Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sex, Lies, and Videotape (& Cell Phones)

I detest liars. Yeah, I've told a few whoppers in my day, so I include myself in that detestation. As much as I'd like to be, I'm not some paragon of virtue. And so, I won't tell you that I have never lied.

But I will tell you, most of them have been mainly of the innocuous variety--the little "white lies" that we're all guilty of telling, from time to time, to ward off personal embarrassment, to avoid awkward social moments, to be polite, or to keep things from becoming hopelessly complicated.

I told c.c. that I would blog about lying and cheating one day, and that day has arrived, a little sooner than I anticipated.

And so that the air is clear: I'm discussing this very normal, but unfortunate, human failing in an impersonal way. I have no one in particular in mind, unless he or she is public, and then only to serve as examples, or illustrations for the topic at hand.

Sadly, I can choose from thousand of instances. But, neither space, not your patience is long enough to accommodate that kind of comprehensive treatment.

One of the now familiar and infamous attempts to brand one as lying comes from that chamber of decency, ethics, honor, honesty, morality, and purity, that we all know as our U.S. Congress. It came during a certain Joint session of Congress, while the President of the United States stood speaking on the subject of health care reform, before that very august body of lawmakers, and the American people:

"You lie!"

It was the shout heard around the world. And because it violated congressional decorum, convention, and customs, you'd expect that person, who committed such a violation, to be slapped with censure, at the very least. Well, the House did manage a "reprimand," and that was that, and Joe Wilson went on to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from grateful Republicans.

Most recently, Tiger Woods was caught in a lie, and cheating. Many critics believe that Tiger could have spared himself a great deal of public ridicule, and private angst had he come forward with a full disclosure of marital infidelity from the outset.

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

We can never rewound events and take an alternate path, just to see which crossroad decision would produce the most favorable outcome.

But this much we do know: In Tiger's case, the truth would have silenced much of the speculation that ensued from his accident, and his short stay in the hospital. Had he beat the clock on disclosure, professional crisis managers believe he could have gotten out ahead of the controversy, and took control of the dissemination of information, rather than leaving it up to the news media, the tabloids, and cable news to run with it, and shape the story more sensationally than it deserved.

Of the two examples I've provided so far, it's not the Tiger Woods indiscretions that disturb me the most (although I'm sure for Elin, and her family, it's paramount), but the Joe Wilson lies, deceptions, distortions, and political machinations. They are the ones that do the most harm to our national welfare.

Sarah Palin lied when she said that then candidate, Barack Obama, palled around with a terrorist. She and McCain didn't win, but she netted a lucrative book deal, became a contributor on Fox News, and is paid at least a hundred thousand dollars as a much-sought-after speaker.

Sarah and others lied when they said that health care reform had provisions for death panels that could, substantially, "pull the plug on grandma." Polls have shown that such lies and others about healthcare reform have a rather large following.

Curiously, the only "death panels" in operation these days are those inherent in our current health insurance plans, where thousands are denied health insurance annually because of preexisting conditions, or because they have been dropped from their health plans because their insurers believe them to be financial liabilities. These are the real death panels. Some studies say as many as 45,000 of our fellow citizens die annually, because they don't have health insurance, but that doesn't stop Sarah Palin and other Republicans from misrepresenting the health care bill currently under congressional consideration.

Our politicians, those having the public trust, and the prestige that goes with it, are not only caught periodically cheating, and sent to jail, but are caught daily lying, fudging, distorting, and misrepresenting the truth. And they're, mostly, unrepentant when found out, or when the truth surfaces, or is shoved under their nose. Several come to mind, but exVP Dick Cheney stands out as poster boy, and visual definition of dishonesty and political grandstanding.

Many republicans trashed the Economic Stimulus Package, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, in the Halls of Congress and on radio and television, but smiled broadly behind oversized checks as the money is doled out to their constituents, or they credit the Stimulus as a job creator, or job saver, when it is politically safe to do so. Hypocrisy and lying coming together to create an effect that only congresspersons can create.

Have lying and cheating become a way of life here in America? Is it our lot in the same way that wide-spread corruption marks other cultures--that's not to say that we don't have our share of that, too?

Did you know that a survey--almost a couple of years old now--rated women leaders smarter and and more honest than their male counterparts?

If only politicians, Wall Street Bankers, health-care insurers, and lobbyists, were the only ones who practiced the fine art of "ripoffology" (I made that up. But I like it.). But when Tax Preparation chains urge you to lie and cheat, or end up lying to, and cheating you, when all you wish to do is comply with your civically mandated duty to account for your annual income, you know the nation has stooped to an all-time low.

A tax preparer discussing his elderly client's disastrous tax experience a year earlier--who is now getting a tax refund, and is in tearful relief, because she is in desperate need of the money--paints a horrible picture of greed, dishonesty, and, as far as I'm concerned, elder abuse.

A year ago, things didn't go nearly as smoothly. She had paid just under $200 to file her taxes with a tax preparation franchise and was expecting a refund of about $600, which she desperately needed. Her eyesight wasn't very good, and she didn't understand how to report income from the form RRB-1099 that she received as a result of her husband's old job with the railroad. In addition, she had a handful of old stocks, mostly shares of utility companies, that paid out interest from time to time. She explained to me, almost in a whisper, that up until his death, her husband had taken care of everything. Now that he was gone, she wasn't sure what to do.

She was living from check to check, dependent on her husband's retirement income, and the bills were starting to pile up. She knew she would be getting a tax refund --she always did -- and a neighbor told her she could get her money back faster by asking for a RAL, a Refund Anticipation Loan. In fact, the neighbor told her, she would get her money the very next day.

At the franchise, the woman who took her money at the front desk told her she was making the right decision. Otherwise, she was told, she could expect to wait up to 12weeks to get her refund. My client didn't think she could wait that long.

She paid a "processing fee" of $75, an additional $60 "service fee" (equal to 10% of her expected refund amount) and a $50 bank fee. Combined with the tax preparation fees, she paid nearly $385. By the time all of the fees were paid, she was left with just over $200, about one third of her initial refund.


Where on the list of honesty does our nation fall when measured against other nations? Did you know that there's a National Honesty Day? "[T]he day was established by M. Hirsh Goldberg, an author and former press secretary to a governor of Maryland."

Would you like to know why he established it?

The founder of National Honesty Day, celebrated each year on April 30 as a way to encourage honesty in the workplace and the marketplace and to honor the honorable, has called for a nationwide emphasis this coming year on honesty to prevent the increasing examples of lying and fraud that are harming society and damaging our nation's quality of life.

M. Hirsh Goldberg, former press secretary to a governor of Maryland and author of five books, established National Honesty Day in the early 1990s after spending four years researching and writing The Book of Lies (Morrow), which has been translated into Japanese, Korean and Chinese. National Honesty Day is now listed in Chase's Calendar of Events, a repository of special occasions found in most public libraries. April 30 was selected, said Goldberg, because April begins with a day dedicated to lying and should end on a higher moral note.
Source: prnewsnow.com.

Did Goldberg foresee the coming collapse of integrity on Wall Street, a collapse that nearly wrecked our economy, and wanted to head it off?

How much did the Great Depression result from a crisis of integrity, and a hearty appetite of rapacity? Perhaps what we label as cyclical economic activities in the markets is nothing more than cyclical movements around a wheel of right and wrong, greed and more greed, and are as predictable as the hearts of men and women. Perhaps we can follow the ebb and flow of the economy and the markets, simply by sampling the ebb and flow of human fealty to what is right and just, and our adherence to moral and ethical standards of honesty and public goodwill.

We need a Greedometer, a Truthometer, and a Heart Chart, one that tracks and plots, not our heart rhythms, but the frequency of major misdeeds in society, so that we can know where we stand economically, and socially, the way the Doomsday Clock is used to apprise the world of just how close we're edging to a nuclear Armageddon.

Movies have been written exploiting this character weakness mostly for laughs, but dishonesty is no laughing matter, if you have had your identity stolen (the protection of which has created a burgeoning market of identity theft protection services, a market, if not in the billions, soon will be).

How long can a nation endure--remain strong, healthy, and prosperous--when lying and cheating have become a way of life, our national pastime, and our national shame?

13 comments:

c.c. said...

"How much did the Great Depression result from a crisis of integrity, and a hearty appetite of rapacity? Perhaps what we label as cyclical economic activities in the markets is nothing more than cyclical movements around a wheel of right and wrong, greed and more greed, and are as predictable as the hearts of men and women. Perhaps we can follow the ebb and flow of the economy and the markets, simply by sampling the ebb and flow of human fealty to what is right and just, and our adherence to moral and ethical standards of honesty and public goodwill."
_____________

There is a lot to think about in your blog post, BD, and I thank you for giving me so much to think about. Maybe what your are saying is that the reality is that we live with, and in, a corrupt world, but we want something better. And yes, I do agree that someone like Cheney has had a far greater impact with his lies and deceptions than Woods.
There is a very cynical part of me that believes that Wall Street is so corrupt that the economic collapse wouldn't matter very much to those who profit from it, that they would still get their bonus, and we would bail them out, but even worse, that the control over labor would tighten, that the hope for change that Barack Obama promised would become a giant, insurmountable hurdle. I don't think the Obama administration would be able to change the corruption on Wall Street when it had collapsed, the only thing his administration could do was to restore the economy. But, even there, the stimulous money for jobs has been thawrted, again and again, and I can't help wondering if this is just one more way to not only block all attempts by President Obama to restore jobs, but also, to keep hold of the reins on the workforce, to stop us all from attaining the simple things, a liveable wage, a decent place to live, health care, and a good education for our children.

And sadly, it seems that the opposition is much more motivated to accomplish those goals.

Black Diaspora said...

@c.c.: "Wall Street is so corrupt that the economic collapse wouldn't matter very much to those who profit from it, that they would still get their bonus, and we would bail them out...."

Precisely. Those practices that led to the economic collapse in the first place, continue, and several of these financial institutions are still investing federally-obtained zero percent interest money to milk the American people further, rather than lending that money to cash-strapped businesses.

They have no conscience, and without regulatory reform to force corrective behavior, the excesses that almost wreck this economy will continue unabated.

"I don't think the Obama administration would be able to change the corruption on Wall Street when it had collapsed...."

We have to get regulators out of bed with those they're sworn to regulate.

It happened in the financial sector, and most recently with the Toyota recalls debacle.

"And sadly, it seems that the opposition is much more motivated to accomplish those goals."

I agree. We need a counterinsurgency to meet those forces that are currently shaping policies right now, and putting their players on the field to work for their agenda.

I'm not sure what it'll take to mobilize our side.

Ernesto said...

The lying will stop as soon as most people are ready to accept the truth. I think we still have a long way to go.

Black Diaspora said...

@Ernesto

Almost daily, we get new rounds of lies, and/or cheating, that are stunning for their boldness and magnitude.

c.c. said...

I don't think a lot of people are able to face anything head on, when there is so much unemployment. I remember that movie Silkwood, the attorney for the real live case was Gerry Spence. It really stuck out in my mind that people would rather be exposed to toxic chemicals and get sick rather than not have a job.

Black Diaspora said...

@c.c.: "I don't think a lot of people are able to face anything head on...."

There's a new movement, Coffee Party USA, gaining steam. There're also attempts to undermine it by associating the founder with a liberal agenda.

For me, liberal is good, progressive better, but humanism best, as it is people centered, concerned primarily with human "interests, needs, and welfare."

The philosophical concerns of it doesn't interest me, as much as its focus on people.

I haven't investigated the Coffee Party thoroughly, but would like to know what you think of it, if you decide to give it a closer look.

Some believe that it's a response to the Teabaggers.

c.c. said...

I do think that they are a response to Teabaggers, and I am not sure what to think about this group yet. However, right off the top of my head, I do not really like them. :)))

Blinders Off said...

BD,

Send me your email address again. I have an email I want to send to you. edeett@aol.com

Black Diaspora said...

I have sent it, Blinders Off.

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote] smiled broadly behind oversized checks as the money is doled out to their constituents, or they credit the Stimulus as a job creator, or job saver, when it is politically safe to do so. Hypocrisy and lying coming together to create an effect that only congresspersons can create.[/quote]

Black Diaspora:

You, Ernesto and I are equal partners in a business.

We have a vote on the question of taking out a large loan from a bank.
I vote against the loan because I know that it will have to be repaid.

You and Ernesto vote in a favor of the loan, thus overruling me.

QUESTION BD: Should I take my portion of the proceeds from the loan OR allow you two to split the money equally while I am on the hook to pay back the 1/3rd of the loan that I am on the hook for?

Black Diaspora said...

Your analogy is flawed, but I'll play along.

If it's a business loan, all three of us probably have a contractual understanding of some type that says a majority decision rules.

Under those circumstances, you'll either sever your ties with the business, or go along with your business partners.

If you give up all rights to a claim against the business, you won't be on the hook for loans the business make, nor profits that accrue to it.

Since you're no longer a vested member of the business, you're no longer entitled to a portion of the loan the business negotiates.

Besides it's a business loan, and not a personal loan--a loan ostensibly made to enhance the business in some fashion, and not to line the pockets of the loan makers.

I know the case you're trying to make, but it's riddled with inconsistencies, and isn't applicable to a government model.

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