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Published: Tuesday, 3/1/2005

Time to recalibrate nonsense indicators

BY EILEEN FOLEY

A LOT of political heat is being generated that is far more about sound and fury than substance. Sadly, whether the din is being generated about Louis Escobar, Ward Churchill, or President Bush, the discussion is secondary to innuendo and suppression of debate.

City Councilman Escobar was not at his best when he allegedly described as "terrorism" Fifth Third Bank's threat to take a chunk of its business to Sylvania if it couldn't get a loading dock for armored cars where a couple of crummy downtown buildings sit.

Arm-twisting isn't terrorism. Legalized extortion, maybe. But why should a Toledo leader be so hard on a business that was first to light up downtown with its roof sign and contributed a huge sum for the naming rights at Fifth Third Field, without which the park could not have been built. He looked like an ingrate. The "do it or else" issue was somehow lost along with why it came to that.

Ward Churchill, the Colorado professor who sought to provoke Americans after the 9/11 murders at the Twin Towers in New York City, said something to the effect that the technocrats in the towers who cut deals adverse to the Arab world got a proper comeuppance. Paula Zahn on CNN got all over him about the dead police, wait staffs, and passersby, never acknowledging they weren't who he was talking about.

The right-wing raised such a stir that a college speaking engagement was canceled in New York, to the chagrin of conservative students who wanted a go at the long-maned professor in open discussion.

At the time of 9/11, many Americans asked: "Why does the Arab world hate us?" Professor Churchill had his ideas on that, not necessarily yours or mine, and was asked to share. He is an advocate for American Indians and can talk loud and long about how national policy makers, in actions most of us pay little attention to, oppress assorted minorities. His ideas are better rebutted than suppressed.

The to-do over him is an embarrassment and shows how quickly fear turns the best of us into haters forgetful of basic American values. Free speech is not always popular, but we see repeatedly the price of its repression.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, appeared on one of National Public Radio's numerous talk shows recently to decry not only the Bush Administration's Social Security initiative but the strategies it employed to win people over.

The President's approach of excepting current recipients from any future changes, she said, derived from a strategy prepared some years ago by a conservative think tank that attributed its approach to one put forward earlier by Vladimir Lenin, the architect of the former Soviet Union. Imagine, she fumed, Republicans relying on communist tactics.

Her argument didn't get much lift, perhaps because elitist, high-handed governance is the same whether from the right or the left. That's why Machiavelli is still in vogue.

As Americans I fear most of us don't perceive what the late black feminist Florynce Kennedy called "the old D&C (divide and conquer) techniques" that the powerful regularly use to win us over. Louis Escobar plays in a sandbox by comparison.

We need to recalibrate our nonsense indicators. There's too much of it out there looking to flood our brains. I even heard one guy argue that letting the government, as a bulk buyer, negotiate drug prices would be tantamount to price fixing.

Tell that to Wal-Mart, the industries that dickered with Toledo Edison, or the car companies.



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