Monday, March 18, 2013

Crisis Jockeying: Sensationalizing situations to manipulate feeble thinkers

Ladies and gentlemen, lets look at and come up with a solution to a dilemma that has been occurring throughout human history and continues strongly today... I will call it crisis jockeying.

This is just like it sounds.

The horse and its jockey are
representative of a public crisis and a
Crisis Jockey, who rides the crisis and
tries to guide public opinion of the
crisis to maximize his or her cause's power
It is when people and institutions ride a crisis as if it were a sport, hoping for a big payout at the end. In crisis jockeying, as in horse racing, the jockey is only a small part of the team (pun intended). There are breeders who get a large share of the spoils of victory, as well. In the game of crisis, the breeders help instigate and proliferate a specific event or condition with the sole purpose of having their jockey ride it out to win the pot.

Crisis jockeys and their groups rely on hysteria to grant them power and/or money. They are the benefactors of windfall profits. Unlike big oil companies who had been getting a bad PR rap several years ago for 'windfall profits' the big crisis companies actually take windfalls. The oil companies had invested capital in their infrastructures and personnel for years. Then when market conditions shot the price of their goods upward, they were able to see an increase in profit. Rather than windfall, their profit was normal, market-based profit. The kind of profit that comes to all companies that invest money, time and manpower into an industry and are still functioning well when the market graces their industry with a boom.
Profit: 9.38% of Revenue.
Governments' cut: 22.98% of Revenue.
 Percentage of revenue put back into the economy: 67.63%.

Big crisis companies (cause-specific activists, political candidates and parties, etc.) become windfall profiteers when a storm hits or an earthquake rumbles. Their profit comes from blaming a natural disaster on an opponent or one of their adversaries. After they give blame, they begin to take donations. These donations are not necessarily just monetary contributions. It can also include face time on news programs or any other platform that enables that entity or individual to evangelize for their cause. Most of them are unrelated to the actual issue about which they are talking, but they find some obscure point or undertone to link the event or condition to their cause.

Sometimes the crisis jockeying involves jockeying for political position. Since it is so fresh, think of the sequester. The sequester was a proposal offered by President Obama a year and a half ago. It was designed to push Congress into coming up with a budget (something that hasn't really happened in years). Officials in the Obama Administration claim that at the time the sequester was proposed, they never expected it to go into effect. Taking their claim at face value, we will say that their intention was to scare Congress into action. Speaking glowingly of his sequester to the Des Moines Register, President Obama referenced the program and lauded the fixing power it would grant him. However, advisers must have determined that they would be taking a different stance publicly on the sequester and asked the Register to not print certain parts of the interview. They wanted to use it as a tool against Republicans from that point onward.

Fast forward to February/March of 2013. The period of sequestration was upon us. Members of Congress and even the president went out claiming that if the sequester goes through, lines at airport security will grow dramatically, unemployment will tick up significantly (Rep. Maxine Waters claimed the sequester would cost the US economy 170 million jobs, an economy that currently only has 140 million jobs), among other dramatic and drastic things.

We were told teachers would be laid off, policemen, firemen and all sorts of other kinds of public sector employees would be let go. To the casual listener, they would hear that and immediately think of their kids' teachers or their police force. Then they would think, heaven forbid, that if their house were to catch fire, without firemen, what would be their chances? The casual listener would willingly pay more of the income they earn to save these public servants. But you aren't the casual listener, are you?

You realize that the money to pay police officers and fire fighters come from local taxes. Teachers salaries come from state level boards of education, primarily funded by local taxes (some are subsidized by the federal Board of Education, but that largely goes toward operational and curriculum-related costs). You also realize that the sequester doesn't eliminate budgets from last year's levels, rather it cuts money from this year's projected budgets. We are still spending more money under the sequester than we did last year. Yet the world is still in the process of ending.

Madam Secretary Janet Napolitano
Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Home Land Security, was asked which airports were reporting longer wait times at TSA checkpoints. She started her list off by saying: "I want to say...". However, after calls were put in to the airports she mentioned, it was clear that she was lying. Rather than reporting longer lines, each of the airports cited by Secretary Napolitano as being delayed confirmed that there were no additional delays.

The Department of Homeland Security's ICE began releasing illegal immigrants from prison (note, these were not just illegal immigrants going through the process of exportation, they were criminals serving time in prison, not jail, for prison-worthy crimes) before the sequester even became law. The releases were done in anticipation of possible budget cuts. The Arizona Daily Star reported that all 300-500 released the first day were in Arizona. Department officials have since suggested they would have to release up to 32,000 criminals back into the streets.

Also ahead of the sequester, Secretary Napolitano's department approved $50M for new uniforms for TSA agents. The math amounts to about $1,000 per uniform. As a cub scout, I had more patches than TSA agents wear and they, too, were sewn onto a blue shirt. The whole thing probably ran about $45-50. That included a hat and bandanna. Can the lighter shade of blue possibly push the cost up to $1,000?

At the White House, tours of "the people's house" have been cancelled. President Obama blamed it on the Secret Service and said he did not know about it in advance and would work tirelessly to get them back on. However, his press secretary Jay Carney didn't get the message and asserted that the White House had made the decision to cancel the tours, in association with the Secret Service. The staff that ran the tours office consisted of seven employees. Seven employees and the tours they had offered to students and tax payers had to go because of sequestration. This announcement came the same day that Secretary of State John Kerry announced an additional $60M in aid to the Syrian rebels (in addition to the $55M already pledged to the group). So, tax paying Americans visiting the nation's capital can no longer go see the inside of the White House because of budgetary shortfalls (private donations have been offered to fund the resuming of the tours, but the White House has refused), but the tax dollars the tax payers are paying gets sent off to fund opposition to Syria's brutal regime? Even if we assume the seven staffers that ran the tours are overpaid, why is that one of the first things to go?

The last piece that we will touch on is the issue of immunizations to kids in Maryland. Because of sequestration, the CDC had to cut the number of available vaccines in Maryland by about 2,050 doses. That is 2,050 fewer children getting vaccinations than would have otherwise received them. The director of the CDC, Thomas Frieden, found himself in an uncomfortable position while testifying at a congressional subcommittee hearing on the cuts. Because of some direct questioning from Maryland Rep. Harris, Frieden was forced to admit that the sequester, which cut $30M from their projected budget, forced them to cut the immunizations, BUT with the president's proposed budget's cut of $58M, the immunizations would have been saved. Do the math folks. With $28M less to spend in the budget, the CDC would have saved the vaccinations? How does that work?

The bottom line is this: people in power love being in power. The second to bottom line is this: manipulation (mass or otherwise) is the favorite tool of the powerful to stay in power. Today, the manipulation is executed with soundbites through news reports. A few centuries ago, as Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, it was executed through raw force. Random killings in the town square would scare people into submission. Think of the Spanish Inquisition, the expansion of Ottoman Empire, Nazi and Soviet rule. The success of each of these movements was based on the exercise of power to instill fear. It has always happened and will, no doubt, continue to plague human society. Today the practitioners of this technique send experts, advisers and even celebrities into newsrooms to tell everyone how bad life will be if xyz doesn't happen. Then they say that if, by some off chance, the bad thing does happen, everyone needs to blame Company X, or the X party, or John/Jane Doe for the unavoidable misery that will follow.

To avoid being manipulated, all we need to do is think things through a bit. Who is making this claim? Why is he/she making the claim? Do all of the claim's premises add up? Is the conclusion made within the claim sound? If there is a red flag that comes up as a result of the answers to any of these questions, chances are someone is trying to dupe you. The second thing to do is be vocal about the facts surrounding the attempted duping. Speak to friends and family, colleagues and neighbors. Be the voice of reason. Without being overbearing, discuss whatever the situation may be and review the actual facts together. Then soon, you/we won't be so easily played by these crisis jockeys.

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