Sunday, June 04, 2006

Lies and damned lies

I thought that those ads with the cute little kids proclaiming the bright new future that will dawn because of coal-derived energy were the most obnoxious slice of ad agency chicanery in recent memory. Then my wife spotted an ad for "American Spirit" Tobacco printed on one of those annoying cardboard-like inserts I always pull out of my newest issue of "Newsweek." American Spirit promises the "purest" quality cigarette with 100 percent "additive free, natural tobacco products." It's "100 percent certified organic tobacco."

Wow. Who knew you could be green just by taking a drag? I think I'll treat my lungs to nature's carcinogens and stop global warming

Because we're talking cigarettes here, the American Spirit Company is forced to come clean. In a white box on the back of the inset, atop the usual warnings about smoking by pregnant women causing fetal injury, premature birth and low birth weight, American Spirit declares that "No additives in our tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette."

I wish the coal companies were forced to use similar warning labels. "Coal does NOT mean cleaner energy." Or the oil and gas industry. ""If we can afford television ads around the clock promising you that we're not robbing you at the pump, we CAN lower gas prices." Or President Bush. "The lack of a prehensile tail does NOT imply conscious thought."

Newsweek columnist George Will also needs a warning label. Will is the mainstream media's resident "intellectual." You know that because he tells you so. I know of no other man in the media who can be so pompous sitting perfectly still. Besides being Tucker Carlson's fashion guru, Will is an apologist for Reagan and was a cheerleader for Bush, at least until that became as politically feasible as endorsing childhood leukemia. (Will, to his credit, expresses disgust at Bush & the Republican Congress's profligate deficit spending and the president's miserable mismanagement of the Iraq War.)

A millionaire, overpaid writer, Will expressed contempt for those who believe gas prices have skyrocketed beyond reason in his May 9, 2006 Newsweek column, "Many Strange 'Emergencies.'" (Will loves the sarcastic quote mark.). "Americans, endowed by their solicitous government with an ever-expanding array of entitlements, now have the whiny mentality that an entitlement culture breeds," Will snorts. (You want to hear whiny - read Will when higher taxes on the rich such as himself are considered.) "They feel entitled to purchase gasoline at the price they paid for it 25 years ago. Guess what? Last week they could do even better than that. The average price of a gallon of regular was $2.91. In April 1981, the real, inflation-adjusted price was $3.10."

Guess what? George Will told a half-truth, which is 50 percent better than he usually does. Yes, adjusted for inflation, gasoline prices were higher in 1981 than today. But so were wages. A quarter-century of conservative domination in Washington has changed that, As Jack Rasmus notes in his article "Wages in America: The Rich Get Richer and the Rest Get Less," the 100 million American workers with no college degree, or 72.1 percent of the work force, are earning less today than they did in 1979 while wages for the 10 million lowest paid workers have declined 21 percent.

(For those of us in the lucky middle class, by the way, our wages rose about 11.5 cents an hour per year from 1989 to the end of the Clinton "boom years" of 1995 to 2000. They took a beating under Bush II starting in 2001, a time when middle class workers starting seeing their fringe benefits and pensions disappear, even as health costs soared well beyond inflation.)

How whiny are those 10 million workers at the bottom of the economic barrel, Mr Will? The federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. If you work 40 hours at that wage, you'll make $206 a week before taxes. If your car engine takes 16 gallons of gas to fill up like mine, that will cost you about $46.56 to fill up. That's almost 25 percent of your weekly paycheck for one full tank, which will empty fast with urban sprawl and urban traffic jams.

Because Mr. Will assures us he is not stupid, I can only assume that he was deliberately dishonest when he failed to mention the stagnant or declining wages of the American worker when he was comparing the price of gasoline in 1981 and today. Newsweek should run the following disclaimer on George Will's columns. "Pretention may not be a sign of intelligence. Verbosity is not the same as eloquence. Narrow focus is not the same as vision."


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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