Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Words vs. Pictures

Do you feel it?

You are probably aware of the “Arab Spring” taking place in the Middle East. People in Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, and Libya are fighting for freedom, and at tremendous personal cost. There is bloodshed and death, with the despotic regimes of the region exacting their due.

But there is also an awakening that is happening in America. Maybe you have seen the signs…

--Atlas Shrugged Part I, the new cinematic version of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, is now in theaters and people are interested in what it has to say. The box office receipts have not been great, but there is definite “buzz” associated with the film.

--Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, lets us know that Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, is a “reformer.”

These are both instances where words are powerful, but pictures (even fifty years after the words) are more so.

What’s that? You don’t see the image associated with Mrs. Clinton’s viewpoint? Here is a link to a Pajamas Media post that completes the picture. The videos portray the “humanity” of the government forces of President Assad of Syria, and they stand in stark contrast to the words used to characterize President Assad and his wife, the former Asma Akhras of London.

That contrast comes to us because of the Internet. It doesn’t exist in the traditional media. NBC News did provide some coverage of the “Syrian unrest” last night (4/26/2011) using a few frames from a YouTube video, but they did so to give the false impression that NBC cameras were on the scene. The video was actually taken by a Syrian citizen with a cell phone camera.

While the “Arab Spring” is enabled by the existence of the public Internet and its related technologies, Americans are experiencing their own awakening, courtesy of that same Internet. Here are some examples:

--Our President tells us that America can tax its way out of the current economic problems. We simply need to get tax revenue up to 23% of GDP. However, because of the Internet (and Hauser’s Law), we know that will not happen. The picture of Mr. Hauser’s graph is stronger than the President’s words.

--Our President also tells us “[his budgeting approach] will lower our interest payments on the [national] debt by $1 trillion.” Because we can visualize the simple equation, interest = principal x rate, we know that with principal (national debt) increasing, and the rate (of inflation) going up, this will not happen either.

The Internet helps us see contrasts by accentuating the difference between words and pictures. Here’s another instance that caught my attention:

Over the Easter Weekend, PJTV released a video of Dr. Helen Smith interviewing Dr. Barbara Oakley and Amy Alkon (The Advice Goddess). Dr. Oakley is a university professor and is the author of the recently-published Cold-Blooded Kindness. (Thanks for the kind mention of this blog in the interview, Dr. Oakley.) Amy Alkon is the author of I See Rude People.

The interview turned to the subject of political correctness, and Amy advised the viewers what to do if they were terrified of being called a racist: "You must be willing to take on the people who are going to attack you if you say stuff that’s not the approved speech." She also emphasized, “You have to be prepared for this to come your way.”

By way of example, Amy referenced a personal smear attack she had experienced last year. She characterizes herself as an Atheist and an Independent, but the attack came because she appeared to be acting like a Republican!

Stacy McCain rose to her defense, and suddenly the Internet became an arena for a case study on political correctness run amok. More importantly, the Internet stripped away the anonymity of the smear merchant. The alleged perpetrator has a face.

Amy Alkon, Dr. Oakley and Dr. Smith are ready for the rough-and-tumble of ideological combat and have the scars to prove it. They are “armed and dangerous.”

(Note to “new civility” police: That terminology is metaphorical.)

If Americans are “getting ready to rumble,” it may be that our ladies will lead the way. They come equipped with blogs, cell phone cameras, Facebook posts, Tweets, and online interviews.

Is their impact creating an “American Awakening?” The 2012 elections will be our first indicator.

In the meantime, here is a question to think about:

If you wished to better understand the world in which we live, would you be better served by listening to Hillary Clinton and Asma Assad, or Barb Oakley and Amy Alkon?
“Golden Goose” photograph posted on WunderPhotos by Bill Meier.

UPDATE 5/8/2011:
James Taranto, editor of Best of the Web Today, interviews Paul Wolfowitz on the "Arab Spring."  Mr. Wolfowitz gives context to President Bush's efforts to create a center of Western influence in the Middle East.

UPDATE 5/24/2011:
Martin Peretz, writing at The New Republic characterizes Syria in this way...
Syria is where the new paradigms of Arab history will be made. The brutality of the Assad dictatorship is legendary, and it has gone over 40 years from father to son. No one is willing to predict whether the family will survive or be taken out. If it survives, it will be more dictatorial than anyone imagined possible. If it is overthrown, it will be replaced by a regime equally cruel but more pious, much more pious. It is not easy for outsiders to decide what they want.

But Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have already more than indicated that they prefer the continued dominion of Bashar Assad. You have to be pretty cold-blooded to make a choice like that. There are other consequences to this decision. Syrian dominion over Lebanon will continue. The Syrian alliance with Iran will continue. Syrian influence over Turkey will continue, perhaps intensify. Syrian intrusion in Iraq will continue. Syria might even get its chance to be on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
UPDATE 5/31/2011:
John Hinderaker at Power Line posts this story to emphasize the human costs of our Syrian foreign policy.

UPDATE 7/20/2012:
Roger L. Simon lets us know it is just a matter of style.
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Monday, April 18, 2011

The Conspirator

Robert Redford’s latest film “The Conspirator” opened this past weekend. The reviews are generally positive, with many critics reflecting on the timeliness of the subject.

The movie itself is about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the role played by a boarding house proprietor named Mary Surratt. Mrs. Surratt was accused of being an active conspirator in the Lincoln plot, and was put on trial in a military court along with three other alleged conspirators.

The movie was released on April 15, 2011 to coincide with the 146th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death. The tragedy of that time was the American Civil War, which began near Charleston, South Carolina on April 12, 1861 when the Confederacy bombarded Fort Sumter at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. The war ended four years later on April 9, 1965 with General Robert E. Lee surrendering at Appomattox, Virginia. Less than a week later, President Lincoln was dead.

While there was obviously great drama at this time in our nation’s history, Mr. Redford chose to focus on the circumstances of Mrs. Surratt. Why is this?

Patrick McDonald from thinks he knows:

The aim of Robert Redford in the construction of The Conspirator is obviously to parallel the circumstances of the last 10 years, where the fear of terrorism has led to perpetual war and the suspension of highly regarded constitutional beliefs in exchange for an illusion of safety. The debate about that legality in the film consists of the same concerns that takes [sic] regarding the Guantanamo Bay detention camps and the politicians who believe that war powers means the suspension of fair trials, privacy and yes, freedom.
And so we see the relevance. Our Constitution prohibits unlawful imprisonment in the United States except in cases of rebellion or invasion, when “the public safety may require it.”

As you can imagine, political leaders like to suspend habeas corpus and declare the public safety in jeopardy whenever it helps them navigate difficult situations. Why get involved in messy civilian trials when you can use military prisons and tribunals?

Suspensions have occurred during the Civil War and World War II. More recently, our leaders have wrestled with the question of whether this constitutional right applies to non-citizens, specifically those persons designated as enemy combatants.

But back to Mary. She is portrayed as a sympathetic figure…
She is a woman.
She is a practicing Catholic.
She is struggling with problems within her family unit.

The people arrayed against her are of a different stripe. Those who testify against her appear to be less than truthful. A military officer is duplicitous in the representations he makes “off the record” versus those under oath. The leader of the military tribunal clearly shows antagonism toward the legal counsel representing Mrs. Surratt. The whole process is “a rush to judgment.”

In this context, Mr. Redford contrives for us a quiet display of the theme that “Republicans are shredding the Constitution.” The people “wearing the black hats” are associated with a Republican administration, and they come across as shallow and opportunistic. While the film doesn’t resolve the guilt or innocence of Mrs. Surratt, we leave the theater knowing that we don’t like the people who adjudicated her.

And this brings me to the purpose of this post. People in America are divided on the issue of the Constitution.

Republicans believe they know what our Constitution says. Others believe they know what the Constitution means. To these latter individuals, the Constitution is a document of charity, compassion and forgiveness. It speaks of human yearning, and has but a glancing influence on the rule of law.

These two different perspectives end up dividing us by political philosophy. We are either Founders or Progressives.

Who is right? Robert Redford weighs in with his cinematic effort, showing how Republicans are those who are shredding the Constitution. He lets us know that habeas corpus must be preserved at all costs. The constitutional exceptions noted in Article One, Section 9, Paragraph 2, can be ignored.

Does it seem that I am projecting a little of my own bias onto this gifted actor and director?

Probably, but then why not take the occasional liberty with things like the juxtaposition of the title and photo of a blog post?

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Michael Ramirez Gets Your Attention.

Investors Business Daily has an editorial today that displays the Michael Ramirez cartoon shown above.

The editorial is a critique of yesterday's speech by President Obama at George Washington University.  The President's speech was an effort to counter Paul Ryan's budget proposal.

The speech was political in nature, and incorporated some problematic assumptions.  President Obama says that America will save $1 trillion by lowering interest payments on the national debt over the next twelve years.  He apparently expects us to believe that interest rates on the national debt can be reduced from the current level of 0.00%.

But that's in the fine print...

If you want to understand the impact of the current budget debate, look no further than Mr. Ramirez's cartoon.  Do you recognize the Pied Piper leading our children into a dangerous future?

It's President Obama, and that's devastating.

UPDATE 4/20/2011:
Standard and Poor's lowered rating on United States debt repayment will increase the interest rate on that debt.  The Presiden't assurance that he will lower the amount of interest payments on our national debt is looking more and more like another empty promise.

UPDATE 4/28/2011:
Mr. Ramirez has another commentary on our debt burden at IBD.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

All Hell Breaks Loose!

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin is chairman of the House Budget Committee. Today he announced the GOP “Path to Prosperity.” It is what House Republicans are offering as the budget of the United States for fiscal year 2012.

The budget acknowledges Hauser’s Law, proposing a 20% cap on federal spending rather than the 23% currently being promoted. It proposes welfare and healthcare reforms that acknowledge the motivations behind the choices people make in these programs. It acknowledges the complexity of our current tax law and proposes to simplify it.

Representative Ryan notes in his concluding paragraph in the Wall Street Journal, “We can reform government so that people don’t have to reorient their lives for less.”


Get ready for the preening of the Democratic Party. This will be a display for the ages!

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the Democratic Party theme that “Republicans are bad people.” They will also understand how our current federal executive branch evaluates each national policy action from the perspective of what it does for the power and authority of the Democratic Party.

Republicans have offered a policy proposal, and they will be met with characterizations of them being the worst of the worst. You say you haven’t seen much of the theme, “Republicans are turning the economy into a catastrophe”? Get ready for it. How about, “Republicans are stealing from our Seniors”? That will be front and center as well.

The idea of meeting policy proposals with negative characterizations is time-honored politics.

Let the demagoguery begin.

UPDATE 4/8/2011:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warns that Republicans are at war with women:

"We have a big fight on our hands, in terms of respect for women..."

"This is the same old ideological turn back the clock for women..."

"Women are predominantly the recipients of Medicare, and they are going to be hurt by this."

"There is actually a war on women."

Representative Pelosi's remarks are not quite as strong ("the new civility") as those delivered by Representative Louise Slaughter who believes that newly elected Republicans are "here to kill women."  That disquieting theme of the Democratic Party is being used more frequently.

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