Nicklaus may have been a great golfer, but he doesn’t know jack about politics, economics or the way societies work

Jack Nicklaus, who is on everyone’s short list of the greatest golfers of all time, has been travelling with Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee for president campaigns through Nicklaus’ home state of Ohio.

Nicklaus is a loud supporter of Mitt and seems to hold the Romney view that people succeed almost exclusively by their own efforts, and that the social infrastructure of roads, bridges, schools, market rules, laws, hospitals, security and the inventions and contributions of other people like computers and the Internet matter not a whit. This belief is summed up by the “We Built That” theme of the Republican National Convention, which was based on a purposeful truncation and misunderstanding of a statement by President Obama.  As anyone who has gone to the tape knows, when Obama said “You didn’t build that,” he was not referring to the individual companies of successful businesspersons, but to the social infrastructure.

Here are Nicklaus’ comments at a Westerville, Ohio rally, as reported by Gail Collins in her column this morning in the New York Times:

“…at the Romney rally here in Westerville, Nicklaus was telling the crowd that he chose golf as his profession because it didn’t require teamwork. (“I didn’t lean on somebody else in tough times.”)

Then Nicklaus introduced Mitt Romney. “What you heard from the Golden Bear … the words he spoke, he touched my heart,” said the candidate.”

While it’s true that Jack hit the long drives and sank the tough putts, I want to ask Jack some questions.  I’ve set up an empty chair to serve as a stand-in for the Golden Bear. It’s a little bit bigger than the chair Clint Eastwood pretended was Obama, because, let’s face it, Jack has put on a few pounds since retirement:

Did you teach yourself golf or did you have a teacher and instruction manual?

Did you own the factory that made your golf clubs?

What about the golf balls?

What about the golf courses when you were just starting out? You build those?

Did you single-handedly design and construct the golf courses that have your trade mark name on them?

Did you keep the greens, serve the drinks in the clubhouse, take the tickets, raise the tents and keep the golfers and onlookers safe?

How did you get to the tournaments? Did you fly through the air like Superman or use airplanes protected in flight by government employees and roads built and maintained by government money?

Did you run the PGA?

Did you run the cameras, broadcast the matches and sell the advertising that enabled millions to see you play on TV and thereby become your fans and buy a whole mess of stuff with your name on it?

The answer, of course, is no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no and no!

You didn’t do that, Jack.

And you don’t know jack about the way that all business owners—from the ma-and-pa who own a candy store to investment bankers like Mitt—depend on society and government to provide infrastructure, goods and services and well-functioning markets.

The infrastructure is crumbling because of more than 30 years of policies that lower taxes, especially for the wealthy, and cut government spending for needed infrastructure and job creation. The markets are weak because of more than 30 years of policies that transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy, leaving us with fewer people who can afford to play golf, but more importantly, to feed their families and put their kids through college or vocational schools.

Jack Nicklaus doesn’t like teamwork. He just likes sucking all the wealth he can out of the team called the United States and returning as little as possible. That’s the Republican plan and that’s the Romney plan.

Charitable giving by Romneys and Obamas in 2011 proves they’re generous and nothing else

Several of the Romney supporters who read OpEdge have pointed out how much more money the Romneys gave away to charity in 2011 than the Obamas.  While the Obamas are well off—certainly part of or close to the notorious 1%–the Romneys are the much wealthier of the two families. But even on a percentage of income basis, Romney gave more: a little more than 29% for Ann & Mitt compared to a little less than 22% for Michelle & Barack.

Both families should be applauded for their generosity.  Traditionally when people consider the appropriate percentage of income to give to charity, what comes to mind is “tithing,” which means giving away 10% of your income. Both candidates gave a much greater percentage of their income away last year.

Some have chided the Romneys for only declaring about $2.25 million of their income, suggesting that their motive was to make the amount of federal income tax they pay as a percentage of income not look so paltry. That’s really petty thinking, because not declaring some of the charitable contributions did result in Ann & Mitt paying more in taxes, which is what they would be doing if we had a more equitable tax system. I’ve learned that it’s best to judge people on what they do and say and not what they’re thinking, so bravo to the Romneys for deciding to pay more in taxes, at least in 2011.

But what do these numbers really mean?

Absolutely nothing, as far as I can tell.

First of all, the wealthier you are, the higher percentage of your income you can afford to give away and the more you are expected to give away. The Romneys can afford to be more generous than the Obamas, just as the Obamas can afford to be more generous than the average middle class family. The social norm in virtually every society throughout millennia that I have studied has always been that the more you have, the more you give.

More important, though, is the simple fact that what one gives to charities has nothing at all to do with one’s competence to be president of the United States or to serve in any other position or job, either in public service or the private sector.  While generosity is a positive characteristic in all humans, we judge presidents on their political views and their competence.  That the Romneys gave more does not change my evaluation of Romney’s positions as mainly benefiting the wealthy nor of his lack of competence in the foreign policy arena.

So thanks, Ann & Mitt, for the extra money into our depleted federal coffers. But let’s hope that by next year the Bush II temporary tax cuts for those earning $250,000 or more will have ended and you pay even more. And let’s also hope that Congress ends the cap on income that can be taxed for Social Security purposes and thereby secures the future of perhaps our most successful and certainly our most important social service program. Most of all, let’s hope that Ann & Mitt write the check from one of their many homes (perhaps the one with the elevator for cars), and not from the White House.

Fox News and Wall Street Journal mislead American public with their coverage of climate change

The Union of Concerned Scientists yesterday announced the findings of a study it undertook of the accuracy of Fox News and Wall Street Journal (WSJ) opinion page coverage of climate change, which has become the polite euphemism for describing the rapid and destructive warming of the Earth. Note that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation owns both of these media outlets.

In announcing the results, a climate scientist with the organization noted that they began the study because they had heard a large amount of anecdotal information that “suggested that there was bias and misrepresentation at the News Corporation of the fact that human-induced climate change is happening…” In other words, instead of accepting the anecdotes, the organization did what scientists are supposed to do: they objectively gathered the facts and then analyzed them.

And the results don’t draw a pretty picture of the intellectual honesty of either Fox or the Journal.

The analysis found that over a recent six-month period of prime time coverage, 93% of all references to climate change on Fox News had misleading information.

For the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page, another six-month analysis revealed that a mere 81% of climate change mentions had misleading information, but get this—every single example of an accurate presentation of climate change facts and issues came in letters to the editor in rebuttal to inaccuracies presented in Journal columns, articles and editorials.

The study found that on Fox News, the most common criticism of climate science was to dismiss the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring or human-induced. In the Journal (quoting the report), “most of the misleading editorials, op-eds, columns, and letters attempted to broadly undermine the major conclusions of climate science. Instances of attacks on individual scientists, mocking the science, and cherry picking data were all equally common.”

The results of this analysis are stunning because they reveal to what extent large numbers of people are being manipulated by the lies and false assumptions of climate change deniers. We expect this kind of mendacity from Fox News, but for years, the Wall  Street Journal has had a mostly deserved reputation for accurate reporting of news events.

Just in case you were wondering, the Union of Concerned Scientists has been around since 1969. Its mission statement states that “The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.”

My first thought in reviewing the study was that it was proof that there has been way too much consolidation of media properties. There used to be laws preventing companies from owning more than a certain number of radio or TV stations. The laws were there for a reason: to prevent one company or person from being able to dominate the news media and therefore replace the free marketplace of ideas. It was a great example of government regulation increasing democracy and freedom. These rules are mostly gone, and the result is that about 8 companies now control most of the broadcast and print media and the publishing industry.

But then I checked Google News to see how many stories there were about this study one day after its release. The answer is not very complimentary to the rest of the media: it was a number less than 2.

Yes, dear readers, so far only one media outlet has found and covered the news that News Corporation’s two flagship media outlets regularly deceive the public about one of the most important issues of the 21st century. Whether that’s an example of shoddy reporting or self-censorship I’ll leave to my readers to decide.

To help you with your decision, I’ll close by noting that an update on the stormy romantic relationship between an actor and an actress got 146,000 hits on Google News, while the suspension of the driving license of another actress garnered 110,000 hits and the bachelor party of another actor got a mere 5,140 hits.


Mitt Romney declares class warfare against poor and near-poor.

Others have already done a good job of reporting and analyzing the latest manifestation of Mitt Romney’s foot-in-mouth disease, aka his declaration of class warfare against the poor and near-poor that he recently made in front of a group of wealthy donors. 

For those who have been visiting Jupiter or Mars, here is the kernel of his remarks:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what… All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them….And they’re hopeless…I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

The 47% figure refers, of course, to the number of American households that pay no federal income tax.

Journalists have rightfully jumped all over the Mittman. David Weigel analyzed the statement in detail in Slate, pointing out the several conflations, e.g., assuming that the 47% who don’t pay income taxes are all on welfare.  As Weigel, National Public Radio and others have already written, the 47% includes most senior citizens receiving Social Security and military personal. Many have remembered to say that those in the “47%” pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, plus state, local and sales tax. Most journalists from all points of the political spectrum have discussed how bad Romney looks in this latest dust-up. Some have even dared to utter the words “class warfare,” a phrase usually proffered by arch conservatives opposed to returning tax rates for the wealthy to what they were before the Bush II temporary cuts.

There’s not much more I can add to the discussion that’s new, but I did want to take a look at those in the 47% who are not part of the military of seniors on Social Security: those whose taxable income after deductions is lower than the threshold for paying federal income taxes. To state the obvious—they don’t pay taxes because their income is too low!

Who are these people?

They serve you in fast food restaurants and they sweep your floors. They’re the cashiers in supermarkets and Wal-Mart. They may be fixing your roof or parking your car. They change your bedpan in the hospital. They may be on the assembly line of non-unionized companies. A lot of twenty-somethings with college diplomas and no job prospects are in this group.

The crime here is not that these good, hardworking people don’t pay income taxes, but that they earn so little money that after tax credits they fall under the threshold for paying taxes.

Be it senior citizens who have worked and paid into the Social Security system for decades, the honorable men and women we send off to risk their lives often in meaningless wars or the poor and near-poor, these people do not deserve the angry and offensive criticism of Romney and the Tea-partiers. These people are neither “hopeless,” nor do they refuse to take “personal responsibility for their lives,” as Mitt put it. Blaming the victim is an old game for right-wingers. That a candidate for the presidency is playing it is shameful and shocking.

I’m going to end by going out on a limb and stating unequivocally that when those sympathetic to Romney’s view close their eyes and conjure an image of the 47% of the population who they believe are sucking society dry, all they see is black and brown. Like “food stamp president,” “47%” is a racial code word for African-Americans and Hispanics. They won’t say it, because they don’t have to.  That’s the beauty—and the ugliness—of code words.

An argument in favor of reading the daily news in a hard copy newspaper

We were having some irritating problems with our home delivery of the New York Times so over a period of about 12 weeks I went back and forth between reading the Times online and in hard copy.  Reading the newspaper for a few days in one medium and then switching to another has enabled me to recognize some contrasts in the newspaper reading experience between paper and screen.

What I’m talking about is a once-a-day review of the news that many people do in the morning or evening, not the constant grazing for “new” news or to follow a breaking story that so many of us now do using computers or computer-like devices. I like to read the hard copy of the newspaper over tea and breakfast (but after I have checked my email, Twitter and Facebook), but when it doesn’t arrive, I end up going through it online as soon as check my social media.

For all three of the major differences I find in the online and hard copy reading experience, I prefer the hard copy in each case, as follows:

1. It takes longer to read a full newspaper online: It takes a long time to do all that clicking back and forth, from the home or section page to the article to the second part of the article back to the home/section page and on to another article. I have a pretty new computer, but sometimes there is still a 5 or 10 second delay before the copy appears on the screen. Using a finger to scroll around also takes a lot of time.  Reading the hard copy is much faster because you just scan with your eyes, then turn the page.

2. An online newspaper makes it easier for people to avoid the news they don’t want to read: When I leaf through a hard copy of the newspaper, I see everything that the editors want me to see on every page, what the Times calls “All the news that’s fit to print.”  I might only want to read the headline, but it’s pretty hard to avoid the first sentence, photograph and large pull-out quotes. Thus by leafing through the paper, you get the world, albeit the world according to one view. By contrast, once you get past the home page, it’s much easier to skip articles or even whole sections of most online versions of the newspaper.

3. A sense of time is lost online: The hard copy newspaper represents a point in time that is repeated every 24 hours. On the Internet, stories are constantly updated, so it’s easy to lose sense of the chronology of the news unfolding after the events occur. The constant updating also can lead to errors as media outlets compete with each other to be the first to bring the news to the public’s attention. More problematic is the ease at which stories can hang around, especially at news aggregators that decide what to post based on the popularity of articles.  Often you see a story that looks new, but it’s really days and sometimes even weeks old. This loss of a sense of time distorts the long-term significance of news stories.

I’m not condemning online news.  I routinely follow stories during the day online, and peruse all the news via Google News and Yahoo! twice a day (but only after I have read the Times).  I do think, however, that the gradual replacement of the hard copy of the daily newspaper by online reading off a screen represents a decline in the quality of life and is leading to an electorate that has lost some of its ability to sort out the chronology of events.

I want to close with another of my occasional news story comparisons. It’s sad to consider what the following comparison says about our society, the level of public discourse and the collective wisdom of our editors in prioritizing information.

Here are the two sets of information I fed into the Google News search box some weeks ago. In each case, I used the minimum number of words I thought it would take to produce a result:

Story: Some photographer took photos of the wife of the grandson of the Queen of England while she was topless on a beach.

Key words used: Kate topless

New stories: 4,314

Story: A team from Stanford and Lawrence Livermore Laboratory found that if we harnessed all the wind energy on Earth to produce electricity it would produce 100 times the current global use and the wind turbines would affect temperatures by a mere .2 degrees Fahrenheit and add one inch to the annual rain total worldwide. The team also proposed a conceptual plan for making the wind energy dream come true.

Key words used: wind energy Stanford Livermore

New stories: 211

News editors think we should care more about the boobs of a mildly attractive mediocrity than the fact that a team of researchers has proven that we can engineer our way out of the climate change crisis and our coming shortages of carbon-based fuels.  The significance of this preference is, as the Latins would say, res ipsa loquitor – a thing that proves itself.

Details from advisors shows Romney would follow same basic foreign policy, but would he do it as effectively?

Mitt Romney’s foreign policy advisors Eliot Cohen and Richard Williamson have provided details of Romney’s differences from Obama on foreign policy. But if we take the New York Times version as approximately accurate, it boils down to nuances and that Romney would continue the basic post World War II U.S. foreign policy. But would he do it as effectively as the President?

Here are the four differences reported in today’s New York Times. We’ll take them one at a time:

“…he would have already told Iran that he would not allow it to get close to building a bomb, setting a “red line” in a far different place from President Obama’s.” Note that they don’t say where.  The red line of course means the circumstances under which we would go to war with Iraq. Until Romney says at what point he would draw this red line for combat, we have to assume that at best he’s being a little more aggressive, but basically following the Obama line of negotiation and economic sanctions.

“He would tell the Egyptians that if they wanted $1 billion in debt forgiveness — as promised by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this month — they would have to put far more effort into protecting American interests in the country, starting with the United States Embassy.” The Egyptian government has already beefed up security and tussled with protesters.  Linking a show of support for a fragile democratic government to doing something it has already done strikes me as little more than bluster.

“And he would provide far more aid to elements of the Syrian opposition, including…  ‘facilitating’ the provision of lethal arms from other Arab states. But, like President Obama, he would stop short of arming them directly.” This ostensibly aggressive statement turns out to be nothing different as well, because for only the naïve don’t recognize that any aid to the Syrian opposition facilitates the provision of lethal arms, because everything reduces to money and if you have to pay less for x, y and z, you’ll have more for weapons and ammo. If the advisors mean that they would provide more money and “advisors,” they’re merely grandstanding because they have no idea what the Obama Administration has really done to help the Syrian insurgents.   

“And the United States would have been far more involved in the formation of a new Libya, the advisers insisted, though they conceded it was not clear that could have stopped the attack that killed the American ambassador there and three other American officers.” Again, they don’t say how much more they would have done and they can’t say how involved the U.S. was, because they really don’t know.   

Romney has surrounded himself with neo-con advisors and wherever there’s a microphone or an Internet connection the neo-cons expatiate on the differences between their policy and mainstream U.S. foreign policy under the Democrats. Despite their protestation, it’s practically the same policy, except the neo-cons think we’re in a holy war with Islam and are a bit more trigger-happy when it comes to extraordinary measures and sending in troops.

But no Democrat Administration has called for disarmament or even the unilateral dismantling of our nuclear capability. All base foreign policy on the economic interest of U.S. multinational corporations and the need to secure a supply of oil. While stepping back from the extremes of waterboarding and other torture, the Obama Administration has shown itself willing to circumvent U.S. and international law and due process.  We still have thousands of contractors in Iraq and we still rely on these mercenaries to wage war.  The many successes in the war against terrorism scored by the Obama Administration have come through violence.

After 9/11, a Democratic president would have responded as bellicosely as Bush II to the threat of terrorism and troops would have gone somewhere, probably Afghanistan and Pakistan. That they went to Iraq was a bad executive decision. We will never know why the Bush II Administration decided to invade Iraq because the reasons they gave the world turned out to be lies.  Based on history, there is every reason to believe that both a Democratic and Republic regime would be prone to another enormously tragic and expensive error in judgment.

My conclusion: the strategy will be nearly the same under Romney, but what about the execution?

We know that Romney wants to install as key policy makers many of the men who advised the Bush II Administration. The argument I would make here is the same one Bill Clinton made on domestic affairs: They screwed it up before, so why should we give them another chance?

And then there’s the two leaders—Obama versus Romney on foreign affairs. The nation rates Obama way ahead and so do I. As I detailed in blog entries of September 13  and August 1, Romney has shown himself to be surprisingly unsuited as a diplomat. He doesn’t pick up on standard etiquette cues that everyone else seems to get and he tends to speak before he has enough facts. He also suffers frequently from “foot-in-mouth” disease, which is never good when dealing with foreign governments whose heads have their own little red buttons connected to missile silos. On a talk show earlier this week, Republican royalty Peggy Noonan compared Mitt’s style to Dick Nixon’s, and she didn’t mean it as a compliment.

By contrast, Obama has taken most of our troops and contractors out of Iraq, found Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, organized most of the world against Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, regained the respect in the world that we lost under Bush II and remained friendly trading partners with China. I am confident that McCain would have tried to complete most of this agenda because it’s all part of long-term U.S. foreign policy. But Obama did it, and I trust him more than I trust Romney to keep doing it, even as I condemn much of what constitutes are long-term policy such as focusing so much on the needs of multinationals and not immediately dismantling all our nuclear bombs.

Contrast in foreign policy styles: Obama is rational & resolved. Romney shoots from hip, then lies

The terrorists who planned and pulled off the attack on the American Embassy in Libya that killed four Americans should be condemned. They are violence-loving extremists with an irrational hate of the United States.

But the people who created and distributed the scurrilous and lie-soaked film that incited Egyptians and Libyans to exercise their right of free protest and thereby inadvertently provided the terrorists cover in Libya are also to be condemned, even if we must support their right of free speech.  They (the filmmakers, not the protesters) are also extremists with an irrational hate of Islam.

President Obama’s response to the tragic situation has been appropriate: He has stated unequivocally that the United States is going to track down the perpetrators of the attacks and murders.  And he has the track record to back up his resolve, having tracked down Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.

At the same time, though, the President and the Administration have reached out to the Egyptian and Libyan government and also made it clear that they do not condone the message of the film, ironically title, “The Innocence of Muslims.”

History suggests that there is no immediate role for the opposition in this type of crisis.  As many have pointed out, past challengers have limited comments to sympathy for the victims and support of the United States. It’s what Reagan did in 1980 and what the Democrats did in the weeks after 9/11. The idea is to show solidarity to the rest of the world and not let politics impede the complicated task of responding to the threat. Months later, opposition criticism might blossom, but not in the 24 or 48 hours after such a tragedy.

That Romney took another path demonstrates once again that he is unqualified to be president. I’m not talking about his positions on issues, but about his basic modus operandi. Romney blundered so badly that even loyalist Republicans like Representative Peter T. King, Peggy Noonan, John Sununu and Ed Rogers have criticized it.

Here are the three major mistakes that Mitt has made over the past two days in his effort to turn the terrorist attacks into a political controversy. Note that he has made all three mistakes in the past:

  1. He shot from the hip. Romney made his first statement which condemned the Administration for apologizing to the terrorists and used as evidence a statement the U.S. Embassy in Egypt had issued criticizing the film. At the time, he didn’t know that the embassy’s statement had come before the Libyans gathered outside the embassy in Benghazi and he didn’t know that the terrorists had killed four Americans.  As Martin Bashir, Rachel Maddow, Jennifer Granholm and countless other TV journalists have noted, Romney also embarrassed himself by shooting from the hip before all the facts were in about the Chinese dissident Chen Guangchen.  Some of his foolish comments about security at the London Olympics could also be seen as examples of “shooting before aiming.”
  2. He lied. Anyone who has been following the story closely is probably sick of the expression “double down,” which has been used by journalists of all political persuasions to describe Romney’s statements yesterday afternoon, when he kept repeating that the United States apologized to terrorists, even when the facts emerged. Lying seems to come naturally to this year’s Republic ticket. The lies his running mate Paul Ryan made in his acceptance speech have been thoroughly analyzed by the news media.  One commentator has compiled a list of 533 documented lies that Romney has told over the past 30 weeks. That’s a little more than 17 a week, week after week.
  3. He broke long-existing etiquette and tradition. As I discussed before, Mitt should have followed the American tradition of closing ranks and expressing sympathy. It’s not the first time that Romney couldn’t figure out proper protocol. Remember that during his disastrous trip abroad he revealed that he had received a special briefing in London from the British government that other foreign leaders have received for years. Unlike all others, Romney made the confidential briefing public. That Romney doesn’t pick up on these standards of governmental etiquette is very surprising, considering his background in business.  Perhaps he thinks he’s too important to conform.

Most pundits say that Romney’s foolishness was a desperation move because he sees the polls moving inexorably towards Obama and feels the election slipping away from him.

I disagree: Romney’s statements over the past few days are completely consistent with his past:  He shoots from the hip, he lies and he doesn’t have a good sense of etiquette and protocol, at least when it comes to foreign policy.  Not the right guy to place in charge of dropping bombs and waging wars.

Are there any appreciable foreign policy differences between Obama and Romney

Like many of the left with pacifist leanings, I am disappointed with President Obama’s foreign policy.  I don’t like the fact that Guantanamo is still open and that we still have 16,000 mercenaries (I’ll refrain from using the current euphemism, “military contractor”) in Iraq and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and mercenaries in Afghanistan. Killing Osama bin Laden without a trial and using drones to assassinate American citizens, again without a trial, seem like continuations of the Bush II reign of illegality.  I would prefer a budget that cuts military spending even more than what the Democrats are proposing. Moreover, on principle I am disappointed in any President who does not unilaterally dismantle our nuclear capability.

But that’s me. I’m anti-war deep into my bones.

What would the mainstream view of Obama’s foreign policy be?

When placed in the context of American foreign policy since the 1940’s, when judged by the criteria of the Cold War and post-Cold War strategies, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than that Obama has one of the best—if not the best—foreign policy record since FDR.  He has pretty much eradicated world terrorism as a military threat and he has brought home virtually all the troops—U.S. and mercenary—from Iraq. He has mustered surprising world support for the U.S. positions regarding Iran and Syria. He has continued to upgrade military technology, as witnessed by the infamous drones. Both Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are immensely popular with foreign leaders and populations, primarily for not being Bush II. Anyone who thinks Obama has been too weak or mealy-mouthed with any of our enemies, perceived or real, just hasn’t been listening to his rhetoric. There have been no new foreign policy fiascos or government scandals. That’s a pretty good record when judged by the U.S. State Department standards in effect for the past 65 or so years.

The Republicans aren’t talking much about foreign policy, and with good reason: when you start from the premises of their worldview, Obama’s foreign policy should rate highly. When you go to the Romney campaign website you mostly get generalizations. He does seem to repeat several points, all of which I found well-articulated in a speech Mitt gave on foreign policy at the Citadel about 11 month ago:

  • He believes in American exceptionalism, which means that the United States can play by its own rules because there is something special about its mission, kind of the equivalent of Jews believing they are a “light unto the nations.”
  • He believes that we are in a war against radical Islam.
  • He doesn’t want a world in which there are rival powers, and mentions China and Russia as two potential rivals.
  • He wants to spend more on the military.

In all these positions, he is only slightly to the right of centrist mainstream State Department positions, in other words to Obama himself.

Would Mitt pull troops out of Afghanistan faster or slower than Obama? Is he more or less likely to start a war somewhere? Will he stop the use of drones to assassinate people our spy network thinks are terrorists? Or will he bring back waterboarding and other forms of torture?

Mitt’s not saying, but my guess is that the answer to all these questions is about the same as Obama’s, maybe a little quicker on the trigger with China and Russia.  Keep in mind that no matter who wins:

  1. We can’t afford to pay for another major war and everyone knows it, including the Iranians.
  2. 2. Only the top echelon at the State and Defense departments are political appointments. The rest will remain as part of the continuing foreign policy establishment which has employed the following strategy to guide the United States since the birth of the Cold War: Let’s bully our way because we have the most weapons.

These two facts will serve to push a Romney Administration towards the Obama centrist foreign policies.

Sandra Fluke uses her 15 minutes to make important message on presidential election and future

In the late 60’s, Andy Warhol said that in the future, “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”  I have always taken Warhol’s statement as an ironic comment on how the modern mass media creates so many fleeting celebrities, like the couple who crashed the White House dinner or one-hit wonders such as A-ha and Mungo Jerry.

Sandra Fluke, the woman who was refused the opportunity to testify in front of a Congressional hearing on contraception and was then viciously and repeatedly slandered by Rush Limbaugh, sure looks likes she’s going to be a one-hit wonder, whose face time in front of the American mass psyche officially ended yesterday when she gave a speech in front of the Democratic National Convention.

But I stand up and give her long applause for what she has said and done during the time she has so far spent on stage. Her speech nailed the differences between an Obama and a Romney-Ryan victory so well that I want to reprint large excerpts:

“During this campaign, we’ve heard about the two profoundly different futures that could await women—and how one of those futures looks like an offensive, obsolete relic of our past…

 In that America, your new president could be a man who stands by when a public figure tries to silence a private citizen with hateful slurs. Who won’t stand up to the slurs, or to any of the extreme, bigoted voices in his own party. It would be an America in which you have a new vice president who co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms. An America in which states humiliate women by forcing us to endure invasive ultrasounds we don’t want and our doctors say we don’t need. An America in which access to birth control is controlled by people who will never use it; in which politicians redefine rape so survivors are victimized all over again; in which someone decides which domestic violence victims deserve help, and which don’t. We know what this America would look like. In a few short months, it’s the America we could be. But it’s not the America we should be. It’s not who we are.

We’ve also seen another future we could choose. First of all, we’d have the right to choose. It’s an America in which no one can charge us more than men for the exact same health insurance; in which no one can deny us affordable access to the cancer screenings that could save our lives; in which we decide when to start our families. An America in which our president, when he hears a young woman has been verbally attacked, thinks of his daughters—not his delegates or donors—and stands with all women. And strangers come together, reach out and lift her up. And then, instead of trying to silence her, you invite me here—and give me a microphone—to amplify our voice. That’s the difference…

“We talk often about choice. Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to choose.”

There are many complaints that I have about Barack Obama’s presidency. We’ll save those for another day.  For now, let’s look at this one major contrast. The Republican Party from top to bottom wants to control the private matters of private citizens by imposing on everyone their own literally medieval social views regarding marriage, sexuality and a woman’s place in society. The Democrats support an open, secular and diverse society based on equality and freedom to choose.

As Fluke so poignantly puts it, for this one reason all free-thinking Americans must vote for Obama and every Democrat who explicitly favors women’s contraceptive and reproductive rights.  

Differences between rich and everyone else comes down to one thing only: money

I love the lists that so-called experts compile for mass media publications because they are always so full of hidden ideology and propaganda.  The lists always seem harmless, be it of the top 10 cities for retirees or of the top 15 places for singles.  Yet behind each list are a set of assumptions and criteria that are ideologically driven. Sometimes they tell you what the criteria are and sometimes they don’t. In either case, if you postulate that low taxes are more important than mass transit, you’ll get a different answer to the question from the one you’ll get if you favor mass transit.

Then there are lists put together for personal advice: “10 things not to do on the first date;” “5 mistakes to avoid in retirement,” “5 ways to tell he’s not that into you” and “10 things to consider before you do your taxes this year.”  These lists combine common sense with economic or behavioral research but behind virtually all of these articles is a product or service for sale. For example, many of the retirement lists mention immediate annuities, stocks or financial planners. The “how-to-attract-a-man/woman” lists always shill products and behind “fix-the-relationship” lists are often the great curative services provided by various and sundry therapies. (We aren’t considering when lists are merely rhetorical ways to unify articles, like “5 things to watch at the Democratic Convention” or “4 New Teen Hotties.”)

Lately I’ve been seeing more and more lists with a moral message hidden within. I wrote recently of the science reporter who was able to have published two lists of homilies about getting along with others, each of which was unified by the same underlying scorn and distrust of intellectual achievement.

That brings us to the smarmy and self-congratulatory article “21 Ways Rich People Think Differently” tooling around the Internet this week. The article by a Mandi Woodruff for Business Insider, basically rehashes the ideas of a corporate management consultant named Steve Siebold, based on his book, How Rich People Think.

The list comprises an odd assortment of wishful thinking, old wives tales, tautologies which when unraveled show no disagreement in thought, outright falsehoods and the self-evident such as rich folk spend more on health care (because they can!).

Let’s start with the self-evident, because in noting these differences, Siebold claims that the ability that money gives someone reduces to a certain moral position that makes what the rich do a preferred way of doing things, and not merely what people do when they can afford it. My comments are in italics:

  • “Average people earn money doing things they don’t love. Rich people follow their passion.” That’s because rich people have the money—and the time that money brings– to pursue their passions.
  • “Average people live beyond their means. Rich people live below theirs.” That’s because average people have to spend all or most of what they make getting by. It’s also true that many rich people live beyond their means, but for the most part, it is only the wealthy who have the opportunity to live significantly below their means.
  • Average people believe you need money to make money. Rich people use other people’s money.” After mummy and daddy have made a few calls.

Then there are the contradictions such as “Rich people believe you have to BE something to get rich” (which opposed the average who think you have to “do’) and “Rich people have an action mentality.” (as opposed to the average who have a “lottery” mentality.)  Hey, Steve, is it “to be” or is it “to do” that makes the rich person rich?

One thing that you’ll notice that makes Siebold’s list different from most others one sees in the mass media is that there is no citation of research, except for the bits and pieces that Siebold has picked up interviewing the wealthy about their attitudes over the past 30 years. He cites no studies comparing the attitudes of wealthy and others. Even the silliest list related to relationship breakups will cite an attitudinal study or an experiment, but nothing from Siebold.

In other words, though Siebold probably knows a lot about the attitudes of the wealthy, he has no idea or presents no evidence that average people feel differently.  This lack of research enables Siebold to tell some out-and-out lies, such as:

  • “Average people long for the good old days. Rich people dream of the future.” It seems as if a lot rich folk like the Koch brothers are longing for the days before global warming.
  • “Average people teach their children how to survive. Rich people teach their children how to get rich.” This lie is particularly obnoxious given the way that childhood has been commoditized into enrichment camps, SAT prep courses, summers in Europe, private tutors, contributions to universities and calls to friends with businesses, all of which the wealthy can afford to do and most people can’t.
  • Average people would rather be entertained than educated. Rich people would rather be educated than entertained.” Prove it.
  • “Average people focus on saving. Rich people focus on earning.” Prove it.

Note that in each of these mendacious contrasts, it is the rich who possess the more admirable trait.

Perhaps the most obnoxious of the 21 differences that Siebold finds between the wealthy and the average is “Average people think rich people are snobs. Rich people just want to surround themselves with like-minded people.” But isn’t that exactly what the definition of a snob is, quoting Merriam-Webster, “one inclined to social exclusiveness.”

Behind this assortment of assertions lurks two not-so-hidden ideological messages:

  1. That the wealthy are better than others and deserving of their wealth.
  2. The only thing stopping you from being wealthy is yourself.

I reject both of these statements.

But let’s imagine someone who didn’t reject these ideological premises. Imagine someone who thought that having wealth made you inherently better and that your hard work and beliefs matter more in attaining riches than inherent talent (over which no one has control), connections, education, the specific skills you have (golf versus plumbing), your epoch (Think Willie Mays in Alabama in 1830) and plain old luck. Imagine someone who believed that one can truly control how much money one has and that if you’re poor, it’s because you need an attitude adjustment. Would these hypothetical believers want to tax rich people more or less? Would they be more or less sympathetic to the plight of the poor and therefore want to improve or dismantle food stamps or social welfare programs?

The answer is, of course, that if you believe rich people have their money because they are different and better than others you are probably less inclined to call for economic equity than if you believe luck, prior wealth, talent at birth and other factors, including social and governmental factors, enter into how a person does financially.

Thus the article helps to brainwash the “average” person while it enables those self-deluding wealthy to believe that they deserve their wealth and that the poor deserve their hardships.

Until someone tells me differently, I’ll stick with the idea that the only difference between the rich and everyone else is that the rich have more money.