The Pursuit of Truth in a World of Lies

Stephen Colbert invented a word a few years back on his show “The Colbert Report” which was prescient – “truthiness.”  His painful point for all of us is every source seems to have its own version of the truth. In his comical way, he noted truth is fluid rather than being more concrete. Yet, we must endeavor to seek the real truth. We must all be “truthseekers” which is actually a Human Resource personality test term given to people who want to help others understand the truth.

I think one thing people would all agree on is we don’t care for being lied to. With so much money and power at stake on so many things, politicians, business leaders, industry leaders, religious leaders, etc. have been prone to embellish the truth. Yet, with the advent of the internet and competitive news sources who don’t (or care to) dive into detail, there are so many misinformed and disinformed truths to combat the real underlying truths.

Some people and organizations even hire public relation firms to establish their version of the truth as the underlying gospel, when in fact they know it is a lie – I call this disinformation which is straight from George Orwell’s classic “1984.” As a result, you truly have to work at understanding what the real truth is. You have to be a truthseeker. And, absent these truths, it is quite difficult to come to more sensible solutions.

To give a few examples of what I mean, here goes:

  • The US fossil fuel industry hired a public relations firm whose sole purpose was to dissuade people from believing global warming was real. They did their job so well, Congress even took up in committee the issue of “global warming is a hoax.” This PR measure set the US years behind where we should be on combatting climate change. There is a good chapter in the “Global Warming Reader” compiled by Bill McKibben, one of the planet’s global warming experts, on this topic.
  • The same PR firm was hired by the natural gas industry (per McKibben) to convince people how safe fracking is. By its nature, fracking is not safe nor can it be made totally safe. In “Gasland II,” a former fracking engineer notes that 5% of fracking cement casings fail immediately, so if a firm is fracking 10,000 wells, then 500 will fail immediately. The question to which I have never been provided a good answer is “if fracking were safe, why did Vice President Dick Cheney, the former President of one of the largest fracking firms, have inserted in the 2005 Energy Policy Act that fracking companies need not be subject to the Safe Drinking Water or Clean Air acts or have to disclose the chemicals they use in the process that wind up in our environment?”
  • Bill Clinton told us time and time again, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Of course you did. You will be remembered as one of our better presidents, but you lied to us about this issue. And, by the way, my guess is you had sex with all of those other women, too.
  • Ronald Reagan told us on national TV that we were not selling weapons to Iran to pay for fighters in Central America. He lied to us about the “Iran/ Contra” affair and could have been impeached if Oliver North had not fallen on his sword. Reagan went on TV later to say he lied. By the way, this is the origin of the disembodied helmet in Doonesbury to define George H.W. Bush, as he denied being in meetings about this topic where the roll call said he was present.
  • Richard Nixon lied about so many things, when the knowledge of the tapes of the Oval Office became known, he started erasing things. Two of my heroes are Elliott Richardson and Archibald Cox who both resigned as they did not want to give up the pursuit of the truth when their boss the Attorney General told them to stand down at the President’s behest.
  • President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld and our friend Dick Cheney also built a case of lies of weapons of mass destruction that led to the invasion of Iraq. One of Rove’s men, Scooter Libby, went to jail for outing a CIA operative to discredit her husband whose report was misused for going into Iraq. American and allied troops died along with countless Iraqi civilians. So, this was a disservice to Americans and our friends.
  • While Barack Obama lied about not having to give up your insurance policies (he did), the bigger lies have been perpetuated by the Republican Party distancing themselves from the fact Obamacare is largely a GOP idea. While not perfect, complex and rolled out poorly, Obamacare needs to continue as it will help millions of people. What I find hypocritical is when people like Jim DeMint who supported Romneycare before it was morphed into Obamacare, was a huge fan, yet, once the latter was passed, said both are unconstitutional. I also detest people doing everything in their power to make it fail and then point a finger and say “I told you so” when it struggles. By the way, the President deserves every criticism he is getting for the roll out.
  • Obama is far from perfect, but he has been given a bad rap on the “failed stimulus” bill to help boost the economy. This PR campaign mantra, where all Republicans had marching order to always say “failed stimulus” worked so well, the legend has become the acceptable truth. The trouble is the truth is it did not fail. As reported by Time Magazine, six econometric firms said the stimulus bill actually aided the economy by 2%. It was just not enough. In my mind, it could have been better if it did not restrict itself to “shovel ready” projects, but it did not fail in its efforts.
  • Even after last night’s “60 Minutes” show on the NSA, I am not fully convinced that Americans are not being spied on. It sounded all good, but I am struggling with this still and don’t believe the President is giving us the unvarnished truth.
  • From the movie “Toxic Hot Seat” regarding the flame retardant chemicals used on furniture covers, we learn the three chemical producers have been proven to collude against those who say the chemicals were causing cancers in firefighters and residents. The critics said the data indicated that the retardants actually did not work very well and the industry information was pulled erroneously out of context from a report that the exact opposite conclusion. Writers for The Chicago Tribune got to the bottom of a story that these three companies had an organization advertised for firefighters, when in fact, the chemical companies were its only members. Once this was known, the states of California and Maine abolished the use of these flame retardants going forward.
  • According the Journal of Acute Trauma and Surgery the US has 87% of the children and teen gun deaths from the top 23 wealthiest countries. Yet, this fact is largely ignored by the NRA whose primary mission is to perpetuate the sale of guns. Guns are part of the problem and we must do what 90% of Americans want and extend background checks to all purchases and make longer waiting periods.
  • Finally, we have Tea Party whose premise is we are “taxed enough already.” While they are right to focus on the deficit and nobody wants to pay taxes, according to the Paris based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US is one of the least taxed countries in the world. Out of 34 countries, we are third from the bottom on taxes as a percent of GDP and almost 10% below the average ratio of the 34 countries.

I welcome your comments and thoughts. I have tried to be truthful with the information I presented above. As an independent voter, I am not a fan of biased version of the facts of either party. People may say I am more one-sided in my comments above. That is true. I left the GOP in 2006 for several reasons – stance on global warming, guns and social issues, but also due to a higher propensity I see of making stuff up. Democrats embellish the truth as well, but I see a much a heavier weighting toward our conservative friends, especially with the popularity of Fox News which has taken it to a new art form.

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.