Saturday, January 23, 2010

Impossible Unmagical Thinking - a Rant Against the Supreme Court Decision on "Free Speech"

You won't be able to see it, but Alexander Cockburn, a reasonably prolific left-wing thinker, keeps on warning the folks on the left that global warming might be a diversionary plot, also funded by the carbon extraction industries, to keep our attention away from dealing with the real catastrophe, which continues to be industrial pollution. Cockburn writes for the Nation, where his articles are sequestered away for subscribers only.

That's what the New York Times would now like to do, in the interest of preserving their editorial staff against the economics of the Internet. They'd like to sequester their stuff away from any but paid subscribers. Except, also at the Nation - and I think this one's on their public site - they point out that journalism is doomed even apart from the changed economic realities of the Internet.

These Nation authors disparage the commercial history of journalism, which, if my read is correct, they see largely in terms of a progressive [sic] whittling away at any government subsidies. We once granted those subsidies with a kind of patriotic unanimity, starting way back with Ben Franklin. Well, he made his money from newspapering, and maybe even benefitted personally from the subsidies he patriotically demanded. Isn't it ironic?

That was the spirit with which we practically imposed a free press on defeated Japan and Germany after World War II. Having seen that the absence of a free press contributed to an uninformed public being roused into dangerous action by fascist dictatorships. These authors convincingly argue that direct subsidies to journalistic enterprises are essential to a functioning democracy. They may be right.

Somehow, we have allowed government - any government - to seem synonymous with control over our lives, much in the way that the beloved Dr. Seuss of my childhood presented Mom as the proto-fascist. Government, can't be trusted to hold any interest higher than its own self-preservation; like Mom only caring about keeping the house clean, and never ever participating in the fun. But government could be seen to be looking out for our interests, like Mom keeping us from hurting ourselves by stepping beyond her safety zone.

Let's take a closer look at what's up now:

Attacks on social security do a bait and switch on us Boomers, who are made to think we'll overwhelm the kitty which we funded. Or is it that the reserve fund will need to be refunded from a government treasury impossibly too deep now in debt. In debt to us, the people. It's not that social security will go bankrupt, it's that the government will be too indebted to our retirement fund to be able to pay it back. No wonder people have a hard time with trust.

And Glenn Beck wails about indebtedness in our name, without pausing for a minute to consider the cost of just letting the house of cards fall down. And everybody to his left is certain that he's just as scary as the white supremacists lurking among the teabaggers.

And so the merry-go-round goes, without any hope at all to resolve difficult issues. Without any hope at all to break the stranglehold of officeholders to stay there. Except - perversely enough for those of us rooting for the left side of the aisle - when someone like Ted Kennedy actually dies in office, and then the electorate says hey, finally, we want some change. As if they had been muffled somehow, all those years. Or were they just afraid to cut loose from their extremely well embedded representative in Washington? Afraid to lose their advantage. Whose advantage?

I get spam commentary on this blog now, which I guess is like rising up in the world. Most recently, there was an internal reference to a blog which looks legitimate. There is a picture of an impossibly attractive blond, who you presume must be this fabled "Mom to financial guru" and then there's all sorts of loving commentary, like you see on lots of people's blogs. Fans and well-wishers, but in this case you get the feeling maybe that the whole interaction is concocted. The language just doesn't sound like a native blond. But hey, who knows, maybe they won't steal all your money. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, and we can all go viral together.

Sometimes even the really carefully vetted and honest seeming good guys steal all your money. Sometimes they don't even go to jail for it, because they technically haven't broken any laws. They just went out of business, and you took a risk. Will the government go out of business, or will they just bait and switch your attention to something really scary, like Social Security going bankrupt if we don't cut benefits or increase takes, or turn it over to the wall street guys who then could steal all your money without going to jail? (?????)

Who can tell if the teabagger anti-global warming types are right about false fears diverting our attention. But aren't they pandering fear too? Fear of a conspiracy of dunces? Fear of the end of the Republic? But which Republic do they fear will end? If it's the one which is of the people, by the people and for the people, hasn't that ended already? Hasn't it been replaced by Corporatism, whereby if you are big enough you can prevent any and all competition from the smaller entrepeneurs. Isn't that what the supreme court has now enshrined into law?

As David Brooks so aptly points out [I can't find any writing he's done yet on it, but he spoke on NPR and PBS all day yesterday - look it up], these guys aren't going to want to choose parties, politically, since they get their favors from both sides of the aisle. And they sell their wares to everyone; it wouldn't be good business to alienate the liberals, say. But they will lobby for preferences in a way that small business just can't afford, as has been happening with increasing and alarming frequency in Washington.

Our postal rates favor the massive media conglomerates. Airwaves are given away, but only to bidders who are ginormous enough to beat off any and all competition in a public "auction." Media are allowed to create vertical markets, on some kind of fantasy that new technology makes it possible to compete in ways that were never possible in the good old days which required regulation. As if little media outlets on the Internet can really outshine MSNBC or whatever alphabet soup of familiarity you choose.

There is some fiction about viral video catapaulting American Idols from obscurity to fame; and then it turns out to be Lonely Girl, put up by some clever screenwriting team. Makeover teams will not have time to get to your house, though you may dream it.

The Internet now is practically screaming Startup Startup as if the main thing you need to do with your life is have a dream, get some backing from friends and family and then go for broke. As though you might actually drown out the Leviathans of the Internet marketplace. You might as well play the Lottery. Even the cover of my Yale Alumni Magazine now depicts a guy in some basement spending all his waking hours on his Startup dream. You should remember, there still is an old boy network, and this guy has a lot better chance than you do.

I am locked in to Verizon if I want to move around and talk. I am locked in to Bank of America if I want to be able to bank from my phone. I am locked in to the New York Times if I want some reliable sense of what's going on in the world, since no-one else can even afford a newsroom. It's not that I don't trust the little guys, it's just that I'd rather have a good driver with a clean record who's a psychopath driving my kids' bus than the earnest honest guy who just can't drive.

And big corporations really are analogous to psychopaths. So, the Supreme Court now enshrines the right to free speech of those who would yell fire in a crowded theater if they could profit from it. Pretty much like the marketing of HINI flu viruses - er, I mean cures, well, alright vaccines - by the same folks who brought you the "wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why do we go along with this?

We are about to pass, or more likely not pass, a "healthcare" bill which has been whittled so far away from what can meet anybody's needs as to be unrecognizeable by anyone who identified the trouble in the first place. But by now we're desperate - utterly desperate - to have something done about what is so clearly broken.

The insurance notices come in from my recent hospitalization, and of course everything's denied, since I had the temerity to be hospitalized "out of network". The default is to deny, and then if you don't have at least a college degree, you'll get worn down and assume that you broke some fine print. That it really was your fault all along.

These were not entrepreneurial lobbyists who whittled away the resolve of our representatives who are also, bizarrely, afraid of losing their jobs! Don't you have to die in office before the other party gets your seat? These were big big corporate lobbyists. Conglomerate lobbyists. Syndicate lobbyists. Do you really think they have your interests in mind? Well, I guess you do if you buy the mythology that we have a free market. It's not free if there's only too big to fail and the riff raff.

And we complain about the behaviors of China's government? Come on Hillary, get a clue. Our censorship is far far more effective. We simply overwhelm the voices we don't want you to listen to, and we do it with lots and lots of money. Is this cold war redux all over again now?

Doesn't it make sense, if you're an oil company, say, and you are more aware than the rest of us that you can't keep pumping this stuff out of the earth forever, for you to create some panic about carbon in the air? The price for what's left will and should go sky high. It's what we liberals are clamoring for, as the only solution to save the planet.

We can blame the earthquakes then on global warming too, since who can tell between out-of-control weather and tsunamis started by shifting the balance of the plates by sucking all the oil out of the ground. Do you think liposuction is really the way to lose weight? Aren't there repercussions, and things left out of kilter?

I submit, simply, that we really can't know. There's too much money involved, and too much profit, and even the scientists need their work to be funded from somewhere. But I'm not about to listen to the Jehovah's Witnesses telling me that there is no solution but to believe in some sky God who will make it all alright. They are pandering fear as well.

This sky God has to be brought down to earth. He has to reside in each of our hearts, so that we can act in concert with our fellow humans in ways to defeat the rendered will of people who are only interested in a paycheck. You and I are interested in a paycheck too. But there should be limits to what can be gotten away with in our name. We shouldn't be required to wear the company boxer shorts, or drink their koolaid.

The loss in Massachusetts will do the Democrats good if they will get a clue about what really happened. Global warming will take care of itself if each of us feels a little bit more guilty about the cost of indulging all of our lusts all of the time. Pollution will cease to be a problem as soon as we stop exporting it to countries without the wherewithal to regulate or limit it.

But no good can possibly come from this absurd defeatist and cynical Supreme Court Decision. Unless it provides the necessary goad to turn back the clock on whatever we were thinking when we, progressively over time beginning right around those bloody World Wars, gave "rights" to corporations as if they were people.

Let's do it, people. The only thing we have to lose is our fear. Otherwise we're screwed (he says to monger some fear himself. Hey, I hear there's lots of money it it . . . ).

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