Friday :: Mar 24, 2006

The Re-Founding Fathers (And Mothers)

by pessimist

One of my coworkers just retired the other day. While he'd been having medical issues related to old age, he claimed that wasn't why he was leaving. He said, "There just comes a time when you know it's time to go."

Garrison Keillor thinks this is a good idea, especially if it's applied to Unka Dickie so he can go to the range and improve his aim:

Message to White House co-pilot: Eject now

We're all destined to fall apart. But you don't have to do it in your 50s when everybody is looking at you. You can fall apart gently and privately. If you want to be beloved, don't wait too long.

An active sense of honest awareness of one's utility and capability is necessary if one is going to determine when it's time to exit, stage right. Such honest awareness was displayed by political cartoonist Charles Fincher as he ended his cartoon's publication
'Scribble' Ends, Cartoonist Says Bush Admin. Hard to Satirize

Charles Fincher today ended his "The Illustrated Daily Scribble" political cartoon. Why? "We seem to have a Groundhog Day White House with Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld saying the same things and making the same excuses over and over, which can be creatively limiting to satire," said Fincher. "You'd think they'd consider a cartoonist's need for something new once in a while!"

Thinking of the needs of others by the media is where this post is headed on the flip side. Molly Ivins looks at the state of the media today, and finds the lie hidden in the truthiness when asking:

The death of newspapers?

I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying --
it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.
What is the unexamined assumption here? That the newspaper business is dying. So who thinks newspapers are dying? Newspaper analysts on Wall Street. Is it?

In 2005, publicly traded U.S. newspaper publishers reported operating profit margins of 19.2 percent, down from 21 percent in 2004, according to The Wall Street Journal. That ain't chopped liver -- it's more than double the average operating profit margin of the Fortune 500.

So if newspapers are so ridiculously profitable, how come there's panic on Wall Street about them? Because we're losing circulation -- 2 percent in 2004, and down 13 percent from a 1985 peak, says the Newspaper Association of America.

So we're looking at a steady decline over a long period, and many of the geniuses who run our business believe they have a solution: Our product isn't selling as well as it used to, so they think: we need to

* cut the number of reporters,
* cut the space devoted to the news, and
* cut the amount of money used to gather the news,

and this will solve the problem.

For some reason,
they assume people will want to buy more newspapers
if they have less news in them
and are less useful to people.
If newspapers were just another buggy-whip industry, none of this would be of much note -- another disappearing artifact, like the church key. But while Wall Street doesn't care, nor do many of the people who own and run newspapers, newspapers do, in fact, matter beyond producing profit -- they have a critical role in democracy. It's called a well-informed citizenry.

We are in trouble. Television, radio and newspapers are all cutting staff...

While there are certain economic benefits involved in these actions, I'm not so sure that is the entire story if Norman Solomon is correct:

Blaming the Media for Bad War News
by Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy

With the current war less popular than ever, it's never been more important for war backers to blame the media. The myth of the liberal media is an umbrella canard that shelters the corollary myth of anti-war media. Unlike progressive media critics, who scarcely have a toehold in mainstream media, the political right has both feet firmly planted inside the dominant corporate media structures.

Many pro-war voices constantly accuse the media of anti-war and anti-Bush biases -- with the accusations routinely amplified in mass-media echo chambers. Cranking up the volume are powerhouse outlets like Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the New York Post, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard, legions of high-profile loyalist pundits, and literally hundreds of radio talk-show hosts across the country who have political outlooks similar to Rush Limbaugh's.

There is an object in the world that not only sounds like Rush Limbaugh - deep-voiced and threatening - but is also used in the same way: to frighten the people. It's called a bullroarer.

A Time for Heresy
Bill Moyers

Joseph Campbell told me a story (also recently recounted by Davidson Loehr) about the Australian tribe that used the bullroarer to keep people in awe of the gods.

The bullroarer is a long flat board with notches, or slits, at one end, and a rope at the other. When you swing it around your head, the action produces a musical humming. The sound struck the primitive tribes as other-worldly, causing them to tremble in fear that the gods were angry. So the elders would go into the forest and come back with word of what it would take to placate the gods. And the people would oblige.

Now when a young boy in the tribe was ready to become a man, a ritual took place. Wearing masks, the elders would kidnap him and take him into the woods, tie him down, and with a flint knife slice the underside of his penis. It was painful, but the medicine man said this is how you became a man.

It meant shedding one’s innocence. At the end of the ritual one of the masked men dipped the bullroarer in the boy’s blood and thrust it in his face, simultaneously removing his mask so the boy could see it’s not a god at all – it’s just one of the old guys. And the medicine man would whisper, “We make the noises.”

Ah, yes – it’s not the gods after all. It’s just the old guys – Uncle George, Uncle Dick, Uncle Don.

The "noise" in the woods is the work of the old guys playing gods,
wanting you to live in fear and trembling
so that you will look to them to protect you
against the wrath to come.
It takes courage to put their truth-claims to the test of reality, to call their bluff. We need such courage today. This is a time for heresy. We must answer the principalities and powers that would force on America a stifling conformity. Either we make the heretical choices that will inspire us to renew our commitment to America’s deepest values and ideals, or the day will come when we will no longer recognize the country we love.

American democracy is threatened by perversions of money, power, and religion. Money has bought our elections right out from under us. Power has turned government “of, by, and for the people” into the patron of privilege. And Christianity and Islam have been hijacked by fundamentalists who have made religion the language of power, the excuse for violence, and the alibi for empire.

America is no longer working for all Americans.
We are witnessing a marked turn of events for a nation whose DNA contains the inherent promise of an equal opportunity at “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” We were not supposed to be a country where the winners take all. The great progressive struggles in our history were waged to make sure ordinary citizens, and not just the rich, share in the benefits of a free society. Today, however, the majority of Americans may support such broad social goals as affordable medical coverage for all, decent wages for working people, safe working conditions, a good education for every child, and clean air and water, but there’s no government “of, by, and for the people” to deliver on those aspirations.

How did this happen? By design.

For a quarter of a century now a ferocious campaign has been conducted to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons, and the intellectual, cultural, and religious frameworks that sustained America’s social contract. The corporate, political, and religious right converged in a movement that for a long time only they understood because they are its advocates, its architects, and its beneficiaries.

Their economic strategy was to cut workforces and wages, scour the globe for even cheaper labor, and relieve investors of any responsibility for the cost of society. On the weekend before President Bush’s second inauguration, The New York Times described how his first round of tax cuts had already brought our tax code closer to a system under which income on wealth would not be taxed at all and public expenditures would be raised exclusively from salaries and wages.

Their political strategy was to neutralize the independent media, create their own propaganda machine with a partisan press, and flood their coffers with rivers of money from those who stand to benefit from the transfer of public resources to elite control. Along the way they would burden the nation with structural deficits that will last until our children’s children are ready to retire, systematically stripping government of its capacity, over time, to do little more than wage war and reward privilege.

Their religious strategy was to fuse ideology and theology into a worldview freed of the impurities of compromise, claim for America the status of God’s favored among nations (and therefore beyond political critique or challenge), and demonize their opponents as ungodly and immoral.

At the intersection of these three strategies was money: Big Money.
The editors of The Economist studied all this evidence and concluded – and I am quoting a pro-business magazine, remember – that the United States “risks calcifying into a European-style, class-based society.”
Let that sink in:
The United States “risks calcifying into a European-style, class-based society.”
And in every case, the religious right was cheering for the winners. It’s impossible to treat all the schemes and scams this crowd concocted to subvert democracy in the name of God and greed.

There are no victimless crimes in politics. The cost of corruption is passed on to the people. When the government of the United States falls under the thumb of the powerful and privileged, regular folks get squashed. We are dealing here with a vision sharply at odds with the majority of Americans. These are people who want to arrange the world for the convenience of themselves and the multinational corporations that pay for their elections. If the corporate, political, and religious right have their way, we will go back to the first Gilded Age, when privilege controlled politics, votes were purchased, legislatures were bribed, bills were bought, and laws flagrantly disregarded – all as God’s will.

Davidson Loehr reminds us that holding preachers and politicians to a higher standard than they want to serve has marked the entire history of both religion and politics. It is the conflict between the religion of the priests – ancient and modern – and the religion of the prophets.

It is the vast difference between
the religion about Jesus
and the religion of Jesus.
Yes, the religion of Jesus.

* It was in the name of Jesus that a Methodist ship caulker named Edward Rogers crusaded across New England for an eight-hour work day.

* It was in the name of Jesus that Francis William rose up against the sweatshop.

* It was in the name of Jesus that Dorothy Day marched alongside auto workers in Michigan, brewery workers in New York, and marble cutters in Vermont.

* It was in the name of Jesus that E.B. McKinney and Owen Whitfield stood against a Mississippi oligarchy that held sharecroppers in servitude.

* It was in the name of Jesus that the young priest John Ryan – ten years before the New Deal – crusaded for child labor laws, unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, and decent housing for the poor.

* And it was in the name of Jesus that Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis to march with sanitation workers who were asking only for a living wage.

This is the heresy of our time – to wrestle with the gods who guard the boundaries of this great nation’s promise, and to confront the medicine men in the woods, twirling their bullroarers to keep us in fear and trembling.

For the greatest heretic of all is Jesus of Nazareth,
who drove the money changers from the temple in Jerusalem
as we must now drive the money changers from the temples of democracy.

This is going to be a tough job, as Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont attests [adapted from an interview with]

[T]he Republican Party is a tightly controlled party in Congress, and they don’t tolerate dissent very easily. People lost their committee chairmanships, people don’t get access to campaign funds when they dissent. That’s been the history of the modern Republican Party in Washington. But we’ll see some Republicans, because of Bush’s free fall in popularity, show a little bit more courage. There are virtually no moderate Republicans left in Congress—but the few that are there may choose to stand up on some issues and speak out. You already saw that on the Dubai Ports World, you’ll see it on budget issues, you may see it on the war, or environmental issues.

Something that has not been widely publicized by the media is the complete abrogation of Congress’ constitutional responsibility to do oversight. You have one-party government. Obviously right-wing Republicans control the House, they control the Senate, and they made the decision when Bush came in, that instead of operating as an independent branch of government they would act as a rubber stamp to make the president look good when they could, and to sweep under the rug any problems that the administration was having. Whether it is Iraq, and how we get into the war, whether it is the horrendous Medicare prescription drug bill, whether it’s Katrina, or a dozen other issues, Congress has chosen to play the role of rubber stamp, rather than asking hard, important questions that the American people wants answers to. Somebody has got to stand up and say, “Mr. President, we need an explanation. Department of Defense, we need an explanation.”

I'm going to pause here to return to Molly Ivins. She presents 'a most hopeful development', and yet misses the point entirely:

I've thought for years that newspapers should all be owned by nonprofits. There is a chance something like this will actually happen -- the Newspaper Guild, in alliance with the Communications Workers of America, is getting ready to bid on the 12 KR papers McClatchy has to sell. Eight of the 12 are Guild papers, with combined employment of 7,000 and circulation of 1.3 million. Among the 12 are such outstanding newspapers as The Philadelphia Inquirer, San Jose Mercury News and St. Paul Pioneer Press. McClatchy can't swallow all of them, and so the two unions have turned to a "worker-friendly" investment fund to back their bid. Keep an eye on this: It is a most hopeful development.

This is where she misses the point entirely:

Aside from my own sentimental attachment to newspapers, I have no objection to all of us shifting over to the Internet and doing the same thing there. You'd still have the two big problems, however: A) How do you know if it's true? And, B) how do you put a lot of information into a package that's useful to people? Bloggers are not news-gatherers, but opinion-mongers. [T]he bloggers of the Internet either do not have the size or the interest to go out and gather news.

I wrote the other day about my entering the blogosphere. I didn't mention the trigger which spurred me to action.

I was listening to a Pacifica broadcast of Jello Biafra speaking at Kent State University on an anniversary of the protester shootings there in 1970. Biafra closed his speech with "Don't fear the media - Be the media!" I will use my opinions, based on publicly accessible and identified news sources, to spread the news as much as I possibly can. It is unrealistic to expect more.

So clearly, Ms. Ivins has missed the point. Anyone who reads this blog knows that we attribute our opinions to our sources with links, which has become the common practice of the blogoshpere. It isn't necessary for us to report the news as much as it is that we distribute the news. There are many excellent news sources which cover American events very well and aren't beholden to the American corporate structure, and if I interest my readers in becoming regular readers of those sources, then I feel I have done my job as a blogger.

It is OK that we bloggers monger opinions. We have tried the factual route concerning the outrages of Bu$hCo and have gotten exactly nowhere. (Read the excellent research performed and posted by my esteemed colleague eRiposte, then the limited number of comments which followed if you doubt me.) Opinion is where blogs perform a service, in that if we can get people interested in a topic enough to follow our links, and maybe others the discover at that site, then just maybe we can inspire the grass-roots movement which Rep. Sanders thinks is vital to protect and defend our nations from the predators exposed by Bill Moyers, who will go down in history as one of the Re-Founding Fathers of our nation. As Sanders puts it:

The important issue for today is for people to understand that we’re dealing with the most reactionary government in the modern history of the United States, and it’s absolutely imperative to replace the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate. [S]imultaneously it’s vitally important that we organize from one end of the country to the other a strong grass-roots movement which fights for progressive change in our country, and which takes power away not only from Republicans but from the big-money interests who dominate our economy, our political life and the media.

It's your country. Are you happy with the way it is being taken away from you?


Today in History - March 23

* In 1919, Benito Mussolini founded his Fascist political movement in Milan, Italy.

* In 1933, the German Reichstag adopted the Enabling Act, which effectively granted Adolf Hitler dictatorial legislative powers.

* In 1942, during World War II, the U.S. government began evacuating Japanese-Americans from their West Coast homes to detention centers.


Copyrighted [©] source material contained in this article is presented under the provisions of Fair Use.


This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic, environmental, human rights, political, scientific, and social justice issues, among others. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.

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