Saturday, February 11, 2012

Kleptocapitalism and Professionalism

The Chayefsy Man: George C. Scott in "The Hospital;" Peter Finch and William Holden in "Network."

Paddy Chayefsky.
Photo by biographer Shaun Considine
He’s an intelligent, late middle-aged professional who is slowly becoming unraveled by his increasing anger at the corporate greed and bovine public stupidity that is overwhelming the mission of the institutions to which he has dedicated his life. He was a central figure used by playwright Paddy Chayefsky in such prescient dramas as Network and The Hospital.
The Chayefsky Man might once have seemed to be freakish, even comic, but you see him all over the place these days. With a dramatist’s acumen, Chayefsky understood that if profit were permitted to trump all other values in American society, the result would be a kleptocapitalist juggernaut that must flatten everything else, including the honorable professionals. Such corruption is the inevitable result of a society whose single real moral imperative is that everything must have its price.
What do I mean by the term “kleptocapitalism?”
I mean an accumulation of corporate wealth so vast that it is sufficient to buy or batter into submission all public officials, to overwhelm all government regulation and all legal and moral constraints, and to corrupt allegedly independent media into an echo chamber for corporate propaganda.
I mean a storm of corporate wealth so thunderous that it must necessarily degenerate into legalized theft, fraud, human trafficking, murder and sundry other evils, because its imperative to follow the money must drive it right down into the moral sewer. Martin Wolf, senior economic correspondent for The Financial Times, observed, "An out-of-control financial sector is eating out the modern market economy from inside, just as the larva of the spider wasp eats out the host in which it has been laid."
Liberty creates wealth, as Henry Demarest Lloyd observed, and then wealth destroys liberty.

America is in desperate need of a space outside the commercial sphere in which to get itself what might be termed a grip.
The professions should provide one of those spaces for sane cultural breathing room — a societal safe room, in effect. But increasingly, they do not.
Professionals exercise specialized, arduously acquired skills on behalf of clients who cannot do what they do, and therefore cannot tell them what they should do. The clients, and the public at large, must rely on the professionals’ ethics to ensure that those professionals are, in fact, acting in their clients’ interests.
Professional ethics therefore provide a kind of superstructure that keeps a society standing.
The metaphor is literal. Professional ethics is what keeps highway bridges from collapsing, for example — or, as in the case of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, fails to do so.
What professions have been corrupted by malign corporate influence? All of them. Let’s take a few examples.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Ciavarella had violated the constitutional rights of thousands of juveniles, ordering that hundreds of his juvenile convictions be overturned. Conahan wielded budgetary discretion to stop funding the county’s public youth detention facility in order to send teens instead to a lucrative private prison facility.
One child was jailed for throwing a sandal at her mother, another for slapping a friend at school and yet another for stealing a $4 jar of nutmeg. Hillary Transue, an excellent student who had never been in trouble, was railroaded into three-month private prison sentence for creating a spoof MySpace page that lampooned her assistant principal in White Haven, Pa.
The case amounts to human trafficking in children for corporate profit by American judges. And the private prison corporate scum even have the audacity to lobby for harsher sentences to line their own pockets.
And the sold-out judicial situation continues to worsen. For-profit companies are effectively bribing politicians to expand their share of the prison “market,” requiring high occupancy rates for the prisons that effectively guarantee that defendants will be railroaded into them.

And worsen. And worsen. In 2013, an inmate claimed in court Corrections Corporation of America uses violence as a management tool at a private prison so brutal it's known as Idaho's "Gladiator School."
America has apparently decided that you can have slaves as long as you invent a nicer word for them. And the trend is accelerating.

Medicine Prescribing drugs for which patient pay for the rest of their lives is a mouth-watering temptation for corporate America. So naturally corporations have courted physicians with gifts that range into the lavish.
In 2010, after the practice received greater scrutiny, a survey indicated that some doctors were cutting their financial ties to drug companies. The number who accepted drug company money for attending “medical meetings,” sometimes in exotic locations, reportedly fell from 35 percent in 2004 to 18 percent in 2009, for example, according to a study by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession.
Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, a critic of drug company-doctor relationships, said the study “reflects physicians’ growing awareness that industry is an inappropriate partner in patient care.”
For one chief of an academic medical department, industry “liaisons” added up to a tidy sum of more than $400,000 in a single year, according to a Boston Globe investigation cited byMother Jones.

Authors Jerome Kassirer and Marcia Angell, former editors-in-chief at the New England Journal of Medicine, argued that the pervasive pharmaceutical industry influence begins at the beginning, with clinical research on drugs.
“That means that the studies in scientific journals are increasingly likely to be designed, controlled, and even ghostwritten by marketing departments, Angell argues, rather than scientists,” journalist Shannon Brownlee noted in reviewing their conclusions. For example, GlaxoSmithKline was accused of burying evidence that its antidepressant Paxil can trigger suicide.
The morning as this article was being completed, I read new reports about shortages of life-saving drugs in American hospitals. Why? Because the pharmaceutical corporations weren’t bothering to manufacture the necessary generic drugs, but only the more lucrative drugs they can peddle exclusively. What are mere lives, after all, compared to corporate profits?

Science — In 2008, some 800 Environmental Protection Agency scientists reported that they had been pressured by superiors to distort their findings to effectively serve corporate interests, according to a survey by the Center for Survey Statistics & Methodology at Iowa State University commissioned by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Just under half the 1,600 EPA staff scientists said they had experienced political interference in their work. The greatest number of complaints about such interference came from scientists directly involved in writing regulations and those who conduct risk assessments such as determining a chemical’s cancer risk for humans.

Academics — The right-wing propagandist billionaires the Koch Brothers have been buying up what are effectively controlling interests in whole university departments.
For a mere $1.5 million, the Kochs bought themselves the power to indoctrinate students in the economics department of Florida State University. They get to screen all applicants, veto any they dislike, and sign off on all new hires. The department head is required to submit yearly reports to the Kochs about the faculty's speeches, publications and classes.
The Kochs have also made influential deals with Brown University's "political theory project," Troy University's "center for political economy," Utah State's Huntsman School of Business, Clemson University in South Carolina and West Virginia University.
“There is a growing effort to stigmatize the study of the humanities as a pedantic waste of time, and narrow the focus of academia down to a vocational school for corporate America,” Philadelphia journalist Daniel Denvir wrote. “Today’s political class does not, to be sure, readily accept the idea of the university as a public sphere for the critical working out of the ideas necessary in a functioning democracy.”
The university is increasingly modeled after a corporation; presidents are CEOs set to raise money, and professors are judged by the ‘value’ they produce in the classroom. Students are consumers, expecting well-manicured lawns, fully equipped athletics and a high grade point average,” Denvir noted.
In addition to attempting to dictate the faculty and ideas taught at public universities, corporate America is simultaneously siphoning off their funds.
Federal student aid is, of course, too lucrative a target for corporations to pass up. A report from the National Center for Education Statistics concluded that for-profit corporate colleges devote less than a third of what public universities spend on educating students, even though the for-profit schools charge nearly twice as much for tuition. “For-profit” students are also much less likely to graduate, but are saddled with massive debt.
The bull’s-eye for right-wing corporate attacks on academic professionalism is tenure, which guarantees intellectual independence to professors.
“The movement to buy conservative beachheads within academia and vilify leftist professors is clearly not new,” Denvir said. “What’s new today is that universities are incredibly vulnerable to conservative encroachment and attack. A debilitating economic crisis has dried up state revenue amidst a long-term move to casualize academic labor so that part-time adjuncts scurry from school to school with no hope of tenure, while tuition continues to rise while household incomes plummet.” All this, while America's schools are becoming pipelines to prison.
And remember, the first thing that privatized, for-profit corporate schools teach is "lying."

Banking — Following the Great Depression, the "socialist" New Deal financial regulations were in place for 60 years of unprecedented growth in this country. In fewer than 10 years after they were repealed, the economy was ruined.
Examples of the fiduciary malfeasance of bankers and Wall Street CEOs are legion, and in fact wrecked the global economy in 2008. The deregulated Wall Streeters knew they could inflate the “value” of their arcane financial instruments by tricking them up into Ponzi-scheme derivatives, bribing or forcing rating agencies to lie about them, and using them to defraud their investors. So they did.
The corporate lobbyists and their legislative minions labored for decades to engineer the destruction of the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banking from the securities business in order to prevent securities speculation from destroying bank capital. Glass-Steagall and other Democratic New Deal protections were obliterated so Wall Street predators could act freely while the Federal Reserve and Security and Exchange Commission remained neutered by safely corruption-friendly corporate-compromised managers. That left Countrywide, AIG, Citibank, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs completely free to loot away, plunge the global economy into freefall chaos and then — to add taxpayer insult to investor injury — to use Treasury bailout money to pay the highest salaries and bonuses in history.
American citizens were like the passengers on the Titanic, with their own federal government on an urgent mission to save the iceberg.

The military  Reporting in 2012, the Commission on Wartime Contracting noted that that in 2010 the U.S. had more contract employees – 262,000 – supporting the departments of Defense and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development in Iraq and Afghanistan than to total of military and federal civilian personnel in both countries. Also, “contractors” — i.e., mercenaries in many cases — were are handling duties that U.S. law supposedly required government employees to perform, the commission said. The commission said, for example that agencies often hire contractors to help evaluate or support its management of other contractors, creating massive conflicts of interest. The over-reliance on contractors essentially overwhelms the government's ability to manage them, the commission said.

Journalism — The ice-cold, deliberate destruction of my own profession has been heartache to me for the last decade.
Because the overriding responsibility of the profession of journalism is to provide honest, fair, relevant, factual reporting about matters of public importance and concern, you should not be able to hire a journalist to peddle partisan propagandistic lies as “fair and balanced” public truth.
Yet Fox News has been doing just that for years.
For example, which political party a politician belongs to isn't a matter of opinion. It's a fact Fox News lies about.
Fox News suddenly identified disgraced Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina as a Democrat on the very day he admitted his philandering.
A coincidence? But Fox News also suddenly changed Congressman Mark Foley's party affiliation from Republican to Democratic the very moment it was inescapably confirmed that Foley was sexually soliciting teenage male pages in Congress.
Fox News' White House correspondent Major Garrett was forced to apologize for another such “mistake” — his fake HBO-Obama story. During the Nov. 4, 2009, edition of America's Newsroom, guest co-host Martha MacCallum reported the fake story that President Obama watched an HBO special about himself instead of the Nov. 3 election returns. On the Nov. 4 edition of Studio B with Shepard Smith, Garrett apologized for "mishearing" press secretary Robert Gibbs and reporting the false information.
All just "mistakes," don't you imagine? But isn’t it funny how every "mistake" Fox News makes manages to falsely malign Democrats and/or shield guilty Republicans?
If lying about facts were a capital crime in journalism, the halls of Fox News would be festooned with funeral wreaths.
Although the actual practice of professionalism is anathema to the con-artist culture of kleptocapitalism, its veneer is always useful to help put over the con. Thus, someone like Juan Williams is paid to lend the professional legitimacy of National Public Radio to Fox News’ endless parade of lies and Republican propaganda. He’s a sellout who should have been axed from NPR years before he was.
Once, Fox News could not have gotten away with the lies they tell. But in the 21st century, they have two great advantages — a cowardly corporate media and a corrupted political culture that fear to expose them, and a low-information, poorly educated American audience that likes to be lied to.
Remember in 2009 when all the American cable news networks spent a full afternoon chasing the ludicrous story of “Balloon Boy?” Even when the “rescued” boy effectively blurted out the fact that the whole thing was a hoax live on CNN, host Wolf Blitzer hastily back-peddled in an effort to AVOID exposing the truth.
Entertainment values, driven by corporate greed, have smashed all but the pretense of professional journalism on television. The cable news channels DIDN'T WANT to reveal the truth, even when the lie was thrown right into their faces. 
The lie was just too lucrative.
And if they can't even expose the truth concerning an absurd hoax about a boy in a balloon, what kind of unmitigated, dangerous nonsense are they feeding us about Iraq, Afghanistan, Wall Street and health care?
Those nonexistent Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction were just a successful trial flight of Balloon Boy, as it turned out.
Contemporary American discourse is completely dominated by commercialism, not journalism. Everything is treated as an advertising campaign where truth is irrelevant even when it's not actually troublesome. Selling the product — whether it’s war, torture, economic Pollyanna pabulum or a Balloon Boy — is the only thing that matters, and the corporate news media always lays the groundwork for the ad campaign. Their alleged professional commitment to seeking the truth is itself no longer anything more than an advertising pitch. Makes a great slogan when your real interest is peddling the soothing lies of “conventional wisdom.”
“The most common and noticeable effect of the corporate noose on journalism is that it simply allows commercial values to redirect journalism to its most profitable position,” wrote Bob McChesney and John Nichols in their book Our Media. Not Theirs.
“As a result, relatively vast resources are deployed for news pitched at a narrow business class, and suited to their needs and prejudices; such news has come to dominate newspapers, specialty magazines, and cable television. Likewise, news for the masses increasingly consists of stories about celebrities, royal families, athletes, natural disasters, plane crashes and train wrecks. Political coverage is limited to regurgitating what some politician says.”
Nichols and McChesney nailed the source of the problem in “Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America.” They wrote, “The ultimate aim of Dollarocracy was, as James Brian McPherson put it, ‘to destroy the professionalism that has defined journalism since the mid-twentieth century.’ The core problem was that professional journalism, to the extent it allowed editors and reporters some autonomy from the political and commercial values of owners, opened space for the legitimate presentation of news and perspectives beyond the range preferred by conservatives. That professional journalism basically conveyed the debates and consensus of official sources and remained steadfastly within the ideological range of the leadership of the two main political parties — it never was sympathetic to the political left — was of no concern. It still gave coverage to policy positions on issues such as unions, public education, civil rights, progressive taxation, social security and the environment that were thoroughly mainstream but anathema to the right.”
Marketing values, and not the professional journalist's mission of providing accurate information to the public, now completely dominate the American news media. This sacrifice of journalistic credibility to propaganda and amusement finally adds up to a form of social suicide, like walking along a cliff’s edge drunk, with your eyes closed.
“The result of all this is that Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world,” the late Neil Postman observed. 
Judging merely from the corporate entertainment media, American young people could be forgiven for assuming that the most common profession is that of “assassin.”
In 21st century America, news coverage on television is so completely compromised that the most honest journalism can only sneak into corporate TV if it is disguised as comedy. Jon Stewart, in his passion for and seriousness about real journalism, is a far more important and serious journalist than most of those who operate under that title in the corporate media.
Stewart, and his fellow satirist Stephen Colbert, understand that without open, honest, factual information, we've had it, and his satire makes that point day after day. The fact that they must do so in the guise of clowns is not a reflection on them, but on the deep corruption of our society, a place in which only jesters may speak the truth to the king.
The cowardice and complicity of the corporate media has been noted by the government and corporate powers that be, and they have accordingly upped the ante on their ruthlessness. They have learned that you can now, for example, poison the Gulf of Mexico, and simply silence journalists still foolish enough to try to report on that fact.
Mother Jones’ Mac McClelland detailed how local police and federal officials work with BP to harass, impede, interrogate and even detain journalists who are covering the impact of the spill and the clean-up efforts. She documented one incident which was particularly chilling of an activist who — after being told by a local police officer to stop filming a BP facility because ‘BP didn't want him filming’ — was then pulled over after he left by that officer so he could be interrogated by a BP security official,” Glenn Greenwald noted.

Having abandoned their professional journalistic watchdogs by the side of the road, Americans can now be counted upon to howl in petulant indignation as they are overtaken, without warning, by a string of disasters and criminal usurpations of power.

Spying  — Gee, having clandestine agents of private corporations wielding extraconstitutional government powers to spy on your every move — what could possibly go wrong there?
Physicians who peddle worthless drugs. Scientists who falsify data for their corporate clients. Judges who sell children to for-profit prisons. Journalists who lie to the public they’re supposed to inform. Corporation given secret police powers. Kleptocapitalism’s assault on the ethics of each profession is no coincidence. It’s a necessary corollary.
Kleptocapitalism’s only motive is profit, at whatever the cost — corrupted public officials, a lie-peddling media, defrauded investors, pension-robbed citizens, a ruined economy, poisoned Gulfs, nuclear meltdowns, wrecked global climates. But such examples of rapaciousness tend to add up and become painfully obvious, so what kleptocapitalism requires to keep the bad times rolling is trust.
Professional ethics exist in order to provide a society’s citizens with confidence in the soundness and benevolence of its institutions. Therefore the subversion of a profession’s ethics becomes irresistibly lucrative. Trust is, after all, the con artists’ chief asset.
So American professional ethics are shot. So what, reply the Americans who waddle through Wal-Mart daily. It’s not as if American Idol has been cancelled or something serious like that, right?
No, it’s merely that this is one more sign of the moral, ethical and professional rot of American society, that’s all. So enjoy it while you can, Wal-Mart Man, until your trusted financial advisor decides to steal all your money or you go under the knife with a surgeon who cheated his way through med school or you're flying in a plane with a pilot who's dead drunk. 
Then you may learn that a lack of professional ethics is more important than you think.
But then that’s the problem, isn’t it, Wal-Mart Man? You never did think. You didn’t want to.
Corporate "privatization" has even perverted the profession of lifeguard.
And as 2013 dawned, we learned that the FBI is the servant of "corporate security," which is pretty much the working definition of a fascist police state.

“Recall for a moment the situation in which Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009,” wrote Thomas Frank. “During the preceding decade, we had endured a tech bubble and a housing bubble; our accounting industry had been suborned in all sorts of ways; our prize stock analysts had been suborned in all sorts of different ways; our leaders and foreign-policy pundits had sold us a war in Iraq using completely bogus reasoning; our investment houses specialized in cooking up poisoned investments; our ratings agencies specialized in hanging blue ribbons on them; and the executives of our financial industry specialized in helping themselves to stupendous bonuses even as they lost billions—even as they blasted holes in the economy of the world.
“What Americans understood when we looked over this panorama of fraud and incompetence and self-dealing was that expert authority had been corrupted at every point where it was exposed to organized money. The meritocracy was obviously broken.”
Ironically, even a society devoted to pursuing the Almighty Dollar requires standards that transcend and trump profit if it is to survive. Not even its richest citizens are finally immune from a society's greed-driven degeneration. Gated communities can’t protect the people inside them if they deliberately choose to trigger a nationwide earthquake.
Chayefsky Man keeps shouting about all this. But Wal-Mart Man isn’t listening.
Haven't you seen how even lowly craftsmen accommodate laymen to a certain point, but all the time hold fast to the principle of their craft and never allow themselves to abandon it? 
— Marcus Aurelius


  1. At the behest of corporate education “reformers,” more and more cities are moving to eliminate the democratic process of electing school boards, effectively telling students, parents and the larger community that republican democracy cannot be trusted to manage fundamentally public institutions. Similarly, corporate “reformers” are constantly demonizing teachers’ unions, effectively telling students and parents that the major vestige of workplace democracy in schools must be crushed.
    Then there is corporate “reformers’” push to replace publicly run schools with privately run charter schools, even though the charter schools typically perform worse than the public ones. That tells students that a public institution with some modicum of democratic control is inherently less ideal than a private undemocratic tyranny.

  2. But after all, profit is the only thing that matters in corporate America, right?

  3. The 21st century American debtors' prisons.


  5. A private prison becomes a gladiator school.

  6. Twenty cents an hour.

  7. Prison phone "services" — another kleptocapitalistic con.

  8. The Incarceration Industrial Complex. Because Americans don't give a good goddamn what you do to poor people.

  9. More prison slavery.

  10. Kleptocapitalism and the police state.

  11. Kleptocapitalism must necessarily corrupt each one of the professions and subvert them in the interest of profit. Kleptocapitalism eats professional ethics alive. Fake cancer diagnoses are yet another case in point.

  12. Meet the doctors who torture.

  13. Prosecutors in the police state of Oklahoma seize defendants’ assets to provide themselves with rent-free housing.

  14. More prison slavery.

  15. Doctors gagged by kleptocapitalism.

  16. Well, what do you expect from corporate slave labor?

  17. Kleptocaplitalism necessarily corrupts the ethics of every profession in society, and thereby destroys the very society that supports it.

  18. America's privatized prison system is Slavery 2.0.

  19. Case in point.