Archive for December, 2010

Let’s Take On Right-Wing Think Tanks

December 29th, 2010

How do you get people to vote against their own interests? How do you get working people to buy-in to false beliefs, such as the theory of trick-down economics? How do you get them to fight against policies and institutions that will give them greater opportunity, such as progressive taxes, regulatory agencies, and workers’ unions? One word: Propaganda.

Since at least the early 20th century, the powerful and privileged have used propaganda, as Walter Lippmann said, to “manufacture consent.” Since the 1950s, one of the primary distribution channels that has been used to disseminate propaganda has been through conservative think tanks. These think tanks are usually privately funded by wealthy families and corporations. They engage in policy research, advocacy, and consulting. Some of the more prominent conservative think tanks include, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Hover Institute. Some have called these conservative think tanks a response to “liberal academia.” However, there is a fundamental difference between research conducted at the university and “research” published by conservative think tanks. These think tanks do not have the same level of institutional review that is required at the university. Moreover, think tanks are often exclusively funded by powerful interest groups that have a defined agenda. Not that university research is not funded by interests groups. But there is a code of research ethics and peer-review that helps filter out shoddy research. This is not the case when it comes to conservative think tanks.

This is not to say that all think tanks are negative or turn out poor research. Think tanks like the Brookings Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations are much more independent and bipartisan in their research. The problem with many of the conservative think tanks is that they are not held accountable for the lack of facts contained in their research. The function that they serve is to provide “research” citations—ideology-driven “facts”—for those who are pushing a conservative agenda; whether it is a conservative pushing a big business agenda on the Senate floor, a right-wing pundit trying to create a conservative reality for his listeners, or a columnist or author trying make push a philosophy of free market utopia.

There is nothing wrong with having many voices in a marketplace of ideas—in fact, it is preferable. But when ideas are placed on the alter of public discussion, there should be winners and losers—and ultimately, the facts should stand at the end of the day. Unfortunately this is not what is happening. Propaganda produced by conservative think tanks feeds the myths that reverse progress.

Although left-wing think tanks have also sprung up over the past decade—such as MoveOn.org, ActForChange.com, and TrueMajority.org—they do not have nearly the influence that the right-wing organization have. George Will wrote that liberals were “tardily trying to replicate that [conservative intellectual] infrastructure.” According to a FAIR report, in 2007, of the top 25 media-cited think tanks, the media cited conservative think tanks 37% of the time, whereas progressive were only cited 16% of the time. So much for the “liberal media” myth. As a result, many of the unsupported ideas of these conservative thinks tanks persist in the minds of many voters, leading them to vote against their own interests. Let’s look at one example. » Read more: Let’s Take On Right-Wing Think Tanks

The Prince of Peace

December 24th, 2010

During the holidays, there is ubiquitous paradox that we can see in every Christmas-celebrating consumer. On the one hand, more than at any other time of the year, we are out worshiping the god of materialism, frantically engaged in the busy race to get our Christmas shopping done—elbows out, running shoes on, cutting off the other guy with the accelerator to the floor. It is almost entertaining to observe the bizarre behavior of Christmas shopper (especially in oneself).

On the other hand, it is a time of year that many in our society chose to celebrate the life of Christ—a figure whose life and teaching are a massive contradiction to the bonanza of our shopaholic culture. Yet, in the craziness of it all, we can also see people who are genuinely kind: People who offer to let the other guy go first in line; who let that person merge in front of the on the freeway; who give generously to others in the form of donations or service; and who spend time celebrating the relationships in their lives.

I am tempted to call one group “conservatives” and the other group (the genuine Christians) “liberals.” But that is an unfair, simplistic characterization. In reality, there are gay Republicans and anti-war conservatives,  pro-business liberals and anti-immigrant Democrats. The real issue in politics should be this: Are we trying to improve the lives of others or are we supporting policies that make life more difficult for the vulnerable in our society. Instead, we tend to spend our time demonizing the side that we think disagrees with our positions. In a recent interview with Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show made a great point about this us vs. them mentality:

“We’ve all bought in to the [idea that the] conflict in this country is left and right, liberal/conservative, red/blue…It amplifies a division that I don’t think is the right fight…I think the fight in the country is corruption vs. not corruption; extremist vs. regular…My problem is it’s become tribal. [It is a result of the] twenty-four hour networks, whose job is to highlight the conflict between two sides—and I don’t think that’s the main conflict in our society. [I want to] deflate that idea that it is a real conflict in our society, red/blue, democrat/republican. But I feel like there’s a bigger difference between people who have kids and people who don’t have kids than red state/blue state.” (source)

Perhaps the holiday season is a good time to remind ourselves that these divisions are unhealthy, and extending our hand to others is the more productive approach. Whether we celebrate Christmas or not, there is a powerful message in the figure who is praised at Christmas time. And it seems that very few—Christians and or non-Christians—are practicing the kind of compassion advocated by Christ. But it is the practice of compassion that is most needed in our politics and personal lives. So, in the spirit of Christmas, I am going to review the message of Christ. I think there is a very important message in his teachings that we often forget about during the busy holiday season. » Read more: The Prince of Peace

There’s a War Going On!

December 10th, 2010

In his recent speech on the Senate floor,  Senator Bernie Sanders passionately declared, “There is a war going on…a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country, against the working families of the United States of America, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country” (see his video speech below). There are a number of data points that indicate the truth of Senator Sanders claim. Let’s look at a few of these:

  • Corporations are enjoying record profits (source)
  • Unemployment is at a 30-year high (source)
  • The unemployed tend to be out of work longer than ever before (source)
  • US hit the highest poverty level in 15 years (source)
  • Top earners’ income continue to grow while wages are stagnant for everyone else (source)
  • Union membership has declined from one-third of the labor force in 1960, to 10% by the year 2000 (private sector union membership)(source)

We need to think about what is causing these trends and how they can be countered. We know they are not countered by extended income tax cuts for the wealthy or raising the estate tax exemption amount. Republicans seem to be doing everything in their power to speed up these trends; and taking the House this year will give them some power to continue the status quo. It it worth think about what kind of country we end up with if they have their way. It is not pretty for anyone, not even the rich. These trends need to be reversed if we are going to preserve our way of life.

Senator Bernie Sanders really says it all:

See additional graphs by clicking “read more.” » Read more: There’s a War Going On!

Obama at Midterm

December 7th, 2010

Obama isn’t doing nearly as bad as the media has made you think.

True, he isn’t making a lot of friends these days. Liberals feel like he is not pushing their agenda, or he is compromising too much; and conservatives think he is a socialist.

You can’t please all the people all the time, but you have to please most of the people most of the time if you are going to be a two-term president (Or in the case of George W., of you need to have most of the supreme court in your corner, and run against Herman Munster in term two).

This is a graph shown on Meet the Press from Sunday, Dec. 5th 2010.