This and that

Friday, October 19, 2007

Recently Gov. Matt Blunt and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay headlined an anti-poverty event on the campus of Washington University.

The two declared that the city and the state are part of ONE, the international "Campaign to Make Poverty History."

Republican political strategist Jack Oliver, now chairman of Bryan Cave Strategies (the law firm's lobbying arm), also is helping to lead the international/national campaign's voting initiative, "ONE Vote '08."

As a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story earlier this year explained, the ONE anti-poverty campaign was started by lead singer Bono of the Irish rock band, U2.

Oliver is a co-chair of the campaign, "which boasts 2.4 million members and a list of stars ranging from NFL quarterback Tom Brady to actors Brad Pitt and Ashley Judd."

The top issue: "The fight against extreme poverty and global disease in the world's poorest countries."

-- From a column by Jo Mannies in the St. Louis Post Dispatch

The best of times, the worst of times: It's no wonder that Americans feel so deeply disconnected from their elected leaders when their contradictory opinions show them similarly out of touch with themselves.

Public approval of Congress has plummeted to a historic low (18 percent, with a staggering 76 percent disapproval, according to a recent Gallup Poll) while an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey reports that more than two-thirds of us (68 percent) believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, when asked about our own lives, Americans express overwhelming contentment and dazzling confidence. In a mid-August Harris Poll that asked respondents to evaluate their satisfaction levels "with the life you lead," an amazing 94 percent declared themselves satisfied (with a clear majority -- 56 percent -- choosing the highest rating of "very satisfied"). Meanwhile, 62 percent expected their "personal situation" to get even better in the next five years, as opposed to al paltry 7 percent who anticipated that their circumstances would get worse.

On the surface, these responses look almost laughably inconsistent. Some 68 percent of us believe the nation is "off on the wrong track," but by a ratio of nearly 9-to-1 we're confident that our lives will improve, rather than deteriorate, in the next five years. Only 17 percent say our personal status "got worse" in the past five years (while 54 percent reported improvement), but by crushing margins of more than 4-to-1, we tell pollsters we disapprove of the job our leaders are doing.

The most important explanation for this bizarre contradiction involves the impact of mass media in a nation where the average individual devotes close to 30 hours per week to his TV set. Instead of working in the news business, most broadcast journalists actually toil in the "bad news business," with natural disasters, bloody accidents, crime, terrorism, battlefield casualties, political conflict and economic threats dominating every day's televised reports. Reassuring news items can hardly rival terrifying dispatches when it comes to riveting the attention of a restless public, powerfully armed with a hair-trigger remote control. Most entertainment, very much including televised comedies, similarly emphasizes conflict, danger, degeneracy and embarrassment--The Sopranos can capture our attention far more readily than the Cleavers. Weekly series about wholesome, ordinary families making steady economic progress stand little chance of grabbing ratings or publicity in a ferociously competitive pop culture marketplace.

Politicians make an additional contribution to the prevailing gloom about the status and direction of the nation at large.

It almost always makes sense for candidates and public officials to exaggerate problems and magnify threats. If they're challengers, they cite the miserable state of affairs in order to discredit incumbents, and if they're current officeholders, they emphasize the bad news in order to justify sweeping, ambitious and expensive new programs.

An ordinary American might worry about frightening talk of Iranian threats or trade imbalances, but that can't shake his pride in becoming a homeowner for the first time, or watching a child become the first one in family history to get a college education.

American satisfaction with the near-at-hand and cynicism about distant reality turned up clearly in the NBC News/Journal poll with contrasting attitudes toward local and national institutions.

For instance, 54 percent expressed "high confidence" in "small business," but only 11 percent felt similarly positive toward "large corporations." Some 34 percent deemed "local government" worthy of "high confidence," as opposed to only 16 percent who felt the same way about the federal government--and 18 percent who trusted and respected "national news media."

In other words, Americans feel better about institutions and realities the closer they come to their own cities, their own neighborhoods, their own homes. They like and value their personal status, but fret or shrug over the state of the nation.

-- From a column by Michael Medved, radio talk-show host, author of "Right Turns" and member of USA Today's board of contributors

I stumbled on to a good documentary movie presented by Ron Howard: "In the Shadow of the Moon." It's inspirational and positive. It won the World Cinema Audience Award for Documentary at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

"Between 1968 and 1972, nine American spacecrafts voyaged to the moon, and 12 men walked upon its surface. They remain the only human beings to have stood on another world.

"'In the Shadow of the Moon' brings together for the first, and possibly the last time, surviving crew members from every single Apollo mission that flew to the moon and allows them to tell their story in their own words.

"This riveting, first-hand testimony is interwoven with visually stunning archival material, which has been re-mastered from the original NASA film footage -- much of it never used before. The result is an intimate epic that vividly communicates the daring, the danger, the pride and the promise of this extraordinary era in history when the whole world literally looked up at America.

"Easily one of the year's best, it's a breathtaking and exhilarating motion picture experience you will always remember. A once-in-a-lifetime movie about a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Everyone should see it." -- Pete Hammond, Maxim

"An enthralling film." -- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

"A celebration of courage." -- Jennifer Hillner,

They said it all in the above movie summaries.

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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