Desperate Republicans? Recycling four-year-old PhotoShop hoaxes . . .

July 31, 2012

 

This is an encore post, from August of 2008.  We need to recall, an issue early in the Democratic primaries was ‘who would you want on the Hotline at 2:00 a.m.’  Sometime before the end of the primaries, a jokester mashed up a photo of candidate Barack Obama, changed the line on the phone handpiece, and added a clock at 3:00 a.m. on the wall. 

Republicans picked up on the photo, and thinking it a real photo, shipped it around during the general campaign.  It was a hoax then, and it still is.  I found it today on Facebook, and found people defending the hoax photo as real.  Oy, it will be that kind of election as Republicans get more desperate and more crude.  The encore post:

Dennis at Thinking in a Marrow Bone — not an Obama supporter, mind you — posted a conversation he had with a guy who posted a hoaxed photo of Barack Obama, purporting to show him holding a landline telephone upside down.

This is the hoax photo

The real photograph. Notice there is no clock on the wall, and the phone works properly. By the way, the suit fits, too — Obama’s a very tall man, and that’s what a well-fitting suit looks like on a tall man sitting in a low chair.

 

Dennis called him on the hoax. After a few rounds of weak defense, and then moral waffling of significant proportion, the hoaxer deleted the comments from his blog. Dennis preserved the conversation at TMB.

Moral of the story: Don’t believe much of what you hear or see, without corroboration. If a claim casts aspersions on someone, and comes on the internet, check it out before granting credence. Thanks to Dennis, an honest guy, for exposing the hoax and preserving the record of it.

Hoaxers are malicious and will do almost anything to damage Obama, even if it requires bringing down the U.S. and burning the flag. No wonder George Washington wanted out of this sort of politics.

Question: What’s the deal with the clock in the doctored photo? [Oh – it says “3:00 o’clock”]

Honor roll: Bloggers and others who exposed the hoax:

Dishonor roll, the Little List, bloggers who tried to perpetrate and perpetuate the hoax, or who got suckered themselves:

Special Consideration:

 


‘No red America, no blue America – a United States of America’ (Please vote)

November 3, 2008

Who said this?

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism here — the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. The audacity of hope!

In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; the belief in things not seen; the belief that there are better days ahead.

I could vote for a guy who said that.


Hoaxers promise to slam Obama to the end

November 2, 2008

The Economist, that august, conservative British publication about economics, endorsed Barack Obama for president. (I added highlights, below):

IT IS impossible to forecast how important any presidency will be. Back in 2000 America stood tall as the undisputed superpower, at peace with a generally admiring world. The main argument was over what to do with the federal government’s huge budget surplus. Nobody foresaw the seismic events of the next eight years. When Americans go to the polls next week the mood will be very different. The United States is unhappy, divided and foundering both at home and abroad. Its self-belief and values are under attack.

For all the shortcomings of the campaign, both John McCain and Barack Obama offer hope of national redemption. Now America has to choose between them. The Economist does not have a vote, but if it did, it would cast it for Mr Obama. We do so wholeheartedly: the Democratic candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of restoring America’s self-confidence. But we acknowledge it is a gamble. Given Mr Obama’s inexperience, the lack of clarity about some of his beliefs and the prospect of a stridently Democratic Congress, voting for him is a risk. Yet it is one America should take, given the steep road ahead.

We face tough issues, and tough times.  The world’s economy is in a fix, America is involved in two protracted wars, our reputation internationally is at a low ebb for the past 125 years, and too many of America’s institutions just are not working.

Serious issues won’t stop the hoaxsters from trying to hoax Americans about Barack Obama right up to election day, and probably beyond.

For example, there’s a guy named Mitchell Langbert, who insists that there remains an issue about Barack Obama’s birth certificate.  He goes so far as to claim that Obama might be committing fraud merely by running for office, and then he stretches a biased assessment of U.S. election law to say Obama’s running is a violation of voters’ rights.  The birth certificate hoaxers roll on despite their nuisance lawsuits being dismissed solidly in at least two jurisdictions, and despite the complete lack of any cogent or coherent case that there is a problem with Obama’s citizenship.

Consider this:  Obama’s birth was recorded by the State of Hawaii, in Hawaii, in 1961.  As many newspapers did at the time, the Honolulu Advertiser listed births in the state, and it listed Barack Obama’s birth there.  This issue would have been checked again on at least three occasions.  First, when he applied for his own passport, the U.S. State Department would have required a showing of a birth certificate.  Second, when he applied for a law license, he had to make such a showing to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (as we all did); I haven’t checked, but Illinois may have required a separate confirmation.  And third, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate, the FBI would have checked the issue in their routine checkings of senators for top secret clearances (Obama is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, where secret information is often passed to senators).

Finally, it is the duty of the state secretary of state (SOS) to verify that candidates are eligible for listing on the ballots.  I suspect most SOS offices take a certification from the candidate without much checking; however, what this means is that the SOS is the person who would have authority to challenge for citizenship.  Knowing that they have no case, none of the birth certificate hoaxers, not Langbert or Texas Darlin’, nor anyone else, has bothered to ask their SOS to check things out.

Other hoaxers are worse, creating whole cloth fictions, just for the sake of malice.  (See here, too, for a solid example of just plain malice in hoaxing.)

Remember the 7 Signs of Bogus History?  (You’ll find a link just under the masthead here.)  The first is that the work is conducted by press release, and not in the archives, or in serious searches for the facts.  Each of these anti-Obama hoaxes originates either with a press release or a blog post.  Not one has withstood scrutiny of any court, nor of any editor at any serious mass media outlet who seriously worries about libel, slander, or otherwise getting the facts straight.  That’s a serious indictment.

Gone are the days when one needed a printing press at least to make one’s views known broadly.  Web tools, like the blogging software and servers used by this blog, allow any fool (as I may well be) to throw his hat, brain too often included, into the public arena as a pundit.

The Economist conclude in their endorsement editorial:

He has earned it

So Mr Obama in that respect is a gamble. But the same goes for Mr McCain on at least as many counts, not least the possibility of President Palin. And this cannot be another election where the choice is based merely on fear. In terms of painting a brighter future for America and the world, Mr Obama has produced the more compelling and detailed portrait. He has campaigned with more style, intelligence and discipline than his opponent. Whether he can fulfil his immense potential remains to be seen. But Mr Obama deserves the presidency.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Update, November 2, 2008: Langbert appears to be censoring comments at his blog, as well – none of my responses other than my first post have been allowed to get through his personal filtering.  This is a pattern we’ve seen in many of the hoax blogs that complain about Obama, and the McCain sympathizer blogs that pose as disgruntled Democrat blogs.  Any post that offers serious criticism is dangerous to their posing as informed seekers of the truth — so posts that contain real information rebutting their claims are not allowed through their “moderation,” or are edited to say inane things.

For Obama voters, this confirms their fears that a McCain administration would probably continue the Bush administration’s suppression of views and filtering of helpful criticism.  Also, it means bloggers like Langbert are bullies who can’t take the hurly-burly of serious discussion.


Slinging mud, losing elections

November 1, 2008

Encouraging reports from North Carolina, not-so-encouraging reports from Kentucky.

In North Carolina, Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s campaign dived into negative campaigning, with a crude and inaccurate campaign ad against her rising-in-the-polls opponent, state Sen. Kay Hagan.  It appears many voters are disgusted with the negative ads.  In any case, the Charlotte Observer wrote an editorial condemning Dole’s ad and negative tone, “Dole’s desperate turn to Big Lie advertising.” Good on them.

In Kentucky, however, we learn that negative campaigning can still pack a punch among poorly educated or bigoted groups.  The Lexington Herald-Leader has a poll showing significant portions of Kentucky voters think Barack Obama is Muslim.

One might recall Dumas Malone’s description of the election of 1800, between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson thought it beneath his dignity, and not part of American politics, to discuss a candidate’s religious faith.  Alexander Hamilton, on behalf of Adams, led a campaign of calumny in newspapers throughout the U.S. saying that because Jefferson was atheist, as president he’d send the army to confiscate Bibles.  Jefferson refused to respond.  Malone notes that on election day, fully half of all American voters were convinced Jefferson was atheist.

They voted for Jefferson anyway, rather than stick with the failed policies of Adams.  There’s a lesson in there somewhere.


Federal judge dismissed the challenge to Obama’s birth certificate

October 26, 2008

As expected, a federal judge in Philadelphia late Friday dismissed a challenge to the campaign of Barack Obama to produce yet another copy of his birth certificate. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick ruled that the plaintiff, screwball attorney Philip J. Berg, lacked standing to sue.

Appearing to take his inspiration from the Monty Python character, the Black Knight, Berg promised to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of the U.S.

Among reputable media, only the Philadelphia Daily News took note of the dismissal early on:

Obama and the Democratic National Committee had asked Surrick to dismiss Berg’s complaint in a court filing on Sept. 24.

They said that Berg’s claims were “ridiculous” and “patently false,” that Berg had “no standing” to challenge the qualifications of a candidate for president because he had not shown the requisite harm to himself.

Surrick agreed.

In a 34-page memorandum and opinion, the judge said Berg’s allegations of harm were “too vague and too attenuated” to confer standing on him or any other voters.

Surrick ruled that Berg’s attempts to use certain laws to gain standing to pursue his claim that Obama was not a natural-born citizen were “frivolous and not worthy of discussion.”

The judge also said the harm Berg alleged did “not constitute an injury in fact” and Berg’s arguments to the contrary “ventured into the unreasonable.”

For example, Berg had claimed that Obama’s nomination deprived citizens of voting for Sen. Hillary Clinton in November. (Berg backed Clinton in the primaries.)

Berg could not be reached for comment last night.

Obama was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961, and the campaign posted a document issued by Hawaii on its Web site, fight thesmears.com, confirming his birth there.

Berg said in court papers that the image was a forgery.

The nonpartisan Web site FactCheck.org examined the original document and said it was legitimate.

Further, a birth announcement in the Aug. 13, 1961, Honolulu Advertiser listed Obama’s birth there on Aug. 4.

Dozens of bloggers bought new rolls of aluminum foil to make protective hats, and questioned the dismissal, or jumped to other equally unwarranted conclusions. Near total insanity.

Resources:

________

Update, 10-27-2008:  Here’s an example of how lunatic this issue is, and how bizarre are the arguments.  This blog argues that Judge Surrick had the decision dictated to him from someone else in the Obama camp — the same lunatic argument creationists made against the decision of Judge Jones in the Dover, Pennsylvania, “intelligent design” trial.  Could it be that all lunatics are creationists?  Or is it just that lunatics all stumble into the same lunatic arguments?


High cost of lipstick

October 24, 2008

Now we know why the McCain campaign has been so sensitive about mentions of lipstick.

At more than $600 a day for what Delbert McClinton would call lipstick, powder and paint, can the U.S. afford Sarah Palin?


Carnival of Education Bankruptcy

October 24, 2008

Have you looked around lately?

Dallas isn’t the only school system in trouble in America.  Financial woes plague many, perhaps most of the nation’s schools systems.

Funding for schools is difficult in an environment where even good schools get stuck with the label “failing school” due to seriously misdirected programs from the federal government.  The situation is complicated by a non-booming economy, especially in districts that had been gearing to build new schools to accommodate increased student populations.

What will the future bring?

It’s enough to merit its own little impromptu carnival.  Oy.

There may be updates.  We haven’t even gotten to the Texas SBOE House of Science Horrors.

Vote, will you?


Obama “most liberal,” McCain “most absent”

October 20, 2008

Anyone who has staffed Congress knows the various ratings of the votes of Members of Congress are most often skewed by the organizations that make them.  They pluck a dozen votes out of several hundred cast by a member in a year, to claim that special dozen can tell the character, or value, or liberalness or conservativeness of the member.

So when campaign surrogates claim that one of the candidates is “the most” whatever, it need be taken with a few grains of salt.

Presidential campaigns can wreak havoc on a members voting record — heck, reelection campaigns can do the same — because candidate forums and primary election dates almost always conflict with the work of Congress.  A candidate for president might be lucky to make even the major votes.

Obama missed several key votes, but got enough in to get rated.  According to one rating, by National Journal, Obama is “the most” liberal U.S. senator.  In today’s U.S. Senate, that’s not really saying much, since moderate Republicans have gone extinct there, and most of the liberal lions of the Democrats are at least retired, if not dead.

Listening to the Sunday talk shows today, I wondered why McCain’s people, always anxious to brand Obama as “most liberal,” don’t point to McCain’s own ranking.  Why not show the differences between the two on the issues, where it counts, in the votes?

So I checked.  John McCain missed more than half the votes in most areas rated by National Journal, and so could not be ranked. It looks worse when you look at the company McCain keeps in the “unranked” category.

Three senators do not have scores for 2007 because they missed more than half of the rated votes in an issue area: John McCain, R-Ariz., who was running for president; Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who was recuperating from a brain hemorrhage and returned to work on September 5, 2007; Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., who died on June 4, 2007; and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who was appointed to succeed Thomas on June 22, 2007.

John McCain:  Most absent.


Obama didn’t start the sub-prime mortgage crisis

October 12, 2008

The intensity of the rabid attacks on Barack Obama is troubling. The issues grow more bizarre, the links to Obama grow more tenuous, and the shouts more shrill.

And that’s from the reasonable opponents of Obama.

For example, over at the oddly-named IUSB Vision Weblog (Indiana University – South Bend), there is much yammering about how Barack Obama personally is responsible for the sub-prime mortgage industry collapse, because he represented an ACORN client in a redlining case and won the decision from the judge.

From there, the story trails off into a rabbit warren of wild conspiracy theories and the granting of supernatural powers to Obama (though the authors wouldn’t admit it’s supernatural). For example, there is this post about a letter Sen. McCain signed urging some action on oversight of federal mortgage refinancers.

The authors stoutly defend their bizarre claim that Congress is the agency responsible for the regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through the OFHEO, Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight. Congress maintains its usual oversight over the executive branch agency, but it is, after all, an executive branch agency. Think about your high school civics classes: Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances.

Congress is not the superintendent of OFHEO

Here is OFHEO’s mission statement — notice no reference to being in Congress’s chain of command:

OFHEO’s mission is to promote housing and a strong national housing finance system by ensuring the safety and soundness of Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation). OFHEO works to ensure the capital adequacy and financial safety and soundness of two housing government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the nation’s largest housing finance institutions. They buy mortgages from commercial banks, thrift institutions, mortgage banks, and other primary lenders, and either hold these mortgages in their own portfolios or package them into mortgage-backed securities for resale to investors. These secondary mortgage market operations play a major role in creating a ready supply of mortgage funds for American homebuyers. Combined assets and off-balance sheet obligations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were $4.2 trillion at year-end 2005.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are Congressionally-chartered, publicly-owned corporations whose shares are listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Under terms of their GSE charters, they are exempt from state and local taxation and from registration requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Each firm has a back-up credit line with the U.S. Treasury.

OFHEO’s oversight responsibilities include:

Conducting broad based examinations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; Developing a risk-based capital standard, using a “stress test” that simulates stressful interest rate and credit risk scenarios; Making quarterly findings of capital adequacy based on minimum capital standards and a risk-based standard; Prohibiting excessive executive compensation; Issuing regulations concerning capital and enforcement standards; and Taking necessary enforcement actions.

OFHEO is funded through assessments of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. OFHEO’s operations represent no direct cost to the taxpayer. In its safety and soundness mission, OFHEO has regulatory authority similar to such other federal financial regulators as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

The legislation that established OFHEO also requires Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to meet certain affordable housing goals set annually by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. These goals specify the share of mortgages that the two GSEs are required to purchase annually from low-income, moderate-income and central-city homebuyers.

And, explaining its role in mortgage refinance regulation:

OFHEO was established as an independent entity within the Department of Housing and Urban Development by the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992 (Title 13 of P.L. 102-550). The agency is headed by a Director appointed by the President for a five-year term.

OFHEO’s primary mission is ensuring the capital adequacy and financial safety and soundness of two government-sponsored enterprises, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac). Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are congressionally-chartered, publicly-owned corporations whose shares are listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the nation’s largest housing finance institutions. They buy mortgages from commercial banks, thrift institutions, mortgage banks, and other primary lenders, and either hold these mortgages in their own portfolios or package them into mortgage-backed securities for resale to investors. These secondary mortgage market operations play a major role in creating a ready supply of mortgage funds for American homebuyers. Combined assets and off-balance sheet obligations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were more than $4.2 trillion at year-end 2005, which represents over 40 percent of mortgages outstanding.

In fulfilling its role in the secondary mortgage market, OFHEO promotes housing and a strong national housing finance system.

OFHEO’s oversight responsibilities include the following:
– Conducting broad-based and targeted examinations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
– Making quarterly findings of capital adequacy based on a minimum capital standard and a risk-based capital standard
– Administering a risk-based capital standard, using a “stress test” that simulates interest rate and credit risk scenarios
– Prohibiting excessive executive compensation
– Issuing regulations concerning capital and enforcement standards
– Taking necessary enforcement actions
– Issuing an annual Report to Congress on the financial and operational condition of the Enterprises

OFHEO is funded through assessments on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. OFHEO’s operations represent no direct cost to the taxpayer.

The website for the agency is clear that it resides in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), though it is an independent agency whose director is appointed by the president for a five-year term. When I posted this information at IUSB Vision, however, it was censored. Instead, I got this charming response from the immoderator:

Ed – Stop lying,

You did not read the links. You need to start reading at OFHEO.gov and go and read the links I provided. OFHEO reports to Congress, not the administration. It is a fact. Deal with it. All you have to do is go read on their site THEY will tell you.

Charming fellow. He has censored all of my comments since then. At one point he was lecturing me that I didn’t know the organization. I pointed out to him that the Constitution makes clear the lines of organization in this case: OFHEO is an independent agency within the executive branch. It works closely with the Secretary of HUD. The organization charts show it is not a Congressional agency.

Similarly, this fellow is convinced that Obama, as a lawyer, made the federal courts dance to his tune. He appears to have no understanding for how federal courts work, nor for how a federal judge would regard any attorney acting as arrogantly as they claim Obama did.

Object lesson: You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not get to by reason in the first place.

Election, come soon!

Resources:


‘We don’t got no stinkin’ education. We don’t need no stinkin’ education!’

October 12, 2008

My family’s heritages are migrant and education. By that I mean that moving someplace else for a better life, and getting the kids into better schools, has been a tradition running back at least 6 generations. My paternal grandfather was a seaman in the British merchant marine. He married a woman in Guyana, then moved the family for a job in the stockyards in Kansas City, a better place to raise kids. His children became nurses, politicians, law enforcement officers, successful trucking magnates; his grandchildren are doctors, lawyers, nurses, business executives, and teachers — one Rhodes Scholar. I am second-generation American on my father’s side.

My maternal grandfather was a farmer of great skill. He moved from Provo, Utah, to the frontier town of Manila, Utah, then to Delta, then to Salt Lake City, in a quest for riches from farming. Deciding that wouldn’t work, he took a job with Utah Oil Co., a company that was eventually merged into Standard of Indiana and now, British Petroleum. His children all graduated from high school, except for the daughter lost in infancy. Several went on to college. They became construction company owners, contractors and engineers, railroad engineers, small company entrepreneurs and retailers. His grandchildren are physicians, lawyers, business executives, successful salesman, investors — and a couple of good old boys who scrape by (every family has some). My grandfather was second-generation from pioneers, people who moved their families west in wagons, or if necessary, on foot and pushcart. They were people who fought Indians sometimes, and died in those fights and in the migrations. They left legacies in the towns named after them, and in their records as educators — both my maternal grandparents were schoolteachers early on, many of their cousins were college professors, one a college president.

Education in our family was always viewed as a ladder to personal success, to a good life, if not always a key to economic well-being. Especially in the case of my maternal grandparents, there was great assistance from the Latter-day Saint emphasis on education.

If I had to typify their version of the American dream, certainly a huge part of that dream involved the kids getting educated well beyond their parents, and getting a better life as a result.

Education was a part of the American dream from pre-Revolution days. Foreign visitors often commented that in America the crudest of men read the newspapers and discussed politics with vigor and earnestness absent in other nations. Education was the cornerstone of freedom, in the view of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and as demonstrated by Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington.

Sometime in the 1980s, I think, the tide changed. Certainly the Reagan Revolution had something to do with it. Cuts in Pell Grants, the grants that got thousands of kids into college, were a signal that education was no longer valued as it once was. One by one the federal government stripped away some of the most important building blocks of our modern society, things like the GI Bill, which had provided America with a highly-trained, highly-skilled corps of engineers in the 1950s. Those engineers invented the infrastructure to our nation that now crumbles, and they invented the industrial processes, and sometimes the industries, that we now use daily. Transistors, which make computers possible on the scale we have today, were invented and developed into powerful “cogs” for machines that do what had not even been dreamed of 40 years earlier.

I can’t tell you exactly when the tide turned, but I can tell you when I first realized it had. After staffing the Senate Labor Committee for most of a decade, I escaped to the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, a good place for a budding environmental lawyer to work, I thought at the time. The chairman of the commission was Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander (now senator from Tennessee). Lamar had two big projects in Tennessee that he pinned his hopes for the state upon. Both were influenced in no small part by his work trying to recruit auto manufacturers to build production facilities in Tennessee.

Nissan and Toyota had levelled with him: Tennessee looked good, but for two things. First, there were few good ways to get products like automobiles out of the state to markets they needed to be sold in. Second, Tennessee’s education system wasn’t providing the highly-educated workers the car makers needed to run highly-sophisticated machinery in a fast-moving, just-in-time inventory system that produced high quality products at lowest cost.

Alexander responded with one initiative to build good roads out of Tennessee to major markets. He called that initiative “Good Roads.” He responded to the education needs with a program designed to plug money and support into Tennessee schools to improve education, bolstered by the report of the Excellence in Education Committee in 1983. He called that initiative “Good Schools.” In retrospect, those were good places to focus development efforts. Tennessee got at least one Japanese company to locate a plant there, and snagged the much-desired Saturn production plant of General Motors.

The Commission had some hearings in Tennessee. I was along on one of those hearings, and I was with Alexander when he was met by a Tennessee constituent who just wanted to talk to the governor. Alexander, being from Tennessee, hoping to keep his election chances good, and being a good governor, agreed to give the man and his wife a few minutes — I watched. The constituent complained about all the changes coming to Tennessee. He complained about the costs of the roads, and the costs of improving the schools. He worried about taxes, because, he said, he didn’t make a lot of money. Alexander assured him that his taxes would not rise much if any at all, and that especially the education part of the program would benefit all Tennesseans. “Do you have children?” Alexander asked the man.

He responded that he had two kids, both in their early teens. And then he said something that just stunned me: “You know, I’ve gotten by pretty good with my 8th grade education all these years, and I don’t see why my kids need to have any more than that. I’m not sure we need Good Schools.”

To Lamar Alexander’s everlasting credit — or shame, if you’re very cynical — he didn’t strike the man down. Alexander spent a few more minutes explaining the benefits the man’s children would have from better education, and he closed off telling about his meetings with car company executives who made it clear that they wanted to hire only good students who had graduated from good high schools, and maybe who had enough college that they could do the complex mathematics to run big machines. Alexander asked the man for his name and address, said his opinion was very important to him, and promised to get back in touch.

I suspect Alexander did contact the man later. His office tended to work very well on such matters as constituent contacts.

But I’ll wager he didn’t change the man’s opinion about education.

Sometime in the mid-1980s many Americans began to look on education as unnecessary, as expensive, and as “elitist” in a new, derogatory sense. Instead of education being something blue-collar workers hoped their children would earn, it became something blue collar workers felt oppressed by, somehow.

From that commission, I moved to the U.S. Department of Education, in Bill Bennett’s regime. Over the next few months I observed the same anti-education phenomenon playing out in debates about school reform in dozens of states. Then I got out of government and into private business, where education was demanded, and I only occasionally worried about the drama I had seen.

The past few weeks, especially since the nomination of Sarah Palin, have heightened my fears about the loss of the shared dream of better education for our children. It was part of the American psyche, woven into the fabric of our government from the “Old Deluder Satan” law in Massachusetts, which required towns of any size to set up some kind of school, through the Northwest Ordinances, which set aside sections of every township to be used for the benefit of public education, through the settlement of the west where nearly every town with a kid in it built a school — schools were built in Utah before many pioneers had houses to get them through the winter — through the dramatic rise of public education that helped knock out child labor, and that provided us with truly American armies and navies to get us out on top of two world wars.

Now comes conservative columnist David Brooks to explain how this process has been aided and abetted, if not intended, by the Republican Party, “The Class War Before Palin.”

In 1976, in a close election, Gerald Ford won the entire West Coast along with northeastern states like New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine. In 1984, Reagan won every state but Minnesota.

But over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.

Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.

What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.

It’s a sobering piece. Please read it.

We remain a nation of migrants, a nation that migrates. We remain a nation that desires economic success and is willing to move to get it. Have we lost the good sense to remember that education improves our chances at success? Does Brooks explain the entire motivation for the War on Education?

What do you think?


Quote of the moment: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., on taxes

October 9, 2008

The frequently quotable Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., circa 1930. Edited photograph from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Original photo by Harris & Ewing. LC-USZ62-47817.  Copyright expired.

The frequently quotable Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., circa 1930. Edited photograph from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Original photo by Harris & Ewing. LC-USZ62-47817. Copyright expired.

I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., attributed.  (see Felix Frankfurter, Mr. Justice Holmes and the Supreme Court, Harvard University Press, 1961, page 71.)

Did Holmes say that?

The quote is all over the internet Wednesday, after New York Times op-ed writer Tom Friedman noted it in his column criticizing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for her assertion that paying taxes is not patriotic.

I found reference to the quote in a book about eminent economists, through Google Scholar:

Eminent Economists: Their Life Philosophies
By Michael Szenberg
Published by Cambridge University Press, 1993
320 pages

On page 201, Szenberg refers Holmes’s view of “taxation as the price of liberty.”  In a footnote, he points to Justice Frankfurter’s book.  The quote is dolled up a little.  According to Szenberg’s footnote:

More precisely, he rebuked a secretary’s query of “Don’t you hate to pay taxes?” with “No, young fellow, I like paying taxes, with them I buy civilization.”

Frankfurter is a reliable source.  It’s likely Holmes said something very close to the words Friedman used.

Urge others to buy a chunk of civilization:

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What if Obama carried Alaska?

October 6, 2008

Just wondering, after reading the latest news from Mudflats:  “McCain Palin Rally vs. Obama Biden Rally in Anchorage!  The blow by blow.


Palin slashes Special Olympics Budget: Accurate statement still unfair?

September 24, 2008

This is how bad it is:  Even accurate statements about Gov. Sarah Palin are called unfair by McCain campaign operatives and hard-shell, stiff-necked partisans.

Conservatives are complaining about media coverage of Gov. Sarah Palin.  For example, they say, she is accused of cutting funding for Alaska’s Special Olympics in half.  Not fair they say, and they offer the actual figures:  The budget for Special Olympics for 2007 from the Alaska legislature was $650,000.  Palin used her line-item veto, and cut the funding to $275,000.

Hello?  Half of $650,000 would be $325,000.  Palin cut the Special Olympics budget by 58%. Last time I looked at the math tables, 58% was more than half of 100%.

So, why would it not be fair to say that Palin cut the funding by half?  She cut it by more than half.

Oh, no, the conservatives say:  ‘You have to let us jigger the numbers first — the final total, after Palin cut it, was still more than the previous year’s allocation from the state.’

Charlie Martin at Pajamas Media takes up the conservatives’ cudgel, that it’s unfair to Sarah Palin to report her budget cuts accurately (you know, not even Dave Barry could make this stuff up).

And then Glenn Reynolds joins the morning howl, complaining that “main stream media” isn’t interested in debunking the “rumor.”

Excuse me?  Why should anyone be interested in “debunking” a “rumor” which is, as the sources indicate and the conservatives’ own research demonstrates, neither rumor nor error, but hard fact?

If you needed a demonstration that conservatives cannot count, or that they will not count accurately when only honor is at stake, these sorts of stories will do.

Below the fold, for the sake of accuracy, you’ll find a longish excerpt from Charlie Martin’s analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »


Hitting the virtual midways

September 11, 2008

It’s State Fair time in several states — Minnesota’s fair is in full swing, Texas’s fair is gearing up, for example — time to take a look at various carnivals and think about midway rides, no?

Where’s the new fried food pavilion?


Why science matters in the campaign

September 7, 2008

Dr. Art Hunt at The RNA Underworld explains why Obama’s plan to double NIH research funding is a good idea.

Big bang for the buck:  Hunt’s analysis suggests doubling the research budgets might drive as much as a trillion dollar increase in our economy. Sure it’s optimistic — but read what he says.  And then consider:  Which platform offers the greatest hope of cures or treatments for cancers?  Which platform offers the best hope for a cure or treatments for Alzheimer’s disease?

The two industries I mention here – pharma and biotech – are intimately interwoven with the basic biomedical research enterprise, and a significant amount of the innovation that drives these industries originates (or originated) in the NIH-funded biomedical research laboratory. In this respect, the NIH budget is an investment, and a wildly-successful one. Even if we don’t take the face-value numbers I have pulled from Wiki here (that show an annual return of some 1000%, and more than 750,000 high-paying jobs the tax receipts from which would probably pay much of the NIH tab by themselves), and instead factor in that some of these receipts and jobs are not American, it is still easy to see that basic biomedical research returns considerably more than the investment made by the government. (And this doesn’t begin to weigh the intangibles, the ways that the research enterprise gives back to society as a whole.)

Science bloggers have been not so noisy as this issue might need:  The closest John McCain came to supporting science, the driver of our economy, was when he offered to assault education, and that’s the opposite of supporting science. Obama’s mentions are encouraging, but not frequent enough nor strident enough.

Think of just three of the issues that are affected by basic science research, that will be yelled about during the campaign:

The silence on science should make us very, very concerned.

Have you read Obama’s response to the 14 big questions on science policy?  McCain has not answered.

Other reading:


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