JimWes Thinks

January 4, 2020

THE DISINFORMATION NATION

Filed under: credibility, government, Truth, Uncategorized — jimwes @ 6:34 pm

Here are two long extracts from an obscure article[1] titled The Disinformation Nation. In my opinion, this article could have been great had its author resisted the today popular temptation to mix opinion with fact.[2] It contains much factual information about disinformation that needs to be read, especially by Netcolics like me. These extracts mostly appear to be quite factual and unbiased. Unfortunately the central part of the article (not reproduced here) degenerates into intense Trumphobia for a good way, finally returning to mostly factual and helpful information about disinformation. Following its own advice, I hesitated to quote from it. But I really believe that these extracts are worth reading and paying strict attention so here goes. Use you own intuition about its content. I personally think it is a brilliant article even thought I disagree with parts of it.

PART ONE

>> It may be getting harder and harder to figure out the truth, but at least this much is clear: It’s a good time to be a liar.

We’ve spent three years arguing if fake news swung the 2016 election — debating whether the hordes of Russian bots, hoax Facebook pages and inflammatory, dishonest tweets tipped the democratic balance to elect Donald Trump as president.

 

Yet in those same years we’ve learned that the stakes in the fight against truth, in a muddy world of social media platforms, go beyond politics.

In Brazil, public health workers were attacked after far-right activists lied on YouTube that they were spreading the Zika virus. In Myanmar, government soldiers used fake Facebook accounts to drive an ethnic cleansing, full of incendiary claims and false stories about Muslim minorities raping Buddhist women. Gunmen radicalized by false white-supremacist conspiracies on internet forums like 4chan and 8chan shot up a synagogue in California, a Walmart in Texas and mosques in New Zealand.

Elections have consequences. So do algorithms.

So now, heading into the 2020 election, experts are warning that trolls, hoaxers and dishonest politicians are arming themselves with a whole new arsenal of weapons of mass deception. New technology is making it easier to hoax audio and video, while advances in artificial intelligence are making it all the more difficult to weed out computer-automated “bot” accounts.

And there’s a deeper risk, beyond figuring out the inaccuracy of any one article.

The deluge of misinformation — full of Trump tweets, deepfakes, InfoWars videos, Russian bots, 4chan trolls, that Washington Post correction, those out-of-context memes and your great aunt’s latest questionable Facebook post — has become so overwhelming that some of us may simply give up trying to make sense of it all.

A lie doesn’t need to be believed. It just needs to create enough doubt that the truth becomes polluted. With enough pollution, it’s impossible to see what’s right in front of you.

“When you’re flooded with so much bullshit,” New York Times media columnist Charlie Warzel says, separating fact from fiction becomes so difficult that “the task of trying to do it becomes, you know, tiresome, so you just stop.”

It’s the sort of thing your college philosophy professor might call an “epistemic crisis.” We don’t know what to believe. Truth is hazy. Reality itself becomes irrelevant. It’s a phenomenon that has already happened in places like Russia and the Philippines — and experts say that in the past few years, the United States has suddenly found itself on the same path.

“And that, to me, is one of the scariest things to think about,” Warzel says. “It feels like we’ve come incredibly far since 2015.”

THE WEB OF CONSPIRACY 

History has a pattern.

An advancement in communications technology hands liars the means to lie louder and spread those lies further. Look at the 1830s, when the invention of the steam printing press and other paper-making technologies produced the rise of the “penny press.” Newspapers became cheaper, more independent, more widespread, more competitive, and eager publishers found the power of the 19th-century version of clickbait. The New York-based Sun put out a series of entirely fictional stories that purported that “man-bats” and other exotic creatures were scurrying around on the moon.

Soviet-born British TV producer Peter Pomerantsev, author of This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality, argues that when tech rips open the floodgates of communication, the bad guys always find a way to exploit it. Dictators quickly harnessed the power of radio. Joseph McCarthy, as a U.S. senator in the ’50s, used television to spread his anti-Communist conspiracy theories.

Yet for decades, the internet was heralded as a new frontier that allowed “citizen journalists” to take on the stodgy media elite. In 1998, the Drudge Report, a right-wing news-aggregating website, broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal when Newsweek got cold feet. In 2004, when Dan Rather and 60 Minutes put out a 1973 memo purporting to show that President George W. Bush had received special treatment while in the Texas Air National Guard, Drudge elevated the conservative bloggers who persuasively argued the memo was a fake written in Microsoft Word.

An “Army of Davids” — as some bloggers dubbed themselves — swarmed to debunk flawed media accounts, trying to counter bias wherever they saw it. The gatekeepers were being overthrown, the drawbridge had been flung open and the villagers could storm the castle.

But the villagers had their own standards for newsworthiness. Drudge also sent his readers to darker corners, where sketchy websites claimed Barack Obama wasn’t an American citizen and Bill Clinton had a secret love child. Drudge even provided fuel for “Pizzagate,” the conspiracy that drove a man in 2016 to fire an AR-15 inside a pizzeria, because the internet told him that they were harboring child sex slaves.

Conspiracy theorists used to spread their gospel through books, newsletters, public access television shows, and by standing on street corners and handing out fliers. But the web gave every community a niche — no matter how fringe — and allowed them to spread their message in only a few keystrokes. On the internet, the corkboard is infinite and the spool of yarn used to connect pictures of shadowy figures never runs out.

The internet, Warzel says, handed fringe figures like Alex Jones of InfoWars a powerful new megaphone.

“He was one of the early pioneers of internet radio and video,” Warzel says. “It was a way to get around the notion that it was hard to sell advertising around some of his kooky ideas

An audience of millions repeatedly tuned into Jones’ red-faced rants about 9/11 being an inside job, Obama chemtrails turning frogs gay, and the Sandy Hook shootings being faked. Drudge repeatedly linked to him.

Social media sites only accelerated the spread of misinformation. It’s easier than ever for a single comment, particular an untrue one, to go viral. In ancient times, the opinions of quacks were largely quarantined to a newspaper’s page of letters to the editor.

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman and racist Twitter randos with names like “@WhiteGenocideTM” are all simmering in the same stew together. Both, after all, get retweeted by the president.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study published last year took a look at over a decade of Twitter posts and found that tweets about false news went viral six times faster than tweets about true news. After all, lies are often more sensational, tapping into human emotions of shock, fear and disgust.

It wasn’t just that humans were more likely to share these kinds of stories. It was that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube developed algorithms to elevate certain types of content into your social media feed. It usually didn’t matter if they were true — social media sites didn’t want to become the truth police. It mattered that the stories drew people in.

“The way they keep people clicking and sharing and commenting is prioritizing things that get your heart pumping,” says Andrew Marantz, author of Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation. “It’s like stocking a huge grocery store, but all of the visible aisles are Oreos and rat poison.”

YouTube actually started rewarding conspiracy theories above popular content. YouTube used to have what they internally called the “Gangnam Style” problem, where YouTube’s autoplaying recommendation engine would eventually send every viewer to the 2012 South Korean pop hit. In response, YouTube changed their algorithm in 2015, turning down the recommendation dial for merely popular videos and cranking up the preference for videos that led people down rabbit holes. Conspiracy-theory videos flourished.

Simultaneously, the internet had handed brand-new weapons to pranksters, vandals and assholes — “trolls” who could use misinformation and harassment to make life hellish for chosen targets. Image boards like 4chan combined anonymity and a near-total absence of moderation to become a frothing hive of racists, trolls and trolls pretending to be racists.

The boards delighted in pulling hoaxes — creating fake Jewish Twitter accounts to sow discord in the Jewish community, publishing coupons claiming black people were getting free coffee at Starbucks, and attempting to trick journalists into identifying mass shooters as the wrong person.

Sometimes the hoaxes became reality. A 4chan scheme to trick mainstream media outlets into reporting that the “OK” hand gesture was a white-supremacist sign resulted in white supremacists actually adopting the signal.

One particularly pernicious trolling tactic was to call 911 from a spoofed number and report a horrific crime, in hopes an armed SWAT team would descend on that location.

Marantz says he spent three years embedded in this world.

“There are people who just want to watch the world burn,” Marantz says. “And that’s a phrase I returned to again and again.”

The motivations vary. In Macedonia, Warzel says, there are clickfarms filled with teenagers pumping out hoax news stories for fake publications, buying Facebook likes, all as a way to make money.

“It’s essentially just like a lemonade stand for them,” he says. But there are also foreign governments trying to influence global trends, politicians trying to game power and true believers who spread falsehoods because they think it’s the truth.

“To some degree, it doesn’t matter as long as there’s power to be gained and money to be made,” Warzel says. <<

PART TWO

>> In August, the Pentagon started talking to partners for their new Semantic Forensics program, intending to develop technologies “to help to identify, understand and deter adversary disinformation campaigns.”

The private sector’s pushing for similar measures.

Last month, Facebook, Microsoft and a slew of research institutions announced they were joining forces for the “Deepfake Detection Challenge,” a contest to better understand the little clues that give even sophisticated deepfakes away. Deepfakes rarely blink in the right way. The heads might have a strange tic. The eye color might be off.

Facebook chipped in $10 million to the effort. But those trying to create hoaxes are innovating, too, trying to think of ways to outthink the detection system.

“Networks of bots are behaving more and more like you and me,” Warzel says.

Ultimately, he says, it may come down to two different artificial-intelligence systems trying to outthink each other.

“You basically have two sets of computers playing war games with each other,” Warzel says.

The fight isn’t just about technology. It’s about corporate policies. In the last two years, tech companies have tried to change their policies, ditching their laissez-faire libertarian approach to try their hand at benevolent censorship.

White supremacists and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones got banned from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. YouTube shifted viewers away from straight-up conspiracy theory videos in its recommendation stream — although liberals may be unhappy to learn they often landed at Fox News instead. Twitter banned the #Resistance-tweeting Krassenstein brothers in June, citing rules that prohibit “operating multiple fake accounts and purchasing account interactions.”

Right now, both major political parties are calling for regulation, including raising the prospect of forcing Facebook to shrink in size. But Republicans and Democrats want different things. While liberals complain about lax regulation allowing “Nazis” to run wild on the site, conservatives fret about overregulation, worried that conservatives could be censored for their political opinions.

But the lack of censorship is dangerous, too, argue some experts. Whitney Phillips, author of the forthcoming book You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Network Pollution, points to YouTube and Facebook’s recent announcement that since political statements were newsworthy, the sites would rarely take down posts from politicians, even if the posts broke the rules.

“At every turn, at every conceivable opportunity, despite how loud the chorus might get, these technology companies made a choice to protect their bottom line over protecting the democratic process,” Phillips says.

Facebook’s motto for its developers was “move fast and break things.” Phillips thinks they were successful.

“Yeah, they’ve broken democracy,” Phillips says. “There’s no more simple way to describe it.”

TOO MUCH INFORMATION

Phillips wants to make it clear that it’s not just Facebook or Twitter’s fault. It’s not just the fault of Alex Jones or Donald Trump or 4chan. It’s your fault, too.

“A lot of the misinformation being spread is not the result of bad actors,” Phillips says. “It’s everyday people doing everyday things.”

She thinks of it in terms of an ecological metaphor, where pollution is the accumulation of a billion little actions from individuals. All of the tweeting, retweeting and Facebook posting adds up.

“We’re sort of at the whims of everyday folks, disinformation agents, algorithms, white supremacists, all jockeying to win the attention economy,” Phillips says. “The result is an air that is so clogged that we can barely breathe.”

In that environment, with so many different competing and contradictory claims, people “don’t even necessarily trust there is such a thing as truth.”

But Phillips doesn’t necessarily agree that more information is the answer. Journalists like to say that sunlight is the best disinfectant. But Phillips argues that sometimes the sunlight simply heats up the petri dish and spreads the disease — especially when people are liable to believe a hoax is true because a journalist says it isn’t.

“The truth can contribute to pollution as much as falsehood can,” Phillips says. “It is easy to feel like you are pushing back against a story when you are saying, ‘This story’s terrible.’ But the algorithm doesn’t care about your righteous indignation. The algorithm cares that you’re engaging with content.”

She urges journalists and everyday people to shift the lens, focusing less on the liars and more on how lies and ideologies have impacted communities.

Warzel, meanwhile, also urges social media users to slow down. Be wary about clicking that retweet button. If a story seems too perfect, doubt it. If a crazy news story doesn’t come from an established media outlet, wait until at least one outlet covers it — ideally two.

Marantz, the expert on online trolls, says the long-term solution to the disinformation crisis is a deep and philosophical one that he’d explain at length with phrases like “reaffirming our commitment to epistemic depth.” But for now, the simpler way to react to disinformation is to rely a little bit more on the old gatekeepers.

“If you read the New York Times or the BBC or the alt-weekly in your town or the New Yorker, you’re going to be better informed than if you read Facebook,” Marantz says.

Not because they’re perfect — there’s a billion reasons to complain about mainstream journalists, he says — but because, for all their flaws, right now they’re the best we’ve got.

“It’s the best short-term solution,” he says, “as opposed to just living a world where no one knows anything.” ♦

HOW TO AVOID SPREADING MISINFORMATION

Wait before reposting. You won’t need to apologize for forwarding untrue information if you never share it to begin with.

Don’t share something just because it comes from a friend. Double check the source to make sure the reporting is from a respectable publication and that they’re not just summarizing the reaction on social media. Better yet, wait until a second publication independently confirms the reports.

Read the actual story first. Follow links to make sure the links actually back up the news stories. Biased news sources are infamous for making sensational claims in their headlines that the underlying material doesn’t support.

Be cautious about sharing bogus stories just to point how stupid or wrong they are. That’s an easy way to inadvertently spread a falsehood. <<

[1] I first read the article “The Disinformation Nation” excerpted here in the Boulder, Colorado Weekly (https://www.boulderweekly.com/ne…/the-disinformation-nation/ ). It originated in The Inlander of  Spokane, Washington.(https://www.inlander.com/spokane/trolls-conspiracy-theorists-hoaxers-and-trump-have-twisted-facebook-youtube-and-the-news-to-toxic-levels-and-its-only-getting-worse/Content?oid=18415723&fbclid=IwAR2SLoUzigEW4daIrkiQWtObIRHtCtAlkduT_YvFOveXrY1c75FUF7NZdR4 ).

[2] The author, Daniel Walters, was born and raised in Spokane. He has been writing for the Inlander since 2008. In that time, he’s written about investor fraud, online bullying and how Facebook is destroying the news business.

September 21, 2010

KLEPTOCRACY RISING

Filed under: Corruption, government, Honor, Integrity, kleptocracy, politics — jimwes @ 3:49 am

The greatest enemy of Democratic government in the world today is Kleptocratic government.  Kleptocracy is a worldwide phenomena and a worldwide threat to Democracy.  

Today we are witnessing a growing tendency toward abstinence from accountability…the refusal to recognize that one is accountable to any higher authority.  This is the seed of Kleptocracy, planted by the irresponsible – the unaccountable, fertilized by human greed and watered by a flow of untruth, that grows as the roots of corruption reach deeply into the fertile soil of human culture producing the fungus of corruption that rapidly covers all it touches with the invisible slime of unbridled evil. It can stealthily displace any and all political ideology or form of government.

Kleptocracy comes to power neither by force, nor by ballot.  It simply grows like a fungus corrupting more and more persons until it takes control.  Almost everyone then becomes corrupted as corruption becomes a way of life, payoffs become salary supplements, collusion spreads because everybody’s doing it and gradually the entire country, or at least its business and governmental leadership and its public service becomes corrupted.

The great poet Alexander Pope described this process aptly when he said of vice and corruption:

Vice and Corruption

“Seen too oft,

familiar with her face,

          we first endure,

               then pity,

             then embrace.

Kleptocracy is “government by thieves.”  There is nothing new about it.  Kleptocracy may in fact be the world’s oldest form of government.  It simply consists of the institutionalization of one person’s or one elite group’s greed for resources and power in the form of the apparatus of the state.  Most monarchies deteriorated over time into Kleptocracies.  Most great empires were driven by Kleptocracy’s inspiration. 

The plunders taken by conquering armies in times of war and the hated tributes extorted by tax collectors in times of peace…all in the name of government…permeate the pages of the history of our so-called civilization.  Karl Marx saw the Capitalists as the most horrible of Kleptocrats exploiting natural and human resources driven by greed.  But his own disciples did exactly the same…even as they praised his name.

We have seen the domino effect of the people’s disgust with Kleptocracy among the former Soviet states. But the disillusionment expressed by many former communists has not so much been with ideology but with the corruption which discredited the utopian promises and their promisors.

It became apparent to the world in the last decade of the 20th Century that Kleptocracy had actually displaced Communism in a number of countries.

Beware!…it can displace Democracy just as stealthily.

The big challenge to democratic  governance today is how to protect itself  from Kleptofungus, perhaps now dormant, but still permeating a society which has become accustomed to it.  Often throughout history one Kleptocracy has been overthrown by disgusted citizens only to be replaced by another under another brand name…then by another and another for years.

Kleptofungus is invisible.  It grows anywhere there are human beings. In its early stages it is unnoticed.  At midgrowth it begins to get hold of every possible activity.  In its later stages it reproduces with geometric progression so that it quickly takes complete control before it can be stopped.

The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson said

The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is

before they  shall have gotten hold of us.”  

We are now seeing the late stage of the growth of Kleptofungus throughout many countries of the world today – the geometrically progressive stage.  It has already gotten hold of us, especially in the world’s major cities…and in quite a few countries.

Once in control Kleptocratic power tends to become more and more centralized in one person or group which holds the franchise on all forms of corruption.  Lower level concessionaires become the economic slaves of the rulers passing them ever larger amounts of graft which must be financed by squeezing tighter those below.  The  Kleptoconstrictors continually apply more and more pressure until the lowest levels rebel in desperation or are saved by an outside force.

We have much to learn from the real life illustrations of the astounding vitality of Kleptocratic menace which are reported daily in the media.  History is filled with case studies of kleptofungal growth and domination.  We need a scientist who can invent an effective Kleptofungicide!

Sadly, science never seems to solve human problems.  The solution to Kleptofungal growth lies within us.  We can prevent Kleptocracy.  We can control corruption in government.  But we can do this only by changing people…seeing that they accept their duty to be accountable…that they restore honor as a goal in human behavior, integrity as a prerequisite to respect and admiration  and doing our best to decontaminate the culture around us.

Integrity and honorability constitute the real Kleptofungicide

By recognizing the importance of integrity and honorability we cannot eradicate corruption from our planet, but we can control it, prevent much of it, discover most of it and take more effective and immediate measures to punish those responsible for it.

But if we are to win over corruption we must determine to whom we ourselves are accountable. If we are to defeat corruption we must first recognize that we are accountable to our Creator, our family, our nation, other persons and our own selves, then, and only then, we will have the right and duty to insist upon accountability by others.

To accountability we must add integrity, to integrity we must add honesty, to honesty we must add ethical conduct and to ethical conduct we must add credibility through truthfulness and transparency. Then we will merit honor…and we must not let honor fade away.

Integrity and honorability can overcome Kleptocracy’s  corrupt and dishonorable threat to Democracy

August 26, 2010

Fading Honor…..

Filed under: Corruption, credibility, Honor, Integrity, Wisdom — Tags: , , , , — jimwes @ 7:18 pm

Honor..

Honor is what others think about us. Integrity is what we ourselves think about our own character. Honor is a reflection of what we look like to others. Integrity is what we see when we look at ourselves.

Honor is earned by what we do when others see us and know what we have done. Integrity is defined by what we do where no one can see us or find out what we have done.

The importance of both is defined by our conscience.

Honor” is an endangered word…a devalued verbal currency. It is seldom used properly, often applied inappropriately, hardly ever deserved, frequently visibly violated, rarely properly applied, recurrently sought by the undeserving, uncommonly found in the prominent, regularly unrecognized in the commoner, inhabitually merited though quite oft used in government, regularly diminished in sports, scarcely visible in society, generally ignored when deserved and often conferred upon those who merit it least.

Yet we tell ourselves that we are proud of our honorableness as a person, as a family, as a country, as a culture, as an ethnic group, as a civilization, as a human being.  Are we?

Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.

– Proverbs 22:1

Do we deserve to be proud of our honor?  Who yet is honorable?  Is there any one noble left on the planet?

At one time it made a difference…presently it may not.

The word noble is already long gone from our vocabulary.  When was the last time you heard anyone described as noble or having done something noble?

The anonymity of the megacity has relegated honor to the garbage heap of history.  Personal invisibility within the mass of humanity has obviated the need to be honorable or even honest.  Who cares what others think?

In parallel honor is being bestowed as a feel good medication.  Students in some schools are now being given maximum grades whether they have learned anything or not and a few really up-to-date schools are now “honoring” scores of valedictorians at graduation ceremonies…just so no one will feel bad.

Thus we see that simultaneously with the diminishing importance of honor its meaning is being diluted into nothingness.

If there ever was on Planet Earth a culture of nobility and honorability, it has now been replaced by a culture of corruption…if ever a culture of integrity existed, it has been superseded by a culture of dishonor.

The cult of corruption has become the credo of civilization in Century 21…and honor, though not yet dead, like the proverbial old soldier of the ballad…is just fading away.

Ballad: Old Soldiers Never Die
—-
There is an old cookhouse, far far away
Where we get pork and beans, three times a day.
Beefsteak we never see, damn-all sugar for our tea
And we are gradually fading away.

Old soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old soldiers never die
They just fade awa
y.

It is said that once upon a time on this relatively tiny sphere of whirling matter where we temporarily are imprisoned by Newton’s Law the inhabitants acted honorably, spoke honorably, dressed honorably, respected laws honorably, treated their parents honorably, raised their children honorably, defended their country honorably, served their government honorably, worshipped their God honorably  and lived their lives honorably.

A myth?  Ancient history? Obsolescent?

Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud.

Sophocles

It is best to live with honor for just a day than with dishonor for many decades

– Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Indian                    Spiritual Leader

A quick look at the English language tells us that honor was, at least in the past, considered very important but it has been greatly devalued like an overvalued currency in a depression.

For example, there are several words in the English language meaning meritorious of being honored, that is deserving to be honored or the quality of being worthy of honor or respect.

  • Honorificabilitudinitatibus
  • Honorificabilitudinity
  • Honorableness
  • Honorability
  • Honorable
  • Honoree
  • Hon.
  • The oldest, honorificabilitudinitatibus, the longest word in Shakespeare’s works, used also by Dante, is said to be  9th longest word in the English language as well as the longest word featuring alternating consonants and vowels. Honorificabilitudinity was apparently a later shortened version. Neither is commonly used today. Honorableness and honorability are seldom used. Honorable or Hon. are only occasionally used to address high officials.

    Simultaneously honorees are proliferating into a meaningless herd as everyone must be honored to preserve their self-respect. If everyone becomes an honored honoree, no one is really honored.

    These words have become obsolete, meaningless or are fading away.

    This leads us to the word honor and to the questions I have for you.

        • Is honor fading away too?
        • Will it become obsolete?
        • Do we, as individuals, deserve to be honored?
        • Do our parents and families deserve to be honored?
        • Does our country deserve to be honored?
        • Does it make any difference anymore?
        • If honor fades away, what will replace it?

    What is an Honorable Man?

    • An honorable man is one who deserves honor. He deserves honor because of his character.
    • A man whose children look up to him as an example of a great father deserves honor.
    • A man whose wife can respect and love him for his integrity, honesty, and faithfulness deserves honor.
    • A man whose family and friends respect him for his decency and goodness deserves honor.
    • A man who holds the intent to live the best life he can, deserves honor.
    • A man who dedicates his life to making the world a better place, deserves honor.
    • Honorable men are those whose lives inspire us, enrich our world, and make the planet better by being here.
            • – Jennifer  Jones

      A person is not given integrity.

      It results from

      the relentless pursuit

      of honesty at all times.”

      -author unknown

      Let’s talk now about the inverted relationship between integrity and corruption that converts honorability to dishonor.  Here are the character equations:

      Integrity + Honesty + Accountability + Ethics + Credibility = HONORABILITY

      Corruption + Fraud + Bribery + Irresponsibility + Inveracity = DISHONOR

      The traditional antonyms of integrity are corruption, disgrace, dishonesty, and dishonor.

      Those of honor are blemish, disgrace, dishonor, ill repute, and stigma.

      But times are changing.

      In today’s modern media shaped, celebrity adoring society it is becoming obvious that it is no longer always a disgrace, blemish or stigma to be corrupt, dishonest or dishonorable.  Notorious contempt for formerly high standards is now often worn as an ornament of pride, rather than a blemish of shame.  And speaking of shame, this is another word that has been outmoded.

      Over a century ago the great Cuban patriot Jose Marti, Cuba’s equivalent of Jose Rizal, commenting on the decline of shame said:

      Shame must be made fashionable

      Jose Marti, Cuban Patriot

      Instead it appears that shame has been repealed.  Those who should suffer shame are now big mouthed heroes who have defied tradition, law and honor and are always “innocent” whether or not proven guilty.

      We once had a very colorful governor in my home state of Georgia who visited all the public prisons and asked each inmate, “Are you guilty of what they have accused you of?”  Only two out of hundreds of prisoners said “Yes”.  He went back to his office and immediately pardoned both of them saying “We’ve got two honest men in jail.”

      Integrity and honor are no longer such shining and inspiring goals as they once were.  Corruption and dishonor likewise are no longer such evil vices as they were once considered.

      Acts and actions formerly considered despicable now are welcomed by the media and give the actor glory by achieving “15 minutes of fame” with little or no risk of disrepute.

      It is not only governments that have become more corrupt, it is whole societies.

      In the Orwellian “Newspeak” of 2010:

      Disgraceful acts are honorable

      Corruption is opportunity

      We have gradually and unknowingly entered the new age of cultural change…the Age of Aquarius has finally evolved into the Age of Kleptoquerius, perhaps we have actually entered the first Kleptocentury.  Today the pollution of the human character is a far worse danger than environmental contamination or global warming.

      Corruption has always been with us.  It has gone through cycles of growth and diminution over the centuries.  Now it is again on the upswing…but the swinging is higher and faster than ever.

      Since an intelligence common to us all makes things known to us and formulates them in our minds, honorable actions are ascribed by us to virtue, and dishonorable actions to vice; and only a madman would conclude that these judgments are matters of opinion, and not fixed by nature.

      – Marcus Tullius Cicero

      May 29, 2010

      21st Century Credibilitism

      Filed under: credibility, government, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — jimwes @ 7:32 am
      (Prepared for the Mexican Institute of Internal Auditors 25th Anniversary. Published originally in Spanish)

      We live today at a great turning point in world history.  The world of the 20th Century is gone.  Very little will ever be the same again.

      We hear a great deal these days about 21st-century socialism but not very much about 21st-century capitalism.  The former is primarily developing in Latin America along the lines of historical Marxism adapted to the region. The latter is primarily holding forth in China, India and Russia. It is often referred to as state capitalism as the state involves itself in owning and running businesses on the capitalistic scheme. (Note: these are three of the four “BRIC” countries currently being heralded as probable future major world powers).

      How will this affect internal auditors? Will 21st-century socialists and capitalists still need auditors? How will auditors’ work be affected by these new systems?

      We are presently in the midst of the worst economic and financial collapse since the Great Depression that occurred early in the previous century…now being called the “Great Recession.” While many people think that the current situation will gradually improve as it has in many prior similar circumstances, others believe that there will be continual up-and-down yoyo-like swings in the economies of the countries of the world with a gradual tendency to edge permanently either upward or downward.  Many believe that we will not any time soon, perhaps ever, see the level of prosperity that some nations achieved during the 20th Century.

      We cannot forecast what is going to be happening in the future but one thing for sure the next 25 years will be quite different from the past 25 years both as far as the world economy is concerned and as far as auditors are concerned.

      Some things we may reasonably expect in the near future could be:

      • Because of the simultaneous jarring shocks, dramatic crises and astonishing technological changes we are experiencing and will continue to experience, it is no longer possible to rely upon past tendencies as a means of forecasting the future, nor to be able to plan usefully more than a short time ahead.
      • Because they believe they have been deceived, there will be a massive lack of credibility among citizens, investors and almost everyone in so far as the activities of business and government are concerned.
      • Because they are inherently insolvent, most of the world’s governments will be experimenting with many varieties of creative economics and undergoing severe periods of readjustment and austerity accompanied by great social unrest.
      • Because of vast demographic shifts and varying population compositions the capability of governments to provide social safety nets for the poor and comfortable retirement for the aging will become virtually impossible.
      • Because they have heretofore unrealistically inflated asset and security values, those of the world’s great businesses that survive will be obliged to change many things about the way they do business.
      • Because they have failed miserably, the entire mechanisms and structures of all worldwide financial institutions and systems will be overhauled.
      • Because of the accelerating worldwide cultural and ethical decline exacerbated by hard economic times, unemployment and severe need, the present upsurge of fraud, crime and corruption in the public and private sectors will continue unabated.
      • Because of the vastly increasing volume of flows of information of all kinds exacerbated by the grievous deception of citizens and investors by people in whom they formerly had faith, there will be a very high degree of skepticism regarding the reliability of any and all information published whether it be financial or of any of the nature, especially including that furnished by the media.
      • Because of the worldwide loss of confidence in political parties, parliaments and judiciary systems, the current trend toward more authoritarian governance, thus weakening, if not devastating, democratic principles, yet retaining their cosmetic appearance, could morph into a form of government that some have called “dictocracy” whether or not it emerges under the banner of 21st-century socialism or 21st-century capitalism.
      • There is no real paragon for guidance over the next 25 years, or  the next five years, or the rest of this century.

      What will be the role of the internal or external auditor in this drastically changed world?

      There will certainly be a drastic need for someone to try to restore credibility to institutions and the information they produce. This clearly should be the role of an auditor.

      One of the few things that will not change during the remainder of Century 21 is the continued growth and sophistication of fraud and corruption.  There will be an even greater need for forensic auditors to continue the role of investigating, obtaining evidence and disclosing cases of fraud and corruption so long as there exist a free press and prosecutorial will.

      Many have lost faith in democracy and it is under fervent attack in many countries.  One of the main reasons for this is that democratic practices have been severely tainted and confidence in them undermined by financial scandals, conflicts of interest, criminally tainted money, excesses of financial transactions (collections and expenditures) beyond statutory limits, delinquent and/or fraudulent reporting and internal fraud among political parties and campaign treasuries.

      In the industrialized countries political schemers have unrelentlessly developed “legal” means of circumventing any and all legislation intended to clean up political finances.  Here is a thicket that auditors have rarely entered, but one that needs their attention unless we plan to bury democracy once and for all.  Dollarcracy has replaced democracy across Planet Earth and unless some means of auditing and controlling political funding can be put in place, democracy will surely die.  Here is a very controversial and dangerous, but badly needed, role for auditors.

      21st Century Socialism or Capitalism or any other form of governance will inevitably need “21st-Century Credibilitism”…the strengthening of credibility of public and private institutions and information.

      Auditors will have to be “credibilitizers”…using their talents and abilities to gather information, assess it and ascertain whether it is valid. This is basically what they have been doing all the time but primarily limited to the area of financial information and the controls over the process of gathering, recording and reporting it.

      Auditors will continue to provide assurances regarding the adequacy of financial information and controls.  They have already begun to provide attestation services in other fields and this will necessarily be greatly expanded.  Unfortunately, in an information-oriented society with a historically nurtured culture of exaggeration, manipulation, and outright “spinning” of all kinds of information from balance sheets to television news, there is plenty of room for an information society to be transformed into a misinformation society.

      Today we have a flow of verbal, printed and visual information greater than at any time in human history and exponentially increasing.

      We are deluged by great volumes of money, statistics, reports, news, documents, books, video recordings and presentations and digital information compressing all of the above into magnetic files that few people can understand if their programs don’t work.  We are responsible for not only administering, but also understanding the flows  and meanings of trillions of monetary units. But no human being can really comprehend a numerical value in the trillions.  And soon we’ll be in the quadrillions.

      One trillion seconds is more time than has existed in all recorded history…31,688 years to be exact. No auditor could physically count and verify the authenticity of $1,000,000,000,000.00 in currency:

      • A million dollars in tightly bound $1,000 dollars bills would create a stack 4 INCHES or 122 CENTIMETERS high.
      • A billion dollars in tightly bound $1,000 dollars bills would create a stack 300 FEET or 92 METERS high.
      • A trillion dollars in tightly bound $1,000 dollars bills would create a stack 63 MILES or 101 KILOMETERS high.

      How would you like to count that much cash?

      Now think about the number of words (or letters) in a 2000 page bill presented to the Congress and, once enacted, sent to the President for his signature. Who would read such a document?

      Very soon all human knowledge will be stored, handled and reported digitally. The whole digital information storage system is measured in bits and bytes. Eight bits make a byte. The units of measurements in information storage grow through kilobyte, megabyte, gigabyte, terabyte, petabyte, exabyte, zettabyte, to finally the biggest, yottabytes. One yottabyte is equal to four terabytes.  Hard drives storing two terabytes are now available for your home computer at very reasonable prices. One zettabyte equals 1,180,591,620,717,410,000,000 bytes or 9,444,732,965,739,290,000,000 bits.

      Now that you have fully and completely failed to understand the digital storage system, the purpose of this exercise has simply been to make it abundantly clear that we are now dealing with volumes of information that the human brain can no longer cope with.  Yet someone, somehow not only has to compile, summarize and report on different combinations and categories of this information but communicate the results clearly to others so that they can be understood.  What a great opportunity to manipulate any kind of information.  What a great opportunity to falsify, spin, distort or simply modify cosmetically to make more pleasant any type of information.

      No business CEO or national President likes to receive bad informational or financial news. If authoritarianism grows in the coming years as well may be the case, leaders in business and government will be in positions to see that their subordinates always furnish them good news whether it relates to financial operations and position or the number of prisoners taken and soldiers killed on the battlefield.

      One of the key factors in the collapse of the former Soviet Union was the fact that factory managers, in order to report that they had met production quotas, massaged and inflated the figures.  Thus government leaders were fooled into thinking things were better off than they actually were.

      A very smart executive in business or government may be greatly concerned that the stockholders investors or the public receive only favorable financial and non-financial news, but will also be greatly concerned to know what the real situation is, so as to be able to take corrective measures when necessary even though they may have to be stealthy.

      Now this is the bottom line.  Hopefully democracy will prevail across the planet, but whether a form of government varies from strongly autocratic to purely democratic nature or from 21st-century socialism to 21st-century capitalism, there will always be a need for someone to attest to the credibility of just about everything.

      That will be the job of internal auditors and probably external auditors as well during the remainder of the 21st-century… providing credibility either to the entire public at large or to a single powerful leader or group of elites…21st Century Credibilitism.

      December 1, 2009

      GREED

      Filed under: government, Uncategorized — Tags: — jimwes @ 1:18 pm

      The following is an extract from an article by Paul David Walker that should be read by every US citizen in my opinion:

      “Our country was formed as a representative democracy with a balance between the three branches of government to provide a check and balance to protect “We the people.” Our government has deteriorated into constituencies, which drive only for constituent gains. We have traded being a beacon for the world, to groups of people who are selfishly grabbing pieces of an ever-shrinking pie. Each constituency seems to feel that their end justifies the means, resulting in spinning the truth, telling flat-out lies while ignoring impending doom. We still think “greed is good,” while much of the world is repulsed instead of being inspired.

      Ignoring Impending Doom

      Pleasing its constituents, the Bush administration reduced taxes on the wealthy, borrowed money to fight two wars, deregulated our financial system and watched its constituents grow rich while leading us to the brink of a “global economic meltdown.” The Obama administration found that getting us out of the domestic and international mess created by the Bush administration is going to be more difficult than they thought, but they continue spending money we don’t have to please their constituents. Our government can’t get anything done, while competing economies are growing with decisive actions.

      Self-Imposed Trance of Greatness

      Our greed has taken us to a point in history that looks familiar to the fall of other large nation states, or empires. To name a few: Rome, Great Britain and the Soviet Union all fell because they overextended their resources, fought too many foreign wars, and alienated themselves from the world with selfish policies. They lived under a self-imposed trance of greatness that they felt would overcome financial issues, internal bickering and greed. “We are the greatest nation on earth” was a theme that echoed throughout the chambers of all these empires long after their greatness had turned into constituency-based greed. This trance blinded them to problems, which are obvious now, but were considered close to treason at critical times when change was necessary. I am even nervous writing the blog, thinking all those who presently support me will see me as “Anti-American.”

      Can We Awaken From This Trance Before It Is Too Late?

      If we use history as our guide, the answer is clearly no. It seems that most people, companies and nations, have to hit bottom before achieving enlightenment. If we don’t admit that we have hit bottom or are wrong, we cannot change our ways. That is why alcoholics will not recover until they admit they are dependent on alcohol. We as a nation are dependent on greed and have built a system of constituency government that reinforces greed…”

      October 13, 2009

      Mega-Malapportionment of the US Congress

      Filed under: government, politics — Tags: , , — jimwes @ 3:37 pm

      The following is a letter I wrote to the editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution as a result of two pro and con articles published on Oct. 12, 2009 titled:   “Should undocumented aliens be counted in the 2010 census?”

      See original article at http://www.ajc.com/opinion/pro-con-should-undocumented-161139.html

      Dear Mr. Editor:

      I believe that I hold an unusual point of view on this issue because:

      • I am a documented alien living in Ecuador where I am retired and under its new constitution am counted in the census and can even vote after 5 years’ residence.

      • I was principal plaintiff in Wesberry v. Sanders (376 US 1), the landmark Supreme Court decision regarding apportionment of the US Congress that gave a second Congressional seat to the Atlanta area and ordered national apportionment according to the Great Compromise of 1787 embodied in the US Constitution.

      • I served as Georgia State Senator from Fulton County during 1963 – 67 (then the 37th District).

      • Through marriage at present I have about 12 documented alien relatives in the US.

      • I am a CPA and specialist on Governmental Financial Management having dedicated my entire career to that field in the US and Latin America.

      In my opinion, the official census count of undocumented aliens should have nothing whatsoever to do with the distribution of Federal funds or the apportionment of Congressional Districts.  They should certainly be counted, but separately from citizens and documented aliens and their numbers should not be used for apportionment or funding purposes unless constitutional and provided for by law.

      The US Constitution is unmistakably clear in setting forth how Congressional districts are to be established.  Its provisions were ignored for many, many years until our case was adjudicated in 1964.  The resultant malapportionment deprived the voters of Atlanta and many other metro areas of equal representation under the Constitution. In Georgia this was even worse due to white primaries and “county unit” voting.

      We achieved great victories in our state in the 1960’s when these evils were eradicated and the principle of “one man, one vote” was established.  This clearly means, until the Constitution states otherwise: “one citizen, one vote.”

      If undocumented aliens are to be counted, then the Constitution should be amended to so state.  That is why our founders provided for the Constitutional amendment process.

      If additional funding to the states is needed to provide for undocumented aliens, then the Congress should so specify in appropriations laws.  That is why we have a Congress.

      But let me conclude by telling you that the malapportionment situation is even worse than ever.

      I and other US private citizens residing temporarily or retired abroad are not to be counted in the 2010 census, thus not provided Congressional representation in the reapportionment process.

      These two policies now being executed for the 2010 census:

      • counting undocumented aliens within the country, and

      • not counting private citizens living abroad

      nullify the historic Supreme Court decisions of the 1960’s and result again in a malapportioned Congress as we had before.

      It seems that in Congressional malapportionment as in many areas of life, what goes around, comes around.

      October 11, 2009

      Political Hatred – Good News?

      Filed under: government, hate, politics — jimwes @ 10:40 am

      I and many others have been thinking and writing recently about the growing political hatred being expressed in the US and the world.

      Well maybe I have some good news…political hatred has been with us forever.  Maybe it is not really growing after all.

      Why do I say this?  I just read the book Triumvirate, The story of the Unlikely Alliance that saved the Constitution and the Nation by Bruce Chadwick. It refreshed and added to my memory about the kind of political hatred that was going around as the United States was been founded.  It was tough.

      Not only was  hatred spewed between the loyalists (to Britain) and the breakaway colonists, but once separation began the new Americans themselves fought verbally and in writing just about the same as our politicians do today.

      During the period of the ratification by the states of the new constitution, that document, today so revered, was covered with everything from hate to lies to exaggerations.  And so were its supporters and opponents.  The haters on both sides were the heroes of the American Revolution and the men we today call our founding fathers.  No one, not even George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, were exempted from being objects of hatred.  Patrick Henry and George Mason were among the greatest opponents of the constitution. Many opponents said that if ratified civil war would be the result. Many supporters said that if not ratified the same would happen.

      It is hard to believe but all the folks we admire today were involved in the same kind of political hatred that we abhor today.

      I guess that’s good news in a way.  We aren’t getting any worse.

      June 4, 2009

      What killed George Washington may kill the country he fathered

      Filed under: government, politics, Public Debt — Tags: , , , — jimwes @ 3:05 am
      I was thinking about the father of our country and the present rec/depr/ession.  George Washington apparently had pneumonia but what killed this tall, strong leader was “bleeding,” a common remedy relied upon for centuries by well meaning but  misguided doctors.  He bled to death!I can't believe it!

      "I can't believe it!"

       

      The same thing is happening to the USA.  It is bleeding to death…green blood. Unchecked and unprincipled spending prescribed and voted by our well intentioned but misguided “doctor” legislators from both parties over the past six decades has resulted in a steadily weakening patient.

      The prescription for green bleeding came soon after World War II and it continued to be represcribed every year by Congress, often at the proposal of our Presidents. And just as in the cases of prescriptions for red bleeding decades ago, as the patient got weaker, more green bleeding was prescribed.  

      How many patients died from red bleeding over the centuries before medical practitioners realized it was killing folks?

      How much longer will our green bled patient-country be able to survive?

      With a debt of about $566,668.00 per household, far more than the average home mortgage, can the red, white and blue patient stay alive.  Is there hope that our Uncle Sam might recover?

      Not if we keep up the green bleeding.  Let’s stop it!

      May 1, 2009

      Political Hatred Getting Disgraceful

      Filed under: government, hate, politics, presidency — jimwes @ 12:57 am

      Over quite a few years I have observed the growth of a phenomena that I can only define as “political hatred.”  I suppose it began with the birth of politics and has been a part of our entire history as a nation, but during my adult years I have seen it spread like a contagious disease…and that’s really what I think it is.

      I remember when folks criticized President Harry Truman; everybody liked Ike; Kennedy and Ford too mostly; but where I began to notice real hatred was with Barry Goldwater, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.  They were mercilessly publicly detested in a way that seemed more spiteful than ever.  Jimmy Carter did not suffer as much outright hatred, though he was roundly criticized and often ridiculed. Ronald Reagan was very popular but a small vocal group seemed to really hate him even more than the others. Bush 41, a true gentleman, got off light compared to the others.

      Then the hatred began to really accelerate.  Bill Clinton was not a good moral example and the combination of his personal failures and some of his politics apparently caused things to degenerate into a bitterness I had never before seen in US politics. And it was contagious. Bush 43 came along and was hated even more, perhaps mostly due to the war (as was Johnson) but his denigrators’ speech and actions seemed to get even more vitriolic.

      Now a man, Barack Obama, who wanted to govern differently and achieve consensus according to his book and political campaign statements, is the recipient of an incredible amount of virulent acrimony…it seems to me even more than ever before.

      Certainly folks have a right to criticize the president in a free country, but at this moment we are facing a greater number of interacting crises than perhaps ever before in the history of the nation.  There are times when criticism is very useful, especially when it is positively based.  And there are times when inimical criticism is uncalled for and can become dangerous to the entire country.

      I think that now is not the time to foment political hatred of the president, yet I see many persons doing just that.

      This president has more weight on his shoulders than any president since Abraham Lincoln.  He will do things that  some of us disagree with.  He will make mistakes as all before him have.

      But with the United States of America in perhaps the most perilous position since the revolution, faced by external and internal violent terrorists, an axis of evil nuclear ambitious despots, an impending second great depression, a potential life threatening pandemic, a declining moral culture, increasing crime and corruption, global climatic change, burgeoning environmental and moral pollution, a diarrhea of public spending that has created deficits measured in digits too large to comprehend, and many other crises, I think we should all calm down and either support the president or at least avoid the disgracefulness of a public loathing that in the eyes of the world will disgrace and damage our own country while severely weakening its financial, moral and physical security.

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