Tag: propaganda

Lobbying the Taxpayers — with Taxpayers’ Money

Some people say innovation is dead in America, but NASA is always looking for innovative ways to extract more money from the taxpayers. The Wall Street Journal reports on some of their innovations in using our tax dollars to persuade us to give them even more of those tax dollars:

In William Forstchen’s new science fiction novel, “Pillar to the Sky,” there are no evil cyborgs, alien invasions or time travel calamities. The threat to humanity is far more pedestrian: tightfisted bureaucrats who have slashed NASA’s budget.

The novel is the first in a new series of “NASA-Inspired Works of Fiction,” which grew out of a collaboration between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and science fiction publisher Tor. The partnership pairs up novelists with NASA scientists and engineers, who help writers develop scientifically plausible story lines and spot-check manuscripts for technical errors.

The plot of Mr. Forstchen’s novel hinges on a multibillion-dollar effort to build a 23,000-mile-high space elevator—a quest threatened by budget cuts and stingy congressmen….

It isn’t the first time NASA has ventured into pop culture. NASA has commissioned art work celebrating its accomplishments from luminaries like Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol. …

Some see NASA’s involvement in movies, music and books as an attempt to subtly shape public opinion about its programs.

“Getting a message across embedded in a narrative rather than as an overt ad or press release is a subtle way of trying to influence people’s minds,” says Charles Seife, author of “Decoding the Universe,” who has written about NASA’s efforts to rebrand itself. “It makes me worry about propaganda.”

Lobbying with taxpayers’ money isn’t new. But as Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.” To compel him to furnish contributions of money to petition his elected officials to demand more contributions from him just adds insult to injury.

Misunderstanding Inflation through the Years

NPR reports on rising food prices across the world. They may have played some role in the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, and if so, those wouldn’t be the first revolutions sparked by inflation. NPR reporter Marilyn Geewax mentioned several reasons that food prices are rising – droughts, floods, oil prices, financial speculation – but not the obvious one: the continuing creation of unbacked money by central banks around the world. As Milton Friedman said, “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” And as Jerry O’Driscoll wrote just two weeks ago, about rising food prices, “Inflation is here.” But that point isn’t yet universally understood, at least not at our government radio network.

Anyway, I turned off the radio and turned on the television, where TCM was just broadcasting the 1942 MGM propaganda film “Inflation” (made at the request of the Office of War Information but then never released because it was too anti-capitalist even for wartime propaganda). Edward Arnold plays the Devil, in league with Hitler and posing as a businessman who who encourages people to buy more, evade price controls, stockpile goods, and use the black market. (The film was made by Cy Endfield, who had been a member of the Young Communist League at Yale and went on to make such films as Zulu and Universal Soldier.) The film features what appears to be President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s April 28, 1942, radio speech, “Total War and Total Effort.” As the young couple in the film go to buy a new radio, the shopkeeper turns on the radio and they hear FDR say:

You do not have to be a professor of mathematics or economics to see that if people with plenty of cash start bidding against each other for scarce goods, the price of those goods (them) goes up.

Yesterday I submitted to the Congress of the United states a seven-point program, a program of general principles which taken together could be called the national economic policy for attaining the great objective of keeping the cost of living down. I repeat them now to you in substance:

First. we must, through heavier taxes, keep personal and corporate profits at a low reasonable rate.
Second. We must fix ceilings on prices and rents.
Third. We must stabilize wages.
Fourth. We must stabilize farm prices.
Fifth. We must put more billions into War Bonds.
Sixth. We must ration all essential commodities which are scarce.
Seventh. We must discourage installment buying, and encourage paying off debts and mortgages.

As it happens, I have a 1942 OWI poster with that same message hanging in my kitchen:

In fact, of course, price inflation was the natural result of a substantial increase in the money supply before and during the war. All of FDR’s policies – cartels, destruction of crops, wage and price controls, rationing – were misguided attempts to deal with the consequences of monetary manipulation and other bad policies.

By the way, FDR famously said, “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” Which might explain another propaganda film produced by MGM, this one in 1933, that extolled the virtues of FDR’s policy of inflation, utilizing the argument that is variously called “stimulus” or “the broken window fallacy.” The film cited the successful results of Civil War inflation. “What inflation has done before it will do again! … What a man! And what a leader! Yowzer! Happy days are here again!” Yeah, that went well. And by 1942 MGM was back on board, making a government propaganda film opposing inflation.

For background on inflation, read Cato adjunct scholar Lawrence H. White at the Concise Encylopedia of Economics.

Oh Shenandoah, I Long to See You…

…but I can’t because of Obama!

That takeoff of the lyrics from the famous folksong “Oh Shenandoah” are the impromptu creation of my wife, who this weekend was as appalled as I was when we packed the kids into the car, headed into the Shenandoah National Park, and were greeted by closed overlook after closed overlook accompanied by the sign pictured to the right.  Apparently, one project funded by the so-called “stimulus” includes simultaneously renovating – or at least cordoning off – every overlook north of the park’s Thornton Gap entrance without posting any clear warning that that’s the case as visitors decide whether to head north or south.

Even more upsetting was being subjected to pure propaganda in the park’s visitor guide, which reports the following on the page “Shenandoah Looks to the Future”:

Some of the treasured resources in Shenandoah National Park are being enhanced through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed into law this unprecedented act to jumpstart a failing United States economy. The goal is to put Americans to work while investing in infrastructure for the future.

It’s bad enough to have to see “Recovery.gov” after “Recovery.gov” sign informing you that the views you actually came to see – and for which you paid a $15 entrance fee, I might add – have been put off limits. But is it really too much to ask that people be able to visit national parks without being subjected to propaganda clearly designed to glorify the highly debatable policies of a sitting – and likely to run for reelection – president?

I sure hope not, because no matter which part of the political spectrum you occupy, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to get away from politics for a while?

The Ecuadorian Government’s Campaign against the Free Press

The World Cup is over but not the Ecuadorian government’s propaganda campaign vilifying the free press.

For those Ecuadorians who don’t have Direct TV, but only have cable TV or the local network channels, the only place to have watched the much-awaited matches was on one of the state-owned TV stations and with constant state propaganda. (You can watch the videos depicting the private press as a snake or as shooting bullets coming out of the TV here, here, here and here.)

When I say constant, I might be understating the frequency: according to Infomedia — a media monitoring company— during the weekend of June 18-20 these ads were broadcasted 414 times for a total of 7,988 seconds or 133 minutes.

To make matters worse, the ads continue to be aired at the same time the not-so-independent National Assembly is debating a new communications law that would create a Communications Council — controlled by the executive branch — with the power to impose severe sanctions on radio and TV stations and newspapers.

For starters, the proposed law contains this contradictory statement in its preamble:

Every person … has the right to … search, receive, exchange and distribute information that is truthful, appropriate, contextualized, plural and without previous censorship…

Of course, it will be up to the council to decide what is truthful (and appropriate, contextualized and plural, whatever that means).

Additionally, the Council would have the power to impose sanctions on TV and radio stations and the written press, including fees of 1-10% of the average sales of the media company during the previous three months. The long list of actions that could provoke a sanction includes the following:

  • not complying with the obligation to broadcast at least 40% of nationally produced material during the daily programming schedule;
  • broadcasting or publishing ads that “provoke violence, discrimination, racism, addiction to a drug, religious or political intolerance and all publicity that threatens human rights”;
  • broadcasting commercials that do not “promote consumption that is social and environmentally sustainable”

Again, the government-controlled Council will judge whether media stations are in compliance.

Moreover, the proposed law stipulates that several positions (editors, general directors, news directors, reporters) at TV and radio stations and newspapers be held by individuals with college degrees in communications and journalism. 

The current communications regime also gives similar powers to a body charged with regulating radio and TV stations, but at least on paper, it is not controlled by the executive branch and does not have the power to impose sanctions on the written press. Even so, the current communications regulation was drafted by a military dictatorship in the 1970s and partly amended since the return to democracy in 1979.  President Correa relied on the content control provisions of the law — mostly ignored since 1979 — to shut down privately owned Teleamazonas TV for three days last year.

The Ecuadorian penal and civil codes already define sanctions for individuals who commit libel. These codes, applicable to all citizens, have been useful for Correa’s government: the op-ed page editor of El Universo, Emilio Palacio, was sued by one of Correa’s allies (Camilo Samán, the president of one of the state-owned banks) and convicted to three years in prison for libel (more on that here). Palacio appealed and then Samán mysteriously lifted all charges against the accused a couple of days before Hillary Clinton met with Correa in Quito.

During the last week of the World Cup, the editors-in-chief of the country’s main newspapers published public letters to the secretary of communications of the presidency (read them here, here, and here), Fernando Alvarado, in which they protested being accused in the government propaganda of being “thieves,” promoting “violence” and lying. The editors also demanded that Alvarado specify which media outlet is guilty of these charges and on what precise occasion they committed these punishable crimes. Guadalupe Mantilla, the editor-in-chief of El Comercio stated in her letter that this regrettable abuse of public funds for propaganda has been characterized “by an aggressiveness never before seen in Ecuador during a democratic regime.”

The government reacted to these letters with another offensive ad on TV that was aired during the Spain vs. Germany match. Last week, the Ecuadorian Association of Newspaper Editors issued a statement, endorsed by the country’s 12 most important newspapers and magazines, that read: “This attack from the executive branch happens at a time when the National Assembly is about to approve a new Communications Law … that flouts all international principles and agreements pertaining to rights and freedoms. Given these facts and given the lack of independence of the judiciary, we affirm that freedom of expression continues to be violated in Ecuador…”

The Video Is Creepy, But the Public-Schooling Song Remains the Same

You’ve probably already seen it, but I thought I’d post it anyway. For those who haven’t yet watched it, below is the video of kids at the B. Bernice Young Elementary School — a public school in Burlington, New Jersey — belting out a little diddy about Barack Obama and all the wonderful things he’s declared. According to the school district, this Presidential Idol performance was put on as part of a Black History Month celebration.

In case you couldn’t make out everything the kiddos were singing, here are the lyrics:

Song 1:
Mm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

He said that all must lend a hand
To make this country strong again
Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

He said we must be fair today
Equal work means equal pay
Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

He said that we must take a stand
To make sure everyone gets a chance
Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

He said red, yellow, black or white
All are equal in his sight
Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

Yes!
Mmm, mmm, mm
Barack Hussein Obama

Song 2:
Hello, Mr. President we honor you today!
For all your great accomplishments, we all doth say “hooray!”

Hooray, Mr. President! You’re number one!
The first black American to lead this great nation!

Hooray, Mr. President we honor your great plans
To make this country’s economy number one again!

Hooray Mr. President, we’re really proud of you!
And we stand for all Americans under the great Red, White, and Blue!

So continue —- Mr. President we know you’ll do the trick
So here’s a hearty hip-hooray —-

Hip, hip hooray!
Hip, hip hooray!
Hip, hip hooray!

Um, yikes!

Now, let’s get one thing straight: I don’t think this is part of a plot by the President to push his political and social ideas on children. He obviously has supporters who would be happy to do that, and he might like it if people thought of him as being a bit god-like, but videos like this could be more alarming to the President than anyone else, setting up the creepy image that he really does have a cult following, an image he might prefer voters not have. And unlike the brouhaha over the President’s address to students earlier this month, which was touched off by loaded study guides created by Obama’s own Education Department, there’s no evidence that this incident was orchestrated by the White House.

That said, this situation is nonetheless disturbing, especially because of the response from district superintendent Christopher Manno. In a statement, Manno said:

Today we became aware of a video that was placed on the Internet which has been reported by the media. The video is of a class of students singing a song about President Obama. The activity took place during Black History Month in 2009, which is recognized each February to honor the contributions of African Americans to our country. Our curriculum studies, honors and recognizes those who serve our country. The recording and distribution of the class activity were not authorized.

Allow me to summarize: This is an outrage — who the heck let you people know what was going on in my school?

Such secrecy, of course, should have no place in public schools, yet secrecy — or at least confusion and obfuscation — is omnipresent. Ever attend a school board meeting? I’ve sat in on several, and I’ve watched lots of people try in vain to get clear answers about lots of important questions. Or how about getting straight answers about district budgets? Good luck there. And though occurrences as blatantly unacceptable as the one in this video are pretty rare, why should we be all that suprised that the superintendent seems so dismissive of extremely legitimate concerns? I mean, what are people going to do if they don’t like what’s going on at the school, stop paying taxes? I hope they like jail…

If education were grounded in choice, we wouldn’t have these kinds of problems, at least not at nearly the level we have them with government schooling. For one thing, parents who’d like their kids to literally sing the praises of President Obama could pick institutions with music programs so oriented, while those with more traditional musical tastes could choose like-eared schools. In addition, school leaders would have a much stronger incentive to listen to customers’ concerns. If they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t have those customers much longer. Finally, were dissatisfied people able take their money elsewhere, “accountability” wouldn’t have to come through wasteful and inherently politicized mechanisms like this: The state commissioner of education has directed Superintendent Manno to conduct a review of the incident to ensure that Black History Month can be observed without “inappropriate partisan politics in the classroom.”

I’m sure that will turn out well, but we’ll probably never know one way or the other.