Friday, October 26, 2007

Vast Wasteland

In 1961 the chairman of the FCC, Newton Minow, made his famous speech before the National Association of Broadcasters in which he invited them to spend an entire day watching their own TV stations. He told them that they would find that television was a “vast wasteland.” Since television is a vast wasteland then the modern corporate news media should be considered the Sahara desert.

US television media is owned by only nine corporations: AOL/ Time Warner, AT&T, GE, News Corporation, Viacom, Sony, Vivendi, Liberty Media, and Disney. As investor-owned firms these corporations are legally obligated to maximize the profits for their shareholders. This demand invariably creates situations in which there are conflicts between those who are to report the news and the news itself. If corporate-owned news media outlets have to choose between their legal obligations to their sponsors and shareholders, both of whom hold the corporations money strings, or the news they have no choice but to satisfy the interest of their investors and sponsors.

One example of such a conflict is ABC (Disney) and its close relationship with Wal-Mart. In the past Wal-Mart has sponsored the Good Morning America segment “Only in America” and has been a regular sponsor of World News Tonight’s “Person of the Week” segment. So is there any proof that their sponsorship has had an effect on the objectivity of the news broadcast? ABC has since run segments on how Wal-Mart could teach FEMA about handling disasters, how Wal-Mart is going green, and how Wal-Mart is improving life in China. Is it just a coincidence that they tend to give positive stories on one of the worst corporations who also just happens to be a regular sponsor? I don’t think so.

Can anything good be found in corporate television news? If one looks hard enough one can find the occasional oasis in that desolate realm. One such oasis is Keith Olbermann who host’s MSNBC’s “Countdown”. While his “Special Comments” have earned him well-deserved acclaim it’s what he said about the Green Bay Packers on the October 7th broadcast of NBC’s “Football Night in America” that showed how impressive he truly is.

“When it's all about small markets and large markets and revenue streams, there is a pro football franchise in Green Bay, Wisconsin… How does Favre get to cavort in Green Bay when Green Bay is a vestige of a time when the NFL was made up of the Duluth Eskimos, and the Staten Island Stapletons and the Pottsville Maroons? The Packers have survived since football's Stone Age because of non-profit community investment. The fans, in essence, own that team. TV revenue sharing saved that team in the '60s and limiting free agency saved it again in the '80s. Green Bay, Wisconsin, population 102,313… should be the model for sports franchises in this country, instead it's an anachronism." (Source: 'Football Night in America' Week 5 Quotables, Published: October 7, 2007)
To see and hear his whole fantastic commentary visit:

As long as there is corporate ownership of the television media then great commentators such as Keith Olbermann will be far and few between in that barren land.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Economic Democracy: The Basics

We can talk about replacing global, corporate capitalism with an “economic democracy” but what do we mean by that? What would an economic democracy consist of? Different authors have given various definitions and not all agree on the details. For the purpose of this blog here is what I mean by “economic democracy”:
  • An economic democracy would be a market economy,
  • The core economic unit would be based on autonomous, democratically-governed, worker-owned cooperatives,
  • Not all economic enterprises would be co-ops for there would also be an increase in the number of family-owned enterprises and sole-proprietorships,
  • Both types of enterprises would be networked together by economic councils that would allow for mutual aid and input from the community,
  • There would also be the existence of non-profit and community-owned enterprises for services that cannot be provided by either co-ops or sole-proprietorships,
  • Investment would be provided by public sources, such as governmental bodies and non-profit NGO’s, rather than private capital,
  • There would be extensive support to individuals and the various enterprises by local, state, and federal governments.

In my opinion these are the essentials of an economic democracy.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Draining the Swamp

It might seem odd to use such an environmentally un-friendly title for an article about global warming but stay with me on this.

The time was the early days of the twentieth century. France had just abandoned their attempt at building the Panama Canal. The US had decided it was going to give it a try and had purchased the land and equipment from the French. But the same problem that had plagued the French was causing problems with the US workers. Disease was rampant. Specifically the problem was yellow fever and malaria. If the canal was going to be built these diseases had to be brought under control.

The US had settled on what, at that time, was a controversial cause of the diseases. They had concluded that the diseases were being spread by the mosquito. If they were correct then eliminating the mosquito would eliminate the disease. They then proceeded to take various steps, which included draining the swamps around the construction area. The Americans were right and in doing so they reduced the mosquito population, stopped the diseases, and built the canal.

Today we face a greater challenge. Global warming and environmental degradation threatens to wipe out majority of all species and endangers human civilization. Like the early twentieth century scientists we’ve identified the delivery mechanism of the global disease: Carbon Emissions generated from human activity. The mistake we make is to assume that “human activity” means that industrialization is the source. Industrial activity is not the source of global warming but is only one more step along the path to find the source. What is the ultimate source of global warming? In a word: capitalism.

The expansive nature of capital (i.e. private investment) demands that corporations perpetually seek greater and greater profits for their investors. This requires slashing the costs of production. One way to do so is to use the cheapest, oldest, and as a result, dirtiest technology. In addition, rather than naturally seek out improved technologies, author Naomi Klein has documented how capital has learned that there’s massive profit to be made in disasters (see “Disaster Capitalism” in Harper’s October 2007). Environmental degradation is good for profit.

Global warming is the sickness. Carbon emission is the disease. Cheap and dirty technology is the carrier. Ultimately capitalism is the source. It’s time to drain the swamp.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What is the Third Way?

The term “Third Way” is used by a variety of groups with very different agendas. Some liberal capitalists organizations, such as “The Third Way: A Strategy for Progressives”, use it to try to build a progressive political agenda in the US. Yet, there’s a growing trend in which the term is used to represent something much more radical. It’s often used as a label for an alternative to both capitalism and state socialism. That alternative is commonly called Economic Democracy.

Now we’ve exchanged one term for another. So what is meant by an “Economic Democracy”? While there are several variations, a growing consensus is developing of a decentralized socio-economic system in which the primary economic unit would be a worker-owned, democratic firm rather than an investor-owned corporation. In most models the democratic firms would be based on worker-owned cooperatives that follow the International Co-operative Alliance principles.

One of the amazing aspects of the Economic Democracy model is that, unlike other some other proposals, it is based on real world economic enterprises that have been proven to work. The Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, for example, has long been proven profitable and very successful. And repeated studies have shown that cooperatives and workplace democracies are, in general, far more productive than capitalist corporations.

There are still many issues to be worked out. But there are people working to solve these issues and great progress is being made quickly. It may be that the long nightmare of capitalism is nearing an end and that humanity can finally awaken to the light of a new dawn.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Welcome to my new blog. I hope to post regular commentaries about economic democracy, the dangers of corporations, and dreams of a hopeful future.
Check back soon!