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Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Smoking guns and artificial persons

by Tom Sullivan

By court order, the American tobacco industry began at long last running television ads admitting their product kills their customers. In fact, 1,200 per day, on average. They make the admission kicking and screaming, having argued about every line in the ad.

In reviewing the ad, "All Things Considered" described them as "pretty weird." Black text scrolling on a white background and "a disembodied voice that sounds like its [sic] computer generated or manipulated."

Tobacco is an industry that once produced ad campaigns that became cultural icons. But having dragged out the court fight for eleven years, the ads now run on television at a time when four in ten Americans get news online instead. It is clear from the flat voiceover and lack of attention-getting detail that Big Tobacco intends these ads to get as little attention as possible.

"Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction," one ad admits.

The NPR report adds:

The cigarette companies were ordered to run the ads back in 2006 when U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler found they had conspired to cover up the risks of smoking.

In her ruling she said the cigarette industry "profits from selling a highly addictive product which causes diseases that lead to a staggering number of deaths per year, an immeasurable amount of human suffering and economic loss and a profound burden on our national health care system."

The court found the companies had in fact conspired "for approximately fifty years" to cover up evidence that its products killed people. Why? To keep the profits flowing.

But it is not the disposition of this court case that should draw one's attention. It is the nature of the corporate beast at the heart of it. Lack of heart, to be more precise. The "artificial persons" we as a society invented to generate profits for us we created without hearts, just as the tin smith did the Tin Man. Only he found his.

The tobacco industry may seem like an outlier, but it is not. Tens of millions of Americans and perhaps billions of others worldwide are still recovering from financial crash of 2008 and The Great Recession. The unpunished conspiracy by the financial industry to peddle mortgage-backed securities to credulous buyers has caused untold suffering. Yet even now, that industry chafes at being reined in. Customers' suffering is not their problem. No heart is.

Unregulated, the relationship is more analogous to predator and prey. Is that an indictment of those who work for the industry or a call for a long-overdue redesign of the business model? In cases such as tobacco and finance, it is both.

Even now, our current administration is doing its damndest to hamstring the Consumer Financial Protection Bureaus established after the financial crisis to protect citizens from predation. There is a power struggle to replace the agency's outgoing director.

The White House has named budget director Mick Mulvaney as interim director, although by statute it may not have that authority. A court will decide. Mulvaney calls the agency a “disaster” and claims “financial institutions have been devastated” by the bureau's actions. The millions of families that industry cast into the streets to protect its bottom lines may have first dibs on devastated.

One wonders whom Mulvaney is in government to serve. Artificial persons or real ones? Show us the artificial persons' birth certificates.

Marketplace radio reported last night:

“The CFPB in its short existence has been incredibly effective,” counters Rachel Weintraub, the legislative director and general counsel with Consumer Federation of America. “For example, it has obtained $12 billion in refunds to almost 30 million Americans who were harmed by a large financial institution.”
That is what a government of by and for the people is for. One under the sway of artificial persons will, in the name of freedom, allow them to become easy prey.

So long as these creatures have no hearts, regulating them is not only beneficial, but necessary. And so long as those seduced by gold are in control, wolves will roam free in the fold. But that's how the predators like it.

I am a dog lover. That doesn't mean I think they should be running loose on playgrounds. As a small child, I was bitten once in a city park at a time when pets were allowed to roam free. It didn't put me off dogs. It simply taught me the prudence of leashes.

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