By Adam McKay, Huffington Post
Friday, Jun 22, 2012
You know how in every heist movie they get past the security cameras that show the hallway leading to the diamonds by jamming the screens with a fake signal of everything looking safe and quiet? Usually a guard coughs so they don't notice the blip from switching to the bogus feed. Then they break in and the guards still see an empty hallway on their monitor. Well America's watching an empty hallway. At some point the news was replaced with fake news that shows a lot of distraction, tit for tat arguing or a message that "everything's fine" over and over again. It's news that's owned by six media-opolies so it's no surprise they would be more interested in ratings and not be wild about stories questioning corporate personhood or the lowest post-loophole corporate tax rates in fifty years. So instead of useful information we get opinions decorated with misleading info. And the result is that we are a shockingly misinformed country. A recent study shows that people that don't watch any news at all know more than people who watch FOX.
There's another study about how American's grossly underestimate class inequality; or overestimate crime rates or the amount spent on foreign aid. And we all remember how 70% of the country thought Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 in the lead up to the Iraq war.
Also, in March 2009 the European Journal of Communication asked citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland, and the U.S. to answer questions on international affairs. The Europeans clobbered us. Sixty-eight percent of Danes, 75 percent of Brits, and 76 percent of Finns could, for example, identify the Taliban, but only 58 percent of Americans managed to do the same -- even though we've led the charge in Afghanistan.
And these studies can't even take into account the most destructive element of our media: straight up omission. Every week there are shocking stories that directly relate to the health of our democracy that go under-reported or ignored. Voter suppression, negating the power of local elected officials in Michigan; lobbying groups that take money from foreign interests; wildly destructive trade deals being negotiated in secret, etc etc.
And even when issues are discussed we get discussions about whether or not the president was born in Keyna and flown Mission Impossible-style to a hospital in Hawaii. Sometimes we talk about gay people planning to secretly take over our schools and teach gayness to our kids. And meanwhile a handful of sociopathic billionaires and transnational corporations are robbing us blind.
There's only one answer to this information famine and it's hammer-to-the-head simple.
We must return to facts.
Hardcore, no doubt about it, facts.
No more name calling, labels, or baseless assertions like "Obama is destroying this country!" or "Teachers are living high on the hog!"
The only thing any of us should be concerned with is how is Obama destroying this country. And where are the numbers and facts that show that destruction? And then if there aren't any, let's move on. And if teachers are living high on the hog, show me the numbers. And then explain to me how sleeping and living on the highest point of a pig is a good thing (different topic).
The truth is, there's an information blockade in America and it must be broken. In order to find crucial facts, numbers and outside perspectives a person must spend an hour searching and cross-searching on the computer. But in a country that works the longest work weeks of any industrialized nation with among the lowest vacation and work leave times the kind of time and focus needed to fact check or question sources is not easy to come by. So people rely on word of mouth and the pundit they identify with.
Depending on what state you live in you may only have right-wing talk radio and FOX or CBN with MSNBC three hundred channels down the dial. And none of those networks are going to give you the hardcore facts each and every person needs to stop voting like you're half-drunk on your cell phone picking a finalist for So You Think You Can Beat Box (how has that not be a show?).
And we're not even even getting into the thousands and thousands of political ads that run constantly from shadow groups featuring market tested emotional issues designed to scare or outrage citizens or at the least confuse them into not voting.
There is only one way to fight back against this multi-billion dollar wall of white noise and lies.
We must create an INFORMATION BUCKET BRIGADE (#InfoBucketBrigade or #FWord). Once a week every one of us must pass on a rock-solid fact with context at the ready to someone else we know. If it's someone who disagrees with you, you get bonus points. Whether it's through email, Twitter, Facebook, text, or conversation, all that matters is that fact is passed on and the person you pass it on to passes it on.
The set up shouldn't be confrontational. No "Suck on this you Ditto head..." or "Time to wake up you socialist...." Just say "Here's something worth knowing...." or "Did you know....?" That's it. Sometimes they will already know. Sometimes they will appreciate the info. Sometimes they will call you horrible names. But the beauty of facts is that they don't go away. They just are. And we never know which fact will be the tipping point for someone jumping on board a collective problem solving American effort. As opposed to this ridiculous us vs. them junk that has screwed our country up and gridlocked our government.
To start with I offer this fact. It's simple and basic but I've found that a surprising amount of people don't know it.
Taxes for the rich are lower than they've been in 80 years.*
*(Except for a year and a half when Reagan took it to 28% and quickly had to raise it back.)
Before you write this off as some number or small point think about what it means. It means that every time a politician says the reason for not raising taxes for the rich is that we need to protect the "job creators" it's bullshit. Every time a congressman or pundit says its "class warfare" to increase taxes on the wealthy it's a massive lie. It means that when someone says we must cut programs for the neediest among us because it's the only way to reduce deficits they are full of it. Remember, this chart doesn't include the Bush tax cuts. But the trend is clear. During the fifty years of greatest American growth we had fair taxes for the rich. Now we don't.
I've brought these tax rates up to people and most of the time people change the subject or just call me a liberal. That's all good and fine but the fact remains: taxes are lower for the rich then they've been in eighty years.
This fact must make it's way to the people who need it. So I propose this Information Bucket Brigade. Pass this fact on. Person to person to person.
Will people twist facts and find bizarre sources to counter with? Of course they will. But a battle of facts is infinitely better than the name calling waste of time we have right now.
We are a country that has been disconnected from real information. NAFTA, GATT, Citizens United, the Federal Reserve, trade tariffs, credit default swaps... these are the issues that define this era. Shouldn't we at least know the basics of what they're about?
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