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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.



  1. Ahh, yes, we've been there, done that...
    Your post reminds me of the movie Network:
    Howard Beale: I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad.
    Howard Beale: [shouting] You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell,
    Howard Beale: 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it:
    Howard Beale: [screaming at the top of his lungs] "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

  2. The Wolin quote sums it up perfectly in my opinion. This "inverted totalitarianism" is precisely and wholly the result of a ruling corporate oligarchy which, in spite of delusions to the contrary, is what my beloved United States has devolved into. I have not yet read his book, "Democracy Incorporated", but I will now that you have made me aware of it and him.

    I've also often felt the "Network" reference in the comment above. Unfortunately, the people who legitimately feel this way are prone to more contemplation than action - or so it seems to me. It is difficult to ascertain whether the comment above is sincere or cynical, but if a vast number of enlightened someones does not begin shouting and soon then I fear your pessimism may well be justified.

    There is certainly some short term vindication of the "shouting as political discourse" strategy. One has only to look at what chaos the ultra-right has caused in recent months with their disruption of public comment forums and the lack of large-scale repudiation of their methods and managers in response. I don't know that it works in the long term as people become fatigued when the volume is turned up to ear-bleed levels for any length of time, but it certainly has introduced severe speed bumps on the road to health care reform.

    I had hoped to see a politically active and motivated younger generation emerge from this lunacy as it did in the '60s, but it appears that the majority are still encamped in the "I'm gonna get mine by hook or crook - you can fend for yourself" cult of self interest bred and encouraged by the very corporate powers that now hold sway over our government.

    The country is now, due to the polarizing influence of the ultra-right, so divided and so embroiled in clashes born more out of irrational passions than reasoned opinions and civil discourse that I too find it difficult to maintain a sense of optimism. It is a Universe of infinite possibility however and I live in hope that there is a currently unseen stimulus that will once again send the system back into a democratic balance that works for all of us and not just the wealthy few and their corporate minions.

  3. re media advertising candidates, it IS regulated so that each candidate gets no more than X amount of time or space per day; every candidate pays the same rates, which are amazingly low. This is designed to allow equal access for all.

  4. I have heard it reported many times that today's candidates spend an enormous amount of money on advertising, especially TV advertising, and that a candidate who does not do that has very little chance of winning. So I find it hard to reconcile this with Anonymous' remark. It may be that the candidates buy a huge amount of time.


  5. The following are quotes from Wickipedia, under the topic "Political campaign":

    One of the most important aspects of the major American political campaiggn it the ability to raise large sums of money....

    Late in the campaign, campaigns will launce expensive television, radio, and direct mail campaigns ....

    This reliance on expensive advertising is a leading factor behind the cost of running for office....

    This rising cost is considered by some to discourage those without well-monied connections, or money themselves, from running for office.


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