Thursday, July 11, 2019

Disrespecting the Demos

The word demos means the people. I used it in the title of this post because I like the alliterative property and rhythm of the phrase "disrespecting the demos".

Forty some years ago I was driving through South Dakota on my way from Chicago to San Diego. I stopped for lunch at a diner in a small farming town. There was a group of farmers and local business people having coffee and conversation at a table near where I was sitting. They were talking about a variety of things - commodity prices, crops, the weather, but mostly about political affairs.  What struck me was how informed they were and how willing they were to engage in debate with each other.

Forty years later we have lost the public spaces, public education and media outlets that allowed for that type of civilized public discussion.

Public spaces, notably coffee houses, have played a key role in allowing for the exchange of ideas for hundreds of years. Speaking with others allows for a type of sanity check on whatever ideas a person may propose. Having a friendly conversation and defending a position using facts and logic, helps instill a sense of humility. Articulating and defending our positions in the real world with real people may lead us to question our own firmly held beliefs, see that we are not consistent, admit we are hypocrites and hold it.....actually learn something.

Coffee shops today serve as a means to access WiFi so atomized individuals can work or otherwise interact in a virtual world that may have little or no relationship to the non-virtual world. In this virtual world there is no need for civility, nuance or disagreement. If someone disagrees with you, or says something you find offensive, you can unfriend them or block them - no need to listen to them. We see this attitude move from the virtual world to the real world when a controversial (sometimes despicable) person is invited to speak on a college campus and rather than being debated or ignored is shouted down or otherwise prevented from speaking.


Public education seems to be lacking in providing students with a civic education. We can't have a functioning democracy without an active and informed citizenry, being passive and uninformed we therefore have a government controlled by the few for the few.

Schools and society as a whole, don't generate a wide interest in politics, political systems or history therefore many people ignore those topics. Things that society deems important - sports, cars, clothing, recreation, technology, celebrity, etc. result in large numbers of people discussing and sharing quite detailed information about their favorite topic.

Schools have turned into a machine for making good workers; that is people who can show up, follow orders, and not cause a disturbance by questioning the status quo.

So we lost public spaces to the internet, and public education to the corporate overlords - what happened to the media to allow a civil conversation between farmers, workers and business people with differing views to occur forty years ago - but not today?

CNN was founded just about forty years ago in 1980. This had a profound effect on how the news was covered since before that news departments were public service non-profit entities (other than the one or two short commercials aired during the 30 minute evening news). After the institution of the 24 hour news cycle the news departments became revenue generators jockeying for market share by providing what people wanted.

People wanted lots of faux fighting, false equivalence, good guy/bad guy stories, good group/bad group stories, colorful graphics, scrolling chyrons, someone to blame other than themselves, and BREAKING NEWS! Embedded in this infotainment is pervasive propaganda supporting the goals of the wealthiest, the .1 percent, to retain and amass obscene amounts of wealth (power).

The FCC Fairness Doctrine was abolished in 1987 which opened the doors for Fox news in 1996 to begin it's campaign to save the billionaires and defend America's aristocracy - disrespecting the demos and showing us just how stupid they think we are. The Fairness Doctrine was abolished because it was claimed to be an impediment to free speech. Whenever you hear a plutocrat or his minions talk about "free speech" just replace the the words free speech with wealth. Doing that we see the Fairness Doctrine was abolished because it was an impediment to wealth.


Do I think there is some sort of secret cabal controlling cable news and national newspapers? A vast right-wing conspiracy if you will?

No - not exactly. What I do think is that the people who work in those areas tend to be elites who benefited from the status quo and are disinclined to rock the boat. If you and your families well being depends on your employment at one of these institutions it makes sense that you would adapt your behavior to the company culture.

What do I mean by elites? People who live in the super-zips who go to the "best" schools and then end up in some sort of professional position. It wouldn't be the journalist who was the "elite" in this sense but rather his boss or the owner of the enterprise.

William Barr our crime abetting AG is an "elite". He grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His father Donald Barr was the headmaster of the Dalton School. According to Wikipedia, The Dalton School is a private, coeducational college preparatory school on New York City's Upper East Side and a member of both the Ivy Preparatory School League and the New York Interschool. The Dalton School is routinely ranked among the top private schools in the United States. With regard to elite college admissions, Dalton ranked 5th in a 2003 Worth survey and 8th in a 2004 Wall Street Journal survey." Dalton sounds like a wonderful school provided you can cough up $50,000 a year for your K12 kid to attend. William Barr has three daughters all who have paid high ranking positions in the federal government. It appears their spouses are employed by the federal government as well.

If you think that money and power haven't corrupted our institutions - ponder the legal systems treatment of Jeffrey Epstein for a moment. The Miami Herald coverage of that case is an excellent piece of journalism that shows the incredible disparity between treatment of the ultra wealthy vs. everyone else by our legal system.

Fun Facts - the Dalton School where Donald Barr was the headmaster, hired Jeffrey Epstein as a teacher in 1974 where "his behavior towards teenage girls was noticed" according to this NYT article. This week William Barr recused himself from involvement in Epstein's case and then un-recused himself for the new charges against Epstein in the Southern District of New York. There are plausible theories that Epstein's wealth came from inviting, videotaping and then blackmailing some of the rich and famous who attended his parties in Manhattan, Palm Beach or his private islands.


One silver lining of the Trump era is the ripping away of the curtain that slightly obscured just how corrupt our legal and governmental systems are, in large part, due to extreme wealth consolidation. The New York Times has documented how the Trump family has manipulated and cheated the system for decades. Why was this allowed to continue for decades? Why would anyone assume manipulation and corruption of our governmental and legal systems are limited to people like Epstein and Trump and not just the tip of a very large iceberg?


If you think that what's best for corporations is best for America than maybe a pro-corporate slant within the major media outlets is all for the best. Maybe ask yourself how you came to your beliefs? You don't have to agree with him but Noam Chomsky has some thoughtful criticisms of corporations and government - decide for yourself if what he's saying is a load of manure, totally true or maybe partially true. Exercise the freedom we have to think for ourselves and say what we believe in this great country!

If you have almost three hours to watch a video, the 1992 video about Noam Chomsky titled Manufacturing Consent might be useful in forming an opinion about our government, corporations and the media. This video of Noam Chomsky debating William F Buckley in 1969 is interesting to me because both participants Noam the lefty, and Buckley the conservative, are being civil and actually debating using ideas, details and what appear to be facts.

I realize how ridiculous it is to suggest someone watch a 3 hour video from a college professor about propaganda, media and our government. Who has that kind of time? Other than the leisure class like me (retired old fogy) not many people have the time or inclination. I get that - but I'd also highly recommend exploring some alternate sources of information in whatever free time you might have to devote to personal education. Learning is fun damental :-)

If you want to live in a democracy you will need to be involved and informed. This isn't just hyperbole or a quote from some dead white guy. Look at what policies are favored by the majority of people and then look at what policies are implemented by our government.

Our government has been captured by corporate moneyed interests - we don't have a democracy we have a system that allows hoarding of inherited wealth by a small minority that then uses that wealth to retain power by dividing the working class against each other. If we divide the country by economic class there are a whole lot more poor people than rich people - hence it's best for the plutocrats to keep working class people confused, angry, afraid and most importantly - fighting each other and not their actual oppressors. Listen to this podcast about the Olin foundation for just one example of how this inherited concentrated wealth was used to impact our court system.

I want to wind around to the title of this post now - Disrespecting the Demos or alternately Disrespecting the Common People.

When I spend a few minutes watching cable news or listening to political talk radio I can't help but think how much those millionaires paid by billionaires disrespect the common man. They treat us as idiots, fools, poorly educated suckers - consumers.

One of these days maybe it will be time to say we aren't buying what you're selling.