Archive for September, 2012

In the 1960 presidential election, John Kennedy received 49.72% of the popular vote; Richard Nixon 49.55%. Kennedy’s actual “win” came in the electoral college. Still, even in victory, he had to walk down the street knowing one of every two people he passed voted against him. Not a comfortable situation. Nor one that makes for effective governing.

Members of Congress knew that, too. Which was why his administration got off to a difficult legislative start. When half – or nearly half – the people vote for someone other than the winner, opposition in Congress tends to be stiffer because members know – statistically and politically – half the folks at home won’t be unhappy about their opposition.

Which is yet another sterling piece of evidence that Mitt Romney – the guy who wants be “Chairman of the Board” rather than a serving president – just doesn’t understand the office and hasn’t a clue about White House and congressional relationships.

One of Romney’s most used stump speech lines – public and private – is he doesn’t need to win by a large margin; “only 50.1%.” It’s his mantra. The phrase “50.1%” is never far from his lips. And it’s usually said with a smile as if he’s just pointed out something only he knows. Well, he may know the number, but has no idea what it means. ‘Cause it ain’t good.

Bill Clinton – the Lazurus of American politics – knows that. He knows, too, 50.1% wouldn’t be enough in this year’s poisonous politics to break the congressional stalemate. Democrats have more than 50.1% of the Senate already and it’s done them no good.

If – as I suspect – the makeup of the House and Senate won’t be much different in 2013 from what it is today, a president who doesn’t receive a mandate from the voters will have no more chance to break the logjam than Obama had these last four years. It’ll be more of the same.

So what would be a mandate? Hard to say. I’d put it at 54-57% at least. A percentage high enough that the president could go over the heads of members of Congress and make his case with the people directly on any given issue. High enough that his support and popularity would be greater than most members of Congress so he could pose a threat to their continued residence along the Potomac in 2014.

Romney is playing grade school logic here. If he were elected with just 50.1%, he couldn’t do any more with Congress than Obama. Many members, likely to get a higher percentage in their campaigns, would be emboldened with their own popularity to stop him at every turn. And remember- it’s not just Democrats a President Romney would have to contend with. It’s those pesky TP-GOP kooks as well. His 50.1% would buy him nothing.

Lazurus -er Clinton – believes if the next president doesn’t get a mandate, the other thing that could shake up the mess in Washington would be what he terms “an action-forcing event.” During Clinton’s presidency, Newt Gingrich and that over-hyped “Class of 94″ elected to Congress, forced a government shutdown. Closed ‘er right up for a couple of weeks. The backlash from voters in both parties was nasty enough Gingrich and his “pirates” were forced to back off. “After that,” Clinton said, “we worked together and had five good years together.” That overlooks an impeachment but you get his drift.

Some moderate members in both parties think letting the government “go off the cliff” in January isn’t such a bad idea. I think so, too. Let sequestration have its head. Let the budget slashes hit. Let the Bush tax cuts expire on everyone. Let those who voted for that idiotic “sequestration” rather than do their jobs twist in the wind a bit.

Then, first day of the new session of Congress, Senate Democrats – who will likely still have a majority – could immediately introduce a bill to restore tax cuts for everyone making less than $250,000 a year. Odds are some Republicans looking for cover would vote for that. A few have already said so. That could be the “action-forcing” event Clinton talks about.

As for budget cuts, once the tax business is out of the way, the coalition formed to pass that could become the bi-partisan working base necessary to take up the budget issues. The necessary cutting could be done then with no artificial deadline – more carefully selected reductions where they would do the least harm. I think it’s worth a try. Especially if the composition of Congress remains essentially unchanged in 2013.

These are the kinds of things a president can sponsor and work for – if he has a mandate. If he goes into the new year with some voter strength that comes from a 54% or greater election. Romney’s repeated “50.1%” simply shows he’s talking only of winning – not governing.

I hate to be the one out here in the Oregon woods to break it to you, Sir, but your idea of winning would be a national loss. Yours, too. It’s the governing you should be worry about.

Well, given the new polling, maybe you’d just be worrying needlessly.

By July, 2050 – just about 38 years from today – 132.8 million Hispanics will be living in the good old U.S. of A. at which time they’ll make up more than 30% of the entire population. You can embrace that or – in some cases – fear that. But the Bureau of the Census says ‘twill be so.

In Northwest states – Idaho, Oregon, Washington – Hispanics are already the largest single minority group. That’s also the case in 22 other states from coast to coast. Each of the 50 saw major growth in the numbers from the 2000 census through 2010. In fact, at 52 million, Hispanics are the largest minority in the country. Period.

Couple these figures with growth in all other minorities and you’ll find we are living on the cusp of the largest racial and ethnic changes in our history – unless you count when the Pilgrims started pushing local Indians back from the Atlantic shore.

In fact, given officially projected growth in all minorities, the white, Anglo Saxon majority of today will no longer hold that distinction after 2050. We’ll be a nation of minorities with no single majority. Some minorities will be larger than others. But no single majority.

That’s never happened before. And you can already see signs this inevitable sea change of skin color and backgrounds is making some people fearful. Academics and others who study our national culture have been writing of this fear for some time. A few have posited that, because this nation has its first mixed-race president, racial appearance – and the too-often resulting prejudice – has contributed to the unreasonable hatred directed at him by some in our society.

It’s a fear, they say, fed by two major things. One is a feeling – true or not – that a white majority is being replaced in positions of authority. That some – used to being in the majority race and identifying with controlling events – are fearful of losing that power.

The other most cited factor deals with what people look like. Basically, their racial appearance. For example, until most immigrants to this country from Europe start to talk, no one usually considers that person to be in the minority he/she really is. They don’t look – well, different. But Asian or Black or Hispanic – that’s a difference that can be seen. And a difference that can often make some people uncomfortable.

Still, facts are facts. And the inevitability of this country not having a single racial majority in the near future is not open to question.

Let’s go back to the Hispanics. In 1968, President Johnson proclaimed National Hispanic Heritage Week starting September 15th and Congress extended the observance to month-long in 1988. Doubtful many non-Hispanics gave it much thought at that time. Unless they had roots in Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

But now Hispanics make up about 19% of the total U.S. population. Their number increased by 43% from the 2000 census to the 2010 recount. California, alone, has an estimated 14.4 million Hispanics. More than 50% of all Hispanics live in just three states: California, Florida and Texas. And in South Carolina, the Hispanic population increased 147.9% in the years between those census takings. 147.9%!

There are lots of other rather startling findings by the Census Bureau folks. But the point is, how is this nation going to adjust to this remake of our society as we lose a single majority to become a nation of combined minorities? What affects will this new mash of cultures have on business, lifestyles, education, health care, entertainment, agriculture and on and on and on? What sorts of changes are we all going to have to make – or undergo – to accommodate the new realities? All of us? Each of us?

Maybe I don’t fully grasp the life-changing significance of all this because – to me – this is an exciting time to be right in the middle of this ethnic redesign of our country. Being someone with a Heinz 57 racial makeup, I’ve always admired those who have a more simple – more direct – ethnic heritage. One with its own music and history and dress and even language.

We have East Indian friends, for example, who have shared their culture, food and history with us. It’s been a fascinating experience. Years ago, I sponsored a Panamanian friend for U.S. citizenship and learned firsthand of his native language and national history. Beautiful! One of my daughters was married in a Buddhist ceremony and, again, we learned of another minority culture here in our midst. They’d been near us for years but we gave it little or no thought until our family was drawn into their lives.

Exciting time? Fearful time? This new reality is going to affect each of us. I pray the experience will be more the former and less the latter.

And, one more thing. Living in this country at the moment are 1.2 million Hispanics or Latinos who are veterans of our military. Seems they didn’t have much fear of putting themselves on the line for their adopted country. We need to consider that, too.

You. Fox News viewer. You who no longer get your “news” anywhere else. You folks who call yourselves true Republican “conservatives.” Listen up. Listen carefully. This is just for you.

IT’S NOT YOUR NEWS ANYMORE! Faux News is no longer reporting the “news” for true Republican “conservatives.” None. Zip. Nada.

This is not my message. It’s actually from Frank Rich of New York Magazine – a man made of much sterner stuff than I. Frank Rich – a most respected journalist for many a year – did something few of us with little patience for the phony faux-journalistic outpourings of Rupert Murdoch’s little Republican talking points factory could ever do.

Frank Rich immersed himself in seven days of nothing but right wing media – written and broadcast. He read and listened to everything he could find to the exclusion of normally accepted newspapers and broadcasters. Even the I-Net. From responsible conservatives like George Will and David Brooks to the flatulent Rush and others further out there who believe “true conservatives” use only tinfoil as a head cover. He spent an entire week buried in a range of media output from solid information to fearful paranoia.

And you know what he learned? The one overriding insight he gained from such mental depravity? Listen up, Fox believer.

Frank Rich learned Faux News is not broadcasting “true conservative stories,” not dealing with “true conservative facts” and seems to be ignoring the real issues of concern to real conservatives.

Rich found denizens of the conservative forest are talking to others in the trees about massive federal debt and how to reduce it – their desires for real immigration reform – putting some Wall Street types in jail for nearly sinking our national economy – beefing up the military – gaining control of state governments – and other issues seldom found on Fox in any detail.

Most of all, the folks out there aren’t talking much about Mitt Romney. Rich found sizeable evidence “true conservatives” have written off Romney and are looking for more information about this year’s congressional and state races. They’ve conceded the next four years to Obama and want to find someone better than Romney to get behind in 2016. They want that search to start – today.

If your digestive system will handle it, settle down in front of your TV for a couple of hours with Fox. A good sour mash whiskey helps. Listen to the verbal chaff from the talking hand puppets. Make a list of what they’re chatting about, who they’re talking about and how many times you hear the name “ Romney.”

Then compare your list to what Rich says folks are really talking about in the REAL conservative world.. What you’ll find – as Rich did – is very little of the former and a lot of the latter. Especially a lot of Romney/Ryan on Fox. You won’t find much detail about what real conservatives are saying, subjects local Republican cental committees are dealing with or conservative efforts to find a new presidential candidate. Now. Today.

Several national surveys by respected institutions have shown Fox viewers are poorly informed about real issues, are getting faulty information to reinforce the skewed views of the far right, have little accurate information about foreign affairs, and tend to believe “facts” that aren’t true. Now, it seems, even those real world subjects the true conservatives are talking about are being avoided by their trusted voice.

Rich and others have discovered the secret of Fox News. The real reason for its existence. To be a megaphone for the views of Rupert Murdoch. That’s really all it is. And, as we’ve learned about the operation of Mr. Murdoch’s British newspaper empire, the lengths to which he will allow his people to go to pursue his personal outlook on life. Even if they have to break the law or manufacture “facts.”

As a near-lifetime member of the media, I’ve long hammered Fox for a lot of things – for what I believe are good and professional reasons. But I’ve missed something. Something Frank Rich discovered by sealing himself off from the real world for seven days and existing on a diet of right wing propaganda while avoiding the Kool-aid.

Fox is not only untrue to honest facts in its skewed presentations, it’s also untrue to the audience that has long believed it to be the banner carrier of their political outlook. Its own base. And now, Frank Rich has discovered it’s lying – even to them! It’s serving only the guy who signs the paychecks.

Well, there you have it, my Fox friends. That’s the way it is. Your favored media bastion of all things conservative is no more real than Disneyland.

How about it? Want to grab a glass, an ice cube or two and spilt the rest of that bottle of sour mash?

I’ve recently been told by good authority my life’s work has failed. Come up short. Things I’d striven for and achieved for family and loved ones are apparently overvalued in my own mind. Wanting nothing more than to be a bill-paying, flag-loving, family-values, church-going member of America’s highly valued middle class, I’m told now I’m not middle class. In reality, my loved ones and I are below the poverty line and are part of the nation’s growing needy.

Damn, where have I failed? How could I have been so foolish as to believe I’d achieved modest successes that have given me what appear now to have been false senses of accomplishment and worth? How could I have lived so long with the feelings I’d met my responsibilities and even exceeded some when, actually, I’d never risen even to that vaunted American middle class?

I’ve been drenched with the cold water of reality. My eyes should have been opened to all this before. I could have wound up buried on the downside of the flowers in potter’s field and not known. We’re all much better for this new, more accurate view of our real place on the economic food chain.

It came unexpectedly. It came at the hands of George Stephanopoulos – that finder of all things factual – that national distributor of reality in American life – that funny little former Clinton staffer on ABC Television. Him.

He was talking to – yea, grilling in his own Greek way – that paragon of America’s economic success to whom truth, vision and infinite perspective have been given – Mitt Romney. Mitt – the entire Republican Party’s official nominee for the office of President of the United States no less.

They were earnestly discussing a subject close to my heart all these decades. And this was to be the defining moment. The moment when all of life’s work would be substantiated by someone really successful. A voice to validate from his lofty economic perch the hard work of all of us who’ve spent a lifetime in the trenches – to give a realistic sense of middle class accomplishment for those of us who’ve been striving just to have a garage of our own – much less one with a two-car elevator.

Breathlessly, I listened as Mitt said “No one can say my (tax) plan is going to raise taxes on middle-income people because principle number one is to keep the burden down on middle-income taxpayers.”

“HOORAY,” I shouted! “HOORAY for Mitt. He understands America’s middle class. He’ll take the necessary steps to protect us. In his heart, he knows feelings of lifetime accomplishment and wants to protect me. Me!”

But George wasn’t satisfied. He wanted more. He wanted the truth!

“Is $100,000 middle-income?”

There was calm. Absolute calm. Then, with an air of someone who’s been enormously successful and a tone of voice just hinting at the warmth of a banker’s heart, Mitt replied “No, middle-income is $200,000 to $250,000.”

That did it! My heart sank. A sense of misplaced accomplishment drained from my elderly body. I had just found out I was not middle class at all. That, in reality, after a life of striving and sacrifice, I was below the poverty line. Oh, what have I done? Where did I go wrong?

Suddenly, it all came crashing back. Just as Mitt had said. I had NOT asked my parents for college money. I had NOT thought of General Motors and other corporations as “people.” My wife did NOT have “a couple of Cadillac’s” like other wives. We did NOT have four homes. I did NOT put my money in foreign banks. At least I don’t think so.

And now – now – just when I was serenely comfortable in the $50,000 to $100,000 middle class I’d always worked for, it was an illusion. All of it. The home. The two cars in our cement-floored garage. The motor home (only a Class C) in the driveway. Our little trips to the Oregon coast to enjoy the company of friends – all of whom I’d thought were solid middle class. Just like us. Our little church help with the community food drives and other outreach programs. Doing the Lord’s work.

None of us – not one – had really achieved the dream of American middle class. None of it was real!

All these years – all of them – I’d believed our government statistical experts – the ones in the Bureau of the Census – that said the real middle class income was $50,000-$56,000 – or about 76% of our nation’s economic pie. The same “experts” who claimed those making $200,000 to $250,000 were only about four-point-six percent of that same pie. The real middle class.

I had believed a lie. All of it. A lie.

And now – just now – he’s saying the Medicare and the Social Security I paid for all those 50-plus years have made me dependent on big government and I’ve become just another drain on real – rich – Americans. That – in my senior years – I’ve become another blood sucker on the body politic.

If there’s anyone out there qualified to decide our future tax systems – who will pay more and who will pay less – if there’s anyone out there who respects the work ethic and support for all who occasionally need the rest of us to lift them up – I’m certain it’s Mitt.. He cares for the middle class. He cares deeply for the middle class.

He just has no idea what the Hell – or who the Hell – we are!

From poorly-informed presidential candidates to bar flies an hour before “last call,” voices are heaping ill-deserved criticism on the Obama folks for the fires and murders in the Middle East. A lot of ignorance is showing.

Shortly after Eve and Adam lost their lease on the Garden for lying, son number one killed son number two and the Middle East has been carrying on the murderous tradition since that time. If it’s not one of them killing the other, it’s one of them killing somebody living somewhere else. Or killing the damned fools from outside who think they can bring “lasting peace” to countries that have never known it.

And for those who think some terribly produced, short hate film made in California directed at Muslims is at the bottom of the current binge, tain’t so, McGee. In nearly every instance of violence there is ample evidence this is terrorist-sponsored. What may have started as legitimate outrage – in the eyes of a very few Muslims over deliberate mocking of their religion – has been quickly turned into nationalist outrage sponsored by those who’ve been sitting in the bushes just waiting for the right fuse to light.

Little groups of haters of this-that-and-all-other-things Western long ago learned how to manipulate large crowds with just a few well-placed voices. They can take an argument between two used camel dealers and turn it into a building-burning horde in 10 minutes. It’s masterful crowd control in the wrong hands. It also goes back centuries.

Evidence of this is plentiful. Black flags of the hate groups hoisted or waived conspicuously in protests across North African countries. Local Taliban or other anti-western groups identified prominently in crowds and taking credit on the I-Net while urging more people into the streets. Some of the participants – in more countries than Libya – showing up with grenade launchers and automatic weapons. Some religiously pissed Muslim locals showing off for the cameras? I don’t think so.

The previous administration got us into two “wars of choice” in the Middle East. The current folks are trying to get us out and have already pulled the plug on one of them. But neither president – and none before them – could have cured the anti-American fever. It’s just the latest outbreak of the continuing sickness that is directed at all things Western. And a few things that are Muslim but not the kind that’s “pure” enough.

In true cold war style, the Romney/Ryan people want this country to respond in 1970’s fashion with a show of “patriotic” determination and military force. Go in there – kick some ass – show them “you don’t pull on Superman’s cape” – take charge – exact suitable punishments. It’s as though these people have been sleeping for 40 years and just woke up. “Keep doin’ what you’re doin’,” is their cry!

There’s no easy answer to the current mess. There’s never been an easy answers to all the previous messes. Anyone who steps up to the microphone with the words “I have the solution” should be ignored. The violent forces at play in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and other hot spots can’t be controlled from outside. By this country or any other. If we’ve learned nothing else from our tragic experiences in Iran and Afghanistan, we should understand a country’s government and national direction must be determined by the people who live there. As long as all that doesn’t slop over onto the world stage and threaten our real interests. Which isn’t often.

American businesses and other westerners who set up shop in these places do so at their own risk. Neither our government nor any other can assure the safety of their investments. We can’t be expected to go in there and pull their bacon, their employees and other interests out of the fire as has been suggested on the campaign trail.

In some ways, this nation shares the blame for deaths incurred so far and for the anti-American feelings felt – with some legitimacy – by folks in that region. We have continually inserted ourselves – openly or clandestinely – in the affairs of one country after another. And we’ve been wrong much of the time. If, for example, someone from Florida came into Oregon – telling us we need to get rid of some of our government and live as Floridians do – most of us would try to throw them out and have a much more hostile view of all things Florida.

What this country does in the next few days, weeks or even years to respond to violence against us in Muslim states is a huge problem. Diplomacy must be – must be – the first option. Throwing our national weight around with some cold war era rhetoric or show of force must be – must be – the last. The very last.

We can’t afford to listen to warmongers and leftover Bush neo-cons. Oops, repeated myself there. Or political candidates looking for quick points in a damned election. We’re not just facing some bad publicity for a crudely made, anti-Muslim movie. Terrorists have used this as a fuse to light the dynamite of anti-Americanism.

A lot is riding on what we do in the next few days and weeks. We could use a lot less rhetoric and more prayer.

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign – in my view – suffers from two very basic disadvantages. One is the poorest staff work since George Armstrong Custer. And two is – Mitt Romney.

I’ve followed his career for a long time. Honestly, until this interminable campaign – both primary and general – I’ve had a rather positive view of his public life. No question his contacts within the world business community – and $750 million federal dollars – served him well in pulling the Salt Lake Olympics out of a large hole.

His years as Governor of Massachusetts were largely positive. Romneycare has proven effective in getting nearly all residents of the state covered by some sort of health insurance. The welfare waiver he asked for at that time – which he now wrongly blames the current President for granting other states – was used to build some effective programs – with lots of federal dollars – got people back to work. Good things in environmental work, too.

But from day one in the primaries through today, the Mitt Romney I see and hear is not the same guy. He’s just not. He seems to have lost whatever leadership skills he had that got him this far. He has a near-daily proclivity for being in the wrong place on many issues, saying whatever the person standing next to him wants to hear, not offering a pathway for the future or a plan to get there and not wholly committing himself to his quest.

Take his staff. Please. (A little Henny Youngman there.) In major political races, any candidate starting off without a topnotch staff does so with two strikes against him. Or her. No major candidate – none – can stay on top of all the issues, much less new ones like Libya which can develop overnight. That’s a primary staff function. Keep track of all important items; condense facts; brief the candidate daily – hourly if necessary; provide talking points; make sure the candidate gets all relevant information. Keep Romney “on task.” Do everything you can to solve problems before they get to him. That’s the essence of a good team. You’ll never be successful without it.

But Romney’s people – and other advisors around him – are either doing such work and being ignored – which usually causes good folks to quickly depart – or they’re not operating as a team. This often results in conflicting advice – or terrible advice. Either way, outside political professionals are starting to be critical of Romney’s support people and pointing to inside failures – including those chosen advisors – which seem to be making Romney appear out-of-touch and unprepared. Can you say “Libya?”

Here’s a single issue to prove my point. Tax returns. Some top people on the Romney team are old-hands. Putting the candidate’s financial affairs in the public record is a no-brainer. They know it’s been done for decades. Especially in this case – Romney’s own father! And they know the stink and off-message problems caused when you don’t offer financial transparency. Ed Gillespie and others know better. I have to believe Romney was advised to put his returns out there – and overruled staff.
If staff did NOT try to make the case – on just this one issue – then see “George Armstrong Custer” above. Believe me, there are other instances showing lack of – or bad – staff support.

Then, in my view, Romney suffers from – Romney. Somewhere along the way, he flunked out of “Candidate School.” He’s a textbook example of how to conduct a losing campaign. And he shows it daily. If about 40% of his supporters didn’t dislike the sitting president more than him, he’d lose in a landslide.

One failure is his inability – or refusal – to state where he wants the nation to go, to tell voters what he wants to get done and how he’ do it. He offers no vision relevant to today’s issues. He seems incapable of communicating in human terms that he knows what people are going through today and can’t express his deep concerns. Remember Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain?”

The above litany leaves me with this conclusion. Either he can’t do these things – which every successful presidential candidate in my lifetime has done – or he won’t. If it’s “won’t,” my guess is he doesn’t think they’re important. Another factor he hasn’t shared is who he’d appoint to various cabinet positions. Or the types of people he’d appoint to the Supreme Court. Voters deserve to know who he’d turn to for executive and judicial talent. It says a lot about the man. So far, he refuses to answer the question. If his present underperforming staff is an example of his people skills for filling key job openings, it’s not a good example.

Many years ago, I asked Sen. Frank Church (D-ID) why he was running for president. “I’ve been in the Senate for two decades – sort of like being on the board of directors,” he said. “Now’s I’d like to be chairman of the board.” He certainly was well-qualified. His answer stuck me nearly 40 years ago as heartfelt. Not necessarily sufficient. But honest.

Romney certainly has “chairman” experience. But my gut tells me he wants to BE president without actually BEING president. To be “Chairman Romney.” In business, the chairman is not the day-to-day doer – the worker – the hands-on operator. Most operating decisions – and problems -are handled before they get to him

But the president’s official job description likely starts off with the words “problem solver.” Remember George Bush’s declaration “I am the decider?” He was right. Because the Oval Office is where national “problems” go for solutions. The president is also an instigator of issues and the work to be undertaken by his administration. And the president represents one-third of the way our government is designed – legislative, judicial and executive. He must be “hands-on.” Every day.

I just don’t get the feeling Romney looks at the job that way. He doesn’t seem to have a working plan – a vision – a direction – steps to solve our national woes. He shows a distaste for detail. Or if he knows his detail, he won’t share it. He and Ryan have both said “We’ll talk about tax cuts/Social Security/Medicare after the election.” Both Romney and his wife have repeatedly shown they have little to no idea what is weighing down the middle class. Remember his advice to students needing financial aid to go to college? “Go borrow it from your parents.”

More and more I feel being president is something Romney wants to “achieve” more than “be.” It’s the top rung on the political (business?) ladder. It’s the top-of-the-mountain and a lifetime achievement few have realized.

When I think of some of our greatest presidents, I can’t associate the word “chairman” with any of them. When I think of Romney, I have the same difficulty with the word “president.”

A lot of us pride ourselves on our knowledge of the world around us. We think we’ve got a pretty good handle on things and it’s the other guys who screw up. But a new report from the Securities and Exchange Commission seems to say, when it comes to how we handle our money, too many people who think they know what they’re doing financially really have no idea. Because of that, in some ways, we’ve contributed to some of our own national economic problems.

The S-E-C report is called the “Study Regarding Financial Literacy Among Investors.” I’ve long believed – based on an awful lot of evidence – far too many Americans know too little about how their own government works. Now, it seems, a whole lot of us don’t really know much about our financial affairs, either.

The gently worded bottom line of the S-E-C report: “Regular investors have a weak grasp of elementary financial concepts and lack critical knowledge of ways to avoid financial fraud.” Further, quoting directly, “Women, African-Americans, the oldest segment of the elderly…have an even greater lack of investment knowledge than the average general population.”

After the economy hit the ditch in 2008, the S-E-C theorized too many of us put our dollars in investments without having even the basic knowledge to really be sure of what we were doing. So, the theory was the recession hit a lot of us harder than it would have otherwise had we had been smarter with our money. This prompted the agency to contact some online research outfits, run numerous focus groups and even involve the Library of Congress.

Evidence gathered was overwhelming. While a lot of people thought they were pretty smart, too many didn’t understand the risks of investments they bought into or know much about who they gave their money to. Even some who thought of themselves as literate about money affairs couldn’t calculate fees or understand compensation disclosures in mutual fund and other investments. They handed over their bucks but didn’t really know a lot of details. Many who thought they knew couldn’t calculate hourly fees and other costs based with the value of their managed assets. A large majority even confessed to not reading the prospectuses describing what was happening to their nest eggs, claiming they couldn’t figure them out.

While many interviewed gave themselves high marks for financial knowledge, they still took actions that hurt their financial health. Things like overdrawing checking accounts, incurring unnecessary bank fees, being behind on credit card and other monthly financial obligations and failing to maintain sufficient cash for emergencies.

Only half of the thousands interviewed had any sort of retirement plan and a majority of them had never calculated what they really needed to have on hand when they quit working. They also didn’t understand the risks of buying individual stocks versus mutual funds.

As for financial education, in 2011, just 22 states required high school classes in economics and only 14 required courses in personal finance. But – and this is a key finding – the report said “While the 2011 survey shows there’s clearly been progress (in financial knowledge) over the last survey in 1998, in the last two years the trend is slowing and in some cases moving backwards.”

Some investors – without doing their own research – found themselves hit by financial scammers. Some bad guys could be those who passed enough exams to get a license but were short on the honesty and good business practices consumers took for granted they should have. Others just got a phone number and a post office box. Without even rudimentary knowledge of who they were giving their dollars to – and how those dollars would be handled – many folks found they should have read the fine print or gotten a second financial opinion. Can you say anything connected to the words “Wall Street” with the same confidence you used to?

Civic illiteracy is far too prevalent in this country. In current political campaigns – where lies and damned lies are being passed off as truths – a lot of folks are confused and many more are too accepting. They lack the necessary understanding of government structure, the court system, the specific roles of the legislative, executive and judicial branches, the facts of what is really behind our failed congress and other knowledge of government necessary to cast informed ballots.

Now, with the new S-E-C report in hand, it seems a whole lot of us are equally uninformed of the basics of our financial affairs – both national and personal.

Widespread ignorance of national civic and financial realities – it appears here is sufficient proof of both. Maintaining strength in two of the most important underpinnings of our democracy requires better understanding by each citizen. Where will it come from? And when?

The time writing a column such as this is best when your mood is creative. When thoughts become easily to mind. When the “juices” flow through the fingers on the keyboard. When words just fall in line. When you’re relaxed. So saying, I’m about as politically pissed as I‘ve ever been!

A wise editor often advised not try to write when in that condition. Or, if I just have to, go ahead but wait to publish for 24 hours and see if the anger is still the same. I have. It did. It is. And here goes.

Our national political campaign du jour is a mess. It’s awash in money as a dozen or so billionaires try to reshape our society into an oligarchy of their choosing. Political “professionals” are morphing what should be clear candidate positions into the vanilla deemed necessary to keep from displeasing anyone because polls are so close. Most national media are serving up what floats to the surface rather than doing the research necessary to separate campaign verbal wheat from campaign verbal chaff.

Democrats are deep in their national convention this week. Whether they improve the tenor of the campaign remains to be seen for a few days. Whether they offer more “red meat” than we saw with Republicans last week will be apparent in the next 72 hours.

But one thing we are seeing as Republicans return home is the meanest, cruelest and most despicable conduct by Mitt Romney and his campaign in today’s American politics. It’s a flat out lie and is aimed squarely at senior citizens.

Romney has approved a robocall campaign. Robocalling is usually computer-based. A recorded message is played to the person picking up the phone. Strictly a one-way call. It’s a crafted message meaning the candidate – or campaign – wants to plant a particular thought or idea in the recipient’s mind. “Vote yes.” “Vote no.” “I’m candidate “X” and I want to give you a special message.” When the call ends, the phone goes dead, the computer dials another number and on and on.

What Romney has done is approve one of these one-way robocalls with a message accusing President Obama of “changing Medicare forever.” It is showing up in several states so the intent seems to be to spread this verbal garbage nationally.

By now, you know what I think of it. Here’s the script so you can draw your own conclusion: “Some think Obamacare is the same as free health care – but nothing is free,” says the recorded, authoritative, professional voice. “Obama is raiding $716 billion from Medicare, changing the program forever. Taxing wheel chairs and pacemakers, raising taxes on families making less than $120,000. Free health care comes at a very high price. The Romney-Ryan plan will restore Medicare funding and protect and strengthen the program for the next generation.”

O.K. You’ve got it. What do you think?

Here are my thoughts. It’s a lie. Front to back. Top to bottom. A lie. What angers me so much is that it’s a lie aimed at seniors. A group of people already living with – and dependent upon – Medicare. For nearly all of them, it’s the basis of their health care. In our present unsettled national times – with seniors everywhere experiencing losses in their home values and whatever planned retirement accounts they may have created – with seniors having more serious health issues late in life – this sort of threat to their well-being can create panic. It’s no stretch to say such a message detailing loss of something as basic and as important as health care can scare the most vulnerable in our society. Even terrify.

But the Romney campaign is doing it anyway. They’ve been telling this phony story of Obama cutting Medicare for weeks. The fact is, cuts that were made under the Affordable Health Care Act, extend the life of the program from 2016 to 2024. And the reductions are not targeted at seniors. None. They’re cuts in subsidies to private Medicare Advantage plans and payments to hospitals and other providers. Cuts hospitals and providers approved of – along with other health insurance changes.

Fact is, Paul Ryan put the same amount in cuts in his plan which was approved months ago by House Republicans – the one that would kill off Medicare in favor of health vouchers for seniors. But Ryan took those billions from the seniors – not providers. That’s a fact!

Ryan – the lower half of the Romney Republican ticket – has been spending more of these post-GOP Convention days admitting some lies and trying to back away from others. But video recordings, news releases, public records and testimony of people involved in some of his stories have made it impossible to erase some of his claims.

Now, he and Romney are sponsoring not only a major lie, they’re aiming it directly at senior citizens. Seniors who pick up the phone, are told the President is undercutting their health care needs and levying a tax on every American making less than $120,000 a year. Which is most of them.

The voice says all that and hangs up. It’s a dead phone. The senior has no one to talk to – no one to answer immediate questions – no one to tell him/her what they’ve just been told is a lie – no one to calm the fears so many will feel after such a message.

This is an unconscionable and callous act. It’s coldly calculated to make seniors afraid. Most of all, it‘s contemptible

It is my sincere hope Democrats meeting in Charlotte this week will highlight that lie, call it for what it is and make sure the truth of the situation is clearly and repeatedly explained. To seniors and all other eligible voters.

These calls – like political ads – require approval of the candidate before use. Romney and Ryan have been playing fast and loose with some other issues of truth lately. But this one is straight from the bottom of the barrel.

I find it totally incomprehensible – totally irresponsible – totally unacceptable – totally shameful – that a candidate for President of the United States can make an acceptance speech before his political party on international television and not say the word “Afghanistan.” The word was never on his lips!

The guy in this case is Mitt Romney. Were it Obama, Dole, Ford, Kennedy, either Roosevelt or G. Washington himself – I’d say the same.

How in Hell do you stand center stage and not recognize, in some profound way, the American military, the costs in lives and monetary treasure to this nation and the undeniable political sinkhole that is Afghanistan? How in Hell can you seek our highest political office and not so much as acknowledge a war this nation should have never gotten involved in and should not be involved in a day longer? Much less, how can you seek voter approval without some mention of how you intend to deal with it? To end it?

This is no one-party war. It’s not the other party’s war. They never are if we’re a united country. The problem at the moment is we are NOT a united country and Afghanistan is one of the major factors causing our division. The American people have told their government in no uncertain terms “GET US OUT OF AFGHANISTAN!” There is no victory to be won. Only more casualties for the grieving and the waste of precious resources sorely needed at home. Resources of both lives and dollars.

What we saw in that convention center was a crowd willing to accept – without question – whatever was spoken on that stage. Platitudes, promises, half-truths and – too often – lies. Hard reality was an unwelcome stranger. They accepted it all without demanding their leaders address the crippled economy, financial industry scandals and lawbreaking, their own party’s hand in bringing gridlock to the lawmaking process – and not one word of the war and its terrible effects on this country. They demanded no plan – no action – no effort to deal with national problems we face. Lobbyist hospitality suites apparently sufficiently softened the glare of what was expected or the ability to focus on the real reasons why we have two political parties in this nation.

I was looking for something that never happened – a moment political wonks often refer to as the “Goldwater moment.” The hour in the 1964 Republican Convention when Barry Goldwater took his own party to task for failing to recognize the important issues of that time and acting on them. It was – regardless of how you felt about his politics – a moment when a leader dared to stand under the lights and chastise his own party. Face to face.

Political conventions are – at best – poor places to find substance. They’re filled with deliberate distractions, lots of showy staging and too-often phony projections of an America that doesn’t exist. But – in one prime time television appearance- a presidential candidate can be seen and heard by more people than lived on the entire earth a few hundred years ago. Never in the balance of his campaign days will that occasion happen again. The image – the words – will never have a larger audience.

If there is a moment to make your case for approval, that is it. The few minutes when every word should be directed at your core beliefs – your core issues – your core values. The few minutes when you say “This is who I am, what I am, what I believe and what I plan to do with your support.” And “This is how I will handle the most tragic situation this nation faces.”

More than that, it should be the moment all national issues are recognized, explained and recommendations made for their solution. It should be the moment when the nominee makes his case for full-throated support from his own party and issues a sincere appeal for support from those who might not yet be settled in their choice.

I didn’t hear any of that. So the Republican Party’s fortunes will have to rise and fall on what was heard. Possibly the entire nation if he is elected. Such is the fate of missed opportunities. Maybe Democrats will do the same.

But to spend that precious moment with no recognition – not one word – of this nation’s longest war, its ravaging effects on our treasury, our values and on a generation of young people called on to fight a winless battle for some imagined political “win” – that is criminal.

For my Republican friends who say I’m ignoring Democrats, I pledge this: if their candidate makes his acceptance speech without dealing with the subject of the horrors of Afghanistan, I’ll come down twice as hard.

When it came to the terrible subject of that winless war, what I saw from the Republican nominee may well qualify as malfeasance before being in office. It was certainly candidate malfeasance. It was shameful as a candidate. It was tragic as a political party.