The United States touts its commitment to free speech but American discourse has degenerated into self-absorbed info-tainment and trivia, ignoring many of the most pressing issues of the day, writes Michael Brenner.
By Michael Brenner
Freedom of speech’s centrality in civil liberties is a public as well as a private matter. After all, the point is not simply to empower persons to sound off about whatever passes through their mind or heart. Societies, for the most part, aren’t interested in speech as ad hominen self-affirmation. They are concerned about communication. That is to say, speech aimed at an audience with some degree of intent to influence how they think and potentially might act.
The two aspects of free speech too readily get mingled. In today’s discourse, they also tend to get confused. However, the issues they raise are, in fact, quite different with consequences of different orders of magnitude.
At the end of the day, the hullabaloo on college campuses about “warning notices” in syllabi and “safe spaces” is not going to have a serious effect on our collective existence one way or another. “Charlie Hebdo” is another matter. People are being killed because of what newspapers and journals publish. Political attitudes, and perhaps actions, are being partially shaped by it.
In another sense, the debate at some universities (e.g. Berkeley) as to whether criticism of Israel should be scrutinized for anti-Semitic meanings, too, links free speech in the form of political commentary to issues of public policy. That should be made explicit rather than allowing a political agenda to masquerade as a defense against bigoted speech.
There a strong argument to be made that the truly big issue in America’s public life nowadays has to do not with speech per se – but its absence. The reason why such value was place on freedom of speech in the United States Constitution is its vital contribution to a healthy democratic polity. It is essential for the voicing of public opinion, for collective political action, for petitioning government, for ensuring full and open debate of important policy questions, and – above all – for holding accountable our government officials (elected and appointed).
To restrict speech is to dam the flow of discourse, which is the sine qua non of a working democratic polity.
Historically, the anxiety arises over attempts by government to impose those restrictions – by law, by regulation, or by coercion.
But is that, today, the major failing in our public communications?
Yes, there are legitimate concerns about the pernicious spread of the “secret/classified” state and its companion: the persecution of so-called “leakers.” Still, by any reasonable standard, we Americans remain free to say, print and communicate pretty much anything we feel like doing.
Moreover, the means for disseminating those thoughts, ideas, emotions and exhortations have grown exponentially. Yet, our public discourse is more impoverished than it ever was in the past. That is the tragic irony of our times.
There is much breast-beating at the moment about the grievances of those many Americans who have risen up to cast the great protest vote of the 2016 election. How they were overlooked, how the experience of the “real America” was neglected by our elites. That self-indictment is correct. What it misses, though, are the deeper sources of this phenomenon.
After all, this is not India where walking over and around the deformed and destitute is an historically ingrained habit. We have had all the numbers we need about shifts in income distribution and declining living standards. Everyone in contact with an American university has been fully aware what the country’s near abandonment of financial support for higher education has meant for both students’ access to and the experience of their education.
It didn’t take any special prescience to discern that globalization of the national economy had at its heart the purpose of exploiting cheap labor abroad at the expense of more expensive labor at home while devising ingenious financial mechanisms to avoid taxation. And our leaders responsible for the policies, and non-policies, that have facilitated these processes knew full well what the concrete implications would be.
The silence of America’s political class is explicable in some readily understandable terms: the corrupting effect of money in politics; the corrupting effect of money in the media; the consequential muting of a healthy partisanship on socio-economic matters; the apoliticization of a society addicted to narcissistic entertainments and cheap thrills peddled to them by an assortment of unscrupulous pushers; and skillfully fostered fears like the GWOT that have drained away attention and passion.
All of this now looks self-evident. The missing factor in the equation is the irresponsible behavior of the many in all of the domains mentioned above who have known what was happening, were aware of the resulting damage being done, and may have had some qualms – but who nevertheless kept silent. They went with the flow for the sake of career, for the sake of personal status, for the sake of self-gratification.
Taking the course of least resistance seemed to carry no costs, no downside. Indeed, it didn’t and for the most part still doesn’t. Donald Trump can be seen as just another side-show carnival act.
Among those culpable of such behavior, the abrogation of the obligation as well as the right to free speech, an indictment should single out those who are paid to think and to communicate: The think tank denizens, the media journalists and commentators, the pundits of all sorts, and the academics.
Given the large number of such persons, given the years dedicated to their education and training, given the privileges they enjoy, given the unprecedented opportunities to communicate at their disposal – we might reasonably expect a rich and varied and energetic public discourse. Instead, we have a stale uniformity of thinking, a dedicated superficiality, an intellectual laziness, and an instinctive caution about doing anything that rocks any boats.
Yes, you might protest, what about LGBTQ rights, what about abortion, what about the Eighteenth Century slave trade controversy, what about immigration? Of course, there is a lot of sturm und drang freighted with emotion. They animate the nativist rebellion; they generate much passion. They are not unimportant.
Frankly, though, none of them – even in combination – are going to alter the structure and texture of American life in any fundamental way. One telling piece of evidence is the indifference to the outcome of those debates on the part of the powers that be in our multiple Establishments: financial, corporate, military, Intelligence, entertainment. They couldn’t care less whether transgenders (still undefined) get designated bathrooms at Ivy League universities. They’re more interested in controlling what’s going on in business schools, engineering colleges, law schools, economic departments, and alumni offices.
Ignoring the Biggest Issues
Equally telling is the long list of cardinal issues where the dead hand of uniformity rests undisturbed. Many are in the international realm:
–Who calls into question the designation of Russia as the number 1 security threat to the United States and our military moves in its vicinity?
–Who queries when U.S. generals acquired the right to verbally declare war on foreign powers as has been done repeatedly by former NATO Commander General Philip Breedlove and his successor General Curtis Scaparrotti?
–Who points out that we have been aiding and abetting al-Qaeda in Syria for years – and asks ‘why?’
–How have we placed ourselves in the absurd position of the CIA facilitating the transfer of anti-aircraft ‘man-pads,’ and TOWs to al-Qaeda/al-Nusra while the U.S. Army is training and advising their Kurdish enemies in Northwestern Syria?
–Who asks why we have allowed the Islamic State to carry on a lucrative oil commerce to finance their operations without taking military action against it?
–Who examines in detail why we give Saudi Arabia and Turkey a free pass to succor both terrorist organizations?
–Who asks why have we participated tangibly in the destruction of Yemen while our enemies there – al-Qaeda and ISIL – exploit what we are doing to gain strength?
–Who demands that President Obama explain how he could declare the Afghan war over in a White House ceremony in December 2014 and now commit us to an open-ended fight on the ground?
–Who bothers to correct the record on our leaving Iraq in December 2011 to explain that we were told to leave by the duly constituted government of Mr. al-Maliki and had no choice?
–Who indicts the President for personally approving the CIA’s hacking into the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee?
–Who has undertaken an investigation of the plotting that went into the secret drafting of the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty whose terms contravene principles of the Constitution?
–Who condemns the American orchestration of the coup in Ukraine?
–Who asks as to the American role in the Brazilian coup now revealed in published documents?
–Who strives to uncover why the Obama administration has committed us to spend $1 trillion on a massive upgrade of our nuclear arsenal when there is no stated or evident enemy and the logical implication is that “modernization” will produce a greater readiness to use the “bomb”?
This is for starters. The list of neglected domestic matters would be even longer. Engaging these issues ultimately is what free speech is all about.
We like to say that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Not so, though, if all we do is take selfies of ourselves brandishing it or use it as Suzuki pupils use a violin bow.
Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. [email protected]
Always, have I believed free speech to be the prime factor and basis of western democracy. I’ve even been mocked as a free speech worshiper. Yet, having reached my 86th year, I’m no longer so naive as to praise free speech merely because it is free speech, as if, in itself, it is some divine thing. Surely, free speech is democracy’s essential nourishment. However, most of what we label as free speech in America nowadays is a commercially wrought concoction of empty, unnourishing calories.
On one hand,with a few notable exceptions, it largely consists of endless runs of loud, gratuitous TV violence, sex, sappy entertainment that is often brutishly coarse, and repetitively noxious advertising. On the other hand, our most commonly consumed “serious” free speech is actually narrowly conceived controlled speech, scripted, directed and delivered by a conspiratorial TV/ media monopoly. It is usually acted out on TV by a cast of talking heads filled with straw, a neoliberal masquerade manufactured to such a fine and subtle degree, that a great many folks take it as a model of democratic debate and press freedom — including some big time commentators who should know better.
In spite of a potential capacity to compete, radio land, also with some notable exceptions, has not been a pusher of free speech. Fortunately, we still have the WORLD WIDE WEB which fields many competitively diverse and indepenent news and commentary entities, including this one. As it stands, even with undue constraints, the WEB allows and transmits free speech at its freest, most natural, most competitive and, so far, at its best and brightest. But we must be fearfully aware that the same conspiratorial media monopoly that controls TV and most other speech outlets, conspires to also control the WEB, from key word to site, and all clicks in between.
From the article:
After all, this is not India where walking over and around the deformed and destitute is an historically ingrained habit.
I don’t necessarily disagree (although many personal histories that I am aware of are different), but isn’t the gratuitous nature of the remark within this article– a historically ingrained habit of commentary of academics of a certain age–related in some way to the pathologies of Western policy toward South Asia?
How on earth did so many on the American right and left become enamored of old school Cold War and Saudi narratives on South Asia, the Pashtuns and localized insurgency and Kashmir as intellectual proxies for larger concerns? I know from looking at old archives of Sic Semper Tyrannis (is this the same Michael Brenner) that this angle was missed, as it was missed at a TomDispatch, by antiwar.com, by The American Conservative, by Truth Out and the Nation, and etc. Actual influence agents, second and third hand, made their way through. Tsk, tsk,
Not entirely, but pretty much so.
Emotional and intellectual habits are interesting things
Mr. Brenner…Since you are a university professor, I’m sure that you would be familiar with the comments of my 30-year-old niece, who told me last week that for her generation there is a feeling of hopelessness, between the worries over climate change, as well as the very real possibility of a nuclear war. There is a overwhelming feeling that nothing can be done (“tomorrow we die??”), so she and her friends simply turn to other interests. Aren’t we all dealing with that temptation?
Thanks for this welcome and necessary article.
This election has highlighted the fact that some very serious issues and facts are being kept out of America’s mainstream political discussions. Given the Constitutionally protected freedom of speech, it seems to me these omissions can only be due to coercion.
A notable example is the 100% absence of any mention of the Nakba in the zillions of discussions about the Israel-Palestine conflict, despite its obvious central relevance. Most Americans probably do not even know what the Nakba refers to. Even more relevant, it is completely absent in the very many discussions of why some Muslims become “radicalized”, despite its obvious, central relevance.
A second example are the well-known facts that Americans were deceived in order to invade Iraq, and that huge profits were made on that war. Although this has been established, it is still hardly mentioned in mainstream political discussions, including those about war and peace in the Middle East.
Intimately related to this, voluminous evidence has emerged since the 9/11 report that contradicts that report, and this new evidence is also 100% absent from mainstream media discussions. This is not the venue to discuss this evidence, but its existence is pertinent to understanding the topic of this article. For a country fascinated by crime and political intrigue in movies and TV shows, this is a truly remarkable omission.
In a similar vein, an enormous amount of evidence has surfaced since the Warren Commission’s report on the JFK assassination which contradicts that report. Discussion of this evidence is also completely absent from America’s mainstream political scene. Again, this is not the venue to discuss this evidence, but the omission is remarkable. A recent article details how an honest review of the Warren Commission report was spiked by the head of CBS News, who then ordered up a fabricated report for broadcast.
The prevailing theory based on the emerged evidence is that JFK was killed in order to proceed with the war in Vietnam. So this may be another case where the American public is being kept ignorant of the inner facts on why they go to war.
All these examples can be sensibly interpreted as efforts by some people who benefit by keeping the American public ignorant about wars that are centrally important to their well-being. The usual motive for this sort of thing would be money in vast quantities.
“That there are men in all countries who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of nations, is as shocking as it is true.” – Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791
Who? It isn’t who asks, but pointedly who are the responsible parties that ought to answer? But yet, the rational individual asks pointed questions which seek to disturb the propaganda of the State/Corporate/Globalist machine. The unfortunate condition of the query is denuded by the corporate/state fascism now clothed in the flag/cross/free markets, which is made plain by the list of sincere, honest questions, in that then such questions are denigrated as blasphemy against the understood free market religion to which our leaders supplicate themselves. The consistent stonewall of happy/fear/weather/terror/sports/death/news cycle disrupts cognizant thought among the hoi polloi, flushing these questions aside. For the point is to redirect concern to an emotional response (fear), the method by which corrupt nations and the politicians in the service of unregulated globalized corporate profits rely.
Are we now truly living in the onset of a dystopia worse than that fictionalized by Orwell? In many respects, the mad rush for hegemonic domination by the corporations via their now fully owned lackey “nations”, primarily the US as the muscle, the enforcer, the knee breaker, the “You owe so you’ll pay via debt service till you die, then your family will have to as well” lackey nation to supranational financial institutions is indeed indicative of such an unwinding of humanity.
Until the new worse than serf existence of the lowly citizen (the new definition of labor in the construct of modern globalization and the destruction of the nation state as a necessary result), along with the desecration of the idea of representative democracy, is radically altered to start again to represent the citizens of nations in their concerns and needs, ensuring that the state indeed is representative of the populace. The corruption of unregulated capitalism will ensure that no change will occur in any meaningful way regarding the well being of the majority of human beings.
It is absolutely necessary to understand that unregulated free market capitalism is the antithesis of democracy. What is sold as democracy in the West is nothing more that a means to enrich a very few at the expense of so many the world over. Even if it means war, perhaps the destruction of all humanity, as usual, “All cards are on the table.”
Returning my mind to the article and the excellent questions and points made, this is needed the case.
I agree with Bob Van Noy, the first part was unnecessary, but the questions are great. And here’s one more to add: Why doesn’t anyone (politician, pundit or MSM reporter) ever mention that Israel has atom bombs and actually knows how to make them? This subject has been verboten to ALL for over 60 years. Why?
I think the question alone points to the fact that we do not have free speech.
ranney, your comment shows how you can read, because you would never have learned that Israel has nukes if you only watched TV.
google Grant Smith if you already haven’t. Mr Smith covers through the FOIA all of the Israeli goings on as far back as possible. Operation NUMEC which operated, by skimming off uranium through a U.S. Government contract they had where they got to handle that radioactive stuff, and was located out of Apollo Pa, is just one of those items Smith covers with transparency and depth, so greatly.
But yeah, the MSM & our politico class are all bought and paid for Israeli flunky’s, or maybe just scared for all I know, and have your ever wondered to what blackmail will buy you, but yet our media ass-hats still go right on ahead everyday hiding their dear old precious hands off Israel, ever hiding that criminal nation out for the sake of a pay check.
It was Brad who thought the Brenner piece was heavy on the intro, and Bob Van Noy who like me always looks for the JFK continuation inside of today’s controversial news….which there often is, but nobody especial Chris Matthews wants to hear of it. I digress….
& ranney keep us all posted to what you read & you wish to vent, advise, or regret over…or all of the above, your opinion counts – take care JT
NOTE TO JOE T. FROM “THE UNWASHED” (UNLEARNED?) :
I suggest a series of books by George L. Mosse on
fascism/National Socialism. I have found them very
elucidating and have ordered more. (M. died in 90’s at 80.)
Not all of his analyses pertain to Israel/Palestine but so much does.
With apologies he focuses on Germany and Italy while recognizing
other “fascisms”. That is, “reactionary revolutions of the right.”
For me so many of his observations fit Zionism almost perfectly
both in its inception and currently. Many being relevant particularly
to German or Italian fascism do not. I could leave a list but instead refer you instead to Amazon.
This month I sacrificed some cash for a few more by Mosse.I hope they are as useful as those I have previously devoured
As an antiquity, I also feel both out-of-it (modern society) but also inside
in a more real sense. When I tell people I don’t even have a TV (of any
kind) people seem aghast as though I were hardly human. I do
listen to radio broadcasts of our hometown team of millionaires.
I have come to know that there is something called “an app” (at
my usual “app store”), a tweeter, some can text, ipads and iphones,
tablets. I have wondered if I should buy an enormous tank-like
thing being advertised but since I do not drive (anything) that
is not on the horizon. (No cell, of course!)
Where did I go wrong?
I remember when younger the fear I had when I had to change
the typewriter ribbon. I couldn’t understand all that gibberish
in the manual.
The more I read on Israel/Zionists the more frightening it is.
Well, perhaps I should agree that the bloody invasion
of Palestine by Zionists was “God’s Will”. Instead I have
come to believe that Zionism has in its many versions been
not far from a con job, schemes for exploiting fears of many
(“lower” classes from Drs. Herzl and Nordqjuist et al).
This is not to “deny” the holocaust but Zionism was never
any solution in any sense as only a few realized and dared
And nowadays based on pan Germanism, Zionists merely
move their collective extermination energies to “Arabs”
Thanks for your contributions. No, I do not agree with everything
you write but mos of it.
—-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA
Like in the first movie ‘Independence Day’ when they were saved by using Morse Code you may save the world, just because you didn’t have a cell phone, or know what an app is…when you find out what it is let me know, I’m kind of bad with all of that. Get this back in the early nineties I was the guy who brought computers into our business. Now, I hardly use my cell phone, and I pound this strange pop up keyboard on this I-pad talking to you guys like it is nothing….wow a technology wizard I am.
And hey why don’t you agree with me all the time, Peter. As Fredo said in Godfather Two, ‘I’m smart’. Although, here I go Peter, making all these references to movies, and with my luck you don’t go to the movies to often either. But, that’s me. I’d be the one not to seat thirteen at the table, and think it’s an Emily Post type thing, I did. Well, I might be a little smarter than that, but barely.
I like writing on this site, because although I expound on it myself, I learn much more from reading all of you, and the other commenters comments, and usually come away learning a lot…or more than I knew. I will look into your references, because I value what you know. Have a great weekend, and as Professor Brenner spoke of here, celebrate your freedom of speech while you can. Take care JT
I would love to see a TV 24 hour cycle of in-depth reviews of books by authors like Parry, Perkins, Blum, Vitchek, Giroux, Wolin, etc. In-depth reviews would at least introduce their ideas to people, who have no time to read the books. I do accept that a lot of willful ignorance is abroad in the land, but some of that results from the constant barrage of propaganda. I can dream.
Fantastic essay. Bravo.
I have become a real fan of Professor Michael Brenner, and I think with this writing he is bringing up a subject that needs brought up. We Americans probably watch way too much TV. Having said that, our news we receive is very corporately dominated, by the very people we should be the most upset with. Why aren’t we as a nation talking about such crimes, as such as what the Israeli’s are committing on the Palestinians, or any of the other atrocities of the world which we are either authoring, or at least allowing to go forward. Chris Matthews won’t even allow a guest to in anyway dispute the JFK lone-gunman theory, and it’s hands off when it comes to Hillary with him as well. As much as I like the women on The View, their undeniable love for Hillary, is so one dimensional that it makes even a gender liberator who has their head on straight, wonder why these celebrity ladies have lost all of their objectivity when it comes to seeing Hillary for what she really is. I know how Hillary may become this country’s first woman president, I get that, but doesn’t her pass disastrous accomplishments mean anything? Bill Maher often comes close, but then he losses me when he starts on how everything Muslim is bad. Bill’s hate for religion is fine, but he never seems to get it for what it’s worth. Why, can’t he see that the radical Islamist is more of a mercenary, than a religious zealot, or at least both? The Middle Eastern wars in his mind are an example of the religious Muslims going out of their mind. Okay, but what about America’s religious right, and how does Bill square with any American or European atheist who wants to enforce the Yinon Plan for our dear friend Israel, who doesn’t pay a dime towards any of this destruction? And where is the outrageous outcry for what the Israeli’s do, under the guise of religion and culture, to their prisoners the Palestinians. Bill seems to shy away from that discussion. The worst thing other than right wing pundits, are the so called left wing pundits, who pretend to represent the voters on the left of this countries issues. In fact, on a worldly platform, why has the right wing taken the most credit for the Brexit? Where is the left? The English who voted against staying in the EU have much more issue with the U.S. EU dictates, than they are racist. Have we all grown that fat and happy, that we ignore the many problems of this world, only to look the other way as America drones put people to death? Our freedom of speech has been co-opted by a corporate crowd, who knows all too well what their mission is, and that mission is to support their corporate pay masters at every turn. America at this moment has lost that freedom of speech forum to the establishment, and with that we are all growing tired of it, but know not what to do. Occupy Wall Street would have been a perfect time for America’s liberals/progressives to jump in there, but you saw what they did, and they didn’t represent the public as that protest so desperately needed. Instead the limousine class liberals, got on board the establishment train, and rode out the demonstrations for the betterment of their careers. These people aren’t stupid, their just selfish. Selfish maybe what brings this country down the most in the end. Why rock the boat, when promotion is key, and an invitation to the bosses house for the weekend in the Hampton’s, is something to die for. Until, we all start talking it up for making this world a better place, without corporate trade agreements, without supporting banks too big to fail, and especially without American bombs killing people, we will have become a big nothing that would show us not to be an Exceptionable Nation, but a spoiled one at that.
Michael Hudson says it well here:
Joe, I love reading your excellent comments.
But, man, have you ever thought about the concept of paragraphs?
Divide your thoughts into easily digestible pieces.
I find it tough to swallow all your thoughts in one bite.
Observe how our friend Erik uses paragraphs.
Dennis sometimes I do that, and often I don’t, but I will put more into taking your advice. Also, as you probably have noticed, I spell things wrong like threw – through, and I never know just where to use certain words like too or to, I was a class clown, and a pretty good one at that. In fact in seventh grade they (my school) experimented with me and some others. I was in two classes with the very smart, two other classes with the very average, and a couple of classes with the very not so smart. In mid year I was asked which class I preferred, and of course (my mother had no knowledge of any of this…this was the early sixties) I picked the dumb class. They were way more fun, and that’s where I wanted to be, Oh did I mention how cool we all were back then? Although in adulthood, I have been by some people’s standards, pretty successful in my own right, I need help when it comes to writing properly. So, thanks for the advice Dennis, I hope my future writings won’t disappointment you, since I value your opinion sincerely. take care JT
Oh, what made me successful is buying the tooling for products which the American manufacturers decided not to make, after they went abroad to have the most popular products made for themselves to stick a label on calling it theirs, and overcharge you for it. In fact, I’m told (because my clients are resale agents) that my or our product is very popular over in many Chinese factories. I can’t manufacturer the twenty dollar things, but we manufacturer one hundred percent in the USofA the two hundred dollar things…which have a small but profitable market here, and overseas. Again thanks Dennis I will pay attention to your advice, and treasure it at the same time. again JT
@Joe..”Oh did I mention how cool we all were back then?”
I tell those kids that we used to manage those $200million construction jobs with NO computers, NO mobile phones, NO e-mail, and writing letters and using blueprints.
And we did just fine, maybe better.
Now I go into these offices and where there used to be six of us running these jobs, there are now twenty-five kids sitting in front of computer screens…doing exactly the same job. Some of them even have two screens!
I asked one of the young engineers for a sheet of paper because I wanted to draw for him and idea. Sorry, Mr. Merwood we do not have sheets of paper. You will need to go over to the “plotter” and run out yourself a piece!
I’m a Luddite to these kids Joe.
And don’t get me started on having everything we buy in the big box stores made in China! LOL
I also “treasure” your comments.
You know what Dennis, the sorry part about all those kids on the computer, is there probably is already in operation somewhere, an Algorithm which copied their jobs down to a tee. Our products still get machined and molded, but I have pointed out to the younger ones here, how now is the time to learn about 3D printing. You & I are part of a generation who had one foot in our parents generation, and another going into our own, in our mature years. I’m kind of into looking for stuff which works on a natural momentum, but I have only gone so far as to examining my stapler here. Lastly, You need one of those I-pads you can scribble on. Take care JT
Charlie Hebdo WAS a case of hate speech.
The answer of who to Brenner’s questions, all good ones, is nobody that will have the national media platform to do so unless it is in an infotainment platform where they must engage in shouting matches and put down editorials that talk of conspiracy theories and detachment from the real world. Anyway, I haven’t seen anyone figuring out what to do other than teeth gnashing.
The mass media must be defined (e.g. over ten percent of audience in any region or subject area) and required to be operated by mass media corporations, regulated to provide only balanced coverage, of all viewpoints, and to have the national distribution of ethnicity, religion etc, in all management and operational staff groups. They should be prohibited from receiving funds other than limited personal contributions registered with the regulatory agency. No advertising, political or otherwise, and no kind of economic or political coercion. Product news and independent product evaluation is OK, but no advertising.
Restoration of democracy in mass media cannot be legislated because Congress is also controlled by money. Law or constitutional amendment must similarly restrict funding of elections to limited personal contributions registered with the regulatory agency.
To get there, a progressive president must seize the mass media and turn them over to the universities until such mass media corporations can be legislated. That requires that Congress itself be investigated for unconstitutional bribes, the bought members turned out of office, and elections held under terms that prohibit non-individual contributions. The new Congress can pass the laws limiting funding of elections and mass media, and creating regulated mass media corporations, to which the mass media can be handed back from the universities (to avoid politicizing universities).
Commercial control of mass media has dumbed-down the people and has eliminated public debate of the issues wherein commercial interests seek control. To restore public debate, we need a government-funded institution of policy analysis and debate, which I call the College of Policy Analysis. This would conduct textual debate among university experts, protecting all points of view, and make the debate summaries (commented by all viewpoints) available for public study and comment. The availability of such debates would have much reduced the groupthink and hysteria which have led to our endless mad wars since WWII. The debates would also show the superficiality and deceptiveness of most right-wing thinking in foreign and domestic policy, and would also require a higher standard of left-wing argument. Political candidates unaware of existing debates would be easier to expose, and media commentators would have a starting point and a standard for media investigation and analysis.
I should add that the Supreme Court and the entire federal judiciary should be investigated purged of anti-constitutional elements at the same time, under the Constitution clause requiring “good behavior”, and replaced with progressives who care about the people and the Constitution. This is necessary concurrent with the above reforms to prevent an anti-democratic counter-revolution.
The base problem we have is that economic power has gained ascendency since the 19th century, and the Constitution has no protection of democratic institutions from economic power. Thus the economic concentrations have effected a right-wing revolution, a war against democracy that amounts to treason. Hence I advocate extending the definition of treason in the Constitution to include non-military means of overthrow of democracy, including economic war and control of public information, as done by both mass media and private information-control organizations like Google, Amazon, etc.
Erik, I often wish we had a couple of c-span style programs, which included the news. I use to copy the AP & UPI news lines, a longtime ago. The news was often just a sentence or two, maybe three, but it was just what happened, without comments. If you were to get the news this way, and do background research on your own, well then you would have filtered out the noise which pervades our informative space so arrogantly. Like if a bomb goes off in a Turkish airport, and then we hear how Donald Trump will waterboard relocated Muslims in Queens like we should, or something, is just stupid on so many levels it’s hard to describe how dumb it is. If Crimea has a popular vote to rejoin Russia, and then Hillary declares Putin to be a Hitler, isn’t even in the game of us thinking smart. I mean, we have really sunk to new lows, when it comes to our leadership, but those comments that these important people make now become the news. Not so much the story, and what led up to such an event as a terrorist attack, but more so what our celebrity leaders say, is what becomes what is important. I guess it is, but we learn nothing from our news reporting that we receive in this country. In order for the news to sell soap it has to cater to the outrageous, and as the saying goes, garbage in is garbage out. If we had a c-span type news, I would suggest a more matter of factual reporting be done with it. Say, at least an hour devoted to what each branch of government was up to at this moment, would be great. A news agenda which would not be hindered by corporate sponsorship, in any way. I like your ideas Erik, and hope that someday someone or a bunch of somebody’s will take you up on it. My only suggestion would be to keep it simple, and yet aim decisively at your target…which is responsible journalism, and that is something we all need badly. Oh, we could all probably get some good advice from this sites owner, Robert Parry….can we clone him? Nice comment Erik. JT
There are missing from this “initial list” a whole lot of other serious questions relative to U. S. foreign policy, specifically about the U. S. Government’s sheltering, condoning, and financing role in regard to Israel, a state that is, in effect, one of the foremost violators of international law. I wonder why the professor left such questions out. Oh, yes – he’s exercising the same selective process of freedom of the press that his article purportedly condemns.
“This is for starters. The list of neglected domestic matters would be even longer. Engaging these issues ultimately is what free speech is all about.” Michael Brenner
As always, thanks for this wonderful site and authors like Professor Brenner. I am currently reading “Rethinking the Soviet Experience, Politics & History Since 1917” by Stephen F. Cohen published in 1985 where Professor Cohen makes, I think, an important argument that Soviet Political History is far richer and more complex than the unified and rather simplistic form presented by academia at that time (1985). His argument seems obvious and accurate to me as does the reportage we find almost exclusively on Consortium News. I always look for a continuity that goes back to the JFK assassination knowing full well the danger of that singular approach. Still, a vibrant dialogue is necessary in a free culture or that culture cannot claim to be free. It couldn’t be more clear that either we never experienced a free and open press; or our national image has been totally and successfully managed for many years now. At least as long as we have this site, we can hope, (discuss)…
Here is a link to Professor Cohen’s book and reviews:
The second half of this article was wonderful. The first part was probably unnecessary. Thanks for the list of excellent questions, which all of us should be asking of our leaders and our media.