Sunday, July 28, 2013

No We Can't Talk About Race


A modified version of this post (edited for length) has been picked up and reprinted in the August 1st edition of the:

It used to be that there were only two subjects that you were told you shouldn't discuss in public, politics and religion.  And while these two may yet remain on the forbidden list in polite society, we can certainly add a third ... race.   Today it seems, some aren't allowed to talk about race anywhere, while others can talk about nothing else. It has probably always been so, but it seems that while over the years the situation between races improves, the potential to hold a rational conversation on the subject gets no closer than it has on the other two banned subjects.  As someone fascinated with words however, it's interesting to note how much these three in particular have in common:

  • Such 'discussions' these days are not so much about achieving consensus (or even hoping to) as much as they are contentious debates in which competing sides attempt to win debating points.
  • Those who speak the loudest or interrupt the most are often held to be the most persuasive in such discussions, regardless of the truthfulness or effectiveness of their arguments.
  • There are 'trigger words' that dare not be spoken in all three, lest any rational discussion break down (far earlier than would otherwise happen).  
  • There are a far too people who appear to make their living off of one subject or the other (and in some cases, more than one).
  • Facts and statistics are not as important as feelings and emotions in such discussions; and as such, the former are often subject to multiple interpretation through the window of the latter.

Politicians can't talk about race, but that's because they can't seem to talk about anything these days.  There's something about turning a camera or a microphone on in front of a politician today that creates an electronically generated field that disrupts rationality and enhances party politics instead.  Race, as a consequence, becomes little more than another partisan issue in which the other party's policies (past or present) become not only the issue, but the overriding cause.  And since today's politicians are always fundraising and running for office, any subject worthy of a recorded sound-bite must be one met with carefully prepared rhetoric designed to enhance the officeholder and his or her party, denigrate opponents, and encourage contributions regardless of its relevance.  (In other words, it has to be full of double-speak and bullshit.)

The Media can't talk about race because it's not a subject that lends itself to the six or twenty minute segment (six on TV, twenty on radio).  The current mainstream media is after all a business enterprise built around the interruptions of its commercials.  Any subject being covered by the media must therefore be capable of being diced up into convenient segments in order to accommodate this monetary necessity.  While this might work for a birth in the British Royal Family, the opening of the State Fair, or the latest Lindsay Lohan arrest, it's not a format that lends itself to anything resembling weighty discussion on so serious a subject.  Besides, most of what passes for punditry in the mainstream media has already divided itself into ideological or political camps that must be zealously promoted and defended in order to serve the true purpose of the medium ... ratings.

Churches can't talk about race because they have their own axes to grind.  Religion has enough a problem getting past the normal dichotomy between enforcing top-down 'Official Religious Doctrine' and the dealing with the local policy interpretations of its various ministries on a multi-national basis.  Throw in the flaws of human nature and personal idiosyncrasies of those standing behind what passes for a pulpit and you end up with a confusing inconsistency that most true believers find easier to ignore.  Besides, Churches survive through the willing contributions of their congregations.  Even with the ability to offer veiled threats of eternal damnation, they must at least to some extent follow the same rules used by politicians and the media, lest they risk the anger of their audience / contributors. 

The general public can't talk about race because they're scared to death of it.  In today's Twitter connected, Facebook addicted, politically correct society, an incorrect public pronouncement on such a subject could well make one an unemployable social pariah, soon abandoned by even friends and family electronically and otherwise.  (Who knows, writing this may have cooked my own goose.)  Life moves damned fast these days and there's little time (and often less interest) in doing proper research on anything that doesn't help you pay the bills every month.  Accepting this as the world we live in, grown lazy from a lack of exercise in free will, and unable to easily discover source material not already tainted with the prejudices of politics, media, and organized religion; far too many happily accept the instant gratification of the pre-packaged answers supplied without question.  

Besides, discussions of race are generational; and such conversations, like the species, continue to evolve (well, in most cases anyway)Those old enough to remember real historic discrimination are fewer every day.  For the rest of us, the differences which one generation cannot get beyond are far less apparent to their offspring, and all but invisible (if not inconsequential) to succeeding ones.  Any multi-generational discussion therefore becomes difficult (if not impossible), since there is no singular frame of reference for them to use.

Oh I know that we would like to talk about race, that we should talk about it, and that somehow we have to keep on trying to do so; but it's unlikely today that any conversation that we begin will end up the one that we started with, the one that we want, or the one we should have.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

TFP Column: Phony Scandals

Having given up on even the vaguest attempt at governing, the President once again went back on the campaign trail.  Not only does he apparently need to be out there continuing to sell a law that was passed years ago (The Affordable Healthcare Act) that he's deciding to selectively implement and selectively delay others; but it also seems to be that time of year for him to once again 'pivot on jobs' in this country.  

Now the President has pivoted so many times in the last five years that someone should call a traveling foul, but I'm not sure the NBA even makes that call anymore.  What I would really like to know however, is why he and his press minion Jay Carney continue talking about some supposed distractions to real efforts that the President would like to make, which they're calling "Phony Scandals".  Now perhaps I've missed something in my take on these transgressions and Mr. Carney can enlighten all of us.  Better still, maybe he could just provide the answers to the burning questions attached to them and put them all to rest.  I however, have yet to find anything spurious about them.

Since I'm dealing with something that may in fact be dubious (little surprise there), you will be gratified to realize there will be much more to come as we reach the weekend publication of the largest Sunday circulation newspaper in Northwest Ohio, and Ohio's best weekly paper for the last four years.  Of course I'm talking about nothing less than "The Toledo Free Press".


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Move Over Karl Rove

During the years of the George W Bush Administration and even in the years since his resignation in 2007, one of those considered to be a political mastermind in this country was Senior Adviser and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.  Having gained the title courtesy of a 2004 Bush victory speech, Mr Rove still retains the nickname of "The Architect" for his work inside 'The Beltway', for his eight year protection of his boss, and in getting his candidate re-elected to a second term.  

Of course during those years, Rove's behind the scene machinations were well served by some rather able representatives to the press.  While Scott McClellan may not have been the best or most loyal of those press secretaries, he deserves at least a little credit for lasting as long as he did.  Ari Fleischer, Tony Snow, and Dana Perino however; served the Administration (and the Rove strategies) exceptionally well.  George Bush was, after all, far from the best of public speakers.  Though not limited by a teleprompter and normally very sincere, he often need help in carrying the water of his message to those in the pressroom (or at least someone who could explain it coherently).  With all due respect to Mr. Rove and those efforts of the past carried out by able representatives, there's someone far different behind the throne these days.

I'm speaking of course, of Valerie Jarrett, with her partner in crime David Axelrod.  Never have two senior advisers been so mis-served by those in the inner circle and still been so successful.  Oh I'm not talking about press secretaries Robert Gibbs and Jay Carney, who often seem to serve as little more than misplaced bobble head dolls too often used as punching bags by the press by comparison with their Republican predecessors.  I'm talking about what have become either by accident or intent (and I believe the latter) a behind-the-scenes brain trust that's come up with some of the greatest political strategy misdirections of the 21st Century.

The unemployment rate remains unacceptably high, for unacceptably long and few notice.  The pace of economic growth is being exceeded by that of stalactites in Mammoth Caverns and few seem to care.  The Administration's signature legislation has had the opposite effect intended on the price of health care insurance and it goes largely unreported.  The national debt reaches unprecedented heights and our foreign policy (and along with it, our national reputation) new depths, and both remain largely invisible to the electorate.  In a remarkable bit or strategic thinking however, instead of attempting to feed the public a string of small but meaningless gains as were done in the previous Administration; the current President's minions have not only survived, but thrived on behalf of their leader by feeding the public a diet of disasters, scandals, and misdirection.   

There's little doubt that the murder of the Libyan Ambassador and members of his staff are due to a serious failure in intelligence, a worse one in internal communication between the Defense and State Departments within the White House, and a pretty blatant attempt to sweep these egregious sins under the rug of a largely failing foreign policy.  Those behind the scenes however are able to take these flawed raw materials and manufacture an inept 'Keystone Kops' investigation out of it all that fails to talk to eyewitnesses, interminably drags out Congressional investigations, and fails to lead to a single arrest.  So successful are they in dragging the process of falsehood and failure that it moves from an attempted cover up to old news without ever being resolved.  Brilliantly done!

The IRS moves from tax collector to liberal political activism just in time for a mid-term and national election.  The powers that be deny the story until caught red-handed, then attempt to introduce it as a throw-away at an obscure press conference.  When finally (and many would say belatedly) called to task by Congress that seems more intent on posturing than investigating, they blame it on low level workers until supervisor intervention is discovered.  Ignoring this fact, their leader then calls it 'bad customer service' until this poor service begins to point to White House appointees in Washington.  Meanwhile in that same White House, no one seems to know anything about it; but still they're able to issue statements that it can't be serious.  In spite of apparently using the most powerful bureaucracy in the nation for political ends, they call for an end to the witch hunt unless or until the President's blood fingerprints can be found on a weapon.   Those supposed to be in charge demand that the IRS investigate (audit) itself, but apparently don't instruct them that they should actually talk to anyone in the office involved.  The Justice Department and FBI step in and repeats the process; but likewise seems to miss questioning anyone in the know.  After months of the worst bit of misdirection since Abbott and Costello did "Who's on first?" (and probably the most successful), this too largely becomes old news to the general public.   Oh well played!

Let's face it.  Karl Rove may have been "The Architect", but his once magnificent efforts have been outclassed.  Those in power behind the throne today are more like "The Demolitionist", and not only succeed in their tasks, but their scorched earth policies appear to leave little evidence in their wake.  They've proved far more successful and effective in their destruction than Karl ever was in building behind the scenes, tossing out scandals and disasters on an almost weekly basis to obliterate their bosses tracks. (Or should I say, missteps?)  And when they can't manufacture enough of either to maintain the proper level of diversion for the national attention, they successfully wade into existing ones having little to do with governance so as to make a bad situation worse for that purpose.  

No offense Karl, you were good enough in your day, but even you have to recognize that there's some new sheriffs in town, and they've done so much more with so much less that we've all but forgotten you while we watch them 'MacGyver' each setback that comes their way.  Make not mistake.  You were good Karl, but they're just better.  Sorry my friend, but it's time to move over, tip the cap,  and pass the mantle Karl, you've been out-played by the new guys ...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Talk Is Cheap

Congress is talking about reducing the funding to the budget of the Internal Revenue Service.  They're also talking about continuing the investigative hearings into their spending practices and their method of granting (or lack thereof) 501C3 tax exemptions on a fair and impartial basis.  As you would expect however, our weak-willed, self-absorbed elected representatives are actually doing little more than talking where the tax cops are concerned.

Now I don't suppose that you can blame them for attempting to get a good soundbite, the IRS is a rather easy target of opportunity under the best of circumstances and the 2014 mid-term election is already in full swing.  Besides, nobody like taxes, so why should anybody like the people who collect them.  Even if they did like the people who collected taxes (there's no accounting for taste after all, I hear there are some people who even like White Sox fans), they might have earned your ire through through their rather un-American procedural philosophy that taxpayers are guilty unless and until they can prove themselves innocent.  If you hadn't already experienced this particularly egregious perversion of American jurisprudence, you might them find them worse than the run-of-the-mill government weasels for recent revelations of their wasteful spending at internal 'training sessions'.  (After all, there's nothing like a government agency committing sins that it wouldn't let you get away with to infuriate you.)  If you could get past their waste and abuse, you might dislike them instead for attacking Conservative groups attempting to get tax-exempt status.  If you didn't care whether they attacked Conservative groups or not, you might still want to work up a little preemptive antagonism as this government agency gets a boost in size and authority in order to take on its new role in the increasingly onerous Affordable Health Care Act.  (Maybe we can all be considered dead until able to prove that we're worth keeping alive.)

Certainly if you are a member of the majority in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, there are more than enough reasons in the above list for you to want to take a very public (and politically motivated) shot at this particular example of a bureaucratic nightmare when the other party controls the Senate and sits in the White House; especially at a time when it's particularly vulnerable (like when its popularity is one of the few things lower than your own).

Of course while your attacks are vitriolic, vocal and very public (a 'V is for Vendetta' moment), none of them are anything more than symbolic.  You say you want to very publicly cut this agency's budget, but not its power or  responsibilities; and for no better reason than recent revelations make you mad ... but you still have to find a way to collect taxes.  On the other hand, you refuse to punish yourself for creating the monstrosity of a tax code that requires this tainted bureaucracy of this scope and scale in the first place.  You refuse to admit that you've created a nightmare of a Biblical proportions that even the agency in charge of it doesn't understand, that you've spent decades filling it with special interest regulations that serve no one but the lobbyists that have cow-towed to you for decades, and that most much of it purposely (or out of plain dumb luck) a morass of self-contradictory bullshit that means whatever the government chooses it to mean.  You could certainly pull the teeth (and the budget) of the IRS all but entirely by going to a flat or fair tax, but of course that would mean admitting your previous errors of omission and commission; not to mention alienating constituency groups of Certified Public Accountants, software companies, tax preparers, and of course unionized federal employees at the IRS, all of whom contribute to political campaigns.

You're perfectly willing to stand on the floor in Congress with a microphone in your hand and call for punishment of IRS employees who are doing little more than emulating in their own bureaucratic abuses what they see in legislative branches that created them (at least, as long as the cameras are rolling).  In fact, in your ginned up indignation, you insist upon it.  If Legislators are upset with conference hotel rates however... where do they stand on those for members and their staffs while on Congressional junkets?  Are they unhappy with the travel budgets to get these bureaucratic drones to places where they can be educated in the latest special interest rule changes that Congress created ... perhaps we can deduct them from the the cost of flying members of Congress and their six-figure assistants on military aircraft to places around the world.  Are you one of those legislators now weary from standing on principle against the targeting of certain groups attempting to get 'tax-free status', ... perhaps it never occurred to you to solve the problem by doing away with the concept of tax-free politics in the first place.  Perhaps both parties should be reminded that its taxpayers pick up the tabs for primary elections used for no other purpose than as beauty contests for members of two rather exclusive political clubs in the first place.

Quite frankly, you in Congress can stick your phoney-baloney righteous indignation in the same dark hole where you've buried any attempts to make the tax code easy enough for anyone without a degree in economics to understand.  While you're at it, save your camera posing for the mug shots that deserve to be the only photo ops you deserve.  Why even when you've finally gained enough national animus to launch a truly bi-partisan effort to once and for all clean up the broken system that you created; you waste it by spending your time ignoring your own culpability and using the opportunity instead for the purposes of political grandstanding.  

Sorry people, but where this situation is concerned, the emperor has not a stitch of clothing on and it's about time somebody mentioned it.  The the sum total of current Congressional outrage amounts to little more than a stinking pile of natural fertilizer that doesn't even deserve a farm bill subsidy (and that's going some).  If you want to pull the teeth, reduce the budget, and fix the IRS once and for all, by all means go ahead; but do it by fixing the mess you made of the tax code in the first place.  Everything else is talk, and talk is cheap ....

Monday, July 8, 2013

TFP Column: Re-Defining Terms

My writing efforts were recently sidetracked for reasons beyond my control.  An unexpected medical condition put me in a position where I was unable to contribute.  Strangely enough, that same condition was the source of this week's return effort for the TFP.

"Re-Defining Terms" came about this weekend in my first return to writing, and talks about the shifting meaning that words can have based on our most recent experiences.  Since this effort will be going in early, that means that there will be plenty to follow, not only with the mid-week 'Star' Edition, but with the weekend edition coming.

Summer is fully upon us however, so anyone who wants to know what going on in Toledo and Northwest Ohio will be reading Toledo's largest circulation Sunday and Ohio's best weekly newspaper for the last four years, the Toledo Free Press.