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.”

Buying America for $889 Million

What you say, you did not know America was for sale? A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how the oligarchy is more empowered to buy political influence given the amount of money in politics. This investment is further facilitated by the Citizens United and McCutcheon US Supreme Court decisions which give greater reign to folks with money to fund political candidates.

On cue, the Koch Brothers, two of the wealthiest men in America whose money is traceable to the fossil fuel industry, have publicly stated a desire to invest $889 million in the 2016 Presidential race. Note the use of the term “investment” rather than “spend.” The Koch Brothers, like other members of our oligarchy, are investing in a politician to win to insure their interests are representated. The Koch Brothers are citizens, just as we are, and are entitled to invest their money, but the remaining citizens need to be asking more questions.

– Why would you spend $889 million to sway an election?

– What do you expect in return for such an investment?

– Is the fact that your money is linked to the fossil fuel industry have anything to do with your investment in the potential next President?

I mention this last question in that the industry has been in full public relations campaign mode ever since “An Inconvenient Truth” was produced to reveal the impact of climate change. The PR campaign has been hugely successful in first convincing some that climate change was a hoax. Now that it is apparent climate change is not a hoax, the line in the sand has been redrawn to say climate change is real, but the evidence that it is man-influenced is based in imperfect science.

These are public relations strategies meant to confuse the issue and allow the continued expansion or perpetuation of fossil fuel retrieval and use. It should be noted the same public relations firm that was so successful with the hoax campaign is the same one who has been telling us how safe fracking is. The lack of safety of the fracking process is increasingly becoming apparent as the evidence of water and air pollution, earthquakes and environmental degradation mount.

While I am disappointed in some of the measures taken by President Obama on fossil fuel expansion, he is at least doing something about climate change and accelerating expansion in renewable energy which is producing jobs, as well. Yet, the deference to the fossil fuel industry made by the President is not good enough for some of our wealthy citizens who benefit from the fossil fuel industry. With a faster migration away from fossil fuel needed, the Koch Brothers need a President that will do their beckoning to push off climate change actions that the rest of the world is doing. We are already ten years behind where we should be, but they want to push it further out, until it is too late and they have made their money.

These are the questions we should be asking. Since we do not pay attention and some who do will only pay attention to pseudo news sources that are speaking from the Koch playbook, we are not in a good a position in our country to fend off the wolves from our democracy. I recognize there are wolves on both sides of the political equation, but we need to be mindful of who money is being spent by and on and ask questions. Please look into the Move to Amend the constitution to not equate money with free speech and to note that corporations are not people. A link to the petition is below. http://movetoamend.nationbuilder.com/petition.

To be honest, there is very little chance that “we the people” can hold back this tide. Money is power and does buy influence, but we must at least do our best to maintain our democracy and keep our politicians honest. We can start by paying attention to real news and asking more questions.