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Saturday, October 16, 2004

DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA 

PART ONE: MEDIA REFORM
By Jack Random

Even as the White House still claims to be the world’s champion for democracy, as rumors turn to accusations of voter fraud in Nevada, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, as Sinclair Broadcasting orders up a round of blatant rightwing propaganda for a handful of swing states on the eve of an election: Who among us does not wonder what peculiar brand of democracy this administration advocates?

The answer is clear: Karl Rove and his black ops boys like a fixed game. For all bluster, the election in Afghanistan is the very definition of a fix. There was only one candidate on the ballot of national renown. There were no presidential debates. There was no airing of the opposition’s point of view. The message to one of the poorest nations on earth was clear: If you fail to elect the chosen one, assistance is in peril. Similarly, if an election takes place in Iraq, it will allow only one result.

Meantime, in America, given the spectacle of virtually uncontested disenfranchisement (the Justice Department is too busy infiltrating activist organizations), biased polling techniques, and voting systems without accountability, we are left with the impression that only a Kerry landslide could prevent a Bush win in a “tight election.”

So in the last phase of the election cycle, as the media fixate on non-issues like the sanctity of Mary Cheney’s sexual orientation, as we await the surprises that will be fabricated if they do not naturally occur, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the state of democracy in America.

Our reflection begins in Italy where Silvio Berlusconi, one of the president’s silent partners in the war on Iraq, not only holds the highest office in the land but also owns all of its major media outlets. If anyone believes that democracy can exist without a free and unfettered press, he is not beholden to the Bill of Rights. We have seen our media’s performance in a time of war, its embedded journalists and talking heads transformed before our eyes into a White House cheerleading squad. We have seen the credibility of once proud reporters and analysts shattered like the hope of Iraqi and Afghan civilians. Let us finally put to rest the tired rightwing charge of a liberal media bias. The ladies and gentlemen of broadcast news answer only to one master: corporate ownership.

The media are no longer in the business of selling content and integrity. They are in the business of advertising and the products they sell are General Electric, Halliburton, Coca Cola, Exxon-Mobil, Boeing, Merck Pharmaceuticals, and, most importantly, American foreign policy as the enforcer of global economic dominance.

Whatever happened to the fourth estate? Gone in a wave of corporate buyouts and media consolidation. Whatever happened to the sacred duty of the press to inform and enlighten the electorate? Gone with the political agendas of Chief Executive Officers and Boards of Directors in place of journalistic integrity. Gone with every investment in the partisan political game.

The founders thought so highly of a free press that they made it the first amendment to the constitution. Succeeding generations have endured the scourge of yellow journalism and fought back all attempts to compromise the constitutional privilege of the press (a privilege that applies equally to Seymour Hirsch and Robert Novak). Now, this generation confronts the greatest betrayal of all: Ownership by the same corporate entities that the media must hold accountable.

Just as democracy is the ideological foundation of the republic, media reform is the essential first step toward renewing democracy in America.

Reform must begin with a rollback in the wave of media consolidation. Just as the current Securities and Exchange Commission never saw a merger it did not like, the Federal Communications Commission never saw a consolidation it did not embrace. They have pushed the envelope to such an extent that no more than seven corporations claim a majority share of today’s television market. They have allowed companies like Clear Channel and Sinclair Broadcasting to dominate news and entertainment in thousands of communities. They have redefined their regulatory role away from protecting the public interest and toward protecting the free market dreams of international conglomerates.

Senator Kerry speaks of rolling back the president’s tax cuts for the elite; should he be elected, he should also roll back media consolidation by firing FCC Chair Michael Powell and replacing him with a public servant.

That accomplished, it is time for Congress to get back in the act, beginning with the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine. Adopted in 1949, it required stations to provide balanced coverage of controversial issues. The doctrine was in place for three decades until the Reagan administration refused to enforce it. A 1987 court decision held that the doctrine was unenforceable unless mandated by Congress. Twice Congress passed legislation to that purpose and twice it was vetoed by Republican administrations. Curiously, if there were in fact a liberal media bias it would have served Republican interests to enforce fairness. Curiously, neither Reagan nor Bush considered it so.

Given the attempt by Sinclair Broadcasting to use the public airwaves to tilt an election, there is a clear and imposing reason to reinstate the doctrine now. If Sinclair wants to offer thirty minutes of Swift Boat allegations, then let them also provide thirty minutes to Michael Moore. While it is too much to expect of the partisans currently in Congress, I would advocate an expansion of the policy. We are all citizens of this great nation and we are the stronger when all our voices are heard, including those of Mary Cheney, Medea Benjamin, Howard Zinn and Ralph Nader. The muddled voices in the mainstream of political thought are all too often indistinguishable. Let us hear from the rest of America as well.

These measures would move us forward in reestablishing the fourth estate but they do not go far enough for, as long as powerful interests are in play, there will be those who navigate around required mandates – like the Fox program that features a token “liberal” offering up marshmallows for his conservative partner to smash. The media is unlike any other corporate entity. It is the only private interest singled out by our founders for protection. Therefore, ownership of media should be confined to individuals, companies or corporations whose sole interest is the media itself. If the multinational conglomerates that currently own our media were forced to choose between the media and their other concerns, is there any doubt where their loyalties would fall?

This kind of media reform would be branded radical by the corrupted politicians, television personalities, and newsprint editorialists who profit from the current system but it is nothing more than the most basic common sense. Even so, it does not go far enough. Those who are in the business of the media, in respect for the special and powerful role they play in the nation’s democratic institutions, should be banned from political contributions. Let them contribute to journalism and private causes and let the people decide who will represent them in Washington.

It will of course be cold day in hell before such proposals rise to a sufficient level of public interest. We are trapped in a classic Catch 22. It would require a free and open media to raise the issue of media reform. Barring that, it would require a maverick like Senator John McCain attempted to do for campaign finance reform. As McCain found out, progress can be made but it is a long process.

As all Americans must surely realize, democracy is a process as well. It is a process that has been neglected for a very long time. Media reform is only a part of that process. If we are to renew democracy in America, we must also address the right to vote and the scourge of disenfranchisement, corporate corrupt of the political process, gerrymandering, political access to independents and third parties, voting methodology and accountability, the antiquated electoral college and the separation of church and state.

Sadly, the state of our democracy is imperiled. If we do not begin soon to address the many problems and barriers that stand between the people and their government, democracy may be lost to future generations.


Jazz.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

PISTOL FULL OF BLANKS 

KERRY SWEEPS BUSH
By Jack Random

Like a gunslinger with a pistol full of blanks, the president took the stage for the last debate with all of the swagger but none of the ammunition.

There is one critical problem with the president’s proposals on health care, education, deficit spending, unemployment, bipartisanship, immigration, job exportation, the price of gas and living wages: he is the president. He has had four years to implement his policies and he has spent it all playing the same tired tune: tax relief favoring the ultra-wealthy elite. He has spent it all distracted by an unnecessary, counter productive and illegal war.

George W. Bush has plundered the treasury yet asks us to believe his opponent is a reckless spender. He has lost more jobs than any president since the Great Depression yet asks us to believe his opponent is clueless. He broke his promise to fund his education initiative, Every Other Child Left Behind, yet asks us to believe that his opponent lacks integrity. He has done more to divide the nation than any president since Richard Nixon yet he promised to be a “uniter, not a divider.”

Herbert Hoover, for all his foibles, confronted economic circumstance well beyond his control. Richard Nixon, for all his duplicity, deceit and darker motives, inherited a war not of his making. George W. Bush used a terrorist attack to implement a policy of first strike and global dominance. He chose a war completely unrelated to the crime. He chose an economic policy that promoted tax cuts as the solution to every problem. He is the creator of his own failures and he bears responsibility for his legacy.

Four years into his administration, the president still blames Bill Clinton for a feckless economy. Three years after 911 he still blames terrorists for joblessness. The fact is the president is very good at finding excuses but very bad at changing course.

Once again, the Senator from Massachusetts rose to the challenge. If he looks like a president, walks like a president and talks like a president, the chances are he is a president. He has stood to every attack, every slander, and every twisted distortion of his record. He has cast aside every demeaning label and held his ground: a mountain against an anthill. To the president’s platitudes and denigrations, the Senator has answered with reasoned statesmanship.

To the empty charge of Liberalism: It is ironic that the great disappointment of the true left is that John Kerry, like Bill Clinton before him, is at best middle of the road. This candidate is not the fiercely antiwar and social liberal of ten or twenty years ago. Many of us lament the Senator’s evolution but we cannot challenge his integrity on this ground. The transformation has been gradual and measured. He is what he says he is: a man whose beliefs mirror those of most Americans: Pro choice, pro middle class, neither pro nor anti war, strong on defense, sensible on economics, pro environment, pro health care and pro education.

For all this measured moderation, Kerry strikes a distinct contrast with the tough-talking incumbent. Who is this little big man (suddenly magnified by a curious director’s choice) with his finger in the dike as it swells with looming catastrophe, pretending that everything is fine, pretending that the worst crisis this nation faces is the prospect of a liberal president? He reaches out to the Christian conservative right and lets go of the middle ground.

This nation is not facing a crisis in traditional marriage. We are not facing crises of over-taxation, abortion or prayer. We are facing crises in education, health care, jobs and runaway deficits. We are not facing a crisis of liberal ideology; we are facing a crisis in credibility and confidence. We are facing a war that never should have happened.

George W. Bush is the president. He is the captain of a sinking ship, the general of a disastrous battle, and the shadow of a true leader. Neither commander nor statesman, he is a pretender to the throne.

We have seen the president stripped of his castle walls, standing naked and alone, without his counselors and advisers, with nothing more than his mother wit, and we have found him lacking.

By a 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court, he was given a chance that few politicians are ever afforded. He has squandered that opportunity. If ever a man did not deserve a second chance, it is the man who did not deserve the first.

Are we better off than we were four years ago? Let every man and woman who can honestly answer “yes” vote for the incumbent president. Let the rest of us elect a new president. If these debates are a reflection of the election to come, Kerry wins in a landslide.

Jazz.

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