Saturday, December 06, 2008

Change we can believe in? Yes we can! I Hope.

The lefties are not yet livid yet, but they are starting to mummer and grumble. I am sure some on the left would not be satisfied with anything short of Bill Ayers being appointed Secretary of State and Jeremiah Wright being Chief of Staff. Well, it does not look as if it will happen.

Not a single anti-war person has been appointed to his national security team. He is keeping Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. Hillary Clinton who voted for the war in Iraq is getting Secretary of State. His economic team is composed of people that Wall Street find reassuring.

Columnist David Brooks says his appointees are “admired professionals” and “not ideological” and “not excessively partisan.” Henry Kissinger has praised the cabinet choices saying, "It took courage for the president-elect to choose this constellation." Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has also praised Obama for his cabinet choices. What many on the right feared and what those on the left hoped for is not happening. Obama is staffing his leadership team with bright moderate centrist Washington insiders.

Not only are the Obama appointments reassuring, but Obama is also backing away from most of his campaign promises. Almost daily the transition team is letting it be leaked or are announcing policy changes.

Recently Obama’s economic advisers outlined a plan that would raise tax rates on capital gains and dividends from 15% to 20% for individuals making more than $200,000 and on family incomes above $250,000. This was good news. Previous policy positions had led investors to fear Obama would double the 15% tax rate on capital gains and raise the 15% rate on dividends to 40%.

The Obama team also have announce that now is not the time to repeal the Bush tax cut for the wealthy. They won’t be adding additional income taxes to those making over $250,000. Also, they have announced they have changed their mind about a windfall profits tax on the oil companies.

Obama was never the most anti-war of the Democrats but did promise to get US “combat” troops out of Iraq within sixteen months. Now it seems that the distinction between combat troops and other troops is a big distinction and a residual force of up to 70,000 troops may be left in Iraq. He has also said he would listen to the advice of Gates and uniformed commanders on the ground in setting the pace for the partial withdrawal. This is reassuring.

Obama’s team have even let it be known that they will not move for months, and perhaps not until 2010, to ask Congress to end the military's ban on open homosexuals serving in the ranks, known as the “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy. The Obama position on this issue and on issue after issue is being modified or implementation of promised new policies is being delayed.

Except for a handful of ideologically committed leftist, it looks like Obama can change his positions without his supporters even noticing. The mass of people, who swooned at the mention of his name and cried on election night and whose Thanksgiving thing they were thankful for was the election of Obama, will apparently let him lead them anywhere. In a way this is reassuring. Those voters were not voting for specific leftwing policies but had an emotional response to the man Obama.

We should not be surprised that Obama would break campaign promises and shift his positions. If you recall, he promised to accept public financing of his campaign and then changed his mind. He started moderating his positions and moving toward the center immediately after winning the Democratic primary. He is continuing along the same trajectory. Anyway, only a fool stays the course and refuses to change his mind when circumstances indicate a need for a change in policy. And only a fool would raise taxes when the economy needs a stimulus and only a fool would radically change our nations defense and security team in the mist of a war and when terrorist are plotting another attack on this country. I am reassured that Obama is no fool.

I am not catching a case of Obamania but I am pleasantly surprised at some of his appointments and changes in policy. If he continues down this path, he may be Ok for America. So far, he is showing me some change I can believe in.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

PR suggestion for the Big 3

The Big Three automaker CEOs return to Washington today with tin cup in hand asking for a $34 Billion bailout. This time they arrived by hybrid vehicles. The last time they arrived seeking a dose of corporate welfare they asked for $24 Billion and they flew in, each in his own private jet. Last time they got a chilly reception and a tongue lashing; this time the reception was a little warmer. It seems that symbolism will always win out over substance in Washington. And, elected officials seem to like supplicants to grovel a little. If a $24 Billion bailout for the auto industry was a bad idea when the CEO’s flew in on their private jets then $34 Billion is a bad idea when they drive to Washington in a hybrid vehicle.

If they don’t get the handout they want, I have some advice for them. Next time, come to Washington by bicycle and roller skate. Also, instead of staying at the Renaissance Mayflower, stay at the Motel 6, or better yet camp out. Also, instead of dining at a fancy upscale Washington restaurant bring your lunch. Just open your briefcase and eat right there in the hearing room in front of everyone at the table where you are sitting. One of you could bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; one could eat a bologna sandwich, and one a tuna sandwich. Hell, that ought to be worth, maybe, $52 billion?

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Monday, December 01, 2008

The ignorance if frightening

If you have watched The Tonight Show with Jay Leno very often you have probably seen the segment called “jaywalking”. In this segment, Leno interviews people on the street, the objective of which is to find humor in showing how ignorant people are. The questions Leno ask his subjects may be something like, “What two countries fought in the Spanish-American war?” or, “What does Bush 43 mean?” It is quite funny. Few people have the self-confidence, or whatever it takes, to say “I don’t know.” Most people take a guess or make something up. (If you would like to view some jaywalking segments, click here: Jaywalking.)

I have laughed along with the audience and enjoyed it but found myself amazed that people could be so ignorant. I have wondered if the producers did not have to shoot hours and hours of footage to be able to compile five minutes of dumb answers that they could show on TV. I know I don’t personally know anyone as ignorant as the people you see on jaywalking.

Occasionally however, I run into people who will spout some pretty ignorant stuff. Once I was at a family gathering and said something about a recent trip my wife and I taken to Spain and a distant in-law asked me if we drove or we flew to Spain. She was a teenager and I assume she was of normal intelligence. Occasionally, I will encounter people who I suspect are probably really dumb but I really don’t know if for a fact. Sometimes someone will make a comment that is a generalization about a country or ethnic group that displays a bigotry that I assume is rooted in ignorance. I will also occasionally hear someone say something about the age of the earth or something about geography or history that will show his or her ignorance.

The press release from Intercollegiate Studies Institute posted below is really disturbing. I am astonished that less than half of the people surveyed can name all three branches of the government. I would expect every person of normal intelligence to know that.

We live in an era when it has never been easier to be informed. We have the world at our fingertips. Cable TV has cultural and educational programs carried on channels like The History Channel and The Learning Channel and there are several stations carrying news and commentary twenty-four hours a day.

I watch a lot of Book TV. On Book TV, every weekend you can watch scholars discuss their research and expound on the topic of which they are expert. I watch CSPAN and am often impressed at the brilliants of some of our representatives. I remember watching the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominees and felt like I was sitting in the presence of very wise men. Even those men and women with whom I disagree, when they questioned the nominee I felt like they were asking meaningful questions and showing a depth of knowledge. They were not merely playing “gotcha.” they were probing to discover fine philosophical nuances. We can sit in the presence of greatness every day if we wish. We have opportunities they were once reserved for the very few.

With the availability of the Internet, the knowledge that in the past could only be acquired by sitting in a university classroom or spending hours in a major library can now be obtained in minutes wherever you may be, whenever you wish. We have never in the history of mankind had as much information available so cheaply and easily. And yet, I wonder if the average person is any better educated than their great grandparents.

The lack of knowledge and understanding of basic economics, history, and civics is frightening. It is worrisome to think that the fate of our country and our freedom is in the hands of people who cannot name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is scary to think that these people vote. Not only do they vote, they get elected to public office. Given the ignorance of such a large segment of the public, I wonder how long we can remain free.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008


Third Intercollegiate Studies Institute Report on Civic Literacy Suggests There is an Epidemic of Historical, Political and Economic Ignorance in America; Colleges Must be Main Part of Cure

Washington, D.C., November 20, 2008 – Are most people, including college graduates, civically illiterate? Do elected officials know even less than most citizens about civic topics such as history, government, and economics? The answer is yes on both counts according to a new study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). More than 2,500 randomly selected Americans took ISI’s basic 33question test on civic literacy and more than 1,700 people failed, with the average score 49 percent, or an “F.” Elected officials scored even lower than the general public with an average score of 44 percent and only 0.8 percent (or 21) of all surveyed earned an “A.”

Even more startling is the fact that over twice as many people know Paula Abdul was a judge on American Idol than know that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Complete results from ISI’s third study on American civic literacy are being released today in a report entitled Our Fading Heritage: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions. The new study follows up two previous reports from ISI’s National Civic Literacy Board that revealed a major void in civic knowledge among the nation’s college students. This report goes beyond the college crowd however, examining the civic literacy of everyday citizens,
including selfidentified elected officials. But according to ISI, the blame and solution again lie at the doorstep of the nation’s colleges.

“There is an epidemic of economic, political, and historical ignorance in our country,” says Josiah Bunting, III, Chairman of ISI’s National Civic Literacy Board. “It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI’s civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned. How can political leaders make informed decisions if they don’t understand the American experience? Colleges can, and should, play an important role in curing this national epidemic of ignorance.”

A large majority of respondents agree colleges should prepare citizen leaders by teaching America’s history, key texts and institutions. Seventy two percent of respondents with a high school diploma believe colleges should teach our heritage as do 74 percent with graduate degrees. However, the impact of college in advancing civic knowledge, as evidenced in ISI’s first two studies, is minimal. In the new study, this trend is confirmed. The average score among those who ended their formal education with a bachelor’s degree is 57 percent or an “F”, which is only 13 percentage points higher than the average score of 44 percent earned by those who hold high school diplomas. And when you hold other noncollege influences constant, the gain from a college degree drops to about 6 percent, quite consistent with past ISI findings.

Further demonstrating the minimal influence of college in advancing civic literacy, ISI discovered that the civic knowledge gained from the combination of engaging in frequent conversations about public affairs, reading about current events and history and participating in advanced civic activities is greater than the gain from an expensive bachelor’s degree alone. Conversely, talking on the phone, watching owned or rented movies and monitoring TV news broadcasts and documentaries diminish a respondent’s civic literacy.

“People may be listening to television experts talk about economic bailouts and the platforms of political candidates, but they apparently have little idea what our basic economic and political institutions are,” observes Dr. Richard Brake, ISI’s Director of University Stewardship. “Our study raises significant questions about whether citizens who voted in this year’s landmark presidential election really understand how our system of representative democracy works.”

For example, Brake points out that less than half of all Americans can name all three branches of government. And only 21 percent know the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which President elect Barack Obama cited in his acceptance speech on Election night.

Following is a sampling of other results from several basic survey questions:
  • 30 percent of elected officials do not know that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence; and 20 percent falsely believe that the Electoral College “was established to supervise the first presidential debates”
  • Almost 40 percent of all respondents falsely believe the president has the power to declare war
  • 40 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree do not know business profit equals revenue minus expenses
  • Only 54 percent with a bachelor’s degree correctly define free enterprise as a system in which individuals create, exchange and control goods and resources
  • 20.7 percent of Americans falsely believe that the Federal Reserve can increase or decrease government spending
“The nation’s ignorance of the kind of knowledge necessary for informed and responsible citizenship—and the failure of our nation’s colleges to effectively address and fix this problem— would certainly be unacceptable to our founding fathers, who believed that the university would create leaders to preserve liberty,” asserts Dr. Brake. “Our report demonstrates that Americans today expect no less from our colleges than our founders did.”

The report calls upon elected officials, administrators, trustees, faculty donors, taxpayers and parents to reevaluate collegiate curricula and standards for accountability. Some of the questions ISI believes need to be asked are the following:
o Do colleges require courses in American history, politics, economics and other core areas?
o Do colleges assess the civic or overall learning of their graduates?
o Do elected officials link college appropriations to real measures of civic or overall learning?

“Citizenship is a lifelong commitment,” says Bunting. “Colleges need to do their part to help young citizens keep their commitment. In the process, they will be helping to preserve the civic vitality of our nation.”

The ISI test was administered in conjunction with Dr. Kenneth Dautrich of the University of Connecticut and Braun Research, Inc. All 33 questions and ISI’s Our Fading Heritage report are
available at

About the Intercollegiate Studies Institute: The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) ( was founded in 1953 to further in successive generations of American college youth a better understanding of the economic, political, and ethical values that sustain a free and humane society. With ISI’s volunteer representatives at over 900 colleges, and with more than 65,000 ISI student and faculty members on virtually every campus in the country, ISI directs tens of thousands of young people each year to a wide array of educational programs that deepen their understanding of the American ideal of ordered liberty.

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