Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Gauntlet We Face

The American Action Report began as a blog with a single purpose: to drive the rats out of Congress. Once I began tugging at that thread, I found, as the ancients discovered, that “…all things work together….”
If we succeed in driving the rats from Congress, we mustn't assume that their successors will not also be rats, or will become rats through exposure to Congress. As many people already know, the system itself is a rotten barrel that spoils the apples. How do we gain by making room in Congress for other rats?
I'm reminded of the writer who said, “Nobody ever reads what I write. I continue to write because I want to know what I think.” The more I wrote and discovered my thoughts, the more I realized that a whole-systems approach was needed. I also discovered that I make a poor newsman and probably a worse rabble rouser because I think too much and too deeply, and I have too many ideas.
No, with my nimble fingers tickling the keyboard, the American Action Report is more appropriate as a political guidebook and reference book. If it ever becomes an honest-to-goodness book, made with real paper formed from trees that have been assassinated expressly for the purpose of giving people something to hold as they read, perhaps the name should be changed.
Perhaps then it should be titled The John Book of American Politics. In book form, each article would be about two pages long. That length is perfectly suited for bathroom reading. One can learn more about attending to his constitutional responsibilities as he attends to his constitutional. Already, I'm convinced that neoconservatives (previously known as Trotskyites) and other authoritarian types have found that reading these articles has helped to relieve their symptoms of irregularity.
As for solutions to our political woes, I'm not a bit optimistic. I've never believed in optimism. Optimism is the madness of maintaining that everything will turn out well simply because we want them to turn out well.
No, I'm a possibility thinker. There's a difference.
There are far more ways that things can go wrong than right. For that reason, I believe that things naturally go wrong; and they seldom go right except by planning and effort. If we sincerely want to “take our country back,” we'd better have a plan as to what we're going to do with it; and we'd better be willing to accept that responsibility. If we don't, we'll lose it again. Worse still, for each demon we drive out of Congress, seven more will take his place, and the situation will be worse than before. The rotten barrel must be cleaned before they can spoil the fresh apples we put in it as replacements for the incumbents. This calls for fortitude.
I've also observed that there's very little that anyone can do about anything. Opportunities to affect things for good are few and fleeting. Here's the good news: The difference between a person (or group) that is effective and one that isn't is the alertness to recognize those opportunities as they arise (or anticipate them before they arise) and make the most of them before they can get away. This calls for prudence and vigilance.
The members of Congress will never be better than the American people. If we want the blessings of peace with other nations, we must learn to be at peace with one another. We can't always understand each other. We can't always like each other. We can and should always care for one another's well-being even when we don't understand one another.
If we want the blessings of prosperity, we need to respect one another's property and hold government leaders to the same standards.
If we value the right to life, we must respect the lives of others.
If we want the blessings of liberty, we must respect the rights of others and demand the same of government. That includes the recognition that people in far-off lands, who are no threat to their neighbors, have a right to be left alone.
If we want a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, then We the People must become more closely involved in it.
Sending an honest person to Congress, we send him out as a sheep among wolves. If ethical behavior were always simple, there would be no decisions to make. Many corporations have divisions devoted especially to guiding their employees in doing the right thing. We the People have offered no such guidance for our Congressmen.
A careful study of the major acts of legislative embezzlement and shredding of the Constitution over the past ten years will reveal systemic failures that the voting public have failed to address. The demonically evil people guiding various embezzlement bills and human rights violations (the USA PATRIOT Act, the bailouts, and the “healthcare” scam, to give a few examples) through Congress followed certain patterns. They systemically cut congressmen off from their sources of guidance, lied incessantly, offered them a choice between two appalling evils, and pushed them in the direction of the decision the government gangsters wanted them to make.
Many of them, having already signed away their souls, eagerly embraced these atrocities against their constituents. Others went along with the evils because We the People were not there to offer them the guidance they needed. When our congressmen are faced with choices between two evils, We the People can't always expect them to have the wisdom to find a third way. We the People must take that responsibility.
The damage is done. We must clean up the mess we helped to make, bring about a rebirth of freedom, and take steps to keep from making a mess of things in the future.
Congressmen who failed us must be replaced for the same reasons that a sick patient sometimes must be removed from the source of his ailment. If they're returned to Congress two years after being removed, they’re likely to return as better representatives. Congressmen who are willfully corrupt must be removed for the same reasons one might remove an alcoholic from his job as a bartender or a pedophile from his job at a day care center. Scoundrels such as they should be cast into outer darkness and never returned to any position of public responsibility. In all probability, criminal investigations of dozens of congressmen should be carried out.
Sweeping the rats out of Congress, then, is not a cure-all. It won't be enough to drive the money changers from the temple. A clean-up from top to bottom and from inside out is needed. Much of that clean-up must take place within the lives of each voter. Figuratively speaking, our bones have been broken partly because We the People have repeatedly gone astray. If a proper cleansing takes place and the right spirit is renewed in us, then the bones that have been broken may rejoice.
I pray that the American Action Report—admittedly, one of many blogs written by many bloggers—will, in its small way, serve as a reference and guidebook toward that end.
Pray for wisdom in the 2010 congressional elections.
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Monday, April 12, 2010

How Washington Really Works: Part 1

(This is the first of a five-part series.)
We hear a great deal these days about “taking America back.” This popular slogan begs a few questions.
The first question is, “Take it back from whom?” Any attempt to answer that question tends to invite accusations of envy, populism, or a belief in conspiracies. While any or all of these accusations may be accurate, they tend to close off discussion rather than answer questions. Please pardon my caution, then, in writing part 1 of this series.
To understand what we must do to take America back, it’s helpful to understand who has America now, and how we lost it in the first place. In this article, I’m not going to present anything new to you. In this part of the five-part series, step by step, I’m going to tell you things that you already know or believe or suspect; but I’m going to put them together in a way that may surprise you.
If you’ve ever taken the initiative of contacting your congressman or anyone else in government, then you, like millions of others, have tried to influence the workings of government. You’re a special interest group, even if you’re a group of one.
Let’s limit this discussion to legislation and regulatory activity. There are basically three reasons people ask something of government:
1. To benefit themselves and, they believe, other people, whether we’re talking about a family, an industry, another interest, or the nation as a whole,
2. To benefit only themselves, though not at the expense of anyone else, and,
3. To benefit only themselves at the expense of other people.
As a general rule, people who combine into groups are more successful at influencing the functions of government than those who act alone. Groups of groups, such as political parties and those with compatible interests (such as environmental issues or religious issues) tend to be even more successful. Political parties in the U.S. usually claim to be ideologically driven, but, in fact, they’re just “holding companies” for diverse special interests.
Obviously, some groups are more successful than others at gaining influence in government policy. Some have gained actual power in certain areas of government policy.
At what point, then, does an interest group gain so much political power that it undermines the American ideals of democracy and freedom? Look at the list of three items again. Most people would agree that #3 should be the exception rather than the rule, and that the burden of achieving #3 should be negligible to the American people as a whole.
Groups that use their power to gain things for themselves at the expense of everyone else rarely, if ever, admit to selfish ends.
Our nation’s Founding Fathers gave us a system of government with checks and balances among three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial. They never envisioned the fourth branch of government we have today: regulatory agencies that are accountable to no one. These regulatory agencies write their own “laws,” enforce them, and judge the people who run afoul of them.
In Federalist paper #48, James Madison, acclaimed as the “Father of the Constitution,” wrote, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." Regulatory agencies claim all three powers.
If regulatory agencies use a degree of power that “may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny,” who controls the regulatory agencies? How are they appointed, and why? In the next four parts to this series, I’ll use a combination of research tools called network analysis and issue sets analysis to show you who wields power in Washington, how they wield it, and what they gain from it. This will necessarily involve who holds the “power of the purse, as well as other forms of power brokerage. Some of the most influential power brokers can be found in the most unexpected places.
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How Washington Really Works, Part 2



In my previous message, I promised to give you some details on how things really work in Washington. The illustration you see above is just the beginning. Three more are yet to come, and even that is the tip of the iceberg--or rather, the first whiff of the sewer.
You may have noticed that there's no place for the taxpaying voters in the illustration. That's because the taxpaying voters are not in Washington. Most don't contact their congressmen at all. This doesn't mean that your opinions don't mean anything to him. Election Day means a great deal to him. It's just that--well, maybe you've heard the old song, "When I'm not near the girl I love, I love the girl I'm near." The illustration you see here reflects whom our congressmen are near.
Our nation's Founding Fathers designed a system of checks and balances among three branches of government: legislative, judicial, and executive. They never authorized the erection of a fourth branch of government: the regulatory agencies.
Instead of taking the time and trouble of writing and passing laws that are clearly understood, Congress passes laws that can best be described as Chinese fire drills or soup sandwiches. If a congressional committee were in charge of creating new animals, they would create something like the platypus. Then the executive branch has to do its job of enforcing flexible and sometimes vaguely worded or contradictory laws.
The executive branch doesn’t want to create reasonable laws either; and, besides, that’s not their job. They kick the can down the street by creating what they call regulatory agencies. Basically, the job of regulatory agencies is to transform Chinese fire drills into Chinese puzzles. On any given day, they create puzzles that the inventor of Rubric’s cube would envy.
Though these puzzles hamstring and often destroy small- and medium-sized businesses, the CEO’s of giant corporations love them. They can afford to hire people to work out these puzzles. Besides, their people create those puzzles in the first place.
Here’s how it works:
Congress appoints the regulators from the business community; that almost always means the giant corporations. The top regulators are changed from one presidential administration to another, so where do they work when they leave government “service”? They go where they’re most qualified to work: a company in the industry that they’ve been regulating. How’s that for a sweetheart deal?
It gets worse. If you see a congressman’s name on a bill, it doesn’t mean that the congressman wrote it. It means only that he introduced it. It may have been written by an official for a regulated business, by members of a regulatory agency, or both. There’s nothing wrong with that practice, because those people have more expertise in that area than the average congressman does.
It does, however, create a potential conflict of interest. Imagine yourself accepting campaign contributions from someone who has handed you a bill to introduce—a bill that, for all you know, may benefit that person at the expense of everyone else. It’s a potentially corrupting system, and it behooves the congressman to study it more carefully and seek other expertise.
Congress is advised by experts who work only for the Congress, but where do they get them? Usually, the same places they get the regulators.
You can see how the system can be used to benefit the few at the expense of the many. In tomorrow’s blog, I’ll describe an iron triangle of potential conflicts of interest among congressmen, news reporters, and corporate CEO’s.
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How Washington Really Works: Part 3


In part 2, I described the iron triangle among Congress, the regulatory agencies, and the businesses being regulated. In part 3, you see another iron triangle: the one among Congress, the news media, and the big banks and corporations. As you saw in part 2, we're talking about a mutual back-scratching society.
Money has been described as “the mother's milk of politics.” Big banks such as Citibank and Goldman Sachs have a ton of it. So do giant corporations such as Monsanto and Baxter International. According to federal law, banks and corporations are forbidden to directly contribute to political campaigns. CEO's, however, are allowed to set up political action groups (PAC's) and shake down their employees for contributions.
Nobody really believes that these political contributions aren't tied to the kind of service they expect to get from congressmen. If you've ever contributed to a political campaign, you probably did so because you expected certain behavior from the candidate. In your case and mine, there wouldn't be any quid pro quo (That's Latin for, “You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours.") After all, most candidates have no reason to remember our measly little contributions. On the other hand, candidates can't help but remember receiving thousands of dollars from one CEO. Do I hear a back being scratched?

Congressmen also are in need of publicity. As long as the name is spelled correctly, any publicity is good publicity. That's because voters tend to remember names better than news. The information media, which is charitably called the news media, is a rich source of free publicity.
What can congressmen give the—er—news media in return? They can give them status, credibility, and (for what it may be worth) news. You've heard the adage, “Names make the news.” People in government have the names that count the most. Me? I'm nobody. Putting my name in their rag wouldn't give them any status or credibility at all.
Here's an example: During the Jimmy Carter administration, White House muck-a-muck Hamilton Jordan peeked down the bodice of an Egyptian ambassador's bodice and said, “I've always wanted to see the pyramids.” It got more space in the Washington Post than a presidential address Carter gave at the time.
If some unknown person did something like that to a vegetable seller, who'd know about it?
Then there's the sweetheart arrangement between the “news” media and the big banks and corporations. Of course, the giant banks and corporation CEO's want favorable publicity; but, more significantly, they want unfavorable publicity to be as muted as possible. If you get all your news from the big six communications companies that dominate the flow of news, you probably didn't hear that Baxter shipped “vaccines” containing live (A) H1N1 flu virus to 18 countries. When the “vaccine” was tried on ferrets, every one of them died.
What do the banksters and corporate parasites have to offer the—um—“news” media? One thing they have is effective control. Most votes are won or lost within a range of 3%; a switch of 1.5% is usually enough to change the outcome of the vote. For that reason, 5% ownership of a company is considered “controlling interest.” Giant banks and corporations are heavily invested in the big six communications companies, and they enjoy the advantage of interlocking directorates. That is, they have people sitting on each others' boards of directors.
Big banks and corporations also heavily advertise in the big six communications companies. You may have heard that the “news” media compete with one another for news. Actually, the news is incidental to a news outlet's profitability. The main pursuit of a news outlet is advertising, not news.
People who buy newspapers and news magazines buy it for the news, but the piddling amount they pay for them is nothing compared to advertising profits. The price of a newspaper is just earnest money to make sure that somebody's actually reading that rag. The broadcast media doesn’t charge the viewer anything, and they make higher profits than the oil companies.
If you're paying less than a dollar for a newspaper, and somebody else regularly places $2,000 advertisements in that same paper, who's going to have more influence on the news and editorial content of the paper? Especially if the advertiser has a henchman on the paper’s board of directors?
In the next article, I'll share with you how an iron triangle among the Congress, the banking cartel, and the military-industrial complex makes war more likely, even when it's against America's national interest.
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How Washington Really Works, Part 4


Of three iron triangles of power I describe in this five-part series, this one is the most complicated. That's because not one person in a thousand knows how the Federal Reserve System (Fed) works. For that reason, this installment is mainly about the Federal Reserve System.
Each of the twelve branches of the Fed is called a Federal Reserve Bank. That’s a misnomer, because the Fed is not federal in the sense of being part of the federal government; it has no reserves, and the Fed isn't really a bank. The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to “coin money,” but, in 1913, Congress presumed to pass that legal power to a banking cartel and called it the Federal Reserve System.
The Fed has the power to create paper currency out of thin air (not backed by anything of value) and lend it to the U.S. Treasury. This paper currency is, in fact, certificates of debt (promissory notes), with the promise that the American taxpayer will repay the debt.
If paper currency is not backed by anything of value, from where does it get its value? It gets it from the value of paper currency already in circulation. Let's say you have $100 in your wallet out of, say, $10 trillion in circulation; and the Fed prints another $10 trillion and puts it into circulation. Because there is twice as much paper currency to pay for the same amount of goods and services, the $100 in your wallet is now worth only half what it was worth before.
You lose money twice: once when Congress borrows the money for you to repay; and a second time, when the value of the currency in your wallet drops. It's as though a thief has taken $50 out of your wallet and left you with an IOU stating that you—not the thief—will have to “repay” the debt “owed” to the thief. (Think about that the next time you think about the $multi-trillion bailouts.)
Look at the left side of the triangle above. The taxpayer pays interest for borrowing something that had no value at the time the Fed loaned it to the U.S. government.
During the War Between the States, Abraham Lincoln refused to finance the war on borrowed money. There was no Fed at the time, of course, but Lincoln recognized that fractional lending and the use of promissory notes as “paper money” amounted to the kind of double taxation I've just described.
Instead, the federal government rather than the bankers issued its own paper currency. This inflation of the currency was a form of invisible tax, in that it raised money by reducing the value of currency already in circulation. Nonetheless, there was no debt for the taxpayers to repay. Here's how Lincoln described his policy:
“The Government should create, issue, and circulate all the currency and credits needed to satisfy the spending power of the Government and the buying power of consumers. By the adoption of these principles, the taxpayers will be saved immense sums of interest. Money will cease to be master and become the servant of humanity.”
- Abraham Lincoln
The following are from two other Lincoln quotes: "I have two great enemies, the southern army in front of me and the financial institutions, in the rear. Of the two, the one in the rear is the greatest enemy..... I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.” Abraham Lincoln- In a letter written to William Elkin
As strange as it seems, the Federal Reserve has never been audited in its entire 97-year history. Establishment shills have consistently beaten back attempts to make the Fed accountable to the American people, but this may soon change. On a bi-partisan 43-26 vote, the House Finance Committee approved HR1207—a bill to audit the Fed. The House passed HR1207 (known as S604 in the Senate) by an overwhelming margin.
Did your congressman vote to make the Fed accountable to the American people? Or is he beholden to powerful special interests? Click here and find out.

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How Washington Really Works: Part 5


(This is the last of a five-part series)
The diagram you see above is just a sketch of how power and influence are exchanged in Washington. The exchanges are explained in parts 2-4 in this series, in which iron triangles of power are illustrated. This diagram shows only bilateral relationships that indirectly add up to a power establishment.
The diagram doesn’t show interlocking directorates among businesses and banks or the blurring of distinctions between commercial banks and investment banks. It doesn’t show the investments that individual congressmen or individuals elsewhere on the diagram have in others in the diagram.
As a precaution against tendencies toward monopoly, federal law prohibits banks in the same city from having interlocking directorates. That law was passed in the days of green eye shades and paper ledgers. In the age of Internet and Excel, all banks are virtually in the same city.
In 1933, Congress wisely passed the Glass-Seagall Act, separating commercial banks, investment banks, and insurance companies. For the next 66 years, the Glass-Seagall Act served as a deterrent to some of the worst abuses that had led to the Great Depression. Insurance company representatives could proudly claim that no insurance company in American history ever went bankrupt.
Then, on November 12, 1999, the curtain rang down on sanity and then came Act Two. The ironically titled Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, also known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (or more formally, (Pub.L. 106-102, 113 Stat. 1338) was passed. Phil Gramm now holds the dubious distinction of being the Father of the Current Financial Crisis.
None of these three perps are still at the scene of the crime. Leach and Bliley dropped out of sight, and Phil Gramm became a lobbyist for malefactors of great wealth. Astonishingly, Gramm was 2008 presidential candidate John McCain’s chief economics adviser. McCain admitted that he didn’t know much about economics, but that was ridiculous. It’s like admitting that you don’t know much about surgery and asking Jack the Ripper to perform an operation on you.
Phil Gramm also holds the dubious distinction of ending insurance company bragging rights about never having experienced bankruptcy. Courtesy of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, American International Group (AIG) became heavily involved in credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations. (Don’t feel embarrassed for not understanding those terms. Fed Chairman Allan Greenspan admitted that he didn’t understand them either but that they must be good for the economy. In 2008, Greenspan was the one who ended up feeling stupid. When McCain picked Gramm to advise him, McCain really was stupid.) Courtesy of Phil Gramm and his unindicted co-conspirators, AIG became the first insurance company in American history to be nationalized to save it from going bankrupt.
You may be wondering if the wheeler dealers in Washington are at least as sophisticated as the average teenage Facebook user. That is, do they, like their pimpled counterparts in cyberspace, do networking or participate in meet-up groups? Well, yes, they have several of them. That’s another phenomenon that the diagrams in this series don’t show; and that will be the subject of a future article.
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How Congressmen Stack the Deck against Voters

Most American voters have a low opinion of Congress but feel that their own congressman deserves to be re-elected. There's an obvious disconnect here. Why? I think that it's mainly because, in each election, most voters let their congressmen control the election debate and the flow of communication.
By way of analogy, suppose you were a teacher, and you had 345 students—that's the number of congressmen there are in the U.S. House of Representatives. Think of elections as mid-term or final exams. As their teacher, how would you react if your students told you that there should be 345 separate sets of questions on the exam; and that each student would decide what questions he should be required to answer? Then how would you react if they suggested that each student should be allowed to grade his own paper?
Now you have a picture of how it is that almost all congressional incumbents are re-elected to a congress that most voters think is rotten. Most voters let the incumbents tell them which issues and which votes are relevant to the voters’ decisions as to whether he should be re-elected. Don't expect that the incumbent's opponent will do the job for you. Opponents also have their agenda. Who's making sure that your agenda is properly addressed in the election? If you aren't, nobody is.
In case you think this is an exaggeration, let me tell you about two incidents I experienced. During one election on which I'd help manage, I asked an experienced operative, “What are the issues in this campaign?”
She replied, “The issues are whatever you say they are.” Did you get that? In most cases, the voters don't decide what the issues are; the candidate and his campaign team decide.
On another occasion, I observed that taking a stand on a controversial issue loses a candidate support from those who disagree, but it doesn't gain support from those who agree with the candidate’s position. I asked, “How do you deal with a controversial issue?”
The answer was, “If anyone asks you, give your answer in a truthful but matter-of-fact manner. If you don't treat it as an important issue, neither will most voters.” Did you get that? In most cases, the voters don't decide how important an issue is; the candidates do.
When individual voters or groups try to make an issue of some of their congressmen’s votes in Congress, congressmen usually protest, “Those votes weren't representative of how I usually vote in Congress. You should look at all of my voting record.” He knows, of course, that nobody will do that because nobody has that much time on his hands. On the other hand, when the congressman tells you what he has been doing in Congress, he makes no attempt to tell you about all of his voting record—just the votes that will make him look good. Did you get that? He's saying that you, the voter, have no right to choose which votes to consider in judging his performance; only he has the right to do that.
Since you're reading this article, I must assume that you want to “take America back,” to use the popular catchphrase. Before we can do that, we have to take the responsibility of taking our elections back. For a change, each voter must put himself in the driver's seat.
You decide which issues are important to you, and you be the judge of your congressman’s performance. How does your congressman stack up? Here and here are web sites that may help you to decide:
There are many other resources on the Internet. I'll try to find a few more non-partisan, really useful sites for you between now and the November elections. As the saying goes, “A new broom sweeps clean.” This November, let's sweep the moneychangers from the temple.
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How News Reporting Really Works: Part 1

(This is the first of a four-part series)
I recently had an email discussion, concerning American society and politics, with a Taiwanese student. His perceptions of American politics weren’t exactly wrong, so to speak; but they were wildly exaggerated. Because I used to be a journalist, and I had taken journalism courses, I think I know the cause of his misperceptions. I believe the problem is systemic—that the problem caused by the way news is gathered and reported.
Let’s take a case in point.
According to a recent CNN survey, 56% of the American people see the federal government as an immediate threat to their liberties. That’s large enough a percentage to call it a mainstream view. Now take a look at this video news clip, and remember that this clip and the survey I just mentioned were generated by the same source: CNN. In this video clip, a CNN reporter characterizes the people who hold those concerns as being far outside of the mainstream.
What accounts for that disconnect between CNN’s polls and CNN’s reporting? One cause is that news reporting has become a form of entertainment; and, like other forms of entertainment, broadcast news programs compete for advertising dollars. Another is that, as a general rule, news reporters aren’t hired because they understand the issues; they’re hired because they can write well or can present themselves well on camera. Another is, although the camera doesn’t lie, the camera does exaggerate. Yet another cause is that there’s more news to report than means to report it; thus, the individual viewpoints of editors, reporters, and even headline writers tend to filter and slant the news. Advertisers also play a role in how news is reported. Finally, newspaper readers and television viewers—that means you and I—also play a role in slanting the news.
Today, let’s take a look at one of those causes: that the camera exaggerates.
Suppose you were shown two photographs of audiences attending speeches. In one, three fourths of the seats are empty, a few of the members of the audience are slumping in their seats, and one or two are yawning. In the other, audience members are closely packed, all the seats are filled, and everyone is leaning forward, obviously interested in what the speaker is saying.
You could be excused for believing that the second speech was more interesting and better attended than the first. Forgive me, but I tricked you. Both photos were taken at the same speech. The photos depict different parts of the audience at different times during the speech. A snapshot of how a small part of the audience looked over a period of 1/16 of a second or less gave you the impression of how all of the audience members reacted during the whole speech.
Now think about the Tea Party loudmouth you saw in the video clip. In the minds of those unfamiliar with the issues involved, one babbling loudmouth was representative of the entire crowd of perhaps 100,000 people.
Of course, the reporter in the clip showed herself willfully misinformed, but I’ll address the cause of reporter self deception in another article in this series. (I call this problem the Malie Bruton effect, after the reporter who spent two hours interviewing a folk religion scholar and, in her newspaper article, presented him as a practicing witch.)
So, why did the reporter head for someone who seemed pretty low on the food chain instead of someone more coherent? Part of the answer has to do with the nature of brief news reports. It takes longer to give an intelligent, well-thought-out answer than it does to rant and babble incoherently. When you have only seven minutes to make a news report, you pass by the rational-looking ones and head for the kooks. If you see someone whose knuckles drag the ground, you’ve hit pay dirt. Besides, let’s face it: Intelligent people aren’t interesting enough to drive up ratings and draw in advertising dollars.
Something like that also happens with interviews in which interviewees reasonably state their case. Many years ago, Martin Luther King was interviewed concerning his hopes for the future. By most accounts, he was pretty reasonable to all sides. When the interview was mentioned on the nightly news, however, his reference to “black power,” in a clip lasting only a few seconds, was the only thing that made the news. News reporting of that sort was credited with creating the black power movement.
That was the only part of the speech reported because that was the only part of the speech that made a good sound bite. People who get all or most of the news from the broadcast media are given sound bites in place of rational discourse. That’s only one of the ways that news reporting distorts the news.
We can find the solution within ourselves. Contrary to what the movies suggest, investigative journalism is rare. We have to be our own investigative journalists. The Truth is out there, but so are misinformation and disinformation. We have to be discriminating in selecting our sources.
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How News Reporting Really Works: Part 2

(This is the second of a four-part series.)
From time to time, we hear that the news media is “biased.” What does that mean, and is it true?
Let’s look at the first question first. Depending on your area of study, a bias may also be called a conceptual framework (academic literature), an attitude (or value)(psychology), or a frame of reference (social science). In all of these areas, some frame of reference is needed as a yardstick for measuring (or a dowsing rod for finding) the truth.
Let’s say you were upset because someone stole your candy and wouldn’t give it back. In any discussion of what to do about it, you would assume that everyone within earshot held the attitude that property can be owned. No one would even consider discussing the issue unless one of your listeners came from a culture in which people had never heard of private property.
In a moment, I’ll give you a link to a video showing a real-life impasse between two people who had different frames of reference on a controversial political issue. First, though, let’s take a look at what psychologists call Rokeach’s Onion.
Each of us has countless opinions. When asked to back up our opinions, we often give facts, but the facts always come with certain beliefs on which our opinions are based. If, for example, you asked a constitutionalist why he calls a certain government action an “intrusion,” he’ll give you facts, but he’ll also cite a well-known theory (such as Social Contract Theory) or law (such as the Tenth Amendment). He may not know what the theory is called, but he understands the basic idea of it.
When asked to defend his belief in Social Contract Theory or the Tenth Amendment, though, he’s usually stumped. He has never thought to defend it, and he has never thought it needed defense. Until you brought it up, he may never have realized that it, in some way, applied to the belief he’s asked to defend. This is called an attitude. Three examples of attitudes are the right to own property (or lack of that right), that all men are created equal (or not), and, for that matter, that there is such a thing as a right.
To Thomas Jefferson, an attitude was something that is regarded as a “self-evident truth.” It’s taken on faith and can neither be proven nor disproven. Of course, if a person has a “bad attitude,” his attitude only seems like a self-evident truth.
Now take a look at this video clip of a CNN reporter and a Tea Party protestor “talking past” each other. In the reporter’s frame of reference, government is the source of our rights; in the protestor’s frame of reference, God (or Nature) is the source of our rights. Obviously, neither had given the idea much thought, but they’re acting on those attitudes just the same.
Because of the reporter’s frame of reference, she presented the “stimulus package” as a gift from specific government leaders, as if it had come from their pockets. The protestor, in his babbling way, showed that he realized that the money was borrowed from the people and that it amounted to “double taxation.” That is, the taxpayer must repay the debt, even after losing some of the value of his money to the inflation of the currency. He also seemed to know that the government can’t give more than it takes; the reporter clearly did not recognize that fact.
The CNN reporter also subscribed to the Leviathan theory of government. She suggested that the people we elect to make our laws are free to pass any law they wish. The protestor clearly subscribed to the republican view that we elect leaders to represent us and that we’re not electing them to do as they wish.
The babbling protestor’s biggest mistake was his attempt to frame his views in lofty quotes. He probably would have done a better job of presenting his views if he had used the same words he uses when he talks with his friends and acquaintances.
The CNN reporter’s biggest mistake was that she made no attempt to understand the man’s frame of reference. (That’s mainly what people mean when they accuse reporters of bias.) Instead, she berated the man for being ungrateful for what she saw as the generosity of government leaders. She further suggested that the protests amount to fringe elements claiming that they shouldn’t be required to pay their fair share (whatever that means) in taxes.
We should remind CNN that 56% of the American people—that’s around 170 million people—can not honestly be called fringe something-or-other. You can’t find that many “right wingers” in America.
Over a hundred million liberals, conservatives, libertarians, Southern agrarians, and non-aligned Americans are uniting to take our country back from the banksters, war profiteers, and other perps in the Wall Street/Washington crime syndicate. As Benjamin Franklin said, “We must all hang together or, assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” This November we can, and must, sweep the rats out of Congress, topple the Axis of Evil, and reclaim our country.
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How News Reporting Really Works, Part 3

Hanlon's Razor runs something like, “Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.” Someone has added, “But don't rule out malice.” Parts 3 and 4 of this series of articles will cover each in its turn. In this article, we're looking at stupidity as an explanation for how the news media get their stories wrong.
In saying that reporters are often stupid, I don't mean that they lack intelligence, or that they have a monopoly on stupidity. As Forrest Gump pointed out,“Stupid is as stupid does.” (And whom did Tom Hanks support in the last election?) It's worth reading Jim Longworth's commentary in which he gives five defining characteristics of stupidity and claims that America is suffering from an epidemic of stupidity.
For starters, reporters don't get their jobs because they understand the things they report. They get their jobs because they can write well enough to be understood and because they're willing to accept the low pay that most reporters receive.
Don't expect reporters to dig for the "real" news in their stories. Investigative reporting is rare and takes more time than most editors allow. The reporter doesn't have time to get the truth; he has only enough time to get a story. He quickly writes it and files it. The next day, it's another story and another deadline.
When a news reporter arrives on the scene, he finds many more facts than he can possibly cover in a story, so he decides on the spot which facts are important enough to report and which aren't. He writes in a style known as inverted pyramid style. In the first paragraph he places what he thinks is the most important information (though it may not be) which must include who, what, when, and where. The "why" and“how" is left to his discretion.
If he fails to understand the frame of reference for the people on whom he's reporting, he's likely to get the "why” and "how" completely wrong. If he does that, he risks getting the story wrong.
Here's an example:
In 1986, Dr. Lee Yuan-tseh received the Nobel Prize for chemistry. The news media acted as if Taiwan's educational system had received the prize. After all, Dr. Lee was, as the story spinners wrote, a product of Taiwan’s educational system. To this day, the media frequently give Taiwan's educational system credit for Dr. Lee's accomplishments. The truth is Dr. Lee, in his view, had to fight Taiwan's educational system every step of the way. Here are his comments.
Reporters write to please their editors, and editors edit to please media owners and advertisers. I'll discuss those guys in the next article.
There are many more stories out there than there are reporters to cover them or newspaper space to print them. How are some stories selected for reporting and all others are ignored?
The editor decides which reporter to send to cover which story. It's more a business decision than a matter of journalistic responsibility.
When Elvis Presley supposedly died, news anchor Dan Rather saw it as less important than some economic news of the day. On that occasion at least, he was choosing journalistic responsibility over ratings. If a news program gets the lead story “wrong,” he has lost his viewers for the rest of the program, and his advertisers won't like that. CBS lost viewers that day. (Please be patient; I'll discuss ulterior motives for editors in the next article in this series.)
The last person to touch a newspaper story is the headline writer. Years ago, I saw a newspaper article reporting the death of a man who had been a leader in the French Underground during World War II. The headline read, “Ex-Nazi Leader Dies.”
I recently heard the following joke about how news stories are written:
An Iranian was visiting Paris when he saw a vicious dog attacking a little girl. At the risk of his own life, he fought the dog to the death. A newspaper reporter praised his heroism and said, “I can see the headlines now: ‘Brave Parisian saves little girl from vicious dog.’”
The Iranian explained that he wasn’t from Paris. “Brave Frenchman, then?” No, he wasn't French. “How about, ‘Brave European'?” No, he wasn't European. He was a Muslim from Iran.
The next day's newspaper headline read, “Islamic terrorist kills little girl's dog.”

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How News Reporting Really Works: Part 4

(This is the final article in a four-part series.) In part three of this series, I mentioned Hanlon's Razor, which runs something like, “Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” In this article, I’ll address the problems that can't be adequately explained by stupidity. I'll confine myself to stating the facts and avoid any discussion of Conspiracy Theory.
Around 1980, about 50 corporations dominated the world's information media. Today, most of the world's information apart from the Internet is dominated by only six media giants. They are as follows, with the names of their CEO’s placed in parentheses: Time Warner (Jeffrey L. Bewkes ), Disney (Bob Iger ), Bertelsmann AG (Hartmut Ostrowski ), Viacom (Sumner Redstone ), News Corporation (Rupert Murdoch ), and NBC Universal (Jeff Zucker ).
There you have them: the Gang of Six. Apart from the Internet, they control around 90% of the world’s flow of information.
In a previous article, I used a triangular illustration to show the interlocking of Congress, the information media, and corporate owners and advertisers. Several decades ago, MAD magazine alluded to a similar phenomenon at the level of local newspapers. In journalism class in college, I was taught that newspapers and other news media are more answerable to their advertisers than to their subscribers. Reading “How Washington Really Works, Part 3," you can see how.
The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, is a practical example of this phenomenon. For most of the 43 years I lived in South Carolina (1949-1992), I was a reader of the State newspaper. After the erstwhile media giant Knight-Ridder bought the State in 1986, the change in editorial slant was so sudden and stark that it no longer seemed like a South Carolina newspaper. Since then, Knight-Ridder has been swallowed by the McClatchy Company, which also has Internet holdings.
To see how the Gang of Six wields power over which news is reported, what slant is used, and which news gets spiked, let’s take a brief look at how the Gang of Six treats the most important news event since the assassination of President Kennedy.
World history over the past nine years has been shaped by the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. That event was more pivotal than the assassination of President Kennedy was for the period from 1963 until 1973, and it rivals the significance of America’s entry into World War I in 1917. The official story of 911 has been the rationale for almost every major governmental policy change in America since 2001.
It's vital, then, for us to understand what happened on that day. That would necessarily involve asking questions. We know from experience, though, that the Gang of Six hasn’t taken the initiative to do so. It’s as if the official government story is the final word. (By contrast, the official cover-up of the Watergate burglary was investigated and reported almost daily for more than two years.)
I promised not to get into Conspiracy Theory, and I'm keeping my promise. I'm sticking to the facts. Here's an important fact: At least a half dozen members of the Congressional Committee into 911, as well as their senior counsel, told the news media that the truth was being covered up. Wouldn’t that be big news? Why haven't you heard it?
This explosive news and other news concerning 911 either haven’t been reported, or they were under reported. As an example of under reporting important news concerning 911, the following quote appeared in a CNN report: “"We were extremely frustrated with the false statements we were getting [from the Pentagon]," [Commission member and Congressman Tim] Roemer told CNN. "We were not sure of the intent, whether it was to deceive the commission or merely part of the fumbling bureaucracy." Unlike the Washington Post covering a burglary, CNN didn't spend two years telling us about it, and the story was quickly forgotten.
What else is the Gang of Six not telling us?

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Sometimes They Lie

After I had written a series of articles called “How News Reporting Really Works.” I’m a systems thinker. The idea of the series was to explain, systemically, how news reporters often get their stories and even their facts wrong. As a result, I was accused of giving the news media too much credit for honesty.
Actually, I wasn’t. I’m quite aware that some reporters deliberately slant the news to make lies look like facts and make speculation look like news. At the time, I had two reasons for not mentioning it: 1.) You already knew it, and 2.) It doesn’t take an entire article to say, “Sometimes they lie.”
A couple of days ago, I electronically copied the top half dozen web sites regarding, “Tea Party Movement.” For reasons of my own, I wanted to compare key words. Two of the top half dozen sites were Manhattan-based mainstream media (MSM) slanted against the Tea Partiers.
The one for Forbes magazine featured the porcine face and equally porcine opinions of Bruce Bartlett, and it was called The Misinformed Tea Party Movement.” The kicker read, “For an antitax (sic) group, they don’t know much about taxes.” (For a journalist, he doesn’t know much about spelling or getting his facts straight.) Like King George III, Porcus Ignorantiam (We’ll call him PI for short) failed to realize that the Tea Parties are more about representation than about taxes.
PI based his conclusion on a survey he pulled on 57 of the several hundred people attending a Tea Party rally. Click here to see his survey questions. (If you’re an English grammar or composition teacher and have a weak heart, I caution you not to see how he phrased the questions. Likewise, if you’ve ever had experience conducting surveys, please consider the state of your health before clicking the link.)
Not even one of the survey questions is a reliable means of measuring people’s understanding of the issues of concern to them. Some of the questions are open to broad interpretation; thus, they’re open to widely disparate conclusions even by experts.
How’s this for a survey idea: Get 57 shameless propagandists who have been cloistered in the offices of magazines far from mainstream America. Place each one’s feet into a tub of wet cement until the cement hardens. Drop them into the ocean with a pen and pad for writing underwater. Then start asking them questions about their situation.
The questions may include the following: How much longer can a person hold his breath on land than he can in 100 feet of water? By percentage, what’s the carbon dioxide level in your brain? When sea salt comes into contact with the carbolic acid in your stomach, are the chances of your vomiting more, less, or about the same? How many swollen or ruptured capillaries are in your eyeballs at this moment?
If they’re not able to answer those questions, shall we conclude that they’re ignorant of their situation? May we thus conclude that they’re not really drowning?
Surely, Bruce Bartlett deserves the Ananias Award for Dishonest Reporting. (Oink! Oink!)
One of the sites (no longer in the top six, so I can’t locate it) said that the Tea Partiers are not populists. His creative line of reasoning read like a Monty Python script: Most populists identify themselves as mainstream conservatives (whatever that means). The article’s writer identifies Tea Partiers as to the right of (whatever that means) mainstream conservatives. Since they’re to the right of mainstream conservatives, they’re not populists.
Excuse me, but didn’t he say that most populists identify themselves as mainstream conservatives? Doesn’t that mean that some populists are not mainstream conservatives? Even if we excuse the writer’s ignorance of political theory and history, and even if we excuse his careless labeling, his entire argument hinged on a single point that he managed to get wrong.
Newsweek magazine went so far as to condemn Tea Partiers for their populism. Isn’t it amazing how MSM, with all their informational resources, can’t get their stories straight yet accuse millions of average Americans of being ignorant?

You may remember the CNN reporter who recently badgered Tea Party demonstrators in Chicago. She suggested that residents of Illinois shouldn’t complain about the so-called “Stimulus Package,” since a lot of the money went to Illinois. Check out the You Tube clip here.
Here’s a little experiment you may like to try—on second thought, you’d better not. Steal her purse, hop a flight to her home state, and max out all her credit cards. Then ask her how wonderful she feels about the money being spent in her home state. She deserves the Cujo Award for Most Obnoxious Bitch.
Many years ago, as I walked along an abandoned causeway in Sparrow Swamp, I suddenly found myself surrounded by hundreds of rattlesnakes. I had to calmly and carefully make my way about 100 yards along the causeway until I reached safer ground. I had to remind myself that they were probably more afraid of me than I was of them.
Tea Partiers, you have my sympathy. When you find yourself besieged by MSM reporters, stay calm and be careful. They’re probably more scared of you than you are of them. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be making those strange noises at you. You’re not doing what you’re doing to convince MSM; you’re doing it for the people reading their rags and watching MSM’s antics on television. You're doing it for all of us.

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Guest Commentary: The Eloquent Pogo

(Today, veteran radio personality John Wrisley is taking up his walking stick and giving it a curmudgeonly shake in the direction of voters who seem unclear on the concept of why we have representative government. I shall resume my crusty commentaries tomorrow.)
The Eloquent Pogo
written by John Wrisley (used by permission)
Pogo's general philosophy suited me fine, and I miss him. Every Christmas I lift an eggnog in his honor and sing, "Deck us all in Boston, Charlie! Walla Walla, Wash, and Alley-garoo." Sometimes I'm tempted to hop a bus for Waycross, Georgia and hunt for him. I'd borrow or rent a bateau and paddle around in the Okefenokee Swamp hollering, "Pogo-o-o-o! Where ARE you? We n-e-e-e-ed you!!"
You'd think we grown-ups could get along quite nicely without the advice and wise-cracks of an opossum from South Georgia, but as history is made right before my eye-bones I'm convinced we're making a grand mess of a formerly proud nation and may never straighten things up without someone of Pogo's statesman-like wisdom telling us what we're doing wrong.
One of the most important phrases of the 20th century was uttered by Pogo in 1970. "We have met the enemy, and he is US!" We have since forgiven the little critter for stealing the line from U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver H. Perry who, in 1813, sent a message to an army general declaring, "We have met the enemy, and they are ours." Besides, Pogo's renowned version more accurately describes the present state of political affairs in the USofA.
Republicans would not admit to being their own enemy, nor would Democrats look in mirrors for people to blame. The poor continue to blame the filthy rich for their plight, and the bewildered middle class sees the purchasing power of the once mighty U.S. dollar evaporating in their pockets, but they have no idea whom to blame. They don't even save any of it any more. What's the point? The interest it yields doesn't keep up with inflation, so they just borrow whatever they need to keep up with their wants. "Spending money they don't have for things they don't need," one wag remarked.
Were Pogo on the scene you can bet he'd have some sharp quips about our behavior. He'd wonder why consumers and government bureaucrats are frantically digging themselves into a debt hole they can't crawl out of. "What must these idiots be thinking?" he'd remark. "They could duct tape together all the extension ladders at Lowe's and never get out of that pit."
Pogo would also be amazed that we stand still to let a full blown WAR be paid for on the credit card. Up until foolish politicians invented the "guns and butter principle" citizens of a nation that wanted to go to war had to sacrifice a big chunk of their living standard to pay for it. It was unthinkable to prosecute a war any other way. Today the political weaklings who run the country would dare not call upon citizens to pay the bills of military adventure. It's easier to borrow a couple of billion dollars a day from foreigners. Citizens aren't even asked to buy War Bonds any more!
The denizens of the Okefenokee Swamp may be peeking at us from amidst the Spanish moss and remarking about our foolish conduct. Simple J. Malarkey might mutter something about debtors becoming slaves of creditors, but wouldn't push the point. He would observe almost at once that we like being slaves, as long as our masters keep the the cable services priced within our means and brewers keep the prices low on beer.
Before he turns, sadly, to vanish into the swamp Pogo might quote his friend Walt Kelly who wrote; "There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blasts on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us!"
Is there an echo in the swamp?
March 20, 2006
(To read more of John Wrisley's wise and witty remarks, visit him at his website at www.wrisley.com).

How We Created the Mess in Washington, Part 1

(This is the first of a three-part series.)
Most discussions of cleaning up the mess in Washington begin and end with a single fallacy: the belief that, if we elect the right people to the right offices, everything will be all right. I used to believe that.
When I was a young man working my way toward a baccalaureate in political science, I tried to convince others to vote for so-and-so because he would improve things. An old man said to me something like, “Even if you elected Billy Graham to Congress, he’d soon be corrupt.” I didn’t want to believe it.
In part, you and I have caused the problem of corruption in Washington. We wanted to take the easy way by finding great men who would absolve us of the responsibility of managing our own government. Now we’re faced with the task of taking our country back.
While great men often make a difference in the course of history, a greater difference is made by millions of people toiling in obscurity—or failing to toil when they should. Voters tend to elect people who are primarily actors and salesmen and expect them to be magicians and political think tanks. Part of the problem is not that voters expect too much of their congressmen but that they expect too little of themselves.
When Jimmy Carter was running for President in 1976, he promised a “government as good as” the American people. Actually, the promise wasn’t necessary because, whomever we elected, we’d get a government as good as we were. H. L. Mencken put it another way: “Democracy is based on the belief that the people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”
If that sounds harsh, think of how we decide which “great man” is to become our Wizard of Oz in Washington. I’ve already pointed out the error of electing actors and salesmen to do the job of problem solvers and opportunity creators.
How else are our “public servants” chosen?
For one, it helps if a candidate has a full head of hair that’s well-coiffed. After the age of 25, the chances of a man experiencing substantial hair loss is around 25%.. From that point on, his age closely matches the chances of him having substantial hair loss. Since the average male U. S. senator is 66 years old, 66% of the 83 males in the Senate (or 54 senators) should be showing substantial hair loss. Remember, though, that they were first elected to the Senate when they had more hair.
Take a look at their pictures and dates of birth at the Wikipedia page. Just for fun, find the senators who are your age or older and compare your hair to theirs. What’s Chris Dodd doing with a full head of hair at the age of 65? What’s Robert Byrd doing with that much hair at the age of 93? And get a load of John Kerry, at the age of 66! Did he mug a high school student and take his hair?
I don’t have enough hair even for a hair transplant, unless I had it transplanted from a bird dog. I’m afraid that, if I did, I’d fall into the habit of pointing at everything.
Height is another factor in how we elect our officials and make other choices. Several different surveys have shown that height is a significant factor in hiring salesmen, selecting corporate CEO’s, and electing modern Presidents.
And when was the last time America elected a fat President? I believe the last one was William Howard Taft way back in 1908. Judging from the Wikipedia photos, several U.S. senators are overweight, but still more slender on the average than most people their age.
It also helps if the candidate has a face made for television and a voice made for radio.
I’m not appealing to anyone’s sense of envy. All those qualities really shouldn’t disqualify a candidate from consideration. Columbia, South Carolina, radio personality and narrator John Wrisley (in his eighties!) has all of those qualities, and I’d vote for him in a heartbeat. I’d vote for him because I know him, his abilities, and his views. No, he’s not running for political office and probably never has. It’s a shame.
What I’m saying is, we shouldn’t disqualify a candidate simply because he has a head like a billiard ball or a body like Bilbo Baggins or a face and voice like Gollum. Nor should we vote for a candidate because he’s an excellent actor or salesman. (John Wrisley has also been an actor.) Congressional candidates are running for a position in which they’ll be expected to find or make solutions and opportunities for their constituents. As voters, our criteria for hiring should fit the position.

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How We Created the Mess in Washington, Part 2

Suppose we could somehow always know who the best person to represent us in Washington is. Suppose we were always right. We’re still left with the old man’s opinion, “Even if you elected Billy Graham to Congress, he’d become corrupt.” Actually, he was right.
It goes back to the Rotten Barrel Theory. It’s not that a few rotten apples spoil the whole barrel; it’s just that a rotten barrel spoils the apples. We’re partly responsible for the rottenness of that barrel.
We vote for the ones we think are the best people for the job; then we leave them to fend for themselves. Our congressmen need supervision. Strange as it seems, some of them need their constituents to hold their feet to the fire.
I mean it. I have heard some congressmen say privately that they know what they should be doing, but they’re under considerable pressure to do the wrong things. People with oceans of money threaten them with defeat in the next election if they don’t cave in. Those same congressmen have said that they’d like to be able to say that their constituents are angry and would ensure their defeat if they do the wrong thing. In short, they'd like as much pressure coming from us on certain issues as they're getting from greedy big shots.
Of course, I’m talking about the Congressmen who’ve not become corrupt--the ones who are not beholden to the banksters, Big Pharma, and the military-industrial complex. In the 1930’s movie Dracula, Renfeld wasn’t as subservient to the Prince of Darkness as many of our congressmen are. Likewise, I don’t see any hope for Nancy Pelosi seeing the light, either. (Like Lucy Westenra, also in the movie Dracula, Nancy Pelosi seems quite averse to the light of day.) She also seems perfectly content in her role as the Tammy Faye Bakker of Congress.
When I came to the realization that our congressmen need to hear from us, their constituents, I came to another realization: We need to educate ourselves. That was about the time I heard the remark, “Congressmen are like cockroaches. You shouldn’t be as concerned about what they’ll steal and carry off as what they’ll fall into and mess up.”

In those days, congressmen were content to steal only what they could carry off, which usually amounted to millions of dollars. Now they’re stealing trillions by borrowing it in our name for us to repay, and flooding the economy with fiat dollars that reduce the purchasing power of the dollars we already have. Incredibly, they’re using the rationale that they’re enriching us by further impoverishing us.
It took me almost ten years to realize that we needed to do more than just elect “the right person to the right office.” Afterwards, I devised a formula for what else we, as voters, should be doing.
We should inform ourselves on the issues of concern to us. We should inform other citizens. We should inform our elected officials and keep them under close supervision. (See my earlier article, “How to Contact Your Congressman.”) It was at that point that I became less focused on elections and more focused on political education.
(Speaking of educating yourself, I’d be remiss if I didn’t provide a helpful link so that you can see how your Senator or congressman voted on issues of concern to you. What those issues are, and how you feel about them is your decision. I won’t decide for you. Go to Open Congress.)
For about five years or so, I thought that my formula for cleaner politics should be enough. It wasn’t. As I went deeper into causes and solutions, I found the root of the problem—and, with it, a hint of a solution. At least one of the people on my mailing list knows exactly what the most important thing we can do to ensure more responsive—and responsible—representation is. I’ll discuss it in the next article.

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How We Created the Mess in Washington, Part 3

(This is the third of a three-part series.)
In the second part of this series, I pointed out the importance of creating voter understanding, electing the right people to public office, and keeping in touch with them. I also said that this wasn’t enough. What’s lacking?
If we want a government “as good as the American people,” it’s important to examine just how good we really are. One of the reasons we’ve gotten the government we have is, we haven’t been as good as we thought we were.
Before some of you piously nod your head in agreement, let me remind you that Jesus was crucified by government officials to satisfy the demands of religious people.
Someone once said, “You can’t cheat an honest man.” I’ve heard of many examples of supposedly honest men and women who were cheated by con artists. They were considered honest because they weren’t consciously trying to cheat someone. They were, in fact, dishonest either because they were expecting something they shouldn’t have or they were expecting more than they were paying for.
To give an example, one woman paid $200 to have her driveway paved and was cheated in the process. The concrete alone would have cost much more than $200, but her greed blinded her to that reality. She was being dishonest, even if it were not called that.
I’m often reminded of a line from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Even after the wizard was revealed to be a fraud, Dorothy and her friends expected him to deliver on his promises to them. He then conned the odd threesome into thinking he had given them a heart, a brain, and courage; but he told Dorothy to come back the next day for her trip back to Kansas. After they had left the room, the wizard said to himself, “How can I help being a humbug when people expect me to do things that everyone knows can’t be done?”
People who had been adults during the Great Depression have told me how they survived. In effect, they said that families that had only enough food for two days would share what they had with families who had nothing to eat. On other days, the latter families would return the kindness. Now, that’s generosity!
Nowadays people want to feel as though they’re generous without giving of their own resources. When asked to donate to the needy, people have told me, “I don’t have to donate to the needy. That’s why I pay my taxes.” Using government to take someone else’s property just so that we can feel generous isn’t generosity—it’s theft!
Before anyone starts accusing me of being a hard-hearted conservative, get your facts straight. I stopped being a conservative a long time ago. I consider myself a Southern agrarian. (By the way, you can be an agrarian in the midst of a large city.) If you want to read an agrarian manifesto, turn to the fifth chapter of Matthew; it’s called the Sermon on the Mount. Due to the impact of Madison Avenue advertising, too many people see the Sermon on the Mount as a feel-good speech with little practical value. On the contrary, it’s a powerful antidote to a lot of today’s problems.
One of those problems is materialism. The Sermon on the Mount stresses the virtue of simplicity. I confess that I never saw that in the Sermon until I read it in a book about Buddhism. When I did, I thought, “Doesn’t the Bible say something like that?” Then I thought, “Why haven’t I ever heard it from the pulpit?” I’ll tell you why: Because it’s not profitable. We’re supposed to believe that fulfillment is found on E-Bay or on a store shelf or in a bottle with a child-proof cap.
If we loved our neighbors as ourselves, if we sought first the rule of the Supreme Being in our lives, we’d be satisfied to ask less of government. We wouldn’t have 800-plus military bases in almost every country in the world to force them to buy our products or sell us theirs. We wouldn’t elect congressmen who promise us things we shouldn’t have, only to end up taking all we have—which is what con men always do to suckers.
For many centuries, agrarianism was the only competitor to monarchism. Even today, liberalism, conservatism, and libertarian all contain traces of it. That’s one reason I say that liberals, conservatives, and libertarians can learn a great deal from each other. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, and others have much to learn from each other.
I don’t advocate a new political party or a new religion. We have all the parties and religions we need. What we don’t have enough of is righteousness according to our faiths and cooperation as good neighbors.
It may not be true that, as the saying goes, “It takes all kinds to make a world,” but the fact remains—like it or not—we’ve got all kinds. Let’s make the most of it.

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The True Story of Civilization, Part 1

(Or "How Civilization Really Works")
Since you’re reading this, it’s a safe bet that you’ve heard of Social Contract Theory. I hope you like fairy tales.
Once upon a time, people decided that they wanted a government. How this full-blown concept of government entered their heads, and why, remains a mystery. As it happened, in a wondrous land nearby, there lived a government in need of people. When the government and the people discovered one another, they joyously made an agreement. The people and the government set the conditions by which the government would rule by serving, and the people would serve by ruling. The powers of government would be strictly defined and leave the people otherwise free to pursue their favorite—well—pursuits.
That’s the essence of the Social Contract Theory of government. It’s a sweet little story; but, alas (Alas is Early Elizabethan for, “Oh, hell!), it’s just a fairy tale. It never happened that way. Even the Social Contract theorists will tell you that it never happened that way. Social Contract Theory is just a justification for government, dreamed up thousands of years after the first governments were formed.
Really, now, can you imagine cave men talking as philosophically as all that? Here’s something closer to what really happened:
Through skill and a little luck, a cave man (whom we’ll call Larry) killed a wild animal and carried it home. As his wife Linda was preparing it for supper, along comes Bob and demands half of it. Larry says, “Give me one good reason.”
Bob replies, “I got two good reasons, and each one of them has five knuckles. I’m the meanest, ugliest, and most selfish person that ever gave you nightmares; and, now that you got me upset, I’ll take all of it.” With that, he takes a rock and smashes Larry’s foot.
That’s how government got started. In fact, that’s how civilization as we know it got started.
The strongest and most violent people forced their will on those not as strong or as willing to use force. You’ve often heard that the history of the struggle for freedom is a history of the struggle against tyranny. Tyranny is a political word. Put in psychological terms, this history has been a struggle between mentally healthy people and psychopaths.
Even psychopaths have to sleep sometime. Thus they needed bullies to help them rob and kill, keep them safe from normal people, and share the spoils. That was the first government.
You’ve heard of the Magna Carta. It’s considered a giant leap forward for freedom. Actually, it did nothing for anyone other than the few dozen men who forced King John to sign it. They still went about bullying their serfs. They still went about asserting their supposed “right” to have sex with the bride of a serf on her wedding night. They still went about asserting that raping a virgin guaranteed them victory in battle. (Of course, all that sounds like more after-the-fact justifications for psychopathic behavior.)
I know that sounds a mite prickly, but think. Let’s suppose you lived in a hidden valley or on an uncharted island, and no one there had ever heard of government. How would you propose the idea to them? How would it sound to them? Wouldn’t they think that you’re a con man or a psychopath or both?
Why should they want to give you part of what they’d earned? Why should they go off and kill someone just because you said that you wanted more land or more power to tell someone else what to do and have them do it? Why should you accept paper in exchange for things of value, knowing that each slip of paper you accept will take value away from what you already have?
In Gulliver’s Travels, Lemuel Gulliver found such a place as this, and he offered to reveal to them the secret of making gunpowder. He said that, with gunpowder, they could overpower their enemies by killing vast numbers of them. They thought that he was a psychopath, and they hoped that others in his homeland were not like him.
Like many of you, Gulliver was so accustomed to the supposed prerogatives of government that, to him, those perogatives seemed perfectly normal to him. During the late nineteenth century, a man told an American named Hiram Maxim that Maxim could get rich if he invented a more efficient way for Europeans to kill each other. The result was the Maxim gun, which was the most efficient killing machine of its day.
Here’s another "why" for you: Assuming that you managed to convince these hypothetical people to sign a social contract with you and form a government, how long a period should the contract cover? Just because several living people made the agreement, why must their great grandchildren be bound by it?
This article is not an argument against the existence of government. It’s an effort to get people to think about the limits of authority. Remember the Nuremberg defense: The Holocaust was considered legal under the system of government that existed in Germany at the time of the Holocaust.
The Nuremberg trials established that, even with the backing of government, individuals are responsible for their behavior. Murder is murder, even when ordered by government. Terrorism is terrorism, even when ordered by government. Other violations of human rights are human rights violations, even when ordered by government.
Everywhere in the world, the struggle for human liberty and human rights has always been a struggle between mentally healthy people and psychopaths. In ancient times, King Herod (who was king when Jesus was born), King Arthur, and other kings ordered mass murders of infants in order to secure their thrones.
During the Medieval Era, a third of all popes and European kings were murderers.
Machiavelli described many things people did to gain and hold power. One usurper had his henchman murder everyone even suspected of opposing him. Once his power was secure and he was thoroughly hated, the usurper placed all the blame on the henchman, had him cut in half; and the two halves of his body were placed on either side of the city gate so that people entering or leaving the city would walk between the two halves. Thus the usurper secured the loyalty of the people.
I give this example because politicians have used various forms of this tactic all over the world throughout history. During the Three Kingdoms Period in China a thousand years earlier, Emperor Tsao Tsao’s supply officer reported that half the grain had been spoiled by rats and that there wouldn’t be enough to feed the army. Tsao Tsao ordered him to put the army on half rations. When the supply officer protested that the army would mutiny if he did that, Tsao Tsao told him he would manage it himself. After the supply officer put the army on half rations, the emperor had him beheaded and put his head on display with a sign accusing him of stealing the grain and selling it. This placated the army and the mutiny ended before it could begin.
Do you see the pattern? It’s easier for most people to believe that an underling is guilty of evil than it is to believe that their leader would do evil.
Now let us turn to the Early Modern Era. In 1509, Henry VIII became king of England. The guy had two his wives executed because they didn’t give birth to male children on the first try. Grab your barf bag and take a look here. He had two marriages annulled for the same reason. Does that sound normal to you?
It doesn’t stop there. Over a two hundred year period, every British monarch murdered a family member to gain, hold, or perpetuate personal power.
What about the wars for which Europe is famous? From one end of Europe to another, every monarch was related to every other monarch. They were so inbred that hemophilia, a hereditary disease, was present in most of the royal houses of Europe. The wars of Europe were family squabbles, but the so-called nobles rarely died in those wars. No, the victims were the peasants who’d rather have been left alone. Does that sound as if normal people were running things?
Okay, that was then, and now is now, right? Wrong. Psychopaths are still running things. You’ve heard of Hitler, right? He was a psychopath, right? Okay, we’re on the same page. How does an underemployed paper hanger get the money to run for Germany’s highest office and win? No, he didn’t get it from German blue-collar workers who were so impoverished by inflation that they often couldn’t afford to buy bread. And think about this one: During the closing months of World War II, Germany was thoroughly blockaded, both economically and strategically. How did German manufacturers obtain the materials to construct gas chambers and make enough gas to kill nine million people?
The answer to both questions is that Hitler had outside help, and those people couldn’t have been normal either. I’m sure you’ll require proof for that one. In the conclusion of “The True Story of Civilization,” we’ll take a journey into the heart of darkness, from the rise of Hitler to the present day.

The True Story of Civilization, Part 2

(Or “How Civilization Really Works”)
In part one of this article, I described the beginnings of government thousands of years ago. I also described how the age-old struggle for liberty has been a struggle between mentally healthy people and the psychopaths who run things. The question arose, “Do psychopaths control governments even in contemporary times? I pointed to Hitler as an object lesson.
There seems to be an immutable law of the Internet that, if an Internet argument runs long enough, someone will mention Hitler. I believe there are two reasons for this—one unreasonable, one reasonable.
The name Hitler has become a trigger word. Knowing that the name has the power to get people excited, excitable people often bring up the name when they run out of facts or reasonable arguments to bolster their cases. In short, it’s a cheap shot intended to circumvent the logical process.
The other reason is that the lessons of Nazi Germany are well known, well explored, and—to use a popular metaphor for such lessons of history—written in large, easy-to-read, easy-to-understand letters. To introduce a metaphor of my own, the history of Nazi Germany is like a For Dummies book on political science.
Hitler’s motives were clear: He was criminally insane and hated anyone whom he thought didn’t measure up to his ideas of lives worth living. He hated Gypsies, Slavs, labor unionists, communists, homosexuals, handicapped people, and many others, but most of all Jews. Just to make sure that he got his point across, he wrote a popularly selling book called Mein Kampf (My Struggle) in which he said that, if he gained control of Germany, he’d kill all of them. Almost everyone agrees—and I assume so do you—that Hitler was a sick puppy.
If it were just Hitler, I seriously doubt that he could have killed more than thirty people before he was caught and put away. If you’ve read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, or some other book that details the history of Nazi Germany, I’m sure I don’t have to convince you that Hitler managed to attract hundreds if not thousands of criminal psychopaths to form a government.
That much shouldn’t be surprising. Like attract likes; and, as the economists like to say, people respond to incentives. In the Third Reich, psychopathic behavior was rewarded. The Nuremberg trials established that very many of the perps willingly committed these acts and were even proud of them.
Now we’re no longer talking about just one madman. We’re talking about thousands of them running one of the most advanced countries in the world.
Where did an underemployed paper hanger get the money to run for the nation’s highest office and win? No, he didn’t get it from angry people who were impoverished by rampant inflation. What about the Holocaust itself? In the closing months of the war, Germany was economically and strategically blockaded. How did Hitler get the materials necessary to manufacturer gas chambers, gas ovens, and Zyklon B gas? With fuel famously in short supply, where did he get the means to operate the gas ovens?
For the answers to all those questions, we have to look beyond Germany.
The Zyklon B gas was manufactured by I G Farben, the world’s largest chemical manufacturer, with branches in Germany and the United States. (The U. S. branch was a wholly owned subsidiary of the German company.) I G Farben was established with help from J. P. Morgan’s New York City Bank (the precursor of today’s Citibank). None other than James Paul Warburg sat on the U.S. board of directors. Warburg was a banker, an adviser to Franklin Roosevelt, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a founder of the Institute for Policy Studies. He was famous for saying to Congress in 1950, “We shall have world government, whether or not we like it. The question is only whether world government will be achieved by consent or by conquest."
In Germany, his brother Max Warburg sat on the board of directors.
Notwithstanding Hitler’s insane hatred of Jews, I G Farben donated RM400,000 to Hitler’s 1933 campaign for chancellor of Germany. Throughout the Holocaust, as six million Jews and three million others were rounded up and killed in Hitler’s death camps, I G Farben manufactured the gas that killed them. Throughout the Holocaust, Max Warburg, safely in the United States, remained on I G Farben’s board of directors.
Without the help of I G Farben and Wall Street, Hitler could not have gone to war. To see just how much I G Farben contributed to the German war machine, click here. Not one person in Germany or the U.S. resigned from I G Farben’s board of directors—not while their products were killing Americans, nor when the Holocaust they were supplying was in full swing. Do they sound normal?
After the Nuremberg trials were over, a second round of Nuremberg trials began. All but one the top officials of the German branch of I G Farben were tried for war crimes and most were found guilty. The only member who was not brought to trial was Max Warburg.
What about Wall Street and the American branch of I G Farben? Their participation in the Holocaust was conveniently dropped down a memory hole.
I mention I G Farben as only one example of collusion between Wall Street and Hitler. In point of fact, dozens of top Wall Street banks and other businesses were indispensable to the rise of Hitler and to the Holocaust. (Click here.) One of the co-conspirators was Prescott Bush, the grandfather of George W. Bush.
In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein uses the term disaster capitalism in connection with government policies that cause disasters which, in turn, bring huge profits to disaster-related corporations and to government officials with investments in those corporations. The term shock doctrine refers to the principle that only a major shock can cause people to accept radical changes in their lives such as preemptive war on a nation that’s no threat to us, a surveillance society, or a host of other radical changes wrought by the Bush-Obama administrations. She points out how Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and others in the Bush administration multiplied their wealth as a result of investments in the War in Iraq, in domestic surveillance, flu scares (Rumsfeld’s investments in Tamiflu increased eightfold in value while he was in government “service,”) and other profitable disasters.
She also demonstrated how government service has become, in her words, a reconnaissance mission to become familiar enough with the workings of a government agency to leave government “service” and start a consulting business built around gaining contracts from that agency.
Before Bush unilaterally ordered the invasion of Iraq, his own chief arms inspector told him that Saddam Hussein no longer had any weapons of mass destruction. The invasion of Iraq was ordered after Saddam Hussein had indicated that he was going to make an oil export agreement with Russia, effectively cutting off American oil companies. Naomi Klein indicated that that was the real reason for the invasion that has killed more than a million Iraqi civilians and made millions of others homeless. Don’t forget that Bush and Obama have also caused the deaths of thousands of Americans in Iraq.
Contrary to what we’ve heard from Bush, and now Obama, people in Iraq don’t hate us for so flimsy a reason as “our freedoms” (which we have less of now than before 9/11.) They hate us because the U.S. government started a war with them when they were no threat to us, because our military hit mainly civilian targets with 30,000 bombs and 20,000 precision-guided cruise missiles in just five weeks; because over a million Iraqi civilians (out of a population of 25 million) have been killed and several million others have been made homeless. They hate us because, every day, they see foreigners who have become wealthy or wealthier by looting the Iraqi economy. They hate us because the war on them has raised their unemployment rate to 67%. While 17 Iraqi cement plants and countless workers lie idle, cement and workers are being imported at ten times the expense it would take to do the jobs locally. There’s no incentive to keep costs down because it’s all either looted from the U.S. taxpayers or looted from the Iraqi economy.
Does all this sound like the sort of things mentally healthy people would do?
From reading the newspapers over the past few months, we read how Goldman Sachs, a heavy contributor to the 2008 Obama campaign, was rewarded for betting on disasters. Even as they were advising people to make risky housing loans, they created a financial instrument for betting that the housing market would fail. Only one day before the British Petroleum blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, Goldman Sachs “bet short” on BP stocks.
We also learned that Halliburton (of Dick Cheney infamy) had the contract for BP’s blowout valves, and they had installed them only a few days before both of them blew out. More recently, newspapers reported that Halliburton had heavily invested in oil spill cleanup equipment. It’s worth asking how much of a profit they’re making from the oil spill.
Whether you call it disaster capitalism or, as Congressman Michele Bachmann calls it, “gangster government,” the history of Wall Street at least as early as 1910 has been a history of Wall Street insiders capitalizing on disasters. In some cases, such as the sinking of the Lusitania, leading to America’s involvement in World War I, or the looting of Iraq, or the collapse of the housing market, insiders caused the disasters and then profited from them. In others, such as the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident,” which was used as a pretext for ratcheting up the War in Vietnam, and the flu “pandemic” scares, the disasters or threats never existed; but the American people were told that they had.
On spurious grounds, we went to war with Afghanistan and Iraq, we’re now engaged in a secret war to destabilize Pakistan, and the disaster capitalists are trying to push us into a war with Iran over their non-existent nuclear weapons program. Does that sound like the policies of mentally healthy people?
The psychopaths who now run the U.S. government have at least one Achilles heel: amoral congressmen, whom the psychopaths have bought with campaign contributions. The overwhelming majority of our congressmen and senators have voted to loot the U.S. Treasury and borrow trillions of dollars against our future after accepting massive campaign contributions from such gangsters as the health insurance racket, Big Pharma, the military industrial complex, and Wall Street banksters.
[Note: For more information on political ponerology (the study of psychopathy as a source of political evil) click here.]
To see whether your congressman represents you or the gangsters, click here and go to one of the sites listed. They include OpenCongress.org, which tells you where your congressman gets his campaign contributions and other income; Project Vote Smart, which tells you how various interest organizations rate your congressman, and other information you’ll need to sweep the rats out of Congress this November 2.