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Foreign Affairs

The Era of Extreme Media by Oliver DeMille

January 26th, 2017 // 7:59 am @

(How Bias in Media is Getting Even Worse, and What To Do About It)

Part I

division-copyThe U.S. media hasn’t been so blatantly biased since the days of the muckrakers. For decades many Americans have known that the mainstream media has a liberal lean. It treated Bush I, Bush II, McCain and Romney differently (worse) than progressives like Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Hillary, and Obama. But in the Trump era the media has gone all in: it has largely lost its sense of objectivism or balance.

This isn’t limited to a few channels or outlets. Nearly every news organization that once claimed journalistic objectivism is clearly one-sided. Journalism is dead, for all practical purposes, as some political watchers have suggested.

Consider TIME magazine’s handling of its famous Person of the Year. In 2015 it refused to put Trump on the cover, even though by the end of that year he had clearly turned American politics on its head (for good or ill, depending on your viewpoint). When the magazine did choose Trump as the 2016 person of the year—even TIME couldn’t deny the surprising revolution he presided over—it did so in backhanded fashion. The cover announced: 2016 Person of the Year, Donald Trump, President of the Divided States of America.

Note the word “divided” in the last sentence.

This kind of bias is now the norm. Not that our nation isn’t divided. It clearly is, and no doubt Trump would gladly own responsibility for that in 2017. But it was deeply divided in the Obama era as well. Why would objective media attribute such divisions to Trump but not Obama? Indeed, this level of divisiveness is perhaps the major lasting feature of President Obama’s legacy. Much of the media simply ignored how many people were deeply alienated by Obama’s politics. Top media outlets literally fawned over Obama, and his heir-apparent, Hillary Clinton, during the past several years. It lauded them, praised them, discounted and downplayed failures—as if such things didn’t matter in the presence of such glowing leaders.

A commentary in The Atlantic noted that Trump voters tended to take his words seriously but not literally, while Hillary supporters took Trump’s words literally but not seriously. But progressives applied the same standard to Obama: they took him seriously but not literally, quickly dismissing broken promises about Syria, Guantanamo, keeping one’s healthcare provider, the cost of insurance going down, etc. They excoriate Trump on the details of his promises, while giving Obama a pass on a long string of failed promises.

Extremism in media is now the fashion. Extreme flattery of Obama and Clinton coupled with extreme vilification of Trump and anyone who voted for him. Even if you dislike Trump’s approach or politics, this development in our national media is alarming.

Moreover, we seem to be entering a new era of media behavior. During the Bush years the mainstream media was clearly liberal, but conservatives, centrists and even progressives could find some balance in media coverage by reading and watching both sides of the media: The New York Times and also The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC and also Fox, The Atlantic and also The Weekly Standard, The Huffington Post and also National Review.

For every mainstream liberal media outlet there were comparable conservative publications and networks.  This is no longer the case. Conservative news is still available, but much of Fox is anti-Trump, and many traditionally conservative media outlets publish articles that read like The NY Times or Huffington Post in their attacks on Trump and his embryonic administration.

The reason for this is obvious. Many on the Right distrust Trump, considering him an authoritarian at best (which may or may not turn out to be true), and the old balance of Right versus Left is almost entirely gone in the media landscape. Where are the publications or channels that support the administration’s platform, viewpoint and interests? They are practically nonexistent.

Regardless of how you feel about Trump as president, this is a dangerous development. Americans have long decried Soviet-style media in nations where the government controlled journalistic outlets and the people only got one side of the story—the official line as approved by the dominating state. In the United States we are witnessing the rise of the opposite extreme: a one-sided media that only tells the American people one story: zealous anti-Trump rhetoric. The media that blasts Trump for his bombast also frequently surpasses him in pomposity (toward Obama and Clinton) and arrogant anger (toward Trump and Trump voters). They spin and inflate (and quite simply misreport) policies, utterances and choices he makes, without clarification or retraction.

Again, this is alarming, even if you dislike Trump. A one-sided media simply cannot be objective, and to aggressively set out shape public opinion in such a fashion is a reprehensible tact for a sector of society that has traditionally been a watchdog of democracy. If this continues, we won’t be getting the full story, or the real story, in the years ahead. And we won’t be able to balance mainstream views with strong media reporting from the other side—because pretty much no media anywhere cares about truthfully communicating both sides. Nearly the entire industry is committed to either passionately attacking the new administration, or misrepresenting its loyal opposition.

Part II

On a deeper societal level, part of this growing media problem is couched in the national antipathy toward the so-called experts. Our economy has become so specialized in many sectors that people are increasingly expected to rely on experts for major decisions in their lives (educational, financial, parental, healthcare, etc.), often without even seriously questioning the “accepted expert wisdom” or making their own choices. For the Establishment, Trump voters represent the opposite of this trend.

For example, a political cartoon from The New Yorker showed a middle-aged man, balding and portly, standing up in the aisle of an airplane and announcing to the passengers: “These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”

At first blush, few of us want some regular guy from our next flight to use democracy to take over the cockpit. But the cartoon hits an even deeper chord. While it is apparently meant to criticize many American voters, it actually does a lot to point out flaws in the expert-dependent Establishment.

First, nearly all passengers shown in the cartoon are raising their hands. Democracy is strongly against the expert-dependent Establishment right now. Most people are skeptical of experts, seeking a second or even third opinion even in arenas where expertise is most sacred.

Second, the word “smug” in the cartoon is poignant. Only smug experts would believe such a political cartoon would make their point; the truth is that most voters, unlike most airline passengers, aren’t seeking a political expert in the White House. They specifically prefer a non-expert, a non-politician. The Establishment can’t quite grasp why anyone would hold this view. They really are out of touch.

These people want a wise and effective leader, not a bureaucratic manager. They want a visionary and strong commander-in-chief, not another smug political specialist. (There is an excellent commentary on the same cartoon in USA Today, January 6, 2017.) Voters want an outsider. They want someone who doesn’t actually like the bureaucracy and the lobbyists. Most of the media realizes this on a logical level, but just can’t bring themselves to believe it in their gut. Mainstream media wants government by experts. A lot of voters don’t.

Of course there is an important place for expertise in society. But clearly elections should be up to the people, all the people across the U.S. – not just the population-dense regions on the right and left coasts. Our era of over-reliance on professional political experts and bureaucratic dominance has caused a lot of problems. Concerning journalism, we want experts in telling us the truth and letting us make our own decisions, not experts of spin who sway the populace to a certain political view—whatever it is. Unfortunately, for decades many in the media have been telling us that their opinion is the truth—to trust them—to follow them—because they know what is best for us. The people are calling their bluff.

At the highest level, the Establishment acts on the assumption that experts determine elections. For example, most elites are convinced that expert choices, not voters, really swayed the latest election, and other elections as well. This is broadcast in various ways, including the following Establishment beliefs:

  • Obama’s social media gurus and ground game won 2008 and 2012, while Jared Krushner’s Silicon Valley-style analytics and online campaign won 2016 for Trump.
  • Russian hackers were responsible for election outcomes, since clearly the American people wouldn’t have voted this way without some kind of sinister expert intervention.
  • Media sway makes the biggest difference in presidential elections, and the mainstream media was clearly anti-Trump; therefore, Fox and talk radio are responsible for the “skewed” results on election night.

In reality, voters gather information in many ways, consider their options, and then select whom they want to lead (or vote against the candidate they least want to be in charge). It is ironic that the Establishment lauds democracy at every turn, but doesn’t actually believe in it. The Establishment believes, rather, that experts ultimately determine votes, one way or the other. And that they should.

Again, this arrogance is only expanding in the current media environment. I expect it to widen and deepen in the months and years ahead.

Part III

In all this, what are freedom-loving citizens to do? What about those who sincerely want to get both sides of the news and really compare what the White House is doing and thinking to what the mainstream media is reporting? Answer: such citizens are largely out of luck. They aren’t getting much help from institutional media.

They can try reading The Economist, which is certainly not a pro-Trump or even remotely conservative publication but is at least European and not quite so caught up in the anti-Trump venom of the American national media. This is a good option for some readers. Or they can read the business news, like Fortune and Forbes, for example, which focuses on commerce and addresses the news only tangentially—and with less extremism. Again, some readers can use this kind of sidebar-journalism to get a more objective read on the new.

But it’s hardly a solution. The real answer is for the media to self-regulate and deliver objective, quality journalism. Until this happens—if it ever does—citizens who want to know what is really happening are going to need to find quality sources of knowledge. Most sources of this kind will come not from big media outlets, but rather from deep thinkers who share important views online.

Find writers and thinkers—instead of relying on publications or channels—that spark your thinking and help you see things differently than the major media retailers and showrooms. Since the big media isn’t doing its job anymore, it’s up to us as individuals to more actively seek out ideas and knowledge.

The silver lining in this new era of media is real. In the current news environment, it is up to each of us to dig deeper and think more independently if we want to see through media spin and really keep an eye on the news. The mainstream media is taking much of the nation on a pied-piper-style spin, and only the vigilant will actually know what’s really going on in current events.

 

(Consider taking our Current Events Course, which helps participants learn to more effectively see through the media, whatever its agenda, and know what’s really happening. Once you’ve completed this course, try getting your news by reading a major publication from both sides of the aisle, such as The Atlantic and also The Wall Street Journal, and then adding one or more of the sources listed above to get a more objective view of things. We all need to read more closely in this new era of media, and keep our thinking caps on no matter what we’re reading.)

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The Obama Legacy by Oliver DeMille

January 23rd, 2017 // 1:55 pm @

(What it Means for the Future of America)

President King

640px-BarackObamaportraitFirst of all, the very idea that each president must aim to leave a lasting legacy of some sort is wrong-minded. Some of the best presidents in history did little except what they were elected to do: keep the nation safe, follow the Constitution, and stop other branches of government from intervening in the economy.

This is precisely what they should do. For example, presidents Madison, Harding and Coolidge are seldom given props for their legacies—but they were better presidents (using the Constitution as a measuring stick) than many others who used their time in office to “do more”, and in the process went beyond the Constitution and reduced American freedoms.

At its root the concept of legacy as a vital part of the presidency comes from the Establishmentarian desire to have a king. Establishment media, political parties, and many professional politicos want the pomp and circumstance of looking up to “royalty,” and the perks that come with close connections to those who hold executive power.

Jefferson once chided John Adams for this same tendency. In the Jeffersonian spirit, the president should…well, we already said it: keep the nation safe, follow the Constitution, and stop other branches of government from messing up the economy with too much regulation and/or bureaucratic intervention. This bears repeating over and over in our generation—until we get it.

In fact, this is the opposite of Obama’s legacy, which could be summed up as: “The more government intervention in the economy and people’s lives, the better.”

But let’s put aside the battle over ideals for a moment and focus on the practical side of governing.

Losing Balance

Obama established at least four major precedents that could be a serious problem for Americans—depending on how Trump and future presidents apply them. These include the following presidential disasters:

1. Do what you want unilaterally, using executive orders, instead of doing the hard work to lead and persuade Congress to work with you—as required in the Constitution. Just dictate things from the Oval Office.

2. Use the “nuclear option” to get things through Congress (the Barack Obama and Harry Reid approach of forcing things with a majority vote instead of sixty Senators). One more check and balance gone.

3. Doggedly ignore the views of people and groups who didn’t vote for you. Act like your supporters are the only Americans who matter, and like those who didn’t support you are sub-par citizens whose concerns aren’t important. Treat opponents as enemies (and idiots), not the loyal opposition whose voices carry some important truths. President Obama was a master at this approach.

4. After you’ve been voted out of office, before the next president is inaugurated, reject two centuries of precedence and don’t try to make things smooth for the incoming president—instead, do everything you can in your last two months of office to establish policies and take actions that make it more difficult for the next president to implement the agenda voters selected during the campaign. Simply assume you know better than the people.

This is the Obama legacy. If Trump adopts it (any of it, for that matter) he’ll do much harm to our nation. We can only hope that the Trump Administration will take a better approach to leadership. Note that he can use executive orders and push the “nuclear option” in the Senate to undo Obama overreaches without using these tactics to engage any additional policies that unwisely expand executive power.

Rise or Fall

I have friends who believe he’ll do exactly that, and others who think he’ll use these negative Obama precedents early and often. If he does the latter, such behaviors will become forever part of the executive branch and the Obama-Trump legacy will further damage our society.

Historically, few presidents choose to exert less power than their predecessors. Jefferson and Madison did, and Jackson. As mentioned, both Harding and Coolidge did the same. Washington is a special case, because he had no predecessor. He belongs on the list of those who did it right, because he chose to exert less power than he was offered.

Other U.S. presidents built on the power they inherited and tried to expand it. That’s a dangerous pattern, one we need to reverse. It remains to be seen what president Trump will do.

Ironically, in all of this, the Obama legacy is a devil on Trump’s shoulder. We can only hope that better angels prevail in the next four years.

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Challenges with the Trump Administration?

December 27th, 2016 // 7:03 am @

Problems in History

Donald TrumpI recently recommended an article from The Wall Street Journal because it addresses the fact that during the Obama Administration the executive branch greatly expanded its power. Unfortunately, the newsfeed on my iPhone gave me clear access to the article, while those following the link I provided were expected to subscribe to view the content.

My apologies for the inconvenience! I’ll address the issues directly here.

The concern is that the Trump Administration could use this expanded power in ways that continue to hurt the nation—giving more and more power to the executive branch and agencies and further reducing the powers of Congress and the States.

Since the Court has largely supported this increase of presidential and executive-branch power, the problem is growing. The article noted that presidents from both political parties have generally increased executive branch power, and that very few presidents have done anything to curtail it.

Though the article emphasized historical presidents in the early part of the twentieth century, the truth is that nearly all presidents have pushed for increased power to the White House. Clearly FDR emphasized this approach, but so did Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, both Bushes, and Obama. It is unclear whether Trump will do differently.

The American electorate should keep a very close eye on this.

Future Watch

Another challenge is that these same presidents tended to simultaneously decrease the power of the States while increasing the power of executive branch agencies, officials, and bureaucracies. The Trump Administration may or may not follow this damaging pattern.

The American citizenry needs to keep a close eye on these two very important issues in the new Administration:

  • Keeping the executive branch firmly within its Constitutional limits in its dealings with Congress
  • Keeping the executive branch from further degrading the powers of the States

These are vital issues, and they are currently quite perilous. The Trump Administration will hopefully take the right approach on this, but it is ultimately the responsibility of the people to ensure that freedom is maintained. Whoever you supported during the elections, these two issues are very important for the next four years–and beyond.

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Heads up on a must-read

December 19th, 2016 // 4:19 pm @

Hi, Friends,
I just read an article that everyone in the Black Belt in Freedom should read; and that being said, I thought my other subscribers would also find it valuable.
Enjoy!!
Oliver

 

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“Attack Business, as Usual”

November 2nd, 2016 // 6:58 am @

Washington’s Current Slump
(And the Solution)

Growing or Shrinking?

decline_graphTo pay for the national debt, including the unfunded mandates and entitlements ahead, “Uncle Sam needs more than $429,108.73 per person.”[i] To figure out how this directly impacts you, just write down how much you make a year—and multiply it by the number of years you plan to keep working. (Not a perfectly precise approach, but it will get us in the ballpark.) Then multiply $429,108 by the number of people in your family. Find the difference between the two numbers, and that’s how taxes will impact you in the years ahead.

For many Americans, the taxes in this reality are higher than the total amount of money they’ll make. Which is why politicians want to take most of it from the rich. But when they do, the wealthy find ways to move their businesses and savings abroad or into other financial vehicles—hurting jobs, investment, and making the economic struggles of average Americans even more difficult.

However we slice this, it’s a massive problem. It is already hurting almost all Americans (as seen in the Great Recession beginning in 2008, and growing ever since). Government stimulus, printing of inflationary money, and low gas prices have dampened how deeply we feel this problem right now—but these aren’t going to last forever. At some point the bubble will burst, and the economy is in for a tough time. All of us will be directly impacted.

But Washington hardly seems to notice. During elections most candidates promise real change, but it seldom materializes, at least not in positive ways. In fact, since 2008 we’ve seen a stubbornly sluggish economy. Washington puts out positive statistics each month, but most people aren’t feeling any kind of economic boom. And 90 days later Washington revises its past statistics—they are routinely much worse than originally announced.

Yet for some reason, the initial positive announcements make big headlines, while the revisions are usually buried in fine print. It’s almost as if the mainstream media is trying very hard to make the current Administration look as good as possible, and sway the election in their favor as well.

Safe and Secure

It may also be that Washington actually doesn’t notice how hard this economy is for most Americans. As “Phillip Longman recently noted in the Washington Monthly, the per capita income of Washington, D.C. in 1980 was 29 percent above the average for Americans as a whole; in 2013 that figure was 68 percent.”[ii] That’s 68 percent more! To put this in concrete terms, a person making $15 per hour would be compared to a person making $25 per hour. Or compare a person making $4000 per month to the 68% increase: $6720. Is it any wonder that Washington doesn’t feel the pinch quite so much as Joe American?

Compared to average Americans, Washington is doing a lot better. So why would they worry? For many in the nation’s capital, it must feel like time to fiddle, not worry that Rome is burning. Imagine how you’d be doing with 68 percent more money each month. (68% more of any amount seems fantastic. I’d be fiddling, too.)

Along with the struggling economy—largely a result of Washington’s increasing mountain of red tape that is choking American businesses—the U.S. is continuing to spend a lot of money on national security programs that aren’t working. “Since 9/11,” an investigation in The Atlantic reported, “the United States has spent $1 trillion to protect the homeland. The new security state is vast—and growing.” But “are we any safer?”[iii]

The experts answer that yes, we are a bit safer in some ways.[iv] But not even close to $1 trillion worth—and besides, we are less safe in a number of other ways.[v] Less safe, in fact, than we were when Bush won his second term or Obama was elected the first and second times. Specifically, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are still around, Iraq is a mess, ISIS is growing, our privacy is dwindling (along with our spending power), and the threats from places like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran have actually increased, along with the growing dangers of cyber and other non-traditional attacks (chemical, biological, lone wolf, dirty bomb, etc.).

It seems the more we spend, the more vulnerable we are. Our lack of a coherent and widely-supported national grand strategy has made things significantly worse over the past decade.

As if this weren’t enough, we are also now facing a growing threat of serious economic conflict with China, which is buying up contracts and supply chains for natural resources around the world. Unlike U.S. firms that work largely on their own capital or that borrowed from banks or investors, all governed by boards and shareholders, Chinese firms are managed by a central government approach—even more controlling than British mercantilism in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Circling Closer

We’re right not to follow the Chinese model, since central controls undermine freedom. But the differences between our system and theirs skew the way economic statistics are reported, meaning that few Americans realize how bad our economic outlook really is. For example, in the latest Fortune 100 rankings of the biggest businesses in the world, the U.S. has 38 companies on the list, all of which are private.[vi] In contrast, China has 18 companies on the list; 16 of these are owned by the government.[vii] Combine the totals of these 16 businesses, and the Chinese government owns by far the biggest business in the world.[viii] Nobody else is even close.

Here’s another way to look at this: of the biggest 5 businesses in the world, one (Walmart) is a U.S. company and the next three are Chinese—all owned by the government in Beijing.[ix] The combined revenues of these three Chinese businesses are double that of Walmart, and over three times the revenue of the fifth biggest company in the world, Royal Dutch Shell oil.[x]

In comparison, Europe is home to 29 of the biggest 100 businesses in the world, 28 of which are private, while 1 is owned by the government of France.[xi] Furthermore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore are home to a total of 11 of the 100, and all are privately owned.[xii] Together Russia, Brazil and Mexico are home to 4 of the world’s largest 100 businesses; 1 (in Russia) is private and the other 3 are government owned (one from each of these nations on the last list).[xiii]

In short, of the world’s biggest 100 businesses and largest producers of global wealth and prosperity, 20 are owned by a government, 16 of them by one single government: China. Yet Washington keeps hobbling American entrepreneurs and investors with increasing regulations that stifle our ability to compete. Yes, China’s economy has slowed a bit this year, but their growth is still way ahead of the United States—and their slowdown will likely mean they’re less willing to keep carrying our debt load (very bad news for our economy).

It’s time for Washington to take note of our gloomy economic outlook, addiction to government overspending and growing debt, and a very expensive and bureaucratic national security apparatus that is more hat than cattle—as the saying goes in Texas. For this vitally important change to happen, we’ve got to stop expecting so much from the White House and demand a lot more from Congress. Until this occurs, we will keep declining in an “attack business, as usual” approach to the economy.

Forward or Back

All this that I have described here is a recipe for major American decline. And it is our current path.

With all that said, I’m an optimist. I believe the best years for America and the world are still ahead. But how soon we initiate those “better years” largely depends on the Congressional elections in 2016. We need a Congress that will finally stand up for the American people (against the executive and judicial branches) and get serious about creating a truly free, booming economy.

We haven’t had such a Congress for decades—and we’ve been in decline ever since that trend started. Such forces of decline are now snowballing, meaning that the actions of the next Congress will largely determine America’s trajectory for the 21st century.

 

[i] Harry S. Dent, Boom & Bust, July 2016

[ii] Cited in The Atlantic, September 2016, p. 102

[iii] Steven Brill, “Are We Any Safer?” The Atlantic, September 2016

[iv] Ibid.

[v] See ibid.

[vi] See Fortune, August 1, 2016, 110-119

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

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