As you read this the Colony Days celebrations will have concluded for the year. One of the events I attended this year was a 60-minute film at Galaxy Theatres exploring the vision and travails of Atascadero founder and visionary E.G. Lewis.
The life of Lewis is a story familiar to many families at the turn of the early 20th century. Survival in 1913 depended in largely upon your intelligence but especially upon your determination to succeed. Nobody made excuses on your behalf; life was hard, even harsh, especially on those who fell behind. There was no safety net to rescue you. If you failed, you starved.
Lewis was a visionary whose dream began in St. Louis, Mo., and migrated westward to Atascadero. He was a man of dreams, but also of integrity at a time when being committed to principle placed you at odds with ruthless men with unchecked power. America during this period in many ways more closely resembled the unchecked political power in Russia today under Putin, where political rivals are persecuted with the crushing power of the State. It was a time in which lynching occurred more than historians care to admit (more than 6,000 between 1890 and 1930) with fewer than 700 persons ever charged and few convicted. In Lewis’s day, use of the government’s power to destroy was an equally effective weapon against those without political connections.
Lewis took on powerful political interests, testifying in Congress for reforms in mail-based advertising, demanding that advertisers be held accountable for their often wild claims. Unfortunately, his crusade occurred during the corrupt Taft administration, earning him the enmity of powerful political and financial interests who used political appointees in the postal service to destroy his businesses repeatedly, finally succeeding in bankrupting and imprisoning him on trumped-up charges. After 14 unsuccessful indictments, congress intervened and attempted to redress his losses, but the persecution continued with follow-on administrations, eventually convicting him on false charges in 1928.
Lewis eventually served six years in federal prison after being falsely accused of misrepresenting information in his advertising sent through the mail, which were in fact nothing more than printer’s errors.
Today, we wonder at how such abuses of power can occur? Eighty years ago, local newspapers ruled, truth was optional and not required in reporting. Today we are inundated with every conceivable electronic media; now reporters are optional and truth is available for any interested in its pursuit.
Yet, we face a crisis of “truth” in America, a crisis caused by apathy. Neither the media nor the public seem to care when favored political leaders abuse their power and authority. Excuses are made for lying as long as the matters are made to appear trivial. When foreign policy disasters occur, accountability becomes blurred. Consequences are limited to “taking responsibility,” and then, nothing. Last month, four Americans were killed in Libya due to an abject failure of policy and its execution. Is this a scandal? Forty years ago, the “Watergate cover-up” held the nation spellbound and destroyed a presidency, but nobody died in “Watergate.” How times have changed.
Al Fonzi is a retired Army Lt. Colonel and career intel- ligence officer with more than 30 years of service. He is a self-described conservative and active in several political organizations. Fonzi first moved to Atascadero in 1972.For the complete article see the 10-24-2012 issue.
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