Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Deception Industry

I discovered this interesting story this morning from the BBC.

"Agnotology is the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favour."

I’ve been asking this question for a while. What do we call the intentional organized effort by corporations to disinform and confuse the public over matters of public safety and public health?

Now there's a word for the study of intentional corporate falsehood. But is there a name for the act itself?

Until this dangerous corporate strategy is understood and there's a name for it it's hard to make it a crime.

Ignorance is their friend.

The lag time between harm done and public awareness allows decades to go by, while the company reaps large annual profits, and their dangerous products cause harm to millions of people.

This same delay allows the statute of limitations to expire. It allows their victims and witnesses to die off and the evidence to vanish.

Chemical companies whose products cause neurological diseases use this strategy.

The global Catholic hierarchy used this strategy for decades to cover up for pedophile priests, enabling them to go on destroying innocent lives.

Big tobacco used this strategy.

The asbestos industry used this strategy.

Big Oil knew the dangers of global warming caused by CO2 emissions and covered it up for decades, paying scientists to fabricate and distort evidence and confuse the public.

The NRA’s allies in Congress have prevented the scientific study of the harm done by gun violence.

Police departments have prevented the collection of information on police abuse and police shootings.

The corporations that control the machines that tally our votes claim the technology is “proprietary” and therefore it is a secret and the public has no business overseeing the vote count.

Why is there no name for this deliberate, organized, systematic and decades-long practice of keeping the public in the dark? Is the language also in thrall to their corrupt money? Without language to define the abuse it is hard to pass laws against it. Corporate money buys more lawyers and creates wealthier lawyers, who then endow law schools and universities, and the ignorance becomes a public fact, a carefully nurtured public policy.

Money shapes how we think. Call it “moneythink.” It certainly shapes our laws and how our laws are enforced. This same corrupt money dominates our legislative process, thanks to Citizens United, which was shaped by the right wing of the Supreme Court, which was created by the dominance of corporate money in politics. Millions more Americans vote Democratic than vote Republican, yet the Republicans still control both houses of Congress. Corporate money helps them do this.

But we are complicit too. We are individually in thrall to “moneythink”. When we are unsure how to vote or what to think we delegate our decisions to our money. What do our stock portfolios want us to do? If it’s a coin toss decision between left and right, we too often side with the markets which hold our retirement plans hostage, and the markets are dominated by large corporations.

Never mind that the markets have always done significantly better during Democratic presidencies, the corporations and the people in control of them prefer deregulation and lax enforcement and public ignorance of the damage corporations are causing to public health and well being. What we don’t know can’t hurt them.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Kiss Up, Kick Down. The Money Politics of Cruz and Trump and the GOP.

Ted Cruz is as perfect a demonstration of the corrupting power of money in politics as we are likely to see. He bragged about his personal sacrifice and opposition to Wall Street but secretly took a million dollars from Wall Street banks to gain office. This is called hypocrisy. The lie makes it worse.

VOX explains the special deal Ted Cruz secretly obtained from Goldman Sachs, his wife's employer.

People with large fortunes dominate our politics. They can afford to run for office or else they fund other people’s campaigns, people who will further their interests. We have a religion of money in this country. We are told every day by our media that the rich earned their riches, that entrepreneurs are braver and bolder and smarter than humble working people. They are often smart and usually better educated because they can afford to be, but are they bolder and braver? They are depicted as swashbucklers who dare to take risks, but they aren’t risking much. They take these risks with a large margin of safety their wealth provides, and their losses are seldom catastrophic because they can afford to hedge everything. They can escape losses entirely the way Trump did via multiple bankruptcies, leaving others holding the bag. When they win, they collect; when they lose, we all pay.

From QUARTZ, the myth of the brave risk-taker. It's brave to be born rich, apparently.

Working people who use our democracy to demand changes to improve their lives are called greedy. The hard won privileges that are taken away from them are called “entitlements”, which is an insult because, of course, only rich people are entitled to things. Working people must prove themselves worthy every hour of every day. The rich? The born rich? They take special privileges for granted but questioning those special privileges is dangerous.

From the NYTimes, the special tax evasion system that keeps the rich rich, and lets us pay their bills.

We live in a period when working people are fed with crumbs that fall from the tables of people who own for a living.

From PACIFIC STANDARD, a useful IMF debunking of Reagan's trickle down fairy tale.

Meanwhile we’re sold this fairy tale of brave independence, the lone American who doesn’t need government. This fairy tale is sold to us by monied interests who live off government contracts or are dependent on government subsidies. Who evade taxes but accept bailouts. The fairy tale is very popular, especially in the West, where public lands are used by private operators, who sometimes resent the privilege and refuse to pay. If the land were owned by mining or timber interests how much more would they pay? The libertarian argument is riddled with contradictions and magical thinking.

From PACIFIC STANDARD, a description of how dependent the libertarian Bundys are on government handouts.

USUNCUT lists five government freebies the Bundys live off of.

This is the Right Wing’s big idea: give all public land and public infrastructure to private businesses to profitize, but when they cheat or fail or harm the public or poison the environment let the government clean it up.

From REUTERS news service, a report on how Michigan's governor shifted public responsibilities to private operators, who then cut corners to earn profits and wound up poisoning a whole city.

From THE WEEK, a shorter summary of what Governor Snyder and his private enterprise cronies did to the city of Flint, Michigan.

What people forget about the “corporate model” is that it was first invented to allow individuals to avoid responsibility for their failures.

They are called “limited liability corporations.”

They privatize profits and socialize risks. When they win, they pocket the cash. When they lose, we all pay for their failure.

Being able to fail and go on to try again is not a bad idea. It’s based upon the notion that we need to share each others risks and help each other succeed. We shouldn't leave anyone behind... but increasingly we do.

Increasingly the ability to fail and try again is limited to the monied classes. It has been tailored to protect property above all. It is a right given to people with property rather than people who work. It favors those who own for a living and ignores those who work for a living.

Kiss Up. Kick Down.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Victimizing the Poor and Vulnerable Has Become the American Way.

Ever wondered about injured individuals who receive large payouts after suing the corporation that harmed them? Turns out there is a very busy area of lawyering devoted to scamming the injured of their compensation. The more vulnerable the person the easier the taking.

In Today's Washington Post, this article about the area of lawyering devoted to scamming people horribly injured of the payouts made by the corporations who harmed them.

Why does this go on? Because there will always be people who see vulnerability as opportunity. Other people’s vulnerability/their opportunity. Our society allows predatory business to succeed. The successful are admired and emulated. The vulnerable are ripe for sport and amusement.

Simple trusting people can be manipulated for profit. Sometimes for entertainment. TV is full of this.

Here’s a neat example of how to torture poor children for entertainment.

We guilt the poor. We teach the poor they deserve their poverty. We teach them that an austere life is a just life, the system that aids the efficient funneling of money to people with money is right and proper.

The system by which this is done is elaborate and carefully constructed. Economic trickery has become part of government policy, not because the public wanted it but because the public was persuaded to accept it. By the same kinds of legal minds who earn their living by scamming the vulnerable. Austerity policies justify the permanent poverty and vulnerability of a large segment of the public.

How do people rationalize this behavior? It’s easy: whatever pays you money must be right. Whatever pays you the most money must be the rightest thing you can do. This is taught in our media and in our business schools, where the ethics classes are poorly attended. Victimizing the vulnerable is one of the easiest ways of making a comfortable living.

To justify your having the money and the poor not having it it helps to believe that they deserve comfort, security and happiness less than you do. That they actually deserve to be ripped off. That they are beyond undeserving of a good life, that they deserve a life of punishment.

The ultimate form of this rationalization is the criminalization of the poor. The Washington Post recently published this column about the criminalization of the poor.

To profit from this criminalization is the ultimate good. Thus preying on the poor becomes a killer business model. For-profit prisons are a fast growing business category.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Newsmen Selling Bogus News, Foxes Guarding Henhouses, Non-Profits Rigged For Profit

How the public is brainwashed:

This story is from AutoStraddle.

How the criminals who corrupted the economy and the markets also managed to corrupt the regulatory system put in place to keep them in check:

This story is from Reuters.

How “business think” corrupted one great non-profit, the American Red Cross:

This story is from ProPublica.

Since when are news organizations supposed to disinform the public?

Since when are regulators supposed to cover up crimes?

Since when are aid organizations supposed to keep their money by avoiding their mission?

We live in a far different America than we had 30 or 40 years ago. Both sides say they want to restore America, but it’s clear that the party now led by the guy with orange hair is more intent on driving it further into the ditch.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Bias In Journalism...and it aint' liberal

(Trump Gets All the Media Attention. While Bernie Has More Voter Support)

Dear ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, NPR, TIME, et al...

ABC World News Tonight Has Devoted 81 Minutes To Trump, One Minute To Sanders. This according to The Tyndal Report, which tracks these things.

Endless focus on a outrage-spewing narcissist demoralizes voters. Is that the goal?

The bogus false equivalency standard makes it hard to call out the outrageousness, because failure to find an equal amount of outrage on the Democratic side would make the news organization feel guilty of bias. So instead they air it without analysis. Unfiltered. And the public assumes what is not called a lie must be the truth, what is not labelled outrageous must be publicly acceptable.

Do we require every bit of sound science be balanced with an equal amount of garbage science? Well…. maybe we do see that a lot.

Which makes my point.

TIME chose Ms. Merkel, a remarkable woman most Americans spent about five minutes hearing about this past year and weren’t really interested. Why choose Merkel? Because the obvious contenders were Trump and Sanders. Trump is too disgusting to pick for this honor. Sanders then? Not on your life. It would be biased of TIME to reject a quasi-Republican near-fascist and pick a lefty pragmatist. Their ad sponsors would revolt. (Leftist revolts aren’t the kind they worry about.)

Our news media is seriously messed up.

Maybe you can discuss this over the weekend and think about your coverage going forward.


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Goodbye Middle Class Life

A milestone was passed this month: America’s middle class is now a minority of the population.

The story on NPR.

How much income have American workers lost? The details from MarketWatch.

Reaganomics has divided the population into haves and have-nots, and has done so with a vengeance. Initeconomics has that story here.

Joseph Stiglitz on the politics of inequality.

The revolving door between our lawmaking branch and the corporate lobbying industry is part of a vast engine of inequality.

Robert Reich discusses the problem of income and wealth inequality.

From that bastion of communist orthodoxy, MONEY magazine: an examination of the cockeyed economics of the Republican candidates.

Power once lost is hard to regain. Workers’ rights and the prosperity that came after were won after a century of sacrifice and outright battle with corporations’ strong-arm tactics. This is the kind of history they don’t like our kids to learn in school. If we turn the dial back they won’t have to worry; we are on the way back toward child labor instead of universal free education. Get a quick review of labor history here.

Young workers are going to experience their work lives as one long slump. This is exactly how the 1% want it and Republicans have made it happen. This important story in the Atlantic.

Of course not all rich people are against working Americans. (Some Republicans actually like Bernie Sanders.) Working Americans are the consumers who make the economy hum. Can it still hum?

One of the things forcing incomes down is what’s called The Gig Economy. In place of full employment (with benefits) workers learn to come when an employer whistles. The Gig Economy explained by MarketWatch.

And those safeguards and benefits? A relic of past times. ProPublica describes how Tyson Foods has carved up its employees' workers' compensation. And their workers suffer a lot of injuries.

The safety net? The 1% succeeded in persuading the other 99% that Welfare protections made people lazy. Actually it doesn’t. The story about the welfare laziness myth from VOX.

How does the 1% get the rest of us all worked up? They own the media for one thing. And a worried, fearful public is easier for them to hustle. Panic is good for the 1%. Krugman explains why the rich love generalized panic.

Workers used to have certain rights. An expectation they weren’t being spied on being one of them. No longer. Who's behind this? Walmart, of course.

Income inequality tends to show up in key areas: how inequality is perpetuated by housing.

And while the 1% is scooping up money that used to trickle down to working people, they are sharing one thing. They are letting working people have all the tax obligations. Another in a very thick file of similar stories, from the Guardian.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Bullying Of American Opinion And How We Let It Happen

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre of grade school children the president spoke for most Americans and spoke well and clearly. He decried gun violence, which this was. He expressed sadness that our system was not permitting changes to make Americans safer. But he did it calmly, not as a demagogue. The moment would have been perfect for a demagogue. We are most easily persuaded when we are horrified but we are wise to keep our heads, and a wise leader respects that. Discussing these things calmly is the American Way.

His main points were vehemently opposed and rejected by the Republican Party who were devoted to guns and gun rights and gun manufacturers. Two opposed points of view. We need to choose. Were the two points of view equally valid? Were they equal in light of our values?

Did President Obama fail us here? Should he have whipped up our emotions and forced a change over the violent objections of many Americans? This is exactly what those opponents have warned he would do. They say it so loudly it seems to many that he has done what he has not. Obama did not do what George W. Bush did after 9/11. President Bush exploited our anger to start a war against a nation that had nothing to do with the attack of 9/11. The attackers did not come from Iraq. President Obama did not use Sandy Hook or his considerable oratorical gifts to create a frenzy of anger against the NRA or gun owners, nor did he demonize the sick individual who had perpetrated the attack, he didn’t demonize the mentally ill or gun owners or teenagers or anyone. He did not use the opportunity of national horror to parade his concern for the survivors and their families on national television.

The response among his critics was what it always has been, that he doesn’t care enough, because he doesn’t flaunt his emotions or exploit the emotions of the mourning. Instead he met with the families as they would have wished, as any of us would have wished, away from the prying glare of television and media. There is modesty and decency in this. Of course his critics found fault with modesty and decency. Because he respected their private mourning Republicans and the folks at Fox said he didn’t care enough. Today I saw this article about Obama visiting Sandy Hook. There’s been a decent interval since that horrible day. We now know more about his personal response to the families.

We have two parties in this country, clearly opposed in values and goals. One is an armed camp. The other is less so. One is prone to whipping up violent irrational emotions. One is calmer and more deliberate and is criticized for it. (It took Democrats a few years to determine that the war in Iraq was sold with fraudulent arguments. Deliberations can save you from bad decisions but it can make it harder to oppose them.) One party is a bully, one is quieter. Is quietness the same as weakness? Does it mean the values are not as strong or valid? One party shouts what is on its mind immediately, without thinking things through. The Democratic Party is called dithering because it consults and discusses and listens and doesn’t blurt whatever is on its mind at any given moment, especially at angry moments. The GOP has many angry moments. I have sometimes used the old Goofus and Gallant canard to describe this striking difference.

So I read this article about a quiet respectful president visiting the bereaved out of the public eye.

And this is the top article Facebook recommends I read after I read the article about President Obama's response to Sandy Hook. Point and Counterpoint. It’s implied that both stories are equally true. Facebook is how America sorts its feelings and opinions today. It’s how we sift fact and fiction, right and wrong.

What does this say about us, about what is becoming of us, about what is being done to us?

Are we becoming binary? Either we love and totally believe someone or something or a set of values or we hate them and dismiss them. I think this is the problem Obama has faced from day one: the opposing party decided, its leaders swore a solemn oath on this, to oppose everything he tried to do and everything he said. This filters down to the average person as a command from on high.

When a Republican candidate makes irrational and racist claims and demands it licenses the worst kind of instincts in his followers. Donald Trump’s and Ted Cruz’s and other candidates’ ugly remarks about Muslims and refugees from the chaos we created in the Middle East encourages individuals to confront Muslims they meet on the street and vent their previously suppressed hatred. That hatred was previously unacceptable in public, now it has the Republican seal of approval and everyone who identifies with that party feels he is right to vent those ugly opinions in the faces of anyone they suspect might not be as “American” as they are.

In 2001 President Bush said “You’re either with us or against us.” But he was emphatic that most Muslims are our friends and many are our fellow citizens deserving of respect. Why was that civility and decency discarded? Possibly because of the oppositional nature of the Republican Party that swore to oppose Obama’s presidency at every turn. If this president said peaceable righteous Muslims deserve our respect the Republican attitude needed to be, or at least turned out to be the absolute opposite. Whatever President Obama says has to be disputed and opposed. Binary politics.

Computers are binary, everything reduced to a zero or a one, no ambiguity or nuance. It’s either yes or no. Humans are smarter than that. This Yes/No, either/or evenhandedness expresses itself in different ways. To a computer both zero and one are valid, but Americans increasingly see Yes or No. And the arbiters of the public conversation tend to keep their judgments to themselves. Journalists are barred from having a political affiliation. Which means they must––MUST––write every article in an evenhanded manner… to the point of saying that every point of view, every opinion even an unfactual or unscientific one, is equally valid. Thus articles are built on false equivalencies. If the first paragraph sets out the truth the second paragraph is obligated to set out the opposite, the falsehood, the superstition, and there is no appropriate place for any journalistic judgment. The reader must decide. And that decision is most often made according to team affiliation or inherited prejudice. The reader chooses the version he or she “believes in”––it doesn’t matter which is true or which is a deception or which is paid for by a fossil fuel billionaire or which is cynically expressed by a candidate who wants to harness the hatred in people’s hearts to win power. There is no judgment, only feelings matter. False equivalency, by giving equal status to error and poorly formed opinion encourages that wrongheadedness, endorses it. False equivalency validates falsehood and discredited beliefs by saying they are just as true as truth and enlightened values. So hateful prejudice and fair-mindedness are equally valid today. Right and wrong are equally OK, you get to choose.

And now, it appears, Facebook has embraced this false equivalency laziness. Because they are not a newspaper or broadcast outlet there is no place to point out the flaw in their system. There are no letters to the Facebook editor. There are no retractions of stories they push on us. And Facebook now stands as the absolute standard. This is now how we decide things by giving equal status to our worst instincts and letting the volume of our shouting decide which set of values is valid. This is democracy, of a kind. But absolute majority rule, brute democracy, the democracy of the mob, doesn’t give a damn about the minority. Hitler was elected by a democracy, a German republic, with a congress and parties. His brownshirts hustled and bullied the majority into following its worst instincts, or the worst instincts of its worst members. We know what resulted. Hitler was put in power by powerful men and corporate power who saw a benefit in erasing the individual and creating a mob they could control, but they were unable to control Hitler and his mob. They went along with that mob until the bitter end.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Really? Can That Be True?

The Independent of London published a story today explaining how Margaret Thatcher was actually a liberal. Really? I said. Then I read the article. Not really.

Actually it said, or seemed to say, that Margaret Thatcher was liberal toward arch-conservatives, tolerant of her own race and class, openhanded and generous with the very rich, and permissive with capitalists who found corrupt practices useful and government regulation a nuisance. She was not a liberal. It was just a tease. "We dare you to read this article." It was a provocation.

That is the point. Not honesty. Not truth. Not fact or provable logic. It’s all about provocation.

My wife summarized it in one word: CLICKBAIT.

News media are starved for validation, for numbers that will justify their ad rate, just as we are starved for the validation of “likes” on Facebook. That validation is the volume of clicks. The reader may exit the page dumber than he was going in. He may stop partway through and throw his laptop across the room in disgust. No matter. The website already scored the click. Clicks are drawn by provocation. “Come see the bearded lady” who is really a man in a dress. “Come read about this outrage.” This is the most popular because one provocation arrives with sidebars about other provocations, some of them less about issues that they are about sexual titillation.


It doesn’t matter if they are wrong or lying or depraved or monstrous or sociopathic or psychopathic, they drive the key numbers that justify media ad revenue. Sarah Palin, the dumbest of them all (who last week said Jesus would fight for Second Amendment rights, which caused me to ring a little bell on the revenue justifier for whichever site reported it) is the ur-clickbait candidate.

We are growing stupid because of this––because journalism is supposed to inform. It’s supposed to make us smarter, to inform our judgments. Instead it is turning us into 300 million rats in a giant advertising experiment.

We are entering a second and more voluble age of yellow journalism. (I expect soon to read some editorial demanding war with Spain) with the national conversation corrupted and whipsawed for profit. It’s not just a dumbing down, it’s a brutalizing process. Donald Trump eggs on some of his followers beating up a black man one second and the next he’s lying that thousands of Muslims cheered when the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11. Really? Is that true? “Some say…” is the FoxNews standard.

I used to have a friend who constantly said “Really?” about stuff we were kidding about. We would drop some preposterous falsehood into the conversation and she’d say “Really?” and we would all laugh at her. (We were brutes. This was years ago.) This is now the business model of journalism. The spokesmodels for this are Pat Robertson, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Rick "Oops" Perry and Victoria Jackson. The beneficiaries are the monied backers who want a large gullible electorate to give them power.

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