6 People You've Never Heard Of (Who Secretly Rule The World)
Technically, monopolies are illegal -- it's why you go to jail every time you play it. And yet, despite antitrust ruling after antitrust ruling, the world is still run by 1 percent of the 1 percent. These select few people have more money and more power than a trillion Tony Montanas, and absolutely nobody is trying to stop them. And unlike Microsoft, Standard Oil, and AT&T, virtually nobody knows they even exist.
Almost All Of The Porn On The Internet (Even The Illegally Downloaded Porn) Is Controlled By One Company
Despite a website that paints them as the blandest, most inoffensive corporation since Staples (they bill themselves as "a leader in web design, IT, web development, and SEO"), the nigh-invisible Internet conglomerate MindGeek runs all of the porn on the Internet. Even the pirated stuff. Considering that roughly 35 percent of all downloads are deposits into the stroke bank, it can be truly said that MindGeek holds the keys to the online kingdom.
There's a very good reason their offices are all white.
Since 2007, MindGeek (then called Manwin) has established an absolute foothold in the pirated porn business, allowing any anonymous dick to upload any anonymous dick they want to any website in the MindGeek dugout. And they own a LOT of them. Have you ever fired a few potential heirs into a sock while watching YouPorn, PornHub, Xtube, Redtube, Extremetube, or SpankWire? You just made MindGeek even richer, because they own all those sites, plus about a hundred more.
All of which are tabbed on your computer, right now.
So how is it that MindGeek has avoided the fates of Napster and Pirate Bay, despite basing a huge part of their fortune on the distribution of copyrighted material? Well, the answer is pretty simple -- MindGeek also owns the movies people are pirating. See, in addition to a nine-figure loan they got from some shadowy Wall Street investor, the company grew so rich hosting ill-gotten porn that they went out and purchased every actual porn studio they could get their hands on. Brazzers, Digital Playground, Mofos, MyDirtyHobby, Twistys, Reality Kings -- all of those brands that you're pretending not to recognize are directly owned by MindGeek. They even had a working relationship with Playboy, back when that actually mattered. So they profit off the movies being filmed, and then profit off the films being pirated. It's a double penetration of profit.
Unfortunately, this arrangement isn't so great for the people actually making the porn, since their videos are all owned by the same company pirating their content (and thus getting around that pesky little problem of having to pay them anything). But they can't say a goddamn thing about it, because to do so would risk angering their bosses and lose them any chance of making any money for their videos. So any actors and actresses under the MindGeek umbrella basically have two choices -- keep their mouths shut and hope that Vivid Video signs them, or go back to serving mozzarella sticks at T.G.I. Friday's for less money than it costs to drive to work.
T.G.I. Friday's: where even the buildings look like they're ready to screw you.
So, why aren't any officials speaking out about what sounds suspiciously like a monopoly? Presumably because ... it's porn. Nobody wants to touch it. No presidential candidate is going to start yelling about how the hardcore porn industry needs more regulation, although there is no denying it would be a pretty bold platform.
Related: 5 Ways Porn Created the Modern World
The NSA Is Run By A Special Court Full Of Secretly Appointed Judges Who Don't Answer To Anyone
The NSA is one of the most controversial government organizations in existence. This is because, among other things, their surveillance tactics have been ruled unconstitutional, but they get to continue doing whatever they want, because terrorism. You see, despite what some knee-knocking appeals court says, every bit of electronic surveillance the NSA conducts on private citizens is totally legal in the name of protecting this great nation from secret threats. Just ask their bosses at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, if you can find them. And trust us: You can't.
And if you ask the NSA, they suddenly uncover a hundred different reasons to waterboard you.
The FISC was founded in 1978 to combat the rash of illegal Russian spies who were making it hard for illegal American spies to do their job properly. But after 9/11 made suspected terrorists of us all, the FISC quickly became the most powerful organization you've never heard of. It operates from a small office -- there are 11 judges, and their terms of service in the FISC last for seven years. And each one of them is appointed to their position by no less than the chief justice of the Supreme Court. He hires these judges all on his own, without any supervision or fellow justices getting in the way to ensure he doesn't accidentally appoint a violent sadist.
The main job of the FISC is to hear requests from the government for permission to wiretap, monitor, bug, or otherwise snoop on whatever target they deem sufficiently shady. So if anyone's going to stop the NSA from pilfering through your DMs, it's them. Except they probably won't -- out of the 33,900 requests to spy that the FISC received from 1979 (the year of its inception) to 2012, they rejected 11 of them. ELEVEN. Reality stars hear the word "no" more than the government does. It is equally important to note that there have not been 33,889 cases of espionage and organized terrorism in the past 30 years, so either the net they are casting is far too wide or they've successfully prevented 33,889 9/11s.
Those minuscule upticks in 2003 and 2007 are when the FISC put their foot down
and made the agencies eat their vegetables a whole eight times.
Thanks to the "I'm drunk, do whatever you want" parenting style of the FISC, the NSA has total power to pull flagrantly unconstitutional bullshit, such as keeping and using information that was "inadvertently" acquired. Basically, if the NSA happens to accidentally record a conversation that they didn't have legal permission to record, they have the right to hang on to that conversation anyway and use it as evidence, which is basically the worst thing to happen to warrants since Nirvana. They can also hold on to information obtained during attorney-client conversations, which kind of makes having a lawyer seem completely pointless if anything you tell them can be recorded and used against you in your trial. And best of all, the FISC has allowed the NSA to select their surveillance targets without having to report to anybody first. That's like asking for a warrant after you've already started searching someone's house.
Furthermore, none of their rulings are published -- they just make their decrees and scurry back into the darkness. One FISC judge defended this practice by explaining, "It's difficult for a judge to summarize the work of another judge." It is totally understandable to be confused by this statement, because the Supreme Court has had absolutely no problem publishing extensive writing for every single decision they've made over the past 225 years.
"All this time, we could've just said 'cuz' and moved straight on to the orgies? That's way easier!"
For those having trouble deciding whether this whole thing sounds way too Kafkaesque to be true, here's a fun quiz you can take. All you have to do is choose whether a court action/quote is taken from the FISC or Franz Kafka's The Trial, where a man gets tried, convicted, and executed despite never being told why he was on trial. It's a way harder quiz than it should be.
One Tiny Company Decides What Shows Get To Stay On Television
You've likely never heard of the Media Rating Council, but they're the reason all your favorite shows keep getting canceled, while Chuck Lorre gets to keep ice skating across fields of cocaine into giant piles of money. Founded in 1963 by the federal government to combat the rash of crooked TV quiz shows, the MRC is currently composed of five people who have total power to determine what gets to stay on television, and all they care about are the goddamn Nielsen ratings.
"Dear diary: Went to work and accidentally left the TV on during a Big Bang Theory marathon. God help us all ..."
With each passing Netflix subscription, the once-revolutionary Nielsen ratings system -- which monitors 25,000 random TVs via a laughably archaic control box to decide what the other 116,275,000 TVs in the U.S. are probably watching -- increasingly comes across as disorganized and useless, because holy shit look at this fucking thing:
She's either single-handedly deciding the future of our entertainment or opening a garage door.
Nielsen doesn't take into account streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Roku, iTunes, or other types of tablet and smartphone streaming, even though Netflix alone would almost certainly crush every other major network in a ratings war. Meanwhile, the other major ratings guideline, Rentrak, tracks the same areas as Nielsen and often arrives at vastly different numbers. How is that possible? Well, one reason could be that Nielsen has been found to report incorrect figures and has been accused of accepting bribes to do so.
So, even though Nielsen numbers are potentially meaningless, the MRC still considers them the gold standard, spending 20,000 hours a year mercilessly auditing them. Rentrak, meanwhile, directly studies more homes (19 million boxes versus Nielsen's 25K) and likely arrives at a more accurate conclusion. But they're not accredited by the MRC, so their conclusions are taken about as seriously as an investment diversification proposal from a man in a Batman costume.
It's not like they're literally the only reason we know if movies make money or anything.
Currently, the MRC is in the midst of growing up by finally working to establish standards in online viewability -- primarily so companies can know how many people are seeing their ads. Of course, a company needs MRC accreditation for their ad counts to count, and as of now only a handful of companies have passed muster. But as far as ratings are concerned, those companies' ads are officially the only ones that exist, because five people in a tiny room said so.
One Man Owns A Piece Of Almost Every Industry In Mexico
Carlos Slim Helu is Mexico's answer to Warren Buffett, and for some reason he enjoys only slightly less anonymity than a CIA agent.
Also, his name really is "Slim"; it's not a code name he bought for a few million pesos.
With a net worth in the multi-billions, only Bill Gates gets to bully Slim on the billionaire playground (and, even then, some years the roles reverse and Slim becomes the world's richest person). He got this way from decades of resume-building: Starting in the '60s, he would buy up shitty, near-bankrupt companies on the cheap, transform them into billion-dollar conglomerates, and then sell off his share for huge bucks. By 1991, he was a billionaire. Now, he's a billionaire a few dozen times over, and he's less interested in being Gordon Gekko from Wall Street than he is in owning everything in Mexico.
That's not hyperbole. Slim runs over 200 companies, covering basically every single aspect of daily life. Use a phone? You're paying Slim. Read this article and share it with everybody you've ever met? You're paying Slim. Eat at a restaurant? You're paying Slim. Smoke cigarettes? You're paying Slim. Buy clothing? You're paying Slim. Need a mortgage, insurance, materials for your job, or a fucking highway built? You're paying Slim. There's a reason Mexicans half-jokingly call their homeland "Slimlandia," and it isn't because of a fad diet that's suddenly sweeping the nation. It's because Carlos Slim bought everything.
They gave him the flag for the receipt.
His single biggest claim to fame, though, is the phone company. In 1990, Slim bought up the struggling, formerly public Telmex, privatized it, and turned it into what is essentially the only phone company in the entirety of Mexico. Currently, Telmex controls 94 percent of the country's landlines. In comparison, J.D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil monopoly, the most famous antitrust case in American history, controlled 88 percent of the market before the government stepped in and dissolved the company.
It's worth it, though, to have phone booths that don't seem like you could catch tetanus just from looking at them.
Now that he owns basically everything in Mexico, Slim is slowly starting to extend his empire into the United States with TracFone, providing mobile coverage for 25 million Americans. If you've ever used Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile, or Telcel America, best believe that change is going into Slim's pocket. He also owns a huge stake in the New York Times, which must come as a major shock to the 12 people who still subscribe to the New York Times.
Obviously, Slim is constantly accused of monopolistic practices, such as destroying competition and artificially inflating his prices. Recently, the FTC determined that TracFone was intentionally slowing down or shutting off "unlimited" data coverage after users hit a preordained limit that they weren't aware of. Slim was ordered to fork over $40 million in fines, which is a huge amount of money, but to a man worth many, many times that, this was somewhat less than a scathing rebuke. Asking him to write a 1,000-word essay on why monopolies are bad would've been a harsher punishment.
Unless he simply plagiarizes from the online essay-writing company he probably owns.
But nothing seems ready to change anytime soon. Slim's ludicrously low profile (he owns one modest home in Mexico, doesn't blow his money on lavish parties and expensive toys, and doesn't have any social media accounts with which he can make an ass of himself) all but guarantees he'll be lording over his country to an extent the aforementioned Rockefeller could only dream of.
U.S. Defense Strategy Was Largely Shaped By A Single Man For 40 Years
The Pentagon is, by all accounts, a very large building, so it may come as a surprise to learn that all of its top-secret decisions about which foreign threats to monitor have essentially been made by a single guy since 1973. His name is Andrew Marshall and, while we'd love to quote him in this article, we can't. He doesn't speak to anyone publicly. Virtually every report he writes is more secretive than the recipe for Coca-Cola. But there's a reason everybody in Washington calls him "Yoda," and it's not because he's a tiny old man who speaks like a stroke victim. No, it's because Andrew Marshall might well be clairvoyant.
He took this picture knowing that, years later, you'd fear-shit your pants just from looking at it.
From 1973 until his retirement in January 2015, Marshall headed the Pentagon's Office Of Net Assessment, a tiny think tank responsible for studying information from around the globe to determine potential threats. This includes monitoring foreign trends, predicting the future moves of various nations (sometimes decades in advance), and recommending where in the world we should probably start dropping bombs. Marshall was so precise in his work that he relied on psychological studies of world leaders, essentially acting like an FBI profiler to try to figure out whether Vladimir Putin is going to nuke half the globe anytime soon.
Some of Marshall's notable predictions were the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of China as America's most powerful frenemy. He also guessed that drone strikes and computer espionage would become the new landscape of international conflict. He was so good at what he did that every single president, regardless of intelligence or political affiliation, retained Marshall as ONA director without question. When both Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush agree that you're the best person to run the country's defense center, odds are you're pretty good at your job.
He even forgave Marshall for failing to foresee the rise of the murderous pretzel industry.
Hell, even China thought Marshall was the tops. Chinese General Chen Zhou was once quoted as saying, "Our great hero was Andy Marshall in the Pentagon. We translated every word he wrote." Granted, most of those words were probably "we need to watch out for those damned Chinese," but the fact that they wanted to keep reading means there was something to his method that warranted study.
One Man Is In Charge Of Marvel Comics, And He Is A Complete Maniac
Anyone who complains that privacy is impossible clearly isn't trying hard enough. Take the CEO of Marvel Comics, Isaac Perlmutter. Here's Perlmutter in 1985, cosplaying as Don Draper decades before that was even possible:
And here's every picture of him since:
His driver's license photo is just a gun aimed right at the camera.
That's right -- the guy who oversees the world's biggest comic studio barely even exists. He has never given an interview. There are more photographs of Bigfoot than there are of Ike Perlmutter. For all we know, he has been dead for years and a computer program of his consciousness has been running Marvel, sort of like Anthony Hopkins in Freejack.
The man behind the superpowered curtain isn't just psychotic about his privacy -- part of his legend is he attended the Iron Man premiere in glasses and a fake mustache -- but also about his money. Perlmutter reportedly once scolded a lower-level worker for requesting a new pencil by saying, "There's two inches left on that one!" Scraps of old paper get torn up and used as notepads rather than thrown away, because comics are paper, and we're in the paper business, dammit. And recently, he ordered so little food for an Avengers media event that hungry reporters invaded a suite Universal Studios rented for The Five-Year Engagement. We assume Universal was just thrilled that anyone had showed up at all.
This is both the film's poster and the reaction of everyone who paid to see it.
Just in case the Howard Hughesian reclusiveness and cartoonish penny pinching didn't tip you off, Perlmutter also has a lunatic reputation. He reportedly told his editor-in-chief to kill his children if they grew up to be gay. He occasionally fires people just to see how Marvel would do with one less check to write. And he was the one who thought that Avengers merchandise should be largely Black Widow-free, even when clearly directed toward girls, because Tony Stark is the only role model anyone needs.
Black Widow would actually make this shirt less girly.
Perlmutter was also responsible for the decision to replace Terrence Howard with the less-expensive Don Cheadle in the Iron Man sequels after Howard demanded a salary increase, allegedly justifying the change by insisting that all black people "look the same." Disney finally removed Perlmutter from the movie side of Marvel, but he still controls every other aspect of the company, running a multi-billion-dollar media juggernaut with some of the most far-reaching and universally recognizable characters to children the world over with the same fake-mustache-wearing fist he always has.
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