Reporting the News

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The decline of American democracy has a long history with many actors. There are multiple domains, one of which is getting news and information to the public by sources independent of government control. It is the vital link in the health and welfare of any democracy. It is one reason why our founders enshrined freedom of the press in the constitution.

No discussion about reporting the news can ignore how news outlets have been gobbled up by a few large conglomerates. Comcast, Disney, ViacomCBS, Fox, AT&T, and Charter Communications are among the largest in the U.S. There used to be a local spin or angle to the news that came off the wires. Today there is sameness and uniformity in coverage and presentation that reminds me of how we once viewed Pravda in the former Soviet Union. All corporate news comes essentially from the same sources. Our alternative is to look at and read the many alternative news sites that have appeared and are continuing to grow. Some are practicing real journalism.

One who has written extensively about the problems of American media is Robert McChesney. He states, “Democratic theory posits that society needs journalism to perform three main duties: to act as a rigorous watchdog of the powerful and those who wish to be powerful; to ferret out truth from lies, and to present a wide range of informed positions on key issues.”[1] Our media fails at all these tasks.

The decline in our getting the news and information we need and the rise of fake news, alternative facts, and post-truth can be traced back to the early 1970s. That is when the news became the news show. Up to that point, the evening news focused on providing the major news events and information to the public. There, were commercials, but they took a backseat. It was not the primary focus. True there were omissions, but news organizations did try to inform. That changed in the early 1970s when ratings became dominant and news became just another network profit center. The evening news ceased to about what was happening in the world, or often what was paramount, and transformed into an overpaid personality parade whose prime purpose was to hold the audience’s attention between commercials.

Blanket, non-stop news coverage of celebrity woes and high profile crime while ignoring or downplaying issues such as racism, inequality of wealth and opportunity, Medicare reform, healthcare costs and coverage, climate change and global warming, corporate crime, and a long list of other issues amounts to providing the public a lollipop in place of a meal of substance. It may satisfy your immediate desire to eat something sweet but does nothing to relieve your hunger. The media act in concert with government acts and corporate dictates by providing mental masturbation to distract us from our problems. Alas, it is no surprise their credibility has fallen faster than the stock market in the great crash.

Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency would never have happened without his celebrity TV program, The Apprentice, fueled by $1 billion in free advertising and television exposure supplied generously by all the major television and other news outlets. 

The vulgar over coverage of celebrity shenanigans and bizarre crimes trivializes our institutions and their processes. Nowhere is this more evident than in what happens in high-profile criminal cases. What the public needs and deserves to know should not overshadow the accused’s right to a fair and just trial, including the presumption of innocence until otherwise proven by a preponderance of the evidence or beyond reasonable doubt presented at trial. Frankly, the public has no automatic right to know “anything” before its presentation at trial. That is the proper forum for the release of most information. The fact it floods the press shows us how corrupted we have allowed the process to become in the interest of achieving public relations and media rating objectives. I seriously doubt any of these high profile trials are in any way fair. It’s all about money, exposure, timing, appearances, and the 24/7 news feed. How sad this is for all of us.

The second and more profound change that impacted receiving the news and being informed was the bi-partisan act of repealing the fairness doctrine during the Reagan presidency that had required TV and radio news outlets to allow equal time for opposing views. Its elimination led to opening the doors and windows to talk radio. Fox News, Sinclair Media, and others moved in to flood the airways accentuating one highly biased point-of-view with nothing to contest it. It opened the door to fake news, half-truths, innuendo, lies, and more.

It cleared the way for a number of online sites and broadcast media to promote hate and lies that ultimately led to the assault on the U.S. Capitol and the Congress by an enraged mob egged on by the Liar in chief on January 6, 2021.    

There was an important reason freedom of the press was enshrined in the constitution by our founders. They understood the importance of the public having access to accurate information about the actions, behaviors, policies, and character of those who held the levers of power. What has occurred over the last several decades is the erosion and suppressing of that function. Six media conglomerates control more than 90% of media in America. The people who are employed by these six media giants are paid lots of money. Money is, it’s not rocket science, very intoxicating and enticing. You do not have to spend a lot of time watching the commercial network media news to discover their boundaries. They know their limits; it is self-censorship. They have a higher priority to adhere to. It is a personal priority. The network news organizations will never allow an expose’ of their conglomerate employer. ABC is not going to investigate Disney. CBS is not going to reveal dirty laundry from VIACOM. NBC is not going to disclose anything derogatory, Fox, well, it is Fox. As Sinclair Lewis noted long ago, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding.” The quote applies to far more than he originally intended.

I find watching the evening news more interesting for all they ignore to report rather than what is covered. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, I knew they were there 24 hours before the American media announced the invasion. How did I know? I was monitoring the Times of India at the time and saw their report. It pays to cast your net for news far and wide. Today that means looking at several online independent news outlets where the motivation is providing the public information unimpeded by concerns for a bloated salary.

It is no surprise American media are held in such low esteem. On some level, we know we are not being provided the information we need. We know crucial information is being either ignored or withheld. It is instinctive. The public does not trust the messenger, and for a democracy that cannot be. If we want our democracy to prosper, we must change how we are provided the news and information we need to be responsible and participating citizens. That means we must find a way to decouple the delivery of the news from profit-driven corporate conglomerates. We need some kind of independent funding of news providers.

Print media is in peril in America. I do not know if it is the same elsewhere. Our peculiar focus on profits skewers our approach. The newspapers I am familiar with first eliminated the composing room and gave the editorial staff the responsibility for pagination. That meant most of a reporter’s time was consumed with putting pages together, not digging for news. It meant calling contacts on the phone rather than seeing them and eyeballing their responses to questions. It meant developing relationships and seeing idiosyncrasies that reveal far more than words.

My local newspaper is slowly evaporating. The daily paper comes in four sections. The sections once were composed of many pages and multiple sheets. Today these sections are often no more than four pages. The Sunday paper is today the size of the daily paper of decades past. It also has changed from an eight-column to a seven-column format. Less is less.

As the size diminished did the coverage. Maybe if there was a focus on providing news readers were interested and cared about, they would find more readers. But, no, instead they cut more staff and deliver a shoddier product at a higher price. Such is the road to extinction.

The most dramatic change in media has been the emergence of the talking heads, or should I say thought shapers. Thought shapers are what they are. Fox News is the perfect example. Fox has a loyal cultish following. Its viewers believe without question the presentation they are getting is fair and balanced because Fox says so. This loyal cultish following can only repeat what they are told. They glued to or have Fox News on their TVs throughout the day. Fox is the only view they see, hear and believe. They become entranced. They repeat what they are told to think. It is as if they no longer have a mind of their own. I have many former friends to draw from. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels would be ecstatic

These thought shapers come in all political stripes. They are on the left as well as on the right. Our most dramatic failure as a society and nation is our failure to adequately prepare our public to develop the critical thinking skills needed to identify bias, fake news, lies, and half-truths. Doing so, we arm them and immunize us all to the inevitable effects of the relentless repeating of the big lie. We must learn to seek out diverse views from a diverse number of sources, domestic and foreign. Of course, corporate America might then find using some popular forms of advertising ineffective. The government might have a more difficult time misleading all of us about its activities and intentions. Some preachers might find their ability to fleece followers more difficult. Things might actually have to work, and wealth might be more equitably shared. Imagine that.


[1] The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communications Politics in the 21st Century, NYU Press, Monthly Review Press, 2004, page 57.

Also at:

https://jerrymlawson.medium.com/reporting-the-news-data-driven-investor-37dc734a1839

The Romance and Magic of Steam Locomotives

Restored Union Pacific 4014 Steam Locomotive at the Yermo UP yard

What is it about a steam locomotive I find so alluring? Why do I feel such deep emotion whenever I hear its whistle? Why do so many others find it so enticing and enchanting? On Wednesday, October 10, 2019, my son and I got up before 5 am, and left Santa Monica for Yermo, California. Newly restored Union Pacific 4014 steam locomotive stopped there overnight before continuing to LA in preparation for scheduled weekend excursions.

More than 100 enthusiasts gathered at the Yermo UP yard to take pictures, stare, talk with the crew, and watch the dragon come alive in the predawn darkness. The assemblage included railfans, photographers, children of many ages, old railroaders, and the curious.

After leaving Yermo, we stopped in Barstow, CA, to watch the monstrous #4014 pass. The locomotive has a 4-8-8-4 configuration and is 132 feet long. After Barstow, we proceeded to Victorville, where 4014 paused, to perform routine greasing of vital parts and a 45-minute rest. A large crowd packed the area of the Amtrak station with those wanting to see this marvelous machine.

The rest of the day was more of the same. Wherever we went, there were hordes of people assembled eager to see this almost 80-year-old mechanical marvel come alive again.

My fascination with steam locomotives began sometime around age 4 or 5 in Fortville, Indiana, a small bedroom community northeast of Indianapolis. It is located on what was then mainline of the New York Central Railroad. I was drawn to and fascinated by the big locomotives hauling freight as they passed through the center of Fortville at 60-70 mph.

Why do I react so emotionally? Is it pure nostalgia, or does it originate somewhere in my psyche? Maybe I connect these machines from my early childhood to my feelings of rejection by my father. He ignored me and showed significant partiality to my older brother.

I understood at 4 or 5-years-old, my father didn’t care about me, wasn’t interested, and purposefully ignored me. It was only the last year of my mother’s almost 104 years of life that she revealed he had tried to have the doctor abort the pregnancy and thus me.

I was reminded of when our youngest son purchased throttle time for his brother and me to control another steam locomotive. Nickel Plate #765 is owned and operated by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It has always been and remains one of my most memorable moments. To be in control of a machine weighing close to a million pounds was an unforgettable experience.

I have shared many such moments with my sons throughout our lives. We lived close to the Norfolk Southern Railroad, and our oldest son was fascinated and attracted to every freight train that passed by. His younger brother later joined him, but the big turning point came a bit later.

Locomotive Nickel Plate #765 was rebuilt in 1979 after spending almost 20 years perched along the St. Mary’s river in a Fort Wayne park. The “Berkshire” locomotive was built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1944. It was principally used to haul freight. Nickel Plate 765 weighs 800,000 pounds, loaded with 22,000 gallons of water in one tender and 22 tons of coal. Because the water towers once used to refill steam locomotives have vanished, 765 has an auxiliary tender with a second 22,000 gallons of water.


Nickel Plate 765 Steam Locomotive returning to Fort Wayne, Indiana after an excursion

When our sons were 8 and 10-years-old, I took them on an excursion behind Nickel Plate 765 from the railyard in nearby New Haven to Peru, Indiana, and back. The excursion route flooded me with many boyhood memories. It passed through Wabash, Indiana, where I saw what remained of the woods and fields where I played. I saw “my” house from the railroad standing on the hill in the distance. It was home to three generations of my family and to me for 18 years. I felt a momentary pang of pain.

The old Wabash line of the modern Norfolk Southern Railroad follows the broad flat Maumee Spillway carved from the glacial lake once covering the area. The railroad was built in places on the old Wabash & Erie Canal towpath. You can often see the old canal bed. You also see the remnants of the old interurban railroad that ran along this same route.

The rich farmland, some of which was once a swamp, appeared as a sea of browning corn broken by the green trees. There were birches, willows, box elders, maples, ashes, hickories, oaks, some walnuts, and others.

There has always been something special about steam locomotives and listening to their high-pitched whistles piercing the stillness. I recall listening for two longs, a short and another long blare of the whistle as the engine approached another crossing. Seeing a steam locomotive and especially hearing the whistle lying in bed in the still of the night is akin to the mystical experience many feel going to the ocean. It is a compelling experience.

The old Wabash Railroad line is physically a central feature of my life. My paternal grandparents lived in a house located next to the Wabash yard in Peru, Indiana. My maternal grandparent’s house, where I grew up, is located near the railroad. The house we lived in when my sons were introduced to trains was close to the railroad. I have lived somewhere near this railroad most of my life.

These thoughts filled my mind as I sat in the backseat while my two sons discuss our route and strategy for chasing Union Pacific 4014. We stop periodically at strategically identified locations where we can get out and find a vantage point to observe and take countless pictures. At every stop between Barstow and the Union Pacific’s West Colton Yard in Bloomington, California, east of Los Angeles, we are met or joined by hordes of others gathering for the same ill-defined mystical purpose. We are all attracted to the same magic and enchantment of this magnificent relic of a lost world.

As the days passed, my thoughts turned to my hometown of Fort Wayne. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society proposed a rail and transportation history center to be included in the city’s riverfront development plans. Some who are influential in this proposed development have failed to see the value of such an attraction. Sadly, they recently removed the idea from the riverfront plans with a promise to help The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society find a suitable site nearby. I hope they are sincere, but experience has taught that governments are overly adept at using this tactic. It is a useful tool derailing and putting in “as soon as hell freezes over” projects and ideas beyond their vision. It’s analogous to Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football.

Headwater’s Junction, as the proposed rail history attraction was called, would attract thousands of visitors to the city’s downtown. The plan included a roundhouse filled with other FWRHS locomotives and rolling stock, Interurban display, meeting room, restaurant, and other facilities. The proposed location placed it on a site where a railyard had been. It was also adjacent to property connected to the city’s interurban past. It would also have allowed for building a future short connecting these attractions to the city’s acclaimed children’s zoo. It did not happen. Vision is the rarest of traits and is not often associated with politicians and established interests. We can hope the next turn of the wheel will bring new leadership with a different perspective and willingness to take advantage of the opportunity it represents. At this point, it is only a wish and a hope.

Throughout the days of these excursions, I watched the large crowds in wonder. People lined the more than 100-mile route. They chased 4014 in cars and gathered at the most photogenic locations. As a witness, I could not help but ask myself what it is about these awe-inspiring mechanical machines of a simpler age that so many find enticing and irresistible. Large caravans of cars jammed Interstate 15 and side roads, doing best to tag along, follow, and chase 4014 wherever it went. I watched as we stood in awe, joy, and even a few tears. These machines invoke something deep inside us. They rouse emotions, unconscious feelings, and yearnings we never realized were there, waiting for the proper stimulus to be awakened.

I stood on the bridge over the West Colton Union Pacific Yard surrounded by 200 or more people of all ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities. We were all part of the same tribe with the focus of attention on a colossal black bemouth belching smoke and steam, filling the air with its rhythms and its music as it passed under us.

I cannot explain the attraction. I have tried to understand it. I have tried my best to understand and express it, but I really cannot explain it. More importantly, it does not matter. I simply enjoy being in the moment and letting the experience wash over me and consume my awareness. Next year, if the opportunity arises, I will do it all over again.

As with all things, Wabi-sabi    

Also available at: jerrymlawson.medium.com

What We Value Often Misses What Is Valuable

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Mr. Jenks was old, with short-cropped gray hair, thick black-rimmed glasses, and wore a bow tie with a wrinkled blue-gray suit nearly his own age. He sat to the right of the front of the class under a small window on a rocking chair that reclined into a horizontal position when he leaned back. His classroom was in the basement of the junior high that was once the high school. It was next to the gym that added a bit of noise and the smell of sweat. The school was built in the late 19th century, and Mr. Jenks’s classroom was a cramped and stuffy little room with one small window. The basement was converted to use when a growing enrollment forced school officials to use every bit of space in the old building.

It was here, in seventh-grade science, I was introduced to the idea there are two kinds of people. Mr. Jenks told us that our world was made up of philosophers who ‘created’ knowledge and technicians who applied it. Obviously, this simplified view of humanity left out most, but he did so to help us grasp a point.

Had Mr. Jenks used a more inclusive description, he might have noted that somewhere between one and five percent are responsible for basic research. This research is focused on ideas and postulating theories about the Universe and everything in it. That would be followed by perhaps 10–15 percent who take these ideas and turn them into useful things. These are people who understand the science and knowledge being generated by the 1–5 percent. These are Mr. Jenks’ philosophers and technicians. What about the rest of us? We simply use the things thought about and created by the first two groups. Some may have a vague understanding of what the first two groups are doing, but most of us simply plug in and flip the switch to make whatever it is work. We have no idea how it works and would not have a clue how to build one.

According to Mr. Jenks, the data consuming technician spends his or her day shaping the environment by taking theories and turning them into useful things we need.

The philosopher, on the other hand, was referred to as a whittler, who might spend the entire day by the pond comfortably hidden in the shade of a tall arching birch, fish pole by his side while he shaped a block of wood. Whittlers never seemed to be doing anything and never seemed to produce anything useful like automobiles, computers, iPads, smartphones, or other things. Still, these woodcarvers were seen as vital because through their thoughts and quiet reflection came the big ideas, the discovery of gravity, penicillin, and others, that moved and shaped our civilization. Whittlers were the thinkers, and thinkers must have the time to sit in apparent idleness.

Most of us, lacking understanding of the role played by such thinkers, see them and their activities as wasteful and unnecessary. They are quick to seek to eliminate funding for such activities and employment. The sciences always come to mind, but the arts and humanities are often lumped in this category as unnecessary and unproductive as well.

Another bias we have in America is our condescension and disrespect for labors we see as menial and not requiring crucial skills. The garbage man, delivery jobs, clerical positions, those who stock shelves in stores, janitors, and others in similar jobs are considered undeserving of our respect and dignity. Consider what our society judges to be useful work. We attach the least value to those tasks that are most entropic. That is, we consider simple tasks that must be repeated over and over every day or several times a day as being of little value. So, someone who sweeps floors at ABC High Tech Enterprises, or operates the grill cooking hamburgers for Burger-By-The-Dozen, are paid little and held in low esteem. Their repetitive tasks require little higher thinking, having less value. We overlook that Albert Einstein postulated his theory of relativity while employed as a simple patent clerk.

On the other hand, someone who is a corporate CEO, or someone who excels at throwing and hitting a baseball, is more highly revered, regarded, and rewarded. Our culture assigns their tasks higher values. Their jobs are judged to be more complex and requiring more skills than the simple sweeping of the floor, cooking a hamburger, and providing vital services such as collecting and disposing of our garbage.

American values are distorted by the false importance we accord to the acquisition of wealth and material objects. We attach great importance to making computers, counting money, or those thinking or physical activities requiring skill. We fail to see that these very same characteristics can impede progress in advancing the human spirit or discovering new knowledge, like relativity, necessary to advancing civilization.

In Eastern thought and in the practices of some monastic Christian groups the functions held to be most important are the tasks we judge of least value. These spiritual groups consider these mundane and repetitive jobs crucial in opening our minds. When you study Taoism, Zen Buddhism, or monastic groups in Christianity, you encounter individuals doing the cleaning, cooking, gardening, or some equally unpretentious undertaking. The reason for their doing these tasks soon becomes apparent. It is held only through recurring labors of the lowest value do we see the greatest truth.

Often it is by being engaged in so-called menial tasks that we can discover the most profound truths. It is easy to forget that Albert Einstein was working as a simple patent clerk when he postulated the Theory of Relativity. Through the performance of simple duties, we often see and perceive the cycles of life and the wholeness of the creator.

To see the greatest truth, one must frequently engage in the smallest chore. The whittler sculpts the wood, the Zen recruits sweep the floor, and the whole cosmos dances before their eyes as the mating ritual of fireflies on a new summer evening — a dazzling display of pulsing light announcing a location for the consummation of life.

One choice in life necessarily leads to the sacrificing of others. The whittler gives up the opportunity to make useful objects and the possibility of collecting handsome rewards for his labor. His motivation is the desire for understanding. His reward is seeing his efforts will lead to even more useful things for others. The whittler sits at the pond’s edge idly slicing his wood, aware of the fishing pole at his side. If he is fortunate, he may also catch a fish before his wood becomes a pile of shavings.

As Mr. Jenks shared this with us, a hint of a smile appeared as he leaned back and reclined on his rocker.

See also on Medium: Jerrymlawson.medium.com

“A Republic If You Can Keep It” – America’s Slide into the Abyss

Photo by Darren Halstead on Unsplash

The words, “A republic if you can keep it” are credited to Benjamin Franklin after the Constitutional Convention when someone allegedly asked whether we had created a republic or a kingdom. It speaks to the question about having established a republic, what happens next? A democratic polity requires widespread acceptance, a commitment to its health, and a willingness to adhere to its principles and values. When that is no longer the case, we are witness to what can happen.

November 3, 2020, was the third presidential election since 2000, where the Electoral College became a central issue in determining the outcome. I am referring to the elections of 2000, 2016, and 2020. Although the Democratic candidate received the most votes, the Republican candidate was declared the winner in two by the Electoral College. Joe Biden won the Election of 2020 by more than 7 million popular votes and 306 electoral votes. The outcome should not have been an issue except for Donald Trump, supported by his loyal minions attempting to steal the election by every means conceivable. This bid to become god-emperor was a coup d’état attempt in plain sight with many complicit actors.

I remember the moment in early fall 1951 when I first encountered the word majority. I had just entered first grade at East Ward School in Wabash, Indiana, and on the playground for our weekly physical education class. Being over 80 years old, East Ward did not have a gym. All we had was a gravel-covered playground that surrounded the school and even covered the basketball court. Have you ever tried playing basketball on gravel? This was an old school in a poor neighborhood in a non-descript small Indiana town.

As part of our lesson that day, our traveling PE teacher, Mr. Smith, had us choose between two alternative activities. We did so by joining one side or the other by making two lines. After expressing our preferences, Mr. Smith announced our class activity was determined by what most of us had chosen. He explained finding out what most people wanted was how decisions are made in a democracy and that the United States was a democracy. We believe in the majority rule, he said with emphasis.

This was my first civics lesson, and I passionately believed what I learned then about how we govern ourselves. I still do, but I am no longer as optimistic. After the election campaigns of 2000, 2016, and 2020, it does not take a lot of intelligence to see we Americans have problems electing (if that is the right word) those who will represent us. The issues, unless fixed, are destined to grow and destroy what remains of our democratic republic. The corporate media constantly churning, endlessly repeating, regurgitating fact, pseudo fact, and lies to fill the 24/7 news cycle exacerbates the problem. The 2012 election results were still being counted when they began promoting their continuous political campaign cycle by speculating about who will run in 2016. Frankly, most of us are just trying to survive. We want our government to work and our elected representatives to solve problems we elected them to fix. Frankly, most did not give a damn at that moment about who would run in the next cycle. We cared about today. The interminable drivel continually served up by talking heads that serve corporate media bottom lines, not us, the American people, only compounds finding a solution to these problems.

It is also true unless compelling threats of our doom obstruct our way, nothing significant gets done. So, in that spirit, I offer a few ideas and suggestions. Perhaps they will provoke thought and comment and encourage discussion of our electoral processes I feel long overdue.

To begin, our public officials, media, and educators need to quit lying or misrepresenting the truth to us about our history and political processes, particularly presidential elections. For example: first, we do not have a national election day, we have elections in 50 states plus the District of Columbia held on the same day. It has not always been that way. Early in the 19th century, the election for president took place in different states throughout the year. Second, the national popular vote for president is a meaningless sham. A slave era relic, The Electoral College was intended to appease slaveholding states by controlling and thwarting the popular will. It allows a minority to control the levers of government. Third, is it too much to expect of media and public officials providing us expert information on election issues to know about the functions of government they speak about? Fourth, why are we, the public, never made aware of the millions of votes that are, for one reason or another, not counted? In 2012, it was reported that about 5.5 million votes would never be tallied due to error. It was because they were absentee or were provisional ballots that were systematically disqualified. Because it was believed counting them made no difference in the electoral outcome, they were discarded.

In 2020 Biden received 81,283,098 votes winning 51.3% of votes cast. Trump received 74,222,957 votes or 46.8% of votes cast. We had the largest voter turnout ever. There were 159,633,396 votes cast, representing 66.7% of the voting-eligible population. It was the highest voter turnout since 1900 when 73.7% voted, but only males voted in 1900. The greater numbers notwithstanding varied attempts by Republicans in the Red States to limit turnout of minority voters is due in part to early voting and especially voting by mail or absentee due to the COVID19 pandemic

In contrast, in 2016, about 138 million citizens voted of the approximately 242.5 million eligible, representing one of the lowest citizen participation levels of any democracy on this planet. Why? This low number stems from voter apathy, voter registration procedures, including voter photo ID cards, which discourage registration, particularly among the old, the poor, and minorities. We are the only democracy in which Election Day is a workday weekday instead of being either a national holiday or held on the weekend. Election Day is held in November during a time of the year weather often is a definite factor in turnouts. The time polls are open vary from state-to-state, with places like Indiana having voting hours that actually discourage working people from voting. Our two major political parties are both oriented toward servicing the same middle to upper-middle-class bias. No one is speaking to the lower 80% of the social-economic ladder. Neither party listens to or cares about the poor. Finally, The Supreme Court added nothing to this process in its 2000 Bush v. Gore decision but took away much. The Court, in effect, selected its own president. It set a bad precedent of having the Court interfering directly in the electoral process in a very partisan manner, issuing rulings that were, at best, confusing and contradictory. Then to make a mockery and turn democracy into absurdity, the Court, in Citizens United v. FEC, expanded the concept of the corporate person to have more rights than actual living persons. The more money you have, the more citizen you are and vice versa.

A defender of the Electoral College recently began his defense of this institution with a quote from the poet Robert Frost. Frost wrote, “Don’t ever take down a fence until you know why it was put up.” Good advice. So, we should look deeper beyond the usual reasons and excuses for the Electoral College and see what stands behind it. We were all indoctrinated about our founders wanting to protect us from majority tyranny. The rights of the minority must be safeguarded. It all sounded good, but we never examined what tyranny of the majority our founders actually were referring to? We never delved into whose minority rights were they really protecting? Oh, it was claimed there was the danger of the domination by big states over the small. The states with the largest populations would dominate and discriminate against the rest. This is the reasoning for the creation of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College we were taught. Looking deeper, we know it was all a cover for their real intent.

The authors of this document represented a fine example of late 18th century thought influenced by the Enlightenment. The tyranny of the majority the founders feared was the mass of citizens of this country who wanted more democracy and more voice in their government. The new elite feared the people, as the elites always do, seeing them as a mob. The poor and the masses are what the elites refer to today condescendingly as “You little people.” They fear the participation of all our citizens. It threatens their privileges, and they do all in their power to limit the poor masses from voting or having a voice.

When we were taught about government and the Constitution, the protection of minority rights was emphasized. They had to be protected from the tyranny of the majority. Translated, what they really meant was that the elites needed protection from the masses. They wanted provisions inserted to ensure their position, power, and privilege in the new government. They were very successful. We live with their legacy in all its inequalities.

I grew up during the height of the Cold War. We were inundated with the virtues of American democracy. We stood every morning facing the flag to recite the pledge of allegiance to our civic god. We were continually drilled about the evils of communism. We were told how cruel it was but denied any attempt to discover why and understand what it was.

Our government promoted the idea of democracy around the world as well as at home during that time. We never realized while we promoted democracy to others, we denied and did all that was possible to keep from practicing it ourselves. If a country did create a democratic government, it had better not be in conflict with American aims and interests. There is a long list of countries that can attest to what would happen. The list is long and includes Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Honduras in 1963, 2009, Chile in 1973, or the Dirty War in Argentina, Brazil in 1964, Greece in 1967, and numerous other places.

Is it any wonder that when we try to sell our democratic ideal, we are met with blank stares and suppressed laughter? Who would believe anything we are selling when we do not practice it ourselves?

Donald Trump and a substantial part of the Republican Party tried to subvert and overthrow the duly elected government. He used a plethora of underhanded and unconstitutional means that culminated with the violent assault on Congress. They simply revealed who they really are and what their vision for our country and society is. The Congress, after all, is composed primarily of the wealthy or soon to be rich. They have no interest in serving those who sent them there. They only think of protecting themselves and promoting their personal agendas as was evident in the last-ditch effort to overturn the 2020 election. Further, throughout this unprecedented assault of American democracy, did you once hear an utterance in opposition or condemnation to Trump from the wealthy and the corporate elites?

We survived an attempted coup by one who was cunning but ignorant. We were lucky Trump did not have more support. Our problems have been exposed. We have the choice and opportunity to make changes and fix what needs to be addressed to prevent a repeat. The second impeachment of Trump is a fact. His trial must lead to a conviction for the sake of our future.

If we do not punish someone for attempting a coup against our elected government. If we fail to punish those who gave their support. If we fail to learn from our failure after the civil war to make systemic changes to punish and shun those responsible, we have no future. Rest assured, the next aspiring autocrat will be far more intelligent and adept. He/she will use the system to destroy what is left and plunge us into an authoritarian or quite possibly a totalitarian black abyss.

See also : Jerrymlawson.medium.com

Police State Slowly Emerges From the Shadows

I read the title of the article this morning in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (23 Feb 2015), “Shadowy police spy devices stir fears for liberty” by Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post, describing a secret device that in some way simulates a cell phone tower and allows the police, or whomever has the device, to gather information not just about the potential perpetrator of a crime or other illegal activity, but anyone else in range of the device’s information gathering capabilities.

The device is so secret that the FBI has placed a gag order on discussing it on the grounds that such revelations would compromise its effectiveness. The device, dubbed “StingRay,” is a box about the size of a small suitcase, according to Nakashima. For added flexibility, there is also a hand-held version.

What the device does is simulate a cellphone tower and makes possible for those controlling it to extract signals from not just a particular phone, but also all mobile phones within range, including potentially hundreds of law-abiding innocent citizens going about trying to live their lives without Big Brother looking over their shoulder.

This is a clear example of what happened to America once we started down the slippery post 9-11 slope driven by our fears. Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “He who gives up a little freedom for security deserves neither” may seem out-of-date to some in our technologically driven time, but believing that only illustrates how pervasive our collective ignorance of our own ideals and institutions is.

The truth is that once the federal government in the guise of the FBI, NSA, the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and others started opening the door to make illicit tools such as “StingRay” available to local law enforcement we should have been able to see that more harm would be caused than good. It is an iron law of bureaucratic behavior that such enhanced capabilities provided to the myriad number and variety of local and state law enforcement agencies throws the door wide open to misuse and abuse on scales we can’t currently imagine. Human behavior is predictable.

Is this not what James Madison and other of our founders took so many pains to guard us against? Does this not speak to the very core of what “limited government” truly means? Our founders were far more insightful and aware of the dangers of government at all levels not to have realized the necessity of keeping the beast in chains.

Now we have let loose the beast and there is no way short of great catastrophe of putting it back. It’s ironic how a few men living in caves and relying on horses for transport in a remote backwater of the planet whose great desire was to turn the world back to the seventh century accomplished what 50 years of cold war with the Soviet Union failed to do. In almost a heartbeat we gave away our most cherished rights and freedoms for the illusion of security. Who would have thought it would be so easy?

When we created this government 239 years ago, it was created to be our (the American people) agent, not our master and definitely not our jailer. I don’t know how we put the beast back in its cage, but to do nothing only insures soon we will be put in one of our own.