Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Blind Rage

A lot of angry Americans are heading to the polls this November. Problem is, a lot of what their anger is based upon is utterly false. Below are some of the things voters believe – and are mad as hell over, that aren’t actually true. Because The Contrarian hates the political smear emails that fill our inboxes masquerading as fact, I have footnoted this post using a wide variety of respected sources.

Claim #1: Taxes are out of control. Truth is, taxes are lower now than they’ve been in decades. In 2009 nearly half of all Americans owed no federal income tax(a). In 2008, 36% of Hoosiers paid no federal income taxes(b). In fact, federal taxes collected this year will represent the smallest portion of our overall economy since 1950. Only four developed nations collect less from their taxpayers than the U.S. They are Japan, Turkey, Mexico, and South Korea(c). And amazingly, according to a recent CBS/NY Times Poll, only 12% of Americans are aware that last year’s stimulus bill actually lowered taxes for 95% of Americans. 24% of respondents believed their taxes went up, while 53% thought they’d stayed the same.

Claim #2: I’m Mad As Hell About Health Care Reform. Let’s take these one at a time.

-“It’s a complete takeover of our healthcare system.” Not true. That would be a British or Canadian-style system, something that was never seriously considered in Congress. The government will not show up to nationalize your doctor’s office, hospital or pharmacy(a).

-Maybe you got the email titled, “Another Obama Nightmare,” claiming the reform bill included a 3% tax on all real estate transactions. No true(b).

-“Health Care Reform will raise my taxes this year.” Again, not true(c).

-“Health Care Reform will create panels to decide how much care patients get.” Not true(d). We can credit Sarah Palin in part for this mistaken belief thanks to her famous claim the bill would create “Death Panels,” which would decide who lives and dies. I received another mass email claiming that senior citizens would be forced to get euthanasia counseling every 5 years, presumably to encourage them not to request aggressive medical procedures, thereby saving the government a lot of money. Also not true (e).

-“Why should I have to pay for health care for people too lazy to get it themselves?” I received a number of anti-health reform emails painting unflattering pictures of the stereotypical “Welfare Queens” wanting free health care. So, let’s start by dispelling some myths about poverty. The majority of welfare recipients are white and either suburban or rural, not black and inner-city(f), and the average family living below the poverty line has at least one adult working full time(g). And in 2009, 60% of the 1.5 million bankruptcy’s filed in the U.S. were caused by medical bills. The majority of those filers were educated, middle class homeowners and 75% of them HAD! health insurance but reached policy payout limits(h).

Claim #3: The Federal Government Won’t Do Anything To Control Illegal Immigration. I spoke with a Tea Party activist this summer who insisted Obama and the Democrats were refusing to do anything to control illegal immigration and that crime was out of control in Arizona border towns. This echoes the sort of thing you might hear on Fox News (a). Truth is, crime in Southwestern border counties has dropped more than 30% in the past 20 years and F.B.I. statistics show the safest 4 cities in the U.S. – San Diego, El Paso, Phoenix and Austin are all in border states (b). And while the number of those trying to cross our southern border has dramatically declined due to the weak economy, the U.S. broke its record last year for the most deportations of illegals: 392,000(c), well up over G. W. Bush’s last year in office. The Department of Homeland Security also has begun auditing employers suspected of knowingly hiring Illegals,(approximately 3,200 employers) and as a result imposed more than $50 million in fines. There are also more border patrol agents currently working on the border than at any time in U.S. history (d). And the President recently sent 532 National Guard Troops to the border to help out.

I could go on, present the truth about the bailouts (polls show most Americans believe the bank bail outs happened under Obama, though they actually happened under G. W. Bush and the previous Congress(a)) the deficit, gun control, but you get the point. We’ve got a country filled with angry voters who don’t know very much about what they’re angry about.

Why do so many people believe so many things that are just plain false? I figure there are a number of reasons – and no footnotes here, this is just my opinion.

First, the quality of TV news in this nation has truly suffered as networks focus more on quarterly profits and less on meaningful reporting. And petty conflict sells. If you’re outraged about something and show up at your congressman’s town hall meeting and scream at him, the camera will be in place to follow every moment. Stand up at the same meeting and politely share thoughtful concerns, and it will not appear on the 6:00 o’clock news. Calm debate is just not interesting.

Secondly, there is a cottage industry that creates politically-charged emails that are filled with – well, there’s no other word for it; lies. This is something forces on the right have become very fond of. I say on the right because at least twice a week I get an email that attacks President Obama or the Democrats in Congress and 9 times out of 10 they turn out to be absolute lies. During the 8 years President Bush was in office, I got exactly 2 emails attacking him, and those were obvious jokes, not intended to trick anyone with a false claim.

Considering that every one of those smear campaign emails ends with a comment like, “Send this to all the people you know who are true patriots.” I’ll do the same thing to my readers for the first time.

If you know someone who loves America and wants it to be a better place but is so blind with rage they can’t tell the truth from political propaganda, please forward this to them.

Taxes 1: (a) Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization. (c) The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization. (c) Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development.

Health Care 2: (a) CBS News Healthwatch (b) 3% Real Estate Tax: http://www.snopes.com/politics/taxes/realestate.asp (c) Fox News, The Associated Press. (d) Associated Press. (e) http://www.snopes.com/politics/medical/euthanasia.asp (f) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1355/is_n21_v90/ai_18744024/?tag=rbxcra.2.a.33, (g) Bureau of Labor Statistics, (h) CNN Health: http://articles.cnn.com/2009-06-05/health/bankruptcy.medical.bills_1_medical-bills-bankruptcies-health-insurance?_s=PM:HEALTH

Immigration 3: (a) http://mediamatters.org/research/201010130005 (b) FBI Statistics , The New Yorker. (c) Department of Homeland Security, KETKnbc.com. (d) The Arizona Republic

Bank Bailouts: (a) http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article1766512.ece

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Desperately Seeking Atticus Finch

If Americans ever needed Atticus Finch, we need him now.

My favorite novel is To Kill a Mockingbird, in large part because of the main character, Atticus Finch. Amid the racially charged populism in his small fictional town of Maycomb, he remained a stoic reminder of the values we claim to believe in. As his friends and neighbors struggled with their religious and secular predjudices, Atticus stood firm for both Christian and American values, eventually becoming the subject of scorn.

I search for that kind of quiet wisdom in our nation’s most contentious debates, and seldom find it. We live in an era when chest-beating demmogogues get all the attention and quiet voices of reason are ignored. Scream and pound your fist at a town hall meeting and the cameras will capture every moment. Quietly stand for what’s right, and you’re invisible.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what Atticus Finch would make of the debate over a proposed mosque 2 blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks.

In the novel, Atticus didn’t lecture much, but in contentious moments offered soft-spoken lessons in human decency to his two young children. What would he tell his children if they expressed sympathy for the recent protest signs against the mosque that read, “All I need to know about Islam I learned on September 11th”?

He might sit that little boy and little girl down and tell them that you can’t judge the world’s 1 billion Muslims by the actions of a handful of men. Judging all people of a particular religion, color, or ethnicity by the actions of a few is the definition of bigotry.

If Atticus were around to watch a recent discussion on FOX News, what would he think of Newt Gingrich’s comments?

"Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the holocaust museum in Washington," Gingrich pronounced, adding, “[and] we would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor."

I suspect Atticus would calmly shake his head in dismay at the ways demagogues manipulate history. It was the organized national policies of the Japanese when they attacked Pear Harbor and the German Nazis when they persecuted the European Jews, not rogue elements within those countries. He would recognize that the only way the analogy works is to first believe that an entire religion and everyone who follows it attacked us.

What of the frequently heard observation, “Well, a Muslim country like Saudi Arabia would never allow the construction of a Christian Church?” Atticus would likely tell his children, “America doesn’t measure itself against a repressive, religious monarchy.”

And what would he make of the claim that a mosque 2 blocks from ground zero would be disrespectful to the families who lost a loved one on 9/11? My guess is he’d ask, “Then why are new mosques being opposed in cities and towns across America from Sheboygan, Wisconson to Murfreesburo, Tennessee? Are they also too close to ground zero?”

He’d probably also consider the innocent 60 America Muslims who were killed in the twin towers. What would mosque opponents say to the families of those victims? Do they grieve less than Christian or Jewish families who lost loved ones? Who is ready to tell them that a Christian Church or Jewish Synagogue nearby is fine, but a place of worship for their murdered loved ones can’t be allowed?

And what of the sex shops and strip joints just as close to ground zero as the proposed Mosque? No one is protesting those? Are we saying it’s okay to bump and grind nude for dollars near ground zero – okay to buy sex toys there, but not okay for Muslims to worship there?

And what a lost opportunity. We’ve asked the Muslim world, “When will the moderates stand up to the extremists?” Muslim moderates showed up in New York to build a peaceful place of worship and we kicked them in the teeth

Atticus would no doubt wonder all this. He understood what mob mentality, coupled with a fear of “those who are different” can do to people.

The final realization that might make Atticus sigh heavily and rub the back of his neck in worry: the same political forces opposing the mosques in Manhattan, Sheboygan, and Murfreesboro also support Arizona’s new racial profiling law, oppose affirmative action and gay rights, and routinely vote-in national leaders who upon taking office cut the Justice Department’s civil rights enforcement budget.

But who am I kidding? If a modern-day Atticus Finch appeared on the streets of Manhattan to stand up to mosque opponents in defense of racial equality, religious freedom and tolerance he would be vilified just as he was in the novel. Members of the mob would concoct smear campaign mass emails linking Atticus with all that’s evil and wrong in the world. Angry talk show pundits and political opportunists would question his patriotism and religion

They would practice upon Atticus what former Clinton Administration aid Vince Foster described in his suicide note as “The politics of personal destruction.” Something that’s already been practiced upon those Americans planning the mosque

In reality, Atticus Finch was a product of fiction. That’s fitting. The voices of reason in the mosque debate seem as illusive as fiction.