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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Corporate Control of America

A couple of things put me in a pessimistic mood about our future. This time I'm not talking about the Biosphere, but about our democracy. It started with Bill Maher's interview with Bill Moyers. Moyers reminded me about the corporate control of America, and went into some detail. This is an issue that I was somewhat fired up about, a decade ago. But since then I had gotten used to it. (not happy about it, but not thinking about it.)

Then later that same day I went to the movies to see District 9. It's
quite a good Sci-Fi film, and quite unusual. But it's depressing. It
involves human & alien interaction in quite an unusual way. The humans turn out mostly to be the bad guys, and the ending is not a happy one, although not totally so. The movie left me in an unhappy mood, and corporate control of the world was part of the theme.

I first got upset about the topic due to seeing the movie: Bulworth.
This is a very entertaining film by Warren Beatty. (He produced,
directed, and starred in it.) It's mostly a comedy, but it has a
serious underlying message about corporate control of America. That was over ten years ago, and for a year or three I was concerned about it, but then, as people do, I gradually got used to the idea.

The basic problem is this: Election campaigns are very expensive nowadays, due mainly to the importance of television, and the high cost of airtime. Most senators and congressmen get most of their funding from large corporations and wealthy individuals. Hence, they must pass only legislation that favors these donors, or they won't get the needed funds, and are likely to lose their job. (and it's a very cushy job, with excellent perqs, including health care.)

"Hey", you might ask: "The airwaves are public property. The TV broadcasters require government licenses. Why are they not required to support political campaigns without profit?". Good question. Could it be because half a dozen giant corporations own almost all of the media? Corporations that the elected officials don't want to offend?

I'm not an expert in this subject. I googled on the phrase "Corporate
control of America" and got many thousands of hits. Here are a few
quotes, without their sources. You can find them with google if you are interested. I just want to provide some sense of what's going on.

"Rapid consolidation of network and cable television ownership in the
hands of a few corporate conglomerates has significantly harmed free
expression, quality, and creativity in television, the Center for the
Creative Community (CCC) told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today in Comments filed with the FCC."

"Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not
revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds its
expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to
cherish democracy, patriotism and the Constitution while cynically
manipulating internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic
institutions. Political candidates are elected in popular votes by
citizens, but they must raise staggering amounts of corporate funds to compete. They are beholden to armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington or state capitals who write the legislation. A corporate media controls nearly everything we read, watch or hear and imposes a bland uniformity of opinion or diverts us with trivia and celebrity gossip. In classical totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics. “Under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true,” Wolin writes. “Economics dominates politics—and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness."

"Perhaps big-corporate control of America has gotten so out of hand over the last 30 years ... that it's now irreversible."

"Jefferson was as motivated to prevent economic tyranny as he was to prevent political oppression. Even prior to the industrialization, he saw in embryo the monstrosity of the impending corporate control of America as early as 1816."

"The world’s food has been fundamentally transformed in a way that these agribusinesses want to keep you from seeing. And that was the most shocking thing for me in making Food, Inc. I knew there were big factory farms out there, but I didn’t know agribusiness was essentially keeping us from really talking about it."

"Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Abraham Lincoln were the four Presidents of the United States who fought hardest against the corporate control of America."

Can anything be done to change this, to put control of America back in the hands of the people? Well, yes, in theory. We could vote out most of the present senators and representatives, and replace them with new ones who are committed to reducing the role of giant corporations and the super-rich in our government. The new lawmakers might even return to the old American practice of curtailing the size of giant corporations, and preventing the growth of cartels, trusts & monopolies.

Could this happen? Well, it's possible, but that ain't the way to bet.