For local broadcast channels and their it-bleeds-it-leads newscasts, the Supreme Court might as well be that mythic relative who leaves you an unexpected fortune in his will. The cascade of political money to your local channel began for real in 2012. That year, according to the Pew Research Center, local television stations received $3.1 billion in political advertising revenue. That was 48 percent more than was spent just two years earlier (before Citizens United) and represented more than double the amount raked in during the previous presidential election in 2008.Read the whole thing. In case you were still wondering why you keep getting that queasy feeling whenever you unwittingly morph from Judge Judy berating the poor and marginalized into local news berating the poor and the marginalized, Socolow lays it all out for you. My own local news fare lurches between lambasting "progressive" Mayor De Blasio for his un-tough on crime demeanor, to ads for charter schools produced by anonymous dark hedge fund money, to big bank lobbies honoring recently re-elected NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo (whose administration is currently under investigation for alleged corruption) for his support for Wall Street. These local propaganda mills make the national network news conglomerates actually seem journalistically responsible, even with their feel-good animal videos and their hideous Viagra and Big Oil ads. Cancelling my cable is looking more and more like a treat to be savored, rather than a deprivation in my infotainment diet. Plus, all those books that must be read before one dies are piling up on my nightstand.
Where were you when you discovered your own personal political and moral conscience? Was it a book, a friend, a teacher who opened your eyes? Henry Giroux tells his own personal story in a heartfelt Truthout essay about his simultaneous embrace and transcendence of his working class roots. He recounts the epiphany that the dreck that the ruling class sells us day in and day out is not only harmful to our health, it is pure poison:*
The struggle to redefine my sense of agency was about more than a perpetual struggle between matters of intelligence, competency and low self-esteem; it was about reclaiming a sense of history, opening the door to dangerous memories, and taking risks that enabled a new and more radical sense of identity and what it meant to be in the world from a position of strength. I found signposts of such resistance in my youth in Black music, stories about union struggles, the warm solidarity of my peers, and later in the powerful display of public intellectuals whose lectures I attended at Brown University. The people who moved me at those lectures were not academics reading papers I barely understood, or intellectuals who seemed frozen emotionally, spewing out a kind of jargon reserved for the already initiated, smug in their insularity and remoteness.
Speaking of stories on union and class struggles, one of the great influencers of my own youth was the folk music group The Weavers. Ronnie Gilbert, the female voice of that quartet, died this week at the age of 88. From Rolling Stone:
The Weavers' first concerts were often free performances at union meetings and on picket lines. In 1949, about to break up, they were offered a two week residency at the Village Vanguard in New York City that proved so successful they stayed for six months. The stint earned the Weavers a deal with Decca Records, which led to television and radio appearances, and extensive touring.The daughter of Russian/Ukrainian immigrants and labor activists, Gilbert was inspired in her own youth by the voice of Paul Robeson. Her activism was her music. And luckily for us, she also wrote an autobiography before she died, to be published posthumously this fall. While you're waiting, here's a link to one of my own Weavers favorites -- Which Side Are You On?
Amidst their success, the group maintained their progressive and leftist politics, which drew the eye and ire of those in the anti-communist movement of the 1950s. In 1951, the Weavers were investigated by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, which sought to probe potentially subversive citizen threats, and soon they were blacklisted from performing and recording.
As an antidote to Krugman wishy-washiness, be sure to read Thomas Piketty's review of a truly radical economist's prescription to heal the scourge of historic and global wealth inequality. And then get a hold of the book (Inequality: What Can Be Done? by Anthony B. Atkinson) if you can. I got so excited that I plunked down an outrageous 16-plus bucks to download it from Amazon, but it's been well worth it so far. He addresses mere laypersons! In just the first few pages he tears apart the neoliberal metaphors that I love to hate -- level playing fields and ladders of opportunity! -- and gets right into how politicians and pundits avoid talking about how people often stumble and fall on those level playing fields and how "we" avoid talking about actual equal outcomes.
He also argues for guaranteed public-sector jobs at a minimum wage for the unemployed, and democratization of access to property ownership via an innovative national savings system, with guaranteed returns for the depositors. There will be inheritance for all, achieved by a capital endowment at age eighteen, financed by a more robust estate tax; an end to the English poll tax—a flat-rate tax for local governments—and the effective abandonment of Thatcherism. The effect is exhilarating. Witty, elegant, profound, this book should be read: it brings us the finest blend of what political economy and British progressivism have to offer.In other words, Atkinson is even more radical than Bernie Sanders. And the fact that he concentrates on Britain should not at all dissuade us from translating his Rx to our own shores. After all, it's a global economy. The City of London and Wall Street are one and the same entity. Obama's consigliere Jim Messina just helped re-elect austerian David Cameron to another term as prime minister.
But as Atkinson cheerily writes in his intro: "The world faces great problems but collectively we are not helpless in the face of forces outside our control. The future is very much in our hands."
Like I said, quite the antidote to learned helplessness, one of the many neoliberal toxins being poured down our political gullets to induce the chronic condition known as Panglossitis. Things could always be worse in this best of all possible worlds, of course. But why not demand better? The only thing holding us back is the propaganda of the fear-mongers.
Give up that dark money-driven cable infotainment and embrace your inner Henry Giroux and Ronnie Gilbert. Life is too short not to.