August 2011 Archives

Why Have Real Wages of Employees Declined?

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Labor union parade, NY., May 1, 1911 (LOC)

      Labor Day Parade, May 1, 1911,  NYC

       This Labor Day should remind all of us of how much ground Americans have lost in the workplace since the end of the New Deal. One significant reason for the increasing economic inequality among Americans is directly related to the demise of a viable labor movement in the United States.

         Throughout the nineteenth century, given their preoccupation with property rights and the sanctity of contracts (which is a legacy of John Locke's politics) , most state courts treated labor unions and strikes as illegal conspiracies in restraint of trade. Slowly, the tide began to turn. As the effects of the Great Depression became pronounced, industrial unionism, organized under the auspices of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), emerged.

        With the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, the right of all workers "to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing" was pronounced for the first time to be national public policy. Other New Deal legislation included the Walsh-Healey Government Contracts Act, which required the payment of prevailing wages on government contracts in excess of $10,000; the Railroad Retirement Act; and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which provided for the first time, with certain exceptions, a nationwide minimum wage floor and maximum workweek of 40 hours per week within three years of its enactment date.

        Since the 1940s, however, the American labor movement has been forced into retreat. After the death of Franklin Roosevelt and the election of a Republican Congress in 1946, the right-wing in the United States became resurgent. The first great success of New Deal critics was achieved with the enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, which was passed over President Truman's veto. The effect of this legislation was to outlaw "closed shops" and to permit individual states to allow "open shops" - i.e. shops in which elected unions could not require all of the employees to belong to the unions, irrespective of whether the non-union employees also received and enjoyed the benefits of collective bargaining.

        As a result of that legislation, corporations began an inevitable migration to the South where welcoming state legislatures hastily enacted "right-to-work" laws. The migration of these manufacturing companies away from the unionized urban centers of the Midwest and North left hundreds of mill towns impoverished and desolate, and the union movement was effectively eviscerated.

        It did not take long for the owners of corporations to discover that, once they had escaped from the threat of unionization, they could escape almost all government regulation by moving their business and manufacturing operations out of the United States to Third World countries. In an article that appeared in the Nation magazine,["Mill Hill Populism: Meet The New Face of Populism in Post-NAFTA North Carolina,"  May 12, 2008] , Bob Moser noted that "North Carolina, first in the South for its share of jobs in manufacturing, long benefited from out-sourcing. Decades ago Northern manufacturers shifted jobs to low-wage, Southern states with severe restrictions on organized labor. Now the 'old economy' parts of all these states were reeling from post-NAFTA version of out-sourcing. Since 1993, North Carolina has bled more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs...The pace of closures isn't slacking, either. Last year, 10% of the state's textile jobs were lost...."

        Even among the few unionized workers still employed in manufacturing, a two-tier pay system has  been imposed by management to which unions were forced to acquiesce because of downward economic pressures: younger workers now make substantially less per hour than more senior employees who perform the same work. The effect of this two-tier system denies younger workers upward mobility and divides workers based solely upon dates of hire: "The changing job market is undercutting entry-level wages for those who do not go to college. 'In the 1960s and 1970s, you saw high school graduates getting good jobs at Ford and AT&T, jobs that in inflation-adjusted terms were paying $20 or $25 in today's wages," said Sheldon Danziger, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. "Nowadays most kids with just high school degrees will work in service-sector jobs for $10 or less..."

        Perhaps as worrisome are the long-term trends which suggest that, absent substantive structural reform, unemployment will remain even more intractable long after the economic meltdown which began in 2008 and now continues unabated. Between 1975 and 2005, entry-level wages for male high school graduates who did not graduate from college declined 19% after adjustment for inflation while the incomes of their female counterparts fell 9%. Lastly, men who were in their thirties in 2004 are reported to have had a median income of 12% less, after adjusting for inflation, than did their fathers' generation when the latter were in their thirties. 

       Thus, according to the U.S  Department of Labor [Union Member Summary,  January 22, 2010], as of 2010, only 12.3 per cent of employed wage and salary workers were union members. Not surprisingly, many of the same non-union employees did not seem to understand that their ability to influence working conditions and wages, as solitary individuals who lacked comparable bargaining power with managers and owners of business, was virtually nil. Apparently, however, the myth of the autonomous, self-made individual who can receive recognition, remuneration and advancement solely by dint of one's own hard work continues to resonate in the workplace to the present, notwithstanding all of the evidence to the contrary.

      The effect of this continuing economic trend has been to show, once again, that the practice of liberal individualism produces results quite different from its theory: In an world of unrestrained competition, only the few, the wealthier, the more powerful, the more resourceful, the better educated, the more mobile, will be able to maximize their opportunities; everyone else gets left behind.

      With the demise of the labor movement, the American workplace continues to be governed by the nineteenth century doctrine of employment-at-will, which further circumscribes the ability of most Americans to protect their livelihoods or to improve their conditions of work. Forty-nine states--with the exception of Montana (which has abolished at-will employment by statute)--subscribe to that legal concept. The doctrine of at-will employment is a legal fiction which was created by state courts in the United States during the Gilded Age. This legal doctrine repudiated the long-standing presumption set down by Blackstone that any indefinite employment contract was for one year.

      The earliest reported case in  Massachusetts  which endorsed the concept of at-will employment is Harper v. Hassard., 113 Mass. 187 (1873). That case, incredibly, involved a written agreement, not an oral contract, between the employer, John G. Hassard, et al., and the employee, Thomas J. Harper. The written agreement provided, in pertinent part that, "It is agreed between said parities...the said Harper agrees with the said Hassard and Fosters that he will, during the term of not exceeding three years from the date of this agreement, render and give his exclusive time, services, skill, and energy to them in the manufacture of oil and water colors, and also instruct them during the said term the art of manufacturing or making colors..."

       The court, in an era when Social Darwinism was the operative strain of classical liberal ideology, did what jurists oftentimes do when their "conventional wisdom" is confronted by ugly and unsettling facts--they opted to dissemble. As an exercise in unabashed judicial activism, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed a lower court decision and held that "There is no express agreement of the defendants to employ the plaintiff for three years..." and that "...the defendants had the right to elect to terminate their agreement with the plaintiff at any time by reasonable notice; and none of the judges have any doubt..." This act of judicial intervention in favor of a manufacturer and against an employee reversed three hundred years of settled Anglo-American common law, which held that the employment relationship was contractual; it also transformed the relationship between employers and employees into purchasers and sellers of a mere commodity - labor.

     The legal fiction of at-will employment essentially posits an equality of bargaining power between individual employers and employees: Each is free to accept or reject employment, resign or be fired without cause or restriction. However, since employers in "union-free" environments are legally permitted to unilaterally impose, almost without restriction, whatever conditions of work they require as to hours, compensation, and often restrictions on re-employment after discharge in the form of non-competition agreements, the relationship is again one of inequality in which the employees are burdened and the employers benefited. In response to this conundrum, Locke's political philosophy can provide no guidance or remedy whatsoever, since his politics envision nothing beyond solitary actors whose property must be protected as well as their rights of acquisition.

     Labor laws that are rigged in favor of the employers and the legal fiction of at-will employment need to be at the top of any agenda to reclaim the Promise of America. Since corporations and employers are not required to any show any loyalty to their employees, employees need to demand that our labor laws and our tax policies protect the rights of workers and the middle class, and place obstacles in the way of corporations, particularly multi- national corporations, from doing further damage to the American economy.   

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Grover Norquist

 Grover Norquist

        Texas GOP Governor Rick Perry is quoted in the New York Times ("Shaking Up Republican Field, Perry Officially Enters race For President" by Ashley Parker, Sunday, August 14, 2011) as saying, "I'll create jobs and the progress needed to get Americans working again.... And I'll promise you this: I'll work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can." His remarks echoed those of Grover Norquist, the founder of the right-wing, corporate-funded "Americans for Tax Reform," who was able to persuade almost all GOP members of the Congress to sign a no tax pledge.Norquist once boasted of his desire to so reduce the size of the federal government that it could be drowned in a bathtub.

         The views of Norquist and Perry have been embraced by every one of the GOP presidential candidates who continue to insist that (1) government can't create jobs, only the private sector and (2) that, to do so, taxes rates must be drastically reduced.  Both arguments are nonsensical.

         The role of the government in creating jobs and an environment in which jobs can be created is well-documented. Since the 1950s, the U.S government has spent billions of dollars on infrastructure, such as roads and airports. Those construction projects provided millions well-paying jobs. In addition, the federal  government, through its regulatory oversight, has sought to ensure the safety of the food that we Americans consume, the water that we drink, the medicines we use, the air we breathe, the physical environment in which we live, and that part of the electro- magnetic spectrum that are used for electronic communications  and broadcasting. Without any of these essential protections, which are essential preconditions to job creation, the U.S. economy would grind to a halt.   

          Further, the federal government has historically been the engine that drives research and development. In 2006 the total expenditure for all research and development in the U.S. was approximately $340 billion. According to the National Foundation, the federal government is the second largest source of R&D funding (28%) after private industry. Significantly, federal funding is the primary source of basic research support in the U.S. In 2006, it accounted for 59% of all such research, of which about 56% was carried out by academic institutions.That same year, state and local governments spent about 3.5% on R&D by funding basic academic research, much of which occurred in public - i.e. government-operated - universities.

        Equally important, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that, as of July 2010, 21,317,000 individuals were employed by governments at the federal, state and local levels. Many of the persons employed in these jobs - which included public health, national defense, environmental services, teaching, libraries and public safety - were highly educated and highly skilled, contributed to the economic vitality of their communities through their patronage of local businesses, and paid federal, state and local taxes far in excess of those paid by multi-national U.S. corporations such as General Electric, that paid $0 in federal taxes in 2010. 

            But "State governments have been cutting jobs since November, and their current payrolls of 5.06 million are the lowest since March 2006. Local government employment now stands at 14.14 million, the smallest payrolls since June 2006" according to John Lonski, chief economist for Moody's Capital Markets Research ( Lisa Lambert, "State, local job loss menaces recovery: analysts," Reuters, August 5, 2011). Further, that same article reported that "States and localities employ about 19 million people so, as a sector, it's comparable to health and education, or to the entire goods producing sector," stated Philippa Dunne, who is the co-editor of the economic newsletter, The Liscio Report, which monitors state budgets."No one needs to point out that we are in a weak recovery, so ongoing job losses in a major sector are not a trivial thing."

            The GOP's insistence that lower taxes are essential to the creation of jobs is equally absurd. In the September, 2011 edition of the Atlantic magazine ("Can The Middle Class Be Saved?"), Don Peck observes that "Over time, the United States has expected less and less of its elite...The top income-tax rate was 91 percent  in1960, 70 percent in 1980, 50 percent  in 1986, and 39.6 percent in 2000, and is now 35 percent. Income from investments is taxed at a rate of 15 percent. The estate tax has been gutted."

             When this tax data is compared to the actual rates of job growth during these same decades, the evidence shows that the leaders of the GOP are engaged in myth-making and fantasy economics, far removed from economic reality. Washington Post correspondent, Neil Irwin ("Augusts were a lost decade for U.S. economy, works,' January 2, 2101), observes after a review of the economic data that job growth in the U.S. economy increased by 24% in the decade of the 1950s, 31% in the 1960s, 27% in the 1970s, 20% in the 1980s, 20% in the1990s, and 0% percent from 2000-2009.   

             Despite this evidence, the GOP continues to insist that current malaise of the market economy has been caused by too much government regulation, not too little. Left to its own devices, these advocates of laissez-faire claim that an unfettered economy  based upon the principles of "free enterprise" as laid down by Adam Smith is the best guarantor of prosperity for everyone. Although this argument has been shown by almost all serious economists to be "the silly view of the public interest," history shows that it is not possible to defeat a theological proposition with empirical evidence or by an appeal to reason.      

          John Kenneth Galbraith bemoaned the existence of "private affluence and public squalor" in the America of the 1950s. The contradiction has only grown worse in the subsequent decades.The disparity between the few who are wealthy and the many who are poor has grown alarmingly in the United States since the advent of the Reagan era and the kind of "trickle-down" economics and de-regulation of the economy to which he and his advisers subscribed.

          The net effect of this extraordinary concentration of wealth and power has been that the decisions and predilections of fewer and fewer individuals now determine the outcomes in the American economy while the overwhelming majority of Americans have little ability to influence macro-economic trends or economic and political policies. So great is this disparity and the economic inequality that it has engendered that, by October of 2010, as reported by Forbes Magazine, the 400 richest Americans saw their combined net worth climb 8% that year, to $1.37 trillion. That wealth was equal to that of the combined wealth of the 50% of households at the bottom of the U.S. economy.

           Robert H. Frank, Cornell University economist reported in a New York Times column ["Income Inequality: Too Big to Ignore," October 16, 2010] that during the decades after World War II, incomes in the United States rose rapidly and at about the same rate - approximately 3 percent a year - for employees at all income levels. As a consequence, America had an economically dynamic middle class; its roads and bridges were well maintained; and Americans as a whole were optimistic as investments in infrastructure and public goods increased. In that era of relative economic equality, Frank noted, that public support for infrastructure - paid for by taxes - enjoyed wide support.

        By contrast, Frank notes that, during the past three decades, as the economy has grown much more slowly, America's infrastructure has fallen into grave disrepair. Simultaneously, all significant income growth has been concentrated at the top of the scale with the largest share of total income going to that top 1 percent of earners.

         The effect of this trend has been to sour the attitudes of the middle class toward public investments. As the middle class confronted the specter of stagnant wages, its members continued to finance their life style through increasing indebtedness. Hence, their reduced circumstances, in turn, have made them easy targets for right-wing ideologues of the Republican Party and their corporate sponsors who have persuaded many citizens that the cause of their predicament is a result of the taxes that they pay, not an excess of private greed. The mantra of "no new taxes"' has thus led to the increasing impoverishment of the public sector as witnessed by the collapse of infrastructure and the increasing attacks upon the benefits public employees have been able to enjoy because of their unionization and collective-bargaining.

         The GOP and its leaders are unwilling to admit that the unbridled pursuit of self-interest, without oversight and regulation in the public interest, is a prescription for more of the same: continued wage stagnation, high unemployment and the continued out-sourcing of jobs to less expensive labor markets around the world. Citizenship - even corporate citizenship as enunciated in the Citizens United decision - carries with it, in addition to rights, reciprocal obligations since a healthy society can never be a mere aggregation of social atoms and personal interests.

          Confronted with the poverty created by the Industrial Revolution, British political philosopher, T.H. Green, struggled to find  a way to redefine classical liberal doctrine. Although his effort remained, at its core, firmly supportive of individual rights, Green invoked the wisdom of Aristotle and Cicero who endorsed the view that rights and obligations are reciprocal, and that they are based upon mutuality and societal recognition. Green also sought to remind us that each of us derives meaning as citizens, and not as solitary beings. For that reason, too, freedom becomes not a "freedom from," which enables individuals to erect walls and barricades around themselves, but rather a positive power or capacity to do something worth doing in concert with others.

        "The self," Green insisted, "is a social self," and, for that reason, government, as the agent of society, should be viewed as positive instrument for the public good. As his student, L.T. Hobhouse, succinctly put it, "Democracy is not founded merely on the right or the private interest of the individual. This is only one side of the shield. It is founded equally on the function of the individual as a member of the community. It founds the common good upon the common will, in forming which it bids every grown-up, intelligent person to take a part."

          The efforts of T.H. Green and his students to instill within liberal doctrine a commitment to the public interest is diametrically opposed to the agenda of selfishness that the GOP and its current presidential candidates seek to advance. Were they to admit the existence of a public interest or acknowledge that each of us, as citizens, have reciprocal obligations to one another, they would no longer be able to espouse the kind of nonsense that they daily advance. More importantly, they would lose eagerly sought after corporate sponsorship.


Will Our Culture Implode Along With The Economy?

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Alexis de Tocqueville toured America in the 18...

      Alexis deTocqueville

             In September of  2010, Forbes Magazine announced that the collective net worth of the nation's wealthiest four hundred persons had risen $290 billion above the previous year to $1.37 trillion. This staggering concentration of wealth is greater than the total wealth held by the bottom 50% of all U.S. households. Despite this ever-widening economic inequality between the haves and the have-nots, the GOP was able to impose an austerity budget upon the United States. Equally perplexing, these austerity measures were endorsed by President Obama and the Congress, notwithstanding the almost universal agreement among economists that government austerity measures during a time of economic travail, such as the present, will only prolong a recession and exacerbate the plight of the unemployed, the underemployed and middle class employees who have seen their wages stagnate or erode. How has this happened?
       As early as the 1820s, the French observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, detected a potentially disquieting link between the pervasive individualism which infused the new American democracy, which Tocqueville celebrated, and the large number of voluntary associations which he discovered Americans so willingly participated in. This collectively-shared adherence to individualism "disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and draw apart with his family and friends, so that after he has thus formed a circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to look after itself." Tocqueville further warned that "Selfishness blights the germ of all virtue; individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life...Selfishness is a vice as old as the world..individualism is of democratic origin, and it threatens to spread in the same ration as the equality of condition."
      Almost two centuries later, citizens of the United States experience extraordinary stress and uncertainty. As this culture has made the painful transitions during the past two hundred and thirty-five years from agrarian to industrial and now to post-industrial, and from rural to urban to suburban and exurban, many current observers have detected increasing evidence of social disintegration, violence, fragmentation and loneliness. Harvard Political Scientist Robert Putnam has observed that ordinary Americans shared a sense of civic malaise at the end of the twentieth century. The empirical evidence, as shown by the quantitative data, is quite startling. "Fully 77 percent said the nation was worse off because of 'less involvement in community activities.' In 1992, three quarters of the U.S. workforce said that 'the breakdown of community and selfishness were 'serious or extremely serious' problems in America."

      At a very personal level, years before the financial meltdown of 2008, there was compelling information which showed that trepidation and uncertainty increased as economic inequality and despair rose dramatically. Yale University Political Scientist Jacob Hacker has documented, among many other unsettling indicators, that personal bankruptcy filings by Americans increased from fewer than 290,000 to more than 2 million between 1980 and 2005; since the 1970s the number of mortgage foreclosures increased fivefold; and that one in three children and non-elderly adults--some 80 million citizens in the United States--were without health insurance during the years 2002-2003. Other commentators have emphasized that the increasing complexity and social isolation of American contemporary life have created a dystopia of choice which became pronounced during the last half of the twentieth century. As Philip Salter noted in his book, The Pursuit of Loneliness: "Americans are forced into making more 'choices' per day, with 'fewer givens, more ambiguous criteria, less environmental stability, and less social structural support than any people in history."

       Two articles published in the New York Times on the same day last year - March 1, 2010 - illustrate the often extreme forms of anti-social individualism which American culture now tolerates. The first article described a German family who were granted asylum by a U.S. immigration judge both after they were denied permission to home school their children by the German government and after an appeal of that denial had been rejected by the European Court of Human Rights. The family, devout Christians whose asylum application was sponsored by the Home School Legal Defense Fund, complained about the unruly behavior of many German students and claimed to be troubled that many of the stories contained in the German Kinderschule Readers portrayed devils, witches and disobedient children as heroes.   

       The second article reported that a 71-year-old retired property manager in Virginia, Dale Welch, walked into a Starbucks with a handgun strapped to his waist and ordered a banana Frappuccino with a cinnamon bun. Said Mr. Welch, "I don't know of anybody who would provide me with defense other than myself, so I routinely as a way of life carry a weapon--and that extends to my coffee shops."
       The late Christopher Lasch lamented that the etiology of these social pathologies is to be found in the American ethos which he described as a "culture of competitive individualism, which in its decadence has carried the logic of individualism to the extreme of a war of all against all, [and] the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of a narcissistic pre-occupation with the self."

      The idea of social justice requires an understanding and a commitment to meet our common needs and aspirations as citizens. Social justice can never be achieved on the backs of the most vulnerable. The French Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain, reminds us that, "the primary duty of the modern state is the enforcement of social justice." But in a society in which the first person pronoun "I" continues to control the political discourse, the pursuant of social justice will remain an hollow platitude as will our ability to collectively reason our way out of the current economic and social malaise.  
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Is the U.S. Ill-Served by its Media?

Cover of "Nineteen Eighty-Four"

       Almost all  economists agree that government austerity measures during a time of economic travail, such as today, will only prolong a recession and exacerbate the plight of the unemployed, the underemployed and middle class employees who have seen their wages stagnate or erode. Despite all of the objective evidence to the contrary, Republicans in Washington appear to have succeeded in their monomaniacal efforts to commit the federal government to extreme austerity measures. How have they accomplished this feat?
    For decades now, the Republican media consultants, as chronicled by Roy Brock in his important book, The Republican Noise Machine, have sought to persuade ordinary Americans that the print and electronic media throughout the United States is dominated by  liberals. For that reason, all news reports that propose to discuss the scientific basis of evolution, the existence of climate change, or which suggest that the current political system is dysfunctional should be dismissed. as evidence of liberal bias. The purpose of this consistent propaganda effort has been to inculcate a worldview that denies that there is any such thing as "objective reality" or fact-based information. In a world in n which all information has been reduced to that which one believes, one's subjective understanding of reality is as valid as anyone else's, and that the opinions of the ignoramus or village idiot are entitled to the same weight as the research of the scholar.    

      On an individual level, it is a sad fact that too many of American citizens lack the basic skills in reading, writing and comprehension to use language to communicate effectively or coherently. Few can read a newspaper such as The New York Times with good comprehension; fewer still read any newspapers or books at all.

    By almost every indicator - whether measured by linguistic, scientific, historic, economic, geographic or legal literacy - Americans, as a people, fare poorly. We have become a "sound-bite" culture. The consequence of this pervasive illiteracy is that many American citizens cannot distinguish between a fact or an opinion, or distinguish myth from reality. In addition, the illiteracy of the American population creates a docile and easily manipulated public. At the political level, the inability to understand and to use language properly has  created a vacuum into which slogans and cant have become substitutes for serious public discussion or analysis of issues.

        When language is used imprecisely - or in a slovenly or cavalier manner - the underlying quality of thought is similarly compromised. The link between language and thought is explored in George Orwell's profound novel, 1984. In that seminal book, the central character, Winston Smith, works in the Ministry of Truth. His job is to help to create for the omnipresent tyranny which governs Oceana a new language, Newspeak. Newspeak is the ultimate language of control: Each year in the Ministry of Truth, thousands of words are eliminated. In addition, antonyms are collapsed into synonyms. Hence, "Freedom is slavery, "Ignorance is strength, "War is peace." As Orwell reminds us in the appendix to that novel, when one loses the capacity to use words correctly, one loses the capacity to think; when one loses the capacity to think, the ability to rebel or to imagine alternatives to the status quo is irrevocably extinguished.

      The misuse of words impairs our ability to reason and to understand social reality. The deceptive or imprecise use of words denotes fallacious or imprecise thinking. When words are used as epithets for the purposes of ad hominem attacks, the intent of the author of the words is to elicit an emotional reaction and to thus foreclose the possibility of serious reflection or consideration by appealing to the listener's prejudices. Thus, during the past six decades as we have seen, the word "liberal" and a panoply of related synonyms such as "tax and spend," "death tax" and "government mandates" have been used by various politicians and media outlets to convey something sinister, while slogans such as "free enterprise," "individual rights" and the "American way" have been invoked to convey something wonderful and patriotic.

     The calculated use of these words has been to persuade citizens to acquiesce to the roll-back of government regulation and programs in the public interest, and to thwart efforts to regulate heretofore unregulated entities such as hedge funds and financial instruments such as collateralized securities and debt obligations. By 2008, under the political cover provided by this linguistic subterfuge, the unrestrained pursuit of self-aggrandizement had precipitated a severe and prolonged fiscal crisis in the United States and throughout the world, the effects of which have continued to cripple the U.S. economy to the present.

       This concerted campaign to roll back the modest government regulation introduced during the New Deal--which was designed to preserve market capitalism while attempting to insulate the public against its worst excesses--has been aided and abetted by the print and electronic media which, heavily dependent upon corporate investment and advertising, uncritically toe the party line. Given the decline of the print media, the broadcast media especially have been effective surrogates which promote a partisan political agenda.

        Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the Fox Television Network, which claims to present "fair and balanced news," spews a stream of political propaganda and invective across the airwaves against those they depict as the enemies of American values. Besides the Fox Network, thousands of radio outlets across the United States routinely promote the partisan rhetoric of right-wing talk show hosts. They stridently espouse "traditional" American values of gun ownership, militarism, xenophobia, jingoism, and eighteenth century--i.e. liberal--notions of rugged individualism punctuated with appeals to pure avarice--"I've got mine, screw you."

     While Fox and its right-wing friends may be the most obvious cases in point, the talking heads and presenters on the other twenty-four hour cable networks are equally culpable. Pleasant, vacuous, uninformed "presenters," many of whom lack journalistic credentials and have gotten their jobs as a result of nepotism or inside connections, are all too often unable to ask insightful questions or are too timid to challenge nonsensical remarks. Hence, for example, Senator Rand Paul (R. KY) was allowed on CNN this past Saturday afternoon to argue the merits of a balanced-budget amendment to the constitution that he supports. His interviewer failed to challenge him as to how, if such an amendment were in effect during World War I, World War II, the Great Depression or the current Great Recession, the United States government could responded to such crises, since all required the need to raise revenue through deficit-spending and borrowing.

      A similar problem exists in the print media. Aside from some serious efforts to discuss the current economic crises in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, USA Today, Rupert Murdoch's The Wall Street Journal. and the print media in most cities across the United States remain largely dominated by "Rotary Club Republicans" and business-friendly interests who unwilling to offend conventional wisdom.

       There is plenty of blame to apportion in the current malaise, but when the history of this era is written it will also be clear that the citizens of the United States have been ill-served by their media. Instead of serious journalists committed to educating a public and creating an informed citizenry, the news media has been reduced to an "food fight" in which shrill, barely literate, uninformed propagandists have been permitted to hock the "snake oil" nostrums without challenge or criticism. Our public square has been impoverished as a consequence. 

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