Thursday, July 05, 2007

When Lies Become Normal, Is Truth Dead or Just in Hiding?

Correspondent James C. recently described how "fudging the numbers" is ubiquitous in our society, and how the fudging only forstalls the consequences:
(emphasis added)

"Our whole society is based on fudging the numbers. Whether is be reported inflation, GDP, the value of stocks and CDO's or the efficiency of certain drugs, there is some degree of cloudiness in all the numbers. By the way, health risks are calculated the same way. If two people per thousand die of a "X" disease and some bad habit increases ones risk of dying of "X" disease by 50%, then out of 1000 people with this bad habit 3 would die of "X" disease. Hmmm, let's have a beer and enjoy life!

The one statistic that they cannot fudge on is that 100% of us are going to die of something sometime. I think Americans are too obsessed with trying to figure some way to wiggle out of this reality and are willing to place untold financial burdens on future generations in the fruitless attempt to dodge death for another few months or a few years. The medical establishment knows most of us will take about any drug/treatment that is promised to make us feel better or live longer. What a goldmine for them!! The big lie is this: if we can't afford it individually then we really can't afford it collectively. Several trillion dollars worth of debt stand as a mountain of evidence to this fact.

Additionally, insurance or socialized medicine will always create a moral hazard and in the end will raise the cost of health care for everyone. I have health insurance, but pay 90% of my own medical expenses because very few of the treatments that I take advantage of are covered by insurance.

At some point we will have to ration health care. I am not sure how Americans will accept this but probably not with a grain of salt."

James C. raises some critical, long-term issues with enormous consequences for decades to come. If a drug company misrepresents/fudges the efficacy of its "wonder drug," isn't this a lie? And if a government and/or elected Administration tells the public Medicare, or a war, or a giveaway to special interests, is "affordable," even as it saddles our children and their children with a mountain of unaffordable debt, isn't this also a lie?

And if you "fudge the income" on your "no-document" mortgage application, isn't this also a lie? And if you "fudge" the appraisal value on a property at the "request" of the lender, isn't this also a lie? And if you process this application and appraisal, than aren't you lying, too? And when a realtor assured the borrower that they could re-finance to a fixed-rate, low-interest mortgage whenever they wanted, wasn't this a lie? And when the realtor assured the buyer that "real estate never goes down, it only goes up," wasn't this a lie, too? (The statistics of the early 90s retreat in home prices is not a secret.)

And if you assign this mortgage a low-risk AA bond rating when it becomes part of a mortgage-backed security and CDO, then isn't that a lie? And when you, the broker/banker, package and sell this lie to a pension fund as a "safe, high-return" investment vehicle, isn't that a lie? And when a government agency sworn to protect consumers and provide oversight as per the law does nothing to question this contraption of lies, aren't its employees and leadership complicit in the lie?

I think you can see where this leads: the entire housing bubble is constructed on lies. The real estate, home building, lending and investment banking industries have all known the bubble was inflated with one rickety, ill-advised lie after another, as did the government agencies supposedly put in place to protect citizens from predatory lying.

Yet nothing was done or said except by a handful of skeptics in the blogosphere, all of whom were mocked as "doom and gloomers." Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and years after we raised a clarion call of doubt and skepticism, the fumbling mainstream press is suddenly alive with stories about "the subprime mess." Where were these intrepid editors and reporters two or even three years ago?

As a child, I was taught there is a sharp line between truth and lie. If you steal a candy bar, you are guilty of theft, regardless of the value. You can't fudge the theft by saying, "But it was only a candy bar," or "I didn't steal it from a person, but from a rich corporation," or "Everyone steals from the government."

If you misrepresent the truth, you're a liar. There is no "fudging" this reality. And here we have entire trillion-dollar industries built at least partly on lies--lies which are passed along because they benefit the industries' profit margins.

Now as it all unravels, I wait in vain for someone, anyone, to say something simple and direct: It was wrong. But we live in a society so debased from truth that this widespread, ubiquitous lying by realtors, lenders, government agencies, investment bankers, etc. isn't considered wrong, or a violation of the principles of honesty and trust which built the nation; lying is now seen as utterly unremarkable, as "business as usual" -- just as it is in a corrupt and venal third-world or Communist regime that we as a nation like to place ourselves above.

But does this moral superiority have any basis in reality? If business leaders like Jack Welch (former CEO of General Electric) are pleased to pontificate on the glories of American capitalism and opportunity week after nauseating week, we have to ask: does Mr. Welch feel any responsibility to excoriate the liars or "speak truth to power" about the lies at the heart of trillion-dollar industries?

Isn't his silence, and the silence of all the other puffed-up, know-it-all pundits blathering on endlessly about how great everything is and how prosperity is "different this time" feel any responsility to the truth? And since they so clearly have avoided addressing the veritable pyramid of lies this bogus "prosperity" is based on, aren't they, and the media masters who pay them for their punditry, also complicit in the lies?

Let me put it this way: if the kid you're with steals a candy bar, and gives you half, aren't you complicit in the theft? And when you lie to your Mom and Dad about where your half of the candy bar came from, aren't you a liar, pure and simple?

Ours is often categorized as a "deeply religious" nation, but this appears to be yet another self-serving fabrication. I grew up in a family where one's religious beliefs were kept ptivate, not trumpeted over the airwaves. I came from a family of missionaries, some of whom died while serving their mission in Africa. My aunts and uncle were born in El Salvador, where my grandfather and grandmother were serving as missionaries. I am not going to foist my beliefs on anyone, or parade around claiming some high righteousness; but I do know that lying is not "fudging," and "fudging the numbers" in any way, shape or form is lying. And I know that everyone down the line who knows of the lie and says or does nothing to reveal it is also a liar.

We have become a nation of self-satisfied liars, as every report out of Iraq, as every report about the lending bubble, as every report about investment bankers and rating agencies scrambling to cover their tracks, all reveal.

And every editor who plasters a story about baseball or chocolate or pets on the front cover of his/her newspaper/media outlet rather than an investigation of the lies which will bleed us for decades to come, is complicit in the lie, for he/she is the kid who's accepting the stolen half of the candy bar and saying nothing. The candy bar is real estate advertising, and retail advertising, and all the profits flowing into "corporate."

But we may find as a nation that there is a cost to blithely accepting a pyramid of lies. We may find truth hasn't been destroyed, but only driven into hiding. And when truth emerges, a hard rain is gonna fall.

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