Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sheila Mullowney Punishes Her Readers, Part 4

Unless a merciful God has erased it from your memory, you'll recall that last month Newport Daily News Executive Editor Sheila Mullowney chose to punish her paper's readers with the first half of a two-part rant by Cap'n Mike Caldwell, alleged Middletown resident, former Navy pilot, and spewer of right-wing talking points. Cap'n Mike's piece was called "Are we losing our nation's soul?", and it was every bit as grim as you'd expect from such a title. In my capacity as a smartass local liberal blogger, I chose to post a line-by-line rebuttal of Cap'n Mike's tirade, which the interested reader can find here, here, and here (it was necessary to break the rebuttal up into three parts for fear that a full column's worth of Cap'n Mike's wingnuttery might lead to a stupid overload).

Now, some might question the need for such a rebuttal. If the guy is such a tool, why devote so much time and effort to him? There are two reasons. First, it's necessary to document the atrocities. Skeptical future generations will question whether there ever was such a beast as Cap'n Mike Caldwell unless we trap his words in the electronic amber of this blog. Second, full-bore wingnut-bashing snarkiness is a skill that has to be honed occasionally in order to be kept in a state of razor sharpness. Cap'n Mike provides me with a monthly opportunity to keep my brain cells in perfect working order.

Yesterday's edition of the NDN brings us the second heaping helping of Mikeitude, this time under the title "Reclaim freedoms, regain our soul". And lest you think that the freedoms Cap'n Mike wants us to reclaim involve reinstating habeus corpus and ending warrantless wiretapping and officially sanctioned torture, the subtitle makes clear what's really gnawing at the Cap'n's vitals: "Dependence on government is not what founding fathers intended." Hoo boy.

Last month's chunk of Mikery was preceded by an editorial introduction, possibly composed by Mullowney herself. This month, we are given no such buffer. We plunge right in with Cap'n Mike's unique brand of pomposity:

Ladies and gentlemen,

And chiiiildren of -- whoops, already used that one, haven't I? Sorry.

I am genuinely concerned for America's political soul.

But not for any of the reasons that a sane person would be, like the way the Republicans have politicized every department of the executive branch, filling the civil service with incompetent party hacks like Monica Goodling and Michael "heckuva job" Brown.

The Constitution, as originally constructed by the founding fathers, has provided a roadmap for governance in a document unlike any other; the foundation of a governing system embodying not merely the will of the people via the ballot box,

As modified by proprietary voting machine software.

but the consent of the people as well.

Although, if the people won't consent to something the government really, really wants to do, the government will go ahead and do it anyway.

And while America's unique form of government is institutionally sound, it appears recent history has witnessed its morphing

When someone like Cap'n Mike starts using the word "morphing", that's a pretty good sign that "morphing" has outlived its usefulness and needs to be retired to the Old Words' Home.

into something virtually unrecognizable, an entity which would undoubtedly prove anathema to its framers.

Damned if I don't agree with this statement. Something tells me, though, that Cap'n Mike doesn't have the same problems with recent history that I do. Something else tells me that his definition of "recent" is "anything after March 30, 1933".

This system of representative government, which has proven the bedrock of America's prescription for limited government for 227 years, may be in danger of being usurped and overturned by elected officials and appointed judiciary at all levels. Rather than providing a mechanism for restraining the power of government, the Constitution now bears witness to a government increasingly out of control, one which incrementally restricts, regulates or eliminates one individual freedom or liberty after another through policies, mandates, laws or regulations designed to foster not only increased control over every aspect of our daily lives, but also increasing levels of social dependence on a beneficent, centralized bureaucracy.

For those of you keeping track at home, the preceding sentence contained sixty-nine words and seven commas. I'm starting to get the feeling that Cap'n Mike used up most of his material in the first half of his jeremiad, and is now forced to pad things out a bit. (By comparison, btw, my last sentence contained thirty-two words and one comma.)

This is afforded

Yep, padding. A normal person would use a word like "done" here.

through the promise of, among other things, "equality" through redistribution of both national and individual assets.

Because everyone knows that all this talk of "equality" is just a ploy by all those inferior people to bring us superior people down to their level.

Consider but three recent examples from notable policy shapers:

Yeah, Cap'n Mike definitely used up most of his ammo last month. From six soul-destroying America-bashers, we're reduced to three soul-destroying notable policy shapers. It's just not the same. You're letting us down, Cap'n Mike!

Anyway, here's the first soul-destroying notable policy shaper, just in time for this week's Democratic National Convention, it's none other than presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

"Globalization and technology all weaken the position of workers . . . " and as such, "a strong government hand is needed to ensure that wealth is distributed more equitably." (Sen. Barack Obama, Wall Street Journal interview).

Say, readers, did you see what I saw in that quote? That's right, elipses! If there's one thing you can be sure of, it's that when a Republican elides part of a quotation by a Democrat, he's trying to pull a fast one. Let's fire up the magical Google machine and see if we can find just where Cap'n Mike got that quote from.


Ah, we've hit the jackpot! Cap'n Mike's quotation from Barack Obama actually turned up in this item from It seems Our Captain is pulling his talking points from chain e-mails. Now that's the Cap'n Mike we've all come to know and love.

As the good people of note, this quote comes from a WSJ article from June 17, based on an interview of Obama conducted by Bob Davis and Amy Chozick (yes, that Amy Chozick). Although the phrase "a strong government hand is needed to ensure that wealth is distributed more equitably" does appear in the article, it is not a quote from the interview. That was Davis and Chozick providing their own interpretation of what Obama said in the interview. Here's what Obama actually had to say on the subject of globalization:

WSJ: What about the role of taxation? ... For the most part, the way I look at your tax policy, seems to me that you look at it and say, tax policy over the past decade, and maybe even before that, has produced an outcome that has benefited people mostly at the top, and your goal is to try to redistribute it in a different fashion.

Sen. Obama: Here's what I would say: I do believe the tax policies over the last eight years have been badly skewed towards the winners of the global economy. And I do think there is a function for tax policy in making sure that everybody benefits from globalization or at least the benefits and burdens are shared a little more easily. If, as some talk about, we've got a winner-take-all economy where the highly skilled, highly educated are reaping huge rewards and the unskilled or even semi-skilled are getting a much smaller share of the economy, then our tax policies can help cushion some of the blow through providing health care. So if people lose their jobs they're not losing their health care as well. That actually makes a more flexible work force that makes workers more mobile and less resistant to change.

If we've got investments in education, that will make us more competitive in the long run. We've got to pay for that like anything else. But it would be a mistake to say I view our tax code only as a distribution question. I also think that our tax code has come to distort a lot of economic decision making so I'd like to see simplification as part of an overall tax agenda. On the corporate side, for example, one of the things I've asked my folks to look at is: Are there ways we can close existing loopholes in tax havens at the same time as we're lowering overall rates? We've got this new problem: The biggest problem with our tax code when it comes to the business side is that we have one of the highest tax rates -- corporate tax rates -- on paper but our effective tax rate is one of the lowest … You know, how much you pay in taxes as a corporation a lot of times is going to depend on how good your lobbyist is, as opposed to any sound economic theories. So those distorting effects I'd like to actually remove and eliminate from our tax system, but obviously that's a complicated and difficult task. The last time we did it was in 1986. We're going to have to, I think, revisit that.

WSJ: You talked about the last eight years and the question of redistribution goes way back …

Sen. Obama: Oh, there's no doubt about it.

That's why I say that the combination of globalization and technology and automation all weaken the position of workers. I would add an anti-union climate to that list. But all weakens the position of workers, particularly blue-collar workers, in the economy, and some of it is just historical. You know after World War II, we were in this unique position where Europe was decimated, Japan was decimated. China was off the grid because of Mao. And so we didn't have a lot of competition out there, and now other countries are rising and automation has supplanted a lot of work that used to be done by middle-class workers.

We have drastically increased productivity since 1995, and there was the theory that if you increase productivity enough some of these problems of living standards would solve themselves. But what we've seen is rising productivity, rising corporate profits but flat-lining or even declining wages and incomes for the average family.

What that says is that it's going to be important for us to pay attention to not only growing the pie, which is always critical, but also some attention to how it is sliced. I do not believe that those two things -- fair distribution and robust economic growth -- are mutually exclusive.

You get to a point, I think, if you have a participatory income tax, for example, where you might be discouraging work because marginal rates are so high. You might undoubtedly get to a point where the capital gain and dividend taxes are so high that they distort investment decisions and you're weaker economically. But you know if you've got a sensible policy that says, we're going to capture some of the nation's economic growth … and reinvest it in things we know have to be done, like science and technology research or fixing our energy policy, and then that is actually going to be a spur to productivity and not an inhibitor.

There you have it, folks. That's Barack Obama saying that "a strong government hand is needed to ensure that wealth is distributed more equitably." Scary, huh?

Of course, some might say Cap'n Mike looks kind of like an idiot claiming that Obama said something he didn't actually say. I disagree. Just because Cap'n Mike got the quote from a chain e-mail and didn't bother to actually check to see whether the quote was accurate or not doesn't mean he's an idiot. It just means he was too lazy to do the thirty seconds' worth of online research that I did that allowed me to discover what the next President of the United States of America actually said.

Mind you, a heads-up from Mullowney might be a good idea. Perhaps she could run a disclaimer along with Cap'n Mike's piece, something along the lines of, "The author of this article has demonstrated a tendency to acquire his talking points from chain e-mails, and has also demonstrated a disinclination to perform basic research in order to verify said talking points. Reader discretion is advised."

So that's political-soul-destroying notable policy shaper number one. Who's our next contestant, Cap'n Mike?

Sen. John McCain's arguable shortcomings on critical domestic issues, and attendant "big government" solutions, as well as an irresponsible pledge to commit "the entire resources of the United States" to combat manmade global warming.

This one is kind of a disappointment. Apart from that one reference to combating global warming (and half an hour with the magical Google machine has failed to turn up a pledge by McCain to commit "the entire resources of the United States" -- I guess hasn't come across that chain e-mail yet), it's all vague generalities. What shortcomings on what critical domestic issues? What "big government" solutions? What's going on here?

It's true that after losing the Republican nomination to George W. Bush in 2000, McCain spent a few years tacking to the middle, and that he spent the summer of 2004 nagging John Kerry to pick him as his running mate. And even though McCain has been moving to the right again as he positions himself for another run at the Republican presidential nomination, diehard conservatives like Cap'n Mike have never trusted him since. What I think is going on here is that Cap'n Mike still suspects McCain of being a closet liberal, which of necessity means that McCain wants "big government" solutions, even though Cap'n Mike can't actually think of any. So we get that one quote of dubious origin along with dark mutterings about some unspecified "shortcomings" on unnamed "critical domestic issues". To be blunt, Cap'n Mike's got nothin'.

And a quick glance up at the stupidometer shows that we've reached critical and will have to scram the control rods before our brains melt down. So join me next time as I continue my critical examination of Cap'n Mike's critical examination of the de-souling of America.

(this post has been cross-posted to The Spirit of 75)
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