September 26, 2006 > The pros who can con
The pros who can con
Have you ever watched a good artist create additional dimensions on a two dimensional object such as a sheet of paper? The use of shapes, lines and shadow can create amazing effects that not only develop another dimension but, if skillfully done, can fool your eyes and brain over and over again, even with full knowledge of the craft. Magicians often use slight of hand to confuse, but they too realize the effects of illusion and its power over the mind. While it is amusing and satisfying to allow these referential counterpoints to dazzle and deceive in art and entertainment, when such obfuscation is directed toward major decisions that require clear thinking, a line should be drawn.
I recently attended a public League of Women Voters (LWV) meeting to discuss Measure K - the so-called "Northern Plain Planning Area Initiative." It was interesting to note that a meeting convened by the local chapter of the LWV was well attended while a planning session of the Fremont City Council held on the next evening drew few observers. Maybe it was because the LWV meeting was filled with confusing and contradictory information and accusations. It is usually a pleasure to attend such meetings which, similar to their excellent website, www.smartvoter.org, follow a logical format and give sound and practical information free of wild rhetoric. The emotional content of Measure K is at such a level that at the present time, it is hard to distinguish real from manufactured "facts." The content of the LWV meeting was filled with innuendo, probable misinformation and accusations. In short, while illuminating and a valuable resource, it did little to give an even-handed clarification without empty rhetoric.
Environmental groups are split on this measure, many taking a "neutral" stance, which will signal changes for the largest area of undeveloped land of the Tri-Cities. At stake are property rights, good-faith agreements, environmental concerns and planning impacts to name just a few. The difficulty the general public faces is who and what to believe. Since the initiative is designed to short-circuit a city planning and permit process, each of us is left to decide based on well-financed and organized proponents and opponents. I may hear a howl from some that this is a David and Goliath battle since Cargill has so much at stake, but resources from others, while not in the same financial league, can muster considerable support and organization. The decision, however, should not be based on who has the most money, but a fair solution to the issue.
Ever since the creation of the League of Women Voters just prior to passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote, women - and men - have looked to the League as a responsible voice of voter education. Confusing legislation can often be deciphered using the talents of the organization. When the League takes a position on legislation, although in some instances it may not be favored by a considerable number of voters, it is expected to be well-reasoned. In the event members are split or feel there is considerable merit to both sides of an argument, the League can remain neutral, distributing any pertinent information with fairness. In such a case, it is a fervent hope of mine and others who value and cherish the League's role that information distributed by the League and in the name of the League will not be overtly or subtly prejudicial. Although members of a group, in this case LVW, may have strong feelings about Measure K the official stance must be recognized and honored. Any semblance of partisanship should not be associated with the organization.
On the same note, I have listened to Fremont Chamber of Commerce announcements of preferences for candidates and propositions in the November election. Although I may personally favor many of these individuals and, on occasion, agree with the chamber on propositions, the public stance in most cases represents Board of Director preferences, not membership consensus. A vote by the Board of Directors on candidates and Propositions should be clearly identified as a vote by that group and representative of only that group, unless a general vote of the membership is involved. To my knowledge, as a member of the chamber, there has been no general vote on any issue or candidate.
While it is important for each side of an issue and all candidates to have freedom of expression and access to media exposure, there are subtle - and sometimes not-so-subtle ways of manipulating political messages. Will our community be given choices between "pros and cons" or simply be conned?