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Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 3 ñòðàíèöà
The one big thing that’s going up is Pentagon spending. By about 6 to 1, the population wants it either stable or reduced. So even that is overwhelmingly opposed by the public. What you’re getting in the commentary is kind of interesting. Gingrich is plainly a total cynic, but a pretty efficient one. His line, which is repeated by the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, is that there’s a philosophical issue. People shouldn’t be compelled to pay for things they don’t want, and that’s why we have to cut down food for starving children. A lot of people don’t want that, and our philosophy says they shouldn’t have to pay for that. But somehow our philosophy says you can increase the Pentagon budget over the opposition of maybe three-quarters of the population because that puts money in my pockets. So there the philosophical issue disappears. Fortunately philosophy is a pretty subtle
discipline, as we teach around here, and Gingrich understands that, along with the Heritage Foundation and the rest of the frauds who are putting forth their ridiculous distortion of libertarian philosophy.
DBBut there is a lot of confusion in the public. We talked about this the other day. There are all kinds of contradictory currents that are swirling around. For example, in a recent article you cited a poll in which about 80% of the population believes that the economic system is “inherently unfair,” and the government is “run for the benefit of the few and the special interests, not the people.” This is up from a steady 50%. But what is meant by “special interests”?
That’s a good question. I think I mentioned that in the article. I said what they mean by “special interests” is another question. But these questions have been asked for a long time in polls, a little differently worded so you get some different numbers, but for a long time about half the population was saying, when asked a bunch of open questions—like, Who do you think the government is run for? would say something like that: the few, the special interests, not the people. Now it’s 82%, which is unprecedented. It means that 82% of the population don’t even think we have a political system, not a small number.
What do they mean by special interests? Here you’ve got to start looking a little more closely. Chances are, judging by other polls and other sources of information, that if people are asked, Who are the special interests? they will probably say, welfare mothers, government bureaucrats, elitist professionals, liberals who run the media, unions. These things would be listed. How many would say, Fortune 500, I don’t know. Probably not too many. We have a fantastic propaganda system in this country. There’s been nothing like it in history. It’s the whole public relations industry and the entertainment industry. The
media, which everybody talks about, including me, are a small part of it. I talk about mostly that sector of the media that goes to a small part of the population, the educated sector. But if you look at the whole system, it’s just vast. And it is dedicated to certain principles. It wants to destroy democracy. That’s its main goal. That means destroy every form of organization and association that might lead to democracy. So you have to demonize unions. And you have to isolate people and atomize them and separate them and make them hate and fear one another and create illusions about where power is. A major goal of this whole doctrinal system for fifty years has been to create the mood of what is now called anti-politics.
That succeeded. People focus their anger and fear on the government, the one part of the whole system of power that they can influence, and don’t much see the real systems of power, the hand that’s over it, the triviality stated by John Dewey that “Politics is the shadow on society cast by big business.” It ought to be a truism, but few people understand. So there’s plenty of confusion. And it shows up point by point.
Take, say, unions. About 80% of the population think working people don’t have enough influence on what goes on. On the other hand, a great many people think unions have too much influence. There’s some truth to that. Unions don’t really closely represent working people. So there’s an element of truth to that. But that’s not what they mean. The point is that democratic unions are the way in which working people could have more of a say in things. But that’s been driven out of people’s minds.
Or take, say, welfare, a dramatic case. I think the last figure I saw was 80% of the population thought that the government has a responsibility to help the poor. There is also substantial opposition to welfare, which is the government helping the poor. The reason is the
Reagan fairy tales: black mothers in Cadillacs, teenaged girls having babies so that you’ll pay for them, all that kind of fraud. So people are opposed to welfare. If that’s welfare, why should I pay for it? I want to help the poor.
Also, people vastly overestimate the amount of money that goes to welfare. The U.S. has always had quite low social expenditures by comparative standards, and has been reducing them very sharply since 1970. For example, AFDC is now virtually wiped out, reduced by almost a half since the 1970s. This feeling that there is a huge welfare burden is a total joke. I’m not talking about the real welfare (to the rich), but that trickle of welfare that goes to people who need help, which has never been high, and it’s been declining very sharply. I think about a third, a quarter of the population think it’s the biggest item in the federal budget. It’s almost invisible. They feel the same thing about foreign aid, which is really invisible. Again, about a quarter of the population think it’s the biggest item in the federal budget. And they think they’re very heavily taxed. We’re low taxed. And the taxes are extremely regressive.
There are two figures that are interesting, pre-tax income and actual income post-tax and post-benefit. So if you take into account food stamps, the effect of taxes, etc., and you ask, What do people have after all that system’s done?—in most countries, other countries like ours, it changes things a lot. Pre-tax inequality is not all that different in those countries from here. In the U.S., post-tax inequality, including all of these government transfers, is virtually the same as pre-tax. So the whole system of taxes and benefits doesn’t change much. In most other countries it changes a lot, which is why we have twice the level of poverty of our next nearest competitor, England, and much more than most other countries. Because the whole system doesn’t do much. It’s a highly regressive system. If you did a serious count, which people don’t do, it would be much more regressive.
Consider, for example, that a lot of things that are taxes aren’t called taxes. Take, say, New York City. It has just cut down expenditures for mass transit. So that’s less tax money spent. On the other hand, they raised fares, which means more taxes. Fares are just taxes by another name. There’s a difference between the cuts and the taxes. The taxes are regressive. First of all, even if executives and poor people took subways to the same extent, it would be a highly regressive tax. But of course they don’t. Overwhelmingly, the subways are used by the poor. So this is a radically regressive tax, and it’s really socking it to people who can’t pay for it and enriching the people who don’t have to. If you look more closely, it’s even more dramatic. For example, the state administration has given what they call “subsidies,” a funny word for it, to public transportation, which means people’s money is being used for themselves. But have a look at it. They’ve cut down quite significantly the subsidy that goes to mass public transportation, like subways and buses, and increased the amount that’s going to commuter rail lines. Now they cut them both a little, but they cut the subways much more than the commuter rail lines. In fact, the costs, the last figures I saw, the state contribution to these was about ten to one in favor of commuter rail lines. Who rides commuter rail lines? Executives living out in Westchester County and Long Island. Who rides subways? People living in Queens trying to get to Brooklyn, poor kids trying to get to school. That’s taxes. If anybody were to take that stuff into account, you would see that the system is . . . in fact the system already is flat by economists’ calculations, so to talk about a “flat tax” is a joke. That’s just talking about making it more regressive. It’s already more or less flat and has been, certainly, since the Reagan years. If you did a real calculation, it’s not flat, because the real costs are imposed on the poor.
Take, say, Boston. I live in the suburbs, which are mostly fairly wealthy people. You go a couple of miles from here and you get to the
city, which is very poor people. I drove into Boston this morning. Who’s paying for the fact that I can drive there? Who’s keeping the roads up? Who’s paying for the local cops? Who’s paying for the services? Not the guys who live in my suburb. We just rip off the poor people. And every city works like that. It’s designed in such a way that the poor pay off the rich by various techniques.
DBAnd who’s paying for the cheapest gasoline in the world?
Actually, you have to be a little careful. It’s keeping the oil prices within a range. It doesn’t want them to get too low or too high. Because if the prices get too low it harms the big energy companies, which are mostly U.S.-based, the ones that aren’t British. And you don’t want that to happen, because they’re an important part of the wealthy sector. On the other hand, if it goes too high it harms other sectors of the economy. So they’re always looking for it to be in a certain band. If you look at policy over the years, it’s been, Not too high, not too low.
DBThere’s a group here in Boston, Share the Wealth. They’ve been doing a lot of research and reports on the tax code. They’re reporting that in the 1950s corporations paid something like 40% of all the taxes that IRS collected. In the 1990s it’s down to something like a quarter of that. That might be a piece of information that would be of interest to people.
It’s not just that. Take a look at state taxes and the rest. The tax code
always was regressive. We never had much of a progressive tax. Take a look at work by real analysts like Joseph Pechman and others from years and years ago. They pointed out that if you calculate everything—state taxes, sales taxes, the whole business—you get a rather flat tax. It’s become much worse in the last couple of years. These are part of it. And it’s getting worse. The programs that are currently on the table, which they call flat tax programs—a meaningless term because we already have a flat tax—to tilt the scale even more sharply against the poor, also include things like a cutback on capital gains taxes. Capital gains happen to be about half the income for the top one percent of the population, then tailing off very, very sharply. That’s saying, If you’re in the top one percent we’re going to not even tax you for half your income, which is huge. All of these are complicated devices for ensuring that the poor—like 80% of the population—pay off the rich.
You read stories, like the article you gave me the other day from the New Yorker by John Cassidy, about how all of this is the inexorable workings of the capitalist system. The market in its genius is having these unpleasant effects. That is simply nonsense. These are social policies. You could make the policies different.
DBHe also says it’s a mystery how people are becoming poorer.
If you look at that article, there are some very interesting internal contradictions in it. He’s very critical of all these things that are happening. Isn’t it sad so many people are suffering, etc. He’s good-hearted. But then there’s the miracle of the market, the genius of the market, the mysteries. On the other hand, when he talks about the market, he only mentions three corporations: Hughes, Grumman, and McDonnell Douglas. He says that’s the way the market is functioning. That’s the way the market is functioning? These are state-subsidized
corporations. You could hardly pick better examples of state industry. The only thing that makes them part of the market is that the profits go into private pockets. But the public is paying for it. That’s why those corporations function.
DBI think it was you that told me about this issue of people’s perceptions and these contradictory currents, that most Americans believe that “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” (Marx) is part of the Bill of Rights.
Part of the Constitution. That was a poll taken around 1976, the Bicentennial. There were many polls taken. Among other things, they gave people cliché-type things and said, Which do you think are in the Constitution? About 50% said that that’s in the Constitution because they take it to be so obvious. It tells you something about the failure of the left to organize. If half the population assumes that the most extreme position is not only true but must even be in the Constitution, that indicates a big failure on the left.
DBWe’re in the era of reform, another Orwellism, tax reform, welfare reform. There’s also something called “lobbying reform.” There’s a proposal to defund the left, to curb activities by non-profit groups. It’s interesting to see what groups are mentioned there as part of the left.
Although one should be very careful about the word “reform.” We don’t call what Hitler did reform. Reform has a nice feel about it. It’s supposed to make things better. So we should never use the word. We should talk about changes. The same with “promise.” Every article you read in the paper says, You may or may not like what the Republicans
are doing, but they’re fulfilling their promise to the American people. If I say I’m going to beat you to a pulp, and I do it, that’s not a promise. I didn’t promise to do it. I threatened to do it. So what they ought to say is, The Republicans are keeping their threat to the American people. Especially when we know how the American people feel about it. These are not reforms, any more than we’d say Stalin and Hitler instituted reforms. These are changes. You can like them or dislike them, but they’re not reforms.
There are two things going on that fall under what you mentioned. One is the Istook Amendment, which is working its way through. I don’t think it’s going to make it. It’s too extreme. But it’s in the legislative process now. That’s a very cynical device to try to ensure that only, say, military industry and big corporations can lobby. Anyone who has any popular interest at heart can’t lobby, can’t try to press their interests in the public arena. The idea is to strike another massive blow at what’s left of the democratic system by restricting even entry into the public arena in the form of lobbying, that is, pressing for your position. “Lobbying” means, like, writing a letter to your representative, or whatever you do. Restricting even that only to people who get huge government handouts.
The way it’s done is trying various methods. The first one was to say, If you receive government funding and you’re a non-profit organization, you can’t use your own money for lobbying. Notice there’s no issue about using federal money for lobbying. That’s already illegal. So that’s out of the question. The question is, can you use your own money? Suppose 5% of your money comes from a federal grant, can you use the other 95% for putting forward your interest in a cleaner environment or more health care? The first proposal was to add that condition that you can’t, but of course restrict it only to nonprofit organizations. Meaning if you’re making profit, like these three exemplars of the capitalist system,
Hughes, McDonnell Douglas, and Grumman, then you can continue to lobby at will because you’re profit-making. That got a certain amount of flak.
The later proposal, which may actually go through, is to require that nonprofit organizations provide accounting of every penny they spend on every possible thing, which will wildly increase bureaucratic costs and drive most of them out of business.
That’s one aspect of it, the Istook Amendment. The other aspect is this program of defunding the left, which is itself interesting. I think it was started by the Cato Institute. It’s being pushed by Congress and was reported in the Wall Street Journal. That’s very interesting. They quote the Heritage Foundation and Gingrich as to why we’ve got to start defunding the left, because it’s unfair for the government to be involved in pushing these political agendas.
“Agenda” is an interesting word. An agenda is something that people have who are trying to do bad things, like help poor people or clean up the environment. That’s an agenda. It’s not an agenda if you’re trying to put more money in your pocket. So there are all these guys with agendas, and the government’s funding them, and that’s wrong, because why should we fund the left?
Take a look at the list. The list was right there in the Wall Street Journal. The main organization on the left that they had to stop funding was Catholic Relief Services, a very left-wing organization. So why do they have to defund that part of the left? They explained that there are, in fact, priests and nuns, who, for free, are working in Head Start programs and helping poor people get heating for their homes. Those are left-wing agendas. They are helping people. And since priests and nuns are working on that, and sometimes they get a little bit of government money for it, you’ve got to defund them. That was the main organization. The second one was the American Association of Retired
Persons, the AARP. That was the second left-wing organization. They explained why they had to defund that part of the left. The reason was that AARP was running a program to try to help elderly people who are poor to get jobs. That’s a left-wing agenda, so they’ve got to stop that. Incidentally, the Wall Street Journal had another article in which they said that one out of six elderly people are suffering from hunger, many actually starving. But if you’re trying to get them jobs, that’s a left-wing program and we have to defund it. The next was some conservation organization. By their standards, anyone who has the slightest concern for human beings is on “the left.” Rather flattering, actually, and also intriguing that the mislabelled “conservatives” define themselves to include only people who would be regarded as pathologically insane by rational—and certainly by authentic conservative—standards.
DBEven the American Heart Association, which they want to prevent from speaking out against the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke. Meanwhile Philip Morris and the heavily subsidized tobacco industry can lobby to its heart’s content.
On the Istook Amendment, and on the whole issue, one of the biggest supporters is the alcohol industry. They’re pushing it very hard. They don’t want people to be able to say, There is harm in alcohol, which in fact there is, much greater than hard drugs, though not as bad as tobacco. The biggest corporate funder by far for all of these guys, including last November, was Philip Morris, which is also one of the biggest killers, so they need the protection. In fact, the agenda, if I can borrow their word, is so clear, obvious, and dramatic that it takes a real genius to miss it.
DBLet’s talk a little bit more about the media and their impact.
This summer there was a spate of mega-mergers in the media. Disney took over Cap Cities/ABC. Westinghouse took over CBS. Time-Warner took over Turner. What is your assessment of these mergers?
First of all, remember they’re part of something much more general. There’s a merger wave now which has no precedent. Even in the peak of the Reagan years it wasn’t like this. And there’s a move towards what the business press is calling “mega-corporations.” Which means radically increasing the tyrannical, totalitarian structure of the global and domestic economies. These are of course tyrannies and totalitarian institutions. Nobody should have any doubt about that. As they get more powerful and integrated, they constitute in that alone a big attack on democracy and a big attack on markets, because as they dominate interactions—that means internal to these totalitarian structures—these huge command economies go way beyond anything people called, ludicrously, socialist. The media mergers are one piece of that. The big story is the increasing concentration of tyrannical power in private, unaccountable hands, which is tar more important than what’s happening in the media.
As to the media, what will the effect of this be? I have always been a bit of a skeptic about this. I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to it. I don’t think it matters a lot if, say, in Boston there are two or three corporate newspapers or one corporate newspaper. There’s some difference, but not a huge difference. Say there are three channels on television which are owned by huge mega-corporations and conglomerates and then it turns out later there’s only one because they’re all owned by Murdoch. I suspect that the difference won’t be substantial.
It will be something of a difference, because even within a system where power resides in extremely narrow hands, let’s say the Politburo
in Russia, if there are factions within the Politburo there’s a little more freedom than if there are no factions within it. But the big point is the Politburo, not the amount of factional relations within it. Even in totalitarian states, they vary in the amount of internal factionalism within the sector that controls power. But it’s the anti-democratic character of it that’s significant, not the marginal question of the amount of factionalism there is. Things like the mergers of the media, what they’re doing is cutting down the factionalism in the Politburo, which surely is something to worry about, but we’re wasting our time if we pay too much attention to it, missing the larger picture.
Not a lot of people, including my close friends and associates, agree with me on this one, so I don’t mean to say it’s obvious. I suppose it’s not. But that’s my view.
But let me just give you a personal experience. You remember our story with Warner and the first book (Counter-Revolutionary Violence: Bloodbaths in Fact and Propaganda) that Ed Herman and I wrote in 1973. The publishing house, Warner Modular, that produced it was put out of business, meaning they not only destroyed our book, but they destroyed all the books that Warner Modular published. The decision to carry out this massive attack against freedom of speech was made by an executive of Warner Communications, who didn’t like our book. Incidentally, none of this elicited any reaction from alleged defenders of freedom of speech (Ben Bagdikian later wrote about it). But they weren’t Time-Warner in those days. It was Warner Communications. Big enough, but nowhere near what it is now and nowhere near what it is after the latest merger. Did that make a difference in the way they behave? No, not really. Marginal differences. I think the analogy would be something like factions within the Politburo.
DBI’ve been talking to Bob Parry (independent journalist) and Jeff
Cohen (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) about this. They contend that it is making a difference, the mega-mergers, the concentration, that there’s more timidity—that’s hard to imagine—and skittishness in the newsroom because there are fewer jobs. So you have fewer options.
That’s a different matter. I think they’re confusing two different things. Even without the mergers, the jobs are going down. That’s quite independent. Maybe the mergers have some effect on it, but I doubt if it’s large. The major thing is that news services are going down. That makes sense, because after all the purpose of this whole system is to destroy democracy, that is, to remove people from the public arena. So the more you can put into sitcoms and advertising, and the less you put into giving them news, the better it is. You’ve got to give them some news. They want to have some vague idea of what’s going on. But there are natural pressures within a state capitalist economy to drive out anything that might bring the population into the public arena, and news is one of those things. So of course there are going to be pressures on cutting down news, apart from the fact that news isn’t terribly profitable. News is a capital-intensive operation from the point of view of the media. You’re also not going to get as much advertising for it. It doesn’t contribute to the needs of advertisers. So just as advertisers are unlikely to fund a documentary on saving health care, they’re not going to fund a news program which is in effect a documentary by bringing some version of the facts, maybe a distorted version, to large parts of the public. It’s not in their interest to do so.
Hence, independent of mergers, there’s going to be continual pressure, and there is, strikingly, now, on cutting back investigative reporting. Maybe there will still be investigative reporting that keeps right to the surface, like a corrupt judge. Anything insignificant. Maybe there will be programs on the O.J. Simpson trial. Anything to keep
people’s minds off serious things. That could continue. And the kind of reporting that contributes to fear and hate, that will continue. But just think of the funders and ask what their interest is in presenting an honest view of the world. It’s very slight. That’s true whether there are mergers or not. So it may be that there’s an effect, but I suspect it’s a marginal effect. Incidentally, it could go the other way, too. It could turn out that if you have one totalitarian institution running all the media, they might allow more deviation internally because it’s much less of a threat to them. I don’t say that would happen, but it could.
Let me give you an example. I was recently in Australia, which is quite different from here. I was on Australian World Services, their version of the BBC, talking about the Timor Gap Treaty. It’s a big issue in Australia. Australia was coming to the World Court, being charged with a violation of international law. I had a half-hour interview and was very critical of the Australian position. That’s Australia, not the U.S. I couldn’t imagine it happening here. It was on Australian World Services being beamed into Indonesia through the Murdoch satellite, no less.
DBJeff Cohen and others have commented on the surge in right-wing media, radio talk shows specifically. Rupert Murdoch has just funded The Standard, a new weekly right-wing journal. There’s USA Today and on and on. You don’t detect that?
Sure. There’s been a big rise in this. It’s always going on, but there’s an acceleration since the early 1970s. There are two things that happened. One is that the sixties frightened a lot of people, including the liberals. Terribly frightened. There was this “crisis of democracy.” People were getting involved in the public arena. We’ve got to drive them back to their preferred apathy and ignorance. So that’s across the spectrum, liberal to conservative. That led to a big attack on universities, on
independent thought, on independent media, just about everything, across the spectrum. That’s one thing.
The second factor was that very substantial new weapons were coming into the hands of private power around that time. There was also independently an acceleration in the globalization of the economy, telecommunications revolutions, deregulation of the financial system, all of these things were having the effect of putting very powerful weapons in private hands. So quite apart from the sixties, there would have been an effort to move from containment of New Deal-style liberalism, to rollback of it. That has happened quite dramatically.
The last liberal president in the U.S. was Richard Nixon. Ever since then it’s been, starting with Carter, an attack on social programs, an increase in the regressive forms of state power like the Pentagon system. These things were simultaneous. There had been talk shows. They had been pretty awful, but there was some kind of mixture. They shifted very sharply towards the right around this point, as did everything else. So the flooding of college campuses with glossy, super-ultra-right-wing newspapers in everybody’s mailbox, that started around then. The Olin professorships of free enterprise, and contributions to academic freedom of that kind, that also increased, as did the very narrowly focused right-wing foundations which are trying to destroy the educational system. They want to destroy public education. You may have noticed yesterday in Boston, Governor Weld announced what amounts to the destruction of the public education system. It sneaked into a legislative bill. All of this stuff has been going on. It’s picking up, and that’s what they were referring to. It’s real enough, but I think it’s not due to mega-mergers.
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