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The Watchers

Men of great integrity, like our founders, probably could have never seen this coming. It would have been counter-intuitive for them. It’s doubtful that the builders of our nation could have ever imagined so many journalists compromising their integrity and betraying those who put their trust in the press for their personal interests.

When the founders of our country wrote the First Amendment of the Constitution, they did so with the understanding that the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative branches of our government all needed to be watched over by an uninhibited free press. It was reasoned that with journalists scrutinizing the comings and goings in our political system, it would –among other things– guard against collusion amongst our elected officials, and protect legislators from themselves by applying consequences for giving into temptation. The philosophy was that with the threat of public exposure, the repercussions of corruption would outweigh the risk.

However with the advent of political lobbying on behalf of the media, the relationship between the free press, and our two major political parties has itself become collusive. Access to Washington has been exchanged for non neutrality. Both Republicans and Democrats now have editorialists feigning impartiality, and networks that act more like public relations firms, on their respective party’s payrolls.

But it gets even worse…

There was a time in the not too distant past when politics and entertainment were two totally separate media venues. There has –to some extent– always been an understanding that important socio/political issues needed to be regarded as such, and not be irresponsibly lumped in with Hollywood gossip and reality TV. But with our Twittering politicians showing themselves to be the socially autistic buffoons that they truly are, they’ve sadly obscured much of that distinction. Many of our legislators have become unwittingly comical caricatures of who they were trying to present themselves to be, and as such have exposed their jugulars to an opportunistic media. With up to the minute news available 24/7, we Americans are now barraged with political theater… be it comedy, tragedy, or in most cases, awe inspiring stupidity.

Which brings us to the present state of “News-ertainment”.

As a result of the collusive relationship between the nation’s top two parties and the networks that do their bidding, facts are often skewed — if not manufactured– in order to promote an agenda. This, of course, is not actual news reporting. But those doing the reporting, and their respective networks would have us believe otherwise. Rather than presenting unbiased facts with a professional, emotional detachment… News “personalities” now try to entertain with vapid, semi humorous, slanted observations, which in turn they hope will either amuse us or incite a vitriolic reaction. Cable news hosts rarely report on their own party’s verbal faux pas, platform inconsistencies, irrational hyperbole, or personal indiscretions nearly to the extent that they do their competition. The current trend is ratings via myopic indignation.

Unfortunately, we Americans have become desensitized to the corrupt alliance of government and media. We have become so cynical and jaded that we have come to accept that greed trumps integrity… so the original purpose of having a news media unencumbered by censorship has become bastardized by advertising revenue. Many of us feel powerless to do anything about it. Yet many more of us fail to recognize the problem at all.

However there has been an interesting dynamic introduced to the news media over the past few years which was born from the overt, and sometimes even purposely misleading bias of Cable News. Because many of those who were charged with protecting our political system via journalistic integrity have abandoned that task in favor of ego driven dogmatism and ratings inspired bombast, that job has been largely left unfilled. As such, those reporting on our political process are in need of third party scrutiny themselves.

The watchers are now being watched. The powerless have a voice.

Exposing political and news inaccuracies, comedians like John Stewart, and Stephen Colbert have stepped in to inject oxygen into the socio/political integrity vaccuum and expose the present state of cable news journalism for what it is… fraudulent editorializing worthy of ridicule. And unlike the talking meat puppets on cable news who fail miserably at their comical endeavors, Stewart and Colbert are as funny as they are astute. Although they both obviously have personal political leanings, unlike their counterparts who claim to be unbiased journalists, Stewart and Colbert are not shy to expose politicians from either party, or news anchors from any network for behaving like intellectually attenuated dolts.

Just as corrupt politicians once feared the news media…. the corrupt news media now fears Stewart and Colbert.

I was on the Washington Mall when Stewart and Colbert held their “Rally to Restore Sanity”. I witnessed roughly two hundred thousand people gather in front of stage near the Capitol building and extend all the way back to the Lincoln memorial. I was able to see firsthand how the void created by the news media was being filled by a uniquely American mechanism… reason given expression through satire.

…and while we’re watching, aand laughing at the expense of ignominious politicians, and less than credible journalists… let’s try to remember what gave birth to this medium in the first place.

Damned if you Do: How fiscal talk amounts to nothing more than cheap theater.

Do we cut spending, or raise taxes? That is the question that every inept congressperson prattles an inane commentary about daily on cable news. The reactions to which, depending on any particular viewer’s political affiliation, can range from acclaim to outrage. Like rubes, we Americans find ourselves willing participants in the vitriolic theater which has become of our socio/political discourse, and encourage it through under-informed cheer leading, and our desire to not feel so helpless. However if one allows themselves to not be swayed by their own political leanings –let alone their personal biases– it becomes clear that the rehearsed, sound bite induced platitudes which our legislative representatives spew into our living rooms are more about campaigning than actual governing.

It’s politics as pro wrestling.

But perhaps even more unfortunate, is that many more Americans have become overwhelmed by the enormity of the present fiscal disaster –as well as ongoing global strife — and have cashed out of the political process entirely. As if we are witnessing the adult equivalent of hiding under the covers, people’s instinct for self preservation has caused many to retreat into a dummied down fantasy world of reality TV and libidinous internet interaction. Having had enough of the banal bombast that they hear every day from those purporting themselves as our representatives, many have understandably lost faith in the political process. So they vote for American Idol instead.

Consequently, we are left with a populace that’s either unwilling, or unable to emotionally invest in the political system.

Which brings us to our news entertainers, our political televangelists and their so-called solutions to our economic woes. As Benjamin Disraeli once so astutely commented, “There are three kinds of lies, Lies, Damn lies, and Statistics.” Regarding the present fiscal crisis, politicians from both parties have reduced their economic platform to lyrical sound bites. Hoping to appeal to the average Americans senses of fairness and vengeance, both democrats and republicans convolute statistical information so as to create a false reality which makes their cause appear more righteous. While it’s true that we do need to “cut spending” and/or ” increase revenue,” virtually every politician has the ability to produce statistical information that will make their assertions appear valid, and to portray their opponents as special interest pawns . The reality is that neither party is truly interested in addressing the deficit, or has any desire to turn around the economy. If they did, they would concern themselves with facts over rhetoric.

But as John Adams once said, “Facts are Stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes or our inclinations, it cannot alter the state of facts, or evidence.” The facts are that neither reducing domestic spending and/or raising taxes are not going to have the effect on the deficit or the economy that either party claims. The facts are, that if less money filters to states and local municipalities, and if previously subsidized social programs become de-funded, that they’ll have to raise revenue imposing other types of financial burdens. The middle class is going to pay regardless. The facts are that no one is willing to defy their party and talk reason on where and how our tax dollars are already being spent. All of this over-simplified economic blather is simply theater, designed to petition our angst and curry favor.

Much of the present state of American politics –not to mention the public’s perception of it– is the result of “news” organizations having shifted their business models from fact based journalism to ratings driven editorializing. So where it concerns either party’s economic platform, the focus of our elected officials is no longer to represent those who elected them into office, rather it is to make their opponents appear less electable. It has all become entertainment, resulting in most Americans having developed a cynical understanding that regardless of who they vote for, the middle class is going to bear the burden.

So go ahead, my fellow Americans, and root on your party’s premiere entertainers and their economic platform. Sit in your economic kettle as the heat gets turned up. Should we cut spending or raise taxes? The truth is that unless someone on our political landscape has the courage to address the more significant portions of how our existing tax dollars are already being spent…we’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t.

The Premise of Faith

There is a disturbing trend occurring in the United States regarding how we fail to recognize the difference between illumination, and propaganda.

Certainty is a luxury which can only be acquired through accurate, proven information. While many have strong feelings about why things happen as they do, before one can reasonably claim assuredness, their facts must support their assertions. However, today’s media dynamics are such that a lack of valid data is hardly enough to discourage those whose brands offer assessments as certainty. No longer concerned with journalistic integrity, professional socio/political commentators often make assertions — not based on confirmations — but in accordance with how they might affect their financial bottom line. As cable news pundits, Op-Ed Bloggers, and Facebook prognosticators confound suppositions with hard evidence, and offer opinions as facts, the sensibly susceptible will invariably fall prey. The results are that much of America is having their world view shaped by editorialists with little, or no credibility.

It is human nature to gravitate towards those who espouse the things we want to hear. This is how many of us choose our media, churches, and often our friends. But where it concerns the premise from which many of us operate, absolute affirmations are being accepted as fact by a population all too willing to believe things that will provide a level of comfort –without those offering these same assertions having to provide any sources, or proof. A presumption of credibility is often being accorded to those who base their platforms on purposely deceptive information, and who draw conclusions based on demographics.

Such is the case with religious faith, and how theists are interpreting disasters, both natural and manmade, around the world. When sectarian pontiffs assert the will of an almighty creator in such instances, they not only do so without regard for all of the facts, they do so despite having any facts. Faith is often presented, not as a belief which is not based on proof (as the dictionary defines) but as a positive assurance. So those whose predispositions are in accordance with certain fundamentalisms will acquiesce to the message, regardless of its legitimacy. The recent Tsunami, and subsequent nuclear crisis in Japan was fertile soil for those hoping to nurture fear driven, religious fervor. Whether it was a preacher, a politician, or a “news” entertainer, there was no shortage of those who profit from feigning righteousness –or who claim absolute clairvoyance pertaining to God’s will– speaking their minds about why such a tragedy took place.

For instance, Fox News pundit Glenn Beck’s suggestion that God was “sending a message” to the people of Earth by killing thousands of Japanese folks with an earthquake, tidal wave, and subsequent nuclear meltdown would be laughable — if not for the amount of simple minded people who accept whatever someone with a dynamic personality like his says where it concerns such matters.

“God …what God does is God’s business, I have no idea.” Said Beck on his radio show, “But I’ll tell you this: whether you call it Gaia or whether you call it Jesus — there’s a message being sent. And that is, Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.”

Apparently, the character Mr. Beck plays in the media has some sort of divine intuition whereby he is able to determine whether a geological phenomenon is simply a matter of happenstance, or if it is a cosmic post-it note written by the hand of the almighty. What is the stuff we should stop doing then? Was the tsunami God’s way of letting us know that we shouldn’t watch liberal news broadcasts? Does God want us to listen more to Glenn Beck? Tune in to find out. God, it seems, works in mysterious, if not ineffectual ways.

The not-so-subtle message here is that Glen Beck, and his viewers/listeners are in good standing with the almighty creator of the cosmos, and that those who have befallen disaster somehow “had it coming”. The psychological payoff for one’s inclusion into any pietistic, theological “cool-kids club”… is that they are then afforded the latitude to enact sanctimony, indignation, and mask their bigotry with religion. But bigots rarely recognize themselves as such… and the pious either never see it that way, or they lack the capacity for honest introspection. “Hey, I don’t have a problem with anyone… it’s God …I’m just relaying the message.”

However Beck is not alone when it comes to rallying people through religious fear by appealing to their sense of self righteousness. There have been a countless number of opportunistic televangelists who have also engaged in similar self-serving indulgences when their fellow human beings have fallen into hardship. Marion Gordon “Pat” Robertson, host of “The 700 Club” and self described “statesman” has concluded why God would have punished Haiti with such a devastating earthquake. It was retribution for a deal they allegedly made with the devil years ago. So too, according to Robertson, did God apparently punish the people of Louisiana with Hurricane Katrina for their sinful ways. Did Robertson not notice that Bourbon street, the cultural center of New Orleans’ libidinous proclivities went, for the most part, unaffected by Katrina? Has God never noticed the cities of Amsterdam, or Las Vegas? Is the architect of the galaxy simply not paying attention, or does he just have bad aim?

But there were few heralds of divine truth whose bigotry could compare with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who went so far as to blame the Sept 11th attacks on “abortionists, feminists, and gays”… none of whom are in accordance with Falwell’s (nor God’s apparently) moralistic world view. “I point the finger in their face” said the Liberty University founder, “You helped this happen.” Did I miss something, or did only pro-choice feminists, and homosexuals die in the Trade Center attacks? Considering that the United States financial industry was so negatively affected, couldn’t one just as reasonably conclude that God hates capitalism? Could our almighty creator be that obtuse? But Christian America’s hypocrisy is staggering when one considers how most in the United States will denounce the ignorance and bigotry consistently exhibited Westboro Baptist Church, and how someone like Falwell — who was no less insular — was a accorded the luxury of credibility to the point where he had access to the White House.

The moral and theological contradictions in the statements that evangelical, and politically motivated pontiffs make are clear… provided one’s acumen is not distorted by fear based religion. If one concedes that the God which these, and other theistic profiteers speak of is indeed the omnipotent, loving, merciful, all powerful being they claim –then how can one rationally assert that a loving God would punish people with natural disasters? What “message” could a “loving” God be sending to us mortals by decimating so many people’s lives? Would any of us send our children to play on a beach we knew would be devastated by a tsunami? How could anyone who is reasonable conclude that the same God who hates abortion would also allow pregnant women and children to be killed in these very same disasters? Is God also punishing bible belt Christians when he obliterates a town with a tornado? How can anyone with the ability to discern reason intellectually reconcile the concepts of love and mercy from a being who is also the catalyst for so much pain and suffering?

However when religious editorialists make such unconditional allegations about God’s intentions, the contradictions about love, mercy and petty wrath are incidental regarding the their true motivations. They have — whether they want to admit it or not– arrogantly replaced their messiah with themselves. The psychological dynamics of this type of narcissism are both frightening, and sad.

It is ego-driven self indulgence that will allow anyone to make any absolute assertions as to what God’s will is…as opposed to what they feel it might, or could be. In what amounts to a theological version of White Night Syndrome, those who claim to have inside apostolic information about God’s objectives, are in fact, portraying themselves as the incarnated prophets for their fundamentalism, or more likely, brand name. It’s like having a surrogate Jesus on our televisions telling us who to vote for, and why God is angry at us this week. It is they who offer divine providence here on earth by playing the role of savior, and rationalizing bigotry with scripture. But with the advent of social networking, masking hate speech with religion has gotten significantly worse.

With the safety and anonymity of the internet, those inclined towards being part of a “God Squad” have found a safe venue to impose their narcissistic self importance. All they have to do is simply regurgitate articles written by whatever “credible” 3rd party affirms their dogmatic predispositions, and inject themselves into the socio/political/theological equation by becoming “junior” saviors themselves. Now we can all, to some extent, be like Glenn Beck.

Condescendingly, many offer prayers when a cataclysmic disaster occurs, as if the almighty was momentarily distracted and was unaware of what actually happened, or if he could perhaps have his mind changed about those whose lives still hang in the balance. With every disaster, lives are destroyed, and with a cavalier disregard for human suffering, those very same people offering prayers will chalk it up to “God’s will”. Nothing short of hubris would allow one to conclude from the warmth and comfort of a middle class suburban home here in the United States why God would allow people to languish in disease and poverty elsewhere. Only through arrogant indignation could one determine that “God Loves Us” while chowing down on a cheeseburger during American Idol, while there is so much needless suffering occurring around the globe.

At least those on television who provide vainglorious proclamations about God’s plan can rationalize them with a significant income. For those posting inane religious platitudes on the Internet and blathering out of context scripture to their friends and co-workers, their payoff rarely amounts to more than satisfying a petty sense of ego. But for the small minded, or those simply looking to impose their will on others, the reconciliations about God’s alleged ethics, and the harsh reality of global suffering need not be made. Logic and reason are afterthoughts when the motivation is self indulgent.

The truth is, there are only three conclusions one can rationally draw where it concerns the concept of God, and what “his” motivations might be. One might take the classic Deist position, and determine that if there is a God, he is indifferent to what transpires here on Earth. Perhaps God created the universe, and like a giant Petri dish, things just started growing. A microbe on the other side of the galaxy, bacteria on a distant moon, and humans here on earth… he does not prefer one to the other.

Or perhaps, God is a sadist. After all, various holy writs are replete with stories about how God punishes people for not pacifying his ego, and banishes them to an eternity of torture for not worshipping correctly. That would not only explain all of the needless pain and suffering around the world, but how Glenn Beck and Jerry Falwell were created in his image.

Lastly, one could determine that there is, in fact, no such thing as God. If employed, logic and reason would most likely lead to that conclusion.

However one cannot invent the god they want. Recently I was engaged in an Internet discussion about the Japanese Tsunami, and afterwards I received an angry letter from a woman who took obvious exception to my stance regarding the uselessness of offering prayers, and the pretentiousness of those in a warm, dry place suggesting that survivors turn to God. It was my contention that if they believed in God, then this was obviously his will as he is all knowing, and all powerful… right?

Among other barely coherent ramblings, she wrote, “The God you think I pray to is not the one u(sic) speak of!!! My God didn’t create that disaster and if u(sic) think he did just to prove a point your(sic) wrong!! My God is a loving God and I am not imposing him on you but there will come a time in your life that you will call his name!”

Herein lies the problem with most Theists. It is their inability to recognize their own inconsistencies. First of all, she sent me the E-mail… so she was imposing her beliefs on me. Beyond that –spelling and grammar notwithstanding– there is a gap in this woman’s logic wider than the nuclear fallout that she claims God had nothing to do with. Can this person not understand that an all powerful God would have had to be responsible for this disaster, as he is in control of everything? But by the same token, how a loving God wouldn’t have caused any devastation in the first place? Is such a rudimentary inference too difficult to arrive at when one accepts without question that “God loves us” because it “comforts” them?

We cannot pick and choose random acts of nature, and conveniently interpret them so as to qualify God as “loving and merciful” when the facts bear our differently. One cannot rationally determine that if God is indeed omnipotent, all powerful, and loving… that he is unaccountable for the tragedies that occur on such a massive scale. We cannot remove God from the global suffering equation when it does not suit our astigmatic presumptions. Moreover, we cannot be certain about any of God’s intentions, when we cannot be certain about his nature, or whether he exists in the first place.

But like much of America’s personal indulgences, the luxury of certainty is being paid for with credit, and without any collateral. We’re overextended, and looking for an emotional handout. We accord credibility to those who simply do not deserve it because they say things we want to hear. It is how Americans formulate their premise of faith, and it is unfortunately devoid of any rationality. Certainly, if there is such a thing as “God”, we humans are incapable of understanding him, or his intentions about us… and those who affirm otherwise, are either self serving, egomaniacal, or simply predatory.