who benefited from the republican tax cuts, and those republicans in Congress who previously put the first $1.3 trillion cost of the Iraq War “off-budget,” directly onto the national debt.
Reading the political tea leaves, pun intended, some economists are now coming out for a strong temporary spending plan to stimulate job development combined with a long term plan for deficit and debt reduction. This should prove politically and economically practical, but unlikely.
All this brings up the broad expansive question about what kind of plan would actually put this nation back on its fiscal feet? What would a long-range plan for living within our means really look like? If we had to political will to actually do it, just what would it take? Is it all that complicated?
Long range financial good health of the United States of America would require the following general steps:
• Secure the future of Social Security and Medicare with “tweaks.”
• Cut the military budget:
Bring home the troops scattered around Europe and Asia.
Bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cut development/acquisition costs of unneeded weapons systems.
• Reinstate taxes on upper 5% in income and 1% in estate wealth to near Reagan levels.
• Enact a modest consumption tax, including tariffs on oil and imports.
• Cut out corporate welfare and subsidies. Stop off-shore tax cheats.
Securing the future of Social Security and Medicare is not difficult, except for the political will to actually do it. A slight change in retirement age for non-physically stressing jobs, slight increase in the base incomes upon which payroll Social Security and Medicare taxes are levied, and then a sensible adjustment in benefit growth decades in the future. This is called “tweaking.” It is not rocket science.
Budget balancing is done by both increasing income and reducing spending.
The military is the only huge discretionary sector of the budget. Stop playing world policeman, and bring home the roughly 100,000 troops from some 38 countries where they are stationed around the world. These countries should meet their own defense costs, not continue to rely on American tax payers. This saves billions in the defense budget.
Some argue, of course, that we have no business in Iraq now, and perhaps never had any business there. They argue also that it is not our job to maintain the shaky, corrupt government in Afghanistan against insurgency, and that those people should stand on their own. They argue Al Quaeda is a CIA problem, not soluble by huge military efforts. Stopping these wars in the Middle East would net hundreds of billions per year in savings.
Then comes the matter of taxes. Those who spend the highest percentage of their income stimulate the economy the most. This happens to be the lower 95% of the citizens. Who benefits the economy the least? Obviously, it is those who spend the lowest portion – the upper 5%.
Contrary to old economic thought, the rich are not reinvesting their capital into production, and thus jobs. Similarly corporations, still making billions in profits, are not expanding activities or adding jobs – in America. Most are not paying decent dividend rates or taxes. They pay their executives exorbitant salaries, they bid to buy one another, and they hold their cash. None of these things stimulate the economy much.
A return to tax rates of the Reagan years is overdue. Given that and this country should be on the road to paying off its accumulated debt.
Perhaps an initial move would be to eliminate all the special tax breaks and subsidies to our businesses, mining, and industrial activity. Oil companies alone enjoy $45 billion in subsidies from the national government while racking up record profits. These and other welfare programs for big business need to be cut out.
This may be a highly simplified of the remedies needed in this country. We may not have the political will to enact them. Surely we won’t solve the problems as long as we have nitwit politicians running around spreading harmful nonsense and playing on people’s emotions.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate
Sunday, July 11, 2010
SHARED VALUES COMMERCIALS
With the republican Supreme Court giving corporations and the wealthy unlimited rights to make political contributions, watch out for a really nerve busting commercial media jam for election season this summer and fall. They will be legally trying to buy elections now.
Most of us are irritated and angered by attack commercials -- more by some than others, of course, dependent on their level of viciousness and perhaps on our own bias. But anyone who really enjoys an attack commercial should question his/her own inner values for gentility and civility. If we really were a gentle and peaceful people, valuing civility, politeness, and self-control, then the candidates who run the most attack commercials would lose. Such does not appear to be the case.
If we really were a people who value honesty and integrity, any candidate who ran commercials with unfounded accusations, lies, distortions, or half-truths in attacking another would lose. Such does not appear to be the case.
So when those same candidates talk to us about traditional American values, Oklahoma values, Judao-Christian values, integrity, honesty, truth, and similar values, then many of them must themselves be liars when they utter those words: “I approve of this commercial.”
Further, many among us believe much of candidate commercial advertising must at best be targeted toward the naïve, or at the worst just toward the plain dumb, ignorant, and gullible among us.
But surely our candidate who tells us that he/she believes in God, country, truth, decency, the American flag, motherhood, and apple pie, must be a good one, filled with great integrity, and fully prepared for whatever office he or she seeks? Good grief! But one might be led to think so, when listening to those commercials. When one observes the success of such candidates, one has major cause to question the intelligence of the voters.
Such values are highly desirable in any candidate for office, but taken alone these values, if they were present, would qualify a candidate for no office at all. Ability, knowledge, training, and experience count as well.
Then there are those candidates who tout their conservative values, often adding in patriotism, the founding fathers, freedom, Christian beliefs, the family, the right to carry guns, and other perceived values of the American people. But such conservatives often add to the mix their intent to cut taxes, to cut wasteful spending, to reduce the size of government, to reduce the deficit, and to stop immigrants and other free-loaders. Beware of all such, for they do not portend well for the average citizen.
We really need to question what is included in basic American values, in Judao-Christian values, and if freedom also includes opportunity. A candidate to promises to cut taxes and improve public education is contradicting himself. A candidate who says he wants to reduce expenditures but save Social Security and Medicare is lying. A candidate says he has Judao-Christian values but advocates actions which will cut off school lunches for the poor, shut down homes for mentally retarded, toss old people out of nursing homes on the sidewalk, and cut children’s protection is either dumb or a liar. A candidate who wants bridges and highways but doesn’t support new fuel taxes is a hypocrite.
Should we go on? Most of the federal budget is for the military and for the major entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. Of course, there are all those other “minor” things such as veterans programs, highways, law enforcement, food and medicine oversight, and subsidies for agriculture. Then there are billions in wasteful subsidies for big oil, big sugar, big banks, and big business in general. There are tax breaks for businesses, for the wealthy, and for those living on investments rather than earning taxable wages. Which of these do these tax cutters really propose to drop? Give us a list! Maybe we should look at the candidate’s donor list. Reckon?
The state budget is predominantly for public education. Do we not support good free schools for our children and good colleges within reach of all our youth? Do we believe in equal opportunity for all? Is that not an American value?
Then there are the other state services such as overcrowded prisons, the human services for elderly, abused children, orphans and the like, law enforcement, mental health, and highways and bridges. If we campaign to lower taxes, are we not campaigning against these public services being adequately provided? Let’s look again at those advertised “values.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if candidates could count on public support by commercials telling us how they were going to improve public services without claiming they are going to reduce revenues or cut expenditures at the same time? How about if they were honest and told us that improving our services would cost a little more money, and that it might be necessary to raise a tax, put in a new tax of some sort, or even just to cut some specific exemptions now being given to special interests.
That would be a different approach, all right. Unfortunately, we dumb voters have rejected it several times before.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate
Friday, July 02, 2010
Rather than ask sensible questions, these republican senators have spent their time grandstanding for a particular political constituency back home – a constituency that makes one wonder what kind of voters they must have out there. Of course, there is that other constituency, donors and lobbyists, to which all congresspersons play to some extent. What that lady has had to endure from those senators is way over the line of decorum, courtesy, and decency.
To what extent should any public servant have to endure the accusations, taunts, and lectures from a member of any legislative body? True, these folk have been elected by somebody, although one may often wonder how and why. Those in public service leadership positions must in some ways be responsive to them, the law and the Constitution says so. But we have seen nothing in the Constitution or the law which compels a public servant to endure unjustified abuse from members of a legislative body.
On a different level and scale, the history of Oklahoma higher education is replete with instances of the attempted browbeating of college and university presidents at the hands of some arrogant legislators in committee hearings on appropriations. No president dared not go and answer legislators’ questions as respectfully as their temperament would allow. Some of these were good, even penetrating, questions. Most were superficial, often based upon complaints heard. Many were “gotcha” questions based upon a legislator’s superficial perusal of a few financial or purchasing documents in the state finance office.
The late and legendary Dr. George L. Cross, president of the University of Oklahoma, used to tell a story of such hearings to remind the rest of us of the benign frivolity of it all. He told of encountering a legislator’s question, “What about this expensive brassiere the university paid for?” The legislator cited the cost of several hundred dollars and wanted to know who it was for, and why such an expensive brassiere. Dr. Cross said, “I pondered and pondered, trying to figure out what this man was asking. Finally, it came to me that he was referring to an ancient Egyptian brazier which had been bought for the university’s museum collection.”
We recall an instance when a legislator, armed with copies of claims paid through the finance office, inquired pointedly of the late, great president of Tulsa Community College, “What is this I see here where you signed a claim for a suit of clothes? Would you explain to me why the State of Oklahoma is buying a suit of clothes for somebody?” Dr. Al Philips, in a calm and dignified manner, explained that the claim was for a security guard’s uniform.
Usually, by the time they got down the line from the major universities on to me, the questions were short and perfunctory. I liked to think that was because we had few glaring, publicly noticed faults. One year during a time when state finances were bad and the appropriations committee was particularly tough, I observed the cross-examinations of those before me and became more and more angry.
At my turn I mistakenly undertook to lecture the committee. “You are asking all the wrong questions,” I said. “Instead of grilling us, you should be asking what you can do to help us serve the higher education needs of the young people of Oklahoma. You should be concerned with assisting us do a good job, rather than with trivia.”
When I paused for breath, four or five legislators immediately started to attack me, while several others jumped vocally to my defense. The late legislative leader of some renown, John Miskelly, the committee chairman, came up from the back of the room and restored order with words that went like this: “Leave this man alone. He’s a friend of mine. He’s telling you the truth. You need to listen to him.”
And, thus I escaped the wrath of some arrogant legislators who were accepting of nothing but subservience from agency heads dependent upon them for budget finances.
Returning to the hearings of this past week for Elena Kagan, nominee for the Supreme Court, she is enduring what might be thought of as some sort of initiatory verbal hazing which one must experience before admission to that holy sanctum. It should not be so.
Democrats are ordinarily more civil to nominees of a republican president, not totally so but much more so. Only in the Robert Bork case, for good cause, has there been any such rough treatment of a republican nominee as experienced by each of the democrat nominees. Only in that instance has there been any serious threat made of filibuster. With the current republicans in the senate, every matter is one for a potential filibuster stalemate threat. This is the most obstructive senate in modern history.
Some pundits are saying that republicans fear appearing to be compromising or being seen as bi-partisan on anything. Tea party assaults on colleague republicans in recent elections have produced an aura of fear in incumbents of their own voters. They are afraid to be senatorial and statesmen. What a shame!
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard
AKA The Militant Moderate