No Taxation Without Justification

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Dear Walter Lippmann,

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It is time for reporters to start communicating like a teacher.

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Consider the infant mortality rate.  As the richest country in the world, and with the most advanced healthcare system in the world, it should be easy for America to have the best infant mortality rate in the world.  But our infant mortality rate is the worst among countries with advanced economies.  And the rate is the highest for low income mothers who can’t afford our healthcare system.  With the most competitive news media in the world, it should be easy for Americans to be fully educated about the infant mortality rate and then to do something to improve it.  But surveys by the news media — and research by political scientists — have repeatedly shown that most Americans are too ignorant to vote intelligently.  So I wonder if anyone in the journalism profession has ever tried to connect the dots between voter ignorance and voter apathy toward poor people.

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It would be easy for reporters to communicate like a teacher.  It will also be very effective.  If our federal, state, and local governments would just reschedule Presidents Day, or create a new paid vacation day for government employees, so that it is celebrated on the Monday closest in the calendar to our average rate of taxation, then it will become profitable for state and local newspapers to publish an annual one week remedial education course during the week of the holiday.  (29% = April 15 for 2019.  Any changes in our taxes or economy would be handled by scheduling each holiday twenty years into the future based on a twenty year moving average.)  And if every state would also reschedule their caucuses and primary elections for the Presidency and Congress for at least two weeks after the new or improved holiday, it should become profitable for every newspaper to publish a one weekend review of their remedial education course right before people vote in November.  Then the voters and their politicians can be stimulated two times a year to improve our infant mortality rate.

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They are not stimulated now because reporters are communicating like entertainers instead of teachers.  As a result, the voters are repeatedly being distracted from remembering yesterday’s most important facts by constantly learning about today’s most important facts.  Which will be repeatedly overwhelmed by tomorrow’s most important facts.  This is why we have both the world’s best news media and the world’s most ignorant voters.  Who are doing nothing to force their politicians to reduce the infant mortality rate because any stimulation from a shocking report on the rate is quickly displaced by shocking stimuli from other issues.  However, the campaign commercials that politicians pay for by selling their loyalty to lobbyists and special interest groups are more effective for determining who wins an election than the information supplied by reporters because the campaign commercials are repeated over and over again until they are effective.

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And the infant mortality rate will be the kind of statistical information that newspapers will want to publish over and over again in their remedial education courses.  Just like the statistical information for the poverty rate, and the rules for being on welfare — the crime rate, and the rules for what the police can and cannot do when they interact with a citizen — the unemployment rate, and the rules for receiving unemployment benefits — the rate of economic growth, and the rules for suing when an employee is injured on killed in a work related accident — the inflation rate, and the rules for living in public housing when an annuity doesn’t keep up with inflation — the fresh water aquifer depletion rate, and the hypothetical rules for how water will be rationed in the future — the transmission rate of sexuality transmitted diseases, and the rules for what a potential sex partner must be told when someone has an STD.  Then both the statistical information and the analytical reports will work like the report cards that teachers use for communicating with students and parents.

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When I was in high school, almost fifty years ago, my father became silently angry for an entire semester while he waited for my next report card.  His silence was an unmistakable message that I had run out of excuses for my bad grades.  Because the report cards were sent on a schedule, they worked as deadlines for me to improve my grades.  That helped my father set goals for me.  Before the next card would arrive, he and my mother discussed what they were going to do if my grades didn’t show an improvement.  Which helped my parents enforce the goals that they made for me.  But this is not happening with voters and politicians.  Because reporters are obsessed with writing the first draft of history, but not the second draft, the voters can not treat their politicians like children who deserve to be punished for getting too many bad report cards in a row.

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For example, the budget deficits and national debt.  We are headed for an economic catastrophe and the voters are passively watching it happen.  The national debt has become too big of a problem to be solved by a democracy.  But when the catastrophe finally happens, i.e. when China won’t lend us any more money, they are going to viciously attack their Congressmen and Senators for not providing leadership.  Now, if every newspaper would just publish the federal government’s budget and revenue numbers during their annual remedial education courses, the voters will realize that they are going to see the bad news next year.  And the year after that.  And the year after that.  Then like my father, they will become madder and madder every year that Congress breaks its promises to do something about balancing the budget.  Then their Congressmen and Senators will realize that they have to either improve their fiscal discipline or find another place to live.  Just like me when I had too many bad report cards in a row.

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Most reporters will probably say that the voters and politicians already have a deadline.  It is called an election.  And the deadlines created by a Taxpayers Holiday will be just as ineffective as the deadlines created by elections.  This argument, however, is similar to the argument that some intellectuals use to eliminate testing in our educational system.  They claim that deadlines created by quizzes and exams and report cards are no more effective than the deadline created by students graduating and getting a job where they have to use their education.  The intellectuals have obviously never asked any students if they are stimulated by quizzes, exam, and report cards to study harder.  Nor have reporters ever asked any voters if they would be stimulated by an annual Taxpayers Holiday to study harder during an annual remedial education course.

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So let me provide another example of reporters not communicating effectively — the federal income tax code.  There have been many news reports on the tax code since the 1986 reforms by Ronald Reagan and everyone knew that the tax codes was being repeatedly corrupted by lobbyists and special interest groups.  But the voters never did anything to stop Congress from creating new tax deductions for anyone with enough money for many large campaign contributions.  Therefore all of the hard work by many reporters was an almost complete waste of time.  Their only positive accomplishment was the money they earned for entertaining both voters and politicians with gotchas.  And the same judgment can be made about many other examples of politicians being controlled by lobbyists and special interest groups instead of the general public.  The news media repeatedly exposed the corruption of our political system and the voters did nothing.  But this corruption could be stopped with the Taxpayers Holiday and some divide and conquer investigative journalism.

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With this communication/business strategy, the largest newspaper in every state will publish as part of their annual remedial education course a one day comprehensive report on its state’s senior Senator to Washington, D.C. and his most important committee assignment(s).  The second largest newspaper in every state will publish a one day comprehensive report on its state’s junior Senator and his most important committee assignment(s).  Then in every Congressional District, the largest newspaper that is not investigating a Senator will publish a one day comprehensive report on their respective Congressmen and their most important committee assignment(s).  The remaining newspapers that have not gone bankrupt will publish one day reports on their respective state senators.

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Then a significant number of people in every newspaper market niche will by stimulated by patriotism or their egos to become expert voters in their Senator or Congressman’s career and committee assignments.  And they will force their Senators and Congressmen to line up in circular firing squads where they have to shoot at the lobbyists and special interest groups standing behind another Senator or Congressman.  That is how the bridge to nowhere was eliminated.  The bridge had been approved when a single sound bite in a national magazine forced nearly every Senator and Congressman to vote against it.  Their constituents were so mad that they had to undo what they had done.  Well, the same thing will happen in every committee.  As swing voters in every state and Congressional district, the expert voters will defend the entire from corruption in our political system.

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The intensity of the expert voters can be increased by using the fifth day of every remedial education course to publishing simulated newspaper stories from one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, and four hundred years ago.  These stories won’t have any direct connection with the issues in the remedial education course but the day will make the week more enjoyable by working like the recesses that schools schedule for K-6 students.  And many children will be stimulated to become more curious about American History by watching their parents read the stories.  A one page flow chart of American History could also become the amount of history that almost every American knows just by being repeatedly published when people want to study current events.  More important, the simulated newspaper stories will be a subconscious reminder to the expert voters that amusing stories about them could eventually be written in the future.  That should make them more intense about their responsibility to defend their country.

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Maybe my report card analogy will become more self-evident to reporters if I refer to the book, “Checklist Manifesto,” by Atul Gawande.  The author is a certified intellectual.  So his logic may be good enough for the intellectuals who look down on lumpen proletariat like me.  His book is full of examples of how highly educated professionals like doctors make fewer mistakes by using checklists.  He also says that some doctors were very skeptical of giving lower level professionals the power to monitor their work.  Two questions then need to answered about the checklist analogy.  First, will some improvement in voter decision making be accomplished by the news media publishing an annual checklist right before the primary elections for Congress?  Second, will some improvement in voter decision making be good enough to convince reporters to change their professional standards?

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(The report cards and checklist manifestos could become even more profitable and effective if every newspaper would also republish their remedial education courses in ebooks or print on demand paperback books.  These annual textbooks on our democracy will become as popular as toys at Christmas if the largest newspapers included book reviews for the one hundred most important books of the previous year.  The demand curves for textbooks by smaller newspapers could become as big as the demand curves for firecrackers on the 4th of July by including all of the prices and addresses for residential real estate sold in the previous year.  Both additions will make it profitable for newspapers to supply a one weekend review of their one week remedial education course right before people vote in November.)

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Unfortunately, no one in the news media is interested in communicating like a teacher.  I have been trying for more than twenty seven years to get reporters to communicate more effectively.  But I have never gotten one explanation for why they don’t want to educate voters.  Reporters must think that their time is far too valuable to be wasted on the intellectual weaknesses of their customers.  They only want to write about something that will be good click bait.  Or can win a journalism prize.  They don’t even seem to be interested in saving some newspapers from bankruptcy by increasing the demand for information.  The one week remedial education courses will be the perfect quantity and quality of information for children to enjoy discussing with their parents.  Some of who will be stimulated by their children’s curiosity to subscribe to a newspaper so they can become better role models.

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To understand why reporters don’t want to communicate more effectively with an annual remedial education course, consider the differences between being a reporter and a teacher.  A reporter doesn’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.  A teacher knows that her classroom lectures will be scheduled every day and every year by the chapters in her textbooks.  A reporter will go anywhere to cover a story.  A teacher will go to the same classroom over and over and over.  A reporter interviews people who know more than him about what he is investigating.  A teacher knows much more than her students.  A reporter wins a journalism prize by exposing a scandal.  A teacher is fired when her students don’t learn enough to pass a standardized test.  For a reporter to communicate like a teacher, a personality transplant will have to be done.

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And the most important responsibility for reporters is to write the first draft of history.  That forces them to communicate like entertainers.  It also explains why they don’t care about the infant mortality rate.  Like the voters who don’t care about the rate because it is just one part of yesterday’s most important facts, reporters are repeatedly distracted from caring about dead children because they must care about today’s most important facts.  Which will be replaced by tomorrow’s most important facts.  A lot of those other facts are going to be about other people who also died unnecessarily.  No one should be surprised by reporters becoming desensitized to the avoidable deaths of infants.   So for reporters to communicate like a teacher, they will have to be forced by outsiders to change their professional standards.  Just like they were forced by insiders going public to stop the sexual harassment in the news media.

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That outside force, ironically, will not come from the politicians in our government of the people, etc, etc.  They too have ignored my letter and emails for twenty seven years in a row.  Apparently they do not want to change the balance of power between voters and politicians by making the voters madder.  Nor will the outside force come from businessmen who don’t want the news media to become more effective at exposing unethical business behavior.   And it won’t come from journalism professors living inside their ivory towers.  They don’t want to interact with people like me who come from a lower social class.  No, the outside force will have to come from someone who wants to create publicity for themselves by attacking the news media.

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And the infant mortality rate could be the perfect issue for attacking the news media.  There are many think tanks and foundations that have at least one scholar/fund raiser working on the issue.  Moreover, no one is in favor of having the worst infant mortality among advanced countries.  But the think tanks and foundations will probably be too afraid to criticize the news media because some reporters may want to get revenge by investigating their puffed up accomplishments.  The news media’s failure to accomplish anything with the infant mortality rate or the federal tax code could be a perfect target for a comedian.  If there is a subsequent investigation done for getting revenge on the comedian, which will be disguised as the normal journalism that is done whenever someone becomes a player in the market place of ideas, the negative publicity might even make the comedian more popular.

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But reporters may not be affected by someone exposing their failures to communicate.  They may be completely immune to any evidence that they don’t really care about the infant mortality rate because they don’t think that they are responsible for educating voters.  Almost all of the books and textbooks on voter ignorance are being written by political scientists.  Almost none are written by reporters or journalism professors.  If this is true, then another strategy must created for making reporters change their behavior.  The other strategy must take advantage of something that reporters really want.  Something that they won’t ignore like they have ignored me.  Something like the respect of other reporters.  Maybe it’s time to invent a different kind of journalism prize.

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Stanley Krauter
Lincoln, NE  68508
stanleykrauter at yahoo.com
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