by Wade Rathke
August 29, 2020
Pearl River A million years ago a random snip of an article or book or something, I honestly don’t remember, made what seemed to me a profound observation. The author or reporter said that one of the weaknesses of modern America at the time – 50 years ago – is that we collected more information than we ever used or evaluated. That was then, when having an IBM Selectric was the bomb, and computers were something big business spent millions to buy and NASA used to get people to the moon.
Modern data collection is exponentially larger and more extensive than any wizard might have imagined back then. Every day we find out more information is being sliced, diced, stored, sold, and used to exploit everything from privacy to geopolitics. It’s unimaginable, and at the grassroots level we can’t pretend to compete. What gets me though is the unbelievably outrageous presumption by big enterprises of all kinds that they can say anything anywhere, including on government-mandated reports, and assume that no one is looking and will sort out whether they are telling Peter the same thing as Paul, or in fact telling anyone.
Here are a couple of examples:
- The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finally produced a form for financial companies to complete to provide more transparency for small potatoes investors. The “customer or client relationship summary” or Form CRS was supposed to do the trick after years of wrangling about whether or not money advisors needed to act in the best interests of their clients. They complied with lies. 1200, almost 20%, of the 6200 that filed falsely claimed that neither they nor their financial professionals had legal or disciplinary histories. The Wall Street Journal caught that one, but not the SEC seemingly. Now known, what will they do about it?
- Hospitals are required to provide detailed cost reports to the federal Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS). Nonprofit hospitals because of their tax-exempt status are required to file an annual 990 form with the Internal Revenue Service which in schedule H requires them to list their charitable expense. Hospitals routinely overstate their charitable donations to the IRS differently than what they report to CMS and inflate their un-reimbursed cost item to CMS. What are the consequences? None that we can find.
- Almost all police jurisdictions at the local and even many at the state level keep reports on domestic abuse, but there is no federal database, allowing an abuser to move from jurisdiction and state to state, as if they had no record. The same is true with statistics on police firearm use and fatalities, where federal record keeping is lax and many jurisdictions do not report.
- Financial lending statistics to lower income families and racial minorities are required submissions by all financial institutions to the Federal Reserve, but almost no one looks every year at their record, and we have found even when the Fed requires an agreement on investment to approve a merger, there’s no follow-up or consistency in requiring compliance.
I could go on and on. You get the message. I’m not even mentioning our massive data project with the Voter Purge Project to collect data on purges and drops and determine if these are false or accurate with was recently covered in Wired.
We’ll come back to this soon. It’s a problem demanding a solution.