The Ethical Take

Published: April 21, 2014

By Jim Lichtman
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Why do I call Dan Piraro the Pope of Pop Culture? He doesn’t just “draw funny cartoons,” he creates visual essays that perfectly capture the zeitgeist of the moment. In that sense, he’s a contemporary Socrates, walking through our modern life questioning the status quo.

The Vlad and Ed Show –

For those of you who believe that reality shows aren’t staged, you might be interested in the perfect set-up. Russian President Vladimir Putin took part in a televised Q&A last Thursday (Apr. 18), when… the program’s hostesses said, “We have an unexpected, I would even say sensational, video message… (cue the surprise)

…and suddenly, Edward Snowden popped-up on a video screen to ask the Russian president “does Russia intercept, store or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals?”

“Mr. Putin,” the New York Times writes, “a former K.G.B. agent and director of the Russian Intelligence service played up their experience in spycraft.

” ‘Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law,” Mr. Putin said. “You have to get the court’s permission first… Of course we do this. But we don’t use this on such a massive scale…’ ”

Of course Mr. Putin adroitly dodges any follow-up, like: “Who controls the courts in Russia?”

The Ethical Take: With hunting and that bare chest thing, you’ve got reality-star potential, Vlad, but you need the beard and a lot more attitude to come close to Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson to cross-over. Credibility: 0.

Fast and Spurious –

Speaking of reality shows, I’d like to see A&E tackle this one.

How do you avoid paying a toll traveling back a thousand times over the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge through New York’s Queens-Midtown Tunnel?

Just ask taxi driver Rodolfo Sanchez!

For nearly two years, Rodolfo succeeded by “piggybacking” on the driver in front of him thus, saving himself more than $28,000 in tolls as he travelled back and forth.

Forget about that game-show cabbie on Cash Cab, wouldn’t you love to follow Rodolfo with multiple dash-cams tailgating the car in front and slipping through the toll-booth, over the bridge, under the tunnel, back and forth, all day long? I think it make a good fifteen minutes of viewing pleasure.

One question, how did he get caught and how did authorities determine the amount of fraud?

According to the New York Times (Apr. 18), “Mr. Sanchez was never caught in the act, the authorities said. Rather, investigators for the authority noticed that someone using an E-ZPass with no money on it got through at no cost — over and over. Using the tracking data on the E-ZPass, which prosecutors said was reported lost in 2011, the investigators found that it passed over the bridge 1,061 times and through the tunnel a total of 3,071 times.

“Toll plaza video connected the E-ZPass, which still emitted a signal, to different cabs that piggybacked through the gates. Taxi company records connected Mr. Sanchez to those cars, according to the complaint. He may have kept the pass, which gave away the fraud, as a decoy for toll takers and passengers, Ms. Glave said.”

The E.T.: Good news! I think we just found a replacement forFast and Furious actor Paul Walker.

Good for Chris –

Speaking of lane changes, in an effort to move past his bridge-gate scandal, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has appointed Patrick Hobbs, the dean of Seton Hall Law School to act as ombudsman for the Office of the Governor.

After the firing of two close Christie aids tied to the bridge scandal, the New Jersey governor is taking a step in the right (no pun intended) direction to demonstrate to the citizenry that moving forward, he intends to take any and all public problems and complaints about government service, seriously.

“Mr. Hobbs,” The Times writes (Apr. 18), “will be in charge of ensuring that employees receive ‘robust’ training in ethics, and will shape a new office of the chief ethics officer for the governor and create a system for employees to report concerns about wrongdoing.”

The E.T.: Good first step, Chris. Now, let’s check back in a year to see how it’s working!

Deadbeat on the Range –

Cliven Bundy doesn’t believe the same rules that apply to others apply to him, and writer Timothy Egan captures this spot-on piece of southwestern craziness in a New York Times commentary (Apr. 17).

“Imagine a vendor on the National Mall, selling burgers and dogs, who hasn’t paid his rent in 20 years. He refuses to recognize his landlord, the National Park Service, as a legitimate authority. Every court has ruled against him, and fines have piled up. What’s more, the effluents from his food cart are having a detrimental effect on the spring grass in the capital.

“Would an armed posse come to his defense, aiming their guns at the park police? Would the lawbreaker get prime airtime on Fox News, breathless updates in the Drudge Report, a sympathetic ear from Tea Party Republicans? No, of course not.

“So what’s the difference between the fictional loser and Cliven Bundy, the rancher in Nevada who owes the government about $1 million and has been grazing his cattle on public land for more than 20 years? Near as I can tell, one wears a cowboy hat.”

One reader and rancher wrote, “My family and my husband’s have ranched in Kansas for nearly a century and we can’t understand the support he’s getting. … Cliven Bundy is cheating us and all ranchers by reducing his costs by one million dollars.”

“This phony event has brought out the worst of the gun-waving far right,” Egan continues, “and the national politicians who are barely one degree of separation from them. Hundreds of heavily armed, camouflaged supporters of the scofflaw turned out Saturday in Nevada, training their rifles on public employees who were trying to do their job. The outsiders looked like snipers ready to shoot the police. If you changed that picture to Black Panthers surrounding a lawful eviction in the inner city, do you think right-wing media would be there cheering the outlaws?”

Think the scenario can’t get any worse?

“With their assault rifles and threats, the thugs in the desert forced federal officials with the Bureau of Land Management to back down from a court-ordered confiscation of Bundy’s cattle. One of the rancher’s supporters, Richard Mack, a Tea Party leader who is in the National Rifle Association’s Hall of Fame, said he planned to use women as human shields in a violent showdown with law enforcement.

” ‘We were actually strategizing to put all the women up front,’ Mack said in a radio interview. ‘If they were going to start shooting, it’s going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot.’

“That’s who Fox and friends are playing with these days — militia extremists who would sacrifice their wives to make some larger point about a runaway federal government. And what’s more, the Fox host Sean Hannity has all but encouraged a violent confrontation.”

Generally, I like Hannity, but I think ol’ Sean’s spent too littletime on a real horse and too much time on his high horse, because he’s lost this argument.

“At the center of the dispute is the 68-year-old rancher Bundy, who said in a radio interview, ‘I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.’ ”

Bundy’s clearly been out on the range far too long.

Egan continues: “You would think that kind of anarchist would draw a raised eyebrow from the Tea Party establishment that provides Bundy his media oxygen. After all, wasn’t the Tea Party born in a rant by Rick Santelli of CNBC about deadbeat homeowners? He complained about taxpayers’ subsidizing ‘losers’ mortgages’ and he said we should ‘reward people that can carry the water instead of drinking the water.’
Believe me, Bundy’s cattle are drinking an awful lot of our water, and not paying for it.

“But instead, people like Ron Paul have only fanned the flames, warning of a Waco-style assault. Paul and his son, Senator Rand Paul, further showed themselves to be stunningly ignorant of the public lands legacy created by forward-thinking Republicans a century ago.  ‘They had virtual ownership of that land because they had been using it,’ Ron Paul said on Fox, referring to the Bundy clan. ‘You need the government out of it, and I think that’s the important point.’

“No, the renegade rancher has no more right to 96,000 acres of Nevada public range than a hot dog vendor has to perpetual space on the Mall. Both places belong to the American people. Bundy runs his cattle on our land — that is, turf owned by every citizen. The agency that oversees the range, the Bureau of Land Management, allows 18,000 grazing permits on 157 million acres. Many of those permit holders get a sweet deal, subsidized in a way they could never find on private land.

“Ranching is hard work. Drought and market swings make it a tough go in many years. That’s all the more reason to praise the 18,000 or so ranchers who pay their grazing fees on time and don’t go whining to Fox or summoning a herd of armed thugs when they renege on their contract. You can understand why the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association wants no part of Bundy.”

The E.T.: Memo to Bundy: Keep movin’, movin’, movin’, though they’re disapprovin’, keep them dawwgies rollin’… all the way to Mexico!


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