Archive for the ‘astroturf’ Category

Astroturf and manipulation of media messages | Sharyl Attkisson | TEDxUniversityofNevada

Posted 01/03/2016 by lacithedog in astroturf, propaganda, Uncategorized

Koch Brothers, ALEC and Their Corporate Allies Plan to Privatize Government

It was only a day after I learned of the existance of ALEC (the  American Legislative Exchange Council) and made the post Who is ALEC? that I learn about Truthout’s Article  Koch Brothers, ALEC and Their Corporate Allies Plan to Privatize Government.   Unfortunately, the US has the dollar rather than the Pound Sterling or I would refer to what is going on in the same vein as the Genesis Album Selling England by the Pound since that is pretty much what has been going on for the past 30+ years in US Politics (and to some extent the same in Britain).  Unlike England, there is less sympathy for government functions, or at least so it appears in the heavily controlled US media.

The Truthout article explains how ALEC works.  ALEC contends that government agencies have an unfair monopoly on public goods and services. To change that situation, it has created a policy initiative to counter what it calls “Publicopoly.” ALEC’s stated aim is to provide “more effective, efficient government” via privatization—that is, the shifting of government functions to the private sector. Of course, that makes a shift from Publicopoly to either Monopoly or Oligopoly with little or no public control over those new private entities.

ALEC came to the public’s attention in February and March with the culmination of the fight over Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill AB 11, which sought to curtail the collective bargaining rights of government employees and thus disempower Wisconsin’s public sector unions. When on February 23 the Buffalo Beast published recordings and transcripts of a prank call to Walker from a Beast reporter posing as billionaire GOP donor David Koch, it became apparent how intimately involved brothers David and Charles Koch were in Walker’s efforts to break public sector unions.

Subsequently, bloggers and editorialists began batting around possible scenarios involving myriad right-wing public policy foundations funded by the Koch brothers and proceeds of Wichita, Kan.-based Koch Industries (and other Koch-controlled corporations). During such speculation, one name arose as the favorite villain behind the multitude of bills aimed squarely at public employee unions. That name was ALEC.

On February 25, 2011, Florida State Representative Chris Dorworth (R-Lake Mary) introduced HB 1021. The bill sought to curtail the political power of unions by prohibiting public employers from deducting any amount from an employee’s pay for use by an employee organization (i.e., union dues) or for any political activity (i.e., the portion of union dues used for lobbying or for supporting candidates for office). Moreover, HB 1021 stated that, should a union seek to use any portion of dues independently collected from members for political activity, the union must obtain annual written authorization from each member.

In effect, this bill defunds public-sector unions—like AFSCME, SEIU, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—by making the collection of member dues an onerous, costly task. With public-sector unions denatured, they would no longer be able to stand in the way of radical free marketeers who plan to profit from the privatization of public services.

Given the similarities between HB 1021 and a rash of like-minded bills in states across the country, including Wisconsin, on March 30 a public records request was sent to Dorworth’s office seeking copies of all documents pertaining to the writing of HB 1021, including copies of any pieces of model legislation the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) may have provided.

Within an hour of submitting this request, Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon’s (R-Winter Park) Communications Director Katherine Betta responded: “We received a note from Representative Dorworth’s office regarding your request for records relating to the American Legislative Exchange Council and HB 1021. Please note that Mr. Dorworth’s legislative offices did not receive any materials from ALEC relating to this bill or any ‘model legislation’ from other states.”

But two weeks later Dorworth’s office delivered 87 pages of documents, mostly bill drafts and emails, detailing the evolution of what was to become HB 1021. Buried at the bottom of the stack was an 11-page bundle of neatly typed material, labeled “Paycheck Protection,” which consisted of three pieces of model legislation, with the words “Copyright, ALEC” at the end of each.

Dorworth legislative assistant Carolyn Johnson claims that, although Dorworth is an ALEC member, neither she nor her boss have any idea how the ALEC model legislation found its way into Dorworth’s office. Dorworth could not be reached for comment.

Though the specifics are secret and “restricted to members,” ALEC openly advocates privatizing public education, transportation and the regulation of public health, consumer safety and environmental quality including bringing in corporations to administer:

• Foster care, adoption services and child support payment processing.

• School support services such as cafeteria meals, custodial staff and transportation.

• Highway systems, with toll roads presented as a shining example.

• Surveiling and detaining convicted criminals.

• Ensuring the quality of wastewater treatment, drinking water, and solid waste services and facilities.

Of course, there are myriads of horror stories regarding the privatisation of the Penal System. such as Luzerne County, PA’s Kids for cash scandal and Googling Private Prisons Scam will net loads of stories like this one: What did Torrey Westrom think he was saving with private prison proposal? or Private Prison Promises Leave Texas Towns In Trouble.  The prison priavtisations should serve as a large glaring warning of the minefield which privatising governmental functions will bring.

Giving these corporations regulatory powers over environmental quality is also puting the fox in charge of the Chicken coop.  The Koch companies have a notorious environmental record. And is the US public so damaged as far as short term memory goes to have forgotten the BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. That in and of itself should be even more of a warning than the prison privatisations.

Quite frankly, there are certain functions that governments do a whole lot better than private enterprise, yet the US public is being sold a duff bill of goods that privatising government.  The worst part of it is that the people won’t realise how badly they have been shafted until after the damage has been done.

Additionally, there is the usual US historic ignorance that the panic of 1837 was caused in part by the selling of government assets.  This message from that time should be heeded by today’s US Citizens:

Although the excitement of 1839 did not equal that of 1837, there was a duller and completer despondency. It was at last known that the recuperative power of even our own proud and bounding country had limits. Years were yet necessary to a recovery.

Even more importantly, the US public should be asking who is controlling the message that they hear from the corporately controlled MSM (which includes Public Broadcasting which is beholden by underwriting, or commercials by any other name). The US is heading down a very dangerous path, yet few people are doing anything about it.

Who is ALEC?

Few have ever heard of it, but the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is the ultimate smoke filled back room.

On the surface, ALEC’s membership is mostly comprised of thousands of state legislators. Each pays a nominal membership fee in order to attend ALEC retreats and receive model legislation. ALEC’s corporate contributors, on the other hand, pay a king’s ransom to gain access to legislators and distribute their corporate-crafted legislation.

So, while the membership appears to be public sector, the bankroll is almost entirely private sector, including the usual suspects–the Koch Brothers. In fact, public sector membership dues account for only around one percent of ALEC’s annual revenues. ALEC claims to be nonpartisan, but in fact its free-market, pro-business mission is clear.

The result has been a consistent pipeline of special interest legislation being funneled into state capitols. Thanks to ALEC, 826 bills were introduced in the states in 2009 and 115 were enacted into law.

Behind the scenes at ALEC, the nuts and bolts of lobbying and crafting legislation is done by large corporate defense firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon. A law firm with strong ties to the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, it has long used ALEC’s ability to get a wide swath of state laws enacted to further the interests of its corporate clients.

ALEC’s campaigns and model legislation have run the gamut of issues, but all have either protected or promoted a corporate revenue stream, often at the expense of consumers. For example, ALEC has worked on behalf of:

  • Oil companies to undermine climate change proponents;
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturers, arguing that states should be banned from importing prescription drugs;
  • Telecom firms to block local authorities from offering cheap or free municipally-owned broadband;
  • Insurance companies to prevent state insurance commissioners from requiring insurers to meet strengthened accounting and auditing rules;
  • Big banks, recommending that seniors be forced to give up their homes via reverse mortgages in order to receive Medicaid;
  • The asbestos industry, trying to shut the courthouse door to Americans suffering from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases; and,
  • Enron to deregulate the utility industries, which eventually caused the U.S. to lose what the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) estimated as $5 trillion in market value.

The Koch Brothers, big tobacco, insurance companies, and the drug industry: all behind the shadowy corporate front group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). On the surface, ALEC is mostly comprised of thousands of state legislators, each paying a nominal fee to attend ALEC retreats and receive model legislation. In reality, corporations pay ALEC a king’s ransom to access legislators to distribute radical legislation that puts corporate interests over American workers and consumers.

See also:

ALEC Exposed: Rigging Elections

ALECWatch
Koch Brothers, ALEC and Their Corporate Allies Plan to Privatize Government

Holy Astroturf, Batman!

This photo has been reblogged from Liberals Are Cool and Look At This Fucking Teabagger

If we listen to the USMSM (which includes US Public broadcasting), the “Tea Party movement” is truly a viable, grassroots movement rather than astroturfed horseshit.

2,000 people were expected at a Tea Party rally in South Carolina, just 30 showed up after Donald Trump cancelled his appearance with Gov. Nikki Haley (R), according to the Columbia State. The picture above from the rally is truly priceless for showing how much the “Tea Party” is a creation of US MSM.

The problem is that US MSM refuses to acknowledge the progressive viewpoint. How many people have heard of “the People’s Budget” proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus for Fiscal Year 2012? Instead of heading on a crash course for a US Default, the “the People’s Budget” eliminates the deficit in 10 years, puts Americans back to work and restores our economic competitiveness while protects Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and responsibly eliminates the deficit by targeting its main drivers: the Bush Tax Cuts, the wars overseas, and the causes and effects of the recent recession.

Why do we hear about the Tea Party initiatives, but not the “the People’s Budget”? Might it have something to do with US MSM being controlled by a few large corporations?  They even control “Public Broadcasting (USPM=US Public Media)” through underwriting so that even that avenue may provide more in-depth coverage than Fox News,  USPM is nearly as biased as Fox when it comes down to coverage.

See also:
6 Tips For Spotting Astroturf
The Corporate Accountability Project
Look At This Fucking Teabagger

Persuasion

I was at a family do this past weekend when the topic of climate change deniers came up with a relative who works in the field of climate change and food security. My question was “so, are you going to beat up on the likes of “Lord” Monckton and Sammy Wilson?” Her response surprised me, but made loads of sense.

“Why? the people who know that climate change is real are the people I am going to be dealing with. It would be a waste of time to try to persuade that type of person when I can be putting my efforts into getting something done.”

Point taken. No matter how much you try to logically disucss a topic with someone who is totally illogical, they will refuse to see reason. Your argument can be in big, bold letters, yet they will disagree for whatever reason they choose–no matter how silly that reason may be to the educated observer. These people will believe discredited studies and sources.

But those aren’t the people I want to spend my time on. I want to get the people who can use my information for good purposes. I want to link up with others who can work with me to achieve my goals. I know those people are out there, but I need to connect to them.

The other people will continue in their echo chamber, but I prefer to connect with people who are willing to go forward to change the world for the better. I don’t have the time to deal with the astroturfers.

Censored 1998 Saturday Night Live Segment about Corporate Control of Media

One of the frequent gripes of this blog is that the US media has become consolidated into the hands of a few multinational corporations. They are attempting to place the public media in a position where it must take corporate funding to exist by defunding public broadcasting.

While the first Amendment provides for Freedom of the Press, those guarantees only apply to government action, not those of private industry. Private industry is not required to present other opinions and can engage in self-censorship to its heart’s content. Likewise, individuals can do what they will to drown out unpopular opinions though astroturf.

RADIO FREE USA!

I’ve been saying it, others have been saying it, and Southern Beale put it really well:

Sadly, we can no longer rely upon the news media to adequately inform us. The mainstream media has, as was pointed out recently, “become journalistically irrelevant when it comes to national issues and coverage.” Unfortunately, as my local newspaper’s eagerness to publish corporate propaganda demonstrates, local media isn’t much better. So we need to find a better way of communicating the facts without letting the special interest groups do their spin job.


So, how does one get informed in this digital age? After all, there is a huge volume of information out there available digitally, but how much of it is worth paying attention? Online astroturfing is more advanced and more automated than we’d imagined. Corporate media is pretty much in the hands of a few and that spills over into “public” media. US mainstream media is journalistically irrelevant when it comes to national issues and coverage. Broadcast media is incapable of explaining anything outside a commercial corporate framework. The US media is pretty much afraid to address anything that hints at the class warfare in fear of scaring away corporate underwriting through actual commercials, or the “underwriting” on US Public Broadcasting.

Sure, there are news sources outside the US, such as the BBC, but that isn’t helpful to the US citizen who needs to understand what exactly is happening in their country. How corporate interests have hijacked public interest through the US government.

The problem is that the war is on: it’s a war against women, workers, anyone who isn’t insanely rich, and those who would speak out about this situation. The problem is that people’s freedom is at stake as they become slaves of the corporate hierarchy that works to keep them silenced and in debt.

More posts on astroturf!

This one comes from Planetsave: Unprecedented Attack on Progressive Blogs, Bloggers, Democracy, Journalists, and Their Families:

The takeaway message: be very conscious of this issue, and realize that the internet is not a model of free speech and democracy at this point — it is increasingly dominated by propaganda campaigns and fake users effortlessly spewing lies.

The Planet save links to an Article by George Monbiot, The need to protect the internet from ‘astroturfing’ grows ever more urgent, from 23 February 2011. George says:

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.

I’ve been wanting to find something about these commercial astroturfing trolls after seeing a post about them about 6 years ago (and not noting it).

See also:
The need to protect the internet from ‘astroturfing’ grows ever more urgent
Denier-bots live! Why are online comments’ sections over-run by the anti-science, pro-pollution crowd?
Digg this: Conservative efforts to manipulate the public discussion extend to social media
Massive Censorship Of Digg Uncovered
From promoting acid rain to climate denial — over 20 years of David Koch’s polluter front groups
The HB Gary Email That Should Concern Us All
HBGary’s high-volume astroturfing technology and the Feds who requested it
More HBGary Federal Fallout: The Government Wants To Buy Software To Fake Online Grassroots Social Media Campaigns

free speech, critical thinking, editing, censorship, and the internet.

A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both–James Madison

I’ve been wanting to write something on this topic for a while. This comment by Susan at Liberality got my mind working:

Two hundred years ago the founders of the republic would have been deliriously happy at the idea of Americans able to be informed by the sheer volume of available facts the digital information age would produce. The fatal assumption was that Americans would choose to think and learn, instead of reinforcing their particular choice of cultural ignorance.

I am thoroughly in agreement with what she says in that the Internet, like Television can be a force for spreading knowledge and culture. On the other hand, it has become a place where opinions tend to be reinforced by similar viewpoints. Dissenting voices are shot down by astroturf posting.

I am well aware that one of the criticisms about this blog is that I moderate comments, which in no way is a violation of someone’s free speech. The problem is that the opinions that I do not publish are repeated across the internet–some are far overrepresented. Additionally, the comments come from someone who also blogs or has a forum in which to voice their opinions. The concept of free speech is to allow for dissenting opinions to be heard. They are not heard if someone comes in and drowns out that opinion with something that is overrepresented.

What Is Censorship? Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons — individuals, groups or government officials — find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, “Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it!” Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it. The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone.

Given that definition, and the other ones found here, I am in no manner or form engaging in censorship. Additionally, I have a commenting policy:

These are my opinions and I don’t care if you read this. I blog for myself, but don’t mind if others read what I write. I don’t really want to hear from you–unless you agree with me or unless you can offer intelligent and constructive comments or can say something interesting and informative, don’t waste your time doing such as your comments end up in the electronic dustbin without being read. Quality over quantity is my preference for comments.

Also, any comments left here become the property of this blog for me to do as I wish. So BEWARE!

This takes us back to my comment about astroturf. George Monbiot pretty much sums up my feelings about the repeat, ignorant, and irrelevant comments:

I love debate, and I often wade into the threads beneath my columns. But it’s a depressing experience, as instead of contesting the issues I raise, many of those who disagree bombard me with infantile abuse, or just keep repeating a fiction, however often you discredit it. This ensures that an intelligent discussion is almost impossible – which appears to be the point.

The second pattern is the strong association between this tactic and a certain set of views: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Both traditional conservatives and traditional progressives tend be more willing to discuss an issue than these right-wing libertarians, many of whom seek instead to shut down debate.

I don’t mind comments if they are truly interested in debate, but as most people who blog about gun-control, climate change, and other controversial topics will tell you, the comments they receive are there to shut down debate. For example, when I made my posts on inalienable rights, it was very clear that most of the posters had no idea of what I was talking about in those posts. Additionally, the tone is that of religious reverence for a philosophical position which is very much up for debate and hardly a “settled matter”.

I routinely delete comments that repeat questions or ask questions about material which can be properly researched. I will also add that I have investigated some of these topics and written blogs posts which outline my conclusions. Again, if the repeat posters would take time to RESEARCH, they will probably find the answers to their questions. I do not force my opinions on anyone and prefer not to have people force theirs upon me.

Which gets to critical thinking, which is defined as:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.

Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. It is thus to be contrasted with: 1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 2) the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and 3) the mere use of those skills (“as an exercise”) without acceptance of their results.

The founders assumed that people would be properly educated and be able to use critical reasoning skills to assess points of view not merely say:

“It’s all over the internet, it must be true”
“It came from — facts, it must be true”

Part of this is being able to use one’s experience to verify what is being written, and the other is the research skills to further investigate what has been asserted. I will admit that I like going into depth on topics that interest me, which is something you may have noticed if you read this blog on a regular basis.

The Founding fathers were indeed supporters of education, which seems to be lost on the current generation. For example, the two quotes from James Madison can be found on the left side of the main entrance of the Madison Building of the Library of Congress:

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

On the right side of the entrance:

What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of liberty and learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support?

And these quotes from Thomas Jefferson on the Jefferson Building:

Educate and inform the mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppression of the body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.

Benjamin Franklin founded the University of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, and John Witherspoon was President and head professor of what would become Princeton University, which demonstrates that education was important to the founders in order to have the type of debate necessary to run the republic. Which is an interesting aside and somewhat germane to the topic since Susan pointed out that “The fatal assumption was that Americans would choose to think and learn, instead of reinforcing their particular choice of cultural ignorance”.

The American War for Independence was an idealistic act, and with most idealistic acts and philosophies, its beliefs have run into hard reality. Beliefs such as Anarchy, Democracy, Communism, Socialism, Libertarianism, and so on sound good in theory, but don’t works so well in reality. For example, Anarchy believes that government is not necessary since people know the rules and pretty much obey them, breaking them only when absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, Anarchy tends to descend into nihilism. I contend that one of the failings of the Independence movement was that the voices of the Tories and more moderate forces of independence were shouted down, which means that the guarantee of free speech was a little too late (but that’s another aside).

Anyway, debate and open discussion is a wonderful thing, but it does seem to be a rare commodity on the internet.

And I just liked this quote:

Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.–James Madison 

References:
http://editorsnote.blogs.tuscaloosanews.com/10007/editing-or-censorship/
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/cultureshock/whodecides/definitions.html
http://www.monbiot.com/2010/12/13/reclaim-the-cyber-commons/
http://www.criticalthinking.org/
http://www.criticalthinking.org/aboutct/define_critical_thinking.cfm
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/james_madison.html
http://www.loc.gov/loc/legacy/bldgs.html
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/cultureshock/index_1.html

If you think environmentalism is bad, then drink some toxic waste!

Since I realised I am a “green” prior to Christmas, I can say the views presented by the “Christian” conservative groups is total rubbish. Environmentalism is in no way a religion. For that matter, they aren’t Christians either, but that’s a lot of other posts.

The above video was put out by the Cornwall Alliance. The real fear is that true Christians are beginning to wake up to the facts of the Green Movement. The Conwall Alliance has deep ties to the oil industry and the climate science denial machine. The ultimate source of money for many of these groups comes from a few main sources: the Scaife foundations (Carthage, Sarah Scaife, Scaife Family), the Bradley foundation, and the Koch foundations (Charles Koch, David Koch, and Claude R.Lambe). These often fund in apparent coordination with ExxonMobil. Such foundations specialize in providing seed money for what later go on to become self-supporting propaganda operations, that raise money to support themselves as “non-profits” often, or sometimes as outright for profit astroturf businesses.

Anyway, the Conwall Alliance uses the work of “lord” Monckton (Kinda like Lord Sutch) to refute climate science–gimme a break!

And I have to agree with Mojo that “Of course, if the environmental movement was actually as strong as the Christian right seems to think it is, we would have quite different politics on this issue.”

And they’d be building their homes on toxic waste sites if we were wrong.

Anyway, I’m glad these people are scared of the truth.

See also Resisting Cornwall Alliance Evil Anti-Green Propaganda

And further laughs at: Richard Dawkins Interviews Creationist Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America

Astroturfing: How Right, How Pointless?

A useful comment from Astroturfing: How Right, How Pointless?.

There is only one area of debate which is vital to environmentalism: how to balance preventative measures with the practical realities of daily life. Most people in countries such as Britain contribute to climate change via three means: buying food from shops; domestic energy usage; and private transport. How is your average person supposed to get by without engaging in these things? How can people who are poor in Britain get through a cold winter without burning fuel; or commute to jobs without following suit? They cannot afford solar energy generated boilers; nor are inter-city rails available in most areas of the country. At the moment pragmatic options are not available; and it is in campaigning for these that energy really needs to be spent – not in debunking useless, simpering cybergits[11].

And what then of trolls or astroturfers? They fall into two categories: those who are compulsively desperate for attention; and those who work in a wishy-washy, cul-de-sac vocation. They don’t deserve to be dignified with consideration. Nor do they deserve contempt, however: they deserve pity.

Which is why I moderate comments.

Posted 21/12/2010 by lacithedog in astroturf

George Monbiot, you swine…

You beat me to writing a piece on this topic and did it in a way that was really close to how I would have written the piece.

George and I are pretty much in agreement about most things, which is the reason I titled this the way I did since it is jest that I am describing him as a swine (and I’m a dog). I guess great minds think alike. And I concede  that  George is much more plugged in, but his post Reclaim the Cyber-Commons is pretty close to something I’ve had sitting around as a draft. But I have to tell him his tag line:

Tell people something they know already and they will thank you for it.
Tell them something new and they will hate you for it.

is a little off in this case.  I totally agree with him when he makes this point and would have started my post the same way:

The weapon used by both state and corporate players is a technique known as astroturfing. An astroturf campaign is one that mimics spontaneous grassroots mobilisations, but which has in reality been organised. Anyone writing a comment piece in Mandarin critical of the Chinese government, for example, is likely to be bombarded with abuse by people purporting to be ordinary citizens, upset by the slurs against their country.

But many of them aren’t upset: they are members of the 50 Cent Party, so-called because one Chinese government agency pays 5 mao (half a yuan) for every post its tame commenters write. Teams of these sock-puppets are hired by party leaders to drown out critical voices and derail intelligent debates.

George learned about online astroturfing in 2002, when the investigators Andy Rowell and Jonathan Matthews looked into a series of comments made by two people calling themselves Mary Murphy and Andura Smetacek. These two people had launched ferocious attacks, across several internet forums, against a scientist whose research suggested that Mexican corn had been widely contaminated by GM pollen. Rowell and Matthews found that one of the messages Mary Murphy had sent came from a domain owned by the Bivings Group, a PR company specialising in internet lobbying.

And anyone who blogs about unpopular topics such as Palestinian Rights or Gun Control knows, you will be inundated by comments challenging your beliefs. George points out that:

Reading comment threads on the Guardian’s sites and elsewhere on the web, two patterns jump out at me. The first is that discussions of issues in which there’s little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where companies stand to lose or gain

I'm with him...but I'm watching what I say when we're at dinner parites!

billions: such as climate change, public health and corporate tax avoidance. These are often characterised by amazing levels of abuse and disruption.

Articles about the environment are hit harder by such tactics than any others. I love debate, and I often wade into the threads beneath my columns. But it’s a depressing experience, as instead of contesting the issues I raise, many of those who disagree bombard me with infantile abuse, or just keep repeating a fiction, however often you discredit it. This ensures that an intelligent discussion is almost impossible – which appears to be the point.

The second pattern is the strong association between this tactic and a certain set of views: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Both traditional conservatives and traditional progressives tend be more willing to discuss an issue than these right-wing libertarians, many of whom seek instead to shut down debate.

So what’s going on? I’m not suggesting that most of the people trying to derail these discussions are paid to do so, though I would be surprised if none were. I’m suggesting that some of the efforts to prevent intelligence from blooming seem to be organised, and that neither website hosts nor other commenters know how to respond.

I have to admit that if I had written my piece on Astroturf, I would have also borrowed from George where he talks about the people who aren’t paid, but who are willing to shill for the PR firms that  do the internet astroturfing by repeating their messages. They are the committed, although, I do wonder as to how many are truly concerned individuals since they rarely bother me after I started posting IP addresses! So, I am in agreement with you that the keyboard warriors who do post here are truly individual, but rare.

But, since you beat me to it, George, I’m going to borrow from you. Especially since you mention this:

For his film (Astro)Turf Wars, Taki Oldham secretly recorded a training session organised by a rightwing libertarian group called American Majority. The trainer, Austin James, was instructing Tea Party members on how to “manipulate the medium”. This is what he told them:

“Here’s what I do. I get on Amazon; I type in “Liberal Books”. I go through and I say “one star, one star, one star”. The flipside is you go to a conservative/ libertarian whatever, go to their products and give them five stars. … This is where your kids get information: Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster. These are places where you can rate movies. So when you type in “Movies on Healthcare”, I don’t want Michael Moore’s to come up, so I always give it bad ratings. I spend about 30 minutes a day, just click, click, click, click. … If there’s a place to comment, a place to rate, a place to share information, you have to do it. That’s how you control the online dialogue and give our ideas a fighting chance.”

Over 75% of the funding for American Majority, which hosted this training session, comes from the Sam Adams Alliance. In 2008, the year in which American Majority was founded, 88% of the alliance’s money came from a single donation, of $3.7m. A group which trains rightwing libertarians to distort online democratic processes, in other words, was set up with funding from a person or company with a very large wallet.

I wish that George would allow for comments since I want to give him a hand for putting out something that I will admit is a much better version than what I had written. More importantly, I think that what George has written needs to be published so that more people are aware of how debate is being stifled: especially since he neglect subjects where this practise is widespread (non-inclusive list of where I add the issues of  Palestinian rights, gun control to the ones George mentions).

George, this is the exception that proves the rule.  So, a grudging thank you for telling me something I knew already and saving me a lot of work in actually writing it by beating me to the punch here. I hope you don’t mind me passing it on with my own comments.

OK, George, I borrowed from you. I hope that you will borrow from my post The Centre for Alternative Technology is in financial straits. After all, they are in your neck of the woods.

I think you can get the proper audience for that message.

See also:

http://www.lobbywatch.org/

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Astroturf

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Grassroots_PR_Activists_Swap_War_Stories

http://astroturfwars.org/about/tea-parties/

http://crooksandliars.com/karoli/american-majority-part-astroturf-see-whats

Hi, I’m a Tea-Partier

I guess having been to places such a Belgium and the PRC, I know what repressive regimes can be like.  Thanks, Microdot.

Have these people heard about the Koch Brothers?  Another interesting post on the astroturf nature ot the tea party.

 

As for muscle cars, maybe they’ll start making the Smart Roadster again:

Posted 01/11/2010 by lacithedog in astroturf, Koch Brothers, Tea Party

Watching the media…

I have to admit a fair distrust in the media: especially the US media since it is pretty much run by corporate bosses (even NPR). The Beeb may be slightly more trustworthy, but I think the average journo is basically a frustrated PR person.

The problem is that the media and PR has far exceeded just giving me information. I have made a few posts about how there is a lot of disinformation out there in the political arena.

I also mentioned how PR firms can be used to flood out opposition. Then this piece comes out about Fake Grassroots Letters Oppose Climate Bill. It seems that PR firms were sending out forged letters in the name of the Hispanic advocacy group Creciendo Juntos and the local branch of the NAACP opposing a climate bill. Fortunately, they were caught out.

I found this super list of sites where you can check out the media
http://ahwoo.spaces.live.com/Blog/cns!A63DC3F437782D49!1105.entry?sa=930637252

This is a list of resources you can use in order to cross-check and reference topical news stories from around the world, so as to try and get a picture of what’s truth and what’s agenda driven reporting. Even with this list, you’ll have to educate your brain to discriminate between the lines, but it may help. Good luck and remember one thing – at the end of the day we’re all just puppets of that big ole PR machine in the sky.

Right wing astro-turf, or why nothing ever really gets done

There is a phenonmenon called astro-turfing by politicians. This is the practise of creating a fake grass roots effect. The Gun Rights/RKBA crowd are notorious for this since they tend to appear like flies to shit when someone makes any sort of comment that some form of regulation is needed regarding the purchase and ownership of firearms.

Their funniest statment usually runs along that there are loads of gun laws on the books right now, why don’t we enforce them?

Because these gun laws are toothless due to the fact that the legislators are scared shitless of the “gun rights” lobby. Quite frankly, they aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.

And even more foolishness, the agency tasked with enforcing these laws, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF, ATF) is vilified by the gun rights crowd. This agency has no power or funding because the gun rights crowd don’t like them. In fact, the gun rights crowd does everything possible to make sure gun laws aren’t (a) enforcable or (b) enforced while saying the gun laws on the books need to be enforced!

So, go figure!

From the Center for Responsive Politics’s OpenSecrets.org website:

If lawmakers are guilty of tiptoeing around gun control issues, it is because the NRA and other gun rights groups wield an enormous amount of influence in Washington. The source of that influence is money. Gun rights groups have given more than $17 million in individual, PAC and soft money contributions to federal candidates and party committees since 1989. Nearly $15 million, or 85 percent of the total, has gone to Republicans. The National Rifle Association is by far the gun rights lobby’s biggest donor, having contributed more than $14 million over the past 15 years. Gun control advocates, meanwhile, contribute far less money than their rivals — a total of nearly $1.7 million since 1989, of which 94 percent went to Democrats. The leading contributor among gun control advocates is the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, formerly known as Handgun Control, which has given $1.5 million over the past 15 years.

If gun rights groups have a substantial advantage in campaign contributions, they dominate gun control advocates in the area of lobbying. The NRA alone spent nearly $11 million lobbying elected and government officials from 1997 to 2003. But it wasn’t the gun rights lobby’s biggest spender. That was Gun Owners of America, which spent more than $18 million on lobbing over the same period. By contrast, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence spent under $2 million on lobbying from 1997 to 2003, and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence spent $580,000.

The National Rifle Association has an additional advantage over all other groups in the debate. As a membership organization, the NRA can spend unlimited funds on communications to its 4 million members that identify pro-gun candidates. Those members also contribute millions of dollars in limited donations to the NRA’s political action committee, which runs ads aimed at the general public that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a federal candidate. Since 1989, the NRA has spent more than $22 million on communications costs and independent expenditures, with more than $18 million spent in support of Republican candidates.

So, what we are seeing isn’t really the popular voice, but the voice of money talking and influencing politics. In fact, Most of the “Second Amendment Scholarship” that has come out in recent years has been funded by the NRA! For example, Nelson Lund is the Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment at the George Mason University School of Law. This position was created thanks to a one million dollar commitment to GMU School of Law by the National Rifle Association Foundation announced in 2003.

The Academics for the Second Amendment is funded in part by the National Rifle Association. Academics for the Second Amendment isn’t exactly a collection of academic gun nuts–most of its more than 500 members aren’t academics! The organization is engaged in a genteel lobbying effort to popularize what many liberals consider the gun nut’s view of the Second Amendment: that it confers an individual right to bear arms, not just the right to bear arms in a well-regulated militia. Since it was founded in 1992 by Joseph E. Olson of the Hamline University School of Law, who was on the NRA’s National Board of Directors, Academics for the Second Amendment has held by-invitation-only seminars for academics who share its beliefs about the Second Amendment–or might be persuaded to adopt them.

Strangely enough, Academics for the Second Amendment doesn’t have a website, but it does have a blog!

In fact, it’s fairly hard to find information on this group, but I would put that it does have an incredibly strong connection to the NRA given the lobbying efforts of the “gun rights” crowd. Funny though that Academics for the Second Amendment doesn’t give out any info on who belongs to it. The most I could find was this:

A2A is a tax-exempt educational organization recognized under IRC §501(c)(3) [that makes your contributions tax-deductible]. Our primary goal is to give the “right to keep and bear arms” enshrined in the Bill of Rights its proper, prominent place in Constitutional discourse and analysis.

A2A was formed in 1992 by a number of present and former law school teachers, joined by historians, political scientists, and philosophers of government, who believe it is time to stand and be counted in support of a complete Bill of Rights which includes an individual right under the Second Amendment. The organization seeks to foster intellectually honest discourse on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and, of course, the environment in which academics, judges, politicians, and the public place the rights preserved by the Second Amendment.

Now, wouldn’t an organisation with such noble goals work in the open?

Anyway, I plan on delving deeper into the topic of paid “scholarship” and the Second Amendment, but the real point I am making here is that there isn’t an “intellectually honest discourse” going on here–especially since money is talking the loudest. In fact, money is drowning out any real discourse or action.

So, I don’t need to mention that there was yet another mass shooting near Pittsburgh, PA since even more inactivity will come of it. I might have even been flooded with comments if I allowed them.