Human Rights & Democracy

March 1, 2020: Money Corrupts Our Democracy; Money Corrupts Our Press

Posted on March 01, 2020 at 12:00 AM

We Americans may have a free press—but there is less of it. A lot less of it. According to one reputable academic source, 1800 local papers have closed since 2004, and nearly a third of local papers are owned by 25 companies. Reporting in the media industry has to focus on the bottom line of money.

Quite apart from billionaires buying big media, it is no wonder that the short-staffed press and media can’t do their job. That is why we aren’t getting the reporting we need on the domination of corporations, and political influence. Take the failure of the Democratic Party app used to manage the Iowa caucuses. It was a new app produced by a new firm called Shadow. With simple Google research, I found that Shadow is financially linked to a new entity, Acronym. A Google search of Acronym revealed that the Obama 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, is on the Acronym Board.  It was days later before a news reporter finally did the research that took me ten minutes. Nevertheless, that significant fact was not initially pursued. What was tentatively reported was the fact that the new app had not passed any serious efficacy test. The motivating factor was that it had to be finished and in the hands of the Iowa Democratic Party on time. Thus, it’s not surprising that the media gave us gray and foggy information. By now, weeks later, no one is interested. We citizens should have received the most scrupulous, exhaustive, and timely reporting on the lift-off of the Democratic Party’s presidential campaign. But we weren’t.

At least the Shadow app’s failure in Iowa did not cause mass deaths or threaten the health of a major American economic pillar, the Boeing corporation. The tally is now 398 casualties from Ethiopian and Indonesian 737 MAX flights and does not count casualties from a 2009 Boeing crash in the Netherlands. Like the Shadow app reporting, however, efforts to suppress key facts got built into the system. The very first accounts of the Boeing crashes reported that Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, had been, appropriately, the lead government official overseeing US response. One of her actions was to personally fly this type of 737 after the second crash in Ethiopia, explicitly to reassure the public that the plane was safe. And, she might have succeeded, had not Europe grounded the 737 MAX and had we not followed suit. After this initial report, Chao’s name disappeared from the almost daily subsequent reporting. The reporting got less and less concise on just how little FAA oversight there was as Boeing developed systems for its latest 737. In fact, the FAA deputized Boeing employees to perform the company’s safety investigations on this plane! Only now, when the Netherlands is reinvestigating a 737 crash from 2009 (involving a predecessor to the MAX) does there appear to be more attention to whether these newest 737s should be cleared to fly.

The revelation of the lack of oversight by official US government entities charged with overseeing our transportation safety has been reinforced by the helicopter crash that killed basketball star, Kobe Bryant. There, too, questions have been raised about attention to costs and profits that derail correct safety inspections. Retired engineering professor and former FAA consultant, David Hoeppner, was quoted in The Washington Post (February 9, 2020) that “we haven’t done all the things in design reliability or integrity of the helicopter that we need to do…. The system is driven by money and greed so that it tends to take preference even over safety.” Among the specifics: although Bryant’s pilot was authorized to fly using instruments, Island Express Helicopters did not permit flights using instruments, because, according to another quoted former FAA investigator “they can be costly.” The helicopter also did not have a black box, which was not required, so that finding out what alarms may have sounded prior to the crash will not be possible.

Trump wants money considerations to rule, whether for corporate regulation or regulation of elections. We see evermore clearly how our national and individual security suffer and will worsen under Trump. Citizens act through elections to make institutions that, through elected lawmakers, will protect their security, interests, and values. This power of the people is under threat and Democracy is gravely endangered.

— Elizabeth Spiro Clark, Chair, Human Rights and Democracy Task Force

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