Shutdown And Hostage-Taking — It Is NOT Both Sides Doing It

One side says, “Never mind the deal we just agreed to, cut this or we’ll shut down the government” and the other side says, “This isn’t fair, and it hurts people. We can’t keep agreeing to pay these ransoms, this has to stop!” Is this “both sides squabbling?” Is this “Congress can’t get its act together?” Or is this a group of hostage-takers using media obfuscation of what is going on as cover for a radical strategy to turn people against government and democracy, while the “other side” tries to stop them?
So here we are, another fight looms over shutting down the government. This time the Republicans have taken disaster relief hostage and are using it as a lever to demand we cut even more of what We, the People do for each other, so that the big corporations and the wealthiest 1% can have even more wealth and power. Many in the media are reporting this as “both sides squabbling” but this is not what is happening.
Democracy depends on the public being informed so that they can hold their representatives accountable. So the media has a responsibility to correctly identify, in clear terms, just who is doing what. “Both sides do it” tells people not to bother to vote, that government and democracy don’t work, that you should just tune ou and leave it to the plutocrats to run things. Stop it!
“Blame Both Sides” Reporting
The Chicago Sun-Times, in Government on brink of shutdown again blames “Congress”, calls it “bickering” and “posturing” and blames “Congress.”
More “blame both sides” reporting is found in today’s Progressive Breakfast, hiliting this NYTimes story, Flood Victims Getting Fed Up With Congress says the current hostage-taking is “a dispute between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency,”

“Neither side wants the other side to get credit for doing anything good,” Mr. Golembeski said. “Elections are coming up.”

Neither side wants the other to get credit. Nice.

“Members of Congress are playing with people’s lives, not just their own political careers,” said Martin J. Bonifanti, chief of the Lake Winola volunteer fire company. “While they are rattling on among themselves down there in Washington, people are suffering.”

Dear NY Times, “members of COngress” are not doing this. ONE PARTY is doing this. The story offers nothing to counter the quote.

“Members of Congress are intelligent, but they have no common sense,” Ms. Swithers said. “They fight too much. They should be put in a corner and take a timeout and start working together as a team. I’m so sick of hearing Republicans this and Democrats that.”

Dear NY Times, This fight is not “Republicans this and Democrats that” it is Republicans taking disaster relief hostage and using the suffering of the people you quote as a lever to gut programs like green energy.
Norman Ornstein writes about this problem, in What ‘The Washington Post’ Doesn’t Understand About the Looming Government Shutdown,

One of the biggest problems of reporting on our dysfunctional politics has been the reflexive tendency in “mainstream” media to balance, via what is increasingly false equivalence. A glaring example was a front-page, above-the-fold story in Saturday’s Washington Post by Lori Montgomery and Rosalind S. Helderman, titled (in the print edition, though not on the web), “Gloom Grows as Congress Feuds.” The story was about the looming showdown, and possible government shutdown, over disaster relief funding. The piece makes sure to include a comment from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor blaming Democrats, ends with a comment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blaming Republicans, and includes a comment from an independent analyst blaming both.

If you reflexively “blame both” you are not informing the public and you are not serving democracy. There are people who will want to vote for the ones who are trying to help We, the People watch out for and take care of each other. And there are people who will want to vote for the ones who have a strategy in play to eliminate government so that the biggest corporations and wealthiest few can use their wealth and power to have their way. But our media are not letting the public know who is doing what.
Blaming “Both Sides” Is An Anti-Government Strategy
In Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult, retiring Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren explains why Republicans try to make government dysfunctional while pushing the “both sides do it” narrative. They do it on purpose as a strategy to make people hate government and democracy,

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.
[. . .] A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

They do this on purpose, to turn people against government, and then when people are disgusted and looking the other way they can just grab the loot — your savings, your retirement, your wages, your common wealth, your rights.
What Can We Do?
There is a session titled Taking Back the Media: Embracing New Media and Using it to Our Advantage at the Take Back The American Dream conference next week. Nicole Sandler, Timothy Karr, Sam Seder and Cliff Schecter will be speaking about how to overcome the corporate-media lock on information.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Can US Hold Corporations Accountable Anymore?

In the UK the News-Of-The-World/News Corp/Murdoch scandal seems to be reawakening democracy. A big, powerful corporation has been found to be engaged in criminal activity, manipulating news, paying off police and politicians, and generally getting its way. The people, press and politicians are rising up, holding the company and its executives legally accountable and are taking back control of their system. Could this happen in the US?
This is my last full day in the UK. The top story in the media for the two weeks I have been here has been the News-Of-The-World “phone-hacking” story that I explained in some detail last week. This newspaper was engaged in criminal activity, was caught a few years ago, but used American-style damage-control techniques to manipulate the government, police and public opinion into accepting that the criminality was limited to the sacrificial lamb they threw to them. So the damage to Murdoch’s News Corp. was limited at the time, and News Corp appeared to have impunity. But, unlike how things are now done in the US, investigative reporters (particularly at the Guardian) continued to dig into the story and continued to reveal to the public that News Corp. was engaging in criminal activity until the story could no longer be ignored by the powerful.
The latest big news is that the head of Scotland Yard has resigned, in part because earlier investigations into Murdoch-corporation activities “didn’t get to the bottom of this.” The press is full of questions about how this criminal company was able to operate for in this manner so long, and who in the government looked the other way. This is now as big a story as the original and ongoing criminal activities of Murdoch’s companies.
Another story is the way executives left Murdoch’s companies and entered government into positions where they could protect the interests of Murdoch’s company, including influencing the phone-hacking investigations. And finally, the story here is about politicians who are “cozy” with Murdoch’s media empire, who were propelled into government by the power of that empire.
Not yet part of the story: the manipulation of government policy to serve the interests of the owners of the criminal company. In fact, just as the media was beginning to touch on this aspect of the story the company took extraordinary steps to build a firewall and attempt to contain the scandal. Top executives in the UK and in England were removed from their posts, an “apology” was printed in all the papers here, and Murdoch himself made public apologies and News Corp started a major counterattack. So far News Corp’s second-largest shareholder, Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal has been kept in the background. Prince Al Waleed was interviewed by the BBC Thursday on his yacht in Cannes. Immediately the firewall began to be constructed.
(These are questions, not accusation. While being part-owner of the conservative News Corp., Al Waleed also speaks out for democratic reform and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.)
But questions about News Corp. pushing policies that benefit its owners have yet to be pursued. Does News Corp. push climate-change denial to benefit the interests of oil-producing Saudi Arabit? Did News Corp push the invasion of Iraq to benefit Saudi Arabia?
What About In The US?
Does all of this sound familiar to any of you reading this in America?
And so the parallels to American standard-operating-procedure stand out. Criminal corporations manipulating government, police and public opinion. A revolving door through which corporate executives pass into government and protect the interests of their companies. A conservative media empire manipulating news and propelling politicians to benefit their financial interests. Politicians cozy with corporate executives who never seem to be held accountable.
As Richard Eskow wrote the other day, Want to Solve All your Problems, Rupert Murdoch? Become A Banker.,

But there’s an easy way for Mr. Murdoch to protect himself from these inquiries and save his company at the same time: Turn the News Corporation into a Wall Street bank. There won’t be any prosecutions, and the government will even sweeten the deal with billions of dollars in easy money. And if Murdoch follows the trail blazed by bankers like Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan Chase, soon they’ll be begging him to acquire more companies.
… By contrast, despite its long list of proven crimes nobody at [JPMorgan Chase CEO] Dimon’s bank has been arrested. Apparently arrests, like the financial consequences of one’s actions, are for borrowers only. And Dimon only appears before our elected representative for cozy private get-togethers, not public enquiries.

Seriously, there was just enough democracy left in the institutions of the UK to enable a media giant like News Corp to be held accountable. Just how accountable is yet to be seen, but with the press in full investigative mode, parliamentary investigations, resignations and arrests at the tops of big, powerful corporations that are way-to-cozy with politicians we are seeing a reaction to this story that is simply not imaginable in our own country today.
Some Tests
Here is one test that will tell us if accountability is still possible here. What follow-up will we see from the Justice Department in response to the revelation that members of the Financial Crisis panel illegally leaked inside information, including plans to investigate foreign banks, to lobbyists? See Financial Crisis Panel Commissioners Leaked Confidential Information To Lobbyists, Report Alleges,

Republican commissioners on the panel created by Congress to probe the roots of the financial crisis leaked documents to partisan allies and shared confidential information with influence peddlers, according to a Wednesday report by Democrats on a Congressional oversight committee.

Another area for investigation is the revolving door through which lobbyists or top people of the criminal corporation became government officials and government officials become executives or lobbyists. Are they using their influence in government to protect the interests of the companines that paid or will pay them? That sure looks like bribery, whatever other words one might use.
Another area of investigations is companies that fund or otherwise infleunce public opinion and politics and campaigns or reward politicians or fund their campaigns. That is bribery, because companies have to act in the financial interest of shareholders and rewarding a politician in the interest of shareholders is bribery by definition.
Please, add some more tests in the comments. What stories have you seen revealing illegal activity and collusion between elected representatives, government officials and big corporations with no one held accountable? Obviously there is Wall Street, mortgage fraud and securities manipulations. There are all the crimes from the Bush era that went uninvestigated. (Who ended up with all that money that went missing in Iraq?) But there are so many instances of crimes reported but not investigated and certainly not prosecuted. There are so many clear cases of big corporations using media to manipulate public opinion. And there are so many cases of our election laws violated with impunity.
Are we going to be able to take back democracy and accountability here? Or not? Will our own Department of Justice start to hold law-violators accountable? Or not.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Budget Talks: Who Speaks For The American People?

When we hear about the deficits we hear a lot of scare stories, which most “serious” media just echo and amplify. The prevailing “serious” narrative we hear is that we must cut entitlements — any “serious” budget proposal cuts Medicare and Social Security. Even though they just extended tax cuts for the rich the deficits are the worst problem in the world, ever, so we are supposed to be really scared and give in. Seriously.
Polls show that the public wants taxes raised on the rich, cuts in military spending and more & bettter-paying jobs. The public isn’t stupid, because it turns out that these are exactly the things that economists say will get us out of the deficits. But raising taxes isn’t considered a “serious” deficit-cutting option. Either is cutting military. And to top it off, in DC the idea of creating more and better-paying jobs is so unserious that it isn’t even discussed.
Serious Commissions and Gangs Of Negotiators
The public recoils every time politicians get close to reaching their “serious” goal of cutting Social Security or Medicare, instead of raising taxes and cutting military. So the DC elite come up with ways to mask what they are doing : commissions, “triggers,” “caps,” “across-the-board cuts” all of which avoid actually spelling out that these will cut Social Security and Medicare without touching taxes or military. All the “serious” people favor this approach.
There are so many “serious” reporters and editors and politicians and deficit commissions and negotiators and even “gangs” consist of very “serious” people who come up with these “serious” recommendations.
Who Is At The Table?
These “serious” people who engaged in these “serious” negotiations have something in common. They are almost all very, very well paid, usually white, always DC or Wall Street or big-corporate insiders, always college-educated and comfortable people who work in offices. They do not reflect the diverse makup of the American population. Doing that wouldn’t be “serious,” but it would be ‘small-d’ democratic.
The fact is, the American People just are not reflected “at the table” in these budget negotiations. When you hear about these deficit commissions, discussions, etc. ask yourself: How many make less than $250K? How many are unemployed? How many work taking care of someone else? Who speaks for We, the People in these negotiations?
And ask yourself: What would these deficits talks, commissions, gangs consist of if they were representative of the interests of regular Americans?
What If a Deficit Commission Looked Like America?
If a deficit commission with 100 members had the diversity of the American population “at the table” it would look like this:

  • 19 people on the commission would receive some form of Social Security benefits, 12 of those as retirees. And on this deficit commission they get to talk when the ones making over $250K propose cutting Social Security.
  • 43 of the commission members would have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement. 27 of those less than $1,000.
  • 98 of the 100 members would make less than $250,000 a year.
  • 50 of the members would come from households in which the total income of all wage-earners is less than $52,029.
  • 13 wold have income below the poverty level.
  • 14 members would be receiving food stamps.
  • 16.6% of the commission members would be un- or underemployed, and would be wondering why they are on a deficit commission at all instead of a jobs commission.
  • The commission would include the right proportion of factory and construction workers, and people who work in a kitchen, and work waiting tables, and teaching, and nursing, and installing tires, and all the other things that people do except, apparently, those on DC elite commissions. (People who do hard, manual labor get an extra vote each on what the retirement age should be.)
  • 74 members would not have college degrees.
  • 20 would not have graduated high school.
  • 18 would speak a language other than English at home.

Have you seen any deficit commissions like that lately? No, seriously, have you?
What does the PUBLIC want?
A “serious” deficit commission in a democracy would come up with deficit solutions that reflect what the public wants. Here are some of the polling results compiled at The American Majority Project Polling:
Social Security & Medicare:

  • 53% support Collecting Social Security taxes on all the money a worker earns, rather than taxing only up to about $107,000 of annual income.
  • 57% oppose raising the retirement age from 66 to 67.
  • 64% oppose spending cuts to Social Security.
  • 82% oppose cutting Social Security benefits in order to reduce the debt.
  • 67% oppose cutting Social Security to make the program more solvent in the long term.

  • 66% support enacting Social Security taxes on wages about $106,800 (the Pay Roll Tax Cap) to make the program more solvent.
  • 64% oppose spending cuts to Medicare.

Lots more polling on Social Security at The American Majority Project Polling
Taxes:

  • 74% believe eliminating tax credits for the oil and gas industries to help reduce the budget deficit is mostly or totally acceptable.
  • 68% believe that phasing out the Bush tax cuts for families earning $250,000 per year is mostly or totally acceptable to help reduce the budget deficit.
  • 72% of one group of 512 participants favored raising taxes on people earning more than $1 million a year over cutting important programs once they received details on the impact of the budget cuts. That percentage had been 62% before receiving details of the cuts.
  • 53% believe it is totally or mostly unacceptable to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% .
  • etc…

Lots more polling on taxes at The American Majority Project Polling
Military Spending:

  • 67% support minor or major reductions in funds to national defense.
  • 66% support removing all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • 49% said to cut defense “even if it means eliminating programs that bring jobs to your state.”
  • Pew Research Poll, March 8-14, 2011
    etc.

More polling on military spending at The American Majority Project Polling
Union Employees and Collective Bargaining Rights:

  • 81% support the rights of workers to unionize to negotiate with their employers.
  • 77% believe public employees who belong to a union and work for the state government, city government, or school districts should have the same right to bargain when it comes to their health care, pension and other benefits like those members of unions who work for private companies.

More polling on labor rights at The American Majority Project Polling
Job Creation and the Economy:

  • 56% believe creating jobs, rather than spending cuts is the more important priority for the federal government right now.
  • 56% agree that “it is time for government to take a larger and stronger roll in making the economy work for the average American.”
  • 62% believe the government should focus on creating jobs, even if it means increasing the deficit in the short-term.

More polling on jobs and the economy at The American Majority Project Polling
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Why Trump Gets Traction From Trade

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Donald Trump is getting traction. He is talking about trade, jobs, China, manufacturing, China, jobs, China and China — and it is resonating with a public sick of being told to ignore what they can see in front of their faces. “Nobody, other than OPEC, is ripping off the United States like China,” he says. And he climbs in the polls.
Why is blowhard Donald Trump getting such traction from talking about trade problems with China? Self-funded, Trump doesn’t require the support of the multi-national corporate/financial elite to be heard. He is able to use his own money to push his way into the conversation. So unlike politicians captured by the cabal that runs our politics, who have to get past the corporate-journalism gatekeepers to raise money and be heard, he is able to give voice to things that are right in front of our faces.
Poll After Poll After Poll Shows Public Wants…
Trump can read polls and poll after poll after poll shows that Americans are concerned about jobs, and are especially concerned about how our economy is sending the good jobs and factories out of the country. They are asking why they can’t buy things here that are made here. Whether Trump believes what he is saying or not is irrelevant, he understands what the people are thinking, and is giving voice to those sentiments.
Polls show the public wants tax increases on the rich, a focus on jobs not deficits, and more investment in infrastructure, education, transportation and alternatives to oil.
A recent Alliance for American Manufacturing poll found that “We have lost too many manufacturing jobs” is the top concern among independents and working-class voters.

Other highlights from the poll include:
• A majority believe the U.S. no longer has the world’s strongest economy—a title they want to regain
• Voters are anxious about the economy—specifically China debt, spending and loss of manufacturing
• 86 percent of voters want Washington to focus on manufacturing, and 63 percent feel working people who make things are being forgotten while Wall Street and banks get bailouts
• Two-thirds of voters believe manufacturing is central to our economic strength, and 57 percent believe manufacturing is more central to our economic strength than high-tech, knowledge or financial service sectors
• Across all demographics, voters’ economic solutions center on trade enforcement, clean energy, tax credits for U.S. manufacturing and replacing aging infrastructure using American materials, a surprising overlap between Tea Party supporters, independents, non-union households and union households.

People are sick of their factories being packed up and sent out of the country to places where people and the environment are exploited. They understand this is done to pit them against workers with no right, in order to lower wages, benefits and rights. They want something done about it.
Trump is giving voice to these sentiments. He is saying what people are thinking. Trump says, “We tell China, that if you don’t stop manipulating your currency, we’re going to put a 25 percent tax on your products that come into the United States.”
But Turn On Your TV And…
But turn on your TV or open a newspaper and you get pundit after pundit saying we need to cut taxes on the rich even more, and cut the resulting deficit by cutting back on the things We, the People (government) do for each other and for our economy.
The Elite Are Threatened

Here is a typical elite-media response to Trump’s message: CNN Money: How ‘The Donald’ could incite a trade war

Donald Trump’s call for a 25% tariff on Chinese goods is winning him a lot of attention as he weighs a presidential run in 2012.
“They have manipulated their currency so violently towards this country, it is almost impossible for our companies to compete with Chinese companies,” Trump told CNNMoney in January, during which he laid out plans for his 25% tariff.
Trade wars could arise: Imposing a tariff on China would do little more than irritate the world’s second largest economy, economists say.
… China could also respond by closing its increasingly important market to U.S. exporters, which would be a major blow to American jobs and manufacturing. China has become the No. 3 market for U.S. exporters, with sales jumping 31% from the previous year.
And that doesn’t even count the goods being made in China by U.S. companies. General Motors sells more cars in China today than it does in the United States, for example.
“The sad story is we don’t have much leverage,” said Lardy. “But a tariff certainly would not advance our interests.”

This response to Trump shows why Trump is resonating. In a piece that appears to be an ad for the Chinese Exporters Assn, CNN worries that responding to China’s manipulations could “irritate” them, which could lead to a trade war, and says there is nothing we can do to get our jobs back so we should just accept anything China does. We have already in a trade war with China for some time and everyone can see that we are losing. But this story takes the pro-China position typical of Wall Street and DC insiders.
Filling The Vacuum
The media gatekeepers won’t allow the voice of working people, and working people respond when they finally hear a voice speaking up for them. When the corporate/media elites ignore issues like China and trade you get blowhards like Trump moving up in the polls. The cororate/financial gatekeepers have engineered the information channels to such an extent that blowhards like Trump can gain traction by filling the vacuum and voicing what the polls say the public is thinking.
Examples
Here are a few more examples of Trump on China and trade:
Dire Warning From Donald Trump – China Will Destroy Our Country

Conservative News Media on YouTube: “The Obama administration isn’t equipped to negotiate with and handle the Chinese. … Donald Trump said the Chinese are ripping us off and the Chinese can’t deal with it. … Donald Trump says the Chinese aren’t playing fair. … We need to trade with everybody but we need to be sure it is fair.”

And, finally, Frank Sobotka:

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The Decline of the American Media

There must be something in the spring air. The lunatics, the delusional and the kooks seem to be descending upon us from far and wide: Gaddafi, Charlie Sheen, Julian Assange, and Glenn Beck to name a few. They come at us in all shapes, sizes and ethnicity over the media and political airwaves. Just tune into the television, cable, radio, social networks and even in the halls of Congress. As many have lamented this past week, it’s almost impossible to decipher the recent ramblings of Moammar Gaddafi from Charlie Sheen because it all sounds the same. Scary stuff huh when folks like Sheen take to primetime and Twitter for a public meltdown, and a profitable windfall that may have sacrificed his children. You know listening to him was like listening to ranting of the crazy uncle who spent a bit too much time alone in the attic drinking lighter fluid, and diddling himself. Yet, the real embarrassment is that the American media’s executive producers have not shut down this crass profiteering. We’ve always known that: Gaddafi was stark raving mad; Sheen was spiraling out of control with drugs and drink to the embarrassment of his father; Assange had fantasies of grandeur; Beck was another foul mouthed profiteer picking at the underbelly of America’s prejudices; and the new members of Congress were grandstanding while smiling for the television cameras. Alas, we may have finally reached a dangerous level of toxicity from the blitzkrieg of ratings driven dribble passing as American news coverage.

Tea Party Delivers Their Messaging on Reality TV. Is this How Propaganda Starts?

The Bristol Palin story is like that of a modern day Cinderella as she debuts before millions of viewers on prime time television. Her mother, former Governor Sarah Palin and her advisors are completely brilliant. Thank you very much Frank and Company. This is a media doctor’s wet dream. Using Bristol as Cinderella, they have successfully reached into the hearts and minds of everyday folks across the country. Think about it. Is there a better way to seep into the mainstream than reality television? This move is one of the most brilliant tactics of twentieth century political messaging. Sarah Palin becomes the archetype of everyone’s mom, and paradoxically her daughter is the modern day rags to riches and success story. Here was a chubby, single mom lifted out of the obscurity of her receptionist job in a strip mall in godforsaken Alaska. It does not get better!
Consider that after the debacle of former Republican leader Tom Delay on the same show, these spin masters were smart. They knew it probably would not have worked out to use Sarah herself. But who could resist her kid? She’s likeable, and works very hard for herself and her adorable child. Bristol is the single mom personified. They even show the footage of the storefront from which she was plucked. Oh my, this is every girl’s cherished dream sans the out-of-wedlock pregnancy. And momma Palin can just stand back, and watch it unfold. Who could accuse her of manipulation? She was just the proud momma. What better image could there be? Not much and it is working. No wonder her daughter has been voted back each and every week by viewer support – not the judges until one of the final evenings when she showed real talent.
There is something going on here, and we didn’t even see it coming. Oh woe is me; I think we have been duped yet again. Somehow, the American public perceives that the Democrats are unfeeling, out of touch with Middle America, and arrogant. How did this happen? We are Middle America! Yet somehow, Sister Palin has her thumb on the pulse. We need to look carefully at the subliminal messaging that is going on, and wonder how and why we could have missed it. Call it what you may, but Sarah Palin and her movement – the Tea Party and their advisors are running circles around us. We are losing the game of public opinion. So it is not proposed that we put the Vice President’s son, Beau Biden on Survivor; but rather that we look hard and long at the messaging and how it is being delivered. Further, we need to embrace what it will take for us to reach back out and connect. This is the teachable moment. May we reach out and own it.
Note, this article appeared earlier in the Huffington Post, “Bristol Goes Dancing and Has a Tea Party.”

CA’s Budget Problem Is Paragraph 10

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Today’s San Jose Mercury News front page story is about California’s budget problem: that they are still one vote short. But Californians reading the story are not told why one more vote is required, not are they told who it is required from — until the 10th paragraph. The 10th paragraph reads,

The votes were there in the Assembly. But in the Senate, only two Republican senators were prepared to buck party orthodoxy and vote to raise taxes. Three were needed.

Even in this 10th paragraph readers are not informed that every Democrat is voting for the budget.
Before this paragraph, readers are told that “lawmakers” cannot agree and that “the deal still was held hostage by the thinnest of margins.” But there is nothing telling them who or why.
The reason this is such a problem is that the people of California need this information, to help them play their part in the functioning of our state government. The voters need to know who to hold accountable or they will not make their wishes known through calls to their Assemblymember’s or Senator’s office. And they can’t make informed decisions at election time.
This is typical of stories about the budget impasse — across the state the major newspapers, radio and TV stations are not giving the voters the information they need in order to participate in their government. The result is that the state is becoming ungovernable — and going broke.
So let’s be clear about what is happening here. California’s elected Republicans have all signed a “no-new-taxes” pledge with Grover Norquist’s organization. (He’s the guy who says the plan is to make government small enough to “drown in a bathtub.”) So now they see the budget crisis as an opportunity to force mass layoffs of state employees and reductions in support for people who need things like state-supplied oxygen tanks. They call that “reducing government.” And even with all the budget cuts that the Democrats have all voted for, they still will not vote to pass a budget. They want more, and then more, and then they want the state government to go away.
This is ideology. They repeat an ideological mantra that will ruin the state. And they say this is their goal — to get rid of government. They say government is bad. They say government spending is bad. They say taxes are bad. They say corporations are good. Ideology.
California can not continue to fund our schools, universities, roads, public safety, firefighters, health services, services to the poor, blind and elderly, provide funding for local government, etc. without additional revenues. Do the Mat (George Skelton, LA Times):

It’s Republican dogma in the Capitol that to vote for a tax increase is “career-ending.” Even if true — and there’s evidence both ways — so what?
These are folks, after all, who sermonize against making politics a career, publicly pretend to worship term limits and preach the virtues of private enterprise. You’d think they’d be eager to return to the private sector. Yet, they’re afraid to risk losing out on their next political job.

Another item not reported is that the Republicans demanded a huge tax cut for large corporations — the very kind that are killing off California’s smaller independent, job-creating businesses.
And they still won’t vote for the budget. And the public still doesn’t have a chance to learn what is going on here.
Click through to Speak Out California

The Press Is Fogging The Reason For The Budget Stalemate

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Friday morning’s San Francisco Chronicle story, Legislature’s approval rating at a record low, illustrates why California’s budget impasse continues. From the article,

“Democrats and the minority Republicans have hunkered down, with neither side willing to make the compromises needed to put together a budget plan that can garner the required two-thirds support.”

The budget problem is that reporting like this keeps the public from understanding what is happening in Sacramento.
Here is what is happening with the budget:

  • The Democrats have offered plan after plan, accepting deep budget cuts, some borrowing and offering various ways to raise revenue.
  • The Governor has offered a plan, with deep budget cuts, borrowing, and a temporarysales tax increase.
  • The Republicans have refused to compromise, refusing any budget that raises any revenue at all, not even asking the extremely wealthy to pay the same sales taxes that the rest of us have to pay.

It is just that simple. The Republicans have been blocking the budget and they are getting away with it because the press refuses to report that the Republicans are blocking the budget. If the press reported this simple fact public pressure would build and the Republicans would have to yield.
Update – A comment on the possible budget “compromise”: It just kicks the can down the road by delaying dealing with our problems. It doesn’t fix anything, and cuts essential services from the people who need government most. In fact it just makes it much, much harder to solve the problem in the next budget because it steals revenue from next year.
Click through to Speak Out California

Blogs Brought Attention To The Security Guard Strike

Over the last few weeks I have been writing about the plight of security guards working for a company called Inter-Con, a contractor at Kaiser Permanente Hospitals in California. One post I wrote on this was titled, Why Don’t We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore? and I want to get to that subject some more here. But first, I want to go over what was covered.
The security guards went on strike because their employer was interfering with their right to form a union. The first post, Security Guards Striking for the Right to Have Our Laws Enforced

This strike is not against Kaiser and is not to ask for money or benefits; it is not even to form a union in the first place. This strike is just to ask that our laws please be enforced. This may be a lot to ask for in today’s corporate-dominated system, but they’re asking for it anyway.

The second post, Why They (And You) Need A Union, asked,

How else are workers going to get back their rights, get health care, get pensions, and get paid? If you see a better idea out there, please let us all know because this strike and the things happening to these security guards shows that it is very very difficult to form a union. In today’s environment where workers are afraid of employers moving their jobs overseas – or even just laying them off and telling everyone else to work harder – and then giving their pay out as raises to the executives and multi-million-dollar bonuses to the CEO, this is a very brave action to take.

Then, in Unions: Sticking Together to Fight Corporate Power,

You and I are individuals, alone. But corporations have the ability to amass immense power and wealth and influence. You and I as individuals must stand alone against this power and wealth. What can you or I or anyone else do on our own? The average person in our society has very little ability to stand up against this kind of power and wealth.
Over time people discovered that there are some things they can do that will work. One of these has been to form unions. By joining together the workers in a company can amass some power of their own. The company needs the workers in order to function so the workers — if they stick together — have the ability to make the corporation obey employee/employer laws, provide decent pay, and all the other benefits that the unions have brought us. This is why they are also call “organized labor.” By organizing into a union and sticking together people have the ability to demand respect and compensation for their work.

There were also some other posts with news about the strike itself.
In the post Why Don’t We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore? I wrote,

A few local TV news broadcasts covered the story, and there were a few newspaper articles announcing that there was going to be a strike. But there was almost no actual coverage of the strike except on progressive sites and labor outlets. What’s up with that?

This is a significant problem with today’s corporate media. There is overwhelming coverage of business issues like the stock market, investment, mergers and CEO personality profiles. There is story after story pushing new products, cars, bigger houses, consumption, even listings of which movies are making more money than other movies – as if that was a concern to ordinary people.
But there is very little coverage of issues that might help regular people live their daily lives. And in particular there is no, none, nada, negatory, zero coverage of ordinary working people fighting back against the corporate domination of our democracy and other decision-making, including the commercialization of everything.
Labor issues are a big part of that equation. Organized labor is the vehicle that enables regular people to fight back against domination by the big corporations. Big corporations are able to aggregate immense wealth and power. Individuals have no change standing against such wealth and power on their own. But banding together they do. And the more that band together, the better the chance to stand up to the wealth and power of the corporations.
But not if people don’t find out that they can’t do this. And that is where the blogs come in. I was able to post the stories about the security guards’ strike at Huffington Post, MyDD, Seeing the Forest, and in DailyKos and Calitics diaries. Other sites like AlterNet picked up these stories and passed them along to their readers. In this way literally millions of people were able to learn about this strike, which helped raise awareness of the situation as well as apply more pressure to Inter-Con, the employer as well as to government agencies responsible for enforcing the labor laws. If stories like this can be kept entirely quiet strikes like this would be completely ineffective. But if the blog-readers and other progressives start demanding that laws be enforced and workers be allowed to organize, we can start to make a difference.
Please visit StandForSecurity.org.
I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike. sfs-234x60-animated-v2

Why Don’t We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

Last week security guards working at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California went on strike to protest illegal anti-union activities on the part of their employer, Inter-Con Security. Instead of hiring security guards directly in California, or using a union-friendly security contractor, Kaiser contracts with Inter-Con. The strike lasted three days.
A few local TV news broadcasts covered the story, and there were a few newspaper articles announcing that there was going to be a strike. But there was almost no actual coverage of the strike except on progressive sites and labor outlets. What’s up with that?
Why does the media barely cover labor issues?
Of course, when I write “the media” here I mean the newspapers, TV and radio that we usually call the “mainstream” media and lots of us call the “corporate” media. This is where most people get the news and information that forms the basis of their opinions and understanding about what is happening – and why it is happening. And therefore for most people the information presented by this mainstream or corporate media necessarily forms the basis of their voting decisions, their opinion poll survey answers, and their overall acceptance of and consent for actions conducted in their name by government and other institutions of society.
When things are repeatedly reported in “the media” as problems, most people begin to become concerned and perceive that these “problems” need to be somehow “solved.” We see cycles of this development of public concern. In recent years, for example, the media has done a great deal of reporting on the problem if children being kidnapped. And there is a great deal of concern about this among parents — to the point that societal patterns are changing and children rarely are allowed out of the house unaccompanied. Fewer and fewer children walk to school, go to parks alone, etc.
In reality child kidnappings are extremely rare, which makes this a case study of the power of the major media to sway the behavior of the entire country. Over the years similar media-driven concerns about drugs, shark attacks and satanic cults have created waves of national hysteria.
If actual threats held sway, car accidents, guns, and other real threats would receive much, much more public attention and concern.
The other side of this ability to drive public attention is the power to hide real problems. The national debt is approaching ten trillion dollars, and interest on that debt is approaching half a trillion dollars per year, but is rarely mentioned as a concern. The military budget is greater than the military spending of all other countries in the world combined, much, much higher than when we faced down the Soviet Union, while a lot of people are making a whole lot of money from it with little public scrutiny. (This is not even counting Iraq/Afghanistan spending.) But this is never brought up.
And then there is the problem that labor unions are trying to address. This is the domination of our government by big-business interests and the accompanying concentration of wealth into the hands of a very few people at the expense of the rest of us. Workers like the Inter-Con security guards who are trying to organize to demand even minimal pay and benefits are absolutely invisible in today’s mainstream/corporate media. The illegal tactics being used – with the assistance of the Bush administration – are not covered by today’s mainstream/corporate media. But what else would you expect, as the media becomes further and further concentrated into the hands of a few very, very large corporations? Do you think for a minute that a large corporation would allow any kind of pro-labor stories to be carried on news media that it owns?
You hear that the reason for this is that “labor is declining.” Well there are a lot more members of unions in this country than there are Fellows at neo-con think tanks, but you sure do hear from them a lot in the mainstream/corporate media. There are a lot more members of labor unions than there are members of the far-right Christian Coalition, but you sure hear a lot about their concerns the corporate media. And there are a lot more people who work for a living in jobs that pay too little, don’t provide adequate health care or sick leave or other benefits and need to hear about the benefits of joining unions. That’s for damn sure.
In fact any coverage of the plight of these security guards is necessarily pro-labor. When you hear about their living and working conditions you will understand what I mean. My next post will be about that, so stay tuned.
I encourage you to visit StandForSecurity.org.
I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike. sfs-234x60-animated-v2

Is The Corporate Media Deciding This Election For Us?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Are you following the election coverage? Here are some recent stories: The media pounds candidate Hillary Clinton to release her tax forms, because the public has a right to know. And she does release her and her husband’s returns, going back a decade. The media trumpets how much income they have been receiving, how rich they are, and drills down into details. If you follow the news, it is inescapable. At the same time candidate John McCain releases only partial forms that show all assets are now in his wife’s name, and he won’t release his wife’s tax returns. The media is mostly silent on this; most of the public has little opportunity to learn of this.
Another story: Candidate McCain won’t release his medical records. Again from the media there is mostly silence; most of the public has little opportunity to learn of this.
And here is the big story: Unless you have been in a coma you know that for several weeks video clips of statements by Barack Obama’s former minister have been aired nearly 24 hours a day on the news shows, especially on FOX News. These clips are considered scary by certain demographic groups who are not familiar with the speaking patterns of black ministers
Interestingly, at the same time as this “Obama’s minister” story is saturating the news there is another Presidential candidate with a “scary minister” problem of his own. But the news media is not providing the public with any information at all about the things this minister has said. In this case the Presidential candidate is John McCain and the minister is John Hagee. This minister has issued statements condemning Jews, is described as “virulently anti-Catholic,” and says that 9/11 and Katrina are examples of God punishing America. Yet John McCain sought out this minister’s endorsement and insists that he is “proud” to have received it.
While saturating the airwaves with scary video clips of Obama’s scary minister the corporate media is providing the public with almost no information about McCain’s. In the article, The McCain-Hagee Connection, the Columbia Journalism Review asks, “Why is the press ignoring this hate-monger?
Why, indeed?
A well-functioning democracy depends on an informed public. There is no question that the public deserves to know these things about Senators Clinton and Obama. The information in the examples cited here could and should have an effect on the election, because the public will weigh these factors into their voting decisions. But the public also needs the information about Senator McCain, presented with equal emphasis. And clearly this isn’t happening.
So with nearly identical stories — a relationship with a minister who makes scary and hateful statements — the corporate media chooses to present the information about only one to the public, and does so in a way that is guaranteed to scare the … excuse me … bejeesus out of everyone. The other is given a pass and a free ride, and the public is left without the information it needs to make an informed choice.
Why is this happening? Here is some background on our media:
In the United States the broadcast media used to be required by law to serve “the public interest” ahead of profits. Use of OUR airwaves was licensed out to private interests that were allowed to use them to profit to a limited extent in exchange for providing the public with information and news. We did this because it served our interests and those of our democracy.
The rules allowed very limited commercialization of this public resource. For example, in exchange for the license to make a profit from the use of the public airwaves the companies were required to provide educational content for children, news coverage, documentaries, arts and other public interest content. And by law the information had to be objective and balanced.
At certain times of the day the companies could then present commercialized content. But even then the commercialization was to be limited. They were limited in how much time during a show could be used for commercial advertisements — and the shows themselves were not allowed to be commercialized. There were even restrictions on what the commercial advertisements could say. Public benefit was the priority, commercial profits were limited.
It was an exchange – they get to make some money using our resource, and we get news and information that educates us and strengthens our democracy. Why else would we have allowed private companies access to our airwaves, but to serve the public?
This changed. In the early 1980s the Reagan administration unilaterally dropped the requirements that broadcast media serve the public interest and these companies promptly stopped serving the public interest and started serving their own corporate interests. As happens with any for-profit corporate interest commercialization became the only use of our public airwaves.
Shocked by this seizure of a public resource for corporate commercial interests the Congress immediately voted to restore the public benefit requirements, but Reagan vetoed this. Then, under President George H.W. Bush the Congress again voted to restore the public benefit requirements, and this was again vetoed. Under President Clinton the requirement was against brought before the Congress and again a majority voted to restore placing the priority on public benefit but Senate Republicans filibustered and blocked the bill.
So today there is no requirement that our mass media serve the public interest. Instead the only interests that are served are private, corporate interests and the only information the public receives through these outlets is information that benefits the corporations that control them.
Is this why we are seeing such dramatic disparities in the way information about the candidates is presented to the public? Should we be surprised?
Control of our information sources is now in the hands of corporations with no requirement that they serve the interests of democracy. So shouldn’t we expect that corporate interests are placed ahead of the public interest? If for-profit enterprises control the information the public receives then why wouldn’t they promote candidates who would be more favorable to their commercial interests?
Let me provide a clear example of how this affects all of us: When was the last time you saw or heard on a corporate outlet information about the benefits of joining a union? Of course you haven’t, and you wouldn’t expect to. And, in the years since the requirement that the broadcasters serve the public interest by providing balanced information, we have seen a dramatic decline in the percent of the workforce that is unionized. At the same time we have seen a dramatic increase in commercialization of everything, and in the power of corporations over the decision-making of our government.
What else should we expect?
Click through to Speak Out California

It’s Not The Bloggers, It’s The Blogs

A quick comment on all the big-name pundits and Washington insiders who criticize “the bloggers” and question their legitimacy: Anyone can start a blog.
(pause)
Here is what I am saying. When you criticize “the bloggers” and question the legitimacy of what they are saying, you are questioning the concept of democracy itself. ANYone can start a blog — so everyone is a blogger. If it makes you uncomfortable that the rabble is allowed to speak and express their opinions you need to think about your own understanding of and commitment to democracy. The blogs that reach prominence do so through an entirely democratic process – people have chosen to read or echo what is being written on them.
It’s not the bloggers you have a beef with, it’s the blogs themselves — the tool that lets the public have a say.