Exposing Falsehoods and Revealing Truths
It's true that a part of us dies every time we see Dr. Dre doing Dr. Pepper commercials, but in reality we've pretty much accepted that "selling out" is a part of life. Everybody needs to get paid, right?
But sometimes corporate sellouts involve more than cringe-worthy ads and intrusive product placement. This is when selling out starts to get just a bit horrifying.
It's kind of hard to trash talk mercenaries when The A-Team made it clear that next to being an astronaut fireman, there's just about nothing as cool as being a soldier of fortune. Still, it's one thing to hire a four-man army of mercenaries to get your watermelon crop to market, but it's quite another to hire over 100,000 private contractors to run everything from security detail to weapons training to air surveillance of your enemies.
Guarding opium harvests.
When the U.S. military is stretched too thin, private firms like Blackwater and DynCorp have graciously offered to fill in the gaps. They're kind of like substitute teachers, except instead of kicking up their heels, reading trashy romance novels and snacking on CornNuts, these substitutes are kicking up their heels and doing some Abu Ghraibing, accidental murdering and sex slave trafficking.
Since 2000, Blackwater alone has received at least $600 million in contracts from the CIA and over a billion dollars from the federal government. In all, 90 percent of their total revenue comes from United States government contracts. So what do they do with all that money? The exact same thing the military does -- security, training, humanitarian aid and jogging in time to singsong rhymes.
And buying wicked cars for their phat cribs.
The problem, though, is oversight. Normally, the military is accountable to the government; the minute a marine screws up, a whole can of procedural hell is opened up.
Not so with private security companies, which was why when Blackwater contractors killed 17 unarmed civilians in September 2007, no one was quite sure what to do about it. And why when a former employee was accused of murder, Blackwater founder Erik Prince said all they could do was fire him. And probably why the same accused murderer was free and available for other private contractors to get him armed and back in the Middle East within months of the incident.
Ahhhh, good times, guys. Good times.
Not only are the repercussions of dirty dealings murky for private contractors, but also for a while there the guys were pretty much immune from Iraqi law. The fact that private security companies have to start playing by some vague rules that aren't exactly spelled out is the good news. The bad news is that once official troops finally start getting out of Iraq, the number of private contractors is expected to triple.
"I've got an idea, guys -- why don't we just pay them by the war crime?"
The idea behind privatizing things that used to be run by the government is that private companies tend to do jobs more efficiently. Walmart gets you through the checkout line way faster than the DMV gets you a new license.
So, when privately run prisons started popping up, it seemed to make sense; if a corporation can guard, house and feed prisoners more efficiently than the government, why not let them? It will save everybody money and if it makes life harder on a bunch of criminals, who gives a shit, right?
"Wait, it doesn't cost anything to set those chains on fire, right?"
Well, here's the thing ...
As a society, you kind of want there to be fewer prisoners. Prison is about the most expensive possible way to deal with a person who is doing something you don't like. But if you're a company getting paid by the prisoner, well, you want the opposite.
So, remember Arizona's controversial anti-illegal immigrant law, which required immigrants over the age of 14 to carry their papers at all times? And how getting caught without proper documentation would get them up to 20 days in jail on the first offense? Actually, illegal immigrants are probably relieved about the 20-day thing, since the first version of the law allowed for up to six months in jail.
And they have to share a cell with Rod Blagojevich's hair.
Now, we're not interested in debating immigration policy or border safety. But chew on the first draft of that law for a second. Six months in jail, when it costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $62 a day to house an inmate, and when Arizona claims to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 460,000 illegal immigrants. Someone was going to have to house a whole bunch of unNorth American Americans.
"Can we just stick them in some shitty slums and harass them when they try to leave? Has anyone thought of that yet?"
It's a good thing a for-profit prison company had a plan! They didn't just have a plan, they were the driving force behind the law itself. According to this investigation, the Corrections Corporation of America, a publicly traded billion-dollar company that imprisons people for profit, helped draft SB 1070 because "immigrant detention is their next big market."
They added, "We're also considering fucking up some babies."
Before the bill was ever introduced to legislators, before you or anyone in Arizona heard of it, a group of businessmen and interest groups wrote it, named it and voted on in at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Washington, D.C. -- not even in Arizona.
And don't think that just because the CCA had a heavy hand in writing the bill that they nobly recused themselves from campaign donations or lobbying legislators, because of course they didn't. Even better, a solid year before the bill passed, representatives from the company started pitching a prison to house illegal women and children, since women and children are clearly Arizona's number one perpetrators of mayhem.
Oh yeah. That kid means trouble.
What's so wrong with prisons that make a little money? Nothing, except for two small things. One is that private prisons are pretty shitty at their jobs. One private prison has been accused of using beatings as a behavior management tool. At another facility, an immigrant was left for 13 hours in solitary confinement after suffering some sort of mysterious brain injury. He died not long after, and family and friends are still in the dark about what happened to him in the first place.
Unfortunately, we'll never know.
Other private prisons are accused of cutting corners to the point where the corners are no longer corners -- they're just dilapidated knobs. They cut guard pay, food quality, drug rehab programs, medical care and basic necessities like toilet paper because, hey, why not?
Let's say you're an investigative reporter. And for shits and giggles, let's say you work for Fox News. Now, let's say that you are investigating an agriculture company, and you discover the company has a stupid amount of synthetic bovine growth hormone in its milk. Which is interesting because milk containing that particular hormone is banned all over the developed world (except in the United States). So you make your report, do your consequent 83 edits required by your news station, then, presumably because your boss is the devil, you get asked to make it so the hormone sounds as harmless as apple pie. Naturally you threaten to report your station to the FCC. Then, for the sake of a good story, let's say you're fired and subsequently blackballed from the media.
We'll say that, hypothetically, you're these two people.
Or, pretend you work for the news program 48 Hours and you do an expose on a certain big shoe company's (Nike's) labor practices. When you try to update your report with a timely follow-up, you're denied. When you try to respond to a nasty Wall Street Journal piece about your report, you're denied. Two years later, the same station that aired your report cuts a deal with Nike and lets their sports reporters sport Nike-labeled parkas while reporting on the Olympics.
In both cases, major corporations, specifically Monsanto and Nike, influenced the editorial content of news programs. In the Fox News case, the story of Monsanto's hormone-enhanced milk was hyped to the nines by the station, until Monsanto found out about it and wrote to the president of Fox News. The reporters on the story, who refused to downplay the presence of the hormone, were fired, but their story was aired in the end -- wait, actually, the Monsanto version of their story was aired. In 2003, the Florida Court of Appeals agreed that, yes, news media does have the right to lie about everything. After all, why should politicians have all the fun?
As for Nike, in 1998 Nike sponsored CBS coverage of the Olympics in Japan, and part of the deal was that reporters would wear Nike swooshed parkas while reporting. The same parkas that were presumably made in the sweatshops Roberta Baskin of 48 Hours had exposed two years earlier.
Naturally, Baskin was pissed. Especially since the upper brass hadn't let her follow up her Nike story with relevant updates or rebut attacks on her investigation. To be fair, CBS claimed the sponsorship in no way affected their coverage, and they did digitally remove Nike labels from subsequent broadcasts. To be fairer, Roberta was demoted, then granted a request to leave her contract. She quit CBS and went to ABC where, on her first day, no joke, she got a letter from Disney addressing her as a "fellow cast member."
"This just in: the president has been shot. But first, The Princess and the Frog!"
If you're anything like over 25 percent of Americans in any given year, you get depressed every now and then, maybe even depressed enough to be counted among the 10 percent of Americans who are on antidepressants. The fact that such a large number of people from the civilization that invented beer hats are blue enough to medicate themselves is sad enough, but the bad news isn't over yet.
For one thing, those cool pills your doctor prescribes for your permanent case of the Mondays might not be the best medication for your symptoms. They might just be the ones he was paid to shill, in a roundabout way.
"Hey, man, do those pills come in heroin flavor?"
While doctors cannot actually take money in exchange for prescribing a certain company's drugs, they can be invited to conferences and put up in expensive five-star hotels. And as people who rarely get to lodge anywhere but the backseat of a Chevette in a Kmart parking lot, we can assure you that five-star hotels can make a man do a lot of things. We'd shiv a three-legged dog for a stay at a Motel 6, so it's not hard to see how luxury digs might persuade a guy to shell out some happy pills.
"Run over a child? Sure, does it have to be my car?"
As for the conferences themselves, doctors are bombarded with information about new drugs and medical equipment, and this exposure makes it worth it for medical companies to pay millions to attend. Or, better yet, to hire the doctors themselves to do the speaking as consultants.
There's a reason Getty has like a thousand of these pictures.
In 2004, the U.S. government sued a company called TAP for providing kickbacks to doctors for prescribing their medications over others. The defense contended that it was "standard practice and not illegal to offer freebies." And they won. There seems to be a fine line though, because in May of 2011, another company lost their court case for doing almost exactly the same thing. These wins are rare though, and are in fact so difficult to obtain that recently the government changed tactics and is now going after the doctors themselves.
"No, you're not under arrest. You just have to wear them during surgery."
When most of us think of the college experience, we think of illegal hazing and roofie avoidance, not the mundane stuff that goes on behind the scenes. Which is why we probably forget that universities aren't just host to ragin' keggers -- they're also often behind medical breakthroughs and new technologies. For every couple of frat boys testing the limits of vodka/energy drink consumption, there's a Dr. Brainiac on the cutting edge of some world-changing something.
If you're one of those saps in the lab, you've got to get the funding for your rabbit-man hybrid experiment from somewhere. Your options are limited: you can apply for a government grant, or you can apply for a private grant. Money doesn't grow on trees, and researchers need money to research.
Dr. Janice McScience discovers the circle, made possible with funding from people like you.
But what if you're, say, a villain company? And universities all over the country are looking for the fastest way to plot your downfall? You know, like how lots of researchers are trying to come up with "green" energy technologies that will drive the oil companies out of business? Do you think they'll be as likely to trigger your demise if you're giving them over $800 million for research? You bet your ass they're not.
Big oil companies like BP, Chevron and Conoco have donated at least that much money to colleges across the country. Not just any colleges -- colleges that were studying alternative energy sources and ways to curb greenhouse emissions.
Birds and Oil: A Study of Their Symbiotic Relationship.
For example, since 2002 ExxonMobil has donated over $225 million to Stanford to fund research to "study technology to curb greenhouse gas emissions." Of course this gift came with a planet-sized catch, the caveat being that the panel that considers research proposals by the faculty be made up of oil industry people, and that each panel member be named "Tex" or "Rusty."
"The cowboy hat tells me your research on why electric cars murder babies needs to be funded."
In 2007, BP funded a $500 million research center for green technology at UC Berkeley. At least one professor went on record as saying he would find his own damn funding rather than be subject to the demands of BP. Today he's making amazing breakthroughs in the squirrel-powered rickshaw industry.
Via Wikimedia Commons
Squirrel not included.
For more corporate jerk-offery, check out 6 Insane Conspiracies Hiding Behind Good Causes and 5 Hollywood Secrets That Explain Why So Many Movies Suck.