Three why questions

Tell me why, three why questions have not sunk into more people’s minds about the Ukraine mess caused by the US president?

– Why did people who heard the “perfect” phone call try to hide it?

– Why does the US president want witnesses called, but prevents those in the know from testifying?

– Why don’t more people believe hard working, honorable public servants who testified under oath at great risk instead of a person who is known to be cavalier with the truth?

I would like to hear some answers to these three why questions starting with people named McConnell, Graham and Barr. This American would like to hear from folks like Mulvaney, Pompeo, Giuliani, and Pence under oath. Tell me why I should not be able to do so?

Corruption may be the greatest threat we face

I have written before about the greatest long term risks facing our planet as noted by the World Economic Forum – the global water crisis and poorly reacting to climate change. I would add that population growth would pose further risk.

When I first wrote about this, a British missionary in Nigeria noted he would place corruption high on the list. Why? His reasoning is the leaders of countries throughout the world skim off the top and place friends and family in places of power to do the same. So, the majority of folks become disenfranchised as money and investment are compromised and go into the pockets of these leaders.

This disenfranchisement leads to terrorists being listened to until it is too late. It leads to leaders controlling the messaging often using people’s fears to control them. It leads to a breakdown in institutions to help people and guard against those controlling messaging.

After the missionary’s counsel and observing what has happened in the past few years, I agree that corruption is right up there with the more natural risks. A few examples might help illustrate why I fully agree with him.

South Korea has a flourishing economy with overt freedoms and investment. To the north, the North Korean people live hand-to-mouth and are the closest thing to the “1984” model we have on earth. Kim Jong Un controls everything from the messaging to the money and you dare not give the slightest hint of non-support.

Vladimir Putin is the most clever corrupt leader on the planet. He controls all messaging in Russia and actively wages cyber war adroitly using Social Media to sway pro-Russia sentiment. Some unknowing sycophants like our President praise him as a strong leader. He may be strong, but he and his oligarchy are quite wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

President Duterte of the Philippines is relatively new to the game, but his corruption leads directly to the genocide of anyone who has touched illicit drugs or openly disagree with him. The negative impact of this man on his country will continue to expose them to human rights concerns.

Corruption abounds with Erdogan in Turkey who used a failed coup (which he may have staged) to remove significant numbers of intellectuals, judges and government officials who shared opposing views. The corrupt leadership in Iraq after Saddam Hussein fell led to ostracized Sunnis allowing ISIS to take hold. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was removed from office with US$80 billion while the average Egyptian lived on US$2 a day. President Mugabe of Zimbabwe was just removed in a coup after years of corrupt leadership and before he passed the official baton to his younger wife to do more of the same.

But, we in the western world should not pat ourselves on the back too much. We hide it better through lobbyists and funders of politicians. Make no mistake, these folks give money to curry favor. In the US, we have a billionnaire President with several billionnaires in his cabinet who rode a wave of a populist movement. This would be funny if it were not so sad. His followers need only look at the proposed Tax Reform bills that heavily help the rich in America at the expense of our future. He masks this subterfuge with bombast, lying and a sharply critical tone of dissent and the press.

The downside of all this corruption is the disenfranchised are impacted and have little voice. We are also selling out our future for the bottom lines of folks with more digits to the left of the decimal point. We must speak to corruption and not let it infiltrate further into our world and country. It impacts everything else we need to fix.

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.

 

Everything is related

There is an old saying that when a butterfly flaps its wings, it can be felt as a gust of wind around the globe. The point is to say everything on our earth is related. We impact each other and our environment and the opposite is also true. Too often, we lose sight of this context, and we miss the bigger problems while solving some smaller problem.

Just to get the thought process going, here are a few interrelated issues that provide some greater context for our problems.

One of the greatest issues facing the planet is global poverty, including the United States. Poverty impacts many issues through lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of socio-economic mobility, greater crime, fewer role models, lack of investment in the local economy and, because of all this, lack of hope. If economic opportunities are minimal, crime can take its place. Note, poverty is an equal opportunity offender affecting urban areas, rural areas and now it is finding its way into the suburbs.

Another of our greatest issues relates to our resources for air, water and food. These are all exacerbated by climate change, which makes fresh water more dear, harms our coasts with encroaching seas made worse when hurricanes hit ashore, intensifies our drought areas, makes more frequent our forest fires, and impacts our fisheries and crops. Right now, with about 7 Billion people, if we consumed on average like a North American, there would not be enough resources. That should be telling and it will only get worse. When I think of renewable energy, I see it as a way not only to save our planet due to climate change, but as a way to preserve our fresh water which is used to create energy with fossil fuel or nuclear power, not to mention the huge amount of water needed to frack for natural gas.

It is not a surprise that Pope Francis has raised these two issues as his major concerns in his recent encyclical. He will be talking more about these when he comes to the US. Our leaders need to listen to what he has to say as his message is dead-on accurate. And, he relates the two issues, as people in poverty are more impacted by environmental issues and climate change. It should be noted a poor fishing village in Bangladesh went away with rising sea levels. Tens of thousands of fishermen and their families had to move to already crowded cities to find work they did not how to do.

But, I don’t want to stop there as there are two more issues that impact both of the above issues. First, global corruption is widespread and hits home in the US. It is not as apparent, but think of the amount of money to get elected in our country. These funders are buying influence. So, once the votes are cast, the average voter pales in comparison to the funders and their lobbyists. It has always been this way, but it is now heightened with the obscene amounts of money to get elected. Yet, it is worse in other places. Global poverty exists because leaders keep the money in their pockets, even money donated to help those in need.

Second, the maltreatment of women affects us all. The Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky is true. If a religion or cultural mores treat women as a possession denying opportunity, they are doing themselves a huge disservice. They are competing in a world with only half its resources. Women tend to be more collaborative than men, as men have a greater tendency to compete on more issues. I call this a zero sum game – I must win and you must lose. If you remember the movie with Russell Crowe called “A Beautiful Mind,” about the schizophrenic, but brilliant economist John Nash, he won the Nobel Prize for a theory called the Nash Equilibrium which is still used today. In essence, if we pursue goals where we all succeed to a degree, the whole group would be more successful than if we each tried to maximize our own profit. Treating women like chattel flies directly against Nash’s economic theory.

So, these are the biggest issues facing our planet in my view. They do relate to each other. Yet, we need to start addressing these issues on a concerted basis or we will not be living very nicely in the future. I would start with treating women better, as their ideas and commerce will help us fight the other fights. Yet, we need to start fighting those issues as well.

Three global problems that require more action

My blogging friend George, who spends his time helping people as a missionary in Africa, defines the three greatest global problems as poverty, climate change and corruption. Pope Francis has echoed the first two, but the last one deserves priority as well. Per George, corruption affects everything.

Corruption diverts money to help the many to the pockets of the few. The poor do not receive the help needed and become even more disenfranchised. And, the disenfranchisement makes them susceptible to terrorists who take advantage of their plight.

Corruption also helps leaders look the other way on addressing climate change. The fossil fuel industry has too much to lose and are fighting a strong PR campaign and are funding many politicians to shout it down.

We need to address these three issues in the US and abroad. They affect so many other things. We could start with empowering women giving equal opportunity to half our population. We could start with living wages as a minimum. We could start with a realization that climate change is the problem it is. And, we could come down hard on graft, influence peddling and campaign finance laws. That would help plenty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wizards of Oz

One of the most telling scenes from the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” is when Dorothy and friends discover that the wizard is not all that he is cracked up to be. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” says the very mortal wizard through a distorting microphone. This scene is indicative of what is happening with great ease in our society much to our detriment. The “wizards” behind the curtain are people of great wealth who constitute an oligarchy of individuals and companies that are actually dictating the information we receive and who we should vote for. The distorting microphone and frightening wizard persona is, in essence, represented by their Public Relations (PR) people.

These PR people are well paid because of their ability to influence consumers like you and me. We tend to buy what they are selling. This has always been the case, but now it so easy for them as they are funded by industry or individuals through super-PACs or corporate marketing budgets. There is an excellent movie on the havoc that can be wreaked by PR people in the movie “Merchants of Doubt.” A link to an article in a San Antonio online news is as follows: http://www.sacurrent.com/sanantonio/americans-revealed-as-willing-suckers-in-merchants-of-doubt/Content?oid=2423641

In short, these well paid PR people are paid liars. There really is no better way to put this. They are often given the more politically correct term of “spin doctors,” but that does not do justice to what some of them do. I am more than OK with public relations people who do their best to tell a positive story based on factual information. In other words, helping companies put their best foot forward. As a business person, I have actually engaged people to help my company tell our story. But, we did not ask them to lie or distort the truth as that would have been a disservice to our clients. Yet, the folks I am referencing care little about the underlying message and the detriment it causes.

A dilemma we face is with our smaller attention spans, limited news budgets and conflicts of interests, news agencies that seek out and report verifiable truths are few in number. Some even rely on these PR agents to be subject matter experts, as presented in “Merchants of Doubt.” These PR people can contrive a more understandable story to countervent a scientist who has spent a lifetime on an issue, but cannot break his or her message into a sound bite. One of the more troubling things about the movie “Merchants of Doubt” as highlighted in the San Antonio article is one of the PR people actually brags on his ability to defeat scientists in arguments because he says they are “boring.” A sad truth is also shown in the movie is some of these scientists actually receive death and harmful threats at the directions of “paid liars” like this guy.

How do we combat these highly effective PR people and their underlying “Wizards of Oz” who pay for their services.

– Watch, read or listen to credible news sources – PBS Newshour, BBC World News America, NPR, The Guardian, Al Jazeera News et al are reputable sources who discuss issues in-depth and often with subject matter experts. Also, read editorialists you do not agree with as they will help confirm or shape your beliefs. I have changed an opinion or reconfirmed an opinion by reading someone who shares the opposite view.

– When a politician, pseudo-news person, or leader uses labels (Nazism, Socialism, Tree-Huggers, Apartheid, Slavery) in an attempt to discredit something or limits debate over a topic (as Governors Scott and Walker did in Florida and Wisconsin over the use of the terms climate change or global warming), dig further into argument. These tactics are generally used when the labeler or squelcher’s argument is not sound.

– Ask questions of politicians. Politicians know less than you would think and hope, plus they are beholden to funders who tell them how they should vote. Why did you change your vote or opinion? Why do you believe that when more people do not? Do you expect us to believe what you just said? Remember the words of Senator Jon Kyl, when caught in a lie when he responded “You should not confuse what I am saying with the truth.”

– Get involved. We have major issue facing our planet and country around climate change and eco-energy issues, poverty issues, and corruption issues to name a few.  There are more corrupt places than in the US, but we have monied influences that dictate what they want. These Wizards of Oz are akin to the Robber Barons that President Teddy Roosevelt fought so hard against.

– When you hear something inane in conversation or on Facebook, ask the person do you really believe that? Or, maybe you could say, “that is an interesting viewpoint. I personally do not share that opinion.” Be civil in your discourse, but it is more than OK to counter an argument. I do my best, but fail sometimes, to focus on the argument or issue. I use Senator Kyl’s name above as an exemplar as this line is on the public record.

We all need to channel our inner Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion’s and seek the truth. That is the only way we can countervent the “Wizards of Oz,” and their well-paid “Merchants of Doubt.”

A couple of more macro trends

Two recent posts highlighted four major concerns for our planet. To summarize, I mentioned our aging population and growing prevalence of obesity as two overarching concerns that don’t get talked about enough. Two more are highlighted when I mentioned the diminishing fresh water supply and encroaching seas as key concerns. Today, I want to highlight two additional concerns – corruption and growing population.

Corruption in government officials is epidemic throughout the world, irrespective of the type of government. It gets the most press in places where there is an autocratic leader, but it is pervasive in democratically elected leaders as well. Even here in the United States, it requires so much money to get elected, an oligarchy has a heavy hand in who runs for office and who gets elected. Plus, elected officials invariably leave office with far more wealth than when they came in, sometimes going to nice lobbying or peripheral jobs to government where income levels are significant.

What this means varies but it is a version of the same plot line. When money is involved, the disenfranchised people have very little voice. In third world and even in second world countries, monies that are earmarked for those in need do not make it to the intended audience. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was worth $81 Billion when he was overthrown during Arab spring by those who squeaking by on less than $2 per day. In Russia, if you make too much money, your business and assets could be seized, as the oligarchy there needs to be fed. In both Venezuela and Argentina corruption accusations abound. Even here in the US, leaders cannot consider tangible issues, as their funders do not want them to.

Yemen is a very poor country with no resources and provides labor to rich oil countries like Saudi Arabia. Yemeni people could be described as a waiting room for hired labor. It is poor and will be kept poor. So, it becomes a fertile ground for the disenfranchised to hear the compelling stories of terrorists, who will use them for their purpose. In some people’s minds, they have little to lose, yet they don’t know they are being sold a bill of goods. They just know what they have is not working out. So, until we address corruption and can start using money to build industry, trade and infrastructure, terrorism will always find them.

The second concern is our growing population. With around 8 billion people our earth is having a hard time supporting us. It will get worse as we continue to grow. A British study showed that the earth can tolerate about 16 million, provided we consume resources like the average Rwandan. If we consume like the average North American, the earth can only support less than 3 billion people.

This is showing up around the world. In China, when you get away from the coastal cities, rampant poverty can be discovered. India has a severe caste system and for all of its beauty and industry, there is a huge poverty problem which is larger than the population of North America. The poorer countries will be hit the hardest by the resource drain and impact of climate change.

In the US, we have two Americas, the “have” and the “have-nots” who are growing in number. The “haves” do not understand the advantages they have and the opportunities the “have-nots” do not get. So, our “have-nots” will be exposed to resource concerns as we grow in population. Every where around the globe, there is a high correlation between family size and poverty. We must have realistic discussion about sex education and birth control, or we will fulfill our own prophesy. Plus, birth control can help in these impoverished parts of the globe by controlling the transmittal of disease from STD to AIDS to fistula due to young mothers giving birth to soon.

These areas must be addressed or we will see more of all of the other problems we are dealing with. Terrorism, pandemics, women and children being trafficked and resource issues will only continue and become worse problems. Let’s help focus on the real problems and do something about them.