Friday, June 27, 2008

Robert McChesney's The Political Economy of Media - Part II

Robert McChesney's The Political Economy of Media (Part II) - by Stephen Lendman

McChesney's book is a compilation of his best political economy of media work in the past two decades. It contains 23 separate offerings under three topic headings. In them he covers "enduring issues" and "emerging dilemmas." Part I of this review discussed some of them. More follow below. The entire book is must reading and contains new material never before published.

The Battle for the US Airwaves, 1928 - 1935

McChesney recounts the beginning. It explains much of the current dilemma and necessity to confront it.

The notion that the dominant media system is "natural" and was adopted enthusiastically is pure myth. Opposition to what emerged was considerable. It insisted that network, for-profit, commercial broadcasting was inimical to the public interest, and that there should be a substantial nonprofit sector.

In the mid-1920s, things looked much different than later on. Several hundred nonprofit broadcasters began operating in the decade's early years, mostly affiliated with colleges and universities. Commercial ones, in contrast, weren't even professionals. They were owned and run by newspapers, department stores, power companies and others in the private sector.

NBC was established in 1926, CBS the following year, and neither had an impact until the 1927 Radio Act's passage. Commercial advertising, the pillar of today's system, hardly existed until 1928. It was very controversial and very unpopular throughout the 1920s. Before 1927, it was generally agreed that nonprofit broadcasting should have a significant, even a dominant position, in the US system.

Then came the Radio Act that year. It established the Federal Radio Commission (FRC). It was to make the airwaves orderly, reduce the number of stations, allocate broadcast licenses, and favor those applicants that would best serve the "public interest, convenience or necessity." The FRC was renewed in 1928 and then indefinitely in 1929. It used these years to solidify the emerging industry's dominance and make no effort to change it.

FRC held meetings with commercial broadcasters. Nonprofits and nonbroadcasters were left out, so it's not surprising how things developed. FRC's reallocation plan came out under General Order 40. Of the 90 available, it set aside forty 50,000 watt clear channels for one occupant nationally. The remaining 600 broadcasters got the other 50 to operate simultaneously on at much lower power levels. Those in the same region would share a frequency at different times of day. The squeeze was on, and by autumn 1929, 100 fewer stations were on-air.

Not surprisingly, the networks won big. They got a flying start, and by the early 1930s, controlled 30% of the stations, including all but three of the clear channel ones. In addition, commercial advertising began growing substantially. Equally dramatic was the decline in nonprofit, noncommercial broadcasting. The FRC reduced their hours and power and made it harder for them to generate funds to keep operating. As a result, by 1930, their numbers dropped to less than one-third their 1927 total of around 200. By 1934, nonprofit broadcasting accounted for about 2% of total broadcast time. Business was king. The potential of the medium was beginning to be understood. The FRC was on board to support it, and said it was in "general public service" to do it.

Nonetheless, nonprofit opposition emerged. A National Committee on Education by Radio (NCER) was formed to get Congress to set aside 15% of channels for its use. Other nonprofit broadcasters joined the battle, and so did newspaper owners (at first) and civic groups. The former ended up partnering with for-profit broadcasters, while remaining opposition elements continued the struggle. They were against the status quo and wanted reform. Three themes underlined their position:

-- the airwaves should be a public resource and broadcasting a public utility;

-- most important, an advertising-supported for-profit network would use its programming to defend the status quo and would shut out unpopular or radical ideas; and

-- reformers criticized broadcast advertising and the limitations of for-profit broadcasting; it would work against cultural, educational, and public affairs efforts that are less suited to commercial operations.

Opposition groups proposed a number of plans with three getting the most attention in the early 1930s:

-- setting aside a fixed percentage (15 - 25%) of broadcast channels for exclusive nonprofit use;

-- have Congress authorize an extensive and independent broadcasting study to devise a whole new system; and

-- have the government establish a number of local, regional, and national nonprofit stations; they'd be subsidized by taxes and operated by a congressionally approved citizen board of directors; these stations would supplement, not replace, commercial operations.

None of the proposals were considered. For-profit operators worked against them. The opposition movement was divided in its tactics, and it faced three major barriers - the radio lobby, consisting of NBC, CBS and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). They went all out with a PR blitz to establish the "status quo."

Against this, reformers got little coverage while the press was strongly on board with the broadcasters. So was the legal community. The ABA established a Standing Committee on Communications in the late 1920s and stacked it with commercial broadcasting attorneys, The handwriting was on the wall.

The campaign to restructure commercial broadcasting went through three distinct phases from 1930 to 1935:

-- from 1930 to when Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933; the period was "the high watermark for popular discontent with US broadcasting;" it won over House and Senate support for setting aside nonprofit channels; nothing passed because economy recovery legislation took precedence; more significantly, powerful leaders (like Clarence Dill, chairman of the Senate Commerce Commission) blocked anti-commercial reforms; so did Sam Rayburn in the House;

-- from 1933 until the Communications Act of 1934; it established permanent broadcasting law; reformers hoped Roosevelt would support them; instead he ducked; he was in no mood to confront a "powerful and entrenched communications industry," especially when passing New Deal legislation took precedence; broadcasters seized the moment; they got House and Senate leaders on board; got the Communications Act passed, the FCC established, and pretty much everything they wanted; Roosevelt signed the new law in June 1934; it was called a "New Deal in Radio Law;" indeed so for the broadcasters; and

-- in January 1935, the FCC formerly reported to Congress that there was no need to alter the status quo; nonprofits lost out, and for the rest of the 1930s "the industry became economically and politically consolidated;" by decade's end, the public no longer had a say over what kind of system was best; as far as government and industry are concerned, they still don't, but surging reform movements blossomed post-2000 to change things; McChesney is one of its leaders; more on that below.

The Commercial Tidal Wave

Corporate giants today are so dominant that they compete less on price and more on what economists call "monopolistic competition." Advertising is key. It needs "advertising-friendly policies and regulations to allow it to flourish," and its the major source of media revenues.

Most notably on television, it's "ubiquitous." Yet the greater number of ads, the more alike they become, less believable, and less people pay attention to them. One solution - run more ads. The airwaves wreak with them, and the "commercial tidal wave" takes many forms. On radio and television, they consume nearly one-third of each hour compared to around half that volume before 1982.

Advertisers have also gotten very creative and more intrusive. A proliferation of TV "infomercials" for one thing, and entertainment programming "product placement" is everywhere. The idea is to seamlessly weave products into story lines so they're hard to ignore. It's not cheap with Coca Cola one of many examples. It paid Time Warner $25 million for the characters of one prime time show to "drink Cokes in each episode." Time Warner also developed "virtual" advertising by getting products placed retroactively in popular shows.

Radio is used as well. Increasingly, broadcasters use airtime to hype products they're paid to advertise. Hollywood is also cashing in. Disney's Miramax Films cut a deal to make Coors the studio's official beer and feature it exclusively in Miramax productions. Then consider James Bond films. They once shunned product placements. No longer in today's "very competitive movie environment." It's now a necessity, and look at the payoff. The 2002 Bond film, Die Another Day, so wreaked with them that Variety called it an "ad-venture," and the Financial Times said James Bond is now "licensed to sell" - with a $120 million payoff for the film studio.

Product placements show up everywhere, and children aren't exempt. Far from it. The animated film, Foodfight, had "thousands of products and character icons from the familiar (items) in a grocery store." Children's books also feature branded items and characters, and millions of them have snack foods as lead characters.

ESPN is cashing in as well with help from digital ad firm Princeton Video Image. It places changing product billboards on walls behind home plate on Major League baseball telecasts. Only viewers see them, not fans at games because they're not there.

Overall, the wall separating ads from editorial is disappearing because of media companies' greed, advertisers' enormous clout, and the concentrated power of eight dominant advertising/PR agencies that control 80% of all spending. They have great leverage - over product placement and program content. They're also clever enough to produce ads that are indistinguishable from entertainment.

Sum it up and here's the problem. Advertising is all-pervasive. We drowning in it and paying the price. It's corrosive to society and intrusive in our lives. It fosters false values, wants and needs. It makes otherwise normal people shop excessively for what they never knew they wanted until Madison Avenue mind manipulators convinced them. Years ago, economist Paul Baran said makes us "want what we don't need (nonessential consumer goods and services) and not....what we do (health care, education, clean air and water, safe food, good government, and so forth)."

Things are so extreme, McChesney puts it this way. We're "rapidly moving to a whole new paradigm for media and commercialism, where traditional borders are disintegrating and conventional standards are being replaced with something significantly different." It marries content with commercialism so pervasively they're indistinguishable, and it shows up everywhere all the time - television, radio, movies, publications, music, popular culture, schools, universities, public vehicles, commercial ones, public broadcasting and radio, art, subways, restrooms, and any and all other ways advertisers can reach people whether or not we approve.

McChesney calls it "the greatest concerted attempt at psychological manipulation in all of human history." It increasingly targets younger people. Acclimate them early because they become adult customers, and the children's market besides accounts for tens of billions of dollars globally and growing.

Hyper-commercialism is troubling. It's contrary to democratic practices, crowds out other forms of speech, and diverts attention away from more vital concerns. It also produces "profound cynicism and greed (that's) cancerous to public life." It reduces "our most treasured commodities provided by the market." McChesney believes resisting advertising is "essential" because of its corrosive effect on society. Who can disagree.

The Political Economy of International Communications: Foundations for the Emerging Global Debate About Media Ownership and Regulation

Across the world, media and telecommunication systems are a key profit making area in modern capitalist societies. But the idea that it established "naturally" is rubbish. In the US and elsewhere, state policy is crucial to what emerges. It's true going back to 19th century America when the US Postal Service was the nation's earliest "telecommunication infrastructure." Publisher postal subsidies were instituted. They're important to this day, but very much favor media giants.

Government then was and now is an active player. The question is in whose interests and what values are encouraged. Seen this way, powerful special ones have corrupted US communication policy historically. Today, more than ever, and they constitute a "legitimacy crisis for capitalist media in a democratic society."

Earlier in the last century, "professional journalism" became the solution. It was to be nonpartisan, politically neutral and objective instead of representing the views of owners. It would also be produced by professionals trained to be neutral.

The result was tepid journalism reflecting elite opinions unthreatening to entrenched interests. By any standards, it's weak democracy or barely any at all. It then got worse.

Post-WW II, the US dominated nearly all global negotiations, including communication ones. Prior to the 1960s, colonial states had to accept whatever systems were imposed on them. After becoming independent, however, a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) campaign was established. But it went nowhere after the US and UK withdrew from UNESCO.

Globalists had other ideas, and they've blossomed since the 1980s. Neoliberalism and corporate globalization emerged and unleashed national and international policies favoring business. Markets were the solution to everything while unions, regulations, taxes, tariffs, public investment, and so forth were considered restraints of trade.

These ideas exploded in the 1990s - capitalism's golden age and a heyday for communication giants. After the Soviet Union collapsed and China embraced the market, it was open-season for vast business expansion. Globalization became the buzzword, and privatizing everything a universal solution for developing states. As a result, direct foreign investment rose dramatically along with a spectacular increase in international mergers and acquisitions. These amounted to under $100 billion in 1987. By 2000, they grew tenfold to $1.14 trillion. The world was being reconfigured into "a global market for goods and services (and) an international production system, complemented by an increasing global market for firms."

Giant communications companies were at its forefront. Before the 1980s and 1990s, their operations were mainly domestic, and in many countries state ministries controlled telecommunication monopolies. It changed and fast.

Neoliberal orthodoxy took over, WTO rules were established in January 1995, trade barriers came down, communications giants took advantage, and the US government backed their global expansion efforts. Then and now, their goal was a global communications and entertainment oligopoly controlled by a handful of international companies, mainly US-based. One estimate puts the market potential in the trillions of dollars annually.

Two distinct features characterize the vision:

-- dominant companies "moving across the planet at breakneck speed;" the US market is well-developed, so overseas represents the greatest potential and dominant media firms say they're "supranational entities" regardless of where they're home-based; and

-- consolidating into every market segment is the strategy; the guiding logic is also to get big fast or get swallowed up by a larger competitor; in the end, a mere handful of companies will be "end-game winners."

Today, nine giants dominate global media markets, and nearly all rank among the top 200 non-financial firms in the world. Five are US-based, and consider their power. Among them they own:

-- the major US film studies;

-- the US TV networks;

-- 80 - 85% of the global music market;

-- most satellite broadcasting worldwide;

-- all or part of most cable broadcasting systems;

-- a dominant portion of book and commercial magazine publishing;

-- all or part of most commercial US and worldwide cable TV channels; and

-- a big stake in European terrestrial TV; and more plus an endless appetite for the greatest possible scale; the idea is to spread costs across a large base, be able to outbid competitors, and maximize profits at the same time.

Structural changes in world advertising are also strongly linked to global media consolidation. Further, globalization depends on a commercial media system to market their wares worldwide. It, in turn, is partnered with a handful of "super-advertising agencies" dominating a $400 billion global industry and consolidating just as fast as media companies.

About 100 second tier players are also important. Among them - Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Thomson Reuters in the US and others around the world like Mexico's Televisa, Venezuela's Cisneros Group, London-based Pearson plc, and global publisher Reed Elsevier. These companies dominate their own national and regional markets and have extensive ties and joint ventures with the giants. Together, first and second tier operators control much of the world's media - from TV and radio to publishing, films, music, and so forth, and the entire system is still undergoing change because of continued consolidation.

These companies are in it together, but the race will determine who wins, so it's likely to end up with a small handful of very large finalists. As a result, the global media market is more a cartel than a competitive marketplace. The largest firms have similar dominant shareholders. They each own portions of the others. Their directorships interlock. The CEOs all know each other, are on a first name basis, and communicate regularly as they plot the future of their businesses.

First and second tier operators are also connected through their investment bankers - Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch among them. Financial houses, of course, are matchmakers and make multi-millions at their trade. For them, the more the better, and they had a heyday in the 1990s with deals worth hundreds of billions.

Media content also comes into play. At times it can be positive where media censorship is common. Overall, however, it subverts local culture when it interferes with profits. The "Hollywood juggernaut" concerns many countries as US film exports expand. Of the top 125 1999 grossing ones, nearly all were US produced, so it shows local audiences like them and more for sure are coming.

Music as well captured overseas markets with US recording artists getting 60% of their sales outside America in 1993, although it fell to 40% in 1998 as local music still has great appeal.

Overall, the combination of global media and neoliberalism is numbing. It reduces everything to entertainment and light fare and results in profound depoliticization. Case in point - 2008 America.

It's also the driver behind communication industry consolidation. It made it vast, quick, and got it accomplished in two phases:

-- from the mid-1980s to 2000 across industry segments; soaring equity valuations fueled it; as currency, it helped in selling debt instruments and getting generous loans; everyone in on the scheme got rich - lawyers, accountants, bankers, and especially CEOs whose compensation soared; and

-- a second phase followed the first; by 2001, the technology bubble burst; equity prices deflated, and a "dog-eat-dog" shakeout began.

Companies were enormously indebted. Consolidation came at a high price. Companies were reeling from debt. Some committed fraud to hide it. Write-offs became unprecedented with AOL Time Warner the most noteworthy example. After its market valuation plunged from $290 billion to $135 billion, the company took a $54 billion "impairment charge for goodwill" so shareholders would get stuck with the cost along with laid-off employees by the many thousands.

Global access to voice telephony was just as dramatic. Wired phone access accelerated, and mobile phone usage expanded from a tiny 1990 base to one billion users by 2002. In addition, as business expanded overseas so did telecommunication providers to service it. The FTC backed it. So did the IMF, World Bank, and new trade rules that smoothed the way to opening markets everywhere. In 1997, the WTO Agreement on Basic Telecommunications was established. It harmonized national operating frameworks, bound its 70 signatories to firm commitments, enforced them by a multilateral dispute settlement process, and greased the way for easy market penetration.

From 1984 (before WTO) to 1999, about $244 billion in state-owned systems were privatized - 90 of the 189 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) membership. In addition, by 2000, 25 countries agreed to allow majority foreign-owned carriers use their own controlled networks to provide international voice service.

Between 1990 and 2000, mergers and acquisitions volume skyrocketed - an estimated $1.616 trillion, and cross-border takeovers accounted for a large share of it. Including investments and service revenues, telecommunications expenditures totaled trillions of dollars. Investments were heavily debt-financed. Banks lent an estimated $890 billion. An additional $415 billion came from debt instruments, and $500 billion more from private equity and stock issuance.

At its peak, lucrative markets information-carrying over-capacity was stunning (along with neglect in others) with most of it built from 1996 to 2000 - millions of fiber-optic cable circuitry, underseas cable laid, and huge Internet investments for this burgeoning new technology.

Government partnered in the enterprise. It deferred to business and investor needs while neglecting overall social responsibilities and the nation's basic infrastructure - roads, airports, power plants, bridges, and so forth.

Until the bubble burst, investors were having a party and so were industry players. Rates favored business users. Workers lost collective bargaining rights. Downsizing following, and so did consumer quality of service. They were also victimized by scams and overbilling.

By the second half of 2000, the industry got its comeuppance. It was routed along with the dot-coms in a bloodletting they're still recovering from. Giant firms began reporting huge losses, and most people know the WorldCom story that got its founder and CEO Bernie Ebbers convicted of fraud and conspiracy and given a 25 year prison sentence. Along with Enron, it became the largest ever accounting scandal in US history.

Everything came up roses in the 1990s. The power of global capitalism seemed unstoppable. So even its opponents were resigned and largely quiescent. Ignored was that none of this expansion was natural. It took plenty of government help fueling it. It led to growing monopoly, higher prices, and poorer service so powerful business interests could profit at the public's expense. It's a familiar story going back generations, but the stakes keep getting greater and the harm caused even worse.

Add to it massive fraud, a corrupted business-government alliance, a historic public rip-off, and chalk it up to defrocked market miracles. Those of us committed to democracy have our work cut out for us. And in view of the media's importance, it's crucial to democratize it.

Communication "comprises the indispensable institutional basis for social deliberations - discussion, debate and decision making - beyond elite forums." Solutions aren't simple, and McChesney cites "two overarching principles" central to reform:

-- policy debates on these topics must be public; behind closed doors no longer cuts it; and

-- the public interest must be "reaccredited, strengthened, and enlarged;" to a large degree, it should also be protected from direct state control but not to the point of neglect.

Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times

At a time of technological wonders, communication breakthroughs, and near limitless online ways to stay informed, our society is largely depoliticized. Political involvement is weak, and it's evident when presidential and off-year elections are held. Routinely, half or less of the electorate turns out, and those most in need show up least often or not at all. It mocks the idea of democracy, but who can blame people when candidates are pre-selected, machines do our voting, candidates who lose are declared winners, and winners don't complain.

What's the cause? More than anything, the dominant media that's "become a significant antidemocratic force...." They're larger and more influential than ever. Combined they're the main information source for most people, and it's in their interest to marginalize the public to shut out any interference with their commercial aims. Profits uber alles are paramount. Concentrated power and hyper-commercialism are dominant, and when combined with the sorry state of today's journalism it's easy to understand the problem. Fixing it will be no easy task.

The "corporate media explosion" corresponded with the "implosion of public life," and McChesney calls it "the rich media/poor democracy paradox." He cites two components:

-- a political crisis; our hyper-commercialized corporate media system bodes ill for our politics and society; a crisis this great is totally off-limits for discussion; how and by whom the media is controlled, and how it's structured and subsidized should be at the heart of discussion; and

-- media ideology; its defense is indefensible - that markets "give the people what they want;" commercialized media are innately democratic; so is nonpartisan, objective professional journalism; new technologies are inherently democratic; and most important, the First Amendment gives media giants and advertisers unfettered free speech rights without public or government interference; this reasoning is no more credible than the discredited American exceptionalism notion, except in its negative sense.

Media concentration was most notable in the 1990s, but it was powerfully that way earlier. A handful of Hollywood studios dominated film production since the 1930s. Until cable and satellite TV, three networks dominated national television. Too few companies publish the popular magazines most people read, and from the 1960s to the 1980s, newspapers "underwent a spectacular consolidation."

Now it's much worse in the wake of the outrageous 1996 Telecommunications (giveaway) Act. Mega-media deals followed, and unless stopped, more are coming. Along with them, journalism keeps getting worse - in commercial and so-called "public" spaces. The reasons again are covered above - hyper-commercialism; PBS and NPR as corrupted as the giants; the endless quest for dominance and profits; professional reliance on "official sources;" labor's decline; the public shut out altogether; a lack of local journalism; and the dismal state of democracy overall.

Given the above, reporters need no direction - serve your owners or find new line of work. And when covering media political allies, it's de rigueur to show favoritism and "swift boat" the opposition. It violates fundamental journalistic canon, but at times of campaign frenzy it shows how pervasive the practice is. And the more concentrated media become, the worse it'll get.

The same holds for what's aired, to what degree, and what isn't. Mass antiwar and global justice protests barely get mentioned. But let celebrities like OJ Simpson or even Bill Clinton run afoul of the law (or be perceived that way) and it's wall-to-wall, round-the-clock headline news for days or longer.

Other major topics are also shut out - wars of aggression, a militarized society, hugely repressive laws, erasing social services, silencing dissent, rigging elections, pervasive corruption, the unprecedented wealth gap, and far too many more to list that all should top media discussions in a democratic society where journalists are supposed to hold the powerful to account. McChesney sums it up saying "In the crescendo of news media praise for the genius of contemporary capitalism, it is almost unthinkable to criticize the economy as deeply flawed." He quotes the Washington Post calling us a "perfect economy." Indeed for the rich and them alone.

Next, he discusses the Internet and calls its "rapid commercialization and expansion....the most striking media and communication development since January 1999." But alone, it's not magic and not a solution to media concentration and dominance. In the digital age, they'll continue to grow, partner and merge until we're left with a handful of mega-global giants with potential veto power over world governments. They pretty much have it now as well as large swaths of the Internet.

Worse still is that governments hand it to them - secretly, behind closed doors with no public involvement or press coverage. It shows since the late 1990s in the "shadowy history of how the Internet went from being a public-sector creation to being the province of Wall Street." Politicians from both parties were bought off to do it. Media influence remains dominant, but a battle royal looms to preserve Net Neutrality, and that topic is discussed below. But if media giants prevail, the Internet will be as commercialized as all other media components with the public left out in the cold.

There are more concerns as well - violating our privacy, pervasive spying, shutting out the poor, debasing democracy even more if the Internet is totally commercialized, charging whatever the market will bear, censoring content, and overall letting a potentially wondrous technology cost more than it benefits.

With this in mind, and the media giants insatiable quest for size and dominance, now's the time to demand the unmentionable - reactivate antitrust laws. Break up the giants along with other industry conglomerates. A century ago, it dismantled the Oil Trust and in the 1980s AT & T. Today, however, the only time trustbusting comes up is when one industry sector challenges another, never when it's in the public interest.

Nonetheless, as media enlarge, its public trust betrayal worsens, and the battle for Net Neutrality looms, anything is possible if a great enough groundswell gets behind it. Frances Fox Piven cites four historical times (in her book Challenging Authority) when people in America achieved the impossible. Conditions produced outrage enough over the status quo to erupt into a "disruptive protest movement." It shook the political establishment and brought about transforming social change - if only for a short time.

Media reform pressures are now building at a crucial moment in our history. McChesney put it this way in his 2007 book, Communication Revolution. We have "an unprecedented (rare window of opportunity in the next decade or two) to create a communication system that will be a powerful impetus (for) a more egalitarian, humane, sustainable, and creative (democratic) society." He calls it a "critical juncture" that won't remain open for long. It's a "historic moment" in a "fight we cannot afford to lose." In the digital age, "the corporate stranglehold over our media is very much in jeopardy.." Citizen actions have successfully challenged them. Important victories have been won on ownership rules, public broadcasting, and exposing fake news.

It now remains to enlarge grassroots efforts, take the fight to the next level, partner with other progressive campaigns, and force politicians to respond or be replaced. Media giants won't lay back and take it. They'll do all they can to quash reform efforts. So far they've had everything their way, and "the smart money says that the big guys (always) win." The "same smart money once said that communism" would last forever and apartheid couldn't end peacefully. It may turn out that the "smart money" isn't so smart. If enough people join the fight for media justice, "anything can happen."

The US Media Reform Movement Going Forward

Here McChesney examines the relationship of the political economy of media to the media reform movement and how the former provides understanding of the media's role in society. It's whether it "encourages or discourages social justice, open governance, and effective participatory democracy." Also vital is how "market structures, policies and subsidies, and organizational structures shape and determine the nature of the media system and media content."

For decades US media scholars have been at odds with their counterparts around the world. They assume a for-profit, advertising-supported corporate media is a given. Major reform against capitalism is unthinkable, "unrealistic, even preposterous" for a media system considered inviolable.

Over time, however, it became apparent that viewing a corporate-run media system as "natural" was erroneous. That's how it was at earlier key moments when the status quo was challenged - the 1900 - 1915 Progressive Era and again in the 1930s and 1940s.

In the last century's second half, media became a non-issue. Policymaking was corrupt and commercial interests increasingly dominant. At the same time (and like today), press coverage was nil. So when television emerged it was "gift-wrapped and hand-delivered to Wall Street and Madison Avenue without a shred of public awareness and participation." FM radio, cable and satellite TV got the same treatment.

Things hit rock bottom after 1980 at a time of Republican ascendence and neoliberal ideology's emergence. It took its toll on political economy of media scholarship. The field began declining and headed for obscurity. At the same time, "something was happening." Vital research was published and distinguished figures like Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman and Ben Bagdikian produced it. Their earlier media critiques are still cutting-edge and seminal.

They proved the crisis of media, how inhospitable it is to democracy and social justice, and how essential it is to change it. Progressive writers and publications also emerged as well as media reform movements. Groups like Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) were in the vanguard and are now seen as trailblazers for today's burgeoning efforts.

Critics at the time weren't just on the left. By the 1990s, things got so bad even some conservatives became alarmed. Ownership was increasingly concentrated, labor weak, journalistic standards dismal, and hyper-commercialism overpowering. Further, editorial staffs were downsized, bureaus closed, trivia got substituted for substance, and who could know what was coming.

McChesney cites the "tipping point" - early in the new millennium "when the connection was made between the nature of the media system and a variety of policies and subsidies that created it." Global justice protests erupted, media activism grew, and the notion that the US free market media system was preordained began to crumble. Back room deals designed it, and benefits cut both ways for the dealers. Politicians were rewarded for their efforts, and media giants got an open field to get bigger. Public interest was off the table.

The key moment came in 2003, and the issue was over new media ownership rules. At the time, it looked like a slam-dunk for Big Media. George Bush was president, Republicans controlled Congress, and three of the five FCC members were Bush appointees. Media giants smelled victory and went for the kill. In spring 2003, what could stop them.

An aroused public could and did, and it seemed to materialize out of thin air. Within a year, two million or more outraged people swamped the Powell FCC and Congress with protests over the proposed relaxation of ownership rules. McChesney calls it the moment when the "contemporary US media reform movement was born," and ever since mushroomed dramatically as millions in the country are fed up and won't take it any more.

They won victories, and the Media Access Project (MAP) got one of them. In June 2004, it prevailed in Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC when the Third Circuit Court threw out FCC's new rules. It ordered the agency to reconsider its ill-advised changes that if enacted would be an early Christmas for the giants. They included:

-- ending the cross-ownership ban that prohibits a company from owning a newspaper and TV or radio station in the same city;

-- eliminating the previous ban on radio/TV cross-ownership and replacing both types with a single set of cross-media limits;

-- a concocted "diversity index" to determine cross-media limits; it was based on assigning weights to the various media to determine if markets retained enough diversity; it would only consider ownership limits if by its formula there wasn't enough; it was pure deception because in major markets like New York the FCC gave equal or greater weighting to a community college radio station than The New York Times and local ABC affiliate;

-- cross-ownership limits only in smaller markets; in ones with eight or more TV stations, proposed changes would have no cross-ownership newspaper, TV and radio station restrictions;

-- a company would be able to own two TV and six radio stations in the same market if at least 20 "independently owned media voices" remained after a merger; if only 10 remained, ownership would be limited to two TV and four radio stations; and

-- redefining National Market Share to mean the total number of households company TV stations reach and raising the allowable ownership ceiling from 35 to 45%; a 39% compromise was reached to accommodate News Corp. and Viacom; they already exceeded the allowable limit, so the deal let them keep their stations.

Down but not out, FCC tried again last year under new chairman Kevin Martin. It proposed similar kinds of loose ownership rules. Unleashed a wave of activist protests in response. Members of Congress from both parties joined in. Martin ignored them, and last December 18 pushed through a 3 to 2 party-line win.

Here's where things now stand beyond the timeline of McChesney's book. On April 24, the Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously for a "resolution of disapproval" to block the FCC's December 18 decision. To take effect, it must pass the full Senate and did in a historic May 15 vote - by a near-unanimous voice vote showing strong bipartisan support. Republicans and Democrats are united on this issue (so far), especially in an election year when mass constituency opposition is hard to ignore. Unsurprisingly, the Bush administration threatened a veto. Hopefully it won't matter because too many in Congress feel otherwise.

The issue is gaining traction in the House as well with two Net Neutrality bills for consideration. On May 6, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008 was introduced (HR 5353). It's to "establish broadband policy and direct the (FCC) to conduct proceeding and public broadband summits to assess competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice issues relating to broadband internet access services, and for other purposes." It also amends the Communications Act of 1934.

On May 8, the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (HR 5994) was introduced. It requires that ISPs operate and interconnect with other network providers in a nondiscriminatory way. It applies to content, applications and services, and establishes antitrust measures for anticompetitive practices.

It now remains to be seen how House and Senate legislation turns out, what final forms they take, how the White House responds, and whether there's enough support in Congress to override vetoes. Current efforts show promise, and activists hope sentiment is turning their way. In time, we'll know.

Back in December 2002, McChesney co-founded the media reform group Free Press and serves as its president. In 2003, it started off with a few staffers and now has 35 and a membership approaching 400,000 and growing. In five years, Free Press became the largest media reform group in the country, but it's joined by dozens of others. lists 165, and two dozen formed the Media & Democracy Coalition in 2005. In addition, local media reform initiatives are emerging throughout the country with distinguishing characteristics:

-- media concentration is key and efforts to reverse it are crucial; so is the battle to preserve Network Neutrality, expose and end fake news, protect and reinvigorate public and community noncommercial broadcasting, and influence the course of the digital revolution democratically;

-- making media policy a political issue; open it to public debate; make sure people know there's nothing "natural" about the current system, and that they have a right to participate in policy deliberations;

-- media reform groups are linked to independent media creation efforts; they've exploded online; media reform, activism and independent media "rise and fall together;"

-- for decades, the US was a media activism laggard; now it's a leader, but its future remains undetermined; much depends on the success of the political left; so far it's "weak and largely inchoate;" the bottom line is whether people or corporations will control communication, and that leads to the larger question of who should direct society and what kind will emerge; according to McChesney, at some point ahead, we're heading for "a direct confrontation with capital," and the outcome will determine it.

Millions know what's at stake, and what's vital for a free and open society. Today, we're light years from it. That no longer can be tolerated, but it won't happen without systemic media reform. McChesney, Free Press, FAIR, dozens of other media initiatives, and growing numbers around the country, are more engaged than ever for it. McChesney calls it "our moment in the sun, our golden opportunity," and for media reformers, activists, progressives of all stripes, scholars, political economists of media, and all of the above like himself "we must seize it." Indeed we must. There's no turning back now.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM to 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. Programs are also archived for easy listening.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Robert McChesney's The Political Economy of Media - Part I

Robert McChesney's The Political Economy of Media (Part I) - by Stephen Lendman

Robert McChesney is a leading media scholar, critic, activist, and the nation's most prominent researcher and writer on US media history, its policy and practice. He's also University of Illinois Research Professor in the Institute of Communications Research and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. UI is lucky to have him, and he says there's "no better university in the United States to do critical communication research."

McChesney also co-founded the Illinois Initiative on Global Information and Communication Policy in 2002. He hosts a popular weekly radio program called Media Matters on WILL-AM radio (available online), and is the 2002 co-founder and president of the growing Free Press media reform advocacy group -

McChesney and Free Press want to democratize the media and increase public participation in it. Doing it involves challenging media concentration, protecting Net Neutrality, and supporting the kinds of reforms highlighted at the annual National Conference for Media Reform.

McChesney's work is devoted to it. He also "concentrates on the history and political economy of communication (by) emphasizing the role media play in democratic and capitalist societies" where the primary goal is profits, not the public interest.

McChesney speaks frequently on these issues, and has authored or edited 17 books on them. They include Rich Media, Poor Democracy, the award-winning Telecommunications, Mass Media and Democracy, and his newest book and subject of this review, The Political Economy of Media: enduring issues, emerging dilemmas. He calls it "the companion volume" to his 2007 book, Communication Revolution: Critical Junctures and the Future of Media.

McChesney is today's most notable media scholar and critic. Whatever he writes merits reading. This book is a compilation of his best political economy of media work in the past two decades. It contains 23 separate offerings under three topic headings - Journalism, Critical Studies, and Politics and Media Reform. Issues discussed include:

-- the problem of journalism;

-- a century of radical US media criticism;

-- telling the truth at a moment of truth about the invasion and occupation of Iraq;

-- journalism - a look back and ahead;

-- battling for the US airwaves early on;

-- media sports coverage;

-- public broadcasting in the digital age;

-- the commercial tidal wave;

-- the new economy - myth and reality;

-- the political economy of international communication;

-- the Internet

-- US left and media politics;

-- rich media, poor democracy;

-- the escalating war against corporate media;

-- US media reform going forward, and more.

Most content was previously published in journals or as book chapters in anthologies. Most have never appeared in book form before, so may be largely unknown to readers. Three offerings are new and were written specifically for this book. Combined, the material is timeless, cutting-edge and must read on the most vital issue of this or any other time - the state of the media and its importance as a vital information source and fundamental prerequisite for democracy. McChesney quotes James Madison saying:

"A popular government, without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives."

Today, its mostly from the media, mainly television, and therein lies the problem. Democracy requires a free, open and vibrant media. It, in turn, needs democracy. The "central question" McChesney poses is whether "the media system....promote(s) or undermine(s) democratic institutions and practices. Are media a force for social justice or oligarchy?"

The political economy of the media is committed to enhancing democracy. It first arose in the 1930s and 1940s, blossomed again in the 1960s and 1970s, is often associated with the political left, and that's a key reason for its decline in the past few decades. Today, the media is in utter disrepair, totally corrupted, controlled by big money, and unconditionally backed by Democrats and Republicans to serve state and capital interests. "We the people" are nowhere in sight, and that has to change.

Scholar/activists like McChesney aim to do it. The Political Economy of Media is his latest effort, and in it he highlights 13 "enduring issues:"

-- journalism and its relationship to democracy;

-- understanding political, commercial and private propaganda;

-- commercial media and politicalization of society;

-- media's relationship to inequality - economic, racial, gender, and so forth;

-- media's relationship to US foreign policy, militarism and the imperial state;

-- the importance and role of advertising;

-- the communication policy making process;

-- telecommunication policies, regulations or lack of them;

-- communication's relationship to global and contemporary capitalism and its predatory nature;

-- commercialism's impact on culture and society;

-- public radio and broadcasting; how they've been co-opted and corrupted; and the emergence and importance of alternative media institutions and systems;

-- the relationship of technology to media, politics and society and importance of the digital revolution; and

-- the relationship of media to popular social movements, including a growing force for real media reform.

Along with "enduring issues," McChesney covers "emerging dilemmas" in the wake of neoliberalism's 1980s emergence, its 1990s dominance, the growth of a global economy, and the blossoming digital communication revolution.

At a time government partners with business, profits are the be all and end all, markets we're told work best so let them, taxing the rich is sinful, big government bad, giveaways to the people unacceptable, inequality good, competition better, and best of all is socialism for the wealthy and free market capitalism for the rest of us - aka, the law of the jungle.

By the new millennium, the "bankruptcy and contradictions" of neoliberal dogma lay exposed. Global justice eruptions occurred, became quiescent after 9/11, but still bubble below the surface and may explode anywhere any time. Moreover, given the state of things, "the political economy of media has been rejuvenated." There's a growing media reform movement. In it are scholars, activists, students, and ordinary people comprising "one of the striking developments of our time."

Neoliberalism is discredited. It violates essential human desires and needs. It's beyond repair, and it inspired "the idea of imagining a more humane and democratic social order." It's showing up in places like Venezuela. Political economists of media have a role in spreading it. Communication systems are vital to do it, and digital age technology potentially can make it explode. Assuring Net Neutrality is key, but alone not enough.

Giant telecommunications and cable companies want to prevent it. They aim to privatize the Internet, charge big for everything, and control its content. The issue remains unresolved, but the public can't afford to lose this one because real democracy depends on a free and open media.

More policy battles remain as well and will become "more pronounced in the digital era." McChesney cites three:

-- what passes today for journalism; it's "in a deep and prolonged crisis (because of) corporate cutbacks and erosion of standards;"

-- hyper-commercialism is getting more hyper; it's all-pervasive; derailing it is crucial; the public's role vital; and

-- digital revolution technology cuts both ways; it empowers people, yet entraps them as well; it makes everyone vulnerable to surveillance; increasingly, there's nowhere left to hide.

Key is making digital technology work for, not against us and keeping private for-profit interests from controlling it. The "most important work of the political economy of media" is thus: "understanding and navigating the central relationship of communication to the broader economy and political system." Ours is based on markets uber alles. It's a failed ideology, yet no fit topic for open and public discussion. That has to change, and barriers have to come down to show how predatory capitalism really is, how harmful it is to the greater good, and what humane alternatives exist. It can only be through a free and open mass media. Communication is essential, and "political economists of media (are) at the heart" of using it constructively and justly.

McChesney's book is long, detailed, crystal clear in its message, essential to read in total, and kept as a key reference guide to the media's problems and how to fix them. This review covers a sampling of the book's contents, selective offerings in it. It's to energize readers to get the book and discover it all.

The Problem of Journalism

Real democracy needs superior journalism to "comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable," and function as a "rigorous watchdog (over) those in power." Today in the mainstream, not a shred of it exists, but it wasn't always that way.

Politically neutral, nonpartisan, professional or objective journalism was unthinkable in the republic's first few generations. Journalism's job was to inform, persuade, and, yet be highly partisan by providing a wide range of opinions. At the same time, newspaper publishing changed "from being primarily political to being primarily commercial" because of growing advertising revenues. Competition flourished, cities like St. Louis had at least 10 dailies until the late 19th century, and they represented their owners' politics.

The post-Restruction Gilded Age changed things. Concentrated wealth was its hallmark, the press became less competitive, commercialism flourished, and corruption followed along with yellow journalistic sensationalism to generate sales. At the same time, socialists, feminists, abolitionists, trade unionists and various radical types avoided the mainstream and established their own media to advance their interests.

From the Gilded Age's onset through the early 20th century Progressive Era, "an institutional sea change transpired in US media." Newspapers consolidated into fewer chains in fewer hands, and most communities ended up with one or two dailies. At the same time, the "dissident press" lost much of its following and influence. It created a crisis in early 20th century journalism.

Yet, during the Progressive Era, muckraking journalism proliferated to a degree never again equalled. Reformers like Robert LaFollete called the commercial press destructive to democracy, and historian Henry Adams (grandson and great grandson of two former presidents) was unsparing in his criticism. He said "The press is the hired agent of a moneyed system, set up for no other reason than to tell lies where the interests are concerned."

The era produced and inspired critics like Upton Sinclair. He produced cutting-edge works like The Jungle taking on meatpacking plant abuses and The Brass Check that was "the first great systematic critique of....capitalist journalism." Other great figures were George Seldes who produced scathing media critiques, IF Stone, Lincoln Steffens, and a host of notables mostly unknown and unread today.

Professional journalism came of age at this time with schools established to "train a cadre professional editors and reporters." They were taught to "sublimate their own values," produce "neutral and unbiased copy," and (likely) greater revenues for publishers.

In fact, "neutral" content was a non-starter. As journalism evolved in the country, publishers wanted their values expressed. It's all about business and profits, and journalists had to internalize these ideas to stay employed. As a result, "three deep-seated biases" are in the "professional code," and they're more prominent than ever today:

-- professional journalists regard whatever government, business, or other prominent figures say or do as legitimate news;

-- conflicting sources are ignored so power figures set the agenda and are uncontested; journalists become stenographers to them, and a free press is "guaranteed only to those who own one;"

-- most important, journalism reflects the views and aims of the ruing class; "we the people" are nowhere in sight.

It means fiction substitutes for fact, news is carefully "filtered," dissent marginalized, and supporting the powerful substitutes for full and accurate reporting. As a result, aggressive wars are called liberating ones, civil liberties are suppressed for our own good, patriotism means going along with crimes of state, and vast corporate malfeasance becomes just a few bad apples.

Professional journalism in the US, "hit its high-water mark....from the 1950s into the 1970s, but it was lots different from today. We had Cronkite then. Now it's Couric, and that's one part of a greater problem. But even in its "golden age," owners' interests came first. A "virtual Sicilian code of silence" protected the wealthy and powerful. Even so, a few good journalists stood out and still do, but they don't show up often and never on the New York Times' front page or any other major broadsheet. As for television, media giants no longer even pretend to provide real journalism. We've sunk that low in an age of technological wonders, but none used for the greater good. The more channels we get, the less there is to watch - less of any worth, that is.

In the 20th century's early decades, media owners and journalists vied to shape what content was permitted. By mid-century, however, the battle was over. Media giants prevailed. They consolidated and grew more dominant, and the idea of giving news divisions more autonomy made increasingly less sense. Bottom line considerations took over, and journalism, or what passes for it, "became subjected to (increasing) commercial regimentation."

New technologies emerged. Cable and satellite TV arrived, and with them the proliferation of channels. A handful carry round-the-clock news. The hours have to be filled, but what passes for information is sensationalist pseudo-journalism and fluff. Truth is distorted or omitted. Juiced-up reports on murder, mayhem, mishaps, and celebrity gossip predominate, and entertainers and low-paid teleprompter readers impersonate news people.

Target audiences are middle and upper class earners. In contrast, workers and the poor are left out. Little or no reporting shows up on their issues, but business programming has proliferated. Regrettably, it hasn't subjected commercial interests to hard scrutiny. Instead, reporters are paid touts, and their work is "rah-rah capitalism," and it "teem(s) with reverence for the accumulation of wealth." It let 2001 and 2002 corporate scandals go unreported until they got too big to ignore. They bilked investors of multi-billions. Many thousands lost jobs, pensions and benefits, but a mere handful of fraudsters were held to account. The media "missed the developing story in toto."

The alternative press and Ralph Nader spotted trouble in the mid-1990s. It developed into a major news story and an enormous political scandal with the president and vice-president linked by their association with Enron. Teapot Dome and Watergate made heads roll. This one didn't lay a glove on politicians because Democrats were as tainted as Republicans so they laid low.

The media happily obliged. They're giant businesses and members in good standing in the corporate community with interlocking interests and shared political values. In addition, a number of their executives were investigated for fraud. They included Disney's Michael Eisner, News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch, Charter Communications, Vivendi Universal, AOL Time Warner for cooking its books, and Adelphi Communications for "orchestrating one of the largest frauds to take place at a US public company." At the end of an epic scandal, corporations got off with "bloodied noses and sullied reputations, but little more."

Consider a "broader political-economic market news to target audiences." In a largely depoliticized society, there's less demand for political journalism and every incentive for professional journalists to avoid controversy. Real reporting is dumbed down. Trivia substitutes for hard news, and local TV stations have been discontinuing news programming altogether. Walter Cronkite wonders if democracy can "even survive."

It's in this climate that editorial budgets are lowballed. Everything has to be profit-justified, and surveys show journalists are "a grumpy lot" because of bottom line pressures delivering low pay, no raises, job insecurity, and pretty grim expectations for their future prospects. The growth of media giants makes it worse. Consolidation lets companies spread their editorial budgets across different media so one reporter can do the same job for a newspaper, web site, TV and radio station or wherever else owners' directives demand.

A striking development is the rise of the PR industry. It's a cheap substitute for real news. All of it is hype and fake. Its content for a corporate and government clientele, and it comes in the form of "slick press releases, paid-for experts....bogus citizens groups, canned new events," and surveys show this amounts to from 40 to 70% of what passes for "news." But the public thinks it's real.

Except in times of war, international coverage also disappears. So has investigative journalism. It was once the "hallmark of feisty 'Fourth Estate' journalism in a free society." Now it's almost extinct and for the same reason overseas reporting is gone - it's expensive, and bottom-line considerations won't tolerate it.

With real journalism absent and a culture committed to commercialism, truth is out the window. Officials can lie with impunity. So can business fraudsters, and McChesney calls it "a scoundrel's paradise." Professional standards are relaxed, and it forces journalists to shape stories for their owners and advertisers. Today, news departments "cooperate with advertisers to co-promote events and use advertisers as experts in stories." It comes in two forms:

-- direct commercial penetration of news; it corrupts its integrity; is in the form of bribes to write stories, host commercial events, and overall act as a proxy for an advertiser and be well paid for it; and

-- journalists reporting favorably on their owners' commercial operations, such as ABC News promoting a Disney film or NBC News selling the Winter Olympics; this proliferates; it's called "synergy; for journalists with integrity it's "poison."

Consider another issue - the so-called "liberal media" bias. It's bogus but resonates because hard right flacks push it. Their critique is fourfold and largely bogus:

-- journalists have "decisive power;" owners and advertisers are marginalized;

-- journalists (by their nature) are political liberals;

-- journalists use their position to advance liberal ideas; and

-- objective journalism would report conservative views.

The first and last points especially are rubbish. Successful journalists internalize their owners' values. Bosses have power, journalists don't. On issues where journalists lean left, it's where bottom-line considerations aren't affected - women's, gay, lesbian and abortion rights, civil liberties, affirmative action, and so forth. Overall, journalists are pro-business, and why not. Successful ones get good salaries and benefits, and enjoy the fruits of their celebrity.

So how can the bashing go on? Because it resonates and has "tremendous emotional power...." It began in the 1970s. It was an effort to tilt news rightward. It aimed to foster conservative values, train a cadre of appararatchiks, establish conservative think tanks, and hammer all anti-conservative coverage as "liberal" bias.

It's works and makes news reporting more sympathetic to business and right wing politics. Republicans got more powerful. Democrats partnered with them. Journalists play ball with their bosses, and those most pro-business are held in highest regard. The combination of "conservative ideology and commercialized, depoliticized journalism" defines the problem of the media today.

How to Think About Journalism: Looking Backward, Going Forward

American journalism has been sinking for decades. Now it's in crisis. The stakes couldn't be higher. Without viable journalism, democracy is impossible, tyranny takes over and when full-blown needs revolutionary disruption to uproot. Constructive action is needed now, and "the political economy of media is uniquely positioned to provide" it.

The starting point - democratic journalism to hold those in power (and wannabes) accountable. It must separate truth from lies and provide a wide range of informed opinions on the cutting-edge issues of our times. By this standard, today's dominant media fails, and that's putting it mildly.

Journalism is co-opted and corrupted. Commercialism gutted it. Investigative journalism is a memory. Political and international reporting no longer exist. The same is true for local reporting, and all that's left is "the absurd horse race" campaign coverage of endless polls and he said, she said along with pseudo-journalistic celebrity features and the rest. For the most part, it's impossible getting real news and information in the mainstream.

The media keeps sinking lower. We've been heading there for decades, but things came to a head post-9/11. The "war on terror" began. Wars without end followed, and the dominant media hyped them. They were hawkish and giddy championing aggressive wars, international law violations, repressive legislation, and at the same time silencing dissent.

Anti-war became anti-American, and nowhere was the trumpeting greater or with more effect than on The New Times front page. Its star reporter Judith Miller led the charge. She'll forever be remembered as lead stenographer to power. Without her headlined coverage (little more than Pentagon and administration handouts), there might not have been an Iraq war, even though she had plenty of help selling it.

"For a press system, (war reporting) is its moment of truth." In 2002, 2003 to the present, it was nowhere in sight. In reporting on the war, its run-up and current occupation, the major media sunk to its lowest ever depth. They flacked the pro-war line, still support it unconditionally, and tout the idea that America is benevolent and our intentions honorable.

The notion is preposterous, indefensible and disastrous. And professional journalism is to blame. It's in crisis, and it's important to ask why. The industry cites the Internet, its liberating power, unleashing of new competition, and taking away advertisers. Their solution - cut budgets, report less, and consolidate for even greater size and dominance. Rubbish.

Journalistic standards were in disrepair long before the Internet and for reasons discussed above - internalizing media owners' commercial values, or else. It means a little autonomy is allowed but increasingly less as the giants got bigger. They got a huge boost with the passage of the monstrous 1996 Telecommunications Act. It was grand theft media, a colossal giveaway, and a major piece of anti-consumer legislation hugely detrimental to the public interest. It let broadcast giants own twice as many local TV stations as before. It was ever sweeter for radio with all national limits on station ownership removed and greater local market penetration also allowed. Current TV station owners were handed new digital television broadcast spectrum, and cable companies got the right to increase their monopoly positions. Media and telecom giants were winners. Consumers and working journalists lost out.

Professional journalism's "core problem" became more pronounced - relying on "official sources" as legitimate news, blocking out dissent, leaving out the public altogether, and relying more than ever on fake PR releases without checking their truth.

Given the state of crisis, alternatives are needed, and critics "whose analysis (have) been on the mark the longest" are the ones to look to for answers. They've deconstructed the current system, understand how it's broken, and know what's needed to fix it. For starters, structure matters. So do institutions. They shape media content everywhere. They transmit values that become internalized and a requirement to rise to the top, or even stay employed.

From political economy of media research, McChesney cites four "propositions to guide understanding, scholarship, and action:"

-- media systems aren't "natural" or "inevitable;" they result from explicit policies and subsidies; no mandate says only for-profit ones are allowed; a professional journalism "core principle" is for a public service "safe the swamp of commercialism;"

-- the First Amendment isn't to grant special favors to communication sector investors alone; a strong argument can be made for government to structure the media; Supreme Court decisions don't equate a free press with commercialism; they support the state's right and duty to make a viable free press possible; without it, "the entire constitutional process" fails;

-- the dominant US media system is for-profit, but it's not a free market system; the media giants get enormous direct and indirect subsidies amounting to many hundreds of billions of dollars; they cut both ways; they can be beneficial when they serve the greater good; for decades, rarely have any been directed that way;

-- structuring the media should be over subsidy and policy choices, what institutions they'll support, and what values they'll encourage and promote; over time, the process grew more undemocratic; the public is completely left out; the FCC is the industry's handmaiden; and the idea that free markets give people what they want is rubbish.

Consider the evidence. Communication and technology firms spend more on lobbying than any other sector or group. The largest firms assign a lobbyist to each important congressional committee member. They also spend millions in campaign contributions and for PR. Combine this with the "golden revolving door." Key government officials, aides and FCC members move on to lucrative private sector jobs as reward for their considerations while in government.

Here's more evidence:

-- the indefensible "immaculate conception" notion that the US media system arose "naturally;" in fact, powerful figures created it for commercial interests; and

-- the amount of public subsidies debunks the "free market" myth; consider the term "deregulation" as well; in communications, it's pure propaganda for an industry with less, not more competition; under it, great journalism is impossible; the system has to be overhauled, and doing it will take enlightened government policies in a much different operating environment.

What's needed is a "range of structures that can provide for the information needs of the people (with) as much openness, freedom, and diversity as possible. That is freedom of the press."

More than ever today, US history is clear. We need a journalism-producing sector "walled off from corporate and commercial pressures." Government has to be involved. It's most important for the Internet and digital revolution. Left to market forces, they'll be co-opted for profit. Communication giants will control it, charge to the max, censor it, invade our privacy, spy on us, and carpet bomb us with commercialized everything. McChesney is bluntly realistic. Unless we take proactive steps and stop this, "we may come to regret the day the computer was invented."

Consider other policy considerations as well. For the Internet to provide free speech and a free press, "it has to be ubiquitous, high speed, and inexpensive." Much like other essentials, we need broadband access "as a civil right" for everyone - for political, cultural and economic reasons. Other developed countries are way ahead of us. It's shameful and must change. Telecom giants won't do it. Government has to. It has to quash industry efforts to privatize the Internet, preserve Network Neutrality, keep the Internet open and free, and McChesney puts it this way. "The future of a free press (depends on) ubiquitous, inexpensive, and super-fast Internet access as well as Network Neutrality."

But that alone won't solve journalism's crisis. It'll take resources and institutional support. The Internet is wondrous, but not magic. It won't make communication giants amenable to change or transform bad journalism to what serves the public interest. Even so, the blogosphere has potential. Citizen journalism is flourishing. Over time it can increase, and with public support can flourish. But it won't replace full-time professional journalists and the vast audiences they reach. And it's equally important to have competing newsrooms, far more than now operate. The problems are great. No magic bullet will solve them, but McChesney offers suggestions. Besides what's above, he lists:

-- policies that "more aggressively shape the media system" - antitrust and communication laws for more diverse ownership; 19th century-style postal subsidies to encourage a broader range of publications; and most important a viable nonprofit, noncommercial real public and community access broadcasting, not the government and corporate-controlled kind from NPR and PBS;

-- the problem of the Internet allowing Americans "to construct a personalized media world;" it leads to "group polarization" - sharing common experiences selectively, becoming less informed, respectful and more distrusting of outsiders; journalism is key for Americans for a viable democracy; public media provide it best, and they may influence commercial areas;

-- a more radical solution - policies that encourage local and employee ownership, and/or community daily newspaper ownership; within a generation, they'll be largely digital and indistinguishable from other media forms.

McChesney cites an imperative - to "conduct research on alternative policies and structures (to) generate journalism and quality media content." Over a decade ago, a $100 tax rebate idea was proposed. It would let people donate it to any nonprofit news medium choice and could potentially raise hundreds of billions of dollars. It was considered radical then, but no longer. It could launch a real alternative media with public benefits not now available. It would also be an antidote to what McChesney calls "a steady diet of (mainstream) crap" that's dulled the public appetite for great journalism.

His criticism doesn't repudiate the political economy of media. It completes it and its analysis of journalism. On one side are the firms, owners, labor practices, market structures, policies, occupational codes, and subsidies. Its opposite examines journalism as a whole, the media system as well, and how they interact with broad social and economic relations in society. Where inequality exists, depoliticization is encouraged by those on top.

The political economy of media requires enhancing participatory democracy. In turn, it needs great journalism and media systems. An informed and engaged citizenry as well. Journalism needs democracy, and the reverse is true. They also depend on "media reform and broader movements for social justice (that will) rise and fall together."

More on The Political Economy of Media follows in Part II. Watch for it soon on this web site.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM to 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Supreme Court, Habeas, John Yoo and Murdoch's Wall Street Journal

The Supreme Court, Habeas, John Yoo and Murdoch's Wall Street Journal - by Stephen Lendman

Rupert Murdoch has a corrosive effect on whatever he touches, and this writer once tangled with him in an article called Lies, Damn Lies and the Murdoch Empire. Former Chicago columnist Mike Royko also did and remarked that "no self-respecting fish would (want to be) wrapped in a Murdock paper....His goal (isn't) quality journalism (it's) vast power, political power."

Even Murdoch's private joke is that "God doesn't trust (him) in the dark." Nor should anyone ever, including Wall Street Journal readers. They've seen the paper's quality deteriorate since he took over, cleaned house, installed his own people in key positions, and now runs it like his other enterprises. He's boss, what he says goes, including on editorial policy after he promised its former owner he'd keep hands off.

It shows more than ever on the Journal's opinion page, yet after Murdoch bought Dow Jones last August, Time magazine asked "Is the Wall Street Journal's editorial page really 'right-wing?' " It stated that "an editorial page should have a strong point of view (and) for years (and presumably now it's) been one of the Journal page's great strengths." No disagreement from its hard right faithful who want their views expressed, never mind truth and accuracy, let alone honor and respect for the law.

It showed up on June 17 in a John Yoo op-ed feature. He's a tenured UC Berkeley professor (since 1999) teaching aspiring lawyers constitutional law at the Boalt Hall School of Law on campus. To the university's embarrassment and shame, some, with good reason, call him "the torture professor," and at least since fall 2005 have denounced him, demanded he be fired, protested inside and outside his classroom, and were arrested as a result.

Yoo is a neocon ideologue and a member of the hard right Federalist Society that espouses views any despot would love. It's for rolling back civil liberties; ending New Deal social policies; denying women reproductive choice; quashing government regulations, labor rights, and environmental protections; subverting justice in defense of privilege; and for former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Yoo (from 2001 - 2003) even more. He believes presidential war powers grant the executive:

-- unlimited authority to ignore international and constitutional law;

-- the right to torture and assault "enemy combatant"

-- deny them habeas, due process, and consign them to "Stalinist show trial" justice in what law professor Francis Boyle calls "Gitmo Kargaroo Courts;"

-- dismiss the fact that doing so violates international law; is a war crime under the Laws of War, Geneva, the Army's own Field Manual 27-10 and other statutes;

-- bypass Congress and the courts in the process;

-- deceive them along with the public; and

-- justify virtually anything (including "unilateral presidential warmaking") to defend "national security," as so stated in his 2005 book, The Powers of War and Peace and in (at least two) memos dated August 2, 2002 and March 18, 2003; he, David Addington (Cheney's legal counsel), and then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales wrote them; Jay Bybee, now a Bush-appointed federal judge, also signed them making him equally culpable.

On April 1, Yoo's infamous (81 page) 2003 one was made public. Days later, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged UC Berkeley to fire him. They also called for his disbarment and prosecution for war crimes. Hundreds of others in the country and around the world share similar views about a man who shames UC Berkeley, has no business teaching constitutional or any other law, and is guilty of high crimes, misdemeanors, and other abuses of the rule of law he disdains.

NLG President Marjorie Cohn, international law expert Francis Boyle, CCR President Michael Ratner and others point out that officials like Yoo are guilty of grievous war and other crimes under:

-- the US Constitution;

-- US War Crimes Act;

-- Geneva Conventions;

-- UN Charter;

-- UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;

-- Nuremberg Principles; and

-- various other statutes that were (and still are) repeatedly violated with impunity by Yoo (earlier) and many other past and present Bush administration officials.

Yet there was Yoo on June 17 given prime, near-half page space on the Journal's opinion page to state his views on the important June 12 Supreme Court's harsh rebuke of administration policy. It was in its Boumediene v. Bush (No. 06-1195) 5-4 ruling that Guantanamo detainees (most of whom have never been charged and are innocent) may challenge their detention in US courts in defiance of the 2006 Military Commissions Act - an unconstitutional October 2006 law empowering the administration and Pentagon (in military tribunals) to deny habeas, due process, and act as accuser, trial judge and executioner with no right of appeal and no chance for judicial fairness.

Yoo objected in his piece titled "The Supreme Court Goes to War," in which he rails against the rule of law the way he did as Deputy Assistant Attorney General and likely does in his classroom. He called the Court ruling "judicial imperialism of the highest order," and stated: "The only hope for reigning in the judiciary is the November election (when) the next president will be in a position to appoint a new Court that can reverse the damage done to the nation's security" - by which he means replacing retiring Justices with more extremist ones.

He continued saying "out the window went precedent... Until Boumediene, the Supreme Court had never allowed an alien who was captured fighting against the challenge his detention (in US courts)." Unmentioned is that nearly all detainees fall outside this classification. They were lawlessly and randomly seized; turned in for bounty; nearly all are innocent victims; yet have been isolated, imprisoned, denied counsel or an inadequate amount of it, and tortured in violation of international and domestic law. Some have died, been killed or committed suicide as a result.

Granting them habeas rights is their best chance for justice long denied, and it can't come a moment too soon. Calling Guantanamo detainees "al Qaeda terrorists" has no basis in fact. Most have been held for years without charge, under the dubious Geneva-superceded category of "unlawful enemy combatant." They're denied their human rights and humanity, and had little chance until now for judicial fairness. Yoo played a major role in the process. He insists it be continued, and got prominent op-ed space for his views - outlandish ones against the rule of law but championed by the likes of Murdoch.

He goes on saying: "Boumediene....also ignored the Constitution's structure (granting) all war decisions to the president and Congress." It twice before (in 2004 and 2006) "extend(ed) its reach to (unproved) 'al Qaeda terrorists' at Guantanamo...." Each time Congress "overruled (it to establish) its own procedures for the appeal of detentions. Incredibly....five Justices have defied the 'considered judgment' of the president and Congress for a third time (to grant) 'al Qaeda terrorists' the exact same rights as American citizens to a day in civilian court."

Unmentioned is Jose Padilla's ordeal - a US citizen unlawfully held for nearly four years in military and civilian confinement as an "enemy combatant." Charges against him were bogus and unjustifiable, yet he was denied due process, tortured, brutalized and dehumanized in solitary confinement. They destroyed him by turning his mind to mush, but it wasn't enough. Last January, he was sentenced to 17 years, four months in a police state show trial for his "role" in a "conspiracy" to help "Islamic jihadists" - a concocted scheme to imprison and destroy him further on the pretext of protecting "national security." Chalk up another win for injustice along with all the many others besides.

But it's not how Yoo sees it in his op-ed comments. In an astonishing inversion of truth, he claims "Congress gave Guantanamo (detainees) more rights than any prisoners of war (which they're not), in any war, ever." And he continues by accusing the Justices of "intrud(ing) into the conduct of war....jury-rig(ing) a process (that) second-guesses our soldiers and intelligence agents in the field (and may force them to give 'prisoners') some kind of Miranda-style warning upon capture."

There's more. Boumediene "is only a hop, skip and a jump from judges second-guessing whether someone is an enemy to second-guessing whether a soldier should have aimed and fired at him." He goes on, but you get the point. Yoo calls Boumediene a "brazen power grab (with Justices) act(ing) like we are no longer at war." Like we're back to the "business-as-usual attitude that characterized US antiterrorism policy up to September 10, 2001."

It was never kind and gentle, but consider its post-9/11 harshness from what Lawrence Wilkerson told a June 18 House Subcommittee on Civil Rights hearing on torture. He's Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff (2001-2005), and his testimony was damning. He told Subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler that 108 detainees died in US custody, around 27 were declared homicides, and it "start(ed) as early as December 2001 in Afghanistan."

And that's besides the February 2006 Human Rights First report of hundreds of deaths in US custody, around 34 confirmed or suspected homicides, including at least eight from torture and likely more. Because of command responsibility cover-up, lax investigation, poor record keeping, and little attempt to treat these crimes seriously, few prosecutions occurred, and the stiffest penalty for any was five months in jail. None of this was in Yoo's piece nor any sense of remorse, and in his judgment they likely got what was they deserved.

Others share Yoo's views and get ample mainstream space and air time to present them. Yoo as well in his classroom, and imagine how young minds are harmed. Instead of teaching constitutional law, he renounces it. So do others with clout, and that's the problem.

What's ahead is anyone's guess. Repressive laws won't be repealed. Illegal wars won't end, and extremist judges still dominate the federal bench, one favorable High Court decision notwithstanding. Deserving detainees are still denied justice. Their ordeal continues because influential war criminals are featured daily on major opinion pages where truth and righteousness lose out to hateful viciousness, and the nation slips closer to tyranny - thanks to men like Yoo and Murdoch.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate for the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Friday, June 20, 2008

SuperCorridor Defeat? Don't Bet On It

SuperCorridor Defeat? Don't Bet On It - by Stephen Lendman

The title refers to the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) portion of the North American SuperCorridor Coalition (NASCO) project. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced that, for now at least, it nixed this part of the $184 billion scheme calling for:

-- a 4000 mile toll road network of transportation corridors;

-- 10 lanes or 1200 feet wide;

-- two or more trans-Texas corridors being considered; one paralleling I-35 from Laredo through San Antonio, Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth to Gainesville; the other an extension following US 59 from Texarkana through Houston to Laredo or the Rio Grande Valley;

-- others would parallel I-45 from Dallas/FortWorth to Houston and I-10 from El Paso to Orange;

-- they'll accommodate car and truck traffic;

-- rail lines;

-- pipelines and utilities; and

-- communication systems.

It's planned across Texas from Mexico to Oklahoma, would have annexed huge private land tracts, and may later on take much of it anyway. Enough to threaten organizations like the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), Texas Farm Bureau and other rural interests. Their member property rights are at stake, so they fought it, and for now, prevailed - at least partly, but the matter is far from settled.

On June 10, Executive Director Amadeo Saenz announced that TxDOT "narrowed the (TTC I-69) study area (to) existing highway (routes) whenever possible," and "any area (outside) an existing (one) will not be considered" except for necessary portions. NASCO's Texas highway remains viable. It's just a little less "Super" and for now will use mostly existing state highways and connect them to northern links.

The larger project is far more ambitious. It's to develop an international, integrated, secure superhighway running the length and breath of the continent for profit. It's to militarize and annex it as part of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) scheme - aka "Deep Integration" North American Union. If completed, it will extend nearly everywhere - North, South, East and West along four main cross-border regions:

-- an Atlantic Corridor, including: the Canada-US East Coast; the Champlain-Hudson Corridor; the Appalachian region; and the Gulf of Mexico;

-- a Central Eastern Corridor; an urban one through large cities and industrial areas; another through the Great Plains to the Canadian Prairies;

-- a Central Western Corridor, including the largest Mexican maquiladora concentration; and

-- a Pacific Corridor linking Fairbanks, Alaska to San Diego into Tijuana, Ciudad Obrego and Mazatlan, Mexico.

From north to south, it will extend from Fairbanks to Winnipeg, Manitoba; Edmonton, Alberta; and Windsor, Ontario, Canada through Kansas City, San Antonio and Laredo, Texas into Neuvo Laredo, Monterrey, Guadalajara, and the ports of Manzanillo, Colima and Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico. Other links will connect Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, Canada to New York, Chicago, Indianapolis, Denver, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Memphis, Dallas, Houston with still more routes to follow - East to West, North to South across Canada, the US and Mexico.

Canada's plan is called CISCOR - the Canadian Intelligent SuperCorridor running west from Vancouver and Prince Rupert to Montreal and Halifax. Its web site explains it as follows: "The Saskatchen-based CISCOR Smart Inland Port Network will serve as the central logistics and coordination hub, creating a Canadian east-west land bridge (connecting) three major North American north-south corridors; North Americas SuperCorridor (NASCO), Canada America Mexico Corridor (CANAMEX) and River of Trade Corridor Coalition (ROTCC).

ROTCC was created in 2004 to facilitate trade across 3300 miles from Laredo, Texas to Detroit and into Canada. Another route along I-45 extends from Houston and the I-10 corridor and rail route from Los Angeles and Long Beach to Dallas/Fort Worth.

Overall, it will be a comprehensive energy and commerce-related transportation artery for trade and strategic resources with DHS and NORTHCOM in charge. They'll monitor and militarize it through a network of high-tech sensors and trackers to secure the continent for profit at the expense of the greater public good the way these schemes always work.

Part of the plan involves a proposed arrangement between NASCO and a company called Savi Networks - a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Hutchison Ports Holdings, a Chinese ports management firm. If instituted, it will generate huge revenues by paying NASCO 25 cents for each of the millions of "revenue-generating intermodal ocean cargo container(s)" using the supercorridor as well as along other north-south routes being planned. The idea is to install an RFID chip network and put them in containers as well for tracking. They'll monitor them from port of entry to final destination and make shippers pay tolls in addition to transportation costs. They'll, in turn, pass on costs to buyers.

Lockheed Martin runs a Global Transport Network (GTN) Command and Control Center for the military that provides electronic tracking. On its web site, Savi Networks says it "was formed to improve the efficiency and security of global trade (through its) SaviTrack system." It "utilizes a reliable network of wireless Automated Identification and Data Collection (AIDC) equipment and (Enterprise Resource Planning - ERP) software to provide shippers, logistics service providers, and terminal operators with precise and actionable information."

For now, the Texas artery will be less ambitious but still part of the grander scheme. For its part, I-69/TTC remains a government-private partnership whereby new roads will charge tolls for maximum revenue generation and make the public to pay the tab for their use.

Besides the scaled back I-69/TTC, another planned project is just as worrisome. It's called the TTC-35 600 mile corridor extension along I-35 from Oklahoma through Dallas/Forth Worth to Laredo to Mexico and possibly the Gulf Coast. A two-tiered environmental study for it began in spring 2004 and remains ongoing.

Tier One engendered sweeping opposition but not enough to stop it. Public hearings were held for input on potential corridor locations and promoted what's called the Preferred Corridor Alternative. Federal Highway Administration approval comes next, after which a Tier Two phase would identify proposed highway alignments and other modes and potential access points. Hearings would follow for further public input and be as likely to generate hostility as did the I-69/TTC project. It slowed SuperCorridor momentum, but in Texas and across the country it's very much alive and ongoing.

Powerful forces back it in spite of considerable opposition in states across the country. In support are organizations like:

-- the Council on Foreign Relation and its influential members; it backed business having "unlimited (cross-border) access in its 2005 report titled "Building a North American Community; its Task Force "applauds the announced 'Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP)' of North America" - aka North American Union and its SuperCorridor project; it also sees a step beyond with "a more ambitious vision of a new community by 2010 (giving) specific recommendations on how to achieve it."

-- the International Mobility & Trade Corridor Project (IMTC); it bills itself as a US - Canadian government and business coalition "promot(ing) improvements to mobility and security for the four border crossings between Whatcom County, Washington and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia" - combined called the Cascade Gateway;

-- the CANAMEX Corridor Coalition for a superhighway linking Mexico City to Edmonton, Alberta; it supports the "seamless and efficient transportation of goods, services, people and information between Canada, Mexico and the US;"

-- the Central North American Trade Corridor Association (CHATCA); it's for a Central North American Trade Corridor fully integrated in the global economy and refers to "5 T's" as "essential:" tourism, technology, trade, transportation and training;

-- the Ports to Plains Trade (PTP) Corridor; it supports a multimodal one from Mexico through the four PTP states of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Oklahoma up to Canada and the Pacific Northwest;

-- the Champlain-Hudson Trade Corridor and Gateway Coalition representing trade from Quebec City and Montreal to New York; and

-- the I-95 Corridor Coalition alliance of transportation agencies, toll authorities, and related organizations (including law enforcement) from Canada to Florida in support of transportation managements and operational common interest issues favoring business.

Nothing so far is finalized, but SuperCorrider momentum remains viable. It's slowed in Texas, but very much alive and viable.

In contrast, opposition groups are numerous, vocal, but yet to achieve enough critical mass to matter. They include groups like the "People's Summit" that protested in New Orleans last April against the recent three-presidential secret summit to plot strategy. Also, the conservative Coalition to Block the North American Union condemns a "stealth plan" to erase national borders, merge three nations into one, end the sovereignty of each, build a SuperCorridor, put Washington and the military in charge, allow unlimited immigration, and replace the dollar with the "amero."

Still another is a group of citizen-activist Oklahomans and the organization they formed: Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise. Like similar Texas and other state groups, it's against the SuperCorridor and its proposed I-35 route through their state. It's a conservative group believing that "a capitalist economy can regulate itself in a freely competitive market...with a minimum of governmental intervention and regulation." It opposes government using the law to facilitate a "corporate takeover" of society and fund it with public tax dollars. On board as well is an Oklahoma state senator who says "the NAFTA Superhighway stops here."

He'll need other lawmakers with him and on April 29 failed. Despite vocal opposition, the Oklahoma state legislature authorized the creation of "Smart (inland) Ports" and SuperCorridor system despite earlier having passed a resolution urging Congress "to withdraw from the (SPP - North American Union)" and all activities related to it. Besides Oklahoma, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) lists 21 other states that have passed public-private partnership enabling legislation considered essential for private investment to go forward.

At the federal level, there's also congressional opposition (but not enough to matter) in spite of Rep. Virgil Goode and six co-sponsors introducing House Concurrent Resolution 40 in January 2007. It expressed "the sense of (some but not enough in) Congress that the United States should not engage in (building a NAFTA) Superhighway System or enter into a North American Union with Mexico and Canada."

State legislatures as well are against it (in contrast to others in support) - thus far a dozen or more passing resolutions in 2008 and another 20 in 2007. Well and good but remember Adlai Stevenson's response to an enthusiastic supporter during his first presidential campaign. He thanked the woman and replied: "That's not enough madam. I need a majority."

It's no different for the SuperCorridor and North American Union. They're progressing secretly in spite of activist opposition and a largely unaware public. A recent poll sheds light. It was conducted by the American Policy Center that calls itself "a privately funded, nonprofit, 501 c (4), tax-exempt grassroots action and education foundation dedicated to the promotion of free enterprise and limited government...."

It revealed no widespread public SPP opposition because most people (58% living along the proposed Texas to Minnesota route) don't know about it or enough to matter. However, 95% of respondents with awareness opposed it but unfortunately in answer to biased questions. Their wording apparently conveyed the idea of "private corporations (having) power to enforce trade policy that may adversely affect our national sovereignty and independence."

Market researchers know that questions must be neutral and unbiased to produce reliable results. For example, respondents should have been asked: From what you know about SPP, do you favor or oppose it? A follow-up should then ask "why" to get unguided replies. Other biased questions were also asked and elicited strong opposition to an "amero," NAFTA courts superseding state and federal ones, the Bush administration being allowed to proceed without congressional approval, the US being "harmonized" or merged with Mexico and Canada, and more.

Most important is that public knowledge is sparse. What is known is incomplete, at times inaccurate, and either way plans (so far) are proceeding with or without congressional or public approval.

It means a corporate coup d'etat is advancing, aided and abetted by three governments. They plan to unite and become one, militarize the continent for enforcement, lay ribbons of concrete and rail lines across it, and hand it over to business for profit. That's where things now stand. Imagine where they'll end if a way isn't found to stop them.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to the Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.