Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Were You Sucked In?


My vanity license plate reads BE N4MD.  It's my inane plea for Americans to get informed on issues of importance to us.  It comes from my personal disgust with the gossipy reading material at the supermarket checkout stand, the shallowness of television news reporting, the need for all of us to seek evidence and do our own investigations before believing the insinuations and out-and-out lies perpetrated by politicians and some media.

I recently had a Facebook exchange with folks who were claiming the President is a socialist and is taking our rights away.  These were "friends of friends" in FB speak.  I jumped into the fray, asking for the evidence of these claims.  The response was as follows, "Just like a lazy liberal, wanting us to do your work for you. You find the evidence."

Being a person with little to no sense, I tried again and got a similar response.  One should never be phased by the nuttiness in this sort of dialogue, but I was. I can't accept that there is no longer an expectation one should back up outrageous claims with evidence.

Do you recall hearing (or seeing) these claims?  Were you sucked in?

  1. Health care reform includes "death panels" that will decide whether grandma is worth saving.
  2. President Obama and the First Lady saluted the flag with the wrong hand over their -- what, lungs?
  3. The First Lady has more staff than any other First Lady.
  4. President Obama's trip to India cost $200 million dollars a day.
  5. 800,000 jobs will be lost under Obamacare.
  6. President Obama said business owners didn't build their businesses.
  7. Stimulus money was outsourced for electric cars from Finland, solar panels in Mexico and windmills from China.
  8. Obamacare is the largest tax increase ever.
  9. President Obama is coming for your gun.
  10. The President was born in Kenya (or Indonesia) and is a Muslim.
  11. The President has doubled the size of government, doubled the national debt, is the biggest spender since...
  12. The Affordable Care Act is a government takeover of health care.
  13. Taxes have gone up under President Obama.
  14. President Obama wants to tell schoolchildren to worship him.
These fourteen are just a sampling of the hundreds of lies about the president and his policies.  Yes, there are misclaims from Democrats as well.  But the sheer volume and audacity of lies -- not misinterpretations or exaggerations -- from the right compromises our democracy.  If citizens are bombarded with lies, lies that go unchecked and uncorrected, how can we expect a fair contest between candidates or between ideas?

My wish for you and your crazy brother-in-law who forwards this stuff to you?  That you demand evidence.  No longer can we trust that the Walter Cronkites and Edward R. Murrows who deliver our news have fact-checked and care about journalistic integrity.  Be suspicious of what you hear. Check it out before you share it.

The simplest way to check the facts is the fact-checking websites like FactCheckPolitifact or Snopes.  I like FactCheck but choose any of these, bookmark it and use it to verify what you hear, from either side.  Both sides get their comeuppance on any of these sites.

Like my vanity plate, please BE N4MD.

Monday, July 23, 2012

All My Blasphemies


As a citizen with a political bent, I'm occasionally asked why I don't run for Congress or some other public office.  I find the suggestion flattering but unrealistic.  The reality is that someone like me has zero political future.

Oh it's not that I have deep dark skeletons in my closet.  Actually I'm probably about as squeaky clean as a modern person could be.  A grandmother married 41 years, two kids, same employer for 30 years, lived in the same house since 1978, nothing worse than a speeding ticket, never been sued or accused of anything at all.  I don't cuss and I haven't been diagnosed with any of the full menu of psychiatric possibilities in the DSM IV (though I'm hopeful about the new DSM V).

What I am is a blasphemer.  A big time one too.  It's not just that I don't belong to a church or synagogue.  No, much worse than that.  I not only don't go, I'm not willing to start going to advance my political career.  And I refuse to talk about my religious beliefs publicly, a surefire suspicious state of affairs.  But if religious belief were America's only sacred cow, I might stand a chance.  Unfortunately for me, there are other things held sacred in America.  And I'm the antichrist of them all.

In the wake of the latest mass shooting by a citizen armed to the teeth -- but fully in line with current weapons laws -- not a single prominent politician (and certainly neither of the presidential candidates) is willing to stand up and suggest that AK-47s might not deserve the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.  I would.  And the NRA would promptly show me the door.  I'd then spend the rest of my term shouting "but I'm not a traitor, I'm not!" 

Blasphemy.

No politician dare question the venerability of football or other sports either.  How many times have you seen politicians (usually women) ridiculed for not staying up to date on their hometown teams, players and mascots? How in the world can you trust our government's trillion-dollar enterprise to anyone who can't tell a nickel back from a quarterback? Alas, I've been known to suggest that football and basketball are "just games" or that education should come first or that grown men should not look back on their high school team experience as the "best days of my life".

Even bigger blasphemy.

I am a free trade opponent too.  I believe in tariffs and in protecting domestic industries.  I believe in trading with other nations but not in mechanisms that encourage American companies to outsource their factories to islands of cheap labor, lax environmental controls and low taxes.

Haven't heard many politicians in the past twenty years oppose free trade.  How did Ross Perot do?

And I don't believe that private industry has a God-given right to extract resources from public lands.  Whether we're talking about timber, cattle grazing, mining or oil drilling, there's nothing sacred about private corporate access to resources that belong to all of us.  Timber used to be sold at less than what it cost the Forest Service to prepare the land for logging.  There is zero charge to oil companies for drilling deep water wells.  They get all that oil royalty-free.  And guess who pays to clean up the messes?

In Southern Oregon, suggesting anything but free access to federal timber is blasphemous.

I'd also be open to nationalizing certain monopolistic businesses.  The banks that are "too big to fail" are also too big to be independent. (See Too Big to Regulate).  Energy -- nuclear plants, electricity generation and distribution, oil drilling -- is too vital to be left to those only interested in the bottom line.  Railroads, once the lifeline for our nation and still one of the best ways to move freight and people, should be publicly owned.  Schools, well it goes without saying.  Prisons? Oh please.  And how about the military? Who in the world thought privatizing our armed forces would be a good idea?

See?  Not only a blasphemer but could be a commie.

I also don't believe that technology holds the answers to the big problems that plague us, be they public education, climate change, energy conservation, economic growth or human health.  Now I like technology just fine and I find many of our new technological innovations fascinating.  But I've yet to meet the child who learned to read from a computer, the global problem resolved by a tweak of machinery, the exciting new energy source that saved us from having to actually cut back on our wastefulness, the new industry that fueled high employment and general well-being or the new medicine or medical procedure that allowed us to continue abusing our bodies in all the unnatural ways we do.  No, technology brings us exciting communication and transportation opportunities (and spam, hackers, the TSA's porn machines and a complete erosion of privacy).  It can do wonders in small ways.  But I'm not holding out for Exxon to invent the spill-stopper or for Merck to market the cure for the common cold.  I actually believe all of us have to work together to accomplish big things.  Together.  Work.

I have others.  I DO believe in political correctness.  I DO believe people should talk about religion and politics at the dinner table.  I DO believe children should have unsupervised time, even though they might get in trouble or scrape their knees. I even believe that science is a better source for understanding our world than Fox News.  And I'd never be willing to miss a vote to pander to a major campaign contributor.

See?  I can't run for office.  Americans don't vote for blasphemers.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Where the Jobs Went


Long gone are the days when high school graduates could move from the podium to a family-wage job in a mill or doing construction. Those jobs have dried up, for many reasons but four are most influential:

  • Outsourcing of manufacturing, communications and other jobs to China, India, Mexico and elsewhere
  • Automation that displaces workers with machines
  • The 1990s and 2000s push to reduce business expenses and maximize profits, resulting in fewer workers, reduced benefits and a shift to non-benefited part-time jobs.  The changed rules in the 1980s -- allowing for mergers that would have been forbidden under antitrust laws before -- eliminated business ties to communities and their workforce.
  • Worker productivity improvements  American workers have become more than four times more productive than we were in 1970.  (4.57 times more productive in 2011 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics)
But there's something else going on here too.  When we look at federal government policy, we see incentives for businesses to invest in equipment, new factories and moving factories from one place to another.  We also see disincentives for businesses to hire new workers or even to continue employing those they already have.

Consider the following:
  •  The United States is one of the few countries that expects employers to pick up the costs for health insurance.
  •  Social Security and Medicare payments by businesses for each employee rose from about 5% in 1970 to 7.65% today.  
  • The ability of businesses to expense capital improvements or to accelerate their depreciation makes investing in equipment a good deal (unlike investing in labor).
  • Local governments bend over backwards to attract new factories, providing all sorts of tax and infrastructure benefits to businesses.  There are rarely any attached requirements involving employment targets, pay levels or benefits expectations.
  • The US Tax Code continues to reward businesses that move their manufacturing or other enterprises offshore.  
Why does this matter?  It matters because there is no golden day approaching when businesses will step up their hiring to accommodate all of the new workers entering the labor force.  Unless policy changes are made (including reintroducing tariffs that protect domestic manufacturing), those low skilled jobs are not coming back.  We need highly skilled workers and a lot of them, if we're to reduce the numbers living in poverty in Oregon and the nation.

Let's see some real energy toward early childhood, K-12 education, community colleges and our university system.  If we don't invest now and do what's needed to inspire our kids to go on to higher education, they'll be stuck in low wage jobs dependent on public assistance to get by.  In spite of the talk about "job creators", there has been no effort by industry to create jobs.  Most industries have focused on shedding jobs for their bottom line.

Change policies, invest in education, send a clear message to parents and kids that college isn't an option, it's a necessity.

See also: Punishing Work

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Which Republican Will You Vote For?


The presidential race is heating up and the two major party candidates are known: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.  Romney is doing his best to shore up his Republican credentials, something that requires him to minimize his only actual government experience.  But with nearly a trillion dollars in backing from the wealthiest billionaires in the country, he looks pretty Republican to me.

Obama, on the other hand, is struggling to recoup what corporate support he enjoyed just four years ago.  In 2008, five Wall Street banks contributed a combined $3.5 million to the Obama campaign.  $2.2 million came from just three tech companies (Google, Microsoft and IBM).  This year, the banks are backing Romney more than ten to one over Obama.  Even with unlimited campaign donations under Citizens United, Obama's corporate support is way down.

That in itself should be sufficient evidence that he's been pursuing liberal policies.  But what are those liberal policies?  The policies that stand out to me are the following:

Foreign Policy: Continued fighting in Iraq (until recently) and Afghanistan.  Increased drone assassinations in the airspace of sovereign nations.

Civil Rights Policy: Guantanamo is still open and military tribunals continue, at the same snails pace they did under Bush.  Government intrusions into citizen privacy have increased, with a recent report that cellphone companies reported 1.3 million government requests for records in 2011.  The Patriot Act still stands.  We've added nudie machines at airports. There's a proposal to use drones for domestic spying.

Economic Policy: Continuation of the Bush tax cuts.  Reductions in social spending, even in a recession. Even the 2009 economic stimulus was half tax cuts and only half spending. Auto industry bailouts.

Immigration Policy: Accelerated deportations of illegal immigrants, the highest rate in U.S. history.

Energy and Environmental Policy:  Increased off-shore drilling.  Increased oil and natural gas drilling in wilderness areas. Oil exports eclipsed oil imports for the first time and rose to number one among all American products exported abroad.  One positive note--increased CAFE (fuel economy) standards for automobiles.

Educational Policy: Waivers for the most dire and impractical of NCLB consequences, but they still rest on two conservative pillars: weakening teachers' unions and continuing high stakes testing.

Health Care Policy: The Affordable Care Act is almost verbatim the plan endorsed by the conservative Heritage Foundation five years ago.  It does nothing to reduce the power of giant health insurance companies.  While it includes many improvements for American consumers, it enshrines in place the insurance companies' monopoly on health care.

The whitehouse.gov website lauds many of the President's achievements but most tinker around the edges.  Other than some international agreements, what substantively are we doing about climate change?  What are we doing about corporate influence in government?  What are we doing about privatization of the military?  About protecting civil rights?

I support President Obama over his rival, partly because those bent on buying government do not.  But make no mistake.  This is no socialist.  Hell, is he even a liberal?