lies, damn lies and politics

I started to think about Mark Twain this week, how I am at the same age when he began writing some of his most biting satire about politics, religious hypocrisy, bigotry and the nature of people.
Whatever he was as a critic of Government, he always believed in supporting the nation and his writing made people think. While I still see the fundamental good in people and role of a loving God to help change flawed humanity, I am sorely disappointed by and feel a powerless spectator to, the downward spiral caused by politics and politicians. What can a journalist do?

expose arrogance of power

A Senator chastised schoolchildren visiting the Congress who urged her to support legislation proposed by a ‘socialist’ Freshman Congressman and one of her colleagues. It could have been a moment to explain that legislation needs to be carefully studied as to the impact on the governed. But she would not be dictated to. In prior years, letters I sent her as a constituent in the Senator’s district, specifically urging support for issues she opposes, generated form-letter responses. A one-time Political Science graduate, I am angry that important issues are not often acted upon by our elected representatives. Increasingly, actions are opposed ideologically, becoming a test of wills between Legislature members and the Executive Branch. While many support “Progressive”national politics and condemn “capitalists” or “conservatives”, there are no substantive debates of the merits and the failings of policies, but often incoherent and confusing ‘sound bites’.

highlight ethical and unethical governance

Government agencies specifically charged with protecting the safety and sanctity of the nation’s citizens respond instead to political power brokers, lobbyists and vocal opponents of the nation’s fundamental principles. Elected representatives and un-elected bureaucrats refuse to operate on Constitutional and nationally-unifying principles, but at other times defend their positions using the same principles they previously refuted. Most unsettling, is that some politicians will use the formerly apolitical agencies of Government to investigate opponents or enhance political agendas, and when opposed, conclude that the victorious majority must either be “deplorable” and bigoted, clinging to outmoded ideas and philosophies, or have colluded with extra-national agents.

train people to “think” and debate

Public education over fifty years has steadily replaced literature, debate, and ‘controversial’, i.e. unpopular, topics like physical education, wood shop, and trades-based career preparation, for gender and sexual identity accommodation, activism, and uniformity. Children who are raised to question classroom stances on topics that contravene their parents beliefs (prayer, football, ‘binary’ genders, or other ‘conservative’-supported subjects) are subject to administrative penalties and peer abuse. Colleges, once institutions that provided the foundations for an educated population in everything from arts to zoology, produce impoverished liberal service-industry workers with billions of dollars in student loan-indebtedness. But teachers, professors, and college coaches have wealth and comfort regardless of student success.

expose incompetence and waste

Local and state government may demand revenue (taxes and ‘fees’) for actions that do not materially benefits those taxed. Transportation projects that incur billions in wasted dollars for “trains to nowhere”. Bureaucrats demand ‘carbon credits’ exchanged those who use personal transportation to go to work. They charge higher fees for delivering power and water to residents, due at first to ‘climate change’ which others perceive historically as periodic drought. But then the government raises fees when residents conserve too much. In the intervening years, there are no projects to collect additional water or energy.

Courts rule against voter-supported legislation that a minority oppose. Or they issue injunctions that increase the cost and delivery time of a particular resource for years. Politicians and bureaucrats deliberately obstruct law enforcement officers, both state and federal, when executing their duties. Others release dangerous criminals into the community based on alleged racial bias at sentencing, only to have them offend and be re-incarcerated.

journalism: be not a tool of politics

What, if anything, can journalists do to help expose the failures of politics and Government? Ideally, journalists are the agents of the governed, investigating and exposing fraud, incompetence, and abuse of power. Journalists must elevate their craft, to withhold biases and favoritism toward a politician, an ideology, or ‘sacred’ conclusions, and report everything that may support or refute the subject. Of course, the twenty-four hour media business is a profit-driven business, and ego, power, and prestige are just as driving influences for journalists as is determining fact from fiction. When actors create false scenarios, or others rush to attack (like the MAGA hat student and the native American) that became widespread calls for violence and condemnation, the lack of proper investigation fortunately only resulted in embarrassment and lack of journalistic credibility. It may still result in a civil judgement in favor of a maligned victim. Journalism as the vanguard of the public suffer a loss of integrity in reaching conclusions before investigating the facts.

use of Mark Twain’s image: no copyright infringement is intended

“Lies, damn lies, and statistics”, popularized by Mark Twain, was his restatement of the quote by the Nineteenth Century English Parliamentarian, Benjamin Disraeli

The Taliban Have Gone High-Tech

Weapons given to the Afghan forces have found their way into insurgent and foreign terrorist hands for the past decade. Now, our armed forces are finding high tech night vision goggles, laser -detection devices and more are in insurgents’ possession.

The article in today’s NYT reports what our military have always been challenged by in conflicts particularly since unconventional warfare – guerrilla tactics, remotely detonated devices, and local forces corrupted or threatened by local insurgents –  replaced conventional warfare.

via The New York Times

honorable service

The current President of the United States pardoned a sailor this week who had been convicted and sent to prison for violating regulations protecting national security. , He took pictures of his submarine’s propulsion compartment which is a classified area.   Without knowing the particulars, it seemed to the President that the punishment of imprisonment and a discharge,  in light of other government employees who also had taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution and nation, was  – in this current climate – oppressive.  In the last several decades, access to classified information and equipment  was granted to personnel specific to their position and job; it required thorough training, a thorough personal investigation, and continued exemplary conduct.  Individuals in the military who deviated from this lost their access, were subject to punishment, and in extreme cases, based on a courts martial, sentenced to prison.

Perhaps the President was taking issue with the previous Administration’s handling of cases in this regard.  As we all are aware there was a former candidate for President who had a non-government server with classified information (hacked?),  lied about it, and influenced those charged with investigating this breach of national security.    A member of the military who intentionally broke the law by transferring secret information to Wikileaks was imprisoned, but also was given ‘transgender’ treatment,  had his (her) sentence commuted and was released.  An earlier contractor employee, Edward Snowden,  who transferred classified information and fled to Russia, is still lauded by those who have questionable “honor”.

In 2014,  both the then-President of the United States and his National Security Advisor declared a soldier returned from Taliban custody, served with “honor”.  Bowe Bergdahl, was later convicted by courts martial for desertion, by walking away from his unit in Afghanistan willingly.  He was given a dishonorable discharge.  In these prior cases, the climate that was established by those critical of the United States and set about ‘radically transforming” the culture and laws, rewriting history,  only served to embolden adversaries and weaken American respect in the world.

From the bruhaha over the prior Administration’s FBI dossiers and NSA surveillance of  private citizens (then-candidate Trump’s staff),  backroom deals with cash for Iranian mullahs, to the still-implausible blame game for the murder of an ambassador and security staff  in Libya after Gaddafi’s overthrow, the term “honor” is not very apparent.   Career service members of the United States armed forces understand it.

If we as Americans can respect each other, resolve our differences through the ballot box and offer a hand up, it can change.    No human being has risen above the temptations of power, greed, lust, or other “sins”, but what is corrupting this generation is the added ambivalence to what served this nation’s unity for two centuries – family, a common language, common ideals, and a positive view of the future.

dont-tread-300

So what does “serving with honor” mean in 2018?   Those of us who have served honorably know what it means.   If you perform your job to the best of your ability.  take care of those in your unit,  treat people with respect,  understand and follow authority,  practice self-control, and represent the best of an American (speaking to Americans) , a person can say they “served with honor”.  Those who have the added spiritual values, understand that theirs is a higher commitment but the same understanding of honor.   We have raised our families to know what it means.  Not everyone who has served  or continues today to serve the nation, in the armed forces, law enforcement, fire and rescue services, or in the spiritual “front lines” has the same understanding, when it comes to politics, economics, or community,  but those values that we trained to in the uniform of the United States still have meaning: Honor, Courage, and Commitment.

Journalism and Snake Oil

I confess a morbid curiosity about ongoing maliciousness toward political figures associated with the Republican Party, in the “old” media, newspapers, television, and radio. But there is even more global and instantaneous access via the “new”, in blogs, websites, video such as YouTube, and social network sites.

I was raised to respect hard work, individual achievement, a Supreme God, and a can-do spirit, in spite of what life’s opportunities or obstacles might come. Nothing ever came easy, with the exception of acquiring foreign languages. Living in our own home, or in a rooming house, a small unfurnished apartment, a large home, but wirh boarders, or in a cramped berthing compartment on a navy ship, gave me plenty of opportunity to be bitter about “fairness”.

The opposite tendency has been a hallmark of my life. Where I am fascinated, and in particular, confirmed first by my college studies in Political Science, is academia’s Svengali -like conditioning of thousands of young minds to believe in the evils of the United States. I remember a campus journalism student, so bitter about his craft, he became a fiction writer. Investigative journalism, long after revealing that corporate executives for tobacco companies were spiking their product, or chemical companies dumping waste in landfills, found audiences were fickle and business dropped when too much “hard news” dulled the senses.

After the advent of 24 hour media, the Internet and now instant access on cell phones, news found survival in the most basic, purient, often outright fiction about all kinds of public figures. When CNN found an audience in the early 1990s, in its year-long pre-Gulf War and then afer hostilities commenced, it capitalized on the audience. Once the audience began to wane and competition increased, more splashy coverage of sexual deviancy, financial scandals, and such would supplant each other – news was only interesting for two or three days.

The Republican Party, the party of Ronald Reagan, held political dominance for a number of years up to the early 1990s – in part because they were perceived to be fiscally responsible and more socially conservative, qualities which seemed to produce the end of the Cold War. Everybody loves to celebrate good news, but good news doesn’t sell newspapers, the adage says.

Since politicians of one political stripe or another are subject to the same weaknesses in character, it is not long before one or the other is discovered to be indiscreet or downright criminal. But the last forty years has changed journalism completely from hard news to entertainment – but always holds currency as it’s focus. A quick study of journalism of the 19th Century, finds a distiguished outlet for intelligent writers and authors*, gives up ground to the determinedly low-brow approach of many, who serve up a popular and profitable pandering of purient curiousity.

This is not much different than today. Where there is weakness, poor decisions, greed, and hubris across the political spectrum at times, the collective media has become an appendage of the Democratic Party, cheering on like schoolgirls — with shivs and brass knuckles – their favorites and excoriating any Social or Economic Conservatives’ dissent. A visitor from another world, who benefitting from a long study of history, might note that this devotion to one political party and policies – is known as propaganda. Truth as the government sees it, or their agents, the so-called Free Press, was doled out in Soviet newpapers. Izvestia and Pravda were often desired for the people lacking toilet paper more than the news content. But in the 1930s until the bombs began falling on Germany, the Nazis raised propaganda to a high art; how else could a people be so enthralled – when they were conquering the world – while 12 Million people were rounded up, starved, murdered and reduced to products. Today, in places such as China, North Korea, the Arab states, Iran and Russia, propaganda substitutes for news.

It is my hope that there are sufficient numbers of thinking, curious minds who will not capitulate to the dumbing down of society. When American society fell farther behind in education, particularly in sciences, and we became ever more a consumer rather than a producer, journalists pandered to the customer with chatter about movie and music stars, cribs, and rehab centers. The economic underclass is fed a diet of sin in the name of entertainment. Journalists paint a picture that economic hardship is not the result of a lifetime of poor choices and easy credit, but are instead creative in providing these people an object to despise – the hard-working business owner or social conservative.

With an American government that promises things it cannot possibly deliver, the entire economic and social mobility of the nation is on the brink of collapse. Journalists, who never question, object or opine on the validity of the government’s assertions, but join the sales pitch on global warming, carbon footprints, pandemics, imperialist policies, and nationalist intentions of foreign states, do a disservice to all.

These modern-day PT Barnums sell “whatever sells”, no matter who is harmed. The same folks shamelessly take umbrage at anyone who might object to the verbal assassination.

Politics, science, and journalism in pure form has elevated mankind. But I for one, refuse to succumb to the snake oil being peddled by the incumbent political party and its minions.

*A Hundred Years of Higher Journalism, Denys Thompson, 1935, http://www.thefossils.org/horvat/higher/higher.htm