The Myth of the Free Press

Recently quit my columnist gig.

For nineteen weeks I thought that column mattered, that my words made a difference, but they didn’t. Small town, small paper, maybe a few hundred readers, tops, and half of them hated my liberal guts. A lot of time and effort, for nothing.

The breaking point came when they wouldn’t run a piece about climate change. I pointed out that there was no real debate on the issue. On one side, we had mountains of data and every respected scientific organization in the world. On the other side we had “liars and fools” whom I called “scoundrels and dupes” in an effort to soften the critique’s edge.

The paper rejected the article outright. They saw no reason to “demonize” climate-change skeptics. The whole point of the article was to illustrate that they weren’t skeptics, they were, in fact, liars and fools.

The liars are the think tanks funded by big oil whose only job is to stir up doubt. Not truth, doubt. The fools are the conservative idiots who spread those lies faithfully, stalwart morons like John Stossel, possibly the dumbest journalist on earth.

This is the unvarnished reality of the climate-change “debate” in America: there is no debate. There is only the truth as science knows it, verses the calculated fabrications of big oil which are being falsely presented as sincere counter-arguments.

What kind of paper squashes a column because it’s afraid of offending liars and fools? Almost every newspaper in America.

Which leads us to the heart of this essay: the myth of America’s “Free Press.”

What does that really mean “Free Press?” It apparently means that they’re free to print almost anything that they want, but they are under no obligation to print the truth. If the truth offends their conservative readership, or the oil baron down the road, or their business-minded advertisers, then newspapers are free to pretend that the truth does not exist.

Most Americans have been fooled into thinking that our “free press” is looking out for our best interests. That is clearly, and alarmingly, not the case.

We have to realize the press is not our friend. The press is not independent. The press is not watching out for us. The press is not telling us what we need to know.

In point of fact, the press is discouraged from doing just that at every turn, primarily from vested commercial interests.

The press itself is a corporate entity that only exists to reap profits. Only when the tide is so decisively turned against a controversy will the press dare to print the truth, and then, usually with a sense of bashful reluctance.

Ideally the press only wants uncontroversial content to fill the spaces between the advertising. That’s all. Mass murder? Cool! Nothing controversial there. A deadly storm? Fab! Nobody roots for a hurricane.

Meanwhile big corporate interests can be robbing us blind…and mum’s the word…because nobody’s paying the press to tell us about it.

But don’t take it personally…it’s just business.

Climate Change is Real

Climate change is real, and climate change deniers are either scoundrels or dupes.

A harsh assessment? Yes, but it has to be said. The time has come to call a card by its name.

Of all the problems we face in the world today, climate change has to top the list. It’s global, it’s impending, and it’s irreversible, but there are steps we could take to mitigate the harm, if we start now, and we start on a large scale.

That’s what the Paris Accord was about: a coordinated, international effort to lower the emission of greenhouse gases which are the primary cause of global warming. Despite broadscale scientific support, Trump backed out of the Paris Accord. For whose benefit?

In Joseph J. Romm’s book “Language Intelligence” the author made a couple of simple yet astonishing observations that I could not stop thinking about. First, he said that “scientists don’t keep repeating things that they know” which is why scientists don’t issue a new argument or explanation for climate change every other day. Second, Romm wrote that “If facts alone were sufficient to persuade people, then experts in science would rule the world. But facts are not, and scientists do not.”

That second statement is so depressingly true that it’s hard not to question society as a whole.

Climate-change deniers are usually not scientists, and if they are, they’re not very good scientists. More often than not, they’re retired old cranks so starved for attention they’re willing to say and do almost anything. To make matters worse, they’re usually compromised in the same way that medical doctors were compromised regarding tobacco back in the 1950’s: they were bought off.

Climate-change deniers rely heavily on the rhetorical device of repetition, which is why every other day we read some new, absurd, nonscientific opinion regarding what they like to call “Climate-change alarmism.” Even though around 97% of all climate-change scientists have agreed on peer-reviewed studies regarding the nature and causes of climate change, there are still about 3% who hold out and cherry-pick the data in order to stir up controversy.

And yes, almost every one of these so-called skeptics is receiving money, money from people and industries who consider any action against climate change, any attempt to reduce emissions, to be a threat to their finances. We are literally in a situation where our society is allowing a handful of wealthy, powerful people to put their profits above the welfare and maintenance of our very planet, and its future.

By keeping the controversy alive, they make it appear as if climate change is still a questionable, unfounded theory and that both sides are posing equally compelling arguments. That’s malarkey. Based on the data, there is no debate.

If we take a moment to chronicle the climate-change denier’s arguments, it looks something like this:

“There’s no proof of climate change.”

“Okay, there’s proof, but humans had nothing to do with it; the climate has always changed.”

“Sure, humans probably caused climate change, but it’s not all that bad.”

And finally “Anthropomorphic climate change is real, of course, but any attempt to stop it won’t matter. It will only hinder our economy and cost us jobs.”

This is criminal. There’s no other word for it. This is an act of fraud on a massive scale.

The only reason the deniers are shooting off their mouths is because they know that nothing they say can be held against them. It’s just their opinion, their innocent “skepticism” verses a mountain of evidence to the contrary. And if their efforts negatively effect life as we know it, so what?

The problem is that their denialist patter is being presented to the world as a valid counter-point, which it is not. If one respected scientist appears on a program to explain climate change, there is almost always some lunatic-fringe fraud sitting across from him spouting falsehoods, and I’m sad to say that many people just can’t tell the difference.

Under President Trump, the White House removed any mention of climate change from its website, and encouraged the EPA to follow suit. That says a lot. It says that Trump is willing to ignore scientific reality in order to serve vested, business interests. He’s lying by omission.

If Trump is willing to lie to us about something that 19 prestigious scientific academies around the world have agreed upon, then he’ll probably lie to us about anything. Think about it.

Maybe it’s time scientists did rule the world. At least they show their work.

Self-Esteem & Learned Helplessness

Alfonzo was a talented young Brazilian. We worked together on Cape Cod. Tattooed and wild in his younger days, he had grown to be a dependable family man in his mid-thirties. A jack of all trades, there were few things he couldn’t do. Though not bookish, the guy was no dummy. There was no construction equipment that he couldn’t operate, and do so expertly. He was sort of our unofficial foreman, because whenever there was a problem, we usually went to Alfonzo.

Handsome, witty and big-hearted, he was born with a fiery side, and could be short-tempered. He had a bad habit of blowing things out of proportion. Little slights that the rest of us could shrug off would gnaw at him unremittingly. It got so bad that one day he took a swing at the boss, and was fired on the spot. We had mixed emotions seeing him go. Although we genuinely liked Alfonzo, we were relieved that we didn’t have to work with a ticking time-bomb any more.

Crossed paths with him a few months later, and he was a changed man. Gone was that almost cartoonish thundercloud that had always hung above his head. Now there were clear skies and rainbows. He smiled brightly when he saw me.

After some small talk, he confided that he was seeing a therapist. Turns out he was suffering from a sever case of low self-esteem. That was why he kept blowing things out of proportion. He said when the doctor told him that, it was as if someone had turned on a light.

Low self-esteem has many manifestations. Some people express it with over-exaggeration, or by over-reacting to problems. Others compensate by being manipulative, or domineering, or deceitful. Regardless, each behavioral abnormality is rooted in a person’s low opinion of themselves, be it conscious or subconscious.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 20% of Americans experience mental illness. While I have no reason to doubt that, I can’t help but think the figure is far higher.

In addition to low self-esteem, I think a large number of us suffer from another behavioral malady that’s not so obvious at first glance, a condition known as “learned helplessness.”

When Dr. Martin Seligman began his career back in the 1960’s, he did what most psych students did at the time, which was to perform behavioral experiments on lab animals. Behavioral conditioning. Think Pavlov with his bell and a salivating dog.

In one experiment, the dogs were given a slight shock to see if they’d learn to jump over a little barrier. Seligman noticed that about a third of the dogs refused to respond, and just sat in their cages enduring the shocks. They had been subjected to experimentation for so long that they felt like nothing they did would make any difference, so they just stopped trying.

Presciently, Seligman realized that the condition probably existed in humans as well, and after some experimentation and data gathering, he found that he was right.

“Learned helplessness” causes despairing pessimism, which leads to long-term depression, which in extreme cases ends in suicide. The condition basically has three parts: 1) we feel like everything’s our fault, 2) we feel like our problems will never end, and 3) we feel like everything is bad.

Thankfully, Seligman developed a methodology of “learned optimism” to remedy the problem. Best of all, after some clinical studies, he found that the solution worked.

It boils down to what Seligman calls our “explanatory style.” If we constantly describe our lives in negative ways, it creates a defeatist feedback loop that further acerbates the problem. Describing our lives in positive ways creates an encouraging, affirmative feedback loop.

These are the solutions in a nutshell: 1) stop making it personal; it’s not always your fault, 2) nothing is permanent; your problems are usually temporary, and 3) just because there’s a problem in one part of your life, that doesn’t mean your entire life is a failure.

Clinical studies show that these three simple changes in our way of thinking can often alleviate our sense of helplessness. Once we realize that things can change, our minds are opened to new opportunities. Optimism inspires us to act, and change, and grow.

“Learned helplessness” is real. It’s so real that two psychologists were recently sued for turning it into a method of torture for the CIA. But just as it is learned, it can be unlearned. Studies prove that.

As the great Marcus Aurelius said, over 2100 years ago, “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” How true. “When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love….”

“Everything is what you judge it to be.”

On Eugene Debs & Labor Day

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man, who does absolutely nothing that is useful, to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars while millions of men and women, who work all the days of their lives, secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

Eugene Debs said that, 99 years ago, in September 1918, as part of a statement he made to the court just before they convicted him of sedition.

Few people know about Eugene Debs. He was a great American, and he gave his life fighting for the working class. In the process he suffered countless hardships and was even jailed for sedition, a charge one step shy of treason.

On the other hand, when we hear Rockefeller, Carnegie, or Vanderbilt, most people recognize those names. The History Channel even produced a stern, one-sided, somewhat entertaining mini-series about them called “The Men Who Built America.”

A more accurate title would be “The Men Who Robbed America Blind.” Each one of them got obscenely wealthy on the backs of people they paid barely enough to survive. But that’s what unfettered capitalism does, and does best: it makes a handful of people exceedingly rich at the expense of everyone else.

If one man had as much wealth as the rest of the world combined, this capitalist system would not only enable that, but encourage it, and defend it as well.

How does the system achieve that? By actively suppressing the power of the working class, and one of the best strategies for doing that is by keeping the workers dumb.

Make no mistake, it’s no accident that almost nobody knows about Eugene Debs. It’s no accident that young people are ignorant of the history of labor in this country, of how every single work-place advantage that we enjoy today was fought for and won with the blood, sweat, and tears of union members from days past.

Corporate America didn’t give the workers one single thing out of the kindness of its heart. Not one. Whether it’s the 8-hour day, or the 40-hour work-week, or sick leave, or vacation — the list is long — every single thing we take for granted in the working world today was literally fought for by the unions — and the corporations fought back tooth and nail.

At times, the company men were overt and vicious, like when they literally machine-gunned strikers at a coal mine in Ludlow, Colorado. While they were at it, they set the little tent city on fire and incinerated women and children alive. Sticklers will say that the National Guard actually did that. Don’t make me laugh. Everybody knows the attack dogs obey their masters.

Mind you, that’s just one of many such examples of extreme brutality on the behalf of the genteel titans of industry.

The corporate undermining of labor runs the gamut from open attacks to petty misrepresentation, and Labor Day is a prime example. Originally, Labor Day was celebrated on May first, May Day, and called International Workers’ Day. It was a world-wide celebration, but since it smacked of communism, the American establishment would only allow an official labor holiday in September, not May, thus defeating the original sense of global solidarity.

That’s only one of hundreds of examples of corporate America’s relentless campaign against the labor class. The latest, and possibly the most nefarious example of these efforts, is the establishment of anti-union think tanks that pose as pro-labor advocates. If weasels had kings, these guys would wear crowns.

They like to paint unions as useless, predatory entities that do nothing but take money. They pretend to speak on behalf of the worker who doesn’t want to join the union and pay dues, but still wants to benefit from the union’s collective bargaining. It’s a total con, but a lot of people fall for it.

Union membership is at its lowest point in decades, and it’s no coincidence that wages and benefits are also lagging far behind the record-breaking profits that we see on Wall Street.

The minimum wage would currently be around $22 an hour if the wealth were spread proportionately. Of course, Wall Street would prefer we didn’t know that, and most of us don’t. They want us to think that we’re just lucky to have a job, and that they’re actually doing us a favor by paying us barely enough to survive, just enough to go a little deeper into debt every month.

Eugene Debs, Mother Jones, Emma Goldman, three names we hardly ever hear. If you want to thank someone for making your life better, thank them. Labor built America, not wealth, and everything we have today was fought for, and won. Remember that.

To paraphrase Debs, “Ignorance alone stands in our way.”