Underlying Themes—the Consequences Of The “Free-Market” Framework

From Learning Activities Using "The Yes Men Fix the World"

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1 Underlying Themes—the Consequences Of The “Free-Market” Framework

…as long as we are deferring all of our responsibilities to a marketplace to make the decisions, we’re going to be in trouble. And we’re going to keep heading down these paths that are leading us on the course toward destruction.
  — The Yes Men

One of the young people who contributed to this Guide remarked how: "The movie makes clear how the companies don’t care about you, but only about making money." In addition, The Yes Men Fix the World draws connections among the various specific situations in which they intervene, arguing how it is not just a few greedy companies that don’t care, but rather, a system of profits over people, which links what happened in Bhopal and in New Orleans and with global climate disruption. But, the film also goes deeper in giving us a glimpse of the intellectual media production of various powerful think-tanks that support the perspectives on issues that champion the "free market" as the solution to all problems, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They paint a picture of institutions, controlled by a very small percent of the people, but interlocked in their philosophy and through a revolving door of personnel, acting against the interests of the far greater portion of humanity. The Yes Men interventions stop business as usual, in a way that draws attention the human consequences of "business as usual."

This chapter of the guide is intended to further develop the exercises studied in Chapter Two on differing frameworks for making sense of the world, so that students think more deeply about the frameworks of all who are in the film, and come closer to refining their own perspectives, and understand how those perspectives will shape their ideas for dealing with the issue they have chosen to fix, and how they will work with others who may have different perspectives, but who want to fix the same problem.

1.1 The "cult" of the free market

1.1.1 The Yes Men’s political perspective

What is the political perspective of The Yes Men? How do you know? Find people in the movie who have different frameworks for making sense of the world, and discuss what those perspectives are and how you know.

1.1.2 Is capitalism a "cult"?

What language and images are conjured up when The Yes Men call our capitalist free-market system a "cult?" Remember the brief footage from Jonestown? Why do The Yes Men think of the conservative free-market perspective to a "cult?" What do they mean when they say: "What is shocking to outsiders is normal to insiders?" What evidence do they present to support this conclusion? How do they connect the evidence with their claim? Do you agree with their argument? Why or why not? Who do they argue is the "guru" of this cult? Is this cult dependent on people blindly following one leader, or do the institutions have a logic that remains regardless of the current "guru?"

Additional Resources/Notes

It’s been twenty-five years since I sat with Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys as they planned out our new world. The Chicago Boys’ grouping, officially called the "Latin American Finance workshop," was directed by Professor Arnold Harberger; Friedman’s was the "Money and Banking Workshop." I worked my way into both of them—even then I was undercover, operating for the electrical and steelworkers’ union leaders Frank Rosen and Eddie Sadlowski. Frank told me, "Keep you moth shut, put away the childish Mao buttons, put on a suit and find out what these guys are up to." . . . So, while the other students—the budding bankers and dictators-in-training—are drooling in admiration, I’m reporting back to the unions: This Friedman is one sick puppy. And no one’s going to buy this self-serving ’laissez-faire’ free market mumbo jumbo from some ultra-right wing-not." But now, two decades later, Bush and Clinton and Putin and Wolfensohn open their mouths and out comes Milton Friedman[3]."

1.1.3 Are the conservative think-tanks "cults"?

One characteristic of a "cult," in the sense The Yes Men mean, is that evidence of what is really going on does not change the ideas of the people who believe in the cult’s perspective. Reasoned argument, where you support your claims with evidence and you explain the reasoning behind how that evidence supports your claims is not relevant to a cult—only pure faith. What evidence are members of the free market cult ignoring?

Additional Resources/Notes

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Born Identity
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Healther Skelter
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Courtesy: Dan Wasserman

1.2 Cost-benefit analyses in the free market

1.2.1 The Yes Men’s Cost-Benefit Proposals

How is Gilda, the golden skeleton, a symbol for "cost-benefit analysis?" Have students find instances in the movie where people are balancing costs and benefits. For example, the entire talk that is illustrated with Gilda, is about a special Acceptable Risk Calculator™ that The Yes Men claim Dow has developed (and note the visual of tons of golden Gilda’s flying out of an exploding factory). The Yes Men Dow website says the calculator is a "voluntary initiative of Dow to safely predict the precise point at which profitability is threatened by danger to the public. Using our new Acceptable Risk Calculator™ ARC, we weigh profits against costs in human life or health, thereby involving the public in the decision-making process about whom to put at risk, and where to locate risk globally." Remember the audience member who comes up after and recaps that the Risk-Assessor works out "the human impact opposed to how much money will be made," and whichever way you calculate, you’ll "cause some loss of life" and then before Andy attempts to discuss that man’s statement ("do you find this…), the man interrupts: "I thought it was refreshing"?

Remember the conservative think-tanker who said the Bhopal facility created educational opportunities for the people of Bhopal, and added value in terms of a tax base for the community, and 3000 people died (all in the same kind of matter-of-fact, slightly lower voice tone when citing the very underestimated death toll)? He "reasoned" that’s a tragedy, but there are always risks going forward into the future…How does this argument compare with The Yes Men’s graph giving a much smaller value to Indian life?

And, there is the stock market analyst who patiently explains to The Yes Men that although it is certainly a good thing to clean up Bhopal, "unless you are a stockholder and you’re expecting the money to come to you," and after all, The Yes Men can understand this (check Andy and Mike’s expressions as he finishes his cost-benefit argument).

1.2.2 Critiques of cost-benefit analyses

"Pricing the Priceless: Inside the Strange World of Cost-Benefit Analysis,"[11] reports that several years before the article was written, states were suing tobacco companies for medical expenditures resulting from cigarette smoking. At that time, W. Kip Viscusi, a professor of law and economics at Harvard, concluded that states, in fact, saved money as the result of smoking by their citizens because they died early, saving the states expenses on nursing home care and other services associated with an aging population! Viscusi even suggested that "cigarette smoking should be subsidized rather than taxed." This is yet another example of a statement that would be satire once we ’fix’ the world, but that currently is an example of cost-benefit analysis in the "cult." This article goes on to review all the reasons why this kind of profit over people analysis is bankrupt[endnotes 2]:

Additional Resources/Notes

It is an evident truth that, whatever maybe the rate of increase in the means of subsistence, the increase of population must be limited by it, at least after the food has once been divided into the smallest shares that will support life. All the children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to this level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the death of grown persons…. To act consistently, therefore, we should facilitate…the operations of nature in producing this mortality…. Instead of recommending cleanliness of the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders…. The necessary mortality must come, in some form or other, and the extirpation of one disease will only be the signal fore the birth of another perhaps more fatal. We cannot lower the waters of misery by pressing them down in different places, which must necessarily make them rise somewhere else; the only way in which we can hope to effect our purpose is by drawing them off.

According to one estimate, the energy cost of the 550 million Big Macs sold in the United States every year is $297 million, producing a greenhouse gas footprint of 2.66 billion pounds of CO2 equivalent. In addition to the carbon footprint, we might want to add the broader environmental impact in terms of both water use and soil degradation, together with the hidden health costs of treating diet-related illness such as diabetes and heart disease.

…the full costs of a four-dollar Big Mac may be even higher [than $200] because, in addition to not paying their externalized costs, corporations often get a range of subsidies. Consumers in the United States are paying for cheap hamburgers directly through their tax dollars. The meat in McDonald’s hamburgers is fattened on corn, the most highly subsidized crop in America. A report from Tufts University claims that the American beef industry saves some $562 million a year, on average, by fattening cattle on subsidized corn. Total subsidies to corn topped $4.6 billion in 2006.

...The total estimated cost of state and federal payouts for Burger King employees alone is over $273 million a year….[taxpayers are] shelling out over a billion dollars a year to subsidize the [fast-food] industry’s sub-poverty wages.

…One 1995 study of public health costs spent treating diet-related disease due to excessive meat consumption in the United States estimated the total cost at $30-60 billion a year.

…These direct and indirect social costs represent only a fraction of the dollar sum missing from the price of food. Antibiotics are becoming less effective due to widespread prophylactic use in the livestock industry. Pesticide contamination, nutrient runoff, and greenhouse gas emissions are compounding the environmental debt of industrialized agriculture. Voluntarily offsetting the 2.66 billion tons of carbon dioxide released in the production of Big Macs each year would cost between $7.3 and $35.6 million dollars.[16]

1.2.3 Personal costs when you fight for justice

Students can then think about the cost-benefit analysis that people who want to fix the world have to make. And, students can begin thinking about what they would give up to fix the world? What risks would you take to fight for justice?

What were the consequences for The Yes Men from their actions? At their website’s "Frequently Asked Questions" they explain that so far their targets have not wanted to risk going after them. After all, they were fooled and the press makes them look ridiculous.

Exxon did shut down their Vivoleum.com website, which included the Exxon logo, and stated: "150,000 people are already dying from climate change every year. What a resource." The site also linked to a World Health Organization report providing evidence for their claim. The Yes Men argued that under copyright law, Exxon would have to prove that a reasonable person could assume that the company would actually have a website like Vivoleum.com; otherwise the site is a parody, and the Exxon copyright has not been infringed. In an interview with The Yes Men Bill Moyers commented: "You can understand why a company, a corporation like Exxon, wouldn’t want an impersonator to defile their trademark." Andy answered: "Well, fortunately in this country, freedoms are still allowed to private citizens to make political statements. And it’s not a right that is only given to large corporations."

The Yes Men state: "what we do might not be illegal. Lawyers don’t seem to know; the ones we’ve asked can’t point to such-and-such a law that means we’re in trouble. But then the law is pretty irrelevant, as far as corporations are concerned—if they want you silenced, they just throw a totally bogus lawsuit at you, that invariably gets thrown out, and in the meantime ties you up in red tape. That’s called a, SLAPP suit and it’s the main way corporations silence community activists whose causes aren’t sexy enough for the mainstream media to follow." They are able to not give themselves away by cracking up during their actions because: "It’s not very funny to stand in front of audiences of suits spouting the most hideous ideas imaginable! It might be funny for someone else to watch, but for us it’s kind of scary."

Additional Resources/Notes

1.3 The human costs of profit benefits to corporations

1.3.1 For Bhopal, New Orleans and the world

The Yes Men Fix the World shows the severe costs paid by the people of Bhopal and New Orleans for the profits of corporations. And, they draw attention to the larger costs society in general will pay for the climate disruption caused by the unfettered pursuit of corporate profits. Students can discuss the details they saw in the movie that illustrate these costs (like the children in Bhopal innocently drinking the toxic water). They can look at the issue they have chosen to fix in terms of this "cost-benefit" perspective—who has benefited from this problem, who has "paid the price" and how?

Additional Resources/Notes

1.3.2 Lack of control over working conditions

Cockburn above speaks of the "freedom" to sleep under bridges. One of the costs most people have from unfettered capitalism is the lack of control over the conditions of their own labor; the only "freedom" on the job is to quit and go hungry, homeless, without health care, and so on. In the worst cases, this means working super-hard, full-time, and being paid so little money you can barely survive. Waging a Living: Working Overtime in Pursuit of the Elusive American Dream[20] is a very powerful documentary illustrating this point. The website also has various lesson plans and other materials for teachers to use with the film.

Additional Resources/Notes

According to the [U.S.] Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1979, 25 percent of employees in medium-to large-sized companies did not have paid rest breaks during which they could go to the bathroom. By 1993, the last year for which there are statistics, that number had jumped to 32 percent. . .Not until 1998 did the federal government, under pressure from the labor movement, even maintain that employers had to grant employees an Ill-defined "timely access" to the bathroom.[21]
Not only are workers’ bodily movements broken down into standardized subtasks, monitored intensively, and clocked, but their ability to converse with consumers and sometimes with each other is also subject to company control. . . . Fast-food drive-through window workers must greet customers almost instantly—often within three seconds from the time the car reaches the menu board. Digital timers . . . measure how long it takes the worker to issue the greeting, take the order, and process the payment. . . . Former McDonald’s CEO Jack Greenberg claimed that unit sales increase 1% for every six seconds saved at the drive-through.
Exxon Mobil and Delta have installed a software program on their company computers to ferret out any sign of employee opposition to management authority. The program forwards to managers all employee documents and e-mails—saved or unsaved, sent or unsent—containing "alert" words like "boss" or "union." As a supervisor explained to the Wall Street Journal, "The workplace is never free of fear—and shouldn’t be. Indeed, fear can be a powerful management tool."[23]
This mechanical exercise of human faculties according to motion types which are studied independently of the particular kind of work being done, brings to life the Marxist conception of ’abstract labor.’… The capitalist sees labor not as a total human endeavor, but [abstracts it] from all its concrete qualities in order to comprehend it as universal and endlessly repeated motions, the sum of which, when merged with the other things that capital buys--machines, materials, etc.--results in the production of a larger sum of capital than that which was ’invested’ at the outset of the process. Labor in the form of standardized motion patterns is labor used as an interchangeable part… [25]

1.3.3 Lack of basic human needs

Another cost most people have from unfettered capitalism is losing control of the basic human resources we all need to survive, such as food, housing and health care. Everything becomes a commodity, and even though, for example, there is no scarcity of food, millions die from hunger because they cannot afford to buy food. The film Life and Debt, referred to above, shows how international monetary organizations literally force poor countries to adopt policies which make resource conditions worse, impoverishing many more in those countries. Food First shows why what is popularly believed about hunger is not true.

Additional Resources/Notes

The old question, which social and political structure is the best for the world seems to have been answered. Capitalism has won. The ultimate forms for future societies are ’consumer democracies,’ which are seen as ’civilized’ and ’good.’ In a Darwinian sense the ’good system’ won. It won by either convincing its enemies or eliminating them.

In Darwin’s Nightmare I tried to transform the bizarre story of a fish and the ephemeral boom around this ’fittest’ animal into an ironic, frightening allegory for what is called the New World Order. I could make the same kind of movie in Sierra Leone, only the fish would be diamonds, in Honduras, bananas, and in Libya, Nigeria, or Angola, crude oil. Most of us I guess, know about the destructive mechanisms of our time, but we cannot fully picture them. We are unable to "get it", unable to actually believe what we know. It is, for example, incredible that wherever prime raw material is discovered, the locals die in misery, their sons become soldiers, and their daughters are turned into servants and whores. Hearing and seeing the same stories over and over makes me feel sick. After hundreds of years of slavery and colonization of Africa, globalization of African markets is the third and deadliest humiliation for the people of this continent. The arrogance of rich countries towards the third world (that’s three quarters of humanity) is creating immeasurable future dangers for all peoples.

It seems that the individual participants within a deadly system don’t have ugly faces, and for the most part, no bad intentions. These people include you and me. Some of us are "only doing their job" (like flying a jumbo from A to B carrying napalm), some don’t want to know, others simply fight for survival. I tried to film the personalities in this documentary as intimately as possible. Sergey, Dimond, Raphael, Eliza: real people who wonderfully represent the complexity of this system, and for me, the real enigma.
Mr, N. an Italian-American man in his early 50s who moved from Florida to New Haven to let his wife die up near her family in Maine. He went 250,000 dollars in debt truing to self-pay for care for his wife, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer over a year ago. He was admitted to my service with hyperkalemia (high potassium) due to using expensive medicines he could get for free from pharmaceutical donations—these were inappropriate for his kidney problems, which were caused by diabetes. He could not even afford the long-acting insulin we wanted to give him. His reply to my telling him he might die if we didn’t treat his potassium was: "Doc, maybe that’s for the better."

Mr, M. A 38-year-old auto mechanic who was admitted in narcotic withdrawal. A year ago, he was the victim of a freak accident when a clutch released and a car rolled back into him. He developed back pain which subsequently caused him to seek several neurosurgical opinions, but nothing was done because he couldn’t afford follow-up appointments. He became addicted to the OxyContin the doctors prescribed. Unemployed, disabled and out of money due to medical costs of imaging and doctors, he lost his home and was forced to move to a motel and file for bankruptcy. He came into the hospital when he could not afford his motel room or any more narcotics and thus started to withdraw.

Mc. W. A 40-year-old black woman from North Carolina who came into my service with hypertensive emergency (escalating blood pressure) and heart failure. She had stopped taking any blood pressure medicines in order to save for her husband’s kidney transplant. Due to her prolonged non-treatment, she developed irreversible heart damage.
Howard Zinn’s article[34] is a powerful reminder of the horrors that are perpetrated in the world on all the days in addition to 9/11. I, too, cried as I saw the portraits of the 9/11 victims. I, too, was crying not only for them, and not only for the victims of the wars the USA and other powers create, but also for the millions who die every year because of economic terrorism—from unsafe working conditions that kill ’by accident’, to unjust working conditions that result in death from preventable causes such as hunger.

Binu Mathew reports in Z magazine[35] that at this point in time the original death toll of 8,000, caused by the Bhopal gas leak at Union Carbide’s factory, has increased to 20,000, growing every month by 10-15 people succumbing to exposure-related diseases. Union Carbide management delayed sounding the public siren for 15 hours, and continues to obstruct full revelations which would have helped decrease some of this horrific toll. I, too, wondered, if detailed, in-depth TV and newspaper portraits of these victims, and of, say, the 12 million children who die from hunger every year[36], would wake up our collective consciousness.

Zinn makes another important point that I stress with my Quantitative Reasoning classes at the College of Public and Community Service[37]: statistical data can distance us from a deep empathy and understanding of the conditions of people’s lives. Of course, the data are important because they reveal the institutional structure of those conditions. But, also, quantitatively confident and knowledgeable people can use those data to deepen their connections to humanity. Those 12 million children are dying faster than we can speak their names.

1.3.4 Privatization of public goods

Another cost to society, is that the profit benefits that corporations get are becoming more and more completely privatized. That is, fewer and fewer profits return to our society in the form of tax revenue. If a larger share of profit benefits were returned to us, that tax revenue could help deal with the costs to society created by those corporations, and also be used to control the corporations from creating those costs in the first place. Chapter Two, "Differing Frameworks for Making Sense of the World," contained some arguments from Unjust Deserts[38] challenging taken-for-granted notions of what counts as public property versus private property. Another argument from this book:

If most of what we have today is attributable to advances we inherit in common . . . why, specifically, should this gift of our collective history not more generously and broadly benefit all members of society?... the top 1 percent of U.S. households now receives more income than the bottom [40 percent] 120 million Americans combined…. The bottom 90 percent of the population owns less than 15 percent [of all individually owned investment assets]; the bottom half of the population—150 million Americans—won less than 1 percent.[39]

Additional Resources/Notes

Further, the laws that govern the distribution of tax collections and tax revenues are controlled by corporations, and wealthy individuals who contribute huge amounts of money to the Congress people making the laws, and often go back and forth through the "revolving door" of employment between the government and private corporations.
So, when the wealthy give to charity, they are really forcing the rest of us to contribute more of our tax money to our society, since the tax break for charity, means less taxes collected for government revenue. Either those of us not wealthy enough to get those tax-breaks, pay more taxes, or receive fewer services. Two books that provide information on the many ways in which our tax structures transfer money from the poor and middle-class to the ultra-wealthy are: Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich—and Cheat Everybody Else[41]; and, Free Lunch [42], discussed by Johnston with Bill Moyers.
A fascinating example of the media image of Bill Gates’ charitable foundation versus the reality, and of the intricacies of costs and benefits to the super-rich is reported by Greg Palast. Not only does Gates get huge tax deductions for giving AIDS drugs to Africans, but he also protects the pharmaceutical industry that is threatened by African doctors trying to get those drugs at the cheap price for which they could be produced. So the Gates Foundation, which has invested $200 million in those drug companies that are preventing the distribution of affordable drugs, is keeping the people quiet through its donations, and protecting his investments, and only reaching a fraction of those that could be helped if low-cost drugs were available. On top of it all, he is protecting the intellectual property rights rules of the World Trade Organization, rules which would be overturned by African researchers creating their own AIDS drugs, rules which have built his Microsoft empire.

1.3.5 Human costs are part of capitalism

Michael Moore’s new movie, "Capitalism: A Love Story," cuts right to the core, arguing that the human costs are an inevitable consequence of our capitalist economic system which he sums up as "the legalization of greed." In an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now! Moore states that he made the movie to argue against capitalism, and for creating another economic system; to present a clear (and entertaining) explanation of the recent failure of capitalism; and to expose many undercovered stories about that crisis. In an interview with Naomi Klein they bring up the connections between knowledge and power, where in the film, no one, no matter how educated, can explain what a derivative is. Klein states that: "So it isn’t just about basic education. It’s that complexity is being used as a weapon against democratic control over the economy. This was Greenspan’s argument—that derivatives were so complicated that lawmakers couldn’t regulate them. It’s almost as if there needs to be a movement toward simplicity in economics or in financial affairs, which is something that Elizabeth Warren, the chief bailout watchdog for Congress, has been talking about in terms of the need to simplify people’s relationships with lenders." Finally, check out Stephen Colbert’s interview with Moore video.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Capitalism's Enemy - Michael Moore
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1.4 Why haven’t we fixed the human costs?

1.4.1 Revolving corporate-government doors

In The Yes Men Fix the World learners can see why fixing the costs most people pay, while corporations and the ultra-rich benefit, will not be easy. The Yes Men show, connected to helping fix the devastation of Katrina, that even "the government doesn’t believe in government," how the government is tearing down perfectly inhabitable public housing and replacing it with privately owned buildings, which very few of the displaced people can afford to live in. The film also discusses how those in power move back and forth through "revolving doors" between high-level corporate positions to high-level government positions.[endnotes 3].

Because of these revolving doors, many of the benefits corporations get that cost us, are "perfectly legal." The laws get created by corporate paid lobbyists influencing the legislators, who got elected because of corporate campaign contributions. As I am writing, Hillary Clinton is in India to urge that country "to pass a law to ensure that a Bhopal-like disaster does not trouble its victims for as long as the 25-year-old tragedy has." But, in the twisted logic of the free-market, those potential victims are U.S. multinationals who want to supply nuclear equipment for the 40,000 nuclear power plants India plans to set up over the next 20 years. While not yet having gone through the revolving door, the U.S. Secretary of State is lobbying the government of another country so that U.S. corporations won’t have to "go through another Union Carbide," and the Indian corporations will have a very limited liability, so that the Indian taxpayer will bear the costs for the benefits of the corporations in both countries[43] .

And the corporate media revolve right along with their owners. The Boston Globe, a relatively liberal newspaper, commented in an editorial[44]: "The interests of GM [General Motoes] and those of the country are closely intertwined." And, of course, we have seen this in the recent socialization (i.e., taxpayer funded) of the losses of major banks and investment corporations in many countries.

Courtesy: Jeff Danziger

Additional Resources/Notes

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Let Freedom Ka-Ching
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And now, with the recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, there won’t be any need for revolving doors in the sense that corporations will be able to do whatever they want, openly, in government. Corporations can spend whatever they want, openly, in elections because the Court ruled that restrictions on their spending, since they are "people," limit their right to free speech. And, money = speech. For various commentaries on this decision see: the statement from the President of Citizens United; Democracy Now!, and The Colbert Report. Bill Moyers, in "Justice for Sale" examines the effect of this decision on judicial elections which take place in 39 states in our country.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission - Jeffrey Toobin
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Jesus’ death and resurrection are the most important events in the history of the world and understanding and living in the full significance of these events is the key to the Christian life. As someone else has said ’Jesus laid his life down for you, to give His life to you, to live His life through you.’ This is the good news of the gospel. So this site is not here to answer questions people are not asking. We believe that Jesus Christ is the answer to our questions and a greater revelation of Him is what mankind needs! There are quite a few studies on this site taken from the Old Testament, but hopefully as you shall soon discover, they also testify to the work and majesty of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

This group includes many former and current Congressmen, including Strom Thurmond and the John Ensign (one of the "family values" elected officials who was recently caught bribing the husband of the woman he was having an affair with behind his own wife’s back). This group operates even more secretly than the others who revolve through the doors and corridors of power, but they are there and have been since the 1930s, and Sharlet claims they have played a "crucial role in the unraveling of the New Deal, the waging of the Cold War, and the no-holds-barred economics of globalization." Amy Goodman interviews Jeff Sharlet about his research into this "family" on Democracy Now![47]

Didn’t we used to able to hold discussions on public policy without imputing evil motives to the opposition? Whatever happened to analyzing the facts and figures?

Oh, well. In the spirit of Dan Wasserman’s June 28 cartoon here’s another Social Security quiz: Can you distinguish between the following?

  1. Those opposing privatization of Social Security accounts.
  2. Politicians intent on keeping us dependent for our retirement on their good will (which is, of course, dependent on our level of support for them).
  3. Politicians dependent for their retirement ona n independent, fully funded, and extremely generous pension system.
Courtesy: Dan Wasserman

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

In a related report, Murphy[52] gives specifics about the corporate media connections to insurance companies five out of nine major media corporations and their major outlets "shared a director with an insurance company" and "six out of the nine had directors who also represented the interests of at least one pharmaceutical company. In fact, save for CBS, e very major media corporation had board connections to either an insurance or pharmaceutical company." The consequences? In spite of the majority of people in the U.S. in poll after poll think the government would provide better health coverage than private insurers, "though healthcare reform has been mentioned thousands of times in the output of these media corporations/major outlets, single-payer was mentioned in only 164 articles or news segments from January 1 through June 30, 2009; over 70 percent of these mentions did not include the voice of a single-payer advocate. Over 45 percent of the pieces that did include a single-payer advocate were episodes of the Ed Show, an MSNBC program whose host, Ed Shultz, frequently advocates for single-payer healthcare. Without the Ed Show, just 19 percent of articles or news segments that mentioned single-payer wouldhave included an actual advocate of the plan."

1.4.2 How do the wealthy become blinded?

So the revolving door can explain why those in power go along, why they are blind to the human costs of their actions, but how do most people born into wealth, become blinded—why don’t they see the costs when they are still too young to be fully mesmerized by the "cult?" Robert Coles, in Privileged Ones: The Well-Off and The Rich in America[58] provides a fascinating look at how these young people become socialized into their roles. Here are just a few excerpts from his reports of his interviews:

1.4.3 Why do the non-wealthy go along?

And why do those of us who are paying the costs of the wealthy individuals and corporations benefits, go along? In some ways we have been de-socialized and de-educated, and the kind of corporate control of the media, including school texts, studied above can explain aspects of why U.S. citizens are astonishingly misinformed and alienated. Bill Maher’s explanation of why many white working class men were not supportive of the government’s attempts to close tax havens in the Caribbean is that they feel it is a slippery slope: "One minute [the Democrats] are going after trillionaires in the Bahamas; the next minute they’re going to come into your trailer and take your gun."[62]

Other aspects come from the daily conditions of our lives and how we have to feel and act in order to make sense of our world. In "Equity in Mathematics Education: Class in the World Outside the Class[63]," I relate how in discussing a friend’s research with my mother, I gained first-hand insight into how so many people in the United States think they are middle class. My friend was involved in a large project that studied women and mental health, interviewing low-income mothers of young children. In one of the many interviews, the mothers were asked to define their social class. Almost everyone answered "middle class[endnotes 4] ." My mother, who has always had a strong sense of the injustices and inequities of the capitalist system, found it fascinating that these women did not see their societal disempowerment. As our discussion continued, I tried to point out that I was glad, especially given my educational and political activities, that I had not had a typical middle class upbringing. But before I could expand upon this thought, the moment I uttered the phrase "not brought up in a typical middle class . . .," my mother freaked out, screaming, "What do you mean, we weren’t middle class?!!"

After much more screaming and arguing, I realized that my mother heard my comment as a strong insult--that my parents had not provided for me what the parents of the middle class kids with whom I was tracked at school had provided for their kids. My mother, in spite of her insight into the unfairness of the economic system, would feel like a personal failure if she and my father had not provided me with a middle class upbringing. My anti-capitalist mother felt she was responsible for her class position! Sennet and Cobb[64], analyzing the consciousness of working class people, refer to Sartre’s contention that people "need to make sense of social life in terms of intimate experience." They conclude that abstract analysis of class positions is not helpful to people as they try to construct meaning in their lives: "the constrictions of freedom in their lives can be made sense of only by assigning a measure of inadequate coping, insufficient ability at work, to themselves"[65]. Or, in my mother’s case, by denying that there were any "constrictions of freedom."

"We are All Waiters Now[66]" adds analysis of how the political life in the society we live in transforms our sense of what is possible, and therefore, of how we act. He claims that we are scared to stand up to the wealthy and demand out fair share of our common wealth (through taxing the rich more) even though it would make out lives enormously better. He dismisses the view many sociologists propose—that people think some day they will be rich and they won’t want to be taxed heavily then. He challenges that any person so far away from being rich really believes s/he will one day be in that top wealth bracket. He argues that:

the more money the rich take from us, the more it changes our moral character—we lose the courage it takes to engage in self-government. I borrow an old idea of the French, writers like Rousseau, Voltaire, Tocqueville, Guizot and many others: They believed that the particular "constitution" or form of government—monarchy, aristocracy, etc.—literally shapes our personality. Citizens have one type of personality under Louis XV, a different under George III. . . . I believe Aristotle and the Greeks would describe the America of this century as a plutocracy. The top 1 percent has nearly all the wealth. That’s our form of government. . . . In a plutocracy, everyone is a salesman. Everyone is a waiter. We live off not wages we negotiate but on commissions and tips. In this new economy, we don’t even see how our character is changing, or how we are constantly selling ourselves for bigger tips: "I hope you like me." But it’s turning us effectively into waiters in restaurants. There’s a problem with waiters, which George Orwell notes: They identify with the diners, and they vote for the right. Orwell hated waiters. He liked the back of the house. That’s where the minorities and foreign workers are. . . . If we’re spending all our time trying to figure out how to please the rich, how to seduce them into giving us money, how to say, "I’m Bob, I’m your waiter for the evening"— if we even stoop to touching our customers on the shoulder, so we can get an even bigger tip—we aren’t likely to be the people to confront them politically. Many a sociologist has it wrong: It’s not that I expect that I or my children will live like the Super Rich. It’s rather that I have to like the Super Rich—I have no choice but to like them if I want a big tip. . . . So we adapt our personality. If we vote to soak the rich, they may cut back their tips! I lose out. It’s because I don’t believe in mobility (mine or yours) that I dare not soak the rich. Besides, if I try to soak the rich, what good will it do me? Let’s suppose I confront them. I put in a government that raises their taxes. There’s no guarantee I’m doing any good for me. That is, there is so much inequality, the money may go to the poor. Or just as likely, it may go back to the rich. If the government raises my taxes, how do I know they will spend it on me, in the middle? That’s why it is easier to raise taxes in Germany or Sweden, or even Canada. People know: If they spend it, they have to spend it, like it or not, on people like me. So the more inequality, the more unnerving it is to raise taxes. It destroys the presumption that those in the middle will get it back. Whatever the motive, the result is the same. People are afraid in a plutocracy to raise taxes on the rich. The more money people in the top 1 percent have, the more impregnable they are to progressive-type taxation.

1.4.4 Why hasn’t your issue been fixed yet?

A purpose of The Yes Men Fix the World, and of this guide, is to inspire people to stop serving the rich, to resist business as usual, and to figure out how to work together to do this. Students can debate the reasons they think people are not fixing the issue they have chosen to fix, and brainstorm ways of breaking those patterns that have stopped people from acting in their own interests. And how can they get those in power to use another door.

1.5 Endnotes

  1. Directly, and easily verifiable, facts also count for nothing in these cultish health care arguments: On August 12, 2009, The Huffington Post reported that a July 31, 2009 editorial in Investor's Business Daily used Stephen Hawking as an example in supporting their argument against health care reform. They claimed that scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have survived in the U.K., “where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.” In fact, Professor Hawking lives in England, and he claims their National health Service has saved his life. "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS…. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived." The Huffington Post found that the Hawking reference in the IBD editorial has been corrected in terms of his citizenship, but not in terms of the NHS keeping Hawking alive for 45 years living with ALS.
  2. An interview with the authors gives more information about a book they later wrote on this topic.
  3. One of the contributors to this guide was intrigued by the fact that once Dow bought Union Carbide, they were “invisiblized” as a target for Bhopal activists, who had to refocus then on the much larger corporation, with a different name. Students could investigate if this kind of “disappearing door” has been used by corporations in other situations where their golden skeletons have created such “nuclear” costs
  4. Emilie Steele was a core staff member of the "Stress and Families" project which is written up in Belle (1982).

1.6 References

  1. Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, and Joel Bakan, Zeitgeist, 2004, 145 minutes
  2. 2003
  3. p.205
  4. 2009, p. 61, from Albert (2000) p.128
  5. 2009
  6. p. 8
  7. 1992
  8. quoted on Rachel Maddow, MSNBC, July 29, 2009
  9. (August 10, 2009
  10. August 11, 2009
  11. Heinzerling and Ackerman, 2003
  12. quoted in Cockburn, 1997, pp. 10
  13. 1995. p.2
  14. New York: Nation Books, 2005)
  15. 2009
  16. pp.43-45
  17. Tia Lesson and Carl Deal, Zeitgeist films, 2008, 96 minutes
  18. Spike Lee, HBO, 2006, 4 hours
  19. 1989, p.511
  20. Roger Weisberg, POV, Docurama, 2005, 85 minutes
  21. Robin, 2002, pp. D1; D5
  22. 2002
  23. p.D5
  24. Labor and Monopoly Capital, New York: Monthly Review, 1974
  25. p.180-2
  26. Keif Davidson and Richard Ladkani, FirstRunFeatures, 2005, 82 minutes
  27. David Redmon, Carnivalesque Films, 2008, 75 minutes
  28. Stephanie Black, New Yorker Video, 2001, 86 minutes
  29. 2006, pp.39-40
  30. Hubert Sauper, Mille et Une Productions, 2004, 106 minutes,
  31. Marie-Monique Robin, Image and Compaigne, 2008, 109 minutes
  32. 2004, p.9
  33. February 11, 2002
  34. "The Others," February 11
  35. January 2002
  36. Food First Backgrounder, "12 Myths about Hunger," Summer 1998
  37. UMass/Boston
  38. Alperovitz and Daly, 2008
  39. (p. 5)
  40. February 17, 2006
  41. reviewed by Edward Herman in Z Magazine
  42. David Cay Johnston, New York: Penguin, 2007
  43. Time bomb we Await," Nityanand Jayaraman, August 1, 2009
  44. November 6, 1992
  45. Domhoff, 2005, part of his paper on "Power in America"
  46. September 15, 2009
  47. (August 12, 2009)
  48. July 13, 2009, p.5
  49. North Billerica, MA
  50. July 2, 2001
  51. August 6, 2009
  52. 2009
  53. Robert Greenwald, Brave New Films, 2006. 75 minutes
  54. Janine Roberts, Media Education Foundation, 1994, 102 minutes
  55. Chris Paine, Sony Pictures, 2006, 93 minutes
  56. Perkins, 2004
  57. Klein, 2007
  58. 1977
  59. pp.70-71
  60. pp.192-193
  61. pp. 196; 199-200; 205
  62. Episode 152, May 8, 2009
  63. Frankenstein, 1995
  64. 1972
  65. pp. 95-96
  66. Geoghegan, 2006
Table of Contents

Part One: Learning Activities Before Seeing The Film

Part Two: Learning Activities After Seeing The Film