Corruption abounds

If you have read my earlier posts, you may recall that I cite the comments of a missionary in Nigeria who has lived in the world of disenfranchisement for many years. He believes the global corruption is one of the top three concerns in the world behind global poverty and climate change.

He sees corruption standing in the way of doing positive things and sowing the seeds of poverty and disenfranchisement. This lays the ground work for extremists who seize opportunity to say we can help. On “Real Time with Bill Maher” the other night, Raihan Salam, a frequent guest, made the astute comment that the extremists swim in the sea of the disenfranchised and woo them to consider working for them.

But, the corruption fuels the fire of poverty and disenfranchisement. A significant investigative journalistic effort has just been published which documents the pervasive nature of this corruption. It referenced as the Panama Papers and can be found with the following link:

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/panama-papers-reveal-massive-international-corruption/ar-BBriMmx?ocid=spartanntp

This stuff makes my skin crawl. It has been happening for years, whether it is a democratic, communistic, or totalitarian regime. You need only to think of the Robber Baron period in US history and consider the undue influence of an oligarchy of leaders today. Some in the oligarchy are attempting to unwind laws that affect their ability to influence and make even more money.

You can remember George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm,” who described how the pigs lived in the house while others toiled under communism. You can see why Putin is able to control power by making his oligarchy wealthy. You can ask how did Hosni Mubarak have $81 Billion in wealth when deposed, while his Egyptian people tried to get by on $2 a day. You can consider the vast nepotism in Saudi Arabia, where the ruling families live a much better life than others in a very rich country.

History has two basic truisms. People will die once they are born. And, people who have, will take advantage of people who do not. We must guard against this, which is why Teddy Roosevelt fought so hard against the Robber Barons. Everyone deserves a “square deal” as he called it. A chance to live a reasonable life and feed, clothe and protect their family. What is interesting is the data shows “we do well, when we all do well,” which is a quote from Franklin Roosevelt. When too much goes to too few, we suffer more and the economy does not reach its full potential.

Please read this article. And, then begin asking questions of our leaders.

 

Interviewers – please refrain from answering your own questions

While on hiatus, John Oliver’s show “Last Week Tonight” did a brief skewering of shows like “60 Minutes” where the interviewers have a terrible habit of answering their own questions. Since I like “60 Minutes,” it made it more fun to see interviewer after interviewer feed the answer to the person being interviewed, who would echo the response or just agree. When this form of questioning and fed answering was packaged together where you witness it done twenty times in a row, it is quite humorous.

Yet “60 Minutes” is not alone in this interviewing style. It is more widely used by interviewers on all kinds of shows, be they entertainment, pseudo news or more serious news shows. If there is any thoughtful hesitation by the interview subject, the seconds are filled with the interviewer’s perceived answer to which the subject must react. It becomes less amusing when the interviewer is not interested in the response and is more antagonistic to the subject being interviewed. These tend to occur on the pseudo news networks or with an overbearing host, even if the show is a comedy show.

When I see this occur either in a demonstrative or antagonistic way, I find myself saying “Let him (or her) answer the question.” I enjoy watching Bill Maher’s show “Real Time with Bill Maher” due to the subject matter, comedy and guests, but find he often will talk over someone who does not entirely agree with his view. To his credit, he will have people with opposing views on his show and he tends to be more well-versed than many of his non-expert guests, but when he disagrees (or curtails conversation) with a true subject matter expert, it is often puzzling. But, Maher does a better job than many of the hosts of  talk shows which become a shout fest, where listening to the other person’s view is a challenge.

Much of this gets back to people using their own set of facts to foment their opinion on something. If the subject offers any opinion that creates a dissonance in the interviewer, whether they are anti, neutral or pro the argument, then it is unsettling to the interviewer and audience. It may also be due to the interviewer wanting to show how smart he or she is to validate his or her worth to his viewers and management. I also think the lack of control over the interview scares people, as they don’t want to be shown to be foolish. Some people cannot help themselves in this regard.

Yet, what we are lacking through this interview process, is more people asking “why” questions. Why do you believe that? Why did you change your mind from an earlier stance? Why should we believe you now? That would be scary, but would give us more answers to our many questions. One final comment about talk show hosts – just because you have a talk show does not make you right or right on every opinion you espouse; it just means you have a talk show.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

An age-old problem has only been made worse with the proliferation of technology and social media outlets. Our ability to access information and broadcast such to millions has now made the actual execution of a bad idea even more clinical. In other words, people are so removed from the pain they inflict, the question of whether they should do something becomes prey to situational ethics, if that word is even part of the thought-process. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

An example occurred earlier this week when Jimmy Kimmel interviewed some kids about the government shutdown. When he shared with the kids that we owe China over a trillion dollars in debt payments, he asked what we should do about it? One of the children responded that “we could kill all the Chinese.” When I first saw this online, I winced. There are times when humor oversteps its boundaries and this was one of them. The footage of this video has been aired in China and plays into anti-Chinese rhetoric. Kimmel has apologized profusely on air and to protestors outside his studio. He knows now he and his producers showed poor stewardship and overstepped boundaries. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Also this morning, I saw a political cartoon which has a line of an attack that I find offensive. The cartoon was lampooning Governor Chris Christie over his weight by suggesting he was torn between running for president and eating a dozen doughnuts. I felt this was out of line and have felt similarly when Bill Maher and others have done fat jokes at Christie’s expense. I watch Maher’s show as I like that he has different kinds of guests who discuss the issues of the day that are not discussed as much by other sources. I also enjoy much of his humor, but even Maher crosses lines that he should not cross. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

As I sit here, I don’t know why anyone would want to be in the public eye. With that notoriety comes the exposure of every thing about you online and through friends or confidantes wanting to break a story. Each of us are more exposed than ever, so beware of what you put in the public domain. Just ask the Toronto mayor about the video footage of his indiscretions that keep coming out of the woodwork. Further, it makes it difficult to be candid in public because your words can be taken out of context and used against you. So, even when you try to be good or provocative, your misused words can haunt you.

When John McCain was first running for President against George W. Bush, he was actually ahead of Bush in early polls after a win in New Hampshire. Yet, he was derailed by Bush’s political team in South Carolina. Among other things, it was pushed into the public eye that he had fathered a black child out-of-wedlock, which played right into extreme conservative views. The real story was he and his wife adopted a girl of Bangladeshi descent. From Wikipedia,  “It didn’t take much research to turn up a seemingly innocuous fact about the McCains: John and his wife, Cindy, have an adopted daughter named Bridget. Cindy found Bridget at Mother Theresa’s orphanage in Bangladesh, brought her to the United States for medical treatment, and the family ultimately adopted her.” Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

I am also frustrated when people, who were in lock-step with the beliefs of a public figure working side-by-side to promote a cause, decide to do a tell all book after parting company. In other words, they air dirty laundry to promote sales of their book or create more paid appearances. If they were that aggrieved by the individual, then why did they not resign or try to change the individual’s beliefs? You tried to sell us this person as a candidate or entertainer before and now you want to make money off that exposure to tell us how many problems they had. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Let me close with the following observation. Stephen Colbert invented a word for our times called “truthiness” which implies everyone has a his or her own version of the truth. There are so many distortions of information in the public domain, once aired they are out there for Google searches. It takes a concerted effort to ascertain whether something is a genuine source of data and if the opinion giver is well grounded. Unfortunately, while more truths can now be accessed by the many, more misinformation and disinformation is out there disguised as truth. People in power and running for office know this and many use this power to misinform or disinform you. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Gasland Part Two – Continues to beat the real fracking story drum

Let me first say I am not an expert on fracking and I am certainly not a scientist. But, I am a truthseeker and read and watch as much credible news and science sources on this subject. I say this as Josh Fox, who produced, directed and narrated the award-winning documentary “Gasland” about the underlying story of fracking that the fossil fuel industry does not want you to know, was shouted down by one of Bill Maher’s guests on his show for not being a scientist, an attempt to discredit his extremely strong base of knowledge on the subject. Fox appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday as he has made a follow-up documentary called “Gasland II” which will air on HBO July 8. I have written many posts about fracking, but if interested, you can read more about “Gasland” with this link to an earlier post:

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/gasland-a-view-of-the-real-fracking-story/

Fox began his exploration of fracking when he was solicited by a fracking company to drill beneath his land in Pennsylvania. What he found in his exploration in talking first hand with affected people who live on or near fracking sites is a very compelling argument against fracking. What he found by talking with scientists who know and measure the subject is also a very compelling argument against fracking. From what he shared about “Gasland II” it will be beating the “real fracking story drum” even more. It was quite apparent from his work, study and discussions with people who have witnessed first hand or know the subject matter and are not influenced by the fossil fuel industry, that Fox knows his subject fairly well. So, when Niall Ferguson, a Harvard history professor on Maher’s show tried to discredit him, it actually backfired on the Harvard man.

I have noted before that my father told me when people shout or name call, their argument is weaker. And, what I have observed on Maher and others’ talk shows, just because you are an expert or knowledgeable on one topic, that does not automatically make you an expert on all topics. This was not the first time on this show that Ferguson tried to shout others down and not let them talk. So, when Fox finally said you have not allowed me to say anything, Ferguson said you have had enough air time. This was not the Crimson’s finest moment. When Fox was allowed to speak, he showed a tremendous grasp of the issues and shared why we should be concerned.

Let me pause for a moment and note that I did not watch “Gasland” until January of this year. My concerns over fracking began two years ago and were raised when I heard Dr. Sandra Steingraber speak and read her two books – “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah.” My concerns became even greater when I read Steven Solomon’s book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization.” By the way, Solomon’s book is the best history and forward-looking book you will find, so maybe Professor Ferguson could give it a read. I also have read summaries of various studies by the University of Texas and several scientific and news reports. Here is what I have found, which jives with what Fox is seeing.

The risks of fracking are known and have been masked by the fracking industry for years. This is why Vice President Dick Cheney, who was President of the largest fracking company in the world, inserted language in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to exempt frackers from clean air and water acts.

Fracking causes air pollution. The fracking engineers say that at least 5% of the methane, arsenic and mercury gases escape into the atmosphere. There is no way they can harness all of these gases.

Fracking causes water pollution. The chemically toxic water they frack with finds a way into the water table. Water alway does. The chemicals are carcinogenic and cause other issues for humans and animals.

Disposing the water beneath the ground has been proven in Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma and in the UK to cause earthquakes. Note, the fracking doesn’t, but the disposal of water deep ground does. Fracking was shut down temporarily in the UK for this reason.

Fracking trashes the infrastructure and environment around the fracking site with road damage and environmental degradation. Fracking does create jobs, but most of them are hired guns from outside of the state. So, the frackers make money, the landowner makes money, the workers from out-of-state make money, and the state and its residents are left holding the bag on environmental and healthcare costs.

– But set all that aside. Fracking takes a huge amount of water. At 2 to 6 million gallons per frack, ten to twelve fracks per well and 1,000 or so wells in an area, that is 20 to 72 billion gallons of water. Water is one of our two dearest resources and we have water concerns already. If you think I am all wet, the frackers and farmers were fighting over water in Kansas and Oklahoma last year and are fighting, as of this writing, in California. Since they grow so much food for us, this should give you pause.

My wife laughs when I say this, but “I didn’t make this stuff up.” Yes Professor Ferguson, I am not a scientist. I am a business person who reads a lot. I am also well aware of Return on Investment (ROI). Treating the environment poorly and using up dear resources which impact people need to be factored into all ROI equations. And, I know a lot of developers as well. Not all, but a typical developer’s modus operandi is “get in, make your money, get out and leave the problems for others.” What I have found is an industry who spends a lot of money trying to misinform others on what needs to be a more open discussion about the pros and cons of fracking. And, as any history professor would know, industry data at its very best is “subjective” when the source has a vested interest in the outcome. At least that is what this non-scientist, non-historian thinks.

The United States of Entertainment

While watching “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” during the year-in-review show, one of the reporters (it was either Bernard Goldberg of Jon Frankel) made the comment we as a country do not care about news or the real issues. He then made an interesting observation – “We are the United States of Entertainment.” Last night on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” a Palestinian American reporter named Rula Jebreal, who may be one of the best guests I have seen on the show, made the comment about the US – we are one of the most highly entertained and least informed countries in the world.

These two quotes are so very telling. America does not have the patience to be well-informed and some choose venues of news that lightly cover issues of import, but even worse, misinform or disinform in a Machiavellian sort of way. Fox News would be Exhibit A for the last two categories of misinformation, as they do not resemble a credible news source anymore. They have been more propaganda than news, but they have lately gone postal on some of the stuff they have been running. Yet, there are many Americans who never read or watch news, unless it is about sports or entertainment. So, they would be representative of the new normal in America. We are the United States of Entertainment.

By being so ill-informed, we easily panic about things that we need not panic over. Bill Maher made this observation on the same show last night, the newscasters make us panic over everything, but are overlooking the obvious things we should panic over. He made a keen observation saying we should be panicked over climate change. To prove his point, Michele Caruso-Cabrera, a conservative bent reporter (by the way, why must reporters have a bent?), started blathering about not believing in global warming because Al Gore sold one of his businesses to an Arab interest. What in the hell does that have to do with anything? Gore does not personify global warming, he just helped make it more of a known problem. What happens to Gore does not affect the rising sea level or increasing numbers of forest fires, droughts and floods.

In one of my favorite movies, “The American President” with Michael Douglas as the president, his character made the comment which I will paraphrase – America is advanced citizenship. You have to want it real badly. It means letting someone shout at the top of their lungs against the very thing you have been shouting at the top of yours in support. It means the flag has to be more than a symbol. It means people have the right to burn that flag in protest over grievances. This is one of my favorite lines about America that reveals our greatness as a country.

Yet, to the point made by this fictional president, we have to want it real badly. We have to be more informed citizens. Jebreal’s follow-up comment on Bill Maher last night, is you have the most powerful military in the world. She added you owe it to the world to be informed. So, what do we do about it? Today is supposed to be day of citizenship, a National Day of Service. And, on Martin Luther King Day, an African-American President will be sworn in for the second time. This more than anything else we could do represents that America is the land of opportunity. So, on this day of service let’s commit to do several things which should not be hard to do in the greater schemes of things.

– Listen to each other more. Then ask questions about why someone believes the way they do about an issue. Try not to judge. A good example is the Affordable care Act. It is far from perfect, but has already done some good things and will do more. Yet, many have been told to be against and cannot articulate why. If you share some of the good things that it does, people may warm up to it a little.

– Read and watch reliable sources of news. I personally watch BBC World News America and the PBS Newshour. Their reporters are more informed and the subject matter experts are just that. Read varying points of view as well. Do not only read or listen to people who cocoon themselves with people who feed them what they believe.

– Try to understand the source of information. Here is a simple example. The NRA, Defense Industry and Fossil Fuel Industry are three of the most powerful lobbyists groups in the US. The make a lot of money off legislative decisions. So, they have a vested interest in the outcome. At best, they are subjective on related issues. So, study more closely data from those entities supporting their arguments.

– Try to understand the context of things. Anyone can be made to look stupid if a quote is pulled out of context. Also, note when something was said. Someone saying something for shock value as a youth is far different from someone saying it as a 45-year-old. Also, my friend Amaya reblogged an article written by Mayor Cory Booker while at Stanford. If you only read the first part, you would have said he is bigoted against gays. Yet, the point of the article was his epiphany that he was wrong in his earlier bigotry and had changed.

– Talk about news around the dinner table. Encourage your kids to voice an opinion and read more about what is going on. Help them understand others’ points of view. Dr. Wayne Dyer calls this “defending the absent.” As a parent, I love it when teachers ask the kids to read the paper and find an article of interest.

Folks, I realize fully life is short and we crave entertainment. Yet, we have many who do not have the same options and opportunities as we do. So, we must be informed. We owe to ourselves, we owe it to our neighbors, we owe it to fellow Americans and we owe it to our fellow human beings on this planet.