Our vice president is okay, but Obama should ask Hillary Clinton to replace Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket.

I want to join the small band of people who are advocating that Vice President Joe Biden graciously retire so that Hillary Clinton can join President Barack Obama on the 2012 Democratic presidential ticket. 

I have no complaints about Joe Biden term as Vice President (his weasel-like behavior in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings years ago is another story).  But replacing him with our Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, would benefit the country in three ways (and please forgive me if I repeat a little of what political consultants Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen and New York Times columnist Bill Keller recently have written:

  1. It would virtually ensure the re-election of President Obama and perhaps help to recapture the House of Representatives and keep the Senate. Hillary is regarded by most as a highly successful Secretary of State and has been the most admired woman in the United States 10 years and counting. I have no illusions about President Obama and this current crop of Democrats, including Hillary. They are centrists who lean towards corporate interests, but they are a lot better than the Republican’s virulent right-wingers. We can’t afford to give the Republicans four years to lower taxes on the wealthy even more, gut social programs, take away civil rights and destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, National Labor Relations Board and other important government agencies.
  2. We would have perhaps the most qualified Vice President in our history, with the possible exception of Henry Wallace, who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second VP. Hillary Clinton has served as a corporate attorney, first lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State and has distinguished herself in every role. She has shown an uncanny ability to keep growing, as witnessed by the lessons that she obviously learned from her failed attempt to pass healthcare legislation in her husband’s first term. Hillary is also well respected across the globe and has helped to shape President Obama’s mostly successful foreign policy. And like Barack Obama, she is clearly an intelligent person who prefers science-based solutions and analyses to those based primarily on faith. 
  3. It would set Hillary up for a successful run for President in 2016, when she will only be 68 years old.   With her experience, her popularity in the United States and around the world, her ability to get things done and her essentially compassionate vision, I believe that Hillary would make a lot of headway in rebalancing the distribution of wealth and income and addressing the triple-headed environmental monster of global warming, resource shortages and pollution.

For those who want to create a band wagon for Hillary Clinton, there’s no time to waste.  You should write, call or email both President Obama and Secretary Clinton, the sooner the better.

You can find contact information for the President at a website called “Contacting the President.” It’s a little harder to reach Secretary Clinton.  I might start by emailing the State Department.   

But your activism shouldn’t end there.  You should also make sure that you advocate positions to President Obama and every Democratic candidate that drive them further to the left, including:

  • Raising income tax rates on those who make more than $200,000
  • Removing the cap on income that is assessed the Social Security tax
  • Strengthening the NLRB and raising the minimum wage
  • Reducing defense spending
  • Investing more in repairing roads and bridges, increasing mass transit, developing alternative energy and creating a new generation of pollution controls.

Santorum, Gingrich, their defenders want us to believe that only African-Americans take government benefits

Both Santorum and Gingrich played the race card last week, which should serve as a not-so-gentle reminder that much of the appeal of right-wing rhetoric reduces to the seemingly intractable racism that has poisoned the United States since its inception and has been destroying it since the end of World War II.

Their statements are based on false assumptions and manipulated numbers, but they have their effect among racists, the less educated and those who have been kicked around so much these past few decades that they seethe with undirected resentment.

Let’s start with Newt, who said And so, I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention to talk about why the African-American community should demand pay checks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”

The false assumption is that African-Americans are satisfied with food stamps and African-American leaders spend a significant amount of their time and money advocating for higher food stamp allowances. Certainly, African-American leaders see the necessity of food stamps for all poor families, but their agenda is exactly what Newt says it should be: jobs and economic opportunity, which require equal access to education and strict enforcement of civil rights laws.

For example, I perused the NAACP website looking for references to food stamps and found nothing. There could be a mention (the website has no search function), but I found nothing. It was easy, though, to find information on NAACP efforts to foster diversity in the news media, lower the level of obesity among African-Americans, improve our education system, enforce existing civil rights laws and address the fact that pollution and other environmental problems affect areas in which people of color live throughout the world much more than they affect other areas. These are just a few of the projects on which this mainstream organization is working that are featured and easy to find on the website.

Newt was merely channeling the mythic kindly patrician trying to give well-intention advice to the field hands. Rick Santorum’s comments were a bit more odious since he was fomenting racial warfare with his usual “politics of resentment.” Here’s Angry Rick’s quote, in reference to a question about foreign influences on the U.S. economy, which he quickly morphed into a rant against government programs to help the needy, which he, like so many, call “entitlements”: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

Singling out blacks implied that African-Americans receive the lion’s share of Medicaid benefits. That’s just not true. Santorum’s defenders immediately cited the misleading statistics that while 12% of the population is African-American, they represent 30% of those receive Medicaid benefits. It’s the wrong comparison, since Medicaid is only available to the poor, about 30% of whom are African-American.

Some might make the false statement that it’s their own fault so many African-Americans are poor, but that would ignore the lack of social mobility that exists in the land of the free. Many studies through the years have warned that fewer people move between classes in the United States than in Europe. The latest report—this one by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)—finds that there is even less social mobility in the United States than previously thought and that virtually all social mobility involves middle class people gaining wealth or losing it. If you’re poor, it’s statistically extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move up the ladder. Only someone who ignores these statistics can blame the poor for remaining poor, and that goes for both impoverished whites and blacks.

But what makes Santorum’s comments so offensive is that he creates a divide between African-Americans and other Americans. He is saying that it’s wrong for the virtuous “us” to provide free health care to the undeserving “them.” We know that Angry Rick is against Medicaid and other government programs for the needy, but that’s not what he says here. He says that he’s against giving money to blacks.

What does Santorum want exactly:  A Medicaid system that only gives benefits to whites? A segregated system in which taxes from white are earmarked for white people and taxes for blacks are earmarked for blacks?

Angry Rick, I think is going after bigger game: He is employing the old “divide and conquer” tactic. Divide the middle class and poor by creating an underclass that is easily recognizable as different by the color of their skin. He wants whites to believe that blacks are taking money from their pockets, so they never realize that the interests of most blacks and whites coincide and that pro-wealthy, tax, anti-union, outsourcing and spending policies have resulted in most Americans losing ground over the past three decades. He seems to want to incite a racial war which divides whites and blacks of the poor and middle class so that we ignore the class war that the wealthy have waged against the rest of us since the ascension of Ronald Reagan.

American Petroleum Institute wants us to be “energy voters,” which means supporting the Keystone XL pipeline.

The friendly looking and sharply dressed middle-aged African-American man looks out at us from a full-page ad with a confident smile. A headline in a type face that looks like someone wrote it out by hand reads the words this impressive executive-looking man is supposed to be saying to us: “I’m an energy voter.”  

The rest of the ad consists of about 70 words which tell us that we need energy from all sources to create new jobs and then makes the unproved assertion that to get the energy we need “means developing our plentiful domestic energy—like oil and natural gas.”  The text then urges us to become “energy voters.” Underneath a campaign button that reads “Vote4Energy.org; more growth.” below which it tells us we can learn more at Vote4Energy.org.

I saw this print ad in yesterday’s USA Today. When I went to the website I discovered that it is part of a series of ads which feature a diverse mix of attractive people telling us to vote for energy.

The Vote4Energy website has lots of facts and figures (all without attribution, so we don’t know how to check if they are true), including projections of how many jobs could be created with a greater supply of domestic energy. Vote4Energy gives us 6 energy issues, including access to energy, energy security, jobs, taxes on energy, consumer needs and the environment (which focuses on not “undermining the economy,” an unveiled code phrase for deregulation).

Vote4Energy also uses many web pages to propose actions that energy voters can take, including registering to vote, writing letters, attending Vote4Energy events and holding letter-writing parties. It provides information and calls-to-action related to every one of the 50 states of the union. You can actually download voter registration forms for all 50 states.  There’s also a place to join, which costs nothing but requires you to give all your personal contact information to the organizers of the Vote4Energy movement.

The funny thing about the website is that it keeps talking about domestic sources of energy, but it only ever mentions oil and natural gas in the boiler plate description of the “organization,” in which nuclear, renewable and alternative energy sources appear in a list that begins with fossil fuels. For this one mention of non-fossil fuels I found dozens of mentions of oil and natural gas until I stopped counting.

Funnier still: the only specific action related to a real issue, as opposed to the nebulous concept of “developing our plentiful domestic energy,” is to remind President Obama that time is running out to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which will run from Canada to multiple U.S. destinations. Any frequent follower of the news knows that this pipeline is extremely controversial because of its high cost and the environmental havoc it will wreak along thousands of miles. The Natural Resources Defense Council has stated that the Keystone XL undermines the U.S. commitment to an economy built on clean energy and instead would deliver dirty fuel from oil tar sands at a high cost. And no, I didn’t get that last piece of information from the Vote4Energy website!

It came as no surprise, then, to discover that Vote4Energy is a project of the American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents 490 oil and natural gas companies.

The approach is quite deceptive for two reasons: 1) API keeps saying “energy,” but it clearly means oil and gas; 2) it focuses on actions that are depicted as empowering to voters, but the one specific action it advocates is to put pressure on the Obama Administration to make the decision to build a pipeline opposed by a large and growing number of state and national elected officials, environmentalists and even some oil refineries.

What’s truly fascinating is that API has launched what is in part a voter registration campaign. API member companies and their executives tend to give money and votes to Republicans, who for the past few years have been pursuing an aggressive campaign to make it harder for people to vote.   

I’m not proposing a conspiracy theory by any means. I would be extremely shocked to learn that the API and the Republican Party are working together to create a more conservative electorate. 

But what is true is that both Republicans and the API are using deceptive means to cook the voting rolls. The Republican Party is sponsoring and passing state laws that restrict voters based on the bogus issue of voting fraud, which is statistically non-existent. The API is encouraging voting among people whom they have deceived with their misleading marketing campaign.

No one should get a free pass for trying to take a gun on an airplane.

It sure seems as if there has been a lot of news lately about people trying to carry firearms onto airplanes. As it turns out, people have been trying to sneak guns on board for a long time, at the rate of 2 per day 18 months ago. In December, that number more than doubled, to from 4-5 a day. The week of December 19-25, for example, TSA screeners  found 31 guns in carry-on bags, many of them loaded, with bullets in their chambers.

What I find disturbing is the news that the TSA does not have these gun-toters all arrested.  As a blogger representing the TSA recently stated (I’m giving you the original reference but note that the New York Times was my source), “Just because we find a firearm on an individual does not mean they had bad intentions, that’s for the law enforcement officer to decide.”  Evidently, a majority of passengers found with firearms in their carry-ons explain sheepishly that they simply forgot they had them in their bags.  

As far as I’m concerned, that’s like saying the dog ate your homework. I believe that every person who attempts to check a gun through security should go to jail for a minimum of a month. If the gun is loaded or if bullets in the gunperson’s possession, it should be for a minimum of a year. To my mind it’s absolutely amazing that someone can spend years in jail for selling marijuana to adults (a victimless crime), but some people who try to sneak a gun on board a plane can get off with a wrist slap.

I would also end the practice of allowing people to carry unloaded guns on board if they register them first. If someone were waving a gun around on airplane, would you assume that it is probably unloaded? Too bad we can’t get the opinion of the people who went down on planes on 9/11 because terrorists brandished box cutters. Let people check their guns in their suitcases. 

Like so many other issues, the United States seems divided about the issue of gun control. A survey by the Pew Foundation after the Tucson shooting of Representative Giffords found that 49% of Americans currently say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns, while 46% say it is more important to control gun ownership.  Unfortunately, the National Rifle Association has thrown millions of dollars into convincing state and national lawmakers to pass looser gun laws, money that gun control advocates don’t have to spend. The result has been a spate of recent state laws that make it easier to own a gun and expand the places that people can carry them.  Currently 32% of all households have guns in them, which seems high, but in fact is the lowest total since they started keeping records of such matters in the 1970’s. Meanwhile, the number of criminal background checks for gun sales set a record in November and broke that record in December.

My own approach to gun control is to protect society: I would outlaw possession of all handguns outside of shooting ranges and only allow private ownership of hunting guns, making gun enthusiasts rent other guns or keep their guns under lock and key at shooting clubs.  I would do away with all the gun shows and all mail-order and on-line purchasing of guns, because it’s so hard to police these sellers. I would make the purchase and background check procedures much more rigorous. I respect hunters and range shooting enthusiasts, but I also respect pilots and drivers of automobiles, yet agree with all the restrictions we put on their rights to protect themselves and others.

The old saw that it’s not guns who kill people, but people who kill people, is wrong. It’s people with guns who kill people.

Santorum symbolizes a political party that says it wants to help families but supports anti-family policies

Yesterday was a glorious, almost celestial day for Rick Santorum. He lost last night’s Iowa caucus to Mitt Romney by a mere eight votes. Earlier in the day, he was highly praised in a deceptive article by conservative columnist David Brooks.

The Iowa caucus represents what’s wrong with our electoral process and the Brooks article is the latest example of the deceptive politics that the Republican Party plays.

First Iowa: I am far from the first to note that our primary system gives more weight to rural and conservative voters. The first three “votes” almost always sort out the declared candidates into contenders and also-rans. By the end of these “votes” there are typically just two, and sometimes only one, candidate left standing in either party. Yet those “votes” include the Iowa caucus and the primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, three states that have much higher levels of conservative voters than the nation as a whole and no major metropolitan area.  For example, 6 of 10 voters identified themselves as evangelicals in last night’s Iowa caucus, which only decides on delegates to county conventions to take place later in the year. No national survey has ever shown that more than about 30% of voters identify themselves as evangelicals.

Let’s say that the first three “votes” were Massachusetts and New Mexico, two states with relatively progressive voters, and the swing state of North Carolina. After these three states voted or caucused, the candidates left standing in both parties would certainly be more progressive than they are now. More important, those who participated in these early rounds would be more representative of voters throughout the entire country. The electoral process is rigged right from the beginning. 

The David Brooks encomium to Santorum is a masterpiece of political propaganda.  If you read not only what it says but what it doesn’t say, you get a good idea of the game that Republicans have been running on the white working class since Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign.

In the article, titled “Workers of the World, Unite!,” Brooks slowly builds his case for Rick Santorum. Here is my paraphrase of his reasoning:

  1. The largest voting bloc in the country is white working class (whites with a high school education or a little college) and these voters now tend to vote Republican, which makes the Republicans the party of working class whites.
  2. Virtually all Republican candidates come from an upper middle class or wealthy background. (His exact words dance around this fact:former College Republicans who have a more individualistic and even Randian worldview than most members of the working class.”
  3. Santorum comes from a working class and immigrant background and focuses his concerns not on the individual but on the family.
  4. Santorum is therefore the “working class candidate of the right.”

What Brooks expects us to believe is that the proof a candidate supports the working class is that he or she comes from the working class.

Even a cursory perusal of Santorum’s stands on economic and political issues at his website demonstrates that while he may come from modest means, Rick Santorum definitely does not support the best interests of the working class-white or otherwise: 

  • He wants to curtail the National Labor Relations Board, which is an anti-union move. Unions were the main reason that so many working class whites and minorities achieved middle class status after World War II and the decline of unionism has been one of the major reasons the working class has slipped into poverty and near poverty.
  • He likes Paul Ryan’s plan to gut Medicare.
  • His proposals to lower taxes tend to help the wealthy and near wealthy much more than they help the working class.
  • His proposals to cut government spending would leave less money for creating jobs and educating children.
  • He explicitly states that he would look to the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation Enterprise Foundation and the Simpson-Bowles Commission’s recommendations for guidance in economic policies. That’s three ultra-right think tanks that routinely propose policies that take money from the poor and middle class and give it to the wealthy, plus the special commission that was supposed to work on reducing the debt, but instead proposed policies that shift even more of the tax burden away from the wealthy and onto the backs of everyone else while cutting spending for jobs, infrastructure improvements and education.

Brooks wants us to judge Santorum on his style and not his substance. In advertising, that’s called selling the sizzle instead of the steak. Santorum’s steak is a tough chew for the 39% of the population that is working class whites, the group for which Brooks proposes Santorum as a “white knight.” (Brooks doesn’t consider the fate or needs of the non-white working class in his article).

The separation of the working class into white (and the unmentioned “others”) is another example of the ruling elite trying to divide and conquer. The interests of working class whites and non-whites are exactly the same. To divide the groups may make sense for analyzing voting patterns, but in a discussion of issues and “best interests” it is patently racist.  

Santorum, like all the current Republican candidates, says that he supports the working class, but his policies say otherwise. An old saying goes, “Look at what I say and not what I do.” In considering Santorum, let’s change it a bit: Don’t look at what he says he represents, look at what he says he’s going to do. And what he says he’s going to do will further erode the economic well-being of anyone who doesn’t have a lot of money, which means most people and all of the working class.

Some long overdue notes on Lowe’s canceling of its ads on a reality TV show about Islamic-American families

When the news hit last month that Lowe’s, the home improvement chain, was canceling its ads on “All-American Muslim,” a reality show about Muslim families in Michigan, it was with some guilt that I decided not to write about it. The guilt came because I felt very strongly that the Lowe’s decision was overtly anti-Islamic, which to my mind is no different from anti-Semitism and racism. I had my reasons for not commenting, one ideological and the other personal.

From the ideological viewpoint, I did not want to appear to be supporting a reality show, for these reasons:

  • These shows are often scripted, which means the reality part is fraudulent. In addition, they often contain edited sequences that do not reflect accurately what the unedited camera saw (which I am now calling “Breitbart editing” after the trust fund baby turned right-wing provocateur who turned a government official’s impassioned plea for racial understanding into a false example of black-against-white racism and got all the mass media to believe it).
  • The shows take as their basic premise the ideology of mindless consumerism—the idea that all human emotions and interactions reduce to engaging in commercial transactions. 
  • The shows manufacture talentless celebrities. At least Lady Gaga can sing a little.  The horde of Gosselins, Snookis, Tone Tones and Kardashians have no visible reason for being lionized by mass culture, other than the fact that they were featured on these shows as “real people.”
  • None of the real professionals behind these shows—the camera crew, editors, writers and directors—get union wages, which increases the profit for the show’s producers and TV networks, and therefore exemplifies one of the main ways that the top 1% have created a nation of rich and poor over the past 30+ years: replacement of union workers with non-unionized workers who make much less. 

But I also had a personal reason:  Three months earlier, I had analyzed a similar decision by a small-town Pennsylvania school board to cancel a production of Kismet, an early 50s musical which presents a very homogenized Arabic environment. I really didn’t want to repeat what I said at that time, even though it applies quite directly to the Lowe’s situation. 

Remember, it took the complaint of one man in Florida to cause Lowe’s to drop its ads on “American Moslem.” Years ago I faced the very same situation as PR counsel for a large supermarket company. An advocacy organization with a name that included the word “American” wanted the supermarket company to put brown slip covers on copies of Cosmopolitan, GQ and other supposedly racy magazines that the supermarket displayed on its shelves. An absurd request, since the material was far less risqué than what kids could see on TV and billboards. Another major supermarket had recently agreed to this organization’s demands. Instead of knee-jerking to this unnecessary assault on first amendment rights, I had an associate do some research. We found out that in the previous three years, only one complaint of the more than 50,000 that the supermarket had received had mentioned risqué magazine covers; I should point out that virtually all of the company’s stores were in rural areas or small towns, places in which one would be more likely to receive such a complaint. The other fact I uncovered was that this foundation consisted of one individual who ran such a website. We did not agree to the covers, and we received no further complaints.

It was either a strategic mistake or an expression of racism for the school board to cancel its production of Kismet, and the same goes for the Lowe’s decision to cancel its ads.  Both deserved the criticism they received at the time.

The reason I am bringing it up now is because I want to pick at a puff piece in yesterday’s New York Times about Laurie Goldberg, the public relations executive for TLC, the cable network that produces and runs “All-American Muslim.”

The high end mass media (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist and National Public Radio) are always running pieces which praise professionals of one sort of another for doing what, for the profession, is standard operating practice.

I might not have singled out this puff piece, except for one thing: the writer, Brian Stelter, throws out an extraordinarily stupid idea about crisis communications.  Here’s the key quote: “Despite all its controversial shows, TLC’s brand has remained mostly unblemished these last few years. That may be in part because, while Ms. Goldberg is genial and helpful with reporters off the record, she routinely doles out no-comments to them on the record, thereby refusing to make big stories bigger. She declined to be interviewed on the record for this story.”

The writer wants us to believe that because she officially says no comment but feeds the reporters information on the sly that she has kept the TLC brand from being harmed by controversy. But isn’t controversy what has created the TLC brand? The old saying that even bad press is good does not apply to industrial companies, hospitals and politicians, but it does apply to most controversies involving those appearing on the screen in television entertainments. All the controversies mentioned in the article (Sarah Palin’s reality show and the divorce of the Gosselins) enhanced the ratings of the shows, and I’m sure that the controversy over “All-American Muslim” has juiced up its ratings.

The fact that Goldberg answers questions off the record suggests that TLC knew that the controversy was good for business and would likely help the shows’ ratings. In my experience, if a company is worried that more information will fan the fires of bad publicity, they limit information to a “no comment.” The companies with the best PR professionals will not say “no comment,” but instead will give a statement that describes why they can’t comment, e.g., “the company has a legal obligation to keep employee matters confidential.”

The article gives us the impression that Goldberg is effective in tamping down controversy, yet the strategy that he says she uses is guaranteed to keep the controversy in the media—just what TLC wants. And it seems to have worked.

One sign of a puff piece are puff quotes.  In this article, the only people quoted are Goldberg’s bosses and a writer for People Magazine, which thrives on the type of tidbits of gossip that are the stock and trade of entertainment PR. PR people and celebrity media work hand in glove, since the one supplies the gossip that the other publishes.  The article contains no quote from any independent communications expert.

I have nothing against Goldberg, who is probably a competent professional.  What I object to is the article, which pretends to be about crisis communications, but is really a veiled advertisement for TLC’s reality shows. Thumbs down to TLC for carrying this dreck, thumbs down to the New York Times for willingly being an accomplice to TLC’s PR campaign and thumbs down to Lowe’s for pulling its advertising for the wrong reason.