A Laser Beam on Honesty

Brian Williams, the respected journalist and NBC news anchor with the highest TV ratings, was caught in a fast breaking scandal on Sunday, February 15. Williams had reported that he had been in a helicopter in Iraq that had been hit by enemy fire. On “Reliable Sources” , a former Navy Seal, Don Mann, was interviewed about Williams account. He vigorously refuted the claim, saying , “None of it can be true.” He explained that journalists were never embedded with Navy Seals on helicopters. The interview went viral on cable networks. Brian Williams false claim became the big story on every broadcast. Within a week, he was suspended by the NBC network for six months without pay. His reputation was in shreds and his career appeared to be over based on a “morality clause” in NBC contracts.

It should not be surprising that telling a lie about his wartime experience was Brian Williams downfall. Honesty is a value ranked very high by Americans for public figures. Remember the apocryphal story of young George Washington telling his father the truth about chopping down the cherry tree. When parents are asked on a survey to rank the values they consider most important to impart to their children, guess what has ranked number one for decades. Honesty. This answer in research studies cuts across all class levels, ethnic, racial and religious groups, and regions in the United States. It’s Honesty with a capital H. No contest.

During the height of the Brian Williams scandal, two psychiatrists wrote an Op Ed piece in The New York Times on the effect that memory has on recollection of past events. It was not an apology for Williams, but they raised certain evidence that memory can change our recollections for the better or worse. That it may not be a deliberate process, rather a blurring of the past through the years. To find a definition of a lie, we can consult Roget’s Thesaurus : “lie, n. prevarication, fabrication, fib, falsehood, story, cock-and-bull story, little white lie, whopper , untruth, perjury, fiction, deceit, misrepresentation, stretching the truth, barefaced lie.”

Many parents instill in children from earliest years, “It’s important to tell the truth.” Example: “Did you take Susan’s doll? Did you put it in the dryer?” Pause. No response. “Tell me the truth. I won’t be angry if you tell me the truth.” A three year old weighs her options and the expression on her mother’s face. And her past experience, of course, with telling a lie or telling the truth. The point is that telling a lie or the truth starts early with children. And they sort out the consequences very early as well. They also learn from listening and watching what we, the parents do. That may be the best teacher of all. They hear discussions around income tax time, when all the papers are spread on the dining room table. As they grow older, they hear comments about “reporting certain items and not others.” They’re very smart. They learn all the time about honesty and telling lies.

They also hear false compliments between friends and relatives about all sorts of every day events. “That was the most delicious turkey I ever tasted.” “Love the new drapes. They’re so colorful. Brighten the room.” Later at home, the truth comes out. “She always cooks the turkey too long. Dries right out.” “Those drapes were in terrible taste. Looks like a Holiday Inn.” Very confusing to a child. Two conflicting statements. First, positive. Then negative. Are their parents telling lies?

Dissecting a lie always leads us to context, motivation and consequences. Whether for a child or for a president. Do we always tell it like it is? De we consider hurting the feelings of other people? Are we truthful in our responses when someone asks us to comment upon their attire, their appearance or their work? Do we soften what we say? Do we weigh the consequences implicitly before we answer?

Think of the people you know. Whom do you consider to be a truthful person? Is that an important measure in how you judge character? Is that what you value in friendship? Are there other measures as important or more important to you? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. They are posed as springboards to reflection and discussion.

It may be time to turn our attention to other attributes: Kindness. Empathy. Conscience. Loyalty. Tolerance as opposed to prejudice. Standing up and speaking out for what we believe in. These too are worthy ideals we seek to instill in our children. We have to remember that they learn every day from our actions as well as our words about all our values — including honesty.

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Extra! Extra! How Do You Get Your News?

In the days before radio and television and the Internet, people learned the news from the morning and evening editions of their newspapers — from what they read in the printed word.
Of course, they also used the telephone and the back fence to pick up the latest items of interest and gossip of a local or personal nature.

Today we live in the era of radio, television and the Internet— with Breaking News of events happening right before our eyes. There has been an explosion of varied sources that we use to learn the latest news as well as opinions and analysis of the news by pundits of all political and social hues. Is it a cornucopia of plenty? How do different people sort out the sources? Where do you get your news?

Local papers, such as The Press of Atlantic City, provide a daily morning edition with reporters’ bylines from the major news services, Associated Press, Reuters, Knight Ridder.
Coverage is national and regional with separate sections for Region, Business, Sports and Lifestyle. The Editorial page and Op Ed page are reserved for analysis and opinion rather than reporting the news. The section one turns to first depends strictly on personal preference. The want ads? The obituaries? The Dow Jones average? Letters to the Editor?

National papers available in our area include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Front page stories in these papers carry the names of reporters on their staffs. On any single day, The Times reporters will be writing their stories in New Delhi, Washington, Ferguson, Baghdad , Sydney and Los Angeles. They are first hand accounts of major events on the national and international scenes. The paper also carries special interest sections; Metro, Business, Sports, The Arts, Science and Food. Again, readers select on a personal basis. Scan the lead stories on the front page? Turn to the Op Ed page to find a favorite columnist. Check the latest corporate scandal? Read the book reviews? Check last night’s ball scores. Do the daily crossword puzzles which progress in difficulty from Monday through Saturday, leading up to the big Sunday puzzle in the Magazine section. (Yes, I do cheat at times with Rex Parker on the Internet.)

For many Americans, newspapers are no longer their primary source of news. Television has become the way many people start their day, turning on the morning news casts on one of the major channels, ABC, NBC and CBS. They pick up the national news as well as the local news and weather forecasts. Three minutes can give a capsule version of a dramatic event with live pictures and reporters on site to convey the latest stories. Earthquake in Indonesia. Insurgent attack in Iraq. Explosion in a coal mine. Vivid pictures. Human interest interviews. Some men and women start their days with Cable TV on MSNBC , CNN or FOX NEWS. FOX appeals to conservative viewers and leads in ratings. MSNBC attracts the liberal viewers coming in next with CNN more straight news in the middle.

Mainstream news wraps up the day for millions of Americans at 6:30 P.M. each evening with the half hours anchored by their three anchors. The rating wars among them are fierce to garner the most viewers and the most dollars from advertising. How much of the half hour is devoted to hard news and how much to human interest segments? Do people watch while eating dinner. PBS public TV stations offer an hour of world news at six p.m. with the current team of two women anchors — a first. Their segments offer a range of speakers and analysis on the major topics of the day. Their hour is not interrupted by ads that appear on cable news shows.

The cable networks unreel round- the- clock programming for anyone who wants to follow stories and talking heads on a 24 hour basis. This is a different playing field from the mainstream channels. It aims at fast moving stories, breaking news, and guests who will offer no-holds barred arguments. Also available are C-Span 1, 2, 3, 4: public service channels that film the Senate and House when they are in session and show programs of public interest throughout the day and weekends. For even handed in-depth analysis, these stations offer a wealth of information and interesting ideas. The added bonus is they do not carry advertising.

Millions of Americans prefer their news from the radio. They listen while they drive or in the kitchen while they work. This ranges from NPR, public radio, to local news stations and national syndicated commentators. The listener can also find the entire range of political and social commentary — from Rush Limbaugh on the far right to Bill Mahr on the liberal left. Limbaugh is by far the most widely syndicated radio pundit reaching millions of dedicated listeners every day.

It is interesting to know how young men and women learn the news. Every four years, The Pew Research Center studies young voters to find out what are their favorite political news sources. What they discovered in 2004 was that voters under 30 were rapidly giving up the traditional news sources — the newspapers and television networks. They were turning to blogs, the Internet and TV comedy shows and satire for their news. They preferred the Jay Leno and David Letterman monologues, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for the news. With about 750,000 viewers Stewart presented a half hour blend of parody and outright fake news on cable. There’s a serious expression on his face, as he shoots down important politicians and popular culture figures alike.

Kathleen Knight, professor of political science at Barnard College, and an expert on political satire, said of Stewart and other young satirists like Andy Borowitz and Ali G. that they do more than inform young people. “They also get inspiration from them. They speak truth to power, and that’s just what young people who are so turned off by the national news media, need to hear.” She is referring to one in five Americans, most of them under 30.

Another fast growing source of news is on the Internet and the Web — the world of the blogs. This phenomenon is exploding on the Internet. One of the first was Wonkette.com written by Marie Cox in Washington about the political world. The Christian Science Monitor described her blog, “Wonkette’s arrival on the steps of the Capitol is a quiet victory for creeping National Enquirer values.” Another critique was from The Nation, “Plying gossip above all, eschewing serious debates about politics and policy.” Yet, her blog and other blogs are popular ways people use to gather news and to write comments themselves. There’s an exchange of ideas and opinion. And there’s no question that the American public loves gossip and clever writing.

We live in a country that treasures freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Those rights were guaranteed in the First Amendment of The Bill of Rights in l791. Little did the authors of that amendment know of the technological advances that would burst forth hundreds of years later. We are surrounded by multiple purveyors of the news with shadings of opinion as well as straight reporting. We read. We listen. We watch. The news is there for the taking. Hopefully, we sort out the facts from the opinions and reach conclusions that make sense to us and our lives.

Measuring Happiness

Measuring Happiness

Some very interesting recent research has produced results about happiness that overturn commonly held assumptions and beliefs on the subject. Have you ever heard that “Money can’t buy happiness.” Or a man or woman of 50 lamenting about having a “mid-life crisis”. How about, “Kids have all the fun.” and “I wish I were 21 again!”

It’s a given that we Americans live in a youth obsessed culture. Most films are action thrillers aimed at young men in their late teens to mid 20’s. Fashions begin with the young and are adopted by older generations. Food and drink products cater to children and teenagers’ tastes. In every area of life, being young is held up as the model to emulate. Billions of dollars are spent every year on cosmetics, clothes, exercise equipment and the nip-and-tuck path to keep us fit, energetic and looking as young as possible. But does that mean we are happy?

During 2009, Gallup conducted a comprehensive national survey based on phone interviews with over 350,000 people across the country. The questions and answers fell into six “happiness” indexes: (As you read them, why not consider your own answers.)
*Life Evaluation: Personal assessment of one’s present life and life in five years on a scale of 1 to 10.
*Emotional Health: Measures a composite of respondents’ daily experiences, including laughter, happiness, worry, anger and stress.
*Work Environment: Measures job satisfaction, ability to use one’s strengths at their workplace and whether one’s supervisor treats him or her more like a boss or a partner.
*Physical Health: Measures chronic diseases, sick days, physical pain, daily energy and other aspects of physical health.
* Healthy Behaviors: Measures smoking, consumption of fruit and vegetables, and exercise.
*Basic Access: Measures basic needs optimal for a healthy life, such as access to food and medicine, having health insurance and feeling safe while walking at night.

The data from the survey is being described by Gallup as the largest database with information concerning Americans’ well-being in existence. There are correlations with location, ranking the 100 cities with the highest Well-Being index. Boulder, Colorado ranked first with Holland, Michigan known for their tulip festival second, and Honolulu in third place. The age of the people interviewed was recorded and produced some of the most surprising results of the survey. Starting at 50 years, there was a sharp rise in the level of happiness that respondents reported. Arthur Stone, the lead author of a study based on the Gallup poll, suggested that changes in brain chemistry as we grow older affect our happiness index. Neuroscientists have shown that in younger adults, the amygdala, the emotional core of the brain, is activated when exposed to negative and positive input. However, adults in their middle and later years appear to have the ability to screen out or lessen negative emotions and “light up” when they see positive images.

The Gallup findings on age matched results from an earlier research study from the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin. The report found that the most anxious years were the 20’s and early 30’s , the time of career development, dating, marriage and raising children. Adolescence and teen years were also more stressful than midlife. “From many points of view, midlife permits many of us to feel on top of the world, in control of our lives, and well enough pleased with what we have accomplished to seek new outlets of both self-expression and giving back to society some of what we have earned and learned.”

The psychologist, Erik Erikson created 8 stages in his classic model of psychosocial development. Stage 7, Middle Adulthood, 35 to 65 years , poses the challenge of Generativity vs. Stagnation. Stage 8, Seniors, 65 years onward face the challenge of Ego Integrity vs. Despair. The research findings from the Gallup and Wisconsin studies on happiness describe men and women in midlife and beyond who continue to grow and feel a sense of wholeness in their selves and their lives. Stage 6, Young Adults, 20 to 34 years cope with the challenge of Intimacy vs. Isolation, reflecting the research findings of higher levels of anxiety and unhappiness during those years.

Pew Research Center conducted a major survey on happiness in 2005, looking at different demographic groups. They found, contrary to the aphorism that money can’t buy happiness, that based on family income, 49% of respondents with an annual family income of more than $100,000 said they were “very happy”. In contrast, only 24% of those with an annual family income of less than $30,000 said they were “very happy”. (One should note that although a correlation is established, it does not prove causation.) Other interesting findings were: Married people , 43% very happy, while unmarried 24% very happy. Married people with children were about as happy as married people without children. Those who worshipped frequently were happier than those who did not; Blacks (28%) were less likely than whites (38%) or Hispanics (34%) to respond as very happy. Sunbelt residents were happier than those who live in the rest of the country. Suburbanites happier than city dwellers. Certain non-correlations: People who had children were no happier than people who did not; Retirees were no happier than workers; Pet owners were no happier than those without pets. The age data showed that the young were less happy than the middle aged or old, in agreement with the 2009 Gallup findings.

The Pew Research Center headlined their findings, “Are we happy yet?” They reminded us that , “Americans have always had a thing about happiness. We all have certain unalienable rights, declares our Declaration of Independence, among them, ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’”

Buying The Presidency and The States!

Charles and David Koch, the ultra-conservative billionaires, plan to spend almost $900 million on the 2016 presidential campaign. This stunning amount was announced on Monday, January 26 at their annual winter donor retreat near Palm Springs, California. Hundreds of wealthy conservative donors gathered for three days of issue seminars, strategy sessions and meetings with rising Republican elected officials.

The Koch brothers spent nearly $400 million supporting Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign while the Republican National Committee and the party’s two Congressional campaign committees spent a total of $657 million. There is no question that 2016 will be the most expensive Presidential campaign for both parties. Barack Obama was the most successful fund-raiser in presidential history, and a “super PAC” supporting Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic Candidate, is aiming to raise over $300 million in the coming months. Once the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision, July 18, 2008, unleashed the torrent of dollars, the sky appears to be the limit. Although small donors will continue to play a part, the scales have tipped to the coffers of the richest one percent of Americans.

Charles and David Koch own Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the United States, (Cargill is first) headquarters in Wichita, Kansas. An energy and manufacturing conglomerate, Koch Industries operates oil refineries in Texas, Alaska and Minnesota along with Georgia Pacific lumber, Dixie Cups, Lycra Stainmaster carpet and Brawny paper towels. Annual revenues reach about $115 billion. The Kochs as political libertarians have long advocated drastic cuts in personal and corporate taxes, less oversight of industry — especially environmental regulation, and less social services by federal and state governments. Their positions mirror the Republican and Tea Party calls for small government, opposition to health care reform and fewer restrictions on business and industry. A report from Greenpeace called Koch Industries, “a kingpin of climate denial.”

In the August 30, 2010 issue of The New Yorker Magazine, an investigative reporter, Jane Mayer revealed Charles and David Koch and their vast empire and influence to the American public. Up to that date, they had been almost unknown except for certain philanthropic activities. For over four decades, they had been working under the radar to build the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the fifty state legislatures. ALEC’s members are thousands of state law makers who attend retreats and receive model legislation. Their nominal dues make up less than one percent of ALEC’s annual revenues. ALEC’s main funding comes from huge corporations: tobacco, insurance, pharmaceutical, the National Rifle Association (NRA) as well as Charles and David Koch.

Their activities emerged into the public’s consciousness in recent years when news organizations linked ALEC to the voter photo ID laws passed in state capitols controlled by Republican legislatures. These laws have been controversial in presidential and mid-year elections in key states since they were first introduced. They are supposedly aimed at voter impersonation fraud that has never been proved beyond one percent nation wide, documented by the Brennan Center For Justice. The different types of Voter ID actually serve to suppress millions of votes, particularly among older and young voters as well as Afro-American and Hispanic voters. Most state Voter ID laws have been argued in the courts– at times overruled while others have been upheld.

There were three young Republican senators invited to the Koch retreat this year — all probable candidates for president: Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. They took part in a candidate forum on economic issues on Sunday evening. Rubio spoke about liberals who supported campaign finance reform because of their “Hollywood” sponsors. Cruz ,who usually has repealing Obamacare as his focus, switched to defending business and industry as job creators unfairly attacked by Democrats. Paul joined Rubio and Cruz in dismissing a question about whether the rich had too much influence in politics. For the first time, Koch aides allowed reporters to view live video of the candidate forum. In addition, the Koch brothers have begun to lessen the strict secrecy that has long cloaked their political efforts. They have each granted a series of interviews to talk about their philosophy and views. And their privately held firm, Koch Industries, has started a “We Are Koch” campaign, featuring the company employees. Not quite “just plain folk” but an attempt to soften their formidable image.

The agenda of the expansive Koch network will focus on reduction of regulation by economic and environmental agencies, increased tax cuts for business, industry and the wealthy and of course, altering Obamacare if possible. With Republicans controlling both houses of Congress as well as a majority of state governors and legislatures, the prospects for successful influence and cooperation are strong. The Koch network includes :Americans for Prosperity, a national grass roots organization; Freedom Partners , a trade organization run by Koch advisors that plans the retreats and brings in donors; and Concerned Veterans for America – predominantly politically conservative Republican veterans.

Income inequality has become a major issue and concern throughout the United States. As the income and wealth of the top one percent continue to rise, the earnings of the middle class and working class remain flat and stagnant. The widening gap is vividly displayed on charts. Attempts to raise the national minimum wage appear to be stuck in the Republican Congress although certain states and districts have enacted minimum wage increases on their own. President Obama stressed the need for an increase in the federal minimum wage in his State of the Union address. It will certainly be a major issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. There is little doubt that the Democratic candidate will favor an increase. Who will be the Republican candidate and what will be his position? What we do know is that Charles and David Koch are committed to winning the 2016 presidential election and will back the Republican candidate with their vast dollar resources.