Rick Perlstein on why The Free Press Is Slavery.

Go read:

Today’s marquee fibs almost always evolve the same way: A tree falls in the forest—say, the claim that Saddam Hussein has “weapons of mass destruction,” or that Barack Obama has an infernal scheme to parade our nation’s senior citizens before death panels. But then a network of media enablers helps it to make a sound—until enough people believe the untruth to make the lie an operative part of our political discourse.

God, it looks like I plagiarized his article. Unfortunately for that contention, I published first. (;

The Free Press Is Slavery

Every high school student has to remember what “yellow journalism” was. Better students would remember that a bunch of newspapers goaded America into a war with Spain for transparently imperial purposes.

And we’re all so relieved to know that such a thing wouldn’t happen in this enlightened age.

As with many of the aspects of American life in the post-WWII years, it’s an exception that proves the rule: the mass media in this country is the bluntest instrument of the establishment. This is not to say that suppressing the genuine flow of information is in the interest of a democratic society; it’s not. But as with our latter-day concept of “free speech” our concept of the “free press” is tied only in name to the image of a valiant pamphleteer with the printing-press equivalent of three chords and the truth bringing about the revolution.

Time was, the RF spectrum was managed as a public trust for the public. Now it is managed as a private trust for giant corporations that can purchase the bandwidth at auction. Time was, no matter who won such auctions, they had to provide a number of public services, such as independent news departments.

It was in that time of exceptions that that journalists brought down a corrupt president aided by a centrist Supreme Court. But the people who were brought down by the media have waged a multi-pronged war against it ever since. First, any kind of meaningful requirement of public service was eliminated. Second, a cynical and relentless PR campaign to brand the establishment media “liberal” has cowed journalism into abandoning truth for truth’s sake for balance for balance’s sake.

There is no more important virtue for a journalist today than “balance.” In a recent report on the “birther” phenomenon, this Mother Jones (a strongly liberal publication) the author felt that he had to find a liberal equivalent of the non-reality based community: vaccine paranoiacs.

I suppose those people fit the definition of “liberal” in most people’s minds. Maybe most are. But there is absolutely zero action by any politician–even a quote–above the level of Homeowners’ Association about this. There are no pending laws.

Birtherism, on the other hand, has spawned a number of laws forcing presidential candidates to disclose their birth certificates and almost all GOP candidates for 2012 at least pretend they believe Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii.

So, it’s equivalent. See?

And with news divisions forced to find profits, subscriptions, making their audience feel what they want to feel–whether it’s the enlightened fair milquetoast make-your-own-babyfood liberals of NPR, the pudgy white rage mobs of Fox News, the still-in-the-McGovern-campaign-headquarters deadenders at The Nation, or the button-down establishment in crowd of The New York times–these outlets know their audiences and cater to them.

They don’t cater to simple reporting. For that, we have to rely, for the most part, on a distillation of many sources, including foreign ones. It’s a lot of work, and most people aren’t up to it.

And the ability of the moneyed interests–everyone from Big Tobacco on–to outwit and (if you will) outfox the journalists and with them the American public has led this country into huge exercises of tail-chasing self-destruction like the Iraq war, abandoning any meaningful action on global warming, or real health care reform.

The Internet has helped and hurt to some extent. It has helped because the careful selection of what to report can’t stand, and no report goes without criticism. It has hurt because no one has to step away from their ideological brethren for even a minute.

A free press is a great idea, but one with the outward appearance of freedom and reliability dancing to the tune called by the Money Power is even worse.


The Secret Plan To End The Wars.

Heading into 2012, the Republicans can feel it slipping away. They have no great candidate, and a series of clowns has held the lead. First Sarah Palin, then Donald Trump. Worse, Obama seems to be able to get some things done and has definitely solidified his centrist credentials.

All of this is more or less the result of the overheated extremist positions that Obama has brought about in them. Anyone who denies it’s largely about race is just pandering to an audience. Sure, the economy is a large issue. But there’s nothing that requires the reaction to tough times to be “fuck you” to everyone else instead of pulling together as a team.

And the GOP nominee will be someone that wants to be president very badly and sees this as their only chance. Someone more handsome, with a shorter name, and more popularity will be in the race in 2016, where there will probably once again not be a sitting vice president running.

That person will have to win the primaries of course. To do that, they will have to talk about birth certificates, muslims, and socialism.

But this person will have to do something to make themselves seem reasonable. Something to seem centrist. Something to seem not so extremist.

Here’s my prediction. A la Nixon, they will have a secret plan to end the wars. This will even convince a few liberals the way it did in 1968.

They will say Obama so mismanaged them that we have to get out, or whatever. Naturally, criticism of Obama regarding the wars is allowed even when it wasn’t allowed against Bush. This is their opening.


The people in the Obama administration clearly see the Clinton administration as the template of an effective presidency. And it was. But it was also a sort of caretaker era that I don’t think we need as much as another era of progress. Obama’s rhetoric talks about Sputnik moments, but instead of talking about putting whitey back on the moon, we’re rearranging the bean counting.

I have no illusions that it would be better politics if Obama did what I said, because I think he’s definitely earned his compromiser/President of all Americans/centrist cred and the myth of alienating his base isn’t borne out in the numbers.

Still, there will come a day when politics finally catches up and demands a leap forward, not a crawl.

And I’m sure that we’ll be sold on those vague visions as why he needs a second term. I’ll be voting for Obama because despite his flaws, he’s giving us the kind of Clintonian pause we need. But there has to be a way to keep it going into a new administration.

The last time a Democrat who wasn’t already President won after two full terms of another Democrat was Martin Van Buren after Andrew Jackson.

Free Markets Are Slavery

Through some force majeure, haggling is supposed to pick God’s price for things. Not only are these markets able to calculate the exact value for things, they do so by incorporating all relevant knowledge into that calculation. In other words, markets are also omniscient!

This is no straw man. This is exactly what the efficient markets hypothesis (should be called the efficient markets fallacy) says. So, how on earth could a bunch of fat sweaty corrupt bureaucrats doing the bidding of labor unions possibly interfere to positive effect? Apparently, most of the proof the world needed for forming a consensus around this was the fall of planned economies like the Soviet Union.

There was a lot more wrong with the Soviet  Union than its economy. You have to believe the Ayn Rand tripe about personal freedoms and economic freedoms going hand-in-hand to believe that (and ignore all of the evidence right in front of your eyes). The Soviet Union was a corrupt, militant, police state that did not tolerate even a glimmer of dissent. It could have been all of those things and had a roaring economy, even a laissez-faire one just like there are nations will relatively oppressive social laws and unregulated economies (the United States, for one). Economic inequality, not lack of regulation, corresponds much more powerfully to oppression than a few outliers like North Korea. (And, well, isn’t a communist state actually the most wealth unequal: no one can even have property except the state, and, well, that’s controlled by the tiny group at the top of the party.)

So, even though the evidence wasn’t exactly conclusive, it was enough for most of the world’s thinkers to believe that the free market dogma was closer to the truth than planned economies. Apparently, they never considered that both could be wrong. This is called the fallacy of the false dichotomy. It is perhaps the single deepest hallmarks of social repression of all kinds. You make people do things they don’t want to do because they feel they have no other choice. This is often extremely wise for individuals to do, when true. But when fraudulent, it is how people (even in democratic countries) act against their interests and want to do so.

The apparent basis for this kind of thinking in the case of free markets, is, again, the collapse of the communist, planned-economy-model nations about 20 years ago. (Indeed, the economic collapse of them.)

This might hold if the kinds of assumptions we have to make can be altered in a degree proportional to their effect on the belief. In other words, if there are cases where the efficient markets hypothesis can be shown not to hold, we can argue this is a distortion of an otherwise sound theory, we must still hold it. This is why many scientific theories endure. Because they explain more than they don’t. We still learn Newtonian physics even in college, and only the very specialized need even consider the exceptions. So, it would seem, behind the man-made distortions, this god of markets–Pluto, the pagan god of wealth seems appropriate–endures.

But physics isn’t a model for everything. We can’t predict the weather after a while because there is simply not enough order in the system. Markets seem to behave more like these chaotic complex systems than they do the orderly and often linear world of physics.

This isn’t news. Many of the more recent Nobel Prize winners in economics have won their award for showing that the efficients markets conjectures are wrong. There has been much study of the psychology of economics as well. Dan Ariely has written popular books on these topics. Pluto isn’t even blind, he just doesn’t know what the other half of himself is thinking and he’s very, very emotional and moody.

It’s unclear to me if the believers in these theories are or ever were unbona fide in their beliefs. I sometimes wonder if their originators weren’t either sociopathic or just calculatingly plutocratic. I honestly believe that most academics who believe this bullshit are seduced by the elegance of the math and not a political agenda, but they came to that later, after its creators. But that might be a bit of a stretch. Maybe Pluto’s elegance and apparent mathematical precision simply seduced some beautiful minds with an affinity for math and they felt they had been put into the false dichotomy of not believing the truth–that Pluto is real–or believing it and accepting the consequences of drastic income inequality.

But it won’t be long before Plutoism is a dead religion in the academic world. I’m sure there will be a few weirdos at the University of Chicago and here and there for a while, but it’s essentially over. Corporations don’t want the free market; they want one of the most widely recognized “failures” of the market: monopoly! The main people interested in pushing this theory are, of course, the wealthy. It, like the other hocus pocus economics of the right wing, like the Laffer curve, are simply simulacra of theories designed to appeal to those with just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

So, in other words your average BMW-driving private-college-educated asshole who makes over $200k. They read articles, think it sounds as intellectual as they are, and they support it.

But of course, these concepts are just designed to confirm the pre-ordained results: that taxes are evil, that any kind of government regulation that prevents wealth accumulation in any manner is evil, and that even fundamental rights should vary based on one’s wealth.

If you are one of Pluto’s chosen, you are more equal. We accept that if you’re poor, you’re more likely to be convicted of a crime, be in bad health, live a shorter life, and have less opportunities in life. Even decisions like Gideon v. Wainright, requiring states to provide lawyers to those who can’t afford them, are constant sources of outrage because they require taxes even though they make only tiny strides in closing the justice gap between rich and poor.

As I’ve discussed in Free Speech is Slavery, we have also come to let money be the blessing required to opinions in politics. Without millions of dollars to give to candidates, what you think doesn’t matter. This naturally reinforces the power of those who have money and want to keep it.

Assume this is not the case. Then the repeated failure of the theory to comport with historical evidence means that it should not be accepted for governance. But it is, even though it’s quite possible to have a moderately regulated economy and great degrees of personal freedom. Did you know in some Nordic countries there’s no such thing as trespassing?

It has transcended a theory. When a theory maintains believers in spite of empirical repudiation, it becomes a religion. Free markets are a religion for the Plutonic cult.

And as  they increase the wealth and income inequality in this  country, they make us less free. Free markets are slavery.


The Lords of Slate.

One of the worst things about being a liberal is having to read the arrogant, contra-contrarian, pointy-headed bullshit from Slate. The annoying actual liberal media is almost enough to make you want to be a conservative. Conservatives don’t read or listen to media that tries to tell them they are right about being conservatives, but too dumb to know much about how or why.

This is not to say that there is a virtue in pure echo chamber media. There’s a way to challenge what people think without insulting their intelligence, while somehow subtly making them feel like are just cool enough to hang out with these gods.

The Lords of Slate are annoying indeed. Lord Saletan tells us why have legal abortions, but only with a Byzantine web of laws and social mores that makes us cry about it so it will never ever happen anyway. Lord Weisberg commands that we join in the jock sniffing cult of personality of right wing politicians (apparently he doesn’t get that the whole some-politician-is-our-here narratives they put out there are to give people already predisposed to that politician to give themselves a post-hoc justification for why they are voting that way—I didn’t vote for John Kerry in the primary, but I’m voting for him in the general because now I know he’s a war hero! The whole John Kerry was decorated in Vietnam and then came back and went hippie is not meant for Republicans to get all wound up in). He honestly wanted us to believe that Maverick crap about John McCain ffs. Now, he wants us to believe that Paul Ryan’s nitrous-huffing budget proposal is courageous. No, you fucken ninny, that’s what the Republicans are saying to explain why it will never ever happen. Courageous=not happening. Then all the Republicans can get themselves in heat over the lost opportunity to bring about the earthly paradise of a USA free of Medicare and full of old people going bankrupt over medical bills. He thinks this shit is real. I wonder if Lord Weisberg has figured out that wrestling is fake yet. Santa Claus?

Let’s not forget Lord Manjoo who tells us how we should feel about our gadgets.

I mean, on NPR they have to pretend like the Tea Party p.o.v. isn’t batshit insane and be polite about it. But we know. We know that NPR listeners believe in evolution, gravity, global warming, and the non-involvement of Saddam Hussein in 9/11. But we’ll pretend like the people that believe otherwise have a valid “opinion.”

Then there are the Junior Varsity Slate poseurs, the Squires of [The American] Prospect who are assisted by the Pages of  [Washington] Monthly. These people all come from suburban New England and had parents who never let them watch television, ever, and who made their own clothes. Then they see movie stars and politicians and get mancrushes on them.

And lest I forget, MSNBC. This is where we have to accept the fact that they are mentioned as a “liberal version of Fox” as if their heart was really in it, as if their owners really cared about that kind of politics or if they didn’t just see a market opportunity for profit. So, this reality show version of the West Wing forces us to have these corporate-owned actors speak for liberals and we have to pretend this balances out Fox. We also have to pretend that we are like really close acquaintances with all of these politicians and we don’t hate them and just want them to shut up.

Yes, there is the “So-Called Liberal Media” like the nightly news shows and newspapers, the insult-nerd (as opposed to insult comic) liberal media, the milquetoast pseudo-liberal media, and the Inside Baseball Liberal Actors.

There are some decent ones, but god damn. Can we please make it so that Slate is not required reading. Fuck.


Free Speech Is Slavery (Draft)

This is not about your right to petition your government. It’s not even really about your right to look at Internet porn or say ‘fuck’ in public. It’s not even about advertising or other commercial speech in general. It’s about the fact that the Supreme Court–always the most reactionary body of the federal government*–has decided on the one hand to limit the explicitly stated rights in the Bill of Rights to actual people** while deciding that an organization of people given acting for profit, a corporation, has all of the same rights as a natural person.

“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech” (U.S. Const. Amend I.)

And why was the Bill of Rights enacted? To make it clear that”

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.(U.S. Const. Amend. IX.)

and in the cases of the most important ones, to make sure they were spelled out. Notice that it says “others” retained by the “people.” In other words, the rights in the Bill of Rights were among the rights retained by the people. There were others. But they belonged to people. Not to the federal government, nor to the states. What’s more, the powers not given to the feds in the Constitution stayed with the states or the people. (U.S. Const. Amend. X.) So, states had no rights either, they had powers. The only group with rights are people.

So, what to do for big business? That’s easy. We’ll just make up a whole new group of people.

Corporate personhood came to the Supreme Court in the period of the reaction against reconstruction and of robber barons. The Supreme Court in this era neutered the 14th amendment by comically deciding that Congress didn’t have the power to outlaw racial discrimination by private individuals and organizations under Section 5 of the 14th amendment which states that “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this [amendment].” (Civil Rights Cases 109 U.S. 3 (1883).) Later, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, it was sustained under the Commerce Clause of all things. (cite.) Justice Douglas that this was ridiculous. (cite.)

But they made sure that the states couldn’t mess with big business. Corporations had been recognized as having rights to contract, and to have those contracts honored the same as contracts entered into by natural persons, in Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819). This makes sense if you believe in the doctrine of limited liability***. You have to have a way to block off their transactions from those of their owners.

But apparently, corporations evolved from accounting fictions, to legal fictions, to some kind of being of pure spirit. In the 1886 case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad,  the Supreme Court recognized that corporations were recognized as persons for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment. By taking this legal fiction–that stacks of paper are a person (great for bookkeeping, keeping tax records, and limiting liability)–to the level of either Dr. Frankenstein or God in Genesis and given them the same rights that the Founders of this country thought either came from Nature or from God. As far as I know, no Supreme Court justice has been denied communion for this brazen act of idolatry. So, shorter Gilded Age Supreme Court: Blacks=not people; corporations=people.

Does this mean that any legal fiction created by the states or federal government can receive this elan vitale? I bet there is a cow or two out there that wishes it couldn’t be deprived of its life without due process, but unfortunately for the cow, a few stacks of paper have more rights than she does.

This is not to be confused with “commercial speech,” which has been allowed to be more restricted than “political speech.” But non-corporations can engage in “commercial speech” and corporations can engage in “political speech.”**** (Experiments have shown that those fancy fake-leather binders that hold a corporation’s records really hate taxes.)

Justice Clarence Thomas stated, in 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island (1996), that “I do not see a philosophical or historical basis for asserting that ‘commercial’ speech is of ‘lower value’ than ‘noncommercial’ speech.” Federal judge Alex Kozinski has stated “the Supreme Court plucked the commercial speech doctrine out of thin air.”

Pace, Kozinski, but that “thin air” is the fact that corporations are creatures of the state. States could not provide for the existence of corporations at all. It seems to follow then they could limit their rights of speech, no? (You see, the person restricting the speech is the state, not some metaphysical force. So it would follow that they could limit this legal fiction’s extent.)

Apparently not.


* During the brief era of relatively progressive courts in the late New Deal and Warren eras, Congress and the White House were more progressive. Only on the issues of executive power is there any argument that the Supreme Court in this era was more progressive. In any event, even if the New Deal/Warren era were a progressive period, it would be the exception that proves the rule. The only component of our national government (of which, believe it or not, the states are a part due to their constitutional roles in passing amendments and devising election laws to name a few) that is more reactionary than the Supreme Court are certain states, but certain other states are also the most progressive part, so this leaves the Supreme Court alone as the primary shock troops of the reaction.

** Whether or not you think the FISA court is a good idea (I do) or even  warrantless wiretapping without FISA is a good idea (I do not), only the most glib legal maneuvering can possibly make these constitutional. i have no doubt that a Constitutional amendment to modernize warrant law would have a decent chance of passing, and this would be the proper way.

*** Limited liability also seems to have the status of a religious dogma. The theory is that by limiting the amount of loss an investor can suffer in any business venture to the amount invested, investment is encouraged. Why the limit should be set at precisely that amount, whether there is an aggregate social utility to this practice, or even whether there is a better way using insurance frameworks is a question left utterly unexamined by mainstream legal and business scholars. Yet it is a principle that is employed in some manner in all developed nations.

**** The naivete of this distinction is shocking. Theoretically, everything a corporation does is for its commercial advantage. If it does something otherwise, it is in violation of its fiduciary duties to its shareholders. While a certain amount of wiggle room is allowed for methods, ends have to be profitable. Therefore, I believe that all “speech” by a corporation is prima facie commercial, even if it is political in nature. This, of course, assumes (which I do not) that we should be concerned at all about analyzing the First Amendment with respect to any “speech” by a corporation. We should not. They have no such rights.