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Barlow's Beat

Barlow Herget is a commentator and host on SGR Today. He has been a commentator on UNC public radio and an instructor in continuing education at Duke University. Herget was a Nieman Fellow ('70) at Harvard University, has worked for the Daily Press of Paragould, Ark., the Detroit Free Press, and the News & Observer of Raleigh. His articles have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times and numerous other publications. Have something to say to Barlow? Contact him by email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  

Still cursed with racism PDF Print E-mail
Barlow's Beat
Monday, 29 October 2012 13:45


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  This election is first and foremost about the economy, but lurking in the dark is the old issue of racism and President Obama's multi-racial, African American heritage.  A new AP report shows race could be significant in close election.

Look for ticket splitting PDF Print E-mail
Barlow's Beat
Monday, 22 October 2012 13:29

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  Barlow Herget looks at the chances for ticket splitting in this year's election and reminds voters must vote for presidential candidates separately when voting straight party ticket.


Last Updated on Thursday, 25 October 2012 12:43
Buying Government PDF Print E-mail
Barlow's Beat
Tuesday, 16 October 2012 10:25

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There are two, fast-moving major trends in the United States that are changing society and government.  And they are connected.

The older trend is the increasing inequality of income in the country.  It started in the 1960s when CEO’s were paid about 25 times more than the average worker.  In 1990, it was 107 to one.  In 2010, 325 to one.
The wealthiest one percent of the population has doubled their share of the wealth pie.  They now own 35 percent of the country.  They make 288 times those making the median income of $57,000.

Alongside this movement toward is a newer trend, the great amounts of money spent on politics and the inequality of the giving.  Even in our lifetime, we’ve seen former Senator Robert Morgan collect only $10 and a tank of gas for his first state Senate race and state Senator Neal Hunt receive $61,000 from just one contributor in 2012.

There also is a growing imbalance in the giving, which today favors conservatives.  In the presidential race, there is only one liberal contributor in the top 10 Super PAC donors list.  That PAC spent $44.6 million for President Obama’s campaign.  The top three conservative PACs spent, in order, $95 million, $44 million and $31 million for Mitt Romney.  Trade union and George Soros and Hollywood money doesn’t come close.

Mr. Obama’s team is being outspent in North Carolina by Mr. Romney and his supporters at a 2 to 1 rate, which may buy Mr. Romney the state but not as easily as money can buy local, state and judicial races.
This is where the greatest danger is.  In a tight congressional or judicial race, an extra $25,000 not to mention $500,000 to $1 million can make the difference.  No one knows this better than North Carolina businessman and former legislator Art Pope who smartly picked off weak Democrats with a relatively small amount of spending in 2010.

To billionaires and fellow conservatives Charles and David Koch, congressional and state races are cheap, wise investments for their very conservative ideology.  Their Americans for Prosperity Super PAC is playing a role in state legislative races here and in other states such as Arkansas.

Judicial races are especially vulnerable to big money because very few voters know the candidates.  A small investment of $100,000 can buy sufficient name recognition to win a statewide court seat.
Conservative business interests in Texas spent a fraction of the money they spent in a gubernatorial election to install conservatives in every seat on the Texas Supreme Court.  Look for outside interests to decide the North Carolina Supreme Court election between Paul Newby and Sam Ervin IV this year.
North Carolina as with most states is governed by moderate to conservative oligarchs, some more enlightened than others.  The current crowd of wealthy conservative ideologues is a new phenomenon.  They know what’s best for the rest of us and are eager to buy it.

Who're you going to believe? PDF Print E-mail
Barlow's Beat
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 11:04

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Two weeks, says the adage, is a lifetime in politics.
Last week’s debate between President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney proves the point.
Going in to the debate, President Obama was beginning to pull away from Mr. Romney, according to most polls including one by the FOX network.  This was more evident in swing states such as Ohio, Virginia and Florida.  Even North Carolina was shifting towards Mr. Obama.
No more.  Mr. Obama’s baffling and bad performance as much as Mr. Romney’s energetic challenge have changed the dynamics of the race.
A week later, data about the debate underscore its importance in the history of this campaign.  The show also illustrated the power of visual impressions in politics.
Start with the number of viewers, estimated to be over 67 million.  That’s a 28 percent increase over the debates between Senator John McCain and then Senator Obama in 2008.  And it is unlikely that the two remaining debates, Oct. 16 and Oct. 22, will draw such crowds.
One doesn’t need polls to see the change in outlook, especially for the Romney Campaign.  The Wall Street Journal reported that $12 million of online contributions flowed into Mr. Romney’s campaign fund just hours after the debate.
The candidate’s abrupt turn away from his “severely” conservative positions in the primary hasn’t upset the right-wing of his party.  He knows such voters really don’t have anywhere else to go, and their joy at Mr. Obama’s humiliation overcame their misgivings about Mr. Romney’s flip-flops.
There is a hidden challenge now facing Mr. Obama’s campaign.  It is wrapped in the words of Groucho Marx’s brother, Chico:  “Who are you going to believe, me or your own [lying] eyes?”
One of the effective arguments against Mr. Romney is that he is out-of-touch with the lives of average Americans.  Mr. Romney himself gave witness to this image in his candid remarks to wealthy contributors in Florida.
He said his job was not to worry about 47 percent of Americans who didn’t pay income taxes.  He coldly pictured them as lazy, unproductive, and lacking in “personal responsibility.”
This image did not fit the visuals of the Mr. Romney in the debate.  People saw with their own eyes someone much different than the one on the hidden video.  So, who are they going to believe now, the Mitt Romney in negative campaign ads or the guy they saw in the debate?
The hidden camera video is Mr. Romney and so is the one in the debate.  The challenge for Mr. Obama in the next debate and future campaign ads is to persuade the public which Romney to believe.

Racial politics still with us PDF Print E-mail
Barlow's Beat
Wednesday, 03 October 2012 16:15

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The Republican Party, even its own leaders have admitted, has used race very effectively in presidential campaigns since 1968.  To be accurate, Democrats, especially in the South, did the same in the Jim Crow era.

But since Richard Nixon’s winning Southern Strategy to attract disaffected, segregationist Democrats, racially tinged campaigns have been successfully employed by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, too.

It has been successful at all levels.  The late Senator Jesse Helms was a master at such politics.

The Republican controlled state legislature has fought against the Racial Justice Act, compensation for eugenics victims, many of whom were blacks, and is attempting to limit current election rules that increase voting among blacks and the elderly.

While President Obama managed to overcome racial resistance in 2008, the issue has not gone away.  Says former Virginia Governor and African American Doug wilder, “There are some of us that had thought it would lessen after Barack Obama’s election in 2008.  And yet, I can tell you here in Virginia, the animus, the feeling of almost direct opposition is obvious.”

There was an effort earlier this year by pro-Mitt Romney, Chicago billionaire Joe Ricketts to smear Mr. Obama with racist remarks from his former minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  To his credit Mitt Romney denounced the plan and declared it was not part of his campaign.

Ignored by major TV networks was the incident at this year’s Republican National Convention by two official Alabama delegates.  They threw peanuts at a black CNN camera woman, teasing her, “This is how we feed the animals.”  They were tossed as they should have been.

But racism, especially in Southern states, cannot be so easily dismissed.  The facts show that race can move votes.  Mr. Obama already trails among white voters, notably among older, white voters who remember the times and culture before the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1960s.  Many carry those Tea Party signs that proclaim, “We want our country back.”

It’s tradition for campaigns to send out their meanest and dirtiest ads in targeted mailings.  Such advertising also has appeared on TV about this time.

The notorious, racist Willie Horton ad in the 1988 presidential campaign between President George H. W. Bush and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis started on Sept. 21 and ran through Oct. 5.

The person who produced that ad for a group similar to SuperPACs today was Larry McCarthy.  Guess who he is working for this year?  Right.  Mitt Romney.

Don’t be surprised if history repeats itself.

To fight obesity, look at anti-smoking marketing PDF Print E-mail
Barlow's Beat
Friday, 28 September 2012 09:57

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When I was in first grade in Paragould, Arkansas, I had a half-dozen friends in my neighborhood.  We played baseball and football in my grandmother’s large front yard.

Like most such childhood bands, there was one kid we called Fatty.  He wasn’t fat by today’s standards, but he was heavier than we were but only because the rest of us were so skinny.  He grew up to be a healthy young man.

I think of Fatty when I see children of that age who are overweight at the mall, school concerts or movies.  These children are fat and, sadly, some already are obese.  My heart goes out to them because I know the hurtful teasing, ostracism, and bullying that awaits them.

More and more of our children and adults are gaining weight and much more.  With obesity comes more illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and now, shortened life expectancy.

A recent report in the New York Times found that for the first time, the life spans for white women, notably poor white women, have dropped four years, from 78 to 74.  For poor white men, life expectancy is about 68 years.  We’re going backwards.  In North Carolina, the overall life expectancy is 78 years; 75.5 for men, 80.5 for women in 2010.

The state’s health records show that 63.7 percent of us are overweight or obese.  North Carolina’s children are ranked fifth in the 16.9 percent of obese American children.

Given our political divide, many people believe it’s up to individuals to live healthier lives.  That hasn’t worked so well judging by the results.

Others believes government has a role if not a duty to get involved.  New York City, for example, is trying to regulate the size of sugar-loaded soft drinks.  Schools are taking a more active course on school lunches and PE, Physical Education.

My own observations convince me that the most successful approach to changing behaviors is social marketing or advertising.  It is not a quick cure, but it works.  Such marketing has been very successful in getting people to stop or not start smoking.  The rate of teen pregnancy has been declining for years, in part because of poorly funded but effective social marketing.

Children are especially attentive to such advertising.  Along with selling them trendy shoes and breath fresheners, why not sell them healthy diets and physical activity?  Make it uncool to eat and drink fatty foods and sugary drinks.

Such a campaign will cost money, but it will be cheaper for the country in the long run and will not require the heavy hand of mandates.

Did I say it works?

Attack on Iran leads to war PDF Print E-mail
Barlow's Beat
Tuesday, 18 September 2012 09:09

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Americans have had a heavy history lesson about the Middle East and Islam since September 11, 2001.  One lesson is that learned by Rudyard Kipling when he wrote, “Oh, East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.”

Many Americans including this one cannot understand the deadly violence committed by Muslim extremists, most recently the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his staff in Benghazi, Libya.

Libya is a country that Mr. Stevens and America had helped liberate from a tyrant.  It is the same in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Egypt.

The current bloody protests against America were sparked reputedly by an obscure film made in America that denigrates the prophet Mohammed.  Christianity endures such ridicule regularly.

The West has a culture that honors free speech and freedom of religion and women’s rights.  Even brutal Western dictators such as Hitler and Stalin paid lip service to these ideals.

But the practice of free speech, religious tolerance, and women’s independence are as foreign as moon rocks to many in Eastern Muslim countries, foe and friend.  Then, there is the horrible practice of indiscriminate, suicide bombing as a political tactic.

This last tenant of faith is madness to the Western mind, and it is at the bottom of the deep fear in Israel and the United States about Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb.

Despite this nightmare threat, America should support President Obama’s current peaceful course—an economic boycott—to stop Iran’s atomic weapon pursuit.  Mr. Obama has been reluctant to issue an ultimatum.  The sanctions are working but no one knows if they will convince the clerics to compromise.  So far, the clerics have continued to build a bomb.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney and supporters such as Charles Krauthammer want a harder line.  They want to attack Iran.  That would be war.  They don’t dare say that out loud.  They would rather carp and criticize Mr. Obama.

Their words sound appealing and patriotic and support the image of America standing firm against murderous zealots.  But even a limited attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will launch a missile retaliation against Israel and U.S. naval and military forces nearby.

The better course, one recommended by former Israeli Mossad Director Meir Dagan, is to keep talking.  It is a bitter dilemma to swallow.  But remember that Mr. Romney’s alternative is war. 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 September 2012 08:28

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