Writings and observations

Martin Peterson
From Idaho

There has recently been a lot of talk about the group of Americans known as The One Percent. The term refers to the one percent of Americans who control something like forty percent of the nation’s wealth. Presumably, the wealthiest of these individuals, unless they inherited their wealth, are people who are intelligent, have a high work ethic and think strategically when making business decisions.

So, at a time when there has been so much talk about the overly long recovery from the last recession, where do these wealthy individuals invest their money? Following tips from their Fox News advisors, the smart investment was in Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates.

The talking heads on Fox said for months that this was a sure thing. As it turns out, as financial advisors, they were right up there with Bernie Madoff.

Take the billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson. He made his billions off of people who bet and lost and when it came to making political donations, he proved no luckier than most of his customers. He spent $53 million on nine political races and had only one winner. The one winner was in the Texas Senate race where he actually supported two candidates.

Then there are the Koch brothers, Charles and David. They were reported to be prepared to donate something in the neighborhood of $400 million to a variety of tax exempt groups that are not subject to federal campaign finance disclosure. Their top priority was to support candidates who will weaken environmental regulations and stop the move away from coal to cleaner sources of energy. Presumably, that would have come with Republicans solidly in control of the House, Senate and White House. In the end, it was not one of their better investments.

One of the super PACs into which many of those wealthy one-percenters poured contributions was the one run by the former Bush political operative Karl Rove. Rove has been largely
viewed as one of the shrewdest and most effective political operatives of the current generation.

Not so in 2012. Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC spent $104 million of other people’s money in the general election and none of its candidates won. In the end, rather than declaring victory, all he could say was that without this funding support, the races wouldn’t have been nearly as close. Someone needs to remind him that close only counts in horseshoes.

Closer to home, there was Idaho’s own Frank VanderSloot. VanderSloot is the Idaho Falls based billionaire who founded Melaleuca, an Amway clone that sells nutritional supplements, cleaning supplies and personal care products. His 2012 election passion was Idaho education reform and Mitt Romney. He spent $1.3 million in supporting the ill-fated Luna laws and another $1 million on the Romney campaign.

So what is the take-home lesson from all of this? Just as with the stock market, there are no sure things in politics. But there are ways in which people could minimize their losses. One such way would be for the U.S. to adopt the British campaign model and limit campaigns to thirty days. In addition, the British government imposes what they call Purdah before elections. This is a period of about six weeks prior to elections during which the government is prohibited from making public release of any proposed new programs.

Unfortunately, there is little chance that such common-sense changes will be coming to U.S. elections any time soon. The billions spent on the 2012 elections didn’t simply disappear, as in the case of a bad stock purchase. The moneys went to a wide-range of election stakeholders who weren’t running for office. They include campaign advisors, media strategists, political advisors, newspapers, direct mail firms, robo telephone calling firms, radio and TV stations, advertising agencies and others. There are also many others who benefit economically from lengthy and expensive campaigns, although not at the expense of the candidates campaign checkbook. These include media pundits and commentators. Political campaigns are big business and in America we strongly support big business.

Take no comfort in knowing that as you read this, plans are being hatched among both Republicans and Democrats for those first visits to Iowa and New Hampshire as the cycle begins for the 2016 presidential elections. It’s going to be another long four years.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

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Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

I’ve just seen Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” Were I put in charge of this nation’s public education system, no student would graduate from any high school without seeing it. Twice. Once in the freshman year – again as a senior. It’s that important.

As I remember, when a kid of about 13-14 is assigned American history studies, most approach the task with as much zeal as being asked to eat sawdust. The pages are flat. The information is boringly black and white. The names uninteresting and hard to connect with reality. Watching “Lincoln” at that age would change all that. These are real people sprung from dusty and mostly forgotten lessons. You cannot see and hear them without learning. And feeling. It’s just not possible.

William Seward, Salmon Chase, Edwin Stanton, Edward Bates and ol’ Abe himself are now – to those kids – just so many names to remember for some meaningless test. But in the hands of Spielberg and the superb actors he chose for those parts, there is flesh and blood – depth of character – motivations for their actions – ample reasons why they should be remembered for their importance to our history.

The second required exposure – at age 17-18 – would provide a review and a perspective not possible the first time around. It would bring together lessons learned since the first exposure – lessons about real people – fleshed-out, ambitious, patriotic, honest – and not-so-honest. They would understand how things happened. And why. Added to other lessons learned over those intervening years – and with more maturity – the second viewing would create an indelible memory “stamp” to last a lifetime.
All of us learned Abraham Lincoln was a great president who ended slavery and was assassinated at Ford’s Theater. As a kid, you accepted those facts and closed the book. History learned.

But scholars want us to know more. Republican Lincoln was a wheeler-dealer who “bought” votes to abolish slavery using the power of patronage. He passed out government jobs as rewards to those who’d abandon their own political party or their pro-slavery positions by voting for the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Many were offered to Democrats who’d been losers in recent elections and were looking to hang on. Do most people today know Lincoln used paid lobbyists to win his victory?

How many young people know Lincoln – while pursuing a devastating and bloody war with other people’s sons – tried to keep his own out of the army using presidential power to have his son’s enlistment rejected? How many know his own cabinet and party strongly opposed him? How many know he had his wife committed to an asylum? Or how he bored many contemporaries with fables, jokes and stories? Or that he made house calls on members of congress to get votes? And much, much more.

Are all – or any – of these things important for high school students to learn? Should these and hundreds of other little-known facts about Lincoln – the people around him – the gut-level battle to kill slavery – the human facets of all involved – the weaknesses and corruption and human frailties – should these be important and remembered by more Americans? You bet!

Spielberg and screen writer Tony Kushner stayed very close to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals.” The whole warts-and-all history is laid out on those pages. Excellent and award-winning history. Spielberg brought it to life in detail seldom seen in an adaptation. For nearly three hours, what we watched was life. And not one boring minute!

The actors seemed submerged in their characters – especially Daniel Day-Lewis who became Lincoln. His complete transformation erased any thought I had that he was just “playing a part.” Day-Lewis – more than any other actor or element of production – made history real and erased from my mind for all time any previous attempt to understand that complex martyr. It’s a characterization that’ll always define his career.

One of the great failures of our educational system is all-too apparent in the lack of knowledge of government by far too many citizens in this country. Our most recent election – clouded in off-repeated lies and smothered by nearly a billion dollars of excess – was the latest proof. Some knowledgeable estimates are that – nationally – more people voted against something than for something. Many in exit polling exhibited little to no understanding of real candidate positions or many of the ballot measures they’d just acted upon. Asked to explain their votes, far too many could not.

Many voices of protest and ignorant outrage raised in our nation are those of people who don’t understand their own government. They fear it largely because they have so little knowledge of it, why it exists, how it works or their role in it. They see it as some far-off, impersonal object they can’t define. “Them” or “it.” They want “it” to do things “it” can’t or stop doing things “it” is supposed to do. Widespread civic distrust – centered in such lack of understanding – is threatening our institutions.

All voices of ignorance? Of course not. But when someone lacks the basic knowledge of what is real – of what is right – subsequent exposure to information that is NOT real or which doesn’t comport to actual fact, serves to undermine our civic process.

If more protesting voices had been exposed to history as told in “Lincoln,” I believe they’d better understand government, its role and how it works. Or, when it doesn’t. And why. What we need is more such information masquerading as entertainment. Not less.
I”m grateful to Steven Spielberg, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Tony Kushner and every actor and production member of “Lincoln.” The excitement – the understanding – the experience – the knowledge. It should be required education.

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