Archive for October, 2010

Have a look for yourself

by on Oct.30, 2010, under Current

One of the adages which I’ve kept out of  my continuous, arduous, and at times circular quest for self-improvement is this.  Don’t let other people’s interpretations, right, wrong, or indifferent be your first read. 

Recently President Obama appeared on the John Stewart’s Daily Show.  I wasn’t able to watch the broadcast which meant that I would be greeted with a host of stories and opinions in the media about his appearance before I would get the chance to watch it.  On reading the titles and summaries presented I was very tempted to ignore my rule and read, but I am happy with the one little victory; I didn’t click.  But, even reading the story titles biased my viewing so the victory wasn’t complete.One opinion piece on the Washington Post was titled “The Joke’s on Obama” and the excerpt stated that he had a “Brownie Moment”.  It ended up having the unfortunate effect of causing me to search for conceptual gaffes instead of letting my own mind take in the conversation and draw my own conclusions.  In a sense, I’ll never know what I would have really thought of the President’s words; the opportunity is lost.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Barack Obama Pt. 1
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

When I actually watched the show, I tried to keep the thought from influencing me, and I met with some success.  In what I could salvage of my own thoughts I found that the President made an effort to honestly answer Stewart’s questions which I found were in line with what I have gathered are the concerns and opinions of many voters.  There were a few occasions where Obama was tossing the rhetoric, but for the most part, I perceived him as engaging in real conversation.

In fact, he even provided a point of view I hadn’t considered; the framework.  It has been the history and it can be argued that it is even by design, that our system of government moves slowly on important issues.  The President stated that a requisite first step in any large-scale, progressive, legislative change is the establishment of a framework out of which progress can come.  He mentioned civil rights and the fact that many people in the south couldn’t vote even though the package passed into law granting these people the right to do so.  However, the landmark legislature finally corrected some major flaws in the initial creation of our system, so it regrettably, but somewhat understandably took a few years to reach it’s final form.

One could make the argument that this is just a cover for caving to the special interest which get politicians elected.  But I would argue that while one can make the argument, it shouldn’t be vehemently defended unless the time is taken to actually study the founding, the founders, and the history of the legislative process as it relates to major progressive change.

The demands on our time great these days, so we might say that summaries with slants are the best we can afford if we want to stay informed.  However, I think this an opportunity to reevaluate a priority or two and decide whether or not we want to continue to have very little time for the things that are important to us.  Do we want to continue to have less and less time to spend with family and friends, or with a book.  It may be the reality that if we don’t secure more time to learn about what is actually going on rather than relying on the often severely biased interpretations from the news media, we are forfeiting our capacity and even our right to control our government.  Going to far?  Perhaps.  But, perhaps it might be worthwhile to look into the level of political party influence that exists in the main stream media.  Are we simply being fed party lines dressed up with graphics, enlivened with theatrical deliveries, and delivered using neurolinguisticly choreographed scripts?

I’ve quoted James Madison before writing “A  popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”  In my opinion, we have seen farce and tragedy proving Madison correct, so perhaps it’s time we do what we can to bring about the “Change” we are demanding from our politicians.  Defy the mainstream news media; demand the practices originating with the first administrations of this country stop… by ignoring them.  Like the solution posited by a Simpsons Halloween special… to defeat the monsters, Just… Don’t… Look.

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Fox News, The Post, at the Founding of the Nation

by on Oct.28, 2010, under History

The news media today crawls in the sludge of partisan attacks and dirty laundry from which it seems incapable to rise above.  The current trend towards ruthless, and very often baseless, assertions goes well beyond reason and no doubt furthers the media’s descent into pure propaganda.  The stories include:

“The treasury secretary is an aristocratic tool of the rich, using his office to further the financial gain of his powerful friends at the expense of the common man …”  “The former president traded sexual favors from the wife of the candidate to secure votes…”  “The president, described as a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman” plans to name himself king and groom his son as his heir…”

This would seem enough to cause Abigail Adams, a leading figure in the American Revolution to call for a censure on the freedom of the press.  As a matter of fact, it did, as the”hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman” was none other than her husband, a hero of our nation’s founding; John Adams.

These claims were actually made in the press at the time immediately following the founding of the United States, and were, of course, untrue.  The treasury secretary was Alexander Hamilton.  The purported pimp of a candidate’s wife for votes was Thomas Jefferson1; the claim supposedly coming from John Randolph, a congressman from Virginia.  And this was not the half of it.  James Callender, came in from England, aided by Jefferson in establishing himself in the U.S., became the source of tabloid style, political attacks thrown in any direction which opposed the current source of his paychecks.  He even attacked Mr. Jefferson when he refused to give him a government job.

Abigail actually wrote to Jefferson in 1804 stating; “In no country has calumny, falshood[sic], and revileing[sic] stalked abroad more licentiously, than in this.  No political character has been secure from its attacks, no reputation so fair, as not to be counted by it, until truth and falshood[sic] lie in one undistinctioned heap”.

The attacks were not just tabloid style, but fear mongering just as we would find in the media today.  For example, Alexander Hamilton, writing under a pseudonym attacked Jefferson and his party; “Hence it is, in the present moment, we see the most industrious efforts made to violate the Constitution of this State, to trample upon the rights of the subject, and to chicane or infringe the most solemn obligations of treaty; while dispassionate and upright men almost totally neglect the means of counteracting these dangerous attempts.”

In 1798 John Adams received the what became known as the Alien and Sedition acts.  All accounts I’ve read had Abigail Adams encouraging the president to sign the acts into law.  Of interest here is the 4th act which made a high misdemeanor “false, scandalous, or malicious writing”.  However, this one act is often sited as a major cause of his failure to win reelection in 1800.  The new congress that followed repealed the acts and the newly elected president Thomas Jefferson, the man who made efforts to “trample upon the rights of the subject [the people]” pardoned all those imprisoned under the act.

So where does this leave us today?  Are Fox News and it’s less bombastic counterparts on “the left” off the hook given that the tradition of often baseless and even seditious political attacks in the media date back to the nations founding? Does the fact that Hamilton and Jefferson directly employed and encouraged these practices lend them merit?

In my opinion… no.  Madison wrote “A  popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”  Further, “Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.”  In essence, a well educated and informed populace is required, and to understand their work, we must understand these people and the times in which they lived.  Jefferson wrote that ““Information is the currency of democracy” and “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

In the words of these two men we find what I read to be the caveat in the core pillar of our system of government.  Government of the people, by the people, and for the people cannot be carried out effectively if the people are not well informed and do not prize education.  Any source that intentionally distorts the truth or circulates out right falsehood as truth for some political goal is, in my opinion, acting to subvert the true sovereign recognized by the consensus of the founders; the people.  Do I agree with Abigail and the Sedition Act, no.  But warning labels are used on many products to alert people about the contents, perhaps the same can be applied to the media.  *Warning*: the following program may contain material presented as factual and unbiased, when actually the exact opposite is true.  People are advised to seek other sources before reaching any conclusions.

And it goes further…  What if Hamilton and Jefferson had put aside their anger and sat down together as Washington had requested in letters to both men?  What if the politicians in the North and those in the South set out with the only goal being to work for ends of mutual benefit instead of slashing and burning and the near constant threats to secede from or dissolve the union?

And today, when we honestly ask who among us wants “big government breathing down our necks”, spending our money with reckless, let alone money borrowed from not-necessarily-friendly powers.  I would wager no one would raise their hands.  I would think no one wants high taxes… no one wants our rights trampled.

However, with fear running high, and anger and hatred stoked We The People will never sit down and safely debate the salient questions.  In my opinion, the people involved in creating this country committed an act of historic greatness indeed, but that does not render their every act great, or even the best choice.  Perhaps its time we relegated these worthless practices, that are at once injurious to those people and to the nation itself, to the magazines on the supermarket check-out racks.  If we don’t I fear that we will never come together as “We the People” and ensure that the guards we appoint for our security are actually concerned with it.

1: Cokie Roberts, Ladies of Liberty: The Women who Shaped Our Nation

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