Thursday, January 06, 2011

You are the Key to Reviving Progressivism

Fighting This Is Where It Begins
For three decades the Right has waged a campaign against progressivism, a highly effective campaign aided and abetted by plenty of money and a cooperative, corporate media.   This campaign was led in the United States by a second-rate, washed up movie actor turned president who sold them a pack of lies skilfully crafted to generate the greatest and undeserved transfer of political and economic power in American history.  It was a quiet, socialist takeover of America only it was socialism for the rich.  In its wake, progressivism was left bloodied and tattered.

America has been caught in this feverish delusion for three decades since Reagan ushered in his Age of Ruin.   During this time America grew prosperous, notionally at least.   Great wealth accrued to the rich.   America's workers became the most productive on earth.   Yet, for America's once vaunted Middle Class, increases in productivity and prosperity yielded wage stagnation.  Across the U.S. families saw both parents employed, often taking multiple jobs, just to make ends meet.   And, when that failed as it often did, they turned to the opiate of easy credit.

The Age of Ruin, like all radical movements, fostered its own mythology.  This included "supply side economics" and the "trickle down theory" combined under the apt moniker of "Voodoo Economics."  Americans, who once protested "no taxation without representation" were led to believe in representation without taxation as the shiny path to the future.    In the United States, wealth came to be equated with virtue (Lapham), constantly growing affluence the measure of liberty itself (Bacevich).   Throughout the country, at the federal, state, municipal, corporate and personal level, mounting debt became the instrument to buy easy time, to postpone harsh reality.   Notional wealth, debt-based, became the gruel of the working classes as real wealth flowed steadily upward to the richest of the rich.

Like an addict who loses his job and takes to living in back alleys, America shifted from being a robust production economy into a brittle consumption economy fueled by its ability to borrow against America's good credit of the past.   The Middle Class were able to replicate their past prosperity by supplementing their paycheques with money borrowed against notional, vast increases in the value of their homes.   They were so in thrall to these feverish delusions as to actually believe that the value of their homes could never decline, would always increase, would forever ensure their comfort and security.   It takes an awful lot of conditioning to come to the point where a person is willing to believe such things.

Just who conditioned the American people to embrace this lunacy?   The resolution lies in asking the question Cui Bono?  Who benefits from this crime?   Follow the money, follow the power.  It's a trail that leads to the barons of America's financialized economy, its corporatized media and a complicit government harnessed to their service.   This unholy marriage of corporate, media and government power is the very formula Benito Mussolini described as modern fascism.  It is fascism and it's existence is indisputable and evidenced daily in the constant disconnect between the country's top public servants, its Congress, and the public interest they are sworn but refuse to uphold.

Yet in this maelstrom lies the key to its dismemberment and the restoration of progressive democracy.  That begins with dismantling the corporate media, breaking down the cartel just as US progressives did to the railway barons through social, political and economic reforms.   The media as the fourth estate is vital to a functioning democracy but only when it is free to be the watchdog of government, not its lapdog.   The media only serves the public when it is free to present the broadest range of views necessary to support an informed electorate.   These purposes are defeated by two evils - concentration of ownership and media cross-ownership - both of which are well entrenched today.

Yes we need news networks.   Yes we need newspaper chains.  But we need many news networks, not few.   We need many newspaper chains, not few.  We need networks and chains that speak for the right and the progressive right, for the centre and the left of centre and the left.  Allow the public to become exposed to different points of view and discover that  at least most of them will be anchored in truth - honest but different.   Allow the public to become informed for that is the best way to make good their empowerment.

As we need many networks and chains we need many journalists and columnists.  The coporate media through concentration of ownership and cross-ownership is best served with fewer journalists.   Across America and Canada, newsrooms have been pared to the bone.   Fewer job opportunities means less freedom for outspoken voices.  It means more compliant reportage.  Yet, at the same time, it imbues the compliant voices with even greater power and usefulness to those with power to dispense.  We have seen this in Canada with journalists transformed into panderers and subsequently rewarded with high political office.  Power corrupts and it is as relentless in its corruptive power with advantaged journalists as with politicians.

So, surely, the first step in reinstating progressivism lies in dismantling the media cartels that serve us so poorly, imposing divestiture and establishing safeguards to prevent a corporate resurgence.   This is a power that lies within the hands of our political leadership yet which of them is championing the cause?   Harper?  You could hardly expect that from the main benefactor of the carefully sculpted status quo.  How about Ignatieff?   I've not heard it from him either but, then again, he is not exactly given to progressivism in any meaningful sense.   But Layton, surely him, no?   Not really.   The fact is that they're all sufficiently comfortable with or intimidated by the media cartel to call for its reformation.

It is probably unfair and unduly optimistic to expect the opening salvo for progressive restoration to come from these people.   Not one of them could muster the integrity and courage necessary for such a challenging and potentially dangerous step.   Not one of them is capable of putting the welfare of the Canadian people ahead of his personal political ambitions.  These are, after all, the Petro-Pols of Parliament Hill, a fairly good measure of what can be expected of them.

If anyone is going to salvage progressive democracy, it's going to be you.   You will have to do it just as I have done here and elsewhere - by writing about it, by talking about it, by insistently demanding it.   It won't happen quickly so don't burden yourself with unrealistic expectations.   It will take time and constant pressure.   Don't be discouraged.   Already you can see, even feel the inertia being overcome.  More and more people are beginning to discuss the scourge of corporatism spreading through our societies, infecting our institutions.  They're speaking out and they're being heard.  Join them, if only because it's the only way we're going to even the political keel.

Reinstating a free and responsive press is the key to undoing the chokehold corporatism has on our democracy.  We deserve better but we won't get it until we insist on it.


Beijing York said...

Excellent rant, MoS.

As a federal policy wonk in the 90s, I was sent to an international magazine conference in NYC and was astonished by the focus on mergers and acquisitions. That was the name of the game as far as successful publishing was concerned. I took it upon myself to do more research on media concentration and cross-ownership in the US market and it was shocking. The FCC regulations were incrementally diluted to usher in this era. At that time the CRTC had more teeth with respect to foreign ownership and media concentration, but their solution was to offset any economic displacement with benefit packages. The threshold for offsetting has been dramatically reduced since that time.

News content diminished while lifestyle, entertainment and sports content became highly saturated in all forms of media. At that time, the Columbia School of Journalism was amassing also sorts of research and analysis of the extent and impact of this corporate concentration and cross-ownership. I was amazed by the extensive holdings in sports franchises, movie and music production and entertainment theme parks (as well as merchandising rights) these media giants had. Bread and circuses combined with the effective dumbing down of the US public has left a very economically and politically ignorant population.

Under-funding of public education, rise of unregulated home schooling and increasingly limited access to post-secondary education also contributed to the further decline of informed and active citizens.

Beijing York said...

Part two:

On a more positive note and related to your conclusion, I find the Bolivarian Revolution fascinating and there is much to be learned from Venezuela, Bolivia and to a lesser extent Brazil. This Z-Net article caught my eye many years ago about the growing success of community radio in Venezuela. An excerpt:

A few hours after Chávez was removed from office on April 11, 2002, opposition spokesperson Napoleón Bravo came on the air and falsely broadcast that Chávez had resigned. While opposition leaders were taking over the presidential palace and dissolving democratic institutions, the private media was running its regular broadcast of cooking shows, soap operas, and cartoons. Members of the community were deprived of access to information, as the government-owned television station, Channel 8, and several community radio and television stations were taken off the air.

During this time, it was mainly the alternative print media that was able to get the message out to the people about what was happening. According to Roberto, a worker at the Caracas Municipal Press, activists came to the press and labored to produce 100,000 copies of a bulletin, informing people about what was happening. Radio Fe y Alegría also came back on the air and began to make announcements about the coup. Through the bulletins, alternative radio, and the exchange of text messages through cell phones, people were able to pass on the news of the coup and come out onto the streets in massive demonstrations that would put Chávez back into power.

At the time of the coup, the alternative and community media broke through the silence and misinformation of the private media. The passing of information from mouth to mouth was a revival of Radio Bemba, an age-old tradition of gossip and communication in Caribbean countries, that has begun utilizing electronic technology such as radio to multiply messages.

Since Chávez was reinstated as President on April 13, 2002, two days after the coup, there has been an explosion of community radio stations. Activists across the country have sought to establish local control over the information reaching their communities. While in 2002, there were 13 licensed community radio stations nationally, as of June 2005, there are 170. In addition to these 170 legally recognized and funded stations, there have emerged over 300 unsanctioned community radio stations. These are created and operated by a range of local groups, including indigenous people in the Amazonian south of Venezuela, peasants in the Andean regions, Afro-Venezuelans in the coastal north of the country, and residents of the barrios in the major urban centers.

The Mound of Sound said...

Media deregulation is the medium of exchange by which the political class can both encourage media corporatism and bring it into their own service.

As the "fourth estate" the media are intended to be in service to the public but, with corporatism, and lured by the financial attractions that cross and concentrated ownership can bring, the media protect their vested interest by crossing sides and entering the service of the political classes, not the public.

About 20-years ago the Republicans realized they could take a 3-tier approach to public opinion warping. A position totally lacking in substance was put forward on the talk radio circuit. "To me, he's a coward." Then it was firmed up at the cable networks as "reports are circulating that X is a coward." Eventually it gets too much to avoid and the MSM pick it up at which point it turns into accepted fact and conventional wisdom. A corporate media that operates at all three levels - alternative media, cable and broadcast network can feed the public a rich diet of utter fabrication - and they'll believe it.

Only McClatchey Newspapers (then Knight Ridder) openly challenged the Bush administration's justifications for attacking Iraq. Only that small, independent newspaper chain spoke out against the blatant lies.

Without independent voices willing to challenge authority, such as McClatchey, we're left with the likes of the former CanWest operation, with CTV, with SunMedia and even with today's G&M. They all need to be taken down, broken up and put on the block, piecemeal.

It's certainly possible to identify other scourges of corporatism but I suspect that tackling them, without first restoring a free and independent media, would be doomed to fail.

oryx said...

Actually, the federal NDP have a very specific policy on the media.

It focuses around:
a) a strong public broadcaster, not dependent on corporate dollars;
b) ensuring free and open access to the internet (unlike the recent US Broadcasting ruling which allows groups like Comcast to stratify websites by how much they can pay;
c) protecting Canadian ownership and content;
d) encouraging independent and local broadcasters

It's true guys, all outlined on their website.

The Mound of Sound said...

Oryx, "encouraging" independent and local broadcasters is a cheap bromide. What is necessary is divestiture, breaking up the cartels as we once understood necessary. This vaunted NDP policy you put forward is decidedly underwhelming. That it comes from a party that has never been trusted by Canadians to form a federal government and probably never will in my lifetime, it's laughable.