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?
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Reflections On Corporations II – Corporate Philanthropy

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Who should decide whether our communities have museums, concert and dance facilities, parks and other cultural programs? Who should decide on priorities for funding for disaster assistance or research into cures for diseases?
Should the public make the bulk of these decisions, through the transparent and accountable systems of our democracy? Or should a few individuals who control vast wealth and resources make these decisions for the people?
Because of dwindling tax revenues many communities have come to rely on “corporate philanthropy” for assistance with cultural programs, or to supplement their schools, or for other community benefits.
The people who run corporations are in a position to decide to donate the corporation’s money to various causes. Many of these are things that the people, through our government, no longer have the resources to support. For example, the executives and Board of a corporation might decide to donate to build a museum. They might decide to fund a school.
And they might decide not to do these things.
So look at what is happening — as discussed in the Feb. 26 post, Reflecting on Corporations, we have corporations using their resources to influence the public and government to change the rules of the playing field on which corporations operate – deregulating, lowering taxes, etc. As this corporate influence brings cuts in corporate taxes (as well as cuts in taxes paid by the owners of the corporations), our society is left with fewer public resources for building museums, conducting research, etc.
And then we have corporations stepping in, using some of their earnings to provide those benefits, with their executives deciding where to direct the resources. For which the public is supposed to be grateful, and feel more favorable to the corporations, and perhaps grant them further benefits.
These are functions that the public once prioritized and controlled. But today the balance of control of the country’s resources continues to shift more and more to fewer private individuals. This massing of assets and resources into corporate hands takes away the people’s ability to decide to build museums and fund schools. It puts more and more power to make decisions that affect the public into the hands of corporate executives. Is this compatible with our understanding of democracy?
And a related question: Should corporate earnings be diverted from the shareholders? Is it the proper function of corporations to make decisions about funding museums, etc?
Perhaps there should be controls that guarantee that corporate funds and resources are used solely for the benefit of the shareholders and broader pubic interest. Perhaps corporations should be prohibited from engaging in any activities that influence our government or lawmaking or public opinion. Perhaps they should operate on the playing field that We, the People lay out for them — and not be able to influence that playing field for the benefit of a few individuals who control the corporation. Perhaps.

Reflections On Corporations

This post first appeared at Speak Out California
How is it that corporations have the rights that individuals do, but not the responsibilities?
Let’s reflect on what a corporation is. A business is formed by a few people. The business asks the government for a corporate charter, pays a fee, and is then this special entity called a corporation with special rights granted by the government.
Under our laws, corporations are fictional persons with certain rights. They can own assets, employ agents and engage in contracts just like people. But unlike you or me they have special benefits including limited liability and unlimited life.

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What Does Corporate Control Of Media Mean?

Think about this: When was the last time you heard, read or saw anyone in the major media explain the benefits of joining a union?
Almost all of the outlets for news and information in the United States are now owned by five corporations. From The New Media Monopoly,

When the first edition of The Media Monopoly was published in 1983, critics called Ben Bagdikian’s warnings about the chilling effects of corporate ownership and mass advertising on the nation’s news “alarmist.” Since then, the number of corporations controlling most of America’s daily newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, book publishers, and movie companies has dwindled from fifty to ten to five.

Think about that. Five corporations control almost everything that most people in the country “know.”
Again, think about this: When was the last time you heard, read or saw anyone in the major media explain the benefits of joining a union?
So, do you think these five corporations are using this near-total control of information for their own benefit, or not?

Another Anti-Government Propaganda E-Mail

I received one of those anti-government propaganda e-mails today. Look how they do it. It’s a really funny story, until they inject the propaganda point as the last line:

The Firewood Story
It was already late fall & the Indians on a remote reservation in South Dakota asked their new chief if the coming winter was going to be cold or mild. Since he was a chief in a modern society, he had never been taught the old secrets. When he looked at the sky, he couldn’t tell what the winter was going to be like. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, he told his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold & that the members of the village should collect firewood to be prepared. But, being a practical leader, after several days, he got an idea.
He went to the phone booth, called the National Weather Service & asked, ‘Is the coming winter going to be cold?’ ‘It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold,’ the meteorologist at the weather service responded. So the chief went back to his people & told them to collect even more firewood in order to be prepared. A week later, he called the National Weather Service again. ‘Does it still look like it is going to be a very cold winter?’ ‘Yes,’ the man at National Weather Service again replied, ‘it’s going to be a very cold winter.’
The chief again went back to his people & ordered them to collect every scrap of firewood they could find. Two weeks later, the chief called the National Weather Service again. ‘Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold’ ‘Absolutely,’ the man replied. ‘It’s looking more & more like it is going to be one of the coldest winters we’ve ever seen.’
‘How can you be so sure?’ the chief asked. The weatherman replied, ‘The Indians are collecting firewood like crazy.’ Always remember this story whenever you get advice from a government official!

As if a corporate weather source would somehow be different. The government is US, and stories like this carry a profoundly anti-democracy message, intended to make people think that somehow privatizing government functions to corporations would be better for us.
But a corporate information source would be about screwing the customers and the employees and the public so the CEO could get a bigger jet. No one except a very few already-wealthy power brokers benefit when we hand over our common interests – even weather reporting – to corporations as they are presently constituted.

Centrists, Leftists, Etc.

There is a lot of talk about “the center” and “centrists.” Lots of people say the blogs are on the left.
To put this in perspective, when and where is the last time you heard anyone talk about nationalizing the oil companies? That would be a “leftist” proposal.
After all, the oil companies do not “own” the oil any more than anyone can own the air or the water. They are extracting OUR resource, under license from US to operate, and as corporations are granted limited liability by US. In exchange, they are supposed to be serving the public interest. A discussion about whether they are serving the public interest might involve questions about how much they are setting aside to cover the costs of putting carbon into the air, or to pay for research into transitioning away from fossil fuels a they start to run out, how much they pay their employees, and other ways that WE might benefit from allowing them to extract OUR resource. So obviously, they are not serving the public interest.
A broader discussion would ask whether we need to reform the corporate system into something that really does serve the public interest…
The fact is, “leftist” arguments are not even part of our national discussion. Without that perspective in the discussion, it can’t really be said that there even is a “center,” can there? And without ALL sides contributing to the marketplace of ideas, how can society arrive at solutions that incorporate the best ideas from all the different perspectives?
(Cross-posted at the Commonweal Institute Blog.)

Where the Pension Money Went

Almost every conversation I have with someone over a certain age turns to how they have either lost or afraid they will lose their health insurance and pension.
In the Reagan days, they sold people on the idea that 401Ks were somehow a good thing, and started moving everyone off of pensions. But a pension means your company puts the money away for you, on top of your pay. A 401K means it is entirely on the worker to fund retirement out of a shrinking paycheck. And people just can’t do that – take home pay goes almost entirely to the bills.
Meanwhile corporate profits are WAY up since pensions were replaced by 401Ks. Part of that if from the money that had been used for worker retirements and gave it out as profits instead.

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