Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Let's-Be-Fair Capitalism

When my mother, a new-deal Democrat turned living-on-Social-Security conservative in her old age, was still alive, I understood my visits to her to be an interruption in her addiction to Rush Limbaugh. My mother’s world-view had shifted far from the one she had back when she enlightened me in the 1950’s about the errors of the McCarthy hearings, loyalty oaths and the like. Sadly, so deeply had her world-view changed, she had become someone who rejected much of my own life —my life style, spirit and politics— simply because I represented the liberal she heard vilified on a daily, even hourly, basis. Ultimately, I found it difficult to be around her.

If my mother were alive today, I’m sure her days would be informed by the steady influence of Fox News as well, her companionable gift from the Republican Party in alliance with Rupurt Murdock, the FCC and the corporate heads that control the media. Access to her chosen version of “free speech” would be easy, whether she would be sitting at home or driving in her car.

Now, being a liberal, I am the last person to begrudge another person the right to whatever entertainment they wish to choose, however full of lies, bigotry, misinformation, and anti-democratic ideology it may be. The choices made by people like my mother matter little to me, as long as I am also free in my own choices. This would be the democratic way. But here’s the rub: in this nation, liberals do not have the same freedom as conservatives to choose media programming that reflects their political orientation. Liberal voices do not have the same freedom to be heard, to speech —not even close— compared to the generous opportunities granted to conservatives. For example, I do not have a major news network on television acting as a daily conduit of Democratic-Party talking points, issues and concerns, nor can I turn to a liberal station in my car while driving.

As for NPR, despite right-wing screaming points to the contrary, it is in no way “liberal media.” The most I can hope for there is a balance between the extreme on the right and a position moderately left of center. Rarely, do you hear anything on NPR from any group as far to the left as the American Enterprise Institute is far to the right.

I know of only one voice in the corporate media that speaks for me—Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. But that is only one among the dozens of conservative, mainstream news anchors and talking heads.

My city, San Diego, did have a wide-range of liberal talk on Air America Radio for a couple of years at 1360 AM, though with a weak signal. But now Clear Channel has killed this lonesome, solitary voice of the left and replaced it with sports programming and a stronger signal. So there goes my neighborhood.

San Diego is effectively behind a Berlin Wall of political speech. Liberal speech has been censored. That I am “free” to go online to download whatever radio programs I wish to is no consolation; since I cannot afford a high speed connection, it takes an hour and a half for my downloads, and I have to stay in one room to listen. Is this “equal protection under the law,” or even simple equality? Is it freedom, and whose freedom is it?

Consider this: the other side of the coin of conspiracy is naiveté.

A reporter I spoke to said I should complain to the FCC. Hello? The Republican-packed FCC, headed by Republican ideologue Kevin Martin, the very Kevin Martin who has just passed a ruling allowing FURTHER consolidation of the media, so that the media will be even more corporate-dominated, with news even more corporate-influenced and owned than it is right now?

Trust me. If the powers-that-be (conservatives) wanted a radio program to survive, it would. They would make sure it had a good signal; they would hire a top-notch sales force and get the job done. They would fund it. Don't be naive. Think about it. Think about Clear Channel and what it is. Think about San Diego and who owns it.

Barack Obama talks about change. The nice thing about this abstraction is that the listener can project her personal hopes and dreams onto it and come away feeling satisfied. And I am no different.

My hope would be to see in our near future an enlightened rejection of “laissez faire” capitalism —the fundamental ill of our society and world—in favor of an economic system that recognizes greed and power-lust as counter-productive, as a threat to freedom for all, as even a threat to capitalism itself. I would like to call it, “Let’s-Be-Fair” capitalism. And this healthy, democratic version of our economy would, at its core, re-institute and enforce regulation of corporations, while working to reverse the current priorities —profits before people— so that, instead, people would have priority over profits. And by “people” I do not mean corporations. In Let’s-Be-Fair capitalism, corporations would not be given equal rights as “persons;” only human persons could be described as legal persons. It simply would not be fair to pit the interests of whole uber-corporations against individual, human persons. It is not fair now; it would not be fair then.

In my dream for our future, Clear Channel would not be allowed to dominate the publicly-owned air waves; that company would be broken up to make way for a more democratic balance of ownership. In my dream for our future, the Fairness Doctrine would return, perhaps with different rules, where somehow a balance of liberal and conservative talk-radio stations would be made possible.

Right now, corporations have all the freedom—corporations and conservatives. This cannot go on forever.

But hoping and dreaming are not going to do the trick.

Among the reasons Fox “News” is able to thrive, despite its egregious excesses of speech, would be that liberals and progressives tend to be a tolerant bunch—we value toleration of others’ rights. That is the reason we, unlike our counterparts in the conservative camp, are not inclined to call advertisers to complain, nor demand the disappearance of such voices, nor encourage Congressional censure of the hate speech emanating from Fox and the likes of Limbaugh. Instead, we simply move on.

This tolerance is changing. We have had enough.

As St. Augustine said: Hope has two daughters, Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are and courage to make them better.


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