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Ralph Nader and Friends Launch Reporters Alert

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Reporters at major newspapers and magazines are hard to reach by telephone. Today it is increasingly hard to converse with them about timely scoops, leads, gaps in coverage, and corrections to published articles.

By Ralph Nader

We just started an online webpage: Reporter’s Alert. From time to time, we will use Reporter’s Alert to present suggestions for important reporting on topics that are either not covered or not covered thoroughly. Reporting that just nibbles on the periphery won’t attract much public attention or be noticed by decision-makers. Here is the second installment of suggestions:

1. In recent years we have read about massive hacking of major databases at major retail chains (Target etc.), the federal civil service, national security agencies, credit card companies, and the list goes on. Tens of millions of people have had their personal files invaded by these mostly unknown remote hackers. These reports are accompanied by grave warnings of forthcoming untold damage to privacy, business propriety information, workplace labor information, and secret government databases.

Yet, with the passage of time, we are not informed about what, if any, grave consequences materialized, even with the warnings about many forthcoming identity thefts. How about some follow-ups to these announcements of big hacking?

2. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were knowledgeable estimates that, at the very least, some 5000 people on average died in U.S. hospitals every week due to “preventable problems” in these institutions. Not included in this Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine peer-reviewed study (2016) were the preventable casualties from clinics and doctors’ offices. When the Johns Hopkins report came out, it was a one-day story, (not on the front page), in The Washington Post and The New York Times. There was neither follow up from the media nor from Congressional or state legislative bodies. Medical Associations, such as the AMA, scarcely blinked. There were some resolutions encouraging staff to wash their hands to reduce infections. Some hospitals emphasized this simple measure. Otherwise, 250,000 fatalities a year – a conservative figure by the authors – was relegated to “old news,” rather than opening all kinds of media-driven doors.

3. If you asked a reporter or editor: “Who owns the bulk of the wealth in America?” Chances are the response would be the top “ten percent.” A more specific response might be that a dozen of the richest Americans own more wealth than the combined wealth of the bottom 50% of American people. The subject is private. What if the question was “Who owns the most wealth of all kinds – private and public?” The answer would be the people. They own trillions of dollars in pension, mutual funds, and personal savings. They own the enormous “commons,” the public lands (one-third of America, not counting offshore), the public airwaves, and should own the intellectual property created by huge R&D grants from the federal government to build most of the newer industries, and so on.

Why should the reality that corporations control most of what people own, either directly or indirectly through indentured governments, take away from the deeper reality that ownership of, by, and for the people gets so little attention and therefore little deliberation about what we can do to restore control to the people of what they own? What might result from this overdue merger of ownership with control in a democratic society?

4. The largest single discretionary spending budget in the federal government is that of the Department of Defense. Yet, the Pentagon has gotten away with violating federal law. The Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 requires all government departments and agencies to provide Congress−the Government Accountability Office (GAO)−with auditable data. Auditors said the DOD FY2018 auditors could not express an opinion on the financial statements because the financial information was not sufficiently reliable. Given all the GAO and DOD audits of waste, fraud, and abuse in DOD’s contracting history, defying Congress and the law here should be a matter of continual media reporting. The DOD budget accounts for more than half the operating budget of the U.S. government. Secretaries of Defense always promise to produce audits, but outside of a costly audit of the Marine budget one year, promises have not been kept.

5. Here’s one gigantic story in plain sight afflicting many millions of elderly people seduced into the Medicare [Dis]advantage plan. This corporatization of Medicare by giant health insurance companies keeps getting bigger every year. Now about 40% of Medicare beneficiaries, aided and abetted by both Parties in Congress and exploited by AARP, and some labor unions (SEIU) automatically enroll their retirees without first giving them a choice to go with traditional Medicare. As one knowledgeable physician declared about the glossily promoted deception of Medicare Advantage, “It’s not what you pay, it’s what you get.” Not to mention we are subsidizing Medicare [Dis]advantage plans at the expense of taxpayers and traditional Medicare beneficiaries. Trapdoors are pervasive in Medicare [Dis]advantage plans – starting with narrow networks and hassling when people get sick, prior authorization hurdles, and obstacles to returning to traditional Medicare. Deceptive promotions and advertisements go unrebutted by the FTC, progressive members of Congress, AARP, and the media that carry deceptive Medicare [Dis]advantage ads. This erosion of traditional Medicare provides Aetna and UnitedHealthcare with windfall profits. See Dr. John Geyman’s books (http://www.johngeymanmd.org/). See Dr. Don McCanne’s critique on the PNHP website and Diane Archer’s recent column: The Ghost of the Trump Administration Is Haunting Medicare.

6. Congress, busy increasingly over recent decades in abdicating its constitutional powers to the Presidency and Executive Branch, has created an impressive record of government by waivers. Congress tells the Executive what it shall do, then inserts “waiver” rights without standards. This lets the White House get away with unbridled power to escape the legislative intent of statutes. (Trump really exploited these exits).

Waivers are declared in the thousands every year – waivers from tariffs, waivers from arms sales, waivers from reports, from varieties of law enforcement actions, and so forth. Waivers create new lobbying businesses and invite corruption, favoritism, and the privileges of the big boys over the little guys. For example, in 2020, Apple got a tariff waiver from the US Trade Representative on paying a 7.5 percent duty on Apple Smart Watches imported from China. A key to abuses here is the absence of adequate boundaries (standards) or oversight by Congress.

 

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Editorials

As the Golden Globes lose their luster, can we create a better version of Hollywood?

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Something interesting is happening in Hollywood. People are walking away from the Golden Globe Awards.

And for good reason.

Anyone who has ever worked in the filthy abyss of Hollywood, New York, or any major entertainment city will know first hand how these systems work. Sycophants, parasites and moguls and talent agents willing to step all over each other just for the sake of another prize. Some will even kill for a shot at the brass ring.  And industry divided cannot succeed.

The only good thing I found in the Golden Globes was watching Ricky Gervais lampoon the stars and their handlers from the stage. Bravo to Gervais, it doesn’t make a difference what you think of him, afterall, he had something that most of Hollywood doesn’t have. Balls. Guts. And a way of delivering amusing reality dosed insults to their face only to find he’s been re-instated as the show host for the next years showing.

 

The annual Golden Globes ceremony has been unable to find a broadcasting partner or any celebrities willing to present or collect its awards after a Hollywood boycott over its diversity and ethics scandal, resulting in a pared-down event with the emphasis on philanthropy.

According to Variety, the Globes’ talent bookers have failed to persuade any big Hollywood figures to attend the 2022 edition of the awards ceremony, a hitherto glittering annual event that traditionally kicked off the lucrative awards season. In March 2021 more than 100 public relations firms announced they would withdraw cooperation with the Globes, a series of high-profile Hollywood figures, including Tom Cruise and Scarlett Johansson, made stinging public criticisms, and TV network NBC cancelled its broadcast of the 2022 edition. (-The Guardian)

 
eguardian.com/film/2022/jan/09/golden-globes-lose-their-shine-as-a-listers-shun-unethical-ceremony

But this years showing not only lacked the luster of Hollywood today, but doesn’t even have a Network or Livestream to cover it.  I guess we’ll have to rely on celeb Twitter Feeds.

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Arts

How The Pentagon and CIA Have Shaped Thousands of Hollywood Movies into Super Effective Propaganda

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By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, January 5, 2022

Propaganda is most impactful when people don’t think it’s propaganda, and most decisive when it’s censorship you never knew happened.

 

When we imagine that the U.S. military only occasionally and slightly influences U.S. movies, we are extremely badly deceived. The actual impact is on thousands of movies made, and thousands of others never made. And television shows of every variety.

The military guests and celebrations of the U.S. military on game shows and cooking shows are no more spontaneous or civilian in origin than the ceremonies glorifying members of the U.S. military at professional sports games — ceremonies that have been paid for and choreographed by U.S. tax dollars and the U.S. military. The “entertainment” content carefully shaped by the “entertainment” offices of the Pentagon and the CIA doesn’t just insidiously prepare people to react differently to news about war and peace in the world. To a huge extent it substitutes a different reality for people who learn very little actual news about the world at all.

The U.S. military knows that few people watch boring and non-credible news programs, much less read boring and non-credible newspapers, but that great masses will eagerly watch long movies and TV shows without too much worrying about whether anything makes sense. We know that the Pentagon knows this, and what military officials scheme and plot as a result of knowing this, because of the work of relentless researchers making use of the Freedom of Information Act. These researchers have obtained many thousands of pages of memos, notes, and script re-writes. I don’t know whether they’ve put all of these documents online — I certainly hope they do and that they make the link widely available. I wish such a link were in giant font at the end of a fantastic new film. The film is called Theaters of War: How the Pentagon and CIA Took Hollywood. The Director, Editor, and Narrator is Roger Stahl. The Co-Producers are Matthew Alford, Tom Secker, Sebastian Kaempf. They’ve provided an important public service.

In the film we see copies of and hear quotations from and analysis of much of what has been uncovered, and learn that thousands of pages exist that nobody has yet seen because the military has refused to produce them. Film producers sign contracts with the U.S. military or CIA. They agree to “weave in key talking points.” While unknown quantities of this sort of thing remain unknown, we do know that nearly 3,000 films and many thousands of TV episodes have been given the Pentagon treatment, and many others have been handled by the CIA. In many film productions, the military effectively becomes a co-producer with veto power, in exchange for allowing the use of military bases, weapons, experts, and troops. The alternative is the denial of those things.

But the military is not as passive as this might suggest. It actively pitches new story ideas to movie and TV producers. It seeks out new ideas and new collaborators who might bring them to a theater or laptop near you. Act of Valor actually began life as a recruitment advertisement.

Of course, many movies are made without military assistance. Many of the best never wanted it. Many that wanted it and were denied, managed to get made anyway, sometimes at much greater expense without the U.S. tax dollars paying for the props. But a huge number of movies are made with the military. Sometimes the initial movie in a series is made with the military, and the remaining episodes voluntarily follow the military’s line. Practices are normalized. The military sees huge value in this work, including for recruitment purposes.

The alliance between the military and Hollywood is the main reason that we have lots of big blockbuster movies on certain topics and few if any on others. Studios have written scripts and hired top actors for movies on things like Iran-Contra that have never seen the light of day because of a Pentagon rejection. So, nobody watches Iran-Contra movies for fun the way they might watch a Watergate movie for fun. So, very few people have any notions about Iran-Contra.

But with the reality of what the U.S. military does being so awful, what, you might wonder, are the good topics that do get lots of movies made about them? A lot are fantasy or distortion. Black Hawk Down turned reality (and a book it was “based on”) on its head, as did Clear and Present Danger. Some, like Argo, hunt for small stories within large ones. Scripts explicitly tell audiences that it doesn’t matter who started a war for what, that the only thing that matters is the heroism of troops trying to survive or to rescue a soldier.

Yet, actual U.S. military veterans are often shut out and not consulted They often find movies rejected by the Pentagon as “unrealistic” to be very realistic, and those created with Pentagon collaboration to be highly unrealistic. Of course, a huge number of military-influenced films are made about the U.S. military fighting space aliens and magical creatures — not, clearly, because it’s believable but because it avoids reality. On the other hand, other military-influenced films shape people’s views of targeted nations and dehumanize the humans living in certain places.

Don’t Look Up is not mentioned in Theaters of War, and presumably had no military involvement (who knows?, certainly not the movie-watching public), yet it uses a standard military-culture idea (the need to blow up something coming from outerspace, which in reality the U.S. government would simply love to do and you could hardly stop them) as an analogy for the need to stop destroying the planet’s climate (which you cannot easily get the U.S. government to remotely consider) and not one reviewer notices that the film is an equally good or bad analogy for the need to stop building nuclear weapons — because U.S. culture has had that need effectively excised.

The military has written policies on what it approves and disapproves. It disapproves depictions of failures and crimes, which eliminates much of reality. It rejects films about veteran suicide, racism in the military, sexual harassment and assault in the military. But it pretends to refuse to collaborate on films because they’re not “realistic.”

Yet, if you watch enough of what is produced with military involvement you’ll imagine that using and surviving nuclear war is perfectly plausible. This goes back to the original Pentagon-Hollywood invention of myths about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and runs right up through military influence on The Day After, not to mention the transformation — paid for by people who throw a fit if their tax dollars help prevent someone freezing on the street — of Godzilla from a nuclear warning to the reverse. In the original script for the first Iron Man movie, the hero went up against the evil weapons dealers. The U.S. military rewrote it so that he was a heroic weapons dealer who explicitly argued for more military funding. Sequels stuck with that theme. The U.S. military advertised its weapons of choice in Hulk, Superman, Fast and Furious, and Transformers, the U.S. public effectively paying to push itself to support paying thousands of times more — for weapons it would otherwise have no interest in.

“Documentaries” on the Discovery, History, and National Geographic channels are military-made commercials for weapons. “Inside Combat Rescue” on National Geographic is recruitment propaganda. Captain Marvel exists to sell the Air Force to women. Actress Jennifer Garner has made recruitment ads to accompany movies she’s made that are themselves more effective recruitment ads. A movie called The Recruit was largely written by the head of the CIA’s entertainment office. Shows like NCIS push out the military’s line. But so do shows you wouldn’t expect: “reality” TV shows, game shows, talk shows (with endless reunifications of family members), cooking shows, competition shows, etc.

I’ve written before about how Eye in the Sky was openly and proudly both completely unrealistic nonsense and influenced by the U.S. military to shape people’s ideas about drone murders. A lot of people have some small idea of what goes on. But Theaters of War: How the Pentagon and CIA Took Hollywood helps us to grasp the scale of it. And once we’ve done that, we may gain some possible insights into why polling finds much of the world fearing the U.S. military as a threat to peace, but much of the U.S. public believing that U.S. wars benefit people who are grateful for them. We may begin to form some guesses as to how it is that people in the United States tolerate and even glorify endless mass-killing and destruction, support threatening to use or even using nuclear weapons, and suppose the U.S. to have major enemies out there threatening its “freedoms.” Viewers of Theaters of War may not all immediately react with “Holy shit! The world must think we’re lunatics!” But a few may ask themselves whether it’s possible that wars don’t look like they do in movies — and that would be a great start.

Theaters of War ends with a recommendation, that movies be required to disclose at the start any military or CIA collaboration. The film also notes that the United States has laws against propagandizing the U.S. public, which might make such a disclosure a confession of a crime. I would add that since 1976, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has required that “Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.”

To learn more about this film, view it, or host a screening of it, go here.

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Editorials

The Grinch That Stole Christmas

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Back in the mid 70’s as my wife and I were starting our photography business Wally Miller, a successful local businessman, invited us to his office to offer help in the form of business advice. He asked only that we bring a financial statement and of course we complied.  The business startup process was new to us and after two years we were still losing money, and there it was in plain sight on the financial statement.  Wally welcomed us warmly and after a few minutes of careful study of our financials offered this observation, “You have no bad debts.”

Naturally I took this as a compliment.  I was proud that we had no bad debts, but that is not what Wally meant.  He elaborated, “If you have no bad debts that means that your credit is too tight and that translates into lost business.” His meaning was clear.  To be successful, really successful, you have to accept reasonable losses.  It’s the very nature of business.  If you want 100% certainty there can be no risk and without risk there can be no profits.

There’s a lesson in this thinking for Joe “McFuqwad” Manchin, the tight-ass, penny-pinching Grinch ruining Christmas for every American under the cover of “fiscal responsibility.”  His staffers gave us a look into his rationale, revealing two of the real reasons behind Joe’s decision to be the big NO.

Apparently Manchin believes that giving money to the poor in the form of a child tax credit is unwise because in his view, many will spend the extra dollars on drugs.  Likewise he is opposed to paid leave, stating that people will just call in sick and then go off deer hunting.

Now let’s all agree that in a free society, there are good and bad actors.  No law can legislate what is in the hearts of men.  No law can dictate integrity or honor.  If that were the case, there would be no GOP, no Jim Jordan, no Ted Cruz, no Matt Gaetz, No Marjorie Taylor Green, no Lauren Boebert. You get my drift, but I digress.

Once you agree to recognize that the actions of individuals are beyond your control, you must the adjust your decisions and subsequent actions to affect the greatest good for the majority.  Charity benefits the worthy and unworthy alike, without discrimination.  To withhold benefits from the worthy because there will always be unworthy recipients is to succumb to the devil’s play, a game of reduction that punishes all for the few.

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