Aside: On The Decoy Effect

People are deliberately inducing anxiety in you in order to manipulate your decisions.  You’re already aware of this, at least subconsciously; consider:
How many coffee sizes are there?

If you answered three — either small, medium, and large or tall, grande, and venti depending on where you get your caffeine — then you’ve been conditioned by the marketing.  Some of you Starbucks fans might be feeling smug about having the short option, but don’t.  Those who brew at home will tell you they can pour to fill any cup you bring.

There are times, particularly with caffeine, that a customer will deliberately select the smallest size available; it’s often the more responsible choice for those of us who like to avoid getting the jitters or being unable to sleep at night.  The least purchased size is the middle one; it’s usually priced only slightly less than the largest in order to subtly encourage us to spend more for more quantity as an illusion of value purchasing.  But unless you drink every cup to the dregs and immediately go for a refill, there’s a decent chance you’re actually purchasing more than you really want or need, thus wasting money.

You’re with me so far; many of you will already have thought this through on your own.  If you’re interested in more on the subject, there’s a marvelously accessible article in The Conversation from about a year ago that I’m sure you’ll find both entertaining and informative.  I mention this as an alternative to continuing here because I’m about to start talking politics again.

(You knew I was going to.)

The Democratic primary field has been steadily dropping, which is a good thing; some of these people have been actively campaigning for over a year now, which can’t be good for them.  Turns out it’s also not good for us; studies in Iowa found that the biggest wish of potential primary voters was to reduce the number and so make the choice simpler.  Voters in New Hampshire seemingly verified this, with candidates who were commonly believed to have little chance losing votes disproportionately over previous years.  Latecomers to the race have all garnered significant negative reactions, also in part due to this same phenomenon:  We’ve got too many now; stop distracting us!

But what you might not have considered is the high likelihood that some of the lower-tier candidates still in the race are being encouraged to remain in with the goal of directing voters to a specific alternative, a presumed “value candidate”.  It will help to bear in mind that there is more than one faction at work here, and each is willing to expend vast amounts of money to manipulate the election toward their own specific goal.  By “manipulate the election” of course what I mean is manipulating you.

Consider if you will a hypothetical shadowy organization aligned with the opposing political party, the Committee to Re-Elect the President, or CREEP for short.  (I’m starting with this because, while this does exist, there’s no reason to think they’re involved right now.  Later on, perhaps, but not now; it’s poor return on investment.)  And remember:  This is all hypothetical.

Now, CREEP wants to influence Democratic voters to get tired of the mess and stop being involved.  Failing that, they want people to declare an absolute loyalty to a single candidate, someone they’ll vote for even if they drop out of the race and endorse someone else.  It’s unlikely they’ll be able to direct people to their own candidate, but it’s possible.

So what might they do?  Well, one possibility would be to support lesser candidates both financially and with dark money “Issues Ads”.  There are laws against the former, but corporate bundlers can get around that; unfortunately for our hypothetical CREEP, most of the lower-tier candidates are either self-funded or have refused corporate or bundled donations.  Still, there might be some profit in, say, propping up Joe Biden directly; he’s unlikely to win but can certainly help split the vote.  Besides, indirect help is both safer and more effective.

So this CREEP will buy attack ads tearing down the leading opposition candidate, and if possible they’ll even set up responses tearing down the one in second place — the idea being to get the campaigns (or supporters) to blame each other.  They will also instruct their local political operatives (ward-heelers and the like) to engage in some creative sabotage, tearing down campaign signs for all but one or two candidates (leaving some up in order to direct blame).  Social media can be used to spread malicious gossip or even actual dirt against selected targets in turn.  The eventual result will be a destabilized race.

Now, imagine CREEP has a single very wealthy supporter, a figure in the shadows.  Someone like George Soros only (in this case) conservative.  That person might contemplate running their own alternative candidate, a Manchurian-style plant who secretly holds conservative views or who can be leveraged in one way or another — blackmail, for example.  A sufficiently arrogant puppet master might even finance their own entry into the race.  While this candidate might be fully intended to win, it’s not necessary; judicious revelations of information during the process will be enough to convince some voters of the fabricated truth that there’s no real difference between the parties.

The more imaginative among you have already assigned names to these players:  Bloomberg would be the puppet master, Buttigieg his wholly-owned subsidiary (since he eagerly accepts corporate and bundled donations).  Others less acquainted with character would pick Steyer and Gabbard, but that’s tinfoil-hat territory; Steyer’s no Machiavellian and Gabbard is running on pure stubbornness at this point — not a trait you’d want in a puppet.

Of course, this is hypothetical.  It’s easy to imagine, but the roles and persons are all wrong.  We’d have to convince ourselves that Bloomberg really wants Trump re-elected for some reason, and that’s a stretch.  So no, this isn’t really true.

But if we introduce other factions instead — a Wall Street elite group, for example, or a militantly centrist core within the DNC — it all becomes startlingly plausible.  After all, we already know that the Credentials Committee for the July Convention has been stacked to favor Clinton loyalists; it’s not unimaginable that some of them are secretly hoping for a contested convention in order to bring Hillary back as a compromise candidate; failing that, to be able to hand-pick someone who would be both politically orthodox and, inevitably, indebted to those who engineered their elevation.

At this point it stops being a hypothetical.

Because we actually do know that such factions exist and are presently active.  They’re not secret; they don’t operate in the shadows.  They manage large Political Action Committees that are very much in the public eye, and they spend a great deal on precisely the sort of “Issues Ads” I’ve described.  We’re not talking conspiracy theory so much — or rather, we are… but the conspiracies are real and take out ads.  Heck, you’ve probably donated to them.  They’re called things like NRA, AARP, CoalPAC, KochPAC, MoveOn.org, Eagle Forum, and the Democracy Alliance — and so very many other names.  You know them well; you’re on their mailing lists.

(Side Note:  Don’t believe a single thing they tell you in their newsletters.)

Does it bother you that these groups are trying to manipulate your votes, the elections, and the candidates?  Would it bother you more if you realized that some of them are entirely funded by industry — Big Coal, Big Oil, and so on — in order to work directly against your interests?

What if you were to learn that some of these factions work more or less directly for foreign governments?

As it happens, some of them do.  Citgo is owned by Venezuela, which presently serves Russia.  Shell’s full name is “Royal Dutch Shell”; you’ve probably heard of B.P., “British Petroleum”, and so on — and all of them, even Exxon-Mobil, owe some loyalty to Saudi Arabia and OPEC.  And that’s just Big Oil; Huawei, like every other major Chinese corporation, works directly for the State — and has a massive political operation.

It was news in 2016 that the Russians were trying to directly influence the American presidential elections, but there are two things we don’t think about:  First, their objective wasn’t to choose a candidate but instead to destabilize us by reducing public faith in the process (so hacking the Iowa primary app would have been in their interest).  And second, they were actually one of the minor players:  The Powers That Be have been with us for a very long time.

And you already give them your money every time you fill your tank.

So — what’s to be done about this?  Well, not an awful lot, as it happens.  We’re not about to overturn the Citizens United decision any time soon no matter what the candidates say.  Corporate interests are firmly entrenched in our political process and there’s no extracting ourselves, certainly not this cycle.

But you do have some options.  You can work to educate yourself on the candidates proper, voting only for people who actually match your preference regardless of their electability; after all, that concept was invented by people who want to manipulate you.  You could vote (and contribute and volunteer) only for people who aren’t involved with mega-PACS:  Sanders, Klobuchar, Warren, and Gabbard are your –only– options in that case.

Or you can give in.  Succumb to their manipulations and bow to the pressure, and stay home not just during the primaries but the general election.  Because in the end that’s what they want you to do:  Get the hell out of the way and let them run the government.


UPDATE:  I wrote this yesterday; a few hours later, two PACs were announced.  One backs Warren, the other Klobuchar — and they’re both funded by the same people.

The goal is quite clearly not electing either one, but instead keeping both in the race through Super Tuesday in an effort to get a divided convention and thus prevent Sanders from winning the primary.  Now, as to rumors that both were at least partially funded by Biden supporters… well, I can see how you might think that.

In fact, you might very well think that.  But I couldn’t possibly comment.


Nobody’s bribing me to lie to you.  That’s not why I do this, and so it’s why you can trust me to try to tell the truth — unlike any major media organization in existence.  I might be mistaken, but I won’t mislead.

I will, however, gladly ask for bribes:  Your bribes.  Pay me money and I promise to keep doing what I’m doing. Or don’t, and sooner or later I’ll stop.

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