For People Who Think

March 7, 2012

Headline: Red Meat and the Base

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 5:00 pm

These are undeniably hard times in any number of ways, but there’s one thing we all can be thankful for:

With an incumbent President, the Democrats aren’t having a primary fight this year. That’s cause for rejoicing because I couldn’t bear to watch politicians of BOTH parties pandering to the clueless extremists in their ranks – to the real whackos of both the right and the left who constitute what political experts call “the base.”

That term sends chills right up and down my spine. Al Qaeda translates to “the fortress” in English. When I wore a U. S. Air Force uniform our fortress was called “the base.” In this case, the “base” of each party seems made up of people so dense, so illogical and so blind to facts, information and reality that they might as well belong to Al Qaeda. They’re not thinkers; they’re believers. And much of what they believe is dead wrong.

So, I’m finding all the pandering to “the base” on the Republican side alone so annoying that I’m afraid that the top of my head might blow off. The base is so blindly receptive to distortions, fantasies and outright lies that the politicians who want to be President can’t resist feeding them an endless stream of distortions, fantasies and outright lies.

That’s the “red meat” the political commentators on TV are always talking about. When you hear the term “red meat” you should understand that the phrase translates literally to another word, the first syllable of which is “bull.”

A prime example:

Newt Gingrich promises that if he’s elected President he’ll deliver two-dollar-a-gallon gas. How? Drill, drill, drill, that’s how, and keep everything that’s drilled for use by Americans. He never mentions that oil — like gold and other hard commodities — is priced and sold on a world market. He never mentions that the U. S., with about five per cent of the world’s population, uses 22 per cent of the world’s oil and has less than 1.5 per cent of the world’s oil reserves.

And he’s going to deliver two-dollar-a-gallon gas? Oh, yeah. He’ll do that right after he sprouts wings and flies across the Pacific to China, which is where an increasingly larger share of the world’s oil is going every day.

Right now gas prices are soaring because of dark, threatening storm clouds hovering over the Mideast, but over the long haul the real problem is China and India and all the developing countries around the world. They’re now building industrial economies and using more and more oil in doing it. That won’t go away. We need to find a serious way to deal with it.

Drill, drill, drill is not that way, and it’s not serious. Good, effective electric cars might be part of the long-term solution, but Gingrich says he dislikes them because they don’t come with gun racks. Tragically, he did not seem to be kidding.

Michelle Bachmann (remember her?) made the same two-dollar-a-gallon promise that Gingrich made the other night in the Arizona debate. And the halfwits in the base, stroking the tattooed images of Pamela Anderson Lee on their guts as they slouched in front of their TVs, all said, “Yeah, dammit, Ma and Pa, that’s what we need – more of that there drillin’!”

They’re just hopeless. And if the Democrats had a primary going we would hear politicians in that party saying something equally stupid, I’m sure – say, a Mercedes-Benz in every driveway paid for by confiscatory taxes on the one per cent. And the Democratic party base would display the same dismal gullibility as the GOP base. That’s what people in “the base” are like. They’re classic rubes, wherever they live.

Ultimately, we’ll keep energy prices down through the development of new technology – wind, solar, better batteries, whatever. The problem is that any real solution is a long way away from the marketplace under the best of circumstances. This drill, drill, drill red meat just means that it’ll take longer than it should to solve the problem because so many people in the base are so dismally thickheaded. They lack any functional grasp of what’s really going on around them and seem to be as happy about that as pigs in … well, red meat.

If all this depresses you as badly as it depresses me, then cheer yourself up by visiting my Web site at forpeoplewhothink.com.

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February 23, 2012

People Who Make Your Skin Crawl…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 9:39 pm


One of the key reasons I’m an independent voter, with membership in no party, is that I see so many people representing the major parties on TV who just repel me. I really don’t want to be on the same side as those people.

One of them is the Rev. Al Sharpton. He’s an ardent Democrat with a national TV show on MSNBC. The problem I have is that he’s also a blatant liar, one of the most shameless hustlers of all time. Anybody who paid any attention to the Tawana Brawley case knows that.

I won’t take the time and space here to go into the details of that old case. It’s easy enough to look up. My point is simply that until and unless Sharpton comes clean on the Brawley case and the vicious, lying smear he orchestrated against a good and decent guy, Steve Pagones, I’ll never have any use for the man.

Once, at a political dinner in Albany, I asked Sharpton when he plans to apologize to Pagones for falsely trying to paint the guy as a rapist.

“Never,” Sharpton snarled back.

Later on, one of Sharpton’s deputies, a Brooklyn clergyman named the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, came over and asked me what I have against Sharpton.

I said, “Reverend, I’m just trying to do my Christian duty in giving Rev. Sharpton a chance to get square with God for the lies he told during the Brawley case. I’m only doing what I can to help Rev. Sharpton save his own soul.”

That pretty much put an end to that conversation.

On the other side, I just wince at the pure BS I hear from so many of the Republicans – the birther insanity, the Obama is a socialist nonsense and all the rest of it. But I’m annoyed most by people like Bill Donohue, who ends up on TV every time Fox News goes looking for an angry Catholic spokesman.

Bill Donohue, the $400,000-a-year head of a group called the Catholic Conference, always fits the bill. He’s an insufferably self-righteous professional Catholic, even though he’s divorced, and he seems to spend every moment on TV in a state of foaming, red-faced rage over this or that. Compared to Bill Donohue, Newt Gingrich is Mohandas K. Gandhi.

I was raised Catholic and identify with that religion more than any other. (My precise religious views and practices are none of your business, just as yours are none of mine, but that’s a conversation for another time.) The idea that the perpetually furious, warlike Bill Donohue represents me or most other Catholics is nothing short of hilarious. He represents Catholics the way Tomás de Torquemada represented Catholics.

I don’t want to be on the same side as him, either.

What’s interesting is that people who think as I do are exploding in numbers in the voting population. More than 2.5 million fed-up voters have left the Democratic and Republican parties since the 2008 elections. A USA TODAY analysis of state voter registration statistics shows registered Democrats declined in 25 of the 28 states that register voters by party. Republicans dipped in 21 states, while independents increased in 18 states.

The trend is most conspicuous in states crucial to the 2012 presidential race. In the eight swing states that register voters by party, Democrats’ registration is down by 800,000 and Republicans’ by 350,000. Independents have gained 325,000. The strident, offensive voices of the left and right have driven millions of people out of both parties.

Registered Democrats are still bigger than any other group – More than 42 million voters, compared to 30 million Republicans and 24 million independents — but Democrats have lost the most. They’ve lost 1.7 million party members, or 3.9 per cent, from 2008.

Democratic registration has done worse than Republicans in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — the eight swing states with party registration. Republican losses are biggest in Nevada, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

By contrast, the number of independents has grown for years and is up more than 400,000 since 2008, or 1.7 per cent. To win re-election, Barack Obama has to capture a majority of independents. He did that in 2008 when 52% of independents voted for him, but independents are a varied lot. They’re not all moderates. Some think the Democratic Party is too conservative to join. Some see the Republicans as too liberal. We know this from the 2008 election exit polls.

Those polls also showed that self-described independents who voted for Obama in 2008 were more worried about the national economy, and correctly so, than independent voters who backed John McCain. Fifty-five per cent of Obama independents were very worried compared with 44% of McCain independents.

Independents who voted for Obama also were more likely to be swing voters than were independents who voted for McCain. About 25 per cent of Obama independents voted for a Republican for the House in the 2010 midterm elections, while only 10% of McCain independents voted for a Democratic House candidate.

What it boils down to, it seems, is that most independents just retch when they flip on the TV and see partisan, religious phonies like Sharpton and blustering, sanctimonious, partisan loudmouths like Donohue. Guys like that represent pure poison to most independent voters like me, and we’re the people who decide elections.

February 15, 2012

Don’t Believe It…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 5:51 pm

A dozen years ago, during a fit of utter madness, I ran for a seat in the New York Legislature. I was a member of no political party, but the Democrats slated me against a three-term incumbent with a 2-1 enrollment advantage. I came within a few points of beating the guy anyway, but I learned a few things during that campaign.

One thing I learned is that it’s difficult to make reporters part of your marketing operation. And that’s what every political campaign is – a marketing operation. The product is the candidate, and every candidate wants reporters as part of the selling team, only they don’t always cooperate.

Some candidates take that personally. In 2012, one of them is Newt Gingrich. Back in the 1960s, another was Richard Nixon. Nixon hated reporters. Try as he might, he just couldn’t get them to write or air precisely what he wanted them to write or air – which was, essentially, that Nixon was right about everything and that anybody who disagreed with him in any particular was a hopelessly evil person.

That’s why Nixon selected as his vice presidential running mate a conspicuous crook named Spiro Agnew, the governor of Maryland. Agnew’s job as a candidate was to serve as an attack dog. It was his same job after Nixon and Agnew won and took office. Agnew’s job as vice president of the United States was to rail against “the nattering nabobs of negativism” in the news media, and he did that gleefully until he left office after pleading no contest to charges that he’d taken bribes.

Both Nixon and Agnew are long dead, but the evil they did with that nattering nabobs thing lives on. That’s why Gingrich today so loves to attack reporters. He did it to CNN’s John King during a debate in the South Carolina. He tried it unsuccessfully against CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in a later debate, only Blitzer was ready for him and refused to back down on national TV, which had the clear effect of unnerving Gingrich.

The first thing you have to understand is that nobody should believe what
any politician says about anything. Politicians are in the selling business. They’ll say anything they think you want to hear. Generally, they themselves believe none of it. With the exception of the occasional True Believer like Ron Paul, these guys harbor no convictions whatever, but they’re perfectly willing to cater to the distorted beliefs of anybody they think they can convince to vote for them.

Gingrich has been around a long time. He knows how things really work. But he also understands that the seeds planted by Nixon and Agnew on media bias have blossomed into a bramble bush over the years. Gingrich is hustling votes from right-wing news media haters. That’s why he says that if he gets the GOP nomination for President he’ll submit to no debate in which reporters get to ask questions. It would be hilarious except for the fact that so many simply-minded people swallow this crap and have for years now.

Look, I’ve spent decades in the news business. It’s divided into two parts – news and opinion, even though too few ordinary people seem able to distinguish between the two. At the moment, I’m in the opinion business. That’s what you’re reading now – opinion.

I’ve also covered political campaigns as a reporter. I’ve been a questioner in a number of televised political debates. And I can tell you that, unlike John King, there’s no way I would have taken that abuse from Newt Gingrich when he threw a televised temper tantrum over a question he didn’t like.

My response would have been, “Are you refusing to answer that question, Mr. Speaker? Are you afraid to respond honestly to that question? And by the way, Mr. Speaker, you’re a candidate sucking up for votes for the most powerful job on the planet, and you owe the voters an answer. Now, live up to the obligation you’re so eagerly taken on and answer the question, Sir.”

This BS has been going on for a while now, but nobody has been as blatant about it as Gingrich. Some reporters find it amusing for its sheer outrageousness. I’m not one of them. I’m also not a fan of either Fox News or MSNBC – news media outlets whose primary purpose is to savage one party or the other in the name of ratings and advertising cash. Those networks exist and prosper as recognition that too many people in this democracy don’t want or understand real news. They don’t want a fair and accurate recitation of what’s going on and the best available version of the truth.

Instead, they want a news operation that’s blatantly biased and that reinforces their particular political sentiments. They adopt the fiction that any news operation that tries to fairly deliver the news is clearly biased against them and their party because it fails to echo their one-sided political viewpoints.

One of the most common responses I receive from readers of these posts boils down to, “You’re biased because what you write doesn’t mirror my opinions.” It’s usually phrased as, “How dare you say something with which I disagree?” My response to that is to trash the comment. Address the issue I’ve written about on its own merits or spend a few decades busting your butt to get your own media voice, as I’ve done.

But, as I’ve said, I write opinion these days, and anybody who expresses opinions publicly has to endure that sort of nuttiness. John King and Wolf Blitzer are not in the opinion business. Regardless of Newt Gingrich’s pandering to the totally blind media haters, King, Blitzer and other straight news reporters are working hard to provide you with the best, impartial version of the available truth, even if that means asking your candidate to answer a question that the candidate finds embarrassing.

At this point, deep into the 21st Century, the hopelessly gullible people who’ve bought this media bias BS, whether they’re on the far right or the far left, can only be described by a single, harsh, pretty uncomplimentary word.

Suckers.

Be sure to visit my Web site at forpeoplewhothink.com.

February 9, 2012

The Language of Politics…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 3:13 pm

Every business has its own language, its own jargon, much of it so arcane and obscure that outsiders have no clue as to what the hell these people are talking about. Football has its “red zone” and TV has its “B-roll” and the military – well, there have to be many military people who have no idea what any of his or her comrades are talking about.

Education language consists of any number of alphabet-soup jargon words and phrases. So does government bureaucracy. Police work has its own language. And computer people? Maybe Martians could understand them, but most Earth people are perpetually mystified.

After watching most of the 427 debates political debates held so far in this Republican presidential primary contest, I’ve come to realize that if you’re going to run for President as a member of the GOP you have to speak the language of Republicanism. By that, I mean that you’re obligated to repeat certain words and phrases over and over again, and you need to repeat them in certain precise ways.

For example:

You must invoke the name of Ronald Reagan repeatedly, preferably in reference to either your close personal relationship with him or your fervent adherence to his political beliefs. You always have to refer to him as “Reagan,” “Ronald Reagan” or “President Reagan.” You must never, however, use the term “President Obama.”

In all references to the current President, you must use “Barack Obama,” “Obama” or “the President we now have.” You also can call him “the guy in the White House now.” The words “beat Obama,” positioned together in that order, are a required usage. The phrase “debate Obama” wins you points. The term “President Obama,” however, is a definite no-no.

The phrase “cut taxes” has to be used repeatedly, along with the seemingly contradictory phrase “balanced budget,” in the same sentence. It also helps if you can include in that sentence the phrases “class warfare,” “spending cuts” and “smaller government.” You can substitute the phrase “limited government” for “smaller government,” but only if you also in that sentence include the word “Constitution.”

You get extra points for working in “framers” or “founding fathers.” You get a gold star if you also can squeeze in the word “liberty.” You lose points if you utter the phrase “general welfare.” (Those are the words that appear in the U. S. Constitution before the word “liberty.”)

In using the word “government,” it’s always wise to include any of the phrases, “get out of the way” or “can’t create jobs” or “created this mess.” Try also to work in the word “regulation” and/or the word “oppressive” in the same sentence. Extra points are awarded by the use of the phrase “let capitalism work” or “free markets.”

You can use the phrase “politics of envy,” but the word “liberal” can never be used in any reference to a politician of either party. In its place, you must use the words “European-style socialist.” (It’s unclear whether the word “Communist” is yet acceptable, but it probably will be in 2016.)

You may, however, employ the use of the word “liberal” in reference to any news outlet except Fox News – as in “liberal media.” You get extra points for squeezing in the word “elite” somewhere near “media.” You get extra points for use of the phrase “out of touch with the American people.”

Other words and phrases deemed mandatory in Republican debates are “conservative principles,” “faith,” “family,” “state level” or “back to the states” and “Obamacare.” “Obamacare,” in fact, must be uttered repeatedly, preferably while the candidate’s face contorts into a sneer or takes on the sort of expression he or she might get just after licking a piece of public plumbing.

You cannot say “black people,” even if everybody knows that’s precisely who you’re talking about. You can say “poor.” You can say “urban.” You can use the word “welfare” and/or throw around the phrase “food stamps.” You can make reference to “the underclass.”

You would be extremely unwise to use “those people” or “them.” You should never say, “And you know who I’m talking about, right?” Well, actually, there are places where you probably can say that, but not with a network TV camera pointed at you – or, these days, in any room where somebody might have a cell phone video camera. Do not use the word “moo-ca-ca” in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

If you employ the phrase “constitutional amendment” it must be used in conjunction with the word “abortion” or the phrase “balanced budget.” If you employ the term “tea party” it must be uttered in a tone of hushed reverence. If you say, “occupy Wall Street,” you must spit immediately afterwards. The word “extremist” has to be used only in conjunction with the phrase “left-wing.” The word “moderate” has to be delivered in a cold tone of contempt.

So, enjoy the debates. They’re not only democracy in action, they’re the best show on TV these days.

January 31, 2012

The Rich Guys…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 11:23 pm

When Jack Kennedy was murdered I was a school kid just outside New York City. I ran right home after the closing bell to flip on the TV. That’s where I watched a bunch of reporters pounce on Richard Nixon as he got off a plane at Idlewild. He’d been in the air from the West Coast when he’d gotten word of the Kennedy assassination. Reporters wanted his reaction.

Nixon then said something like this, “President Kennedy and I had political differences, but his assassination is a tragedy beyond words. This was a bright, gifted man with great inherited wealth who could have spent his life lolling on the beach on the Riviera with a blonde on each arm. Nobody would have found fault with him for doing that. Instead, he served his country in war, in Congress and in the White House and ended up losing his life at an early age in the performance of that service.”

Nixon went on for a minute or so more. He said that he’d been born into a middle-class family, had gone into politics to make a living and took pride in his own public service, but he admired people like Kennedy who hadn’t had to do what he’d done but had done it anyway.

Jack Kennedy never made much money on his own. Before he got into politics, he’d been a reporter and author for a while. Let me assure you, few people get rich that way. Kennedy’s old man had made the money, making John F. Kennedy one of the 80 per cent of American Presidents who were millionaires, just like half the people in Congress today are millionaires.

The vast majority of rich people, in politics and out, inherited their money from some ferocious forbear who worked hard, played all the angles, cut corners when it came to the law and died exhausted. Some, like George Washington, married their money. Others, like Mitt Romney, inherited a bundle and made it grow.

So, now there’s a big fuss brewing because Mitt Romney has 250 million bucks and pays a lower tax rate than people who live on salary or hourly wages. If this troubles you, then you should know that everybody in this 2012 race now or earlier is rich, and my guess is that none of them pays as much as you do in taxes in percentage terms.

Newt Gingrich is worth around $20 million, which he earned on his own. Rick Perry is worth $3 million, mostly from his family’s cotton farm. Ron Paul is worth something like $5 million from serving in Congress and practicing medicine. Rick Santorum is worth about $2.5 million from Congress and practicing law. Herman Cain is worth about $3 million from his decades as business executive. Michele Bachmann is worth $3 million.

Oh, and the guy who’s President now? Barack Obama is worth between $5 million and $10 million, mostly from book royalties.

What’s the point? Only that this country, from the very beginning, has been pretty much run by rich guys, most of them just lucky rich guys, and nothing much has changed. The last President we had who wasn’t a millionaire was Harry Truman, and he left office 60 years ago. For what it’s worth, our best President, Abe Lincoln, wasn’t a millionaire, either.

The reality is that Herman Cain was mostly right when he said, “If you’re not rich it’s your own fault.” Cain set out to get rich from the start. It apparently was his mission in life – that and chasing babes. For most people, though, getting rich isn’t the point of life. What most people want is enough income to support themselves and their families in some measure of comfort. They want enough money to provide their kids with all the education the kids want. They want enough to spend a few years of leisure in their old age before they kick off. In other words, they’re not as motivated by greed as Herman Cain was and, apparently, still is.

So what we end up with, whether anybody likes it or not, is a country run by the rich, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats. Do we “envy” them, as Mitt Romney charges with such unspeakably distasteful arrogance? Well, not the ones who go into politics. We watch them called names and lied about and out there with their phony smiles sucking up to voters with a median household net worth of about 90 grand – more like $30,000, actually, if you subtract home equity.

They want to lead; we want to be led and left alone. We just want that done by somebody who has some gut grasp of the hardships we can end up facing because, unlike these wealthy politicians, we didn’t have rich parents and decided not to spend our entire lives scraping, bowing and groveling for every dime.

And, so far in this presidential race, I haven’t seen much empathy on the part of these rich politicians for any problems that they don’t face personally.

January 24, 2012

Beware The Dumbasses…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 5:46 pm

Ambrose Bierce was a professionally cynical journalist of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. His masterwork was a book he entitled “The Devil’s Dictionary.” In that book he offered what he felt were more accurate definitions of English words – what they really meant in the world in which he lived, as opposed to what Noah Webster had said they meant.

Some examples:

Bierce defined love as “a temporary insanity curable by marriage.” He defined politeness as “acceptable hypocrisy.” He defined success as “the one unpardonable sin.”

It’s still a good book today because many of Bierce’s re-definitions are more valid than ever. Take his definition of “ambition.” Bierce defined the word as meaning, “an overmastering desire to be vilified …”

That’s certainly what’s happening to our most ambitious politicians these days, nearly a century after Bierce presumably died. The real issue is the form that vilification is taking in the Republican presidential primary contest. Rick Perry is being reviled as a jovial Texas dumbass – which, frankly, he seems to be, actually. Ron Paul is being reviled as an isolationist, which also seems to have some validity. Rick Santorum is being reviled as a devout Catholic, which he is. The real issue – the extent to which he might really try to force the rest of the country to abide by his religious beliefs – is never really discussed.

The weirdest vilification, however, is being directed at Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Huntsman is being criticized because he can speak Mandarin, and Romney is attacked in a new Newt Gingrich ad because he can speak French.

Since when is it a shortcoming that an American can speak a foreign language? Well, it has been a shortcoming ever since the Republican party, beginning in the Reagan era, began to attract so many disaffected, blue-collar Democrats who practice a bizarre form of reverse snobbery. If you went to a first-class college, as Barack Obama went to Harvard Law School, then you must be an elite snob who’s out of touch with the real folks. If you can read the menu in a Chinese or French restaurant in the proprietor’s native language then there must be something distinctly wrong with you.

What’s next – name-calling because you can do long division? Revulsion because you know what H2O is? When will a high score on the college boards become a disqualification for office for Republican politicians? Not too far into the future, if this stuff keeps up. The Democrats have a good many of their own weird proclivities, but this GOP reverse snobbery is just strange and demeaning to the entire party membership. It’s also dangerous. Stupidity may have gotten us into this economic mess we’re in, but there’s no reason to believe that it’ll get us out.

I suppose that a certain amount of this is to be expected from Republican voters who reject the validity of evolution. Even Newt Gingrich, who holds a doctoral degree, panders to this point of view. Here’s Gingrich on evolution: “I always tell my friends who don’t believe in this stuff, fine, how do you think — we’re randomly gathered protoplasm? We could have been rhinoceroses, but we got lucky this week?”

It’s too easy to dismiss all this stuff as mere anti-intellectualism – to view it simply as unease with the process of gaining knowledge and engaging in rational thought. What it seems to be instead is overt, outright hostility to thought and the accumulation of knowledge. It’s millions of people — many of whom just HAVE to be smarter than Rick Perry — essentially saying, “If you revere knowledge and logic, then you’re obviously not the kind of person that I want to see hold public office.”

The other aspect of the Republican primary process that seems profoundly weird is the sight of people who profess to be conservatives who love the U. S. Constitution clamoring to change that document – and then missing entirely the breathtaking degree of contradiction in those competing values. It’s like ordering a pizza with sausage and chocolate sauce. If you’re a conservative, then you’re supposed to be reluctant to change anything. That should go double for the document that serves as the very foundation of our republic. So, if you want to change the Constitution to ban abortion and force a balanced budget, then go for it, but don’t call yourself a conservative as you do it.

Ambrose Bierce vanished in Mexico nearly a century ago, while he was covering the Pancho Villa revolution there. Too bad. Quite clearly, his book needs a sweeping update.

January 13, 2012

The Land of Opportunity…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 5:23 pm

The sticker was right there in front of me, on the left side of the bumper on a Korean sedan. It read: “Republican: Because some of us have to work.” At the other end of the bumper was another sticker: “Work harder! Millions on welfare depend on you.”

I thought to myself, “If you want to see more Americans go to work, then buy an American car.” Also, I’m sure that the driver has no idea that the vast bulk of welfare recipients are kids. The fact is, though, that these are old sentiments in American thought. They’re based on the premise that people who take government help are lazy – that they’re poor because they deserve poverty, that they brought on their poverty through self-indulgence and bad behavior and that the poor are unworthy of public support.

In some cases, by the way, that’s true. Having out-of-wedlock babies is almost always a ticket to poverty for everybody involved. Generally, though, it’s not true. Those old sentiments have their roots in Protestantism. John Calvin, one of the early Protestant thinkers and writers, revered work as the best path to a virtuous life and, therefore, to Heaven. The American Revolution was designed to replace the rule of nobility with the rule of the people. The revolutionaries thought they were creating a classless society. From the beginning, however, people with money – most of it inherited money — assumed power and held onto it until Andrew Jackson, a truly self-made man, came along decades later.

Since then, this country has seen an endless stream of self-made rich people – the big ranchers of the old west, the merchants and the money men of the east, industrialists and investors, the technical geniuses of the last 50 years. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet – self-made skillionaires all. If they can make it, then others can make it, right? Isn’t that the American dream?

This really was, until fairly recently, a country where the pathway to success was clear and open. The problem is that’s no longer true – or, at least, it’s nowhere as true as it once was. Today, the lands of true opportunity lay on other continents. More surprising yet, they also lay in the ossified, semi-socialist nations of Western Europe.

At least five large studies in recent years have found Americans to be less likely to climb economically than citizens of other industrialized nations. A study led by Markus Jantti, an economist at a Swedish university, found that 42 percent of American men raised on the lowest rung of the economic ladder never leave there as adults. In Denmark, 25 per cent of men get out of poverty. In Britain, a country with an iron-clad social class system, 30 per cent fight their way out as adults.

In this country, only 8 per cent of American men raised in poverty climb to the top fifth of incomes. In Britain, 12 percent of poor kids reach the top 20 per cent of incomes. In Denmark, it’s 14 per cent.

Well, that must be because the poverty-stricken Americans don’t do the right thing. They reject the chance to get good educations, for example. The problem with that logic is that most new American college graduates are either unemployed or work in jobs that don’t require a degree. They carry an average college debt of about 28 grand. The overall youth unemployment rate tops 18 per cent. Most of these kids will be a long, long time climbing into the middle class, if ever. That’s why about 85 per cent of them are still living with Mom and Dad.

That’s not true of the rich kids, though. About 62 percent of Americans raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in that group, according to the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. A slightly larger percentage of people born in poverty stay there, too. What it boils down to is that if your daddy is rich, the odds are 2-1 in favor of you being rich, too. If your daddy is poor, well, the odds are 2-1 that you’ll be poor as well.

Meanwhile, whenever anybody talks about higher taxes on the rich, who have more money than they ever did and pay lower taxes than they ever have, politicians howl about the evils of class warfare, as though class doesn’t exist in this country. It’s time to put that fiction to bed. Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, et al, saw to it that we have no kings, dukes or earls, but some Americans are born with money they never earned while statistics demonstrate that many, many others are born with no realistic chance to earn any.

This is why so many Americans complain about the stacked deck, about the ingrained unfairness of the system, about the people with money enough to elect the politician of their choice controlling every public policy decision our government makes. And, meanwhile, people who need help from their fellow citizens are reviled on bumper stickers by the hapless working stiffs who believe, against all the available evidence, that the country is held tightly in the grip of some imaginary, all-powerful liberal tyranny bent on impoverishing those lucky enough to still have jobs in this rotten economy we’re now living through.

As this brutal presidential campaign grinds on, I hope that some of these clowns running for office start to deal with issues like this.

December 29, 2011

What I Learned This Year…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 8:05 pm

If you reach the end of a year and you haven’t learned or noticed anything new, you’re in trouble. As a lifetime student of the democratic process, and living now in the hardest economic period that I’ve ever seen, I’ve noticed and learned some things in 2011 that both encourage and depress me. Here are a few of them:

1) Historically, we Americans have always been an optimistic people with faith in the future. That seems to be less true today than in any other period in my lifetime. The polls show us that. We’re not supposed to be that way. Most of us need to buck up a bit and buckle down on digging out of this hole we’re in.

2) Too many of us seem to think that our path to a better future lies in reverting to the past – in many cases to a past that none of us really lived through and view through a filter of ignorance and political lies about history. This was not a better country before unions came along. In fact, it was a better country when unions were stronger. This was not a better country before the income tax or before Social Security. This was not a better country before ordinary people had the means to get medical care. This was not a better country when only a handful of us could go to college to put up with left-wing professors challenging our parents’ value systems. College, whatever its failings, taught us how to sort out all that.

3) Some things were better in the past. We were better off when we forced kids in school to learn or flunk rather than just pushing them through regardless of what they didn’t learn. We were better off when we weren’t producing so many out-of-wedlock babies, when the family was stronger. We were better off before widespread drug use. We were better off before the poverty-stricken nations of the world began to industrialize and compete with us so vigorously. We no longer have to eat everything on our plates because people are starving in China, although too many of us do that anyway. We just weren’t ready for any of that.

4) I haven’t belonged to a political party in 30 years or so. The left wing of the Democratic Party got so wacko then that I couldn’t be part of the same crowd. Both parties are different as we enter 2012. The old Democratic Party coalition of urban left-wingers, blue-collar workers and Bible-thumping, hard-core racist rural southerners is no more. The southerners and many of the blue-collar people are now Republicans, and the moderate Republicans of the suburbs are now independents or Democrats. Independents like me, the fastest-growing segment of the population, can go either way in a general election. Ultimately, we tend to go with whichever candidate seems the least stupid and/or crazy.

5) This would be a better country if more people knew its real history. The lying politicians don’t help with this. Not long ago, Newt Gingrich, who holds a doctorate in history, falsely claimed that the U. S. Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision “ruled that slavery extended to the whole country.” It did not. The Dred Scott ruling stated that Congress had no authority to ban slavery in new territories, but it stopped short of applying the ruling to all states. Blacks had been free, voting citizens in five of the original 13 states. Gingrich also claimed that President Lincoln “explicitly instructed his administration to not enforce Dred Scott.” By the time Lincoln had assumed office, about a half dozen southern states already had seceded, and the Civil War broke out about five weeks later. Lincoln never told anybody in his administration to ignore Dred Scott. Instead, he told everybody to take cover.

6) Politics was uniquely nasty in this country during the 1800s, but it’s nastier now than I recall it being during the 1900s. These days, fewer and fewer people – ordinary people, not just the lying politicians – seem able to conduct a political conversation on its merits. Instead, they attack anybody who expresses an idea or view with which they disagree as an evil person. You see that in blog comments on every Web site. The non-thinkers don’t muster data to refute arguments they dislike; instead, they call those ideas and the people who hold them vile names. That’s precisely the sort of thinking found in terrorists – people who believe that the rightness of their cause makes anybody who doesn’t see the world precisely as they do an evil person. And that evil, of course, makes it okay to say or do virtually anything to them. Many right-wingers are like that. So are some left-wingers, but there are fewer of them to begin with.

7) Anybody who believes that everybody to the left of them is a liberal or anybody to their right is a Nazi is nobody with whom you should attempt to hold a serious conversation. They just aren’t up to it emotionally.

December 20, 2011

Leave Bad Enough Alone…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 10:06 pm

Everybody has the perfect solution. I love listening to it when they start in.

In this case, the guy was a friend of some years’ standing. He lives in Syracuse. He was complaining because Onondaga County was giving away clean needles to drug addicts.

“Why encourage them?” he was saying.

So, I asked him, “What do you pay in property taxes?”

“About nine grand a year.”

“About a third of that, I would guess, is the county’s share of Medicaid costs,” I told him. “A lot of that goes to care for formerly middle-class old people in nursing homes, but a lot of it also goes to care for junkies who get AIDS from dirty needles. AIDS treatment is enormously expensive, and it’s not as though they’ll stop shooting up. They’re addicted, remember? So, you can stop giving them the clean needles, and you can then watch your property taxes skyrocket to treat the junkies after they get AIDS.”

“You could let them die,” he pointed out. “They did it to themselves.”

“Yeah, but the hospitals will treat them whether you like it or not, and the hospitals will get reimbursed by the government. We have a policy in this country: We don’t let people just die without medical care, even the morons. We do that because we’re Americans.”

“I guess,” he said in resignation.

“There’s no perfect solution to any of these problems,” I said. “There are only solutions that aren’t as bad as some other solution and better than the problem. Clean needles for junkies isn’t a good idea. It’s just the best of a bunch of other bad ideas.”

That conversation took place a few years ago. I was reminded of it the other night when I was talking to somebody else about how annoying it is when women have out-of-wedlock babies to increase their welfare payments. Maybe, the person I was talking to suggested, these teenage welfare mothers shouldn’t get any more money from welfare when they have new kids.

“Well,” I said, “I had occasion to look up some of that stuff not all that long ago. First, it isn’t the kid’s fault that it was born and needs to eat and needs a roof over its head. Second, almost half of welfare mothers have only one kid. Ten per cent have four or more, but about a third of those welfare mothers have only two kids and only about 15 per cent have three. Also, three-quarters of welfare mothers are in their 20s or 30s. Teenage welfare mothers make up more like 8 per cent of that population.”

What is a problem, I said, is that the vast majority of these poor mothers never had a husband, but that problem was caused largely by a guy named Bob Byrd, who figured that he had the perfect solution to the welfare problem.

Bob Byrd died last year at 92. He’d spent more years in Congress – 57 of them — than any of the 10,000 men and women who’ve been elected to that job in the country’s history. He first got elected from West Virginia because he’d been a big wheel in the Klan down there. He once wrote, “Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”

Byrd filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act for 14 hours and voted against both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, the only two black U. S. Supreme Court nominees in history. When he became head of the District of Columbia Committee in Congress, he pushed through the “Man in the House Rule.” That cut off welfare payments to any household with an able-bodied man in residence. Later, the courts threw out that rule on the ground that it violated the equal protection under the law clause of the U.S. Constitution.

By the time the courts did that, though, Byrd had pretty much destroyed marriage among the poor and had done enormous violence to the black family in America. Fathers who couldn’t find work had a choice: They could either get out or watch their kids starve.

What’s interesting is how the value system of the poor then spread to the rest of society. In 1960, only 5.3 per cent of births in this country were to single mothers. Now the out-of-wedlock birth rate is more like 40 per cent. And marriage is totally out of fashion these days. The number of married couples dropped five percent between 2009 and 2010 and has declined by more than 20 percent since 1960. Not that these people aren’t having kids, though. That’s what Bob Byrd wrought with his perfect solution to the welfare problem.

Moral of the story? Some problems just aren’t going away. Screw around with them too much, and you’ll only make things worse.

December 6, 2011

The Modern Malady – All Opinion & Very Little Fact…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 2:57 pm
Tags: , ,

“I’m a conservative,” he was saying to me. “I’m a proud one, too.”

I was in an auto salvage operation looking for a part for a car – a part that couldn’t be had new, by the way, even though the car is only five years old. Ever since General Motors went into bankruptcy, getting new GM parts has been a nightmare, the repair shop owner told me. Apparently, when GM went belly up, so did a number of its suppliers.

This big, white-haired guy was behind the counter of the salvage operation, extolling the virtues of Newt Gingrich. I asked him where he was coming from. That’s when he told me he was a conservative.

“And who are you gonna vote for?” he demanded – just a bit bellicosely, I decided.

“I have no idea,” I told him. “I’m an independent, so I can’t vote in anybody’s primary. And before I vote for President next November I want to hear a campaign. I want to hear what these people have to say about fixing unemployment, about breaking up the banks that are too big to fail, about the national debt and foreign policy. If you know who you’re going to vote for now, that means that you’re a straight party voter, and that means that you’re one of the people who’ve screwed up the country.”

“What?” he said. “The people who belong to political parties have screwed up the country?”

I said to him, “Did you ever hear of a guy named George Washington?”

“Yeah, once or twice.”

“Did you ever read his farewell address – the speech he gave when he left office?”

“Which part of it?” he wanted to know.

“Any part of it?”

“Well,” he said more quietly, “not that I remember. Washington was a conservative, too, though.”

I took a deep breath and kept my mouth shut for a moment while I struggled to keep the top of my skull from blowing off into the ceiling.

“Actually,” I told this guy finally, “Washington wasn’t even a liberal. He was a radical. So were all those guys – Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, the whole crowd. They were way past left-wing. They were bleeping revolutionaries.”

“Well, yeah,” he said. “I guess they were at that.”

“Anyway, what Washington did on his way out the door was to warn everybody not to get together in political parties. He said it’s only natural for people to want to get organized to get things done, but he warned that the elevation of one party over the other in an election could lead to ‘despotism.’ He was pretty emphatic about it, too. Political domination by one party could lead to war, he said.”

“So, what happened?” the guy asked me. “We’ve always had political parties.”

“You bet. They haven’t always been the same parties. After Washington left, the two parties were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republican party. The parties squared off against each other the instant Washington walked out the door to go back to Mount Vernon. His desk chair was still warm. It has been political warfare ever since. Washington was absolutely right, only nobody listened to him.”

“Well, we got ‘em now,” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied, “and they make it impossible to get anything done. Republicans in Congress are so afraid of the right in primaries and Democrats are so afraid of the left that the parties can’t get together on any kind of deal to fix anything that’s wrong.”

“Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all,” he argued.

“Sometimes that’s true,” I agreed, “but take a look at who our heroic figures in American history are. From the beginning, the people we’ve honored were the people who made big changes – the people who valued progress over keeping things the way they were or returning them to the way things were before then. That’s who Washington was, who Jefferson was, who Lincoln was, who Roosevelt was. The people who wanted things to stay the same were the conservatives. When they ran things, nothing got better. Name one conservative President people remember as a hero.”

“Reagan,” he said.

“It’s too soon to say that,” I told him. “The verdict of history isn’t in on Reagan yet. By the time it is, we’ll both be dead. The only fair way to judge a President is judgment by a later generation. John F. Kennedy is an example of that. He doesn’t look quite as good today as he did 50 years ago, does he?”

“Lincoln,” he argued.

“A civil war started when he got elected,” I said, “which proved Washington’s point about political parties. Oh, and Lincoln freed the slaves, too. Talk about big government. Lincoln was nobody’s conservative.”

“Well,” he said, “I’m one. Nothing you had to say has changed my mind on anything.”

“Yeah,” I told him, “and that’s the problem. Nobody changes anybody’s mind on anything any more. Sort of reminds me of what I’ve read about 1861.”

“What happened then?” he asked.

“Nothing I’m going to take up your time with,” I said.

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