Monthly Archives: October 2013

Faux Quo

I’m a little skeptical by nature. GE DIGITAL CAMERA Whenever someone’s argument seems too perfect, filled with too perfect evidence with too perfect quotes, I tend to become perfectly suspicious.

If I am in their presence in a face to face discussion, I will politely smile and say, “Well, that does seem rather compelling” and slowly back away.  I don’t want to continue a discussion that could quite possibly be built on a foundation of fake facts.

When I find a spare half hour I go to my computer and do a little research.  I’ll put the information they shared into a search engine to find the original source and then dig deeper into that source.  I’ll check quotes, weigh the facts with other sources, use some sites like FactCheck.org and I’ll Google variations.  More often than not, my suspicions prove to have been valid.

One of the most common misappropriations in our modern age of internet information is the use of great, historical figures to support positions by using their legendary quotes.

The two that stand at the top of the Pyramid of Political Wisdom are George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  It seems that their street cred abraham_lincoln_gangstersuperceeds all others and is of such indisputable relevance that anything they are quoted as having said is Political Gospel and can validate any ideological position.

Let me be clear right off the bat, this manipulative use of quotes is not the sole domain of either side of the aisle; both right and left politicos and pundits look to websites that share their views and pull down from a menu of Founding Father (plus Lincoln) short order specials.

A left leaning website that was looking to rally support for labor used this classic Lincoln quote:  “All that loves labor serves the nation.  All that harms labor is treason to America.”

Perfect!  Except that Lincoln never said it.

Here’s a Lincoln quote that I’ve used myself: “If this nation is to be destroyed, it will be destroyed from within; if it is not destroyed from within, it will live for all time to come.”

That one works for the right, the left and for Libertarians.  It is a call for balance, civility, and justice.  Except, that Lincoln never said that either.  Research by Paul F. Boller who wrote, “They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions,” and historian Matthew Pinkser, supports that many famous Lincoln quotes, even ones used by historians, do not exist in any of his writings, letters, speeches or in his official biography, but were simply drawn from the winds of rhetoric and repeated so often that they became truth.

Lincoln, however, may no longer be the champion of Faux Quotes.  Lately, it seems, cool-presidents-10George Washington has replaced the Great Emancipator as the noblest voice of true American ideals.  In this case, the Right, in particular, seems to feel a need to have the preeminent founding father on their side, in order to make their case that America was a Christian nation from its inception.

Today on Facebook I saw this Washington chestnut: “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.”

I don’t have a problem with that quote, per se, but I happened to know that it wasn’t quite right.  I’m a history buff and I had a recollection of reading Washington’s Farewell Address long ago (but long after the actual address!).  What he actually said was, “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.”

There is a difference.  Washington was speaking of the dispositions that he saw as crucial if one is to be successful in politics and what is required, in his view, for politics, in general, to serve the people.  Where the quote gets bent is in the interpretation of “religion.”  Religion to Washington (and many of our founders) was a rational moral discipline, a humble piety and respect for Providence.  Washington was a registered member at a number of churches, but did not attend regularly and his writings rarely elaborated on his specific religious beliefs.

My point here is not to diminish his Christian influences or respect, but to clarify what “religion” meant in the late 18th century.  It was an understanding of and respect for morality that was held accountable by a Higher Power; not specifically Christian, or even necessarily church, related.

The Washington myth continues, however, and the most famous of all Washington quotes, with regard to Christianity, is:  “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”

That, he simply did not say.

What he said (wrote, actually) was this:  “It is impossible to reason without arriving at a Supreme Being. Religion is as necessary to reason, as reason is to religion. The one cannot exist without the other. A reasoning being would lose his reason, in attempting to account for the great phenomena of nature, had he not a Supreme Being to refer to.”

A testimonial in support of religion and it embraces non-Christian doctrines, as well.  No reason to change a word of it, except fundamentalists feel that by making Washington a Christian-specific sage they can further an expansionist agenda of religious exclusion.

A new sporting goods store opened in my town and in front of the store are beautiful, brass sculptures of Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson.  Beside each figure is a brassalinc document with individual quotes.  There is at least one false quote on each of those documents.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you feel that your ideology, whether political, social or religious, needs the support of these legendarily wise, credible and patriotic figures, and you are compelled to make up perfect words to put in their mouths to show that support….then you may need to reconsider your original premise.

And if you find a perfect quote on a website…do a little research before you post it.

In the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Except that he didn’t actually say that.

Rome is burning!

k7863536I’m confused….What are we trying to accomplish?

Does either side of the political fence think that total annihilation of the other side is plausible?  Is that the goal?  If it isn’t then why aren’t we working together or even listening to each other?  Why are the arguments so extreme?

Does anyone really think either party is going to lie down and confess, “You guys were right!  We need to shut up, step aside and let you take over!”?

I’ll admit that I did not like the Bush Administration and I was vocal as I opposed the invasion of Iraq and I was baffled by reducing revenue while engaging in two wars.

I bristled as money was siphoned from the bottom toward the top due to continuing market de-regulation allowing toxic derivatives. 

I scoffed at the poorly conceived and underfunded “No Child Left Behind,” as well as falsifying costs of the Prescription Drug Program.

I was miffed when President Bush shunned counsel from his own economic advisors, and angry at Dick Cheney’s self-serving involvement in creating Halliburton loopholes.

I was ashamed of the administration’s jingoistic foreign policy that alienated allies and I was incensed by the Patriot Act which gave government virtually unlimited powers of surveillance over its citizens without judicial oversight!

In short, I wanted George W Bush and his neo-cons, the post-Reagan Republicans on the right to go away.  I wanted an election sweep where the left took over.

I was naïve.

The lines of division are now so wide that bi-partisan cooperation has been as improbable as Justin Bieber becoming an advisor to the Princeton Review.

Here’s my conundrum:  When I offer an olive branch by acknowledgingwafer-thin-mint-monty-python-i10 accomplishments of Republicans, or even when I am critical of Democrats, I don’t get even “one thin wafer” of appeasement from my friends on the right.

Instead, they reveal a grave double-standard as they chastise me for supporting our President while they condemn him for some of the very things they once embraced.  Or, at least things they once cared far less about.

Things like the Patriot Act, Deficit Spending, Debt Ceilings or the Debt, for that matter.

Obama essentially continued the same economic recovery plan set into motion by Bush with Stimulus Spending and Bailout Loans to Detroit and Wall Street.  Very little was done to actually “regulate” the markets that had just betrayed us.  Obama did not immediately de-escalate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, either.  He didn’t change counter-terrorism policies and he continued the Patriot Act.  In fact (olive branch coming) if President Obama’s stimulus package and loans to Detroit and financial institutions were instrumental in the recession’s reversal trends, we have to share that credit with President Bush, as well.

Yet, the Republicans hate President Obama and when I point out the inconsistencies in their arguments, their reply is consistent:  “Excuses!  When are you going to stop blaming Bush?”

Well….history is what it is, but this isn’t really about placing blame.  It’s about trying to figure out what it is that they believe on the right.  Unless it is to assume all Muslims might be terrorists, that Mexicans are primarily criminals, that gay marriage will destroy civilization, and that a zygote should have a checking account.

If the Republican “offense” is that Democrats are making excuses and still blaming Bush for what is wrong, then why can’t they acknowledge what is right?

And I have to ask…”Excuses for what exactly?”

Look at the stock market, corporate cash reserves, hiring, and the housing market.  More Americans have health security.  Look at real budget numbers that show deficit spending was coming down even before draconian, Republican demanded, austerity measures.

Those words will fire up the Republicans who read my columns as they insist that America has only fallen deeper into every political hole for the past 7 years.

I am not suggesting that it’s time for anyone to take a victory lap; we still have deep, dark issues surrounding civil liberties, immigration, un-employment, foreign policies, and Constitutional protections.  But, unless we can find common purpose; unless we can define mutual principles to guide America, we will condemn ourselves to continue this unhealthy and destructive journey toward an eventual implosion.

Rome-burningThe Roman Empire lasted 400 years, and it crumbled from the inside out, before it fell.

The Simplicity Revolution

It’s gotten too complicated.

“What has?” you ask.

Everything!

Legislation, rules, requirements, regulations, taxes, disclaimers, ingredients, instructions, assembly, guidelines, labels, games, parameters, codes, wills and codicils.

We have over- emphasized, protected, contained, explained, briefed, covered, controlled, programmed, denied and lied about…. legislation, rules, requirements, regulations, taxes, disclaimers, ingredients, instructions, assembly, guidelines, labels, games, parameters, codes, wills and codicils.untitled

As a result, we need lawyers to unravel, negotiate and approximate what is fair and legal.  We need tax preparers to unravel, negotiate and approximate what is fair and legal; we need more law enforcement, more upper management, more brokers and more regulators to….you get the point.

Who can I blame for the complications that have become my life?

People on the right will say, without hesitation, that it is the left because the liberal agenda to even the playing field and to bring justice along with opportunity creates more laws and lawsuits to regulate the encroachment of privileges and prejudices.

And they would be correct.

People on the left will say, without hesitation, that it is the right because the conservative agenda to de-regulate and individualize creates more unfair practices, pandering, cronyism, and opportunism that infringes upon the rights of others.

And they would be correct.

I was in a conversation with a couple of guys, good friends but of opposing ideologies, and we were discussing a trend in secondary schools to limit, or do away with, contact sports.  They blamed the left for “wuss-i-fying” America.

I replied, “Believe me, it isn’t just liberal parents suing schools when their children are injured, it’s everyone.”

We’re all in this.  When the lunch meat is bad and our kids get sick, conservatives are as vocal as liberals when it comes to demanding answers from local, state and federal government.

When toxic paint poisons our children it doesn’t discriminate between the children of Republicans and Democrats, and we all demand new rules for manufacturers, importers and new accountability standards.

When a plane goes down, or the bridge collapses and a school bus crashes, there are no political ideologies coming to bear, there are only families and friends, demanding to know why, and demanding new or better rules to protect us in the future.

Is that how we got here?

The population in America has grown, since the time of our founding, from 2.5 million to over 315 million and, yes, our conflicting interests have grown alongside.

We have evolved from a nation carrying one shot muskets to assault weapons with 30 round magazines.

We have seen horse drawn buggies become racing machines that travel at 250 miles per hour.  Traffic in America has gone from 40 million automobiles in 1950 to 250 million today.

With all of these innovations, the problems, confusions and conflicts, grow exponentially and so does our fear of myriad ways we can get hurt.  A litigation industry was created and has expanded in order to help us (or encourage us) to navigate these waters, with less risk and less accountability.

Which brings me to a conclusion for what may have seemed like a, more or less, rhetorical question:  What do we do about this?

Once upon a time, bad things just happened.  Mistakes were allowed, or at least absorbed into the matrix of life’s vulnerabilities and foibles.  Now we litigate because we have lost our acceptance of life’s pain.

There is a meta-physical solution here that we may never again be able to realize, but as the Buddha says: “Life is suffering.”buddha_crgbr_T0

Somewhere in our history we decided that progress includes the elimination of pain and we affix blame onto whatever timeline of events fits our claim to it.

This is not to say that we should tolerate the suffering of anyone or any group, or that we should not do everything we can to help those who have been dealt a vulnerable hand, but an acceptance of life’s trials and tribulations, could slow down a runaway train.

It is also not a solution for poverty to hold the under-privileged more accountable for their plight, but by narrowing our own claims of victimization, we might improve the ability to improve.  The social services, education and safety nets that a compassionate society should provide could become more effective.

The Simplicity Revolution could, over time, make our lives less complicated, or at least more manageable.

freak-accident-china-1-458x305Maybe…some bad things that happen are no one’s fault.  Not even our own.