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Reality is out of sync

The election season revealed many truths about the direction America is
taking. The president kept insisting that "liberty is on the march" in Iraq
and Afghanistan, but some very disturbing patterns have become common in
the United States. Trends have been afoot which change the definition of
conservatism to one which most people who identify themselves as
conservatives would not embrace. We can see signs of it everywhere.

On or about Oct. 22 a news article went across the land from the Associated
Press, written by Jonathan Fowler, alerting people to something I think
most people suspect: "Ecologists Fear Mankind Is Killing Earth." The news
was that the WWF, the World Wildlife Fund, had issued a report which warned
that consumption of nonrenewable resources was taking place at a pace 20
percent greater than the Earth could replace them. The 40-page report came
to an unpleasant conclusion: "We are running up an ecological debt which we
won't be able to pay off unless governments restore the balance between our
consumption of natural resources and the Earth's ability to renew them."
The subtext, one may conclude, is that it would be better if people
consumed less of these renewable resources and that government should play
a role.

But wait. The article goes on to state that Fred Smith, president of the
Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, on a telephone
interview, had a counter: The report is "static" and fails to notice the
benefits people get from resource consumption. Smith's comments were deemed
newsworthy enough to cause the news agency to solicit a telephone
interview. Most of us can be sure that if we phoned any institution - a
prison, or a hospital for the psychologically distressed - that we could
find someone to talk to who has an opinion about what the World Wildlife
Institute had said. If the newspapers would identify the sources of such
interventions, we could have a fair valuation of what they are worth. But
here we have a perfect example of what is wrong: Smith works for a
non-profit organization that enjoys as its main source of funding the Exxon
Mobil Corporation. It was Exxon Mobil who wants us to hear, as though it is
on an even footing with people who are actually paying attention to
resource consumption, that resource consumption "benefits people." The
people it benefits most are, of course, people who own oil companies. Don't
take my word for it, google Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The week before, reporter Ron Suskind writing in the New York Times
magazine related that he had been scolded by a White House aide that he was
"in what we call the reality based community," which was contrary to the
mode in the White House which, when it acts, "we create our own reality."
Reality is what the White House declares it to be. Don't confuse them with
facts.

On the one hand, some of the billionaires who benefited so handsomely from
the last rounds of tax cuts are using their money to create a bevy of think
tanks on everything from the environment to "tort reform" whose primary
similarity is that they oppose anything that might erode corporate profits
of any kind. Imagine if you can that some of these "folks" have an agenda
and that they don't care if the mercury in your blood goes up or if
greenhouse gases accelerate global warming or that your car might flip over
and kill you because of faulty manufacturing techniques. They want the
courts to be forbidden to give substantial awards when people are harmed by
carelessness and they have a plan. They fund "think tanks" which have
people - well-paid people - who will immediately respond to negative news
about things that people might care about which might result in more
regulation and negative court decisions and, ultimately, reduced profits.
Their responses may not be truthful, as when they argue that the science
around global warming is "theory." Shallow people might think these
scientists are just guessing. People who have money and a pet cause but are
confronted by inconvenient information can just send someone a check and
reality goes away. At these think tanks, conclusions are drawn to order,
and research is done to support the conclusions. Reality-based procedures,
such as those practiced at universities, are not necessary. Money can
corrupt university research too, but universities are not generally set up
for the purpose of being corrupted.

The think tanks hold conferences and invite distinguished players,
including Supreme Court justices, who are wined and dined and schooled in
the best rhetoric to hide corporate misbehavior and save profits. The two
Supremes known to attend such propaganda sessions are Antonin Scalia and
Clarence Thomas, who happened to be alternate-reality President Bush's
favorites. He'd like a full Supreme Court with the same sociopathic
tendencies as the above-mentioned billionaires. There is a vast rightwing
conspiracy after all, and it's coming to a town near you. There are twice
as many conservative think tanks as liberal ones, and they have a lot of
money. In fact, the top 20 combined have more money than is spent by the
Republican Party. They are alternate reality institutes where inconvenient
facts are often glossed over. The news media are intimidated by them. No
wonder the public has declining respect for news organizations.

Americans live in a troubled relationship with corporations. The latter
provide jobs and products which people need and are innovators in
technology. These are important functions, but corporations can also do
harm to society, and a relative minority of irresponsible corporate
activists can do enormous damage to the country, urging the culture away
from reality toward an alternate reality which will lower the quality of
life for the vast majority of people. Credible news organizations would
never include statements from the loony left, and they should identify the
alleged funding sources of these "institutes" if they must use them at all.
Imagine if the same article had said "The Competitive Enterprise Institute,
which is associated with Exxon/Mobil, issued a statement today..."

Something truly decadent is happening in the culture. There is more
dishonesty and less sense of responsibility to society among the managers
of the great corporations than ever within memory. A similar malaise
infests the government where truth-telling and fact-based reporting is
derided as "reality-based," meaning out of sync. The combination of
corruption and willful distancing from reality do not bode will for the
future.

John C. Mohawk Ph.D., columnist for Indian Country Today, is an author and
professor in the Center for the Americas at the State University of New
York at Buffalo.