5 Seemingly Harmless Groups That Wield Terrifying Power

Everyone knows a conspiracy theorist who, at the slightest provocation, will spout a stream of cerebro-diarrhea about the secret organizations that control every minute aspect of our lives from the shadows. Well, it turns out you owe that guy a burrito, because he was totally right about everything ... except for the "secret" part. The sinister organizations making society dance like a puppet aren't illuminati or freemasons -- they're boring, ordinary groups gone mad with power. Groups like ...

#5. The Auto Clubs That Invented Jaywalking to Shift Blame to Pedestrians

General Photographic Agency/Valueline/Getty Images

Sure, we all hate it when some arrogant pedestrian has the audacity to get their blood all over our hood, but put yourself in the shoes of that oblivious walk-monkey for a second: Isn't it a little strange that, if you happen to cross the road at the wrong spot, you're the lawbreaker, even if you don't inconvenience any drivers at all? Motorcycles, bicycles -- hell, even horses supposedly have equal rights to the road. But you, with your primitive feet, have absolutely no business being there, and you're basically volunteering for a real-life game of Frogger every time you cross the street in a non-stripy section.

Sega
Except that you'd never have the stones to rock the vest/tie/no shirt combo.

But that wasn't always the case. When cars first arrived on the scene, they weren't guaranteed the right of way -- if a car hit a pedestrian, it was a shocking and public tragedy. The driver would face charges of something like "technical manslaughter" even when the accident was considered unavoidable. The thinking was that you're the one shooting about in a murder machine -- the burden of caution is on you.

It was auto clubs like AAA that first worked to make drivers the lords of the blacktop. Back in 1923, people started calling for physical speed limiters on cars to prevent accidents, and auto clubs (under heavy influence from the boys in Detroit) realized that slower cars would result in fewer owners, fewer sales, and fewer memberships. With an astoundingly subtle, graceful, not even slightly racist campaign, they lobbied and successfully kept American cars faster than your mom at a Loverboy concert.

Cincinnati Post
Although the idea of walling off Cincinnati does sound appealing to most modern Americans.

The bigger victory, though, was shifting the blame for accidents away from errant, roguish, begoggled old-timey automobilists over to those devil-may-care pedestrians. The concept of jaywalking basically didn't exist until the 1920s -- why would it? Streets were made for people to get around, and most people got around by walking. Now they suddenly had to get the hell out of the road to make way for cars. It makes sense to us today in our auto-centric culture, but picture that moment when it happened: It would be like waking up one morning to find that you could no longer walk down the hallway in your apartment building because too many people were getting hit by Segways.

So with the legislation in place, it came time to focus on changing people's perceptions. And much like cigarettes and Japanese card-battle games, auto makers found that they had to hit them young. AAA paid for the safety education of millions of students, telling children to use crosswalks and look both ways. Who could argue with that? It was all in the name of saving those precious young sales.

Thomas Northcut/Stockbyte/Getty Images, Photos.com

Lives. We mean saving lives. Same difference, right?

#4. Credit Reporting Agencies Who Sell You to the Highest Bidder (Or Any Bidder)

Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

As far as society is concerned, your entire worth as a human being boils down to a single number on a single piece of paper: your credit score. Somehow, we all accidentally entered into a Logan's Run-type situation, but instead of coming when we turn 30, the men in black jumpsuits show up when we inevitably overcharge our Home Depot card trying to build a trebuchet in our living room.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"We'd have approved you and hooked you up with moat financing. Just sayin'."

And that's not the unsettling part. See, credit ratings are controlled by just three private companies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. But these companies rule far more than your credit score. Recently, Experian landed a sweet deal with the Social Security Administration under which they control your access to online Social Security statements and benefits. That's particularly scary because it turns out that Experian isn't exactly great at online security: Last year, Irish regulators opened an investigation into their security practices due to the more than 80 breaches of their consumer database since 2006. If you're wondering why the Irish were investigating the issue, it's because Experian -- the company that controls access to U.S. Social Security benefits and the credit reports of U.S. consumers -- is based in Dublin. Ireland's not exactly Thunderdome or anything -- we're sure they have a fine workforce -- but we're outsourcing our own benefits and the maintenance of the single most important number in our lives?

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
And you just know you're going to get screwed when they convert your number to metric credit.

Don't freak out.

Yet.

Because it keeps going!

You know all those pre-approved credit offers that you get in the mail and use as kindling for your flaming trebuchet balls of justice? Those companies know to send you all that crap because the credit reporting agencies can sell your information to any third party they damn well please. And they're not just selling your name, address, and credit score -- they even sell unlisted phone numbers. Presumably because they, like Cracked, know that everything is better in lists.

#3. The Medical-Industrial Complex That Exists Solely to Bankrupt You

Dynamic Graphics/Creatas/Getty Images

We all know that the health care industry has the second most jacked up perception of value in the country, slightly behind defense contractors and just above printer ink. But you might not know exactly how bad it really is, so here -- check out this comparison of the cost of medical procedures in the U.S. versus the rest of the world:

New York Times
Seems appropriate that the one where they get to jam something up your ass has the best value, percentage wise.

An angiogram in the U.S. costs 26 times what it does in Canada. Canada is right there! Depending on where you live in the States, you could conceivably look out your window at the Canadian border and literally watch $879 burst into flames. But why? It's not (solely) because of socialization, or the lack thereof -- it's because the hospitals and insurance companies are involved in a sort of cold war of blatant fraud that leads to constantly escalating prices. Each hospital has a "chargemaster" -- a list of what it charges for every item or service. No two hospitals' chargemasters are quite the same, but they all have one thing in common: gigantic markups. But the insurance companies know it's a hot steaming wad of crap, so they use their largess to haggle with the hospitals and get upwards of 70 percent discounts off the list prices. Hospitals then have to mark everything up, because they know those bastard insurance companies are only going to pay 30 percent of the asking price. You see where this is going: Those without the necessary influence to haggle (i.e., you, the uninsured jerkwad with third-degree trebuchet burns) are pretty well screwed.

Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Getty Images
"Sorry, your policy only covers catapults."

People don't think to question it because most of them have never even heard of a chargemaster, and the health industry has managed to steer the health care debate away from asking why we're paying $77 for a single gauze pad when we could buy a whole goddamn box of the things at Walmart for 10 bucks and focusing instead on who should pay for it.

But how have they managed to so completely foul up something as fundamental as health care? The answer is obvious: money. Hospitals are a for-profit industry, and one does have to spend money to make money. Lobbyists for defense, aerospace, oil, and gas have tossed a combined $2.8 billion at Washington since 1998. The medical-industrial complex has spent about twice that.

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
Everyone else is playing checkers. They're playing che$$.

Five and a half billion dollars buys you a whole lot of influence; we'd recommend holding off on laying siege to your dickhead neighbor Chad's rec room until this whole thing settles down.

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