Bread and Circuses


The ancient Romans knew a thing or two about controlling the populace. They made sure the citizens had food for their bellies and even more important, entertainment. Few Romans knew how to read and, anyhow, the printing press had not yet been invented, so it stands to reason that they erected the Coliseum to keep the citizens of Rome occupied and out of the business of running a nation.

The lions were a huge favorite; the Romans imported lots of them since they did not have to worry about keeping them in them fresh meat, having an every ready supply of Christians at hand. Human flesh was so cheap that they trained excess slaves as gladiators to kill each other in the arena as amusement for the good men and women of ancient Rome. With all that blood and gore for fun, who had time to question the antics of the Senate?

Today, we are way more civilized and yet the way we control the population is the Roman tried and true formula—bread and circuses, except that we use television and the prime time news. The Bush administration started two wars to divert attention away from an economy that was beginning to show signs of having seen better days. The strategy was to unite the citizens against a common enemy—Al-Qaeda, avenge the World Trade attacks of 911 and protect us all from future terrorist attacks. Most importantly, in the past, a wartime economy was a booming economy. But we all know how well those two wars have worked out.

As the wars dragged out and costs escalated, (By the way, just how much are these wars costing the American taxpayer in dollars and in human life?) suddenly we diverted our attention to the problems of immigration. It became the main focus on the prime time news. Suddenly citizens were calling for a huge fence to protect our borders and rounding up the interlopers and shipping them all back.  After lots of yelling and finger pointing, immigrants from Central and South America, it was determined, were responsible for terrorism, causing the economy to slow down by taking away jobs from Americans and causing a huge money drain as they sent their wages and sent them out of the country. In addition, the good citizens complained that the immigrants don’t speak English, go on welfare, demand medical services and lower property values.

No one looked at the big corporations that were sending jobs out of the country. Every other time I tried to reach customer service for any number of businesses, my telephone call was diverted to India, once to the Bahamas. No one thought to mention that the housing market was going haywire, the prices of homes were spiking out of control and that credit card interest rates were already at an obscene level. No one knew or cared that we were slipping deeper and deeper into debt and that China was holding the IOU.  No, we were too busy obsessing over the immigrants and shopping until we were dropping and our credit cards were steaming from overuse.

And while our attention was focus on the immigrants, our economy turned belly up. Suddenly, we don’t hear about the problems of immigration anymore. The last I heard was that there was a reverse flow of the population back over the southern borders, yet none of our problems has been resolved with their departure. Here we are caught with our thumbs in our mouths and looking for someone else to blame and for someone to fix our problems. Maybe, we should look into our mirrors.

We need to stop looking for entertainment on the prime time news and insist on quality coverage. I am sure the journalists remember how it is done. All they need do is to leave the entertainment to actors, ignore the pundits (please) and research the stories so that we can trust the Fourth Estate once again.

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