John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” is a must see

I have written before about John Oliver’s show which is now in its second season. He truly should take over for Jon Stewart, but he may be better placed doing this show. While the show is steeped in comedy, underneath the comedy is some very good journalism on a variety of topics. His show has gotten the attention of other news sources such as PBS Newshour and Charlie Rose’s Show, as well it should.

“Last Week Tonight” typically has the following format – a brief news summary of the week with a break off on one issue for comedic purposes, followed by a more in-depth review of a topic with comedic highlights seasoning the mix. Between the two large segments, he has a taped topical summary called “Now This.” But, it is his crew’s in-depth research and his reporting on the elongated topic which actually leaves some pseudo-news organizations in the dust.

His show is actually covering topics that should be discussed, but don’t get much airplay as the issue is too complex or subtle, or the pseudo-news sources are too biased to cover an issue. The national news sources may whisk by the topics as their viewers don’t want subtlety, time does not permit an in-depth review or their funders would not allow such depth of reporting on an issue. As an example, here are a few topics Oliver has reported on:

– Pay-day lending and the politics and conflict of interests that won’t call this industry on the carpet. He noted some particularly bad examples of conflict of interest in the state of Texas legislature. Predatory pay-day lending is bad news no matter how you slice it.

– Climate change and that it should not be an even-handed debate as 97% of scientists support that it is real, it is a problem and it is man-influenced. Showing this as a 50/50 debate is disservice to the issue.

– The involvement of one small evangelical US organization who helped convince the government of Uganda to persecute homosexuals. The government was surprised when the US government condemned them for this maltreatment and retreated some.

– The lack of oversight of the supplemental vitamin and drug industry, which has been perpetuated by two senators from each party dating back to the 1990s. He also took Dr. Oz to task for his un-scientific based claims of miracle drugs that actually are not proven and some are harmful (Dr. Oz was called on the carpet by Congress as well).

– The lack of awareness of who Eric Snowden is and how the brief notoriety over what NSA is and was doing has waned. The question he is asking has much changed as a result? He also poses a very comical, but vulgar way to get Americans to care about this issue, which has many hits on line.

– The abuse by law enforcement officers in civil forfeiture cases, where departments can seize property or goods if suspected of being used in a crime. This is not uncommon and is how many departments can get around budget cuts. Our rights as citizens are being stepped on by this abuse.

– The abuse of “Patent Trolls” who sue everyone for patent infringement just because certain words were used and they filed a patent on those words, that were not supported by an invention. These trolls extort money, as the true inventor organization would rather pay them off such as $150,000 than go to court and spend millions.

He has also covered the extortion of the World Cup organization that requires a country to spend money needlessly to host the event, the wealth gap in America, the gross misuse of college scholarship marketing by Miss America when it is not significant, and the for-profit college fraudulent claims of success and high marketing budget and many more.

It is a sad indictment of pseudo-news organizations that a comedy show has better news reporting than they do. On the flip side, maybe more people will pay attention if we make fun of the news. Certainly with the changing positions of politicians, there is a lot of material. I would encourage you to watch his show via You Tube or on HBO. A link to You Tube follows:

A few more movies worth a nostalgic look

My wife and I rented few new releases and enjoyed them, but felt nostalgic about some older movies. “Gone Girl” was good, but the characters were not very redeeming. “Interstellar” was good for the relationship between father and daughter, but was on the bizarre side toward the end. Of the three, we did enjoy “Wild” the most with Reece Witherspoon hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself, but Laura Dern helps the movie greatly in flash backs as her mother.

I was thinking about some older movies that may be under the radar screen on searches for movies, but offer a sense of nostalgia as well as coming of age. So, in no particular order:

Breaking Away – made in 1979 and won an Oscar for best screenplay. Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley and Daniel Stern star in a movie about four kids who have graduated high school and are trying to find themselves in Bloomington, Indiana where Indiana University is located. Christopher is fascinated by all things Italian as he has become a world-class bicyclist and the Italian team is the best and coming to town. Paul Dooley, as the former stone cutter and now used car salesman, steals many a scene.

Summer of 42 – made in 1971 and won an Oscar for best music score. Jennifer O’Neill, who every boy falls in love with in the movie and audience, Gary Grimes, Jerry Houser star in the movie based on a summer on the Nantucket shore. The boys are coming of age during the onset of WWII and O’Neill’s husband has been deployed. The story is told from Grimes’ character’s perspective looking back at that summer as he discovers love and loss.

American Graffiti – made in 1973 by George Lucas and starring a huge cast of soon to be famous young actors – Richard Dreyfus, Ron Howard (was only known as Opie at that time), Cindy Williams, Paul Le Mat, Mackenzie Phillips, Harrison Ford, Charles Martin Smith, Bo Hopkins, Candy Clark and Wolfman Jack. It is nostalgic and mirror into a different time as Dreyfus and Howard’s characters are headed off to college the next day. The movie spawned the TV show “Happy Days” which eventually led to “Laverne and Shirley” as a spin-off.

Each of these movies are nostalgic in nature. Kids are coming of age and wondering what it is all about. “Breaking Away” is set in the 1970s, “Summer of 42″ is obviously set during the 1940s and “American Graffiti” is at the brink of the 1960s. Kids have not changed in this outlook to discover what is it all about. Today’s kids are more technologically advanced and are seeing a world change at a fast pace, yet they have many of the same questions.

To me, I go back to “Breaking Away” and the father son chat at the end between Christopher and Dooley’s characters. Christopher and his fellow mates have always felt and been put down as “cutters” short for stone cutters. As they walked through IU’s campus, the father notes “we” carved these beautiful stones that made these buildings on campus, but once they were erected, we felt the buildings were too good for us. The son responds “I don’t mind being a cutter.” The Dad says, “You’re not a cutter. I am cutter.” He is telling his son, do not limit yourself by what I accomplished. Go find yourself.

And, that is the best advice for any of us. Go find yourself. That may be why we liked “Wild” the most of the three new movies, as Witherspoon’s character was looking to find the woman her mother knew was always there.

Tell me why

When these words were penned by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (a few others also pitched in) and sung by The Beatles, they were focused on a lover who is beseeching a significant other to explain why. Here are two refrains:
Well I gave you everything I had
But you left me sitting on my own
Did you have to treat me oh so bad?
All I do is hang my head and moan
Tell me why you cried
And why you lied to me
Tell me why you cried
And why you lied to me
I was thinking of these lyrics when people who blindly support a cause, a leader, a political party, etc. find out that what they have been led to believe is not really true and never has been true. I have written several posts and made references to the documentary “Merchants of Doubt” where, in essence, highly paid PR advisors lie to people for a living. They are paid to tell you something is perfectly safe, when it is not, nor could it be.
These PR folks also play a heavy role in political advice as well, given the more tolerable name “spin-doctors.” Spin-doctor is another name for someone with a license to lie or perfume a pig. A phrase I have grown to dislike is “walking it back.” This is where a politician, business, or leader releases a concept or idea and when it lands with a thud or the backlash is huge, the spin-doctors advise on “walking back” the idea like it never happened. “Oh, we were just testing the waters, we really did not mean to do that,” might be an apologetic line.
However, we should not be surprised by the deployment of folks to lie to us or embellish the truth. The sad part of these lies is people die, become bankrupt, lose opportunity or do not consider something that might benefit them. In “Merchants of Doubt,” these folks led people to believe nicotine was not addictive, that flame retardants were helpful when they actually did little other than killing mothers and firefighters with various cancers, that climate change is, first not occurring, and now may be occurring but not man-influenced when the evidence and scientists say the answers to both questions are a resounding yes.
Or, the spin doctors have told us Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, when most of the evidence was Hussein’s own spin-doctoring to let enemies believe he had more capability than he had. Because of this story, Americans and our allies died in battle and Iraq is in a state of unrest because we failed to stay in the country. Or, some would say Obamacare is socialism, so don’t sign up for it, when health care was and is a crying need for many. Even as it has been successful under several measures, there are those who have fought it tooth and nail and still do. And, if it was unwound it would be devastating to millions of Americans and our economy. That is a truth.
Ten days ago, I wrote a post on asking leaders more “why” questions. Leaders are excellent at not answering questions that they don’t want to. But, we need to ask them over and over again and in different ways to get the truth. The Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, found this out the hard way a few Sundays ago. His evasive tactics showed he could not defend or explain a law he just signed.
We all must be truthseekers, as it is even harder to find these days. When we find it, we need to make others aware of it as often as possible, as the PR folks are very good at what they do. When some folks realize the truth, they will shed some tears and be ticked off, as people they trusted lied to them.

50 First Dates inspiration for dementia patients

One of my favorite Adam Sandler movies co-starring Drew Barrymore is interestingly called “50 First Dates.” In short, Barrymore’s character has recovered from an automobile accident, but with the exception of memories preceding the accident, forgets everything that occurs when she goes to sleep. Sandler woos her over fifty first dates, but makes his message stick when he produces a video with her friends and family for her to watch each morning.

In a terrific example of life imitating art, this concept has been successfully borrowed by Tamara Rusoff-Hoen who produced a video for her mother, Louisa Irving, a 94 year-old dementia patient. Below is a link to the Associated Press article written by Jim Fitzgerald of the Seattle Pi. She opens with a song in the video “Good morning, merry sunshine, how did you wake so soon?”

This song hit home with me, as my wife used to sing “You are my sunshine” to her mother who eventually died from complications due to Alzheimer’s Disease. She is now singing it periodically to my mother who we believe is limited to early stages of dementia.

With people living longer, we are seeing more struggle with dementia and even Alzheimer’s. Both are tough on the patient and the family, especially those closest to them. My mother knows my voice well, but sometimes when I visit from seven hours away, she forgets that I am her son. She is remembering a younger version of me. So, we are struggling with these issues as well, but hopefully not as extreme as with my mother-in-law.

I believe the “50 First Dates” video concept should be shared with everyone, as it is a great idea. In the below article, Robert Abrams, a geriatric psychiatrist notes the assurances this video can give to patients who feel “alone and at sea” and do not fully understand their circumstances. At a minimum, talk with your parents about these issues while they have their faculties. But, also help remind them of who they are and what they mean to you.

I will leave you with one quick story. When a friend dropped in to see her father with Alzheimer’s at a local long term memory care facility, she found him talking in the great room with others. So, she quietly sat down beside him. He eventually noticed her there and got excited and said “You are on our team.”  And, that is what we need to remind our loved ones of – we are on your team.

Well I’ll be

On the short ledger which lists collaboration in Washington, our last two Speakers of the House, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, helped lead a brokered deal to get the “Medicare Doc Fix” passed. After the House overwhelmingly passed the bill, the Senate did as well, and the President signed the bill into law. This has been a sore spot for years requiring Congress to periodically amend how doctors treating Medicare patients would be reimbursed. The link below will delve into a little more detail, but know this significant show of bipartisanship is welcomed by many. This is how Congress used to act before things became too polarized with campaign rhetoric replacing actual facts to govern with.

And, this deal may set a trend at least for the next few days, with a deal that gives Congress the right to bless the deal with Iran on the nuclear talks, but in a way that gives the President the right to negotiate terms with the various partners. The President has said he will sign this bill, if passed. It came out of Committee with a 19-0 vote.

The next action would be the human trafficking bill which had been held up over some abortion language, but apparently the parties are close to an agreement. With that bill passed, Senator Mitch McConnell may allow the long overdue vote to confirm Loretta Lynch as the new Attorney General. She is well-qualified, but has been held up for this vote and since she could not find fault with the President’s immigration executive orders when questioned by the Senate Confirmation Committee (who did confirm her).

So, are the folks in Congress and Washington listening? This a welcome sign, but I won’t count my chickens until they are hatched. May the force (of collaboration) be with them. We need it greatly.

We need to ask more why questions of our leaders

With the mainstream news media largely asleep at the switch, fewer people are asking leaders “why” questions. On so many of the national news outlets, important topics are not covered at all or glossed over with an eye toward more even-handed coverage. I am all for covering the news in an even-handed way, but it needs to be data-based and commensurate with the issue. Some issues are not 50/50 issues, so they should not be portrayed that way unless one side is not getting a fair reading of the data.

It is like expert witnesses in a court case, where you are only allowed two. What if one side is supported by 97% of the experts and the other side is supported by only 3%. With a 50/50 presentation, if the one with the least popular opinion is a better presenter or arguer, then the side he supports might win. I use these numbers as an example, as the current debate over climate change being man-influenced is supported by 97% of the scientists, with the contrary view being held by only 3%, often by scientists who are not environmental scientists.

Yet, the dilemma is the scientists who are in the 97% may not be the best of presenters of complex information. And, with news being less deep on subjects, it is not uncommon for the news reporters or talk-show hosts to get lazy and have someone who is disguised as an unbiased source who is in essence a public relations person paid by the industry. So, what is presented as scientific opinion is not as such, and the person purveying this opinion is a far smoother presenter than the actual scientist. These folks are portrayed in the movie “Merchants of Doubt” who are handsomely paid to throw water on scientific data and researched opinion.

But, we need to ask more why questions of our leaders and these individuals, as the arguments may not be well grounded as presented. I wrote recently about the states of Florida and Wisconsin both passing measures that say public officials cannot use the words “climate change” or “global warming” in statements or in writing. Why? “If your argument as a climate change denier is so solid, then why must you squelch dissent? The only logical answer is you do not want others to hear the data-based arguments behind climate change.

Another why question for the governor of Florida is “if climate change is not real, then why are four counties in Florida surrounding Miami spending $200 million to improve infrastructure to stave off already encroaching sea water?” And, the bigger question for the Florida governor, is “since Florida is a peninsula surrounded on three sides by sea water, why are you not more concerned by man-influenced climate change?”

While we are on the subject of protecting our environment, let’s scroll back to 2005, when Vice President Dick Cheney inserted language in the 2005 Energy Policy Act saying that frackers would not be subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act or Clean Air Act and the EPA could not prosecute them under those acts. Why? If fracking is so safe as the forthright spokeswomen on the commercials tells us and as we are constantly told by industry, why does the Vice President, who is former President of Halliburton, have this language inserted? I have asked this of public officials numerous times and have never gotten an answer. This is one of those questions asked of Jack Nicholson questions in “A Few Good Men.” The answer is we cannot handle the truth – fracking is not safe; nothing that hard is. And, the data shows it.

We citizens must be asking those questions and more of them. Here are a few more.

– Senator Cruz, why do you expect people to vote for you after you single-handedly shut the government down hurting many people and causing a delay in signing two important trade agreements. And, why do you not like Obamacare as it is helping so many in your state who were previously uninsured, as Texas was dead last in the country with the most uninsureds?

– Senator McConnell, why did you have a report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service buried before the 2012 election which showed Trickle Down Economics does not work?

– President Obama, why is your presidency one of the least transparent ones after you told us you would lead the way in transparency?

– Former Governor Jeb Bush, why do you have your brother’s former foreign affairs advisor when he mishandled so many things (around false pretenses to invade Iraq, letting Osama Bin Laden get away early, for firing the Iraqi police force who now are part of ISIS, for not listening to your generals and going in with too few troops, etc.)?

– Speaker Boehner, Senator McConnell, former Speaker Gingrich, you are all recorded on video saying climate change is real and man-influenced in 2008, yet you changed your position and are on video saying the science is not clear in 2015 – why? Mr. Gingrich, why did you say you were wrong to say you were wrong about climate change, when you ran for President after doing a TV commercial in 2008 with Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying you had changed your opinion and climate change is real?

– Former Secretary of State Clinton, tell us again why the emails were deleted?

– Former Senator Jim DeMint tell us why you changed your mind on Romneycare after actively advocating it for the entire country once Obamacare copied much from it?

– Finally, for any politician, why did you change your position on this issue?

There is plenty more to choose from, but we must ask these and more why questions and do it repeatedly until we get answers. Why? Because not many will.

Clash of the Titans – Insurers vs. Frackers

No, I am not referring to the impending Bush/ Clinton race next year. I am referring to an interesting court case which is developing in Oklahoma. While the fracking industry has denied that the underground disposal of fracking wastewater has been causing earthquakes, the science has been very compelling. Without even being a scientist, Oklahoma had “count on one hand” earthquakes per year and now in fracking areas, there are multiple hundreds of quakes per year. Yet, the industry was able to use its might to squelch scientific reports that said this by state officials who govern these things.

Well, this titan is now facing a new competitor that happens to be another titan – the insurance industry. You see, the earthquakes have been causing personal and business property damage. So, people who have been so devastated are filing claims with their insurance companies to pay natural disaster rebuilding expenses. But, the insurance companies are saying not so fast. These are not your run of the mill natural disasters and are known to be “caused by” not just correlated with the deep underground disposal of fracking wastewater. So, since the frackers knew this and made an effort to cover up the findings, the fracking industry should be culpable for these claims and not the insurance companies.

Rather than go in to more detail, suffice it to say, we are talking real money here with multiple hundreds of earthquakes and the precedence it sets for other claims elsewhere. And, the fracking industry is not going up against a landowner who they can outgun in court. They are opposing another titan who happens to have a very good argument. There is much more to come. My guess is the fracking industry will want to settle this quickly to avoid the press over what they knew and did not heed. However, they would need to tighten the settlement to limit the precedence. But, I find it interesting nonetheless, as this is a clash of titans who have a lot to win or lose.