Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Republic of Lies, Kingdom of Truth

I am a liar.

I hate this thought, but it’s true. Believe me, just this once.   In fact, virtually every person of faith knows much of what I know about the dark deceit that so often dominates my heart:  How quick I am to exaggerate, conceal, “spin” or make excuses, especially when I feel insecure.  The personas that we fabricate in business or social settings seldom bear much resemblance to our “real” selves, if we even recall who that really is.

You and I know, of course, that this is horrid.  No one will respond with neutrality if you call him or her a liar.  No one. We lie, but we hate lies, except for the ones we’re living.

And that’s one reason that 2012 is going to be such a tough year for life in America.  It’s election time, always a tough time for truth.  But there’s a new twist this year: The Super-PACs now dominate the discussion, and they NEVER can be called to account for lies.  They don’t have to engage in debates. If you expose them, their candidates can deny responsibility. You can’t even find out who is paying for their “charitable” efforts.

And so, with the blessing of the Supreme Court, American electoral politics are now completely in the hands of deceit. Welcome to the United States of Lies.

I saw a striking example of this last evening, when I flipped on one of the news channels.  First came ExxonMobil, with an ad promising “500,000 new jobs” if only they were allowed to disregard the basics of creation stewardship. (Note: 500,000 means a 28% increase in all domestic petroleum employment, including gas-station attendants; and a more than tripling of the number of oil production workers.)  While Exxon's paid good money for the 500,000-job study, anyone who thinks about it will know that it’s pure deception.

But then came a new ad by a Super-PAC called Crossroads GPS, reportedly linked to former Bush aide Karl Rove. (Don’t bother trying to find out who’s behind them.  That’s a secret.)

The ad’s message is simple: Gas prices are high, and it’s because the President won’t let us drill everywhere we want to – not in some parts of the Gulf, and not in some oil-shale regions.  And worse, he didn’t approve the TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The ad starts cleverly, with the image of a gas pump with the low price of $1.83. The narrator says “Then.” And then a new pump appears with the high price of $3.74. The voice continues “...and now.”

“The difference?” asks the voice. The answer is simple, the voice assures us: The President won't let us drill in places we want to.

Of course, you know that Federal limits on oil drilling offshore and on public lands -- however stringent or permissive they may be -- have nothing to do with current gas prices.  You know that U.S. gas prices are determined by global crude oil prices.  You know that those global prices have been rising because of supply interruptions and fears related to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia in 2011, and to Iran, Yemen and South Sudan in 2012. And in the face of these Middle East supply constraints, global gasoline demand has been rising because of positive economic trends all over the world, and especially in America, China and India.

You’ve probably heard that prices are up because of speculation in oil derivatives by Wall Street firms. I’m guessing you don’t know that prices have also been rising because of the shutdown of a number of American refineries made unprofitable by recent low American gasoline prices.

But we’ve found no industry analysts who argue that drilling policies in the U.S. have driven today’s gasoline prices – and that’s the Super-PAC's core message.

But take a closer look at the ad: $1.83 was a pretty attractive price.  That was “Then.”  When was that exactly?  Well, if you freeze the frame, you can see the date:  January 19, 2009.

January 2009.  That was, presumably, a pretty good time, right? Crossroads GPS wants you to think so. Cheap gas! But what else might have been going on in the country in those days? 
  • Well, for starters, the American banking system was on the ropes, with more than $1.0 trillion in bank write-offs by 2009, on their way to approximately $2.0 trillion in write-offs overall. Images of 1929 haunted us all, with good reason.
  • The Dow was at 8,499 on that day, down 32% in one year – a one-third drop in wealth for U.S. investment portfolios in a single year.
  • U.S. nonfarm employment was down by 4,462,000 from the prior year.  In fact, the U.S. was in the middle of 25 straight months of absolute employment declines.  In all, 8.8 million fewer Americans had jobs by the time the trends reversed in 2010.
  • Unemployment rates had risen for 23 straight months by January 2009, and would continue to rise for another 9 months.
  • The Consumer Confidence Index was at 38, on its way to an astoundingly-low 24 two months later. Today, it's at 70.2.
  • And U.S. home values were down 18.9% during the first quarter of 2009, the fifth straight double-digit quarterly fall in home values, on their way to a 34% overall value loss.
So, Crossroads GPS – whoever you are with your $32.6 million anonymous advertising war chest – are you really trying to persuade us of the glories of your fabled "Then?" Those wonderful days when gas was cheap? You didn't mention -- did you? -- that only six months earlier, our country had the highest gas prices we've ever seen. Did we change our drilling policies so dramatically in that short time? Or did the worst recession in memory have something to do with it?

Figures don't lie, but liars figure
We know that U.S. oil drilling has next-to-nothing to do with global energy prices.  The recession, of course, killed off global demand for oil and gas.  The recent global economic recovery-has restored that demand.   And political disruptions in Iran and the Arab world have constrained supply, driving today’s high prices.

Sadly, this sort of deception is what we can expect for the balance of the political season, and it’s likely to come from all sides – whether or not anything this brazen will be repeated by others. 
Here’s the Crossroads 30-second spot.  See for yourself:

But even a liar like me can pray for a more honest world. The Hebrew prophets foresaw a kingdom in which truthfulness and justice would prevail – one very different from their country, or ours.  Isaiah told his listeners what it will look like:

See, a king will reign in righteousness
   and rulers will rule with justice.
Each one will be like a shelter from the wind
   and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
   and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land…
No longer will the fool be called noble
   nor the scoundrel be highly respected.
For fools speak folly,
   their hearts are bent on evil…
The hungry they leave empty
   and from the thirsty they withhold water.
Scoundrels use wicked methods,
   they make up evil schemes
to destroy the poor with lies,
   even when the plea of the needy is just.

And so, perhaps we could work and pray with a renewed vision of the coming of the kingdom of truth.  Beginning with ourselves, we could start with a goal to confess and correct one misimpression we’ve created.  Beyond that, let’s steel ourselves for the coming season of lies in pursuit of injustice.

The truth often isn’t all that hard to know, but you’re not likely to hear it from the anonymous Super-PAC spin-masters. One day, God willing, we'll have a Congress and Supreme Court, or -- if you believe the prophets -- a king, that will rid our political process of the corruption that feeds on deceit.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

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