Editor's note: This is from Barry Knister's blog, Let Me Get This Straight, at naplesnews.com/blogs. The column and blog take a second look at letters to the editor, guest commentaries and other writing in the Daily News.
As I write, Floridians are casting their votes in the Republican primary. The campaigning we've witnessed underscores how important it is to read and watch with a critical eye.
On Jan. 27, the "Money smarts" column in the Collier Citizen section of the Daily News carried the headline "Get ready for the muddying of the facts." The writer is a regular, with 30 books on finance to his credit. According to his Daily News bio, "he is a former banker, economist, editor, public speaker, consultant, world traveler, business school professor, CEO entrepreneur, elementary school teacher" and much more. These impressive credentials would seem to equip the writer to comment on the current political and economic climate.
He begins by expressing general disgust: "The modus operandi for those seeking political offices and their supporters is to vilify, castigate, accuse, embarrass, denigrate and marginalize the opposing party's candidates."
We have seen ample evidence of this lately. The writer suggests the negativity is in part the effect of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, "accepting as 'free speech' unlimited spending for political purposes by corporate entities and unions."
What this means is that in the coming election, "the public will be bombarded with information, virtually all of it distorted. Taxes, for example are sure to get prominent treatment."
The writer predicts we will continue being told "the rich are not paying their fair share," that "millionaires and billionaires pay a lower tax rate than do middle-class working people," and that "'the federal budget deficit and debt buildup is largely the fault of Bush tax cuts.' Are any of these statements completely factual? Of course not."
To make his point he provides statistics. "According to the Congressional Budget Office, the top 1 percent of U.S. income earners pays 29.5 percent of all federal income taxes, earning 18.8 percent of the income. The next 19 percent pay 22.8 percent, earning 11.8 percent. Thus, the top 20 percent pay more than half of all federal taxes. Are the rich paying their fair share? This is more progressive than Sweden."
Two things are noteworthy about these numbers. First, the wealthiest 1 percent pays more in taxes and earns much more than does the next 19 percent combined. Second, our tax rates are more progressive, or graduated on the basis of income, than is true in Sweden.
That country is often used to illustrate the "European-style socialism" President Barack Obama's opponents insist he wants to emulate. I Googled "Sweden and taxes," and learned the following.
Swedes pay far more than we do. Yes, their highest tax rate has greatly declined, from 53 percent in 1980 to 38 percent in 2008. But added to this is social tax and value-added tax. Broken down as a percentage of gross domestic product, it goes like this: taxes on labor, 28.5 percent, taxes on business (capital) 5.1 percent, and taxes on consumption 13.1 percent. This adds up to 46.5 percent, an effective average tax rate sufficient to blow out every major blood vessel in the average American conservative.
It seems the writer's rhetorical question, "Are any of these statements completely factual?" and his answer, "Of course not," can be applied to what he has written.
What this suggests is that, with or without super PACs and cherry-picked statistics, voters will need to interpret both words and the images they conjure up. Take, for instance, Newt Gingrich's latest big idea, a colony on the moon by the end of his second term.
The mental picture this evokes is that of an even stouter President Gingrich and his still-svelte wife in space suits, helmets under their arms and striding confidently from the landing pad. There they are at the end of his second term, passing through well-wishers in the moon colony's mess hall where he just cut the ribbon.
Then there's Willard "Mitt" Romney (did you know 2 percent of voters think his full given name is Mittens?). Trim and fit, Mitt wants voters to think he's not only presidential, but also capable of doing Levis commercials. Jeans illustrate how the super-rich can be regular guys. I'm surprised we haven't seen Romney cutting the grass.
Obama will certainly get his comeuppance in the months to come: ears the size of dish antennae, he will be seen kowtowing to his Apollo Theater audience by crooning Al Green tunes, or getting into dustups on the tarmac with a woman governor. So unpack your skepticism, and watch as carefully as you read. It's bad already, and going to get much worse.