Monday, October 1, 2012

Catch This, Mitt

Dear Mitt,

I listened with great interest to the leaked audio of your comments to a small group of your ardent supporters because I was excited at the possibility of getting a chance to hear from you in a way that isn't possible through the media. These elections are so scripted and rehearsed that it's really hard to know what the candidates really believe. The system requires you to speak very carefully in public and makes it almost impossible for you to be perfectly frank. Everything you say is parsed, analyzed, scrutinized and sanitized to leave it devoid of any true content. The only things that get through are the short clever sound bites and these never really get to the heart of the issues. All we can do as voters is pick the candidate that seems the most capable of running through the obstacle course of the modern election process as a measure of your fitness and competence. In the end, it doesn't seem to matter what the candidates actually say, it only matters that they managed to avoid saying anything truly awful.

When I heard of this leak and the snippet that is getting the most attention I was also very skeptical. I first had to consider that the comments were taken out of context and distorted by your opposition. It doesn't seem like anyone in American politics is above taking a quote and leaving out the key words that make it clear what the speaker really meant. You've done this yourself repeatedly with the president's phrase "you didn't build that".  So it really wouldn't surprise me if Mother Jones had chopped off some key phrase or spliced together disjoint statements to make it sound like something you weren't really saying.   But I listened to the whole audio up to the point where you said that 47 percent of Americans are leeches, and unless you followed up those comments by saying "Just kidding! I was role playing the caricature of myself that the opposition portrays" I can't see how any additional context would change the true meaning of what you were saying.

First of all the number "47 percent" is the only thing in this statement that has any connection to reality.  It is true that nearly 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax.  Their income is still reduced by other federal payroll taxes, including Social Security, and they still pay state and local taxes.  Plenty of articles have been written already breaking down the statistics of why such a seemingly large percentage of Americans don't pay federal income tax, so I don't feel the need to go into all the details here.  But I think it should be pretty obvious to anyone that this group contains all sorts of different people and its very unlikely that all of those people are all unanimously voting as a block for Obama.  This is obvious hyperbole, and I can perhaps sweep that part under the rug.   I was willing to look past this as nothing but the usual political generalization.

Let's also put aside the fact that even some millionaires don't pay income tax if they live off their  investments only and don't listen to their financial advisors.  Let's ignore the fact that "78,000 tax filers with incomes between $211,000 and $533,000 paid no income taxes; 24,000 households with incomes of $533,000 to $2.2 million paid no income taxes, and 3,000 tax filers with incomes above $2.2 million paid no income taxes."  We don't need to argue about whether the income tax should be a truly progressive tax and why it's perfectly reasonable that a large percentage of Americans don't pay that particular tax.  But I am curious, did your father claim any income when he moved back from Mexico and collected welfare?  Anyway, I didn't start writing this blog simply because a politician again "refused to let the fact-checkers run their campaign."

Mr. Romney, if you really believe that 47 percent of this country supports Obama because he promises them a handout then you must really hate America.  Do you really believe that we're a nation of people that is so dependent on government that we just vote for whoever promises more free stuff?  I thought you said America was still the greatest nation on Earth?  If what you say is true, then we're already beyond hope.  If we as a society really thought that way, then the communists really won, the cold war was lost and your hero Ronald Reagan was a total failure.  I thought surely you can't possibly have such a low opinion of the American voter, but then I listened to the rest of your comments.  First there's the part where you say that all the detailed policy information you've provided won't have any significant impact on your electability.  Then there's the part where you said that nobody will be paying attention to politics all summer.  And then there's the part when you said that "being right early is not good in politics" and that "a highly intellectual subject or a discussion of a whole series of important topics typically doesn’t win elections".  Then there's the part where you say that you're going after the 5 to 10 percent of voters that are independent and "thoughtful", but even those people often vote based on "emotion", "whether they like the guy or not", or "what he looks like".  Taken in total, it sure seems like you have a very low opinion of the intelligence of the American voter.  This doesn't really come as any surprise to me, based on the way you've conducted your campaign, but it was still jarring to hear you speak so openly about how you intend to manipulate your way into the Oval Office.

Believe it or not Mr. Romney, there are people making less than a million bucks a year who do understand how capitalism really works.  We do understand that part of the role of government is to ensure that once wealth is obtained by legitimate means, it should not be taken away by force or coercion.  The rule of law protects the rich as well as the poor.  We do understand that the dream of becoming independently wealthy is the motivational engine that drives innovation and most of human progress.  We do understand the perils of socialism, and we want no part of it.  We do understand that eating the rich would eventually leave us hungry.  We are not moochers or looters.  We are free people trying have a happy peaceful existence by working hard and enjoying the rewards.  We don't want to kill the golden goose that we have given birth to in America.  Trust me, we get it. 

But many in your 53 percent think they get it, but they don't.  They think that they too can be part of the 1% if they just worked as hard as they do.  They think the problem with America is that government is taking too much from them in their taxes to give to the poor, or that the government takes too much from the rich and that money would otherwise somehow flow down to them.  They think there would be more good jobs if it weren't for all these pesky rules and regulations holding back all these "job creators."  Your message to them is that a vote for you will get the government out of the way resulting in a world where hard work and talent is always rewarded.

That message is appealing and I'd consider voting for a candidate that truly believed in meritocracy too.  But I don't believe you are that candidate.  Your party wouldn't be stupid enough to dismantle the social safety net either because it would ruin your chances of holding onto power..  Some Republicans will talk tough about privatizing Social Security or dismantling Medicare, but we know damn well they'll never do it because it would leave the majority of the American people at the mercy of the corporatocracy and we know how well we'll all fare when that happens.

So here's what really bothers me.  A short while ago you attacked the president saying that his message was to "promote envy as opposed to ambition and to poison the American spirit with class warfare."  I thought you were trying to show that Republicans are not really just about protecting the rich and the powerful.  I thought you stood for the idea of shared prosperity through capitalism.  I thought you were trying to say that there should be no "class warfare" between the "haves" and the "have-nots".  But then you stood up in front of the "haves" and declared that class warfare does exist, but don't worry, Mitt's on your side!  While you accuse the president of playing to the fear and anger of the poor, you blatantly exploit the fear and anger of the rich. These people that founded the Tea Party movement idealize the American Revolution when the rich and the poor allied against the government but they live in terror of the French Revolution when the poor attacked the government and the noble aristocracy alike. You know full well that the rich need the poor to sustain their lifestyle and your message to them is that as long as they raise money for you, you will sustain the status quo for them.  You people who forget that Ayn Rand was a novelist like to think you're saving the world for everyone, but all you're really doing is keeping the weak at war with themselves instead of focusing on the real issues.

At first, I was a little confused about which "job" you were talking about when you said "my job is not to worry about those people."  You couldn't be talking about the job of president, because your job as president would definitely include worrying about "those people."  I assumed you were not talking about your job as CEO of Bain Capital, because it goes without saying that in that role the only thing you would care about is increasing the wealth of your shareholders.  I thought maybe you were referring to your job as the savior of the Olympics, but that was too long ago and has no relevance to your candidacy.  It finally dawned on me that you were talking about your current job as the official professional spokesperson of the one percent.  You certainly don't have to convince anyone to take personal responsibility for themselves in that role.  All you need to do is convince enough people that all of the nation's problems are caused by "those people."

So I'm sorry to say Mr. Romney, that this voter who would once have considered voting Republican now cannot stomach the idea of casting a vote for you.  I once believed that you were really a moderate, pragmatic candidate who was tilting to the right only as a means to an end.  I thought once you got past the chump candidates that popped up every month to challenge your nomination, you would really shake that etch-a-sketch and reboot yourself as a rational candidate with conservative fiscal views and a moderate stance on social issues.  Instead you chose to keep going after the hard-core right wing votes that are so easy to come by if you just send the right hateful subliminal messages.  And even though I have to believe that you would govern no differently than any president since Reagan, I can't in good conscience cast a vote that would give validity to the tactics your party has been using to gain power.  It's time for people to stop being afraid to admit that government does have a role in society and that thinking so doesn't make you a leech.  I no longer just want you to lose Mr. Romney, I want you to lose in every single state of this United States.  I hope that your outsourced campaign consultants that you recruited from Algeria, Africa and Israel all see what a pathetic candidate you are and quit like Tim Pawlenty.  I'll explain to America that even if the stock market goes up for a day after you're elected, it sure isn't going to stay that way.  And if a situation like the Iranian hostage crisis does pop up for you to exploit before the election, I'll be sure to remind America how you longed for such an opportunity.

I will no longer sit idly by without at least doing this one small thing to help make sure that we never elect another fraud like you.


(a guy with the courage to use his real first name)

P.S. I'd be willing to bet that Leno hates your guts too.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

God Bless Stall Brook. To hell with Rush Limbaugh.

Breaking news: Today absolutely nothing happened!  Students at Stall Brook Elementary sang "God Bless the U.S.A." on key and with no lyrical mishaps.  You heard it here first because none of the crusading media could be bothered to follow up and report anything about it.

I now return you to the original blog...

A while back I setup this blog with the intent of discussing a topic that interests and concerns me both as a software engineer and as a citizen.  My theme is the way that humans are able to process information properly only when it is presented within the proper context.  This was around the time that Andrew Breitbart got Shirley Sherrod fired from her job by convincing people that she had said the exact opposite of what she actually meant.  I never got around to keying those thoughts into cyberspace, but it would have been a great blog.  You'll just have to take my word for it.

Today I feel compelled to write again because I find myself in the middle of a story that has proven everything I always suspected but had no direct proof of.  It's the kind of story that can make a person want to give up on the human race.  That is until you look around, talk to people and find that almost everyone you talk to feels the same way.  If America is so full of raving lunatics, where are they?  They're ranting to the media and getting far more attention than they deserve, but they're not the majority, no matter how loud they are.

Let's backup to the beginning.  A few days ago my wife got into a conversation with fellow parents of students in my daughter's elementary school because of a decision that was made which didn't seem right to her.  In 2012 when you start a conversation, where do you go?  The internet of course!  The conversation point was a touchy subject: the "G" word.  More precisely, the topic was the removal of the "G" word from a well known (but not so popular) country music song from the 80s.  She had heard from another parent that the students were going to sing this song at an assembly, but with the chorus modified to "We Love the U.S.A."  This was confirmed by our daughter who really didn't understand why it was changed, but wasn't fazed by it at all. 

This discussion prompted a few comments from parents who were convinced that this was a case of political correctness run amok.  However, a couple of parents had the courage to proclaim their atheism and explained how uncomfortable it was for them in school when they were told to recite or sing things with references to God or religion.  The other parents were respectful of that, but still didn't feel that changing the lyrics to the song was the right answer.  A number of people felt strongly that out of respect for the original author's work, the words to a song should not be altered.  The general consensus was that if the school had an issue with the lyrics, then they should have simply picked a different song.  Everyone, both heathen and non-heathen were in agreement that this was the simplest solution and really shouldn't be a major issue.

After hearing from the parents the next day, the school decided to drop the song from the assembly.  That wasn't what the parents wanted, but at least everyone's voice was heard and the problem was addressed.  My wife and I didn't feel that was the best possible solution, but it was good enough.  A couple of parents had commented that the whole discussion was exceptionally civil, polite and constructive.  Personally, I had a warm fuzzy feeling that for once, people were able to work out their differences the way they are supposed to - through open communication.

But not everyone was satisfied.  A woman who I shall not name was determined that the children must sing the song with the original lyrics intact.  Against the wishes of the other parents, this woman contacted the local Fox news affiliate and tattled on the administration of Stall Brook Elementary School.  The headline proclaimed that parents were outraged and implied that they were lining up to tell their story.  Against our wishes they showed video of a private email exchange between the parents which included words written by my wife and referencing my daughter.  It was only a tiny fraction of what was said in that discussion, but it was a good sample to represent the "outrage" that was supposedly prevalent.

From here on out, I will have a hard time telling this story without pausing periodically to remind you that this is not a work of fiction.  A few months ago a rabid fox was loose in my neighborhood.  It was tracked down in my own yard by the police and animal control.  The fox was shot and the story was reported on local news.  We thought, if that makes the news, it must really be a slow news day.  Little did I know that my town would later be invaded by Rabid Fox News when they had a slow news day.

Once the story was aired on the local TV news and published on their web-site, the feeding frenzy began.  Todd Starnes of "Bitter America" fame caught wind of it and decided to make it his pet story.  Over the next couple of days articles spread all over the country.  Lee Greenwood himself fanned the flames by saying he did not and would not give permission for anyone to perform his song without the word "God" in it.  We now have the perfect recipe for a great story - a hero, a villain, a pseudo-celebrity and a vaguely credible plot line.

The administration clearly wasn't prepared to handle the pressure from the local news media, never mind the national media.  After a first attempt to end the debate, they backed down completely and gave the students the option to sing or not sing the song with the original chorus.  Yay!  What a great victory for the defenders of God, liberty and apple pie!  Aren't we glad we have freedom of speech and a media that fights for the little guy?

As you can probably guess, the story caught the attention of Rush Limbaugh.  And when Rush speaks, he manages to capture in a few sentences all the insanity that has taken hold of this country:
"the story is there's just some do-gooder in there that wanted to avoid offend (sic) people. I don't think that's the case. I think these people are all activists, and they have an objective in mind, and that's to take God out of as much as they can in this country. It's full secularism on parade, no doubt in my mind."
But here's the problem with Rush's certainty.  Nobody ever got the facts from the teachers who made this decision in the first place.  Nobody asked them why they changed the lyrics to the song.  Were they on a mission to eliminate the word God from public places?  Were they bullied by a radical minority of atheists who threatened to sue them over this song?  We don't know the answer, because we never heard from the teachers.  Perhaps the media called their homes and tried, but I don't blame the teachers for not wanting speak to them.   Not having any statements from either the teachers or the parents never stopped them from reporting the story.  Once the story is out, the commentators get to fill in the blanks with their assumptions about what happened and then it spreads from news site to news site morphing just a little bit at every step, until the entire country hears a myth that Stall Brook teachers are radical atheists and Stall Brook parents want their heads on a stick.  But none of it is true.

The truth is the system was working until the vultures swooped in to make a few bucks off the gullible by blowing the story completely out of proportion.  Todd Starnes claims that things like this show up in the news daily.  Oh really?  Then why has this one dragged on for days already?  Shouldn't there be another story already for you to yammer on about?  Why don't you go be an actual journalist and do some research.  Look around at your own news web site for a start, and tell me just how often these things really do happen in a nation with 99,000 public schools!  Then go deeper into those stories and find out just how many are actually what they appear to be.  A good reporter might have asked some questions that would have shed light on my questions.  Perhaps they might have asked someone "Do the students recite the pledge of allegiance every day?"  Yes, they do, and they even say 'under God' if they so choose.  A better reporter might have even tried to investigate whether there were ever any other incidents where religious speech was ever stifled or suppressed at this school before painting it as a bastion of militant secularism.

Fox News and their ilk have convinced the people of this country that their friends and neighbors, the ones who take little pay to teach their children, are their enemies.  They've done this by relentlessly beating a drum about how the "minority" has gotten the upper hand over the majority.  They're right about that, but the minority that has taken hold of this country is them!  They insist that the battle ground of this war against the majority is our public schools.  By doing this, they've made it more and more difficult for teachers to do their jobs and make rational decisions about what they say and do.  They must constantly worry that some extremist on the left or the right might drag them into court, or bring news cameras into their school.  Worse, they have to worry that people might start making threats, and that the local police might have to lock down the school and keep the children indoors for recess.  Does that sound paranoid to you?  Well, that's exactly what happened.

The administration already had addressed the needs of their community before the media ever got involved.  The school was forced to react to uninformed people outside of their community that have no business dictating the content of our school assemblies.  Nobody in Bellingham was ever bullied by anyone to sing or not to sing, until Fox News showed up and tried to defend us.  The same people that claim that a federalist liberal elite are taking over your communities are routinely barging into those same communities and forcing them to cater to their demands.  The hypocrisy is simply staggering.

This country was founded to defend its people from tyranny in all its many forms.  The newest tyrant is the media and the people who buy into their nonsense.  I reject this tyrant.  I stand with the folks that are presenting my children with facts, not advertisements.  I stand with the people who are willing to hear what I have to say and not broadcast it distorted without its original context.  I stand with the people who educate, not manipulate.  I stand with the good teachers of my little Stall Brook Elementary School.  God Bless Stall Brook.  To hell with Rush Limbaugh.