Monday, April 23, 2012

Hey, Peter Elkind.

Disclaimer: This post isn't going to be about ethics.

It was a real pleasure to meet Peter Elkind the other day. He was way more humble and down-to-earth than I thought he would be. In fact, I found him to be kind of awkward -- but in a good way. I like awkward. It's real.

Anyway, I got to hear him talk in my business journalism class about what it was like reporting on some of those big, sticky stories like the BP oil spill and Enron, and listening to him really solidified a feeling for me -- that this is what I want to do with my life. I mean, this is it. I'm pretty sure I could do this every day for the rest of my life. I at least want to find out.

He just sounded so sure when he was talking about those stories -- about the people he confronted, the questions he asked, the words he wrote and wrote and wrote. He sounded like he didn't think he had any other  choice, that this is just the way you do things. And that certainty was comforting because I guess I can relate.

I graduate in just 20 days with a bachelor of arts degree in news-editorial journalism and philosophy, and I think I am ready. I think I'm ready to learn from the Peter Elkinds of the world, to walk in their footsteps until I can cut my own path through that forest. I think I'm ready to give it a shot.

So, here's to Peter Elkind. He really brightened up my day, week, life. He's one of those salt-of-the-earth journalists, and I hope that one day I can be a little bit more like him.

Thank you, Peter.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Under the Palaver Tree

With the Buffett Rule and Palaver Trees, I think the world would be a much better place.

The Senate blocked a measure Monday that would allow open debate of the affectionately dubbed Buffett Rule, which would require the super-rich to pay a minimum tax rate of 30 percent. It came down to the party lines. The Democrats were just nine votes short of the 60 they needed to move the measure forward.

These days, it seems like congress can’t do anything without bickering. Each side is so busy ensuring its place and gearing up for the next election that the important issues they should be discussing are overshadowed by each side’s attempt to get one over on the other. They’re like children in the sandbox, kicking up dust and playing tug of war with their favorite toy. But Mommy never comes to the rescue like in real life.

If we forced the members of congress to sit under the Palaver Tree to discuss issues like higher tax rates for the rich, they might just come to a consensus. They would have to, or we wouldn’t allow them to leave that spot. We should amend the Constitution already because this system doesn’t seem to be working out so well. Each member of the community would be represented under the tree – from the super-rich to the super-super-rich to the dirt poor – so no perspective was excluded. The end product of the discussion under the tree would be harmony amongst all in attendance, not some arbitrary, alienated version of the truth (whatever that is). The goal would be a consensus upon which all could agree, and it would not matter how long it would take to reach that consensus. Congress wouldn’t be concerned with some looming election; it would be concerned with what’s right in front of it. For once.

Mother Nature

In order to determine whether it is morally upright or not to eat meat, one would first have to ascribe to a certain system of morality. For instance, if you believe that murder is wrong, then you have to define what murder is: the intentional killing of a living thing. (That's one way to describe it anyway.) In this scenario, eating meat would be morally wrong. But if this were the claim, then eating vegetables would be morally impermissible, and that just can't be right. What else are we supposed to eat?

I tend to think that morality is a human-made convention and that nothing is inherently wrong, as repugnant as that sounds. However, I do believe that nature has an order of its own and that we should adhere to that order to preserve life. Nature determines the things that we ought to do because nature rules us. We are products of nature, so we shouldn't go against it. Mother Nature is my god, I guess you could say. And nature reveres life. Nature's purpose is to sustain life on the planet -- to create it and sustain it -- but new life only comes in the wake of death. Spring arrives after winter concludes. Death is the other side of life.

So, I do not think that it is wrong to eat meat. But if morality is a system of that which we ought to do, then I would say that treating animals cruelly in the process of food production is something we ought not to do. In that sense, it is morally impermissible.

Kant would say it is morally impermissible to treat a living creature as a mere means to an end. I think this applies to animals, as well, for they are alive and sentient in their own ways. Humans cannot pretend to know the inner-workings of the minds of animals, as much as they would like to, but I believe that animals are at a similar level of consciousness as human beings. It just presents itself in a different manner. So, it is morally permissible to kill animals for food as long as they are treated as ends in themselves, not just a means.

Nature would not argue that you shouldn't use the resources of this planet to survive. Should we exploit those resources? No. Should we treat those resources as mere means? No. Should we revere those resources and treat them as ends in themselves? Yes. Emphatically yes. Nature urges us to treat all life with respect, even when we are destroying it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Are we just consumers? Or are we citizens?

What's a human being's life worth to you? A million dollars? Two millions dollars? Can you put a price on life?

Some people have tried. The attorney general selected Kenneth Feinberg to run the federal fund set up to compensate the families of those killed or physically injured in the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- a task that definitely requires determining the value of a human life in dollars. But is your iPhone worth someone's life?

Apple seems to think so. Or maybe it was Steve Jobs. In the last year, four of the company's workers in China have been killed due to preventable and foreseeable causes. That's not including the ones who committed suicide.

To me, no phone or computer or iPod is worth someone's life -- no matter how cool it is. Just imagine that that Chinese worker was your mom or your sister or your uncle. You'd send that iPhone back if that were the case.

Apple has an obligation to its customers, and it's much bigger than just selling them really cool but really overpriced electronic devices. It has an obligation to its customers' values. Those horrible factory conditions would never fly here in the good ole U.S. of A. We wouldn't stand for it. So why does Apple think it's okay to do that on the other side of the Pacific Ocean?

Apple's obligation right now seems to be to pad its pocketbook at whatever cost. But it should think twice and think hard about how the company can remedy that image. Because until then, I'm not buying a thing from Apple, and you shouldn't either. Let's show them that we're not consumers -- we're citizens. We're citizens of a free, democratic country in which people can live and work and pursue their own ideas of happiness without repercussions or unnecessary suffering.

At least, that's what I thought it was.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kony kids

There has been a lot of talk over the past week about Joseph Kony, Invisible Children and what exactly we should do about the situation. The Kony 2012 video released by Invisible Children last week spurred much of the discussion and bouts of activism, but many were skeptical of the nonprofit organization's methods. Some said that Invisible Children manipulated the facts to sway their almost entirely American audience. But I think there is a bigger question here.

What about our children?

Nearly 300,000 children in the United States were at risk of being sexually exploited for commercial purposes in 2009, according to a University of Pennsylvania study, "most of them runaways or thrown-aways," said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Then if you factor in homeless children and foster children who are not being taken care of properly, and you have an epidemic on your hands. The truth is that children are vulnerable, and evil people take advantage of the vulnerable in order to further their own agendas. And sadly, that is nothing new. Joseph Kony has been terrorizing villagers of central Africa for nearly 20 years. So what's all the hype about right now?

There are plenty of children in America that need our help, but no one has made a YouTube video calling attention to their plight (well, not yet anyway). What will it take for Americans to fix their own problems?

Behind the veil

It's always something.

Every week if not every day, there is another story out about the Republican party's opposition to improved legislation for women. Today, the conservatives in congress are trying to fight the Violence Against Women Act, a 1994 legislation that was largely bipartisan once upon a time. And now Republicans are claiming that the bill is too broad and unnecessarily expands immigration. It seems like they would oppose just about anything that remotely promotes women's rights for any reason at all.

But if those members of congress would just take a moment and step behind the veil of ignorance before they consider whether they should support this legislation or any other, they would realize why it is so important to have such laws in place. If they knew that they could be that battered Mexican (but illegal) immigrant who was taken advantage of by the people who helped her into this country, and she was only trying to escape situations such as these anyway when she came here, then they would not hesitate to pass this bill because it is not strict enough for their tastes. They would stamp that sucker faster than you could say "feminism."

The Republicans have every right to their opinions and to voice them vociferously so. But they should stop and think about why they really have a problem with legislation like the Violence Against Women Act, and they should ask themselves what they would want if they were the women who were being beaten and abused by the men in their lives. Compromise is possible and necessary, but it takes cooperation on both sides.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Greed is good?

I saw that Michael Douglas graced the front page of the Wall Street Journal one day this past week. The WSJ placed a picture of Douglas' character from "Wall Street," Gordon Gekko, side by side with a recent picture of the actor. Under the picture in the cutline, Douglas advises those aware of insider trading to report it to the FBI -- part of a public service announcement targeting financial fraud. Apparently, greed ain't so great.

Bank CEOs in the United States would probably object to that statement. Reuters reported: "The United States is home to four of the nine largest banks in the world -- JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo & Co and Citigroup Inc. It is also home to four of the six most handsomely rewarded bank CEOs." They got it made.

And though this may be quite a leap, I don't think distributive justice really has a place in a capitalist society -- or at least in our society. Think about it: Greed is rewarded. You're only as successful as your latest income statement in many people's eyes. And it's not a result of how hard you work either. If you're born into a poor family and spend your adolescence just trying to make it to tomorrow, you don't really make plans for college or concentrate on maintaining good credit -- two things pretty necessary for a "successful" life. When you get to adulthood and have to find a place to live and a job and health insurance, you're shit out of luck. And no one holds out a hand to help you. You're just condemned and dismissed because you simply did not work hard enough. Where is the justice in that? 

From Reuters: "You wouldn't know it by his pay stubs, but Jiang Jianqing heads the world's largest bank. Jiang, chairman of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, made just $234,700 in 2008. That's less than 2 percent of the $19.6 million awarded to Jamie Dimon, chief executive of the world's fourth-largest bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co."

There's just something wrong with that picture. 

Justice is not just about money though. For me, distributive justice means equal opportunity for all. Equal access to education and welfare assistance and health care would go a long way to creating a more egalitarian society. Maybe we could take some of Dimon's salary and give it to all of the homeless veterans I see wandering the streets of Fort Worth with their hiking packs and their dogs and their eyes that have seen too much. Maybe that would balance things out a bit.