Manic Monday

Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles defined Monday a little differently for us singing the following lyrics penned by Prince Rogers Nelson (the artist once again known as Prince).

“It’s just another manic Monday
I wish it was Sunday
‘Cause that’s my funday
My I don’t have to runday
It’s just another manic Monday”

With Hoffs’ singing echoing in your mind, here are few thoughts for the week on this “Manic Monday.”

– Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had a manic few days, but it will only continue as ghosts come out of the past. I am still trying to come to grips with the severity of the issue, but I do know being tried in the press of “gotcha politics” won’t get us to the correct answer. Washington and its pundit followers rarely like to talk about real issues, so we will spend our time over who said what to whom and how. Even though her husband was one of the most effective Presidents we have had in the last fifty years, with his wandering eye and trysts, there is plenty of fodder for this election, so we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

– Speaking of manic, combining the Ferguson report which indicts a police force for extremely poor behavior to African-Americans in the community with the 50th anniversary remembrance of the Selma march, it shows how far we have still to go. The Ferguson report is offensive to many, including the many police officers who try to do their job in the right way, day-in and day-out. And, it is not restricted to Ferguson. On the flip side, I am rather amazed at the lack of attendance of members of the GOP leadership at the Selma and earlier 50th anniversary events remembering various civil rights milestones. This does a disservice to the bi-partisan support that LBJ needed and got from the GOP to get civil rights laws passed. It also shows how the current leaders  of the GOP are scared to show up, so as not to ostracize the extreme members of their party. Counting only House Whip Kevin McCarthy and former President George W. Bush, there were few sightings of others. This is poor form which I hope will be remedied for the next event. Maybe the party would rethink some of the voter suppressive state laws that have been ruled unconstitutional  and are in courts today.

– Then, there is more mania, when we consider the ruffled feathers of North Korea Kim Jong Un, who is declaring war on anyone who does anything that is offensive to his country and pride. While he seems justified to be upset with South Korea and the US doing drills together just south of his country, he does not realize that when you rattle your saber at people over time, you should not be surprised when they prepare for the worst. If I were him, he may want to look at South Korea’s flourishing economy and relationships with buyers and sellers around the globe and say maybe we should emulate that behavior rather than spending more money on weapons. When you make yourself an island, do not be surprised when people don’t come to visit.

– Finally, mania abounds in the Middle East, but at least the fight is being taken to ISIS by several countries, including the US. I have said before, the brutality of ISIS toward Muslims and others has been a tipping point. It helped other Muslims see who the real enemy is. Some have noted it is akin to Christians fighting back against the KKK for hijacking  their religion for evil causes. While ISIS continues to bait westerners to join the fight with ground troops, the consolidated effort is doing more than pushing back on them. I also read where progress is being made against Boko Haram who has aligned itself with ISIS. One thing is for certain. A sure-fire way to slow down recruiting of disenfranchised young people is to show ISIS’ fallibility which is being revealed more and more. People want to join a winner and the more losing ISIS does, the harder it will be for them to be a draw. Yet, as they are cornered more, it is imperative that leaders are more egalitarian and inclusive to ameliorate the causes of disenfranchisement. They need to put on the clothes of Nelson Mandela who showed by example how to govern different people.

I hope everyone’s week is less manic. And, now that I have a few cups of coffee in me, I am ready to go. It just another manic Monday…..

Merchants of Doubt – Those who lie for a living

I have written before about the public relations efforts of the fossil fuel industry to convince people everything they do is perfectly safe. The efforts also play on our minds and hearts that they create jobs and safer communities, at the same time they are stealing our lunch money. One in particular post plays off the five D’s of public relations – deny, discredit, disinform, diffuse and defray. A new documentary is out which highlights these efforts called “Merchants of Doubt” written by Robert Kenner and Kim Roberts and directed by Kenner.

The story focuses on those who mask science, use science out of context and in many cases distort the truth to tell consumers the products they are buying are not harmful. The public relations consultants use these folks to present an alternate truth which is fed hook, line and sinker to politicians funded by these industries. The documentary begins with the smoking industry to convey the message smoking is not addictive. The PR merchants had a unified campaign which led to several CEOs of the companies lying in front of Congress in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary.

But, they did not stop there, as if you can sell cigarettes are safe, you can sell just about anything. They helped sell folks that the flame retardants in fabric would save lives using a scientific study taken out of context as evidence. When the scientist who led the study found out about this years later, he said that is not what the study found. The flame retardants actually caused cancer in owners of the sofas, caused cancers in the firemen and women who were putting out the fires while not really retarding flames. Yet, the industry staved off regulation, until it was discovered the industry was funding what appeared to be supportive charity to kids, but was really a PR sales engine to obfuscate the truth. There is another documentary on this subject called “Toxic Hotseat.”

Yet, the two biggest campaigns have unfolded in the last few years dating primarily back to the time of “An Inconvenient Truth” about global warming. The PR folks started with a campaign that “global warming is hoax,” and were (and are) so successful about it, Congress has had people to testify on these subject. And, the current Environmental Committee chair, Senator James Inhofe, is a denier who recently brought a snowball into the chambers to reiterate global warming is a hoax. Anytime you see one of these bumper stickers or hear the new party line of “I am not a scientist” to offer contradictory opinion, remember these merchants of doubt. The answer to this statement, by the way, is “neither am I , but I can read.”

The other is on how safe fracking is. The PR campaign has been equally robust on the safety of fracking and the significant number of jobs it creates. Yet, like the climate change deniers, this message is starting to break down with actual data piling up to the contrary. No process this hard and expensive is perfectly safe, yet that is what we are constantly told in commercials. Even if it were safe, it is only as safe as its worst operator and there are a lot of them. However, with the air and water pollution being caused by fracking, with the environmental degradation, with the earthquakes that have been proven to be causal with water disposal and correlated with the process itself and with the sheer volume of water used that cannot be reused, this is one Return on Investment that has been miscalculated.  The costs, especially the healthcare costs, are vastly understated.

Please understand why these merchants get paid a lot. They are very good at what they do. And, it is easier with the new information age, as everyone can have their own version of truth. It is critical for us consumers and citizens to question data sources, news sources and politicians. Trace the money. Who owns what and who funds what? Why should we get rid of all regulations? Do you stand to benefit from that change? We must be more skeptical of information as often it is opinion or advertisement conveyed as news. Some online sources look like news, but they are written by people to close to the action or in on the action. It makes it hard to get at the real truth. But, we have to.

Companies make money selling us things. They want our money. The will try to get it legitimately, they will distort the message and some will outright lie. The hard truth is climate change is here and causing problems already. We are late, but can still make a difference. A good truth is solar energy is one of the fastest growing employers in the country as the cost to produce continues to fall. Fracking will occur, but it is not as safe as it is portrayed and we need to move away from it primarily because of the vast use of water and the impact on our health. Chemicals are over used to grow things. The greatest threat to our civilization may be anti-bacterial resistant bugs that move beyond our bodies ability to withstand them.

These are real truths. So, do me a favor. If you hear the disclaimer, “I am not a scientist,” the next phrase should be taken with a grain of salt as it is like untrue. If anyone tells you something is “perfectly safe,” do not believe them. The only thing perfectly safe is the assurance you will die at some point. If anything sounds too good to be true, question it. And, look for cited and peer-reviewed data sources conveyed by people who have a track record of good journalism. A news organization that has been proven wrong on over half of their news stories by Politifacts would not qualify as a source of good journalism.

http://www.salon.com/2015/03/06/merchants_of_doubt_meet_the_sleazy_spin_doctors_who_will_stop_at_nothing_to_obscure_the_truth/

But, he has a 80% approval rating

Some times phrases are used in the news in a way that portrays them as solid information. On more than one occasion, when referencing Vladimir Putin and his ability to look people in the eye and lie to them about Russia’s role in Ukraine, it is noted “but he has a 80% approval rating.” This piece of information is said like Russians must be OK with his performance because it is so high. What the news person fails to realize is “of course, it is high; if you were in the 20%, your life may be in danger.”

What happened this past week to opposition leader Boris Nemtsov who has shot dead from behind within a couple yards of the Kremlin is not an anomaly. Opponents of Putin have a way of finding themselves in prison or no longer living. So, with his KGB like affinity and desire to recreate the USSR footprint, disagreeing with Mr. Putin is not a good business to be in. It is like “The Outlaw Josey Wales” movie, where the bounty hunter says being a bounty hunter “is a living.” To which, Wales responds, “Dying ain’t much of a livin, boy.” It is not much of a living opposing Putin, even though it still must be done.

This is not unlike the approval ratings of Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Un. Both experienced approval ratings in the high 90% range. I think they were cognizant of not saying 100% as that would appear as a false positive, so they fudged the numbers downward. In Russia, with a more free society over the last twenty years, those 20% still believe they have the ultimate freedom to do and say what they want. Yet, there are still enough people around who remember and can counsel to not be on someone’s list. Nemtsov was on such a list and was about to call Putin out with evidence of his lying about Russian involvement in Ukraine.

Of course, I like to keep things simple. If you are not involved in Ukraine, why are European leaders bothering to talk to you? By speaking with them is that not prima facie evidence that you are involved in Ukraine more so than you let on?

So, news people, the next time you cite the 80% statistic, you may want to caveat that the percentage is likely artificially high. The Russian people deserve to know the truth about what is happening, so they can reach their own conclusions. They are not hearing the truth from the state controlled news there.

Please do not rewrite history, there is too much to learn

In the US, a few states have acquiesced to the push by some conservative funding groups to whitewash history. The target is the Advanced Placement US History curriculum. The problem the group is solving in their minds is we do not pat ourselves on the back enough and discuss American exceptionalism. I will forego the word exceptionalism as I can devote a whole post to this, but when we try to hide our warts and how we have protested or overcome those warts, we are missing a key part of our greatness – our ability as citizens to protest and right a wrong.

I have written before about May 35 which is a real reference to an imaginary date. Per the attached article in the New York Times, it is a reference to what happened in Tiananmen Square in China on June 4, 1989, which has been expunged from Chinese history, including internet search references to that date. So, to make sure the Chinese kids remember this protest which was brutally squashed by the Chinese army, historians established a May 35 web link.*

I mention this extreme, as we must know our history, the good, the bad and the ugly, to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Here are few things we must never forget and constantly remind ourselves and question the why, the where, the what, the when and the how around these issues. If we do not, we will repeat the same mistakes.

– our forefathers did not give women the right to vote in our US Constitution. This was not remedied until 1921 after a significant and building level of women protests.

– our forefathers did not disallow slavery, but to give the southern states more clout agreed to count slaves as 3/5 of a person. Slavery was not outlawed until near the end of the Civil War in 1865.

– our ancestors conducted a war on Native Americans who would not play ball to let settlers live amongst them as we seized their land. These tribal leaders were constantly lied to, mislead and slaughtered in some cases. Eventually, we made tribes move to designated areas for their own protection.

– during the industrial revolution, business tycoons exploited everyone and everything to make their profits. These folks were called Robber Barons and it took a concentrated effort of President Teddy Roosevelt to make sure Americans got a Square Deal. The traits of these Robber Barons can be found today in major funders of political elections who want to win and do away with those pesky regulations around job safety, pay equity, and environment, etc. that get in their way.

– one of our greatest Presidents in FDR confessed later his chagrin over having to place Japanese Americans into guarded camps during World War II. It was a malpractice on the rights of Americans and leaves a bad taste in many mouths.

– we remain the only country to ever drop a nuclear bomb on people and did it twice. While we may understand the rationale, as bringing a Japanese surrender would have been a horribly bloody affair, we need to learn from this and never, ever let it come to this again.

– although slavery ended 100 years earlier, it took a major effort of protests and marches to bring codified rights of equality to African-Americans ending a long period of Jim Crow laws and the killing and maltreatment of people of color. This racism still festers in our country, but we need to shed a spotlight when we see poor behavior, such as the masked Voter ID laws that usually carry Jim Crow like provisions.

– one of the reasons Iranians do not trust Americans is in 1953, the CIA helped overthrow a Democratically elected leader to establish the Shah of Iran who was supportive of the US. The Shah was overthrown by rebellion in 1979. My guess is over 95% of Americans are not aware this happened. Why do they hate us so much, many may ask?

– one President came very close to being impeached, only saving himself from this fate when he resigned. President Nixon used to say “I am not a crook.” Mr. Nixon, you are wrong. You are a crook and ran a burglary ring from the White House, had a dirty deeds campaign to discredit Edmund Muskie forcing him to resign his campaign, and had an enemies list who you spied on with the help of J. Edgar Hoover.  While you did some good things, you got less than what you deserved as you dishonored the White House and dozens of your compatriots went to jail, including your two key advisors.

– we supported folks like Osama Bin Laden to help repel the Soviet army from Afghanistan (watch “Charlie Wilson’s War”). Once the Soviets left, we left these folks high and dry and the country fell apart. After 9/11, when we had a chance to get Bin Laden, we let him get away. To save face, President Bush led the invasion of an old nemesis in Saddam Hussein under the premise he possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. This information was fabricated from misdirection that Hussein used to let his enemies think he was more powerful than he was. We have been paying for this invasion for twelve years and will still pay for it with ISIS, who was formed from the police force we helped fire. Our weariness from the wars also led President Obama to pull troops from Iraq leaving the country less stable and underestimate the problem in Syria. A historian notes we overreacted to 9/11 and underreacted to Syria, as a result..

I could go on, but we need to remember all of these moments. We have a great country, but it is an imperfect one. We must learn from these events and avoid repeating mistakes and instead emphasize the equality of all Americans. If we forget our history, then we will not learn from our mistakes and do them again. A good example is fighting an elongated unwinnable war in Vietnam. The same thing happened in Iraq. We owe it to our soldiers to have a set strategy and a definition of what winning looks like. This is their message to our leaders – we do not mind fighting for our country, but give us support and an end goal.

Do not let anyone whitewash history. We need to know the good, the bad and the ugly, as all three are there to be found. We need to avoid the need for May 35th.

* http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/24/opinion/global/24iht-june24-ihtmag-hua-28.html?_r=0eal

A Clueless Congress blocks progress

While our President remains imperfect, several good things have happened on his watch, some with his impetus and some where he is given more credit than the office of the President is warranted. The economy has largely recovered, but more work is needed to make it be felt more equitably. The Affordable Care Act is actually working reasonably well and most Americans want it improved upon, but not replaced. And, he is at least taking some strides on addressing climate change. He is also showing judicious restraint working with Mideast and other countries to combat terrorists. Yet, we greatly need better governance over the NSA spying and use of drones and he could be more LBJ like in getting things done with Congress.

On the flip side, we have a Congress that is building off two years of being labeled as one of the most ineffective ones in our history. The current Congress has not shown any indication of changing that downward trend in effectiveness. In fact, the Department of Defense has rated our Congress’ lack of governance as a threat to national security. And, the Wall Street Journal has noted how horribly this current Congress has started out, even before the fiasco of last week’s inability to fund Homeland Security beyond one week. We will have more of the same dysfunction this week, plus it will be compounded by bypassing the White House to have a foreign leader come to speak to Congress on Tuesday. This is poor form.

The big tiff over the Homeland Security is around the President’s executive orders to improve our immigration problems. This is mainly due to the ire over the President acting when the House decided to punt after eighteen months of no action. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill that was formulated by one of the GOP presidential candidates, but it was not good enough for the extreme members of that party. And, that is representative of the problem. We must start governing from the middle where the more rational, collaborative heads reside and not placate extremists. That is why they are called extremists as their vision of America is narrow-minded and exclusive.

Until which time the Speaker wises up and starts looking to pass legislation that has a snowball’s chance, he is wasting American’s time and energy. Yes, he will tick off those extremists in his party, but that is OK. He held a vote so that we could have new people vote to repeal Obamacare. Americans have said they do not want that. And, as noted above, it is working reasonably well and that is from a variety of measures. The additional irony it is based on a Republican idea that was advocated by the Tea Party leadership before it was passed (Google Senator Jim DeMint and Romneycare and read until your heart’s content).

I would also suggest we start working off real facts and not someone’s version of the facts dressed up and misused on pseudo-news sources. When we start governing again off the real information and not campaign rhetoric, we stand a better chance of getting to better solutions for our country. Climate change is real and man-influenced; solar energy jobs are growing rapidly along with the decline in solar costs; Obamacare is actually growing in receptivity while the number of uninsured decline and cost increases are dampened; and our infrastructure needs are significant and jobs will come with those investments to improve them.

Congress we need for you to gain a clue. The President, while imperfect, at least has one. Help make what he proposes better and start doing your job. Otherwise, the best jobs plan would be to get rid of all of you blockers under the Capital dome. You deserve the poor ratings you are getting.