Sunday, September 13, 2009

Big Problem With The MSM: TV Journalists Are Often Political And Economic Illiterates

By Manifesto Joe

It caused me great pain and consternation to see a CNN anchor trying to interview a Tea Party leader during the big 9-12 march on Washington on Saturday afternoon. The anchor stammered something about the U.S. being a "democracy" and that capitalism is our system of government, or something to that effect.

It was appalling that the Tea Party fool had at least been paying some attention in high school civics and was half-right about one thing, in contrast to the anchor. He said that the U.S. is a "not a democracy," but rather "a republic." He was somewhat right on that point.

The U.S. is generally described as a democratic republic, with the former word the modifier in that there is a great deal of democracy, direct and indirect, codified at different levels. As a republic, it is offset by federal checks and balances, and by the fact that we are largely governed by representatives rather than through direct referendums and such.

But then the Tea Party fool veered off in the usual phallus-headed direction, saying something to the effect that the Constitution does not allow things that should be personal responsibility, such as the provision of health care. The CNN anchor kept stammering and was totally ineffectual at shooting down this pig dung, which is precisely what media professionals are supposed to be trained to do.

The U.S. Constitution does not address issues such as health care, one way or the other. It is silent on the subject, neither prohibiting nor institutionalizing a federal role.

If there were anything there that the federal courts could construe as a prohibition of any kind, then Medicare and Medicaid would both have been declared unconstitutional long ago. Even when the Supreme Court has had conservative majorities, as it has mostly had in recent times, there's no way they were ever going to go there, because it simply isn't there.

Medicare and Medicaid are both single-payer systems for specific groups, and could therefore be described as "socialized medicine" for the benefit of qualifying people. There is nothing in the Constitution that forbids certain sectors of the U.S. economy from being "socialized."

This brings me to some of the salient points that this CNN anchor, and the Tea Party cretin with whom he was botching an interview, fail to grasp in the least.

Democracy, and Republics, are POLITICAL systems. Capitalism and socialism are ECONOMIC systems.

There is no intrinsic relationship among any of the above. There are democratic republics that one would characterize, in economic terms, as semi-socialist -- to wit, the Scandinavian countries, and to a lesser extent the rest of western and central Europe. There have been many dictatorships that have not only tolerated capitalist enterprise, but have encouraged it.

Moreover, redistribution of income does not constitute socialism. ANY sort of taxation and appropriation redistributes income. It is strictly a question of to whom. The basic definition of socialism is ownership of the MEANS OF PRODUCTION by either government or cooperatives.

Contrary to wrongheaded right-wing attempts to link socialism with all authoritarian governments, Nazi Germany operated with the loyal support of Germany's industrialists, such as IG Farben. In fascist Italy, Mussolini, a one-time socialist, outlawed strikes, hammered down wages and put a lot of socialists in jail. Capitalist enterprises had no problems operating, with gracious deference, in Franco's fascist Spain.

To summarize, there are:
1. Semi-capitalist dictatorships
2. Semi-socialist/mixed system democratic republics
3. Socialist dictatorships (the old USSR, etc.)
4. Countries like China (commies-in-name who make American capitalists look like warm fuzzy liberals)
5. Mostly capitalist republics like the U.S., with lightly mixed economic systems and which feign democratic institutions, but are mostly ruled by big-ass money (plutocracies).

In short, political and economic systems, while related, are to some extent two very different animals. They can, and have been, mixed and matched in all sorts of ways, according to the mores of their populations and ruling elites.

Now here is a point that will modify most of what I've written above:

There has never really been, and probably never will be, an economic system in the world that is either purely capitalist or purely socialist.

Read your history, and check out the current world situations. They are pretty much all mixed systems, merely differing in the mix. The U.S. is the perhaps the world's prime example of a system weighted very much toward capitalism. But even here, much has changed in about a century, and it was arguably of necessity. Can you imagine what daily life would be like for a very large minority of the population if we had no Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid? No GI Bill? No workers' comp? No OSHA? Or even lacking some of the less-popular programs, such as food stamps and AFDC?

I can tell you one huge truth -- the fact that we eventually got those things is the main reason that communist movements never took hold in this country the way they did in other parts of the world. To wit: During the 1930s Depression/Dust Bowl era, Oklahoma had a surprisingly large and active Communist Party membership, inspired no doubt by a lot of hungry bellies. About 75 years later, that state is one of the most Republican in the country.

Want a vivid picture of what America looked like, circa 1905, from the viewpoint of an underclass worker? Read The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair. It's on a lot of American literature reading lists.

You want to really fight communism? Support a measured, reasonable welfare state.

To wrap up, it was very dismaying to see a "professional" TV journalist getting his ass pathetically kicked by a Tea Party half-wit. It doesn't take a degree in either economics or political science to grasp most of these concepts. The 100-200 level of courses, plus some common sense and a willingness to read a few of the pertinent books, is what I would expect of any person professing to become a real journalist.

Unfortunately, what we largely have on the current scene are a lot of pretty-faced DJs with amnesia.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Jack Jodell said...

Manifesto Joe, you made so many good and educational points in this post that I don't even know where to begin...

I'm glad you pointed out the difference between political and economic systems, and how one is not automatically synonymous with the other.

Regarding our political system, your label of a democratic republic is accurate, on paper, at least. But as I see the level of power being exerted today by corporations and the wealthy (concentrated capital), I would suggest our government would be more accurately described as a plutocracy. No, the forces of wealth and special interest have not yet united into one monolithic, dictatorial political organization or force, but their influence and control is everywhere. They have nearly full control of our media; they manipulate the marketplace; they have, for all practical purposes, bought out Congress; they control our money supply; and they set the framework for political discussion.

Regarding our state of TV journalism today, let's face it: most of those behind the mic are pretty boys and pretty girls; mere talking heads. They are no longer investigative journalists in the Edward Murrow/Walter Cronkite/Mike Wallace/Bill Moyers mold. They are not as knowledgeable or researched as they should be or once were; and their hunger and thirst is not for fact and background, but for conflict and spectacle and entertainment. They are trained to frame everything within an "either or" subset, when all of us know an intelligent analysis or presentation of any issue is multi-faceted, and those facets are NOT always necessarily polar opposites. Not only that, but modern TV and radio news is structured for brevity and shallowness so as to present as much as possible in as short amount of time as possible to allow gor a 3 or 4 minute commercial break every 7-10 minutes. At a time where our nation needs deep, analytical coverage on a graduate-degree caliber, we are getting fed a non-stop diet of simplistic fifth grade level news that is repeated endlessly 24/7/365. We are being badly shortchanged by the corporatist mainstream media, and that is why we have so many moronic Sarah Palins and Joe the Plumbers around, and why they have so many idiotic followers. Our media is severely dumbing-down this country, and that will eventually destroy us unless they improve their performance!

Manifesto Joe said...

One point, Jack:

Please note that further down in the body of the piece, I characterize the U.S. as a plutocracy. It is normally characterized as a democratic republic by mainstream political scientists, but not necessarily by me.

Anonymous said...

>>Countries like China (commies-in
>>name who make American
>>capitalists look like warm fuzzy

I would have to disagree here. Although the leadership of China has allowed a form of "private enterprise" to operate in special economic zones in eastern China, this is absolutely nothing like "capitalism" as we Americans know it.

Although some private enterprise is allowed by the authorities, they keep it on such a short leash that it blurs the line between "socialism" and "private enterprise."

Ultimately the state really owns everything in China. Yes, there are entrepreneurs, but they take their marching orders from the state.

The real power is held by the Communist Party, which holds a monopoly on power. And the direction the nation's economy takes is not left up to the whims of the "market," but instead is guided by government technocrats (as is the case in Japan and Taiwan).

This is in contrast to the U.S., where the wealthy and the corporations hold all the real power.

Chinese entrepreneurs are allowed to make money, and even become rich---but ultimately they must follow the rules set down by Beijing. If they are seen as betraying the interests of the nation, they will be struck down hard by the authorities, jailed, or even executed.

This is in stark contrast to American entrepreneurs and CEOs, who are allowed to do whatever they want (mass layoffs, etc.) regardless of the cost to society.

Marc McDonald said...

BTW, I don't know if it sounded that way, but I didn't mean to come across as this "know it all" in my previous comment. It's hard for me, though, to not get passionate about the subject of East Asian economics---a topic about which there is an enormous amount of misinformation in the Western media.

I urge anyone seeking a honest look at today's China to check out the recent book, "In the Jaws of the Dragon: America's Fate in the Coming Era of Chinese Hegemony."

No less a figure than Thom Hartmann raved about this book on BuzzFlash, calling it "one of the most powerful, shocking, well-written, solidly documented, tear-the-scales-from-your-eyes books I’ve read in more than two decades."

I would agree.

Manifesto Joe said...

Hi, Marc:

Your description of China sounds ultimately like capitalist economics under fascist government, in which the state wields all power in the end. My point is that they just call it something different there. And the sort of private enterprise that goes on there seems to exhibit an even more profound disregard for human life than what we see here. I realize that many of the horror stories that come to us from China are through the lens of the MSM, but I don't think even they can lie quite that much. The worker exploitation there sounds much like what I read in "The Jungle."

Jack Jodell said...

Well done, Marc and Manifesto Joe, and my apologies for the oversight on plutocracy, MJ. I must have been distracted while ingesting that part originally. I guess now that we've got it somewhat figured out, what are our options but to keep on fighting for a more egalitarian society, right? Man, what a frustratingly long process!

Marc McDonald said...

>>Your description of China sounds
>>ultimately like capitalist
>>economics under fascist
>>government, in which the state
>>wields all power in the end.

My Webster's Dictionary defines "fascism" as: "a system of government characterized by dictatorship, belligerent nationalism and racism, militarism, etc."

Hmmm, let me see: "belligerent nationalism," "militarism," "racism,"---the first nation that pops into my head when I read those words isn't China. It's more likely to be "Bush's America."

Manifesto Joe said...

Marc, with all due respect, you'd be in jail if you were in China, and so would I.

As bad as the Il Doofus plutocracy was, no police ever broke down my door or yours during those 8 years, and he was succeeded by the most unlikely of successors.

Also, you might ask the Muslim groups in western China about prejudice and racism there. The Beijing government recently put down some very serious rioting out in the west. Then, there was the military conquest and continuing occupation of Tibet ...

Marc McDonald said...

>>>Marc, with all due respect,
>>>you'd be in jail if you were in
>>>China, and so would I.

Do you know this for a fact?

Personally, I'm deeply skeptical of anything I read about China in the Western MSM. I've known some of the U.S. journalists who cover China and East Asia and they are utterly clueless: they don't know the culture; they don't know the people; they don't speak the language and, inevitably, they have an ideological ax to grind.

And the way things are going in America, it wouldn't surprise me at all if I DO wind up in jail, or dead, one of these days. I think that during a future GOP administration, there is a good chance that there WILL be a crackdown on progressives, and other "subversives" some day. Anyone who believes otherwise probably also thinks that Paul Wellstone's plane crash was an accident.