As appalled as I have been by the increased willingness of politicians to outright lie, more concerning are five recent stories on how lying has started to permeate our entire nation… and two on how truthtelling, when it does not serve corporations, is punished. It’s those stories on truthtelling that deserve the most attention, because those show how much we have as a nation come to hate truth and embrace lies.
The first story, below, has to do with Astroturf phone calls to radio shows. The second is the lie that President Obama told regarding Raymond Davis, a CIA agent who was arrested for murder after the deaths of several Pakistanis–which the New York Times helped to cover up.
The third story has to do a recent George Monbiot column (also via Avedon) on how corporations are paying people to post comments in forums to support a corporate point of view:
After I wrote about online astroturfing in December, I was contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them.
Like the other members of the team, he posed as a disinterested member of the public. Or, to be more accurate, as a crowd of disinterested members of the public: he used 70 personas, both to avoid detection and to create the impression there was widespread support for his pro-corporate arguments. I’ll reveal more about what he told me when I’ve finished the investigation I’m working on.
It now seems that these operations are more widespread, more sophisticated and more automated than most of us had guessed. Emails obtained by political hackers from a US cyber-security firm called HBGary Federal suggest that a remarkable technological armoury is being deployed to drown out the voices of real people.
The fourth story, not strictly about corporations still fits the post because the line between the military and corporations has frayed to the point of non-existence, is that the US military used a psy-ops team to convince US Senators that the nation should pour more blood into Afghan soil:
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Sure. Psychological operations and information operations are essentially just ways to influence the population. Now, the key is, is that for IO and psy-ops you’re only supposed to do those on foreign populations, on the enemy. Now, there’s another branch, public affairs, which is—which you’re allowed to then use your information on the American population. The key difference is, is that in information operations and in psy-ops you’re allowed to lie, you’re allowed to mislead, where in public affairs, in theory, at least, you’re not supposed to do that. And by using information operations with—who know how to conduct psychological operations, in the process that would traditionally be held for public affairs, you’re corrupting the entire process. And, you know, one of the interesting things has been to see the reaction from the military.
Of course, I commend General Petraeus for launching an investigation, but what we also know from a series of anonymous leaks is that the military doesn’t think they’ve done anything wrong here. And that, to me, is truly disturbing and what the actual bigger story is: this very aggressive effort that called what has been at the forefront from to tear down the wall between information and propaganda between public affairs and information operations, to say it’s one giant playing field now and to allow the Pentagon and the military to be able to target not just foreign populations with their propaganda, but target the U.S. populations, whether it’s on Facebook, on social networking sites, or visiting congressmen.
The fifth story is about how political appointees at the EPA–under Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama– have endangered and continue to endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans by suppressing evidence showing that dangerous levels of toxic radionuclides are being poured into city water systems due to illegal dumping of wastewater from natural gas “fracking”:
WALTER HANG: Well, the most important thing is that the natural gas industry has said all along that there’s never been a confirmed problem with horizontal hydrofracking in Marcellus Shale. They’ve said this practice has been used for decades, it’s safe, it’s not problematic. The first installment of the New York Times series basically brought to light that in the autumn of 2008, there was so much natural gas drilling wastewater being dumped into municipal treatment plants along the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh, and these plants were not designed, constructed or maintained in any way to take out the very high salt content, the toxic chemicals associated with petroleum, or the radioactive nucleotides. And so, this contamination was going into the river in such incredible volumes that essentially it impacted a 70-mile stretch of the river, and 850,000 people didn’t have any drinking water. Subsequent studies show that actually the water became brackish. They started to find salt-loving diatoms flourishing in the water.
And so, this is when basically the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tried to recommend to the state of New York, don’t go forward with horizontal hydrofracking in New York, where there’s been a de facto moratorium against that practice for two-and-a-half years, until you deal with the wastewater hazards, until you safeguard New York City’s drinking water. And that’s when the recommendation came: no drilling in the watershed. And amazingly, they actually proposed to allow the drilling in the rest of upstate New York, so that the Department of Environmental Conservation could essentially get experience regulating this practice. But then none of those recommendations made it into the final document submitted to the Department of Environmental Conservation. So this is an incredible revelation about how the EPA knew about these problems, didn’t tell New York, and that’s why we’re calling for these regulations to be withdrawn, the scope revised, so that, for the first time, this kind of practice can be adequately safeguarded.
See here, here, and here for the NYT on this issue.
As for the two whistleblowers, Bradley Manning is being held under conditions reminiscent of Abu Ghraib. Tim Christopher was just convicted for presenting bids on an illegal land auction of wilderness in an attempt to prevent the despoilation of these lands, even though he later raised the money to pay for his purchases.
We had hoped that when Barack Obama won office that not only would the bad policy of the Bush Administration end, but that the lying and abuse of truthtellers would cease.
It has not.
God spare America from this most deadly sin, the sin of hating the truth.