“It Pretty Much Happened The Way George Said It Happened,” Said Juror B37

“Black boys in this country are not allowed to be children. They are assumed to be men, and to be full of menace.”

—Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist

by now you have heard that “Juror B37” has talked to Anderson Cooper of CNN and that she has signed on with a literary agent in hopes of cashing in on her jury service. Judging from the quality of her analysis, judging by her confusion and the way she apprehended what was going on in that courtroom in Florida, judging by her utter  Anderson Cooper, host of CNN's AC360,* interviews Zimmerman trial juror B37, whose face was kept in the dark./ failure to understand the larger issues involved in this case, I will say that if her book gig fails, she would make a perfect host of “Fox and Friends,” where bias, as well as confused, sloppy thinking, is an asset.

In any case, this juror believed that the man who shot Trayvon Martin in the heart was a man “whose heart was in the right place,” whose real problem was his over-eagerness “to help people,” who, well, I’ll let her say it:

…I think George was pretty consistent and told the truth, basically. I’m sure there were some fabrications, enhancements, but I think pretty much it happened the way George said it happened.

Yeah, “George” may have fudged the truth a little bit, he may have told things in such a way as to make it look better for him, but it “pretty much” happened the way “George” said it happened, which, of course, made Trayvon Martin ultimately responsible for his own death:

COOPER: So you think, based on the testimony you heard, you believe that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor?

JUROR: I think the roles changed. I think, I think George got in a little bit too deep, which he shouldn’t have been there. But Trayvon decided that he wasn’t going to let him scare him and get the one-over, up on him, or something. And I think Trayvon got mad and attacked him.

“Trayvon got mad.” There was exactly zero evidence for that conclusion, but, as I said before, Trayvon Martin was found guilty of his own killing.

Juror B37 went on to say that she didn’t believe race had anything at all to do with this case:

COOPER: Do you feel that George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin? Do you think race played a role in his decision, his view of Trayvon Martin as suspicious?

JUROR: I don’t think he did. I think just circumstances caused George to think that he might be a robber, or trying to do something bad in the neighborhood because of all that had gone on previously. There were unbelievable, a number of robberies in the neighborhood.

COOPER: So you don’t believe race played a role in this case?

JUROR: I don’t think it did. I think if there was another person, Spanish, white, Asian, if they came in the same situation where Trayvon was, I think George would have reacted the exact same way.

This white female  juror cannot see, or says she cannot see, what so many black people know in their bones: that race had very much to do with this case and that if Trayvon Martin had been white, none of what subsequently happened would have happened.

And that, I submit, is the problem this case highlights: there are a lot of white people who don’t understand that being black in America is a different experience from being white, that being a young black man in America is especially a different experience.

Eugene Robinson, an African-American and columnist for The Washington Post, wrote:

If anyone wonders why African Americans feel so passionately about this case, it’s because we know that our 17-year-old sons are boys, not men. It’s because we know their adolescent bravura is just that — an imitation of manhood, not the real thing.

We know how frightened our sons would be, walking home alone on a rainy night and realizing they were being followed. We know how torn they would be between a child’s fear and a child’s immature idea of manly behavior. We know how they would struggle to decide the right course of action, flight or fight.

And we know that a skinny boy armed only with candy, no matter how big and bad he tries to seem, does not pose a mortal threat to a healthy adult man who outweighs him by 50 pounds and has had martial arts training (even if the lessons were mostly a waste of money). We know that the boy may well have threatened the man’s pride but likely not his life. How many murders-by-sidewalk have you heard of recently? Or ever?

Contrast that with what Gene Lyons, a columnist I respect and admire very much, wrote some days ago—something I haven’t been able to get out of my head since—about the Martin-Zimmerman case:

On the evidence, it’s clear that both Zimmerman and Martin acted badly, with tragic consequences — Zimmerman by carrying around that accursed gun he was in no way qualified to handle, and Martin through foolhardy teenaged bravado. One life ended, another destroyed.

But not necessarily symbols of anything greater than their own confusion and folly.

That kind of statement, that Trayvon Martin was acting out of some kind of “foolhardy teenaged bravado,” that there is no symbolism attached to this case beyond “confusion and folly,” could only have been written by a guy who has not raised black sons. It may qualify as the most ignorant thing Gene Lyons has ever written.

All of which brings me to a discussion on Morning Joe this morning, which is must-see TV for anyone truly interested in the two Americas that so many black Americans wake up to each and every day. I will post the segment below, but I want to call your attention to observations made by two black men of very different political persuasions, Eugene Robinson, the liberal Washington Post columnist, and Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Both men, who have raised boys, said that they had to teach their sons that being a young black man in America requires learning a set of rules that white sons don’t have to learn. If they are to survive or thrive, even as middle-class black kids and later as adults, there are certain things they have to know, to do. Michael Steele said to his kids:

Remember, when you walk out that door, you are a black man in America. And you need to understand what that means when people see you, how they look at you, how they approach you, what they think about you, and how they will deal with you. Because it’s not the same for your white friends. It’s not the same for your other friends. Because a lot of history walks with you out that door.

That’s unacceptable in twenty-first century America.

White folks should not ignore that history, or pretend it didn’t happen, or pretend that all is now well. We shouldn’t pretend that there are no larger issues attached to the tragic encounter between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. There are. And that is why all of us, black and white, need to find ways—starting with recognizing the reality behind what happened in Sanford, Florida—to change what it means to be a young black kid-man in America, especially now that half the country has adopted stand-your-ground vigilantism as a way of life.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A “Crude And Poisonous” Political Lie

I don’t know how many times I have addressed the falsehood, widely circulated among conservatives and transmitted through talk radio and talk television, that the financial crisis of 2008 was the fault of sappy-hearted Democrats who used government—the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, for instance— to force banks to make loans to poor folks so they could purchase unaffordable homes.

But here we go again. Friday’s Joplin Globe featured an editorial by Jay Ambrose, whose column attacking filmmaker Michael Moore contained the following paragraph, pregnant with deceit:

That’s not to say joblessness doesn’t haunt us. Here’s why: a fiscal crisis brought on by the Federal Reserve and mostly liberals conniving in Congress with Fannie Mae and Wall Street to get mortgages in the hands of people who could not afford them. That gave us a fiscal crisis and a recession made worse by President Obama’s mismanagement of deficits and additional regulations scaring businesses out of expansion.

Now, that is fairly standard bulldook from conservatives, but it seems as if these people really do believe that if they keep passing this stuff off so matter-of-factly that it will actually become a matter of fact.

Fortunately, Friday’s Globe also carried a column by Gene Lyons that began this way:

So here’s my question: If the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 effectively caused the Wall Street meltdown of 2007 by forcing banks to make bad home loans to improvident poor people (and we all know exactly who I mean), how come it took 30 years for the housing bubble to burst?

Next question: If fuzzy-thinking Democratic do-gooders enacted such laws in defiance of common sense and sound economics, why didn’t Republican Presidents Reagan, Bush I or Bush II do something? Was Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., secretly running the country?

Exactly how did the wealthiest and most powerful individuals in the United States — the investment bankers and corporate execs who host the $1,000-a-plate fundraisers, scoop up the Cabinet appointments and ambassadorships, and party down at White House galas — end up having less power over the U.S. economy than unskilled day laborers in Newark, N.J., or Oakland, Calif.?

The columnist went after New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who last week said,

It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp …

Lyons called that “a conspiracy theory so absurd that it had previously been confined to such dark corners of American life as the Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity programs and the Wall Street Journal editorial page.”  He said that Bloomberg couldn’t possibly believe such a “crude and poisonous” political lie.

But it really doesn’t matter much whether Bloomberg believes it.  The point is that he wants you and me to believe it because it is designed to deflect attention away from the banksters in his fair city and elsewhere around the country and around the world.

Lyons makes these devastating points:

♦ …there was no law forcing or even encouraging banks to make shaky loans. The Community Reinvestment Act merely required FDIC-insured institutions to apply the same standards to all borrowers — i.e., no more “redlining.”

♦ …the law applied only to retail banks, never to Wall Street investment houses or mortgage companies…and 84 percent of subprime mortgages were written by private, totally unregulated lenders.

♦ Fannie and Freddie, the quasi-governmental mortgage underwriting companies, don’t actually make loans…Did they buy worthless mortgage-backed securities along with other victimized investors? Yes, but too little and too late to have caused the crisis. Although far from pristine, they were more victims than perps.

Those “worthless mortage-backed securities” were created by the financial industry, cut up and sold by the financial industry, rated as AAA by the financial industry, and insured by the financial industry.

A commenter responding to one of my columns in the paper wrote that it was “government social engineering that started the financial fiasco in the first place.”  Okay. Let’s pretend that statement is true for a second. That’s a little like saying that it was a Chinese butterfly flapping its dainty wings in early May that created the EF-5 tornado that wasted a third of Joplin later that month.  I mean, sure, you could weirdly make the case that an unwitting lepidopteran in Shanghai was responsible for the scorched earth here in our town, but that would leave out a lot of significant intervening events, wouldn’t it?

In the case of the financial disaster, those significant intervening events involved spectacularly stupid—because they were so spectacularly greedy—people on Wall Street and elsewhere. 

I remained amazed at how conservatives have created all kinds of ingenious explanations to explain away one brute fact about the financial crisis: the free market failed to account for and control the behavior of greedy banksters. 

And conservatives in the media continue to hope that repeating their lies about the cause of the crisis will morph not necessarily into the truth, but at least into common wisdom.

Republican Math, You Know

I know much has been made about Bill Clinton’s “I hope Democrats don’t use it as an excuse to do nothing” backstage comment to Paul Ryan, about the dazzling win by a pro-Medicare Democrat in blood-red NY-26.

But let’s look at Ryan’s comment to Clinton:

My guess is it’s gonna sink into paralysis, is what’s gonna happen. And you know the math. I mean, It’s just — we knew we were putting ourselves out there. But you gotta start this. You gotta get out there. You gotta get this thing moving.

Despite Ryan’s sounding like a wounded pup looking for some comfort from his master, I will give him and the Republicans credit for putting themselves “out there.” They are out there, that’s for sure. But I’m more interested in this part of Ryan’s comment:

You know the math.

Ah. The math. As columnist Gene Lyons has said, Republicans have been waging a war on arithmetic for years. Now, it turns out that Ryan knows “the math.” And he knows others “know the math.” Which doesn’t explain why, if the math is so crystal clear, why his budget plan—now the plan of the entire Republican Party—fails so miserably in its arithmetic.

Let’s forget for the moment the eventual and drastic reductions in Medicaid; let’s forget for a moment the destruction of the Medicare system, replacing it with something worth much less; let’s forget about the cuts in domestic programs like food stamps—which money goes directly in the coffers of local retailers like Wal-Mart and Target and other grocers—and instead, let’s just focus for a minute on the Republican vision for taxes—which any realistic budget mathematician has to consider—and see what we find.

We find tax cuts.

That’s right. The man and the party so concerned about “the math” propose to cut taxes even more, cutting the top individual rate from the current 35% down to 25%, which represents the lowest rate since 1931. You remember 1931, right? That was before Social Security. Before Medicare. Before Medicaid. Before Democrats stepped in to rescue America from that era’s Republican Tea Party dominance.

With a federal budget already starving from insufficient revenues, a budget that is as much a victim of Republican arithmetic as an aging population, we have Republicans in Congress—both chambers, now—proposing to cut taxes even more, suggesting, as they always do, that doing so will result in—voilà!—a thriving, prosperous, job-creating economy. You know, like the one George W. Bush left us!

Paul Ryan said to Bill Clinton, “You know the math.” Yes, we know the math, the Republican math.

And a lot of us know it doesn’t add up, not now, not ten years ago, or twenty years into the future.

Turn To Page 1 In Your Hymnbook

Gene Lyons, whose column appeared in today’s Joplin Globe, as usual, gets it right:  

Increasingly, one of our two great political parties appears to be governed by what Charles P. Pierce calls the “Three Great Premises” of talk radio: “First Great Premise: Any theory is valid if it moves units … Second Great Premise: Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough … Third Great Premise: Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.”

No doubt, if we could measure the fervency of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul’s beliefs, we would have one whopper of a Truth.  A couple of days ago, I heard Paul say the following on Dylan Ratigan’s show:

I think the debate is going my way…When the financial bubble burst—and the housing bubble burst—all of a sudden Austrian, free-market economics gained a lot of credibility…

Yep. In the mind of Ron Paul, all we need to solve our troubles is more of the same stuff that caused our troubles: free-market economics.  And, of course, he is not the only one singing from the Gospel According to Ayn Rand hymnal.  Nearly every Republican leader, and potential presidential candidate, is singing from that hymnbook, which really only has one song: An Anthem to Greed.

Fortunately, though, in a moment of repentance, the contemporary high priest of Randian economics, Alan Greenspan, put down his free-market hymnal in October of 2008.  Contrary to Ron Paul and the Republican Party, he said the following to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee:

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: The question I have for you is, you had an ideology, you had a belief that free, competitive — and this is your statement — “I do have an ideology. My judgment is that free, competitive markets are by far the unrivaled way to organize economies. We’ve tried regulation. None meaningfully worked.” That was your quote.

You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. And now our whole economy is paying its price.

Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?

ALAN GREENSPAN: Well, remember that what an ideology is, is a conceptual framework with the way people deal with reality. Everyone has one. You have to — to exist, you need an ideology. The question is whether it is accurate or not.

And what I’m saying to you is, yes, I found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is, but I’ve been very distressed by that fact.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: You found a flaw in the reality…

ALAN GREENSPAN: Flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working?

ALAN GREENSPAN: That is — precisely. No, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.

“Conservatism Can Cure Classroom Cancer, Blah, Blah, Blah”

George Will’s column in Saturday’s Joplin Globe touted the efforts of John Kline, a Minnesota congressman who is on a crusade—or is it a Marine expedition, since Will makes a major issue of Kline’s military background—to use his position as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee to, oddly, get the federal government out of education.

Yes, I know. That’s nothing new.  Will’s column touted the usual conservative chestnuts: Teachers’ unions are the root of all education evil, charter schools “operating outside union restrictions” are the answer, conservatism can cure classroom cancer, blah, blah, blah.

But one of those blahs had to do with No Child Left Behind and that law’s decree “that schools shall achieve 100 percent proficiency by 2014.” Will suggested that states, which are nearly en masse failing to meet the current proficiency targets, have “a powerful incentive” “to define proficiency down,” much like the state of South Carolina, heaven-on-earth for conservatives, has.  Then Will wrote this:

There also are reasons to suspect that NCLB‘s threat of labeling schools as failures constitutes an incentive to cheat. In a number of jurisdictions, including 103 schools in the District of Columbia, machines that grade the tests have detected suspiciously high levels of erasures as test-takers changed incorrect to correct answers.

Now, George Will doesn’t say so, but any “cheating” that occurred in the District of Columbia occurred under the tenure of D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, currently a conservative hero (don’t give me any of that, “but she’s a Democrat” nonsense; she is openly cheerleading for Republican governors who are attacking teachers and their unions). 

Rhee—Will once praised her for being “constructively confrontational“—is the leader of the so-called “education reform” movement, which should really be called the “get professional teachers out of education” movement.  

I last saw Rhee, who resigned after her boss, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, was defeated in the 2010 Democratic primary, on the IQ-eroding Fox and Friends, where she exclaimed: “I’m a huge fan of Governor Christie,” referring to the current political champion of right-wingers everywhere, the governor of New Jersey. 

Indeed, it was Rhee, perhaps more than anyone else in the country, who made it safe for Republicans like Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker to bash teachers and trash their unions.

But, because there is still such a thing as journalism, USA Today did an expose of sorts on Michelle Rhee and her alleged success in dramatically improving the standardized test scores in Washington, D.C., most notably of a formerly low-performing school, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus.

Using some old-fashioned authoritarianism, as well as her laissez-faire formula for education success, Rhee fired teachers and handed out awards and bonuses for improved performance, especially using Noyes as the poster-school to validate her approach.

But it turns out that, as Will mentioned without mentioning USA Today‘s reporting, the improvement in test scores may not have been real. The paper reported:

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.

Gene Lyons wrote a couple of weeks ago—which is how I first learned of increasing doubts about the Rhee-inspired phenomenon in D.C.—that,  

Although the national media appear determined not to notice, similar testing scandals have taken place in New York, Texas, Georgia, California — basically anywhere school funding and/or jobs have been linked directly to multiple-choice testing. Private charter schools as well as public schools, incidentally.

“This is like an education Ponzi scam,” a teacher’s union official told USA Today. “If your test scores improve, you make more money. If not, you get fired. That’s incredibly dangerous.”

Yes, it’s dangerous.  Test-driven formulas for education excellence, as the conservative George Will and the liberal Gene Lyons both might agree, are not a panacea for the real or imagined ills of our education system. (Lyons points out that over the last 30 years “overall student performance” has actually gone up.)

Now, someone just needs to tell President Obama, who seems to have embraced the idea of test-heavy reforms.

Will says that Rep. Kline,

promises that the current system for measuring “adequate yearly progress” “will not exist when we are done.”

We shall see about Kline’s promise, but if that happens it will be an unwitting repudiation of Michelle Rhee’s effort to, in the words of education historian, Diane Ravitch, “subject public education to free-market forces, including competition, decision by data, and consumer choice.” 

Ravitch continues:

All of this sounds very appealing when your goal is to buy a pound of butter or a pair of shoes, but it is not a sensible or wise approach to creating good education. What it produces, predictably, is cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum.

It has also produced a conservative celebrity, sometimes openly promoted by Democrats, Michelle Rhee.

Finally, it needs to be said here that there is no magic in turning ill-nourished kids raised in anti-learning environments, mostly without an intact and interested family, into little Einsteinian prodigies, which, I suppose, is what some Americans expect teachers to do in urban schools and elsewhere.

Standardized tests won’t do it. Cutting teachers’ pay, or taking away their collective bargaining rights, won’t do it.  Devilizing their unions and starting non-union charter schools won’t do it.

Perhaps nothing will do it.

But a start might be to stop blaming teachers and start listening to them. Commenting on the anti-teacher film, Waiting for “Superman,” Richard Kahlenberg wrote in The Washington Post that the movie,

implies that teachers unions are to blame for the failures of urban education and that non-unionized charter schools are the solution. The movie includes no acknowledgment that the things teachers want for themselves – more resources devoted to education, smaller class sizes, policies that allow them to keep order in the classroom – are also good for kids.

Resources devoted to education? Smaller class sizes? Order in the classroom?

Imagine that.  Teachers actually want things that are good for the kids.

Who would’ve thunk it?

Trout Fishing Is For Socialists

“The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”

G. K. Chesterton, 1922

As the budget battles continue between radical Republicans and increasingly limp Democrats, Gene Lyons’ column in Saturday’s Joplin Globe offered a reason for the good guys to stiffen up: socialized fishing. 

The Globe titled his piece,

Uncle Sam’s not broke, and we need him

Now, that header had to jar regular conservative readers of our paper, especially when Lyons used a local example of the small ways government makes life better, even for heavily Republican areas like southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas:

In Arkansas, where I live, trout fishing is both a major pastime and a source of tourist income. Although rainbow trout are a cold-water species not native to the state, world-record fish are taken frequently. Just writing about it makes me want to load my gear and head for Calico Rock.

Anyway, whether you know it or not, these are government trout. Your tax dollars created and maintain this matchless resource.

Lyons went on to describe how that happened, which had to do with dams built in the White River basin by the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and to generate electricity for both Arkansas and Missouri customers. 

The “string of picturesque lakes” that resulted also “became a magnet for real-estate developments and resort communities, transforming one of the nation’s historically poorest regions.”  He continued:

No government dams, no Branson, Mo., is one way of thinking about it.

Forget for a moment that the existence of Branson may be the one unassailable argument in favor of killing government meddling. Lyons’ point is that the federal Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for the fish hatcheries “that keep it all going.” And Obama wants to cut that agency’s budget:

Trout can’t breed in dam tailwaters and must be constantly restocked. Should hatcheries close, the fish would soon vanish. So would the economic benefit to dozens of communities along the White and Little Red Rivers.

He points out that resort operators claim “they pay more in taxes than the cost of operating the hatcheries,” and Lyons wonders out loud about the motives of the Administration:

So did some Obama political appointee decide: “To hell with Arkansas. They didn’t vote for us anyway. Let them ask the tea party to pay”?

It could be.

Well, an interesting survey would be to ask those in southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas who benefit from the fish hatcheries if they voted for Mr. Obama and how they feel about socialized fishing. Or perhaps Gaston’s White River Resort could rename its fish-catching course, “Marx’s Guide to Fly Fishing,” or “How to Fish Like a Socialist.”  Or they could sell bumper stickers that read:

If you caught a fish, thank a liberal

In any case, Lyons points out that,

Contrary to…Tea Party dogma, American prosperity has always depended upon countless such examples of public-private synergy. There are similar stories all across the country.

He ends with a point my hammering-hand never gets tired of driving home—and something Democrats have chosen to ignore for now.  Understanding the following is essential to understanding how to begin to fix our budget problems:

Meanwhile, measured as a percentage of GDP, federal tax revenue is at 14.4 percent—the lowest since 1950. (The 40-year average is 18 percent.) Marginal income tax rates on the McDuck class [“Donald Duck’s tightwad zillionaire relative”] top out at 35 percent—compared to 50 percent under President Reagan.

Only Mexico and Chile, among industrial nations, pay less.

Happy fishing, comrades!

The Joplin Globe’s Editorial Schizophrenia

 

[NOTE: I have received criticism of the following post from a contributing writer to the Joplin Globe editorial board, Anson Burlingame. Anson points out, correctly, that the Globe editorial I reference relative to the Republican Pledge to America does not explicitly endorse the Pledge. While I continue to believe that given the past editorial posture of the paper, the editorial implicitly endorses the Pledge, it is nevertheless inaccurate to state unequivocally that it did so.  I expect others to correct their mistakes, and I am correcting mine.

Anyone who has read Anson’s blog post on the Pledge knows that he was at least a contributor to the Globe editorial, if not the writer. There are some obvious similarities. I had, of course, read Anson’s blog, so after I read the editorial about the Pledge I knew Anson had a hand in fashioning it.  And I may have conflated the clear intent of his blog post with the intent of the editorial, which was not as clear.

For the record, here is part of Anson’s opinion of the Pledge, found here:

ALL of such arguments are clear as a bell to me in the Pledge.

And for sure IF we clearly govern in such a manner, while constitutional in the strict sense of the word, for sure “all hell will break loose”.

I am ready to see it happen and support such efforts. The alternative to me is the “cliff”, financially and morally.

 “I am ready to see it happen and support such efforts.”  That is Anson’s opinion of the Pledge, and the editorial on the same subject that appeared in the Globe, at least partially written by Anson, was not nearly as explicit, although a regular reader would certainly get the message that the presentation made in the editorial comported with many of the Globe‘s past editorial positions.  Keep that in mind when reading the following post.]

 

Regarding the Republicans’ $4,000,000,000,000 (that’s four trillion bucks, folks) Pledge to America, Gene Lyons asked this today in the Joplin Globe:

Is there anybody capable of filling out Form 1040 EZ who buys this latest Republican fantasy? Alas, yes. A clamorous minority remains captive to the GOP’s decades-long War on Arithmetic. The more dramatically “conservative” economic dogma fails — there’s nothing conservative about believing in magic — the greater their cultlike need to believe it.

Knee-deep into that conservative cultlike commitment to failure is, of course, the Joplin Globe, which by way of Wednesday’s editorial on The Pledge not only endorsed the Republicans’ War on Arithmetic, but praised the GOP’s phony vow to “Repeal Obama’s health care plan.

As Lyons pointed out,

…regardless of how the 2010 elections go, there’s zero chance of Republicans winning a veto-proof two-third majority. Hence, repealing Obamacare can’t happen; it’s a meaningless promise.

But besides endorsing bogus Republican arithmetic and meaningless campaign promises, the Globe also endorses cognitive dissonance as an editorial stance.

On Wednesday, the Globe said this about the Pledge:

Is it in fact possible for the poor, the disabled, those in poor health and others to “advance themselves” without strong government assistance?  Republicans have said “yes, we believe they can.” […] [The Pledge] appears to chart the course for fundamental realignment of federal authority and responsibility.

Advance themselves without strong government assistance.”

Fundamental realignment of federal authority and responsibility.” 

The Globe editorialist, just two days ago, was obviously calling for a reduction in the reach of government.

But today the paper calls (correctly) for more government regulation, more government involvement. Writing about findings of the NTSB regarding last year’s horrific crash on I-44 near Miami, Ok.,—which resulted in the death of 10 people—the Globe said this:

The board found that the driver of the tractor-trailer did not have sufficient sleep to be behind the wheel. Fatigue was the cause of the accident.

The key point is that this crash could have been prevented. The truck did not have a collision-warning system. The truck did not have an under-ride protection system. Either system might have been enough to prevent the loss of life.

Why do trucks not have them? They add to the cost of a big rig and they decrease gas mileage. But, and most importantly, they are not required by federal regulators. We think they should be and as quickly as possible.

The editorial ends with this:

What we want to know is how many more families will endure this horror before something is done. There is no acceptable excuse for inaction — none whatsoever.

So there you have it.  On one day the Joplin Globe, traditionally a pro-Republican, pro-conservative newspaper, argues strongly for the Republicans’ Pledge to the American people, which will mean, according to the Globe, a “fundamental realignment of federal authority and responsibility.”

On another day, the Globe sensibly calls for—demands—an assertion of “federal authority and responsibility” because the trucking business won’t spend the money necessary to make sure it is operating as safely as possible. 

Meanwhile, the Pledge to America, enthusiastically endorsed by the paper, has this message from Republicans embedded in it:

The constant threat of new taxes and new regulations prevents investors and entrepreneurs from putting capital at risk…Excessive federal regulation is a de facto tax on employers and consumers that stifles job creation, hampers innovation and postpones investment in the economy.

It’s unclear to me how a newspaper’s editorial stance can on Wednesday champion Republican anti-regulatory principles and on Friday demand government regulation to solve a problem that a business was free to solve, but chose not to.

That, my friends, is the definition of cognitive dissonance.

“Hard Times Evoke Tribalized Fear”

In today’s Joplin Globe, columnist Gene Lyons scolded the Washington Post for publishing a column full of “downright delusional views” by Alabama tea partier (and now defeated candidate for Congress), Rick Barber. 

Barber is the guy who used George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in his campaign ads in such a way, as Lyons points out, that the ads were “a clear incitement to rebellion.”  I would post the ad videos here, but they are so embarrassingly bad, that I can’t bear to look at them again.

Oh, hell. Here is one of them:

Lyons says “there’s no excuse” for the Post‘s giving space to someone so far out of the mainstream and who also, according to Lyons, “doubled down on the crackpot rhetoric” in his column.

Now, I have often criticized the Globe for similar acts of what I consider to be journalistic malfeasance, publishing obviously false claims on its editorial pages, although in its defense, most—but not all—of those obviously false claims appear in letters to the editor.

From Lyon’s column, here is specifically what he objected to in Barber’s Washington Post column.  To regular readers of the Globe‘s editorial pages all of the following will sound depressingly familiar:

Over the past 18 months,” Barber wrote, “the federal government has sought to seize or has seized control of the health care industry, the financial industry, the mortgage industry, the automobile industry, student loans, broadband Internet and the energy sector through cap­and- trade legislation. With never a crisis going to waste, each new seizure is rationalized by some new emergency.”

“Totalitarianism,” he added “doesn’t come all at once.”

Typical stuff around these parts, isn’t it? Lyons points out that such opinions are formed by folks who, “Having lost an election, complain of tyranny. Hard times evoke tribalized fear.”

Lyons also quotes Steve Benen, a blogger for Washington Monthly:

These aren’t subjective questions, judgment calls or matters of opinion — the observations he states as fact are demonstrably false.

Here’s why, according to Lyons:

Specifically, the Bush administration bailed out Wall Street banks by lending them money they’re obliged to repay — no government takeover. The Obama administration passed a landmark private health insurance reform. Like it or not, “Obamacare” is less “socialist” than Medicare.

There’s been no “nationalization” of the mortgage industry. The auto industry wasn’t “seized.” The government bought stock in Chrysler and General Motors to save them from collapse; as the market recovers, those shares will be sold. GM has already begun repaying its loans. The Internet and “energy sector” are no closer to government ownership than under President Bush.

No doubt most Washington Post readers know all that. Even so, there’s no excuse — none — for such downright delusional views to appear seemingly unedited and unrebutted in so prominent a place.

I urge our own local paper to listen to the ending of Lyons column:

No, reasoned argument can’t easily conquer such irrational fears. Surrender, however, is intellectual cowardice.

The Republicans’ “War On Arithmetic”

Gene Lyons’ column in the Globe this morning knocked me out with this:

…we’ve seen the GOP increasingly dominated by its irrational Chicken Little wing, seeing grim portents and predicting doom. Continuing their party’s decades-long War on Arithmetic, Republicans act as if the highest form of patriotism is to demand tax cuts even as USA Today reports that its analysis revealed that “Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman’s presidency. . . . Federal, state and local taxes-including income, property, sales and other taxes-consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports.”

The historic average has been 12 percent, the newspaper said.

The lowest level of taxes since 1950?  A “War on Arithmetic“? 

Why, yes.

The USA Today article Lyons referenced continues:

On average…the tax rate paid by all Americans — rich and poor, combined — has fallen 26% since the recession began in 2007. That means a $3,400 annual tax savings for a household paying the average national rate and earning the average national household income of $102,000…

Taxes paid have fallen much faster than income in this recession. Personal income fell 2% last year. Taxes paid dropped 23%. The BEA classifies Social Security taxes as insurance payments and excludes them from the tax calculation.

A table accompanying the article is very enlightening:

You can see very clearly the Republicans’ War on Arithmetic.

And you can see very clearly that if the share of income paid as taxes would return to 2000 levels, we could make some progress on the deficit problem. 

By now, it is certainly well-known that George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress inherited a budget surplus in 2001.  It is also well-known that after a couple of tax cuts—which benefited the wealthy disproportionately—deficits began to rise.

If you doubt that such tax cuts benefited mainly the wealthiest Americans, then how does one account for the fact that the tax rate for our highest income earners in 2007 fell to its lowest rate since the IRS began keeping track in 1992?

Discussing an IRS report a few months ago, USA Today wrote,

…the agency reports that the nation’s 400 highest-earning households reported an average income of $345 million in 2007 — up 31% from 2006 — and that their average tax bill fell to a 15-year low.

Why, any sane person might ask, are we stressed to the max about deficits and debt, when one cause is so obvious?  Republicans have successfully dammed up the revenue stream, or in Lyons’ words, they have declared a War on Arithmetic.

My only question is, why aren’t Democrats more effectively defending arithmetic?

“As Dumb As A Brontosaurus In A Blizzard”

Gene Lyons’ column in yesterday Globe was titled, “Bail me out of these GOP lies.” On Salon.com the column, in a slightly modified form, was titled, “How the GOP gets away with it.”

However one wants to label it, the column exposed a large part of the reason why the country is so divided, and why it is so hard to find compromise as we try to solve some of the country’s problems.

Lyons began his explanation as to why the country is becoming “as dumb as a brontosaurus in a blizzard” with this:

Has the Republican Party gone completely off into Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, or have its leading spokesmen simply decided to mimic the party’s entertainment wing: trusting its loyal audience to believe even the most brazen falsehoods, and, equally important, to remember nothing?

[…] After all, you can trick a cow with an empty feed bucket once or twice. By the third try, it won’t even look at you.

GOP savants act as if Republican voters are more easily guided.

The specific issue Lyons was addressing was the Republican and conservative lies about the financial-reform bill being debated in the Senate, the one which Republicans claim would lead to “endless taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street banks,” a critique dreamed up by Republican spinmeister Frank Luntz, before there was a financial reform bill to criticize.

Never mind, as Lyons and nearly everyone else not employed by Rupert Murdoch has pointed out, the proposed legislation “would do exactly the opposite.”  Republicans seem to have the luxury these days of keeping large swaths of the population agitated by propagating fractional truths and outright falsehoods.

In any case, Lyons quotes Matt Yglesias, a blogger for Think Progress, as he nails the dynamics of the Republican strategy:

The only real test for whether or not lying works is whether or not you can bring your ideological fellow travelers along. Will Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck echo your line? Will the Weekly Standard and National Review? Will the bulk of your legislative caucus? The answers are yes, yes, and yes.

Lyons adds his own anecdotal evidence to the idea that “Fox News viewers and Limbaugh listeners” resist anything contradicting their world view,  a world view formed largely by disinformation campaigns like the one over financial reform:

Conditioned by decades of propaganda about liberal media bias, many react with overt hostility to any and all information from other sources. I must get 50 angry e-mails a week calling me a liar for citing some easily verifiable fact at odds with right-wing doctrine.

The column ends with a quote from Julian Sanchez, a libertarian from the Cato Institute:

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross-promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted.

Those aren’t the words of a left-winger.  Again, Sanchez said:

Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross-promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted.

Now, admittedly, I am a former dittohead and I have a PhD in Limbaughnics.  But anyone who has listened for five minutes to Rush, Sean, Glenn, or has tried to talk to someone who regularly listens to them, knows exactly what Mr. Sanchez means.

And that, boys and girls, goes a long way in explaining the deep fissures among us, and why it so hard to get Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, to work together on the stuff that ails us.

As I wrote in February of 2009:

Limbaugh, right-wing radio, and the Hannitized local minions who contribute to the Globe, obviously don’t long for a government that nurtures unity…Their conservatism is divisive and destructive, a toxic concoction by which the most famous of these snake oil salesmen earn a substantial, if sullied, living.

And as long as they can make such a substantial living—as long as people tune in—expect more to come.

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